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Cleansing the mirror of our self-image

Updated: May 19

One of the most astounding things I've discovered through self-inquiry is the truth of this quote:

"The most powerful motivator in human psychology is the need to be congruent with our internal image."

(Tim Han, human behaviour expert)

In plain speak: we are always living out who we think we are. It can't be otherwise. So, as the saying goes, whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right.

The thing about this is, most of us developed our internal image from who we think other people think we are. This is kind of funny when you think about it ... because it's twice-removed. Like, it's still us doing the thinking, but it's who we think they think we are.

Phew. That's a lot of thinking. (And imaging.)

And because the mind is always on the lookout to keep us safe (as it defines it), which includes being well-liked, then as children we took our clues from how we were treated by those around us, and also how they treated themselves. We were usually trying to stay out of trouble, follow the rules, be the 'good' child ...

In short, we used people as a mirror to ourselves ... looking at them to see who we were.

So, you can see why this could be a tad problematic.

This is why many of us don't think so highly of ourselves a lot of the time. I mean, we don't think we're capable of greatness or excellence, as we define it. Or the mind's favourite ... we don't seem to ever find ourselves enough. I'm sure you're acquainted with the Endless Project of Bettering Myself orientation to life.

Ya, me too.

I'll give you an example from my own life ....

I came to see -- through doing The Work -- that who I thought I was, was who I thought my parents thought I was. (Did you follow that?)

The list looked something like this:

  • lazy ( + not hardworking)

  • stupid (+ not smart)

  • incapable (+ not capable)

  • wrong (+ not right)

  • irresponsible (+ not responsible)

  • selfish (+ not considerate)

I could go on but you get the gist. The "not" list felt like a double-whammy even though it seems obvious: i.e. the way I experienced it was ... Not only am I lazy, I'm also not hardworking!

(And did I mention wrong? ... as in, who I am is just wrong...)

And then I came to see (yep, through self-inquiry) that actually, I was basing that on a few instances from my childhood and that I didn't really know what they thought of me. I mean, I'd never just asked point blank.

In other words, I was thinking these things about myself. And further, I could see the whole equation ... that my mind was telling this Story of Me in an attempt to make sure I wasn't these things. Because if we're constantly scanning the lay of the land to make sure "lazy" etc. doesn't show up, guess what we're ONLY going to see? ... any place that remotely looks like "lazy."

So, oops ... it had the opposite effect.

I could see only what I believed ... nothing else is possible. And I believed I was lazy.

So when this came out the odd time with a close friend, and they said something like, "You're crazy! You're being a very present mom to a child with terrifying health challenges and doing a PhD ... THAT'S. NOT. LAZY." ... I truly couldn't see it. I knew, secretly, that I really WAS lazy. I had all the proof.

All stemming from that time my mom called me lazy as a child when I didn't want to load the dishwasher. He-he. Hilarious. (But holy Hannah, NOT hilarious as a life lived through the veil of LAZY. That part was horrible.)

A huge moment for me in my journey of self-realization, was the moment when I saw that opening to who I truly am -- to I DON'T ACTUALLY KNOW WHO I AM -- was going to be the hardest thing I'd ever done. ... because it meant being willing to drop my story of myself.

It meant being willing to consider I was wrong ... not only about these 'negative' traits defining me but that they were negative at all.

And being willing doesn't mean as a mental exercise, as in ... Ya, I can see where I could be wrong about that, in theory.

That doesn't work.

What does is EXPERIENCING the open mind. Opening is a LIVED thing. It's a happening, moment-to-moment. Present moment awareness, Eckhart Tolle calls it.

What I experienced, actually, was that there is no such thing as lazy. It's just a concept. I saw where I had preferences that I could see looked to others like I was lazy ... but that truly we just each have the things that we love, that inspire us, that we want to take action around ... and things we don't.

(But I could also (because the open mind can travel anywhere and doesn't let paradox stop it) where I was lazy ... AND where I was hardworking, even extremely so. Hence, I didn't need to defend 'lazy' anymore. I could lean into it.)

And further, if I stayed open, I could see there would be no end to this unraveling ... if I was wrong about my self-image defining me, I could be wrong about my image of others defining them. In fact, I could be wrong about this whole life thing .... everything I thought I knew.

If that sounds terrifying to you, you may be surprised to know that wasn't my experience. I mean, remember, it started with me feeling terrible about who I was. I was living in a constant state of "not-enoughness." So opening to me not knowing who I was felt like a relief and a revelation.

If you can relate to walking around with a 'negative' image of yourself then know that opening to a new version of yourself is not only possible, it's actually where the truth lies.

Or if you have tried for years to manifest your dream life without success, know that how we live is completely determined by the self-image we're carrying around with us ... and if that image is of someone who is 'x '(quality, skill, etc.) and you want to do or be something that you believe you need to be 'y' to do, then it's not going to happen.

(If you're not sure what I mean, take a moment to notice that who you think you are is with you all the time as an image in your head. And then bring to mind something you've been trying to do and see if you can notice if you believe a) this lines up with you: "Ya, I can see that happening" or b)"No, that kind of thing happens for others but not for me.")

We line up with that image in our day-to-day life, meaning we stick to what we think that person in the image is capable of ... or not ...

We don't leave our comfort zones. No way. The brain is hardwired to keep us safe. It's sure as heck not interested in making our dreams come true.

This is why we procrastinate—we are afraid of the results that we can’t predict when we’re trying to do something new.

So ... we need to change this self-image if we are to change our external results. If that sounds hard, it's actually easier than that ... It's just opening to "I don't know ...." To, "I'm open."

A changed / open self-image = behavioural changes = external changes.

We’ve got to reinvent ourselves (literally) internally in order to reflect that in the life we're living.

And the good news is, there's a way to do this. It's not a quick-fix ... not an overnight change, but then nothing important and lasting is.

But it's what I've used to change my own self-image to overcome my struggle with believing in myself, in my goodness ... so I can vouch for it 100%.

The other good news (and it's a profound & massive thing) ... is that (in case it wasn't clear) we're working on changing an image, not you. !!!

The self-inquiry process that I use is a way of working with the mind to uncover who you actually are -- the truth of you -- so that it can replace the image you have of yourself.

And also, expand it. Add to it, taking away from it the things that aren't working for you, that limit you. And replacing them with who you would like to be.

You can't see / experience what you don't believe ... about yourself or life. It comes down to that.

So if you feel limited in life by who you think you are, and who you think you aren't, then you might want to question those beliefs.

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