How We Hold Ourselves Back

There's a vision of who you want to become.  

You know you aren't living up to your potential.  Why?  Each of us knows there are things we could be doing to close the gap between where we are and where we want to be.  

And there are things we could stop doing that hinder our progress.  And yet we move through our days largely on autopilot, changing nothing and simultaneously hoping change happens on its own.

Why do we hold ourselves back?  What keeps us spinning our wheels despite best intentions?  How is it that you can read every book under the sun, go to all the seminars and workshops, listen to all the podcasts and end up right back where you started?

The basic fact is that the "I that I am" and the "I that I am becoming" simply can't coexist.

You can't stay the same and become something new.   As tempting as it is and as secure as it feels, you can't cling to comfort.  You have to let go of not just habits, behaviors, and routines, but life as you know it.  

And you know this on some level.  Of course you can't live two lives.  Something has to give.

Ego Death

The thing we rarely acknowledge on the path to growth and personal development is the very real phenomenon of ego death.  When you burst through a plateau in life, the "you as you know it" ceases to exist.  What's left?  You.  More of you.

This ego death is a foundational part of our journey to growth.  It's part of the quintessential hero's journey, the trip to the underworld and back.  And damn it's scary.  It takes guts.  It takes courage.  

Like snakes we have to shed in order to grow.  Of course there's an element of risk, an inherent vulnerability.  But fighting that process is fighting nature itself.  

You're going to kill yourself if you don't let yourself grow.  It'll slowly gnaw at you, making you question your day-to-day habits and routines.  You'll stay up at night wondering how things could be.  When will you get out of your own way?

We're unique in the animal kingdom in our capacity to shape the world around us.  We experience life and bend it in new ways, unlike any other species.  Why squander this potential? 

Again we return to fear.  For the caveman it's safe in the light of the fire.  Venturing beyond it's glow puts you at risk.  But we achieve nothing without risk.  While we crave safety and security, that alone isn't enough.

You likely feel that yourself.

We crave variety.  We crave exploration and expression.  When we find a balance between nervous and excited, we thrive and push past former limits.

But we know what we need to do to get there.  And we know what we need to stop doing.  If you do a bit more of the former and a bit less of the latter, you transform your life.

A couple of exercises can guide the way.  Grab a sheet of paper and something to write with (it's much more effective than typing for these exercises).

Take The Brakes Off

Let's start by taking the brakes off.  We'll bring awareness to the things that are holding you back, keeping you spinning your wheels.  Awareness gives you the opportunity to change, but without it you're stuck.

Ask yourself this: What do I do to keep myself from getting what I want?

Spend 5-10 minutes writing out any and everything that comes to mind here.  Picking your nails.  Not sticking to your movement practice.  Keeping your knowledge bottled up.  Not sharing your gift with the world.  Staying quiet.  Not making your bed.  Leaving the dishes sitting out.

Whatever it is, get it on paper.

After 5 minutes of writing you might be faced with a daunting list.  That's ok.  You don't need to tackle everything in one fell swoop.  In fact we're going to circle back to that later.

Build Momentum

Here's the thing.  You know what it takes.  You have gut inklings of the things you need to be doing.  It's those lingering thoughts that creep in day after day.  It's those visions that keep you up at night.  The only problem is that some of those things are intimidating.  Scary.  Crazy.  It might feel risky to let yourself try them.

So the next step is to write out: I give myself permission to...

Then spend another 5-10 minutes writing out whatever it is that comes to mind here.  Don't censor for feasibility.  Don't stick with things you know how to do at this point.  Just fill the page.

Quality stems from quantity.

Plotting The Course

In theory you now have a framework for how you might proceed toward becoming the person you want to be.  Stop doing one of the things that you do to hold yourself back.  Start doing one of the things you've given yourself permission to do.  

Rinse, and repeat.  The beauty is that incremental steps often lead to exponential progress.

The early somatic educator F. M. Alexander stated that "people do not decide their futures.  They decide their habits, and their habits decide their futures."

Changing your day-to-day behaviors and habits changes you.  You become by becoming.

However, it's important to keep in mind that these behaviors don't exist in isolation.  We don't live in a vacuum.  The context of your life plays a huge role in how you act and who you are as a result of those actions.  

In fact social psychologist Kurt Lewin recognized back in the 1930's the power of context.  His eponymous equation is B = f (P, E).  It states that behavior is a function of a person within their environment.  

If you want to change your behaviors, it helps to change your environment.  Look at the places and spaces you spend the most time in each day.  How might they contribute to those actions that keep you from getting what you want?  

Are there ways you might tweak your environment to facilitate you doing the things that will move you in the right direction?  It could be as simple as spending less time in a chair each day or as drastic as moving across the country.  

We're creatures of context.  We're shaped by our surroundings, and we have the unique gift to shape them in turn.  You're in a constant give-and-take with the world around you.  With awareness and intention you can carve out a new life and a new way of being.  Remember: incremental steps lead to exponential progress.

It's your turn to change.  We're waiting.

Click here to get the expanded version of this essay in my free ebook, Embracing Possibility.