Personal Strength and Power:
Which Part of You is Seeking It,
Which Part Already Has it?
by Neil Fiore, Ph.D.
Who is it inside your head that speaks with the voices of depression, anxiety, and worry? Who is it that listens to those voices without identifying with them? Who is the part that feels insecure, lacks confidence and motivation, and seeks personal power? Where is the part of you that can offer compassion and guidance to yourself? Does your strong and powerful Self need a wake-up call?
It’s true; a life threatening “wake-up call” or an overwhelming challenge will integrate all parts of you and connect you with your deep, inner strength and power. Such events will push you to the limits of what you––that is, your conscious mind’s limited identity––know how to do. They wake up your sleeping subconscious genius and your Strongest Self to play their proper leadership and protective roles. It is at the moment when your conscious mind doesn’t know how to get through the break-up of a relationship, the death of a friend, the loss of a job, or the completion of an enormous project, that you will be connected to your subconscious resources and a wisdom that are far beyond your everyday, limited identity. But, why wait for a life threatening wake-up call? Let’s consider how to let go of lonely ego struggles and connect with a part of us that is already strong and wise.
Begin by recognizing the negative voices as simply small parts of your larger, stronger, truer Self. Become an observer of your thoughts and emotions, just as you do when you meditate or choose to work mindfully. You commit to sitting still for thirty or more minutes while all forms of thoughts, emotions, urges, impulses, plans, and worries stream through your mind. Your higher, strongest Self calmly observes the mind’s noisy traffic without getting stuck in it for more than a breath or two. As you choose to maintain your commitment to sitting still, the volume is turned down on the voices of the anxious, worrying, and lonely parts because the leader is finally awake to take charge of his or her life.
Then shift to the perspective and the empowering roles of a compassionate and protective parent toward your weak, limited ego identities. You’ll be waking up your new human brain’s ability to organize the multi-levels of your brain—the reptilian, the mammalian, and the primate.
As you unite left brain hemisphere with right and conscious mind with subconscious, you expand your brain-cell power and ignite the five qualities of your Strongest Self: Safety, Choice, Focus, Presence, and Connection. These five qualities––which are a natural part of living from your higher Self and higher brain––minimize and replace five major problem areas: stress and worry; procrastination and indecision; self-blame and lack of confidence; feeling overwhelmed and confused; and struggle and self-sabotage.
Every time you choose how to act in accordance with your higher values rather than simply re-act from out-dated habits and fears, you strengthen the leadership of your human brain and literally build neural pathways that communicate to lower brain functions. Your human ability to choose to face fear and to override primitive impulses only exists in the human forehead, the prefrontal cortex. This is the part of your brain that lights up on fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imagery) whenever you override your mammal brain’s fears––as our ancestors did when they overcame the animal fear of fire to harness it for light, warmth, and cooking. This ability to make positive use of fire, rather than run from it is evidence of the advent of a distinctly human brain on the planet. In fact, your ability to face any fear and act with human courage and spirit requires that you use your higher brain functions and human values.
Every time you choose how to act, you use a function that is only available in your higher, human brain to manage your life and lessen the ability of primitive reactions to control you. Using your truly human functions to plan, choose, and to manage your emotions builds new neural pathways that communicate to your lower brains that the leader is awake and is making executive decisions. Every time you exhale to release stress, you communicate to your “fight-or-flight” brain that the leader has signaled that it is safe to exhale, let go of muscle tension, and to stop the flow of stress hormones. It is you––as your integrated Self––with your human brain that is the source of your greatest power and strength, not the little ego identities or “sub-personalities” who seem addicted to struggling alone.
Connecting all parts to your strongest Self
To experience the power of connecting your ego identities with your “strongest Self,” try this exercise, preferably standing.
1. Hold a cup, book, or purse out at shoulder height. Imagine that your arm represents your ego and your “default identity” working alone all day long. Notice how quickly your arm, acting on its own, separated from the rest of your body, tires of this struggle, feels overwhelmed, and seeks its favorite distractions and addictions as ways to cope.
2. Bring your elbow to your hip––close to the area below the navel that the martial artists call chi or ki (as in Tai Chi Chuan or Ai-ki-do)––and notice how much easier it is to perform this task when your arm and every part of you is connected to your center or core. Imagine that you’ve connected your struggling ego to your larger, strongest Self.
3. Now, place your free hand beneath the cup or book to represent the support of your subconscious mind, autonomic nervous system, and the wisdom of your body and the laws of the universe.
4. If you’re doing this exercise standing, you can bend your knees, exhale and float down into the support of the floor, the building, and the earth. You, and your ego identity, are held by a larger system of support and can begin to let go struggling so hard, as if alone and separate.
Whenever you experience––that is, observe from your higher Self––a lack of confidence, or a feeling of being overwhelmed and vulnerable to negative habits, think of this exercise. Instead of identifying with your habitual thoughts and feelings, you can simply observe them, at arm’s length, as old habits or old “default” reactions that need you to update them to fit your current situation, skills, challenges, and opportunities. Consider what you might say to the parts of you that so quickly split into their out-dated stories, fears, and limited ways of coping. Catch them before they pull you into hours and days of despair or passivity.
Important: Don’t fall into the trap of telling your ego, “You can do it. It’s okay. Just whistle a happy tune. I know you can, I know you can.” You really don’t want an overzealous primitive survival response in charge of your career, relationships, and finances. To shift to your full strength and power you’ll want your strongest Self to manage your life and integrate all parts of you around your values and goals. Communicate to the frightened, overwhelmed or depressed parts:
Yes, I know that you’re afraid. Yes, I know you repeat the voices of criticism and blame you learned so well in order to survive. Yes, you don’t know what to do. And, now, I’m here. You’re not alone. I will choose what to do. I’m taking responsibility for my decisions.
Note that you are not waiting for your ego or old identity to feel confident, strong, motivated, or all-knowing before you choose to show up and get on with your life and projects. Living as a mature human being, you can choose to get a root canal, complete your income tax forms, or have surgery. You don’t have to fight with a part of you that says, “But, I don’t want to. It’s too hard. I don’t know how.” Moreover, you don’t have to put a bully in charge who says, “You have to. You should. What’s wrong with you?” The ability to choose your actions is neither a “want to” nor a “have to.” Neither is it Freud’s version of an “Id” or a “Superego” in eternal conflict. It’s a third place from which the Self chooses what to do and in so doing breaks the inner conflict, frees your blocked energies, and eliminates self-sabotage.
Acknowledge the emotions and worries of the parts of you that try to cope from an ancient perspective with primitive tools. Then shift responsibility to your leadership Self who can choose to act in the present moment with your mature skills and knowledge. When communicating with resistant or fearful voices, try a template that takes the form of:
“Yes, . . . yes, . . . yes, of course . . . And, now I will choose what to do. You are not alone.”
For example, if you were preparing a crying child for an injection or any medical procedure, you’d avoid saying “It’s okay. It won’t hurt.” You know that these statements would only make the child feel more alone, damage your credibility, and, perhaps, feel wrong for having its feelings. Instead, you’d validate her feelings with:
Yes, you’re scared. Yes, you don’t want the needle. It hurts. And, soon it will stop hurting and make you stronger. Let’s count how many seconds and breaths before it stops hurting.” By validating someone’s feelings, you’re communicating, “You’re not alone with these feelings. I’m here and I understand.
This is exactly how you can talk to yourself to gain the cooperation of all parts of you in the almost effortless achievement of your goals.
Expand Your Identity
To achieve a center of personal power and strength, expand your identity beyond the isolated, lesser parts of your personality and ego. Integrate your conscious and subconscious resources, making it easier to face life’s challenges from a center of inner peace and support.
Expand your resources to include friends and a community that validates your worth and creates an environment in which you are safe to be your true, powerful Self.
When I consulted with the internationally known psychiatrist and clinical hypnotist Dr. Milton H. Erickson, he told me that much of our fear about life comes from thinking of ourselves as if we were a small cup of water. From that limited perspective, the loss of just a few drops of water feels like a serious threat to our identity and security. Dr. Erickson then said, “How different it is to be the Ocean! When you’re the ocean, they can’t hurt you. They can take a whole tub of water from you and it won’t hurt you one bit.” Most of our problems and symptoms diminish when we learn to shift our identity to that of our Strongest, "oceanic" Self.
But How Can I Feel Strong When I Have So Many Things to Do?
You can’t hold in your conscious mind a single project that takes more than a few hours to complete, much less juggling family, job, home, health, and personal goals. Your conscious mind or ego is easily overwhelmed by thoughts that fly into the imaginary past and future. If you delegate control of your life to your bullying voice––“You have to finish all these things or else you’ll be criticized, rejected, and abandoned.”––you’ll most likely provoke another voice that says, “But I don’t want to. I’m overwhelmed and scared and I just want to have fun.”
Sound familiar? When you don’t show up as the adult leader to make choices in the real world of today, your inner children take over and start food fights with your energy. You’re suddenly stuck, tired, and thinking about escaping by surfing the Net while drinking coffee and eating brownies. In addition, you haven’t told your mind and body when and where and on what to start. “Finish” is in the future, an imaginary time that your body can’t get to. “Have to” communicates that you don’t want to and that you’re a victim who should rebel against some unseen authority.
The solution: stop working with just small, isolated parts of your brain and psyche. Start connecting with more of your brain and strongest Self by using at least three deep breaths in three parts. Use this “Centering Exercise” as a moment of transition between tasks: 1) Inhale;
2) hold your breath and tighten some muscles to replicate the stress response; and, 3) exhale completely as you release muscle tension and float down into the support of the chair, the floor, the earth, and the laws of the universe that are holding you. In less than one minute you’ll communicate to your mind and body: it is safe to exhale; the leader is choosing to face your fears and start working for 15 to 30 minutes; you’re not alone, but are connected to a deeper, wiser, stronger support system; and, by letting go of conscious mind struggle you’ll find that creative solutions come to you within two to three breaths from your subconscious mind and inner genius. [For the complete Centering Exercise, go to www.neilfiore.com “Free Articles and Tips.”]
If you think of your fearful voices of “Yes, but what if that happens (again)?” as dutiful survival mechanisms that are simply reminding you of potential dangers and asking for plans for survival, you can develop specific plans that will quiet those worries. When you haven’t time to consider special plans for survival of your life and worth, keep handy this generic plan:
Regardless of what happens, I won’t make you feel bad. I will not abandon you just because you’re vulnerable to loss and pain. Regardless of what anyone says, I’m on your side. Your Strongest Self is now awake and taking responsibility for leading my life.
When you use some form of centering or mindfulness before starting to work, you may find that, as one of my coaching clients says, “I’m completing twice as much work with ease and creativity. I now look forward to going from not-knowing to knowing.” If you use this exercise five times a day for two to four weeks, it will become automatic and you won’t want to revert to the ego’s default of struggling alone with just a small part of your brain and energy.
Beware, however, of feeling uncomfortable at first with a change in identity. Claire has made great progress using these concepts and making her business a success. “But,” she said, “it feels as if I’m not doing it. I’m completing more work and earning more money but I don’t know who’s doing it. Suddenly, I’m productive and purposeful without needing to procrastinate. It feels as if my identity has changed.”
That’s right, you’ll have expanded your identity to include more of your brain-cell power and your leadership Self. Your old, ego identity will feel unemployed initially and will resist the idea of not struggling and working hard––which comes from splitting off from the rest of you that is beyond your conscious mind. But within a month of practice, even the ego will enjoy joining with its creative partner on the right side of the brain to discover the surprise of creative problem solving. Claire eventually found that she wasn’t afraid of losing her old identity as a procrastinator who had to suffer and worry about completing work projects. She now chooses to show up to integrate all parts of herself around the achievement of her goals with all parts of her feeling safe and connected with a deeper wisdom and strength.
We all can learn from what Academy Award winner, Olympia Dukakis, says about actively seeking out those activities that cause her to feel a lack of confidence: “I look for things that really scare me to death. If I haven't a clue how to tackle it, if it feels overwhelming, if it feels impossible to do, that's the thing I'm interested in.”
And, let’s remember the wisdom of Hafiz: “But you are with the Friend now and look so much stronger.” -- Cast All Your Votes for Dancing.
© Copyright Neil Fiore. All Rights Reserved.
Neil Fiore, Ph.D. is author of the bestseller AWAKEN YOUR STRONGEST SELF: BREAK FREE OF STRESS, INNER CONFLICT, AND SELF-SABOTAGE upon which this article is based. Neil is a psychologist, speaker, and coach in Berkeley, CA. His other books are THE NOW HABIT: OVERCOMING PROCRASTINATION AND ENJOYING GUILT-FREE PLAY and COPING WITH THE EMOTIONAL IMPACT OF CANCER. For more information about his presentations and for free articles, visit http://www.neilfiore.com/.