I was 33 years old and in a personal identity crisis. I found myself in a 12-step program, working with a sponsor, paying for a therapist, reading everything I could find on personal empowerment and feeling more and more lost each day. The saying goes that it’s darkest before the dawn, and I had found the darkest night and I was not looking for the sun.
My internal dialogue had essentially become a long list of adjectives, none of which were positives, and all of which I used to berate myself with on a daily basis. My therapist was waging a battle to have me reconfigure my self-image, but my resistance was strong. She suggested I read a book called The Game of Life by Florence Scovel Shinn. It’s a little book, about a 100 pages, and it was written in the early 20th century about the same time as Emmet Fox.
This little book was spiritual enough that I could see the message, but not so heavy on the Jesus Christ stuff that I was turned off. The easiest way to describe it is that it’s the theory of Christianity, without the oppressive morality imposed by religions.
The main thrust of the book was that what you think and say, becomes your reality. It opened my eyes to what I was saying about myself and how that was coloring my interactions with the world. My all negative view was creating an all negative experience. I realized that I needed to change my view to change my experience.
In order for me to change my view, I had to first get clear on what my view was, then set a goal for what I wanted it to become. By first doing an inventory of the horrible things I was saying about myself, I was able to get some clarity. I had to put it all down on paper so that I could actually look up the words, and get some depth of understanding. In doing so, I found that the things I was saying about myself were often overblown, incorrect, and pointless.
For example, I used to say that I was stupid. But stupid means “lacking intelligence or common sense.” Well, I graduated high school with a B+ average, attended one of the most rigorous colleges in the country, got into and graduated law school and passed the bar. Clearly, I didn’t lack intelligence. And I can remember to come in out of the rain, so I have some common sense.
By actually examining the word, I was then able to dispel its power over me, when I realized that it was simply incorrect. It’s as if I had been calling myself Spanish for 33 years, and then realized that my family came from Italy—I could no longer in good conscience say I was stupid, when I knew the truth.
The next step was to reverse the process and start defining myself in the way that I wanted to, even though I didn’t believe yet, and look up the words and define them. I decided to start with a list of 10 character traits—things that I had control over—to define myself. I started with Courageous, Outgoing, Kind, Caring, Loving, Punctual, Honest, Loyal, Attentive, and Adorable.
These traits are all things I wanted to be, even though I knew at the time that some of them, if not all, were not true. But I had to start by learning the words. So, I grabbed a pad, a pen, and dictionary. I hand-wrote each word, then looked them up and hand-wrote out the definition. I started with Adorable because I thought I knew what that meant. “Cute, cuddly, kinda like a teddy bear.” But I was wrong. “Worthy of being adored and/or loved.” Whoa. I was not ready for that.
I continued and did 10 ten words. The list was something I read to myself each morning and evening. I would say that “I am Courageous, Outgoing, Kind, Caring, Loving, Punctual, Honest, Loyal, Attentive, and Adorable.” What I found was that throughout the day I’d catch myself trying new things, being a bit more kind and forgiving in traffic. I showed up on time and even early, to appointments.
Today, I use that same teaching tool with my coaching clients. I start with taking stock of what they say about themselves, and then we build up their self-esteem by reprogramming what they say to themselves about themselves. I know it works, because I’ve seen it in myself and I’ve seen it in others.
Give it a shot and let me know how it’s worked for you in your life. Drop me an email at [email protected] and follow me on Instagram @davidpisarra to share your growth story.
Photo credit: Getty Images