As you develop the acuity to see your thoughts, you’ll be creating an important tool toward your mastery of thinking. You’re developing a powerful muscle memory-the ability to witness your thoughts.
As you develop the acuity to see your thoughts, you’ll be creating an important tool toward your mastery of thinking. You’re developing a powerful muscle memory-the ability to witness your thoughts.
Many years ago, I’d often fall into a recurring disagreement with my former wife. At bedtime I’d frequently find myself saying, “It’s hot in here.” She’d respond, “No it’s not, it’s cold. ‘’ This led to a frustrating ,mind-numbing back and forth that went nowhere. It took quite some time until I reached a breakthrough by simply saying, “I feel hot.” After all she couldn’t tell me I didn’t feel hot.
By removing the words—it is— I moved from making an objective statement to a subjective statement. This allowed me to shift from a battle over the truth into simply sharing my perception. Of course, that didn’t settle the issue around the thermostat, but nevertheless I felt some relief to get past that argument. I did, however get proactive about throwing the blanket off my side of the bed.
I remembered that exchange and started to focus on the importance of words. We pay very little attention to the words we express and don’t appreciate how profoundly they affect us and impact others.
Over the last 20 some odd years, in my work as a psychotherapist and communications consultant, I’ve devoted my attention to understanding what gets in the way of successful communications. I’ve learned that words matter very much. Our words either set the stage for others to be open and curious about what we say or defensive and reactive to what they hear.
Our words become the foundation of our relationship not only with others but they become a key ingredient in our relationship with ourselves.
Our thoughts actually script our life experience. These thoughts impact us far more than anything else, more than our closest relationships. But what comprises our thoughts? Words.
When we string words together they become thoughts. Some words in particular terribly limit us. I’m referring to the to be verbs. We can find them in virtually every sentence we speak. Recall the word is, in the battle over the room temperature?
The to be verbs are:
So why do I see a problem with the to be verbs? Let’s take a look.
Keeping us feeling stuck
Many verbs express movement and action. But the to be verbs have one element in common. They all connote a fixed, unchanging state. The to be verbs are all inert and static.
None of these words capture a picture of change or flow. So, if words inform our thoughts and if we employ the to be verbs in virtually every thought, how can we feel anything but stuck? Let’s look at the word am. “I am worthless,” or “I’m unlovable.” These beliefs collapse into truths as they become unchanging facts in the story we tell ourselves.. How can we envision and actualize change if our thoughts get stuck in an unchanging, inert picture of reality?
The to be verbs block new possibilities. They block movement.
It’s hard to change
Let’s look at the common refrain, “It’s hard to change.” Most people would agree with this belief. Of course, change would appear challenging when we our thoughts are cemented in the to be verbs that preclude change.
Let’s look at what happens when we make the statement, “It’s hard to change,” without using to be verbs. You might say, “I struggle to change, or “It feels so hard for me to make change.” Or, “I’ve never succeeded in making change.” These statements still appear amenable to change. They speak to subjective perceptions rather than facts. Change can happen when you shift from making an absolute statement of fact to one of perspective.
In 1933, Alfred Korzybsky in his groundbreaking book, Science and Sanity introduced the idea of eliminating the to be verbs from our common usage. He proposed that the to be verbs were relics of an old worldview; Newton’s 17th century mechanism. This classical view of reality depicted a machine-like universe comprised of objects, separate and distinct from one another. They appeared inert and fixed unless outside force was applied. We became these objects. The lack of connectivity seen in Newton’s reality, led to the ideal of objectivity. This construct of objectivity requires standing apart from what you observe; Newton’s theme of separation.
This picture of the universe presented a cold, austere machine-like reality. This looks like a very inhospitable place for humans to exist. The to be verbs speak the language of the machine-like universe in that fixed objects and objectivity were accorded primacy. These words preclude movement, possibility and potentiality. And so once again, we see ourselves as stuck. This has an immense and unimaginable impact on us.
At the time of Korzybski’s writing, the radical discoveries of quantum physics turned our notions of reality upside down. We came to learn that reality appeared radically different than what Newton had depicted. This emerging worldview described reality as perpetually flowing and bubbling with possibility, a virtual reality making process, with all parts inseparably connected with one another. Everything flowed as one inseparable whole. From this new worldview change no longer appears hard, it in fact seems inevitable.
The thesis of an objective reality became replaced by a participatory subjective reality. This new worldview looks very warm and friendly to humans, as human participation informs reality and we no longer see ourselves as disconnected objects. To access and benefit from this new vista of reality we need to alter our language since the to be verbs keep us stuck in 17th century reality. Korzybski urged that we speak and write without using to be verbs. He called this E-Prime language— the omission of to be verbs.
When I became aware of this shift in language I began to utilize it as a transformative communications technique. During my years as a therapist I’ve come to see the remarkable progress many people have made when they learned to limit these verbs, particularly in challenging communications moments. Let’s look at more of the benefits.
To be verbs keeps us stuck in victimhood
Our negative feelings and thoughts about ourselves become inveterate due to our use of to be. These verbs imprint their message on us as they keep us wedded to them. I recall working with a middle-aged woman who constantly insisted that she was stupid. She said, “I am stupid.” I asked, “How did you come to this belief?” She replied, “My dad often said that to me when I was a kid, so I’ve always felt stupid. I ruminated with her, “So maybe you “are” not stupid, but have always simply felt that way?” This exchange opened the door for her to reconsider this aspect of her identity. If she always felt that way, she could open to changing how she felt. We shifted from objective reality to perceptually constructed truth.
Look at your negative beliefs about yourself. Notice the to be verb— surely, you’ll find it— and restate your belief without to be.
I facilitated a self-esteem workshop a number of years ago when a man in the group shared his core self-worth problem. “I am nothing, I am empty.” Everyone felt stunned by his candid sharing. I asked him to restate his belief without using the to be verb. He said, “I feel like nothing, I feel empty.” His expression lightened when he said this and he actually allowed himself a bit of a smile. I asked him why and he responded, “If these feelings I have change, then I can change.”
To be verbs anchor us in feeling inert, powerless and as victims. They speak of objective truths rather than perceptions and feelings.
Getting past the fear of making mistakes
When we speak in E-Prime, it enables us to move beyond our fear of making mistakes. When you communicate from your subjective perception—the language of the new quantum worldview—you avoid the pitfall of right vs. wrong. When you say, “I think,” or “I feel,” you invite the other person into your experience.
During a consulting gig I facilitated with a C-suite executive, she shared a bold and innovative perspective she had about a particular challenge the organization faced. When I asked her why she hadn’t shared this with her colleagues, she told me she felt intimidated about their judgment of her idea. I helped her craft the message by using E-Prime. “I have a thought I’d like to share about our problem…” or, “This may sound a bit out of the box but an approach occurred to me that we never considered before.” If you simply share your thoughts, perspectives or ideas in a subjective manner you move past the fear of mistakes or right vs. wrong.
Free from the dread of making a mistake or concern around the judgments of others invites all participants to share their thoughts and perspectives. This leads to generative dialogues as we can share our inner monologues with one another. This serves as a powerful tool for learning as we begin to think together. The art of thinking together and collaborating flourishes with E-Prime. This method applies to corporations, families, relationships, to all communications.
I’ve witnessed how relationships become challenged and deteriorate when we share criticism of one another in an objective manner. Objective statements require to be verbs. Subjective statements avoid to be verbs.
Nothing derails a conversation as quickly as, “You are wrong.” To express these words assures that your thoughts and opinions will fall on deaf ears and go nowhere. The moment one utters, “You are wrong,” the other person reacts with defensiveness if not hostility. Shift into E-Prime and say, “I don’t see this the way you do,” or “Help me understand your point, I don’t see this the way you do.” This can open the door to a reasonable communication.
I recollect a particular moment in a couple’s session when a woman said to her husband, “You are so selfish.” She expressed an objective statement. The air thickened as her husband prepared his defense and verbal assault upon her. I requested a time out and prepped her to share her feelings in E-Prime. Her subjective offering of “You seem so self-centered to me,” allowed her husband to inquire why she saw him that way. A purposeful dialogue ensued.
E-Prime allows us to take ownership of our thoughts and feelings rather than to blame ourselves or others. This opens us to dialogue, compassion and empathy as we get past right vs wrong.,
When you feel particularly challenged or anticipate a negative reaction to what you’re about to say try using E-Prime. Open your sentence with the words “I feel,” or “I think,” or “I’d like to share a thought or feeling with you.” You don’t need to be fanatical about this. Choosing particular moments to speak without using to be verbs allows you to move past feeling like stuck. It also opens the doorway to generative dialogue. It may feel awkward at first but when you invite in discomfort you grow and advance into new territory. You can hoist the anchor that’s kept you feeling stuck when you selectively choose to speak without to be verbs.
To be verbs End possibilities. E-Prime opens the doorway to possibilities and shifts us from a stuck state of being into the process of becoming. We can then join in the flow of the universe that the new worldview describes when we unshackle ourselves from the words that imprison us.
Please note that all to be verbs in this article appear italicized for effect. This article was the topic of Mel’s TEDx Beacon Street talk at Fenway Park and was excerpted in part from his new book, The Possibility Principle: How Quantum Physics Can Improve the Way You Think, Live and Love.
Throughout our life most of our attention is focused on matters that are pertinent to us since they impact us significantly. When we were young we concerned ourselves with what sports to play, what colleges to apply to, what major to select- and as time went by- what job to pursue and perhaps where we wanted to live.
Of course, a good deal of our attention may have been directed toward our romantic life. The pursuit of the ideal partner and then, of course, the not atypical roller coaster ride of the relationship itself. The questions and decisions never cease. Should we stay together, should we marry, should we have children? Where’s the wedding venue, who’s on the guest list? And, oh, what about the honeymoon plans? Should we buy or rent? How many hours will we spend around decorating decisions, car purchases and vacation plans? And so it goes. As does our life. In spite of all these deliberations we tend to fall short of deeper gratification and happiness. Why is that?
Our thoughts incline toward the peripheral facets of our life as we draft the outer architectural plans for our goals and visions. These are undoubtedly important decisions-but if our external gaze overwhelms our inner awareness-we’re living an unconscious life. And that will catch up to us. Life is far more complex and nuanced than we might have imagined. No matter whether we may accomplish our goals our fulfillment often lags behind. But what might happen if we paid ample attention to crafting our inner architecture- the architecture of our mind?
The quality of our life experience is primarily informed by our beliefs and thoughts. They truly write the script of our life’s narrative. What do they tell you? Are your thoughts your ally or do they limit or even worse, belittle you? What do you believe about yourself in regard to others? Do you overly concern yourself with what other people think of you? If so, your self-esteem is not what it should be.
Do you worry about making mistakes? This fear will keep you from truly experiencing the vibrancy of life. How do you see yourself in your closest relationships? Are you comfortable being vulnerable and revealing your authentic self? Do you identify as a people pleaser or are you more inclined to act angrily? Are you reactive or reflective, passive or assertive? The answers to these questions speak to your inner architecture, the landscape of your beliefs, thoughts and feelings. This inner sanctum sits in the director’s chair of your experiences and relationships and inform the very quality of your life.
The dramas and struggles that we encounter are most often a mirror of our relationship with our own self. Feeling stuck is altogether common, but it’s not O.K to remain stuck. If we learn to develop a mastery of our thinking and detox our mind of limiting habitual thoughts and their accompanying feelings, we become conscious and mindful. This heightened level of consciousness enables a well-lived life as our inner architecture guides our journey. Your internal experience is the lens through which you see and therefore experience your life. Focus more on your inner processes and your outer world will take care of itself.
Too often, when we encounter challenges and conflict in our primary relationships we tend to spiral down very quickly. When we’re in this down cycle, rather than pausing to assess what’s happening, we tend to fall into a reactive debate around who is right or wrong. As we all know this non-rational instinct is ruinous and sets up a no win scenario. If I need to be right and that makes you wrong, how’s that going to work out? The more sensible goal is to try to turn the tide of the degenerative energy that you’re both experiencing.
In these conflicted downslides that we endure the competitive energy that befalls the couple makes them very antagonistic. To shift back into a healthy, collaborative and supportive experience simply requires a shift of mind. This shift is easy but counterintuitive; we must let go of our reactive impulses and quiet our mind.
If you want to re-enter the energy field of the initial romantic engagement or the caring friendship you once enjoyed, try to selflessly get into the other person’s shoes. Doing this doesn’t mean you’re abandoning your position; it simply means you’re trying to care about and validate the other person. You’re not pleading guilty but acting mindfully. If I try to appreciate and care about my upset partner’s point of view, I’m invoking a shift of energy.
Connecting empathically with your partner is the most powerful thing you can do in those troubling times. Doing so can turn the tide from a competitive—even emotionally or verbally abusive— exchange back into the loving energy field you once experienced. After all, it’s easy to say, “I love you,” but it’s far more important to be able to act lovingly when you’re feeling upset.
Another way of shifting the energy of your relationships is to express positive feelings. Once we’ve defaulted into negativity, it’s natural to get caught in a hostile loop. We succumb to having— and expressing— critical thoughts and feelings about each other. Negativity fills the space between the two of you. There are times in therapy sessions when individuals may share with me positive or appreciative feelings they felt about their partner, even when their relationship is troubled. If I ask, “Did you share that with them?” I rarely hear a yes. It makes no sense to acclimate to negativity and yet avoid sharing something positive.
As silly as it seems, we may feel awkward expressing kind thoughts and feelings. This is because we’ve gotten stuck in the groove of negativity, which only widens the gap. We may be holding back something positive so as not to give the other person a stronger hand— a sign that we’ve retreated to separate battle stations. Set a new intention: when you feel good about the other person, share it. This immediately shifts the energy and sets up a breakthrough potential.
In trying to reset the downward spiral of your relationship cycle, the common expression, “You can’t change another person,” appears plausible. When we are stuck and embattled, each party becomes more defensive. But from a differing perspective, if you alter some aspect of yourself as we’ve been discussing, your partner will be impacted. Change yourself and your partner is immediately impacted. Don’t try to win, try to understand. Find something you may agree with or some positive perception and the avalanche that is overwhelming you both may retreat. This sets up a new possibility for a fundamental shift about how you feel about each other.
This article was excerpted in part from Mel’s book, The Possibility Principle.
What would it feel like to live your life with a deep sense of meaning and purpose? Many of us long for this, but sadly few of us achieve it. Some of us never even consider this question. With few exceptions, most people are diminished due to feeling insignificant. The days turn into years in the blink of eye as we play out our scripted role in a robotic way. But who is writing that script?
We are scripting life life, although not knowingly. We become wed to our responsibilities— to our routines— and to the maddening predictability of life as we come to believe that there are few alternatives. So, we metaphorically shrug and surrender to not living the life we might have hoped for. The malaise that ensues contributes to our epidemic of depression and a host of other disorders.
We struggle in our quest for significance for a number of reasons:
1) We weren’t schooled or raised, for the most part, to consider the question of what kind of life we’d like to live. We become focused on grades, colleges, jobs, marriage and children. These are all dearly important matters, but we omit the most vital consideration. The question we should be asking is: How would I like to experience my life? This inquiry prompts us to become the author of our life script, rather than just a character living out the already written plot.
2) We never learned how to overcome fear. The powerful cultural message that mandates us to avoid making mistakes, deprives us from living a fuller, richer life. The corralling of our beliefs into accepting that we shouldn’t take risks or step out of line, imprisons us into a numbing conformity. Living this way causes us to feel insignificant.
3) We lose the capacity to be truly alive, conscious in the moment and making choices that reflect our deeper, intuitive wisdom. To feel significant requires a sense of being truly present in the moment enabling you to make choices that truly serve your higher purpose.
So how do we overcome these limitations?
We need to live from a new game plan. To feel significant implies that you matter and that your empowered choices can better your life and those around you. The starting place for this shift is to free yourself from the grip of certainty and predictability. When our thoughts become wed to needing to know the future in advance, we become cogs in the machinery of our life. Significance require aliveness, as we become alert to our power to choose differently. Being stuck in the groove of predictability is life defeating.
The new sciences are informing us that reality isn’t deterministic or certain, but awash with uncertainty. Rather than recoil from the notion of uncertainty, we should paradoxically welcome it. Think of it this way: uncertainty=possibilities. When you embrace the uncertain, you can ride the waves of your change process. This also enables us to release fear. Typically, fear is the consequence of needing to know the future in advance, which induces anxiety. Welcoming the unknown allows fear to dissipate.
This new perspective frees you to find meaning and purpose in your life as any moment can be full of new opportunities. Rather than seeing yourself as the victim of circumstances, you must rethink your life. No longer reduced to your past, to your constraints, you enter into the process of your becoming. Moving from an inert condition of being to a flowing process of becoming ushers in significance as every moment becomes alive with choices, free from fear. Living your life with significance is a great gift to yourself and all those you touch, as you develop a greater purpose in living.
Intelligence and intuition are very different ways of knowing. We might think of them in opposing ways. Most people tend to default into operating from one or the other. Generally, men tend to value rational intelligence — notwithstanding that we often act completely insane and non-rationally— while women are inclined more toward the intuitive process.
To see where you stand on this spectrum, just reflect and ask yourself if you start your sentences with “I think” or “I feel?”
Ask yourself whether you more often say, I think” or “I feel.” The answer will tell you if you gravitate toward thinking or feeling, intellect or intuition. Once you identify the part that you’re not in touch with, set your intention to integrate it into your fuller being.
Intuition speaks to a way of knowing that is immediate and independent of cognition. It doesn’t require rational analysis. And it runs much deeper and truer than a mere hunch.
Intelligence on the other hand is valued as an expression of logical and rational inquiry. First world cultures tend to value intelligence over intuition. We even developed a standard measure of intelligence; IQ.
But logic and analysis, the tools of rational intellect although valuable in many ways, can wreak destruction if they become the exclusive way of knowing. To grow in our complexity and be more evolved as humans we need both qualities, not merely one. One way of knowing at the expense of the other leaves us terribly incomplete.
When we blend intuition and intellect we can operate seamlessly and powerfully. Our communication opens up on a much more coherent level. This is particularly true between the genders, where we often feel like we’re speaking different languages. When one party speaks in logical language and the other is emotionally expressive, we can anticipate a derailment. A balance of masculine and feminine energy can be achieved by integrating the way of knowing that is foreign to you.
Combine both ways of knowing and you enter into the realm of wisdom
People who are oriented towards feeling may distrust their intellect. Those inclined towards thinking may devalue feelings. By integrating both thinking and feeling we can operate on a much more powerful and seamless level.
When we integrate thinking/feeling we deepen our understanding and appreciation of one another and develop the ability to tap into a lost art: wisdom. Wisdom is the ability to better perceive the unintended consequences of both our actions and inactions.
Being bound to one way of knowing, intelligence or intuition severely limits us. Think of mere intelligence as going through life with binoculars affixed to your eyes. You focus on what you’re looking at but miss the bigger picture. Living solely from intuition deprives us of the wondrous resources of your intelligence. Combine both ways of knowing and you enter into the realm of wisdom.
Many people participate in cleanse programs to eliminate toxins they’ve accumulated over their lifetime. These poisons drain our vitality and denigrate our health. Detoxing has gone mainstream as more and more people seek wellness. As well, a vast number of us work out regularly, tending to our physical wellbeing. But there’s a most important aspect of ourselves that we ignore—the health and vigor of our minds. We need to detox our minds from the false and limited thinking that disrupts our lives and our relationships.
What do I mean by the toxins of your mind? Over the course of your life you probably cling to a few primary beliefs about yourself. These beliefs shape the way you know yourself and how you think. They are the filter through which you see. From these beliefs and your personal experiences, you have likely become addicted to certain recurring thoughts that write the script of your life. Regrettably, these thoughts are often self-limiting, denigrating or simply wrong-minded and keep you from living the life you deserve. Habitual thoughts confine you to being a character in your script, rather than being the author of your life narrative. Think of these limiting old thoughts as a straitjacket. Ask yourself what the central theme of your thoughts tells you. They may sound like “I’m not smart enough” or “People don’t respect me,” or “I always make the wrong choices.”
Stuck in a Groove
For those of us old enough to remember vinyl records, we might recall that when there was a scratch on the album, the needle would sometimes get stuck in the groove. The same sound or lyrics would keep repeating. In the groove, the tone arm couldn’t find its way into the next groove. This is exactly what happens with our thoughts. They tend to keep reiterating the same messages, time and again. When they do so, they summon old memories and old feelings and thwart our ability to change.
The replay of old thoughts and feelings preclude us from being present. We are simply replicating the past. This is such a wasteful way to live our lives as we move from moment to moment—wanting for change—but not understanding how to achieve it. The continuous repetition of old thoughts and feelings robs us of new experience. As well, it deprives us of bringing new possibilities into our lives. This groove is where fear reigns supreme. Mind detox helps free you from being trapped in the groove.
If I can’t see the thought, I won’t be having a thought – the thought will be having me!
I have been looking at this problem for some time now and have developed a method to help people detox their minds. This process helps us to illuminate the habitual thoughts that trick us into false realities. Learning to observe thought, rather than attaching to and becoming the thought, is where our change process begins. When you are able to see your thought, you are actually thinking! This is where you access your inner wisdom.
The difficulty we encounter in disengaging the thought is due to its automatic nature. Before we have an opportunity to take notice of the thought, we’ve already become the thought. You can learn to train your mind to become more alert and slow down the process, so that we may see the thought more clearly. It’s almost like seeing it coming in slow motion, as if you were a watching sports replay. When you learn to see the thought clamoring for your attention, imagine placing your forefinger vertically in front of your lips and say shhhh to the thought.
Slowing it Down
For an analogy let’s look at tennis. Let’s metaphorically equate thought with being the tennis ball. Becoming aware of the thought is like anticipating the arrival of the ball on your side of the net. You see our opponent’s positioning and footwork, their racquet movement and the position of the ball as it advances toward you. By the time your opponent hits the ball and it approaches the net, you’re fully engaged and anticipating its arrival. You’d hardly wait until the ball was inches from you before you began to react. Anticipation and awareness are fundamental in tennis or any sport. And so we train ourselves in this awareness and time slows in a relative sense as we come into this zone of awareness.
The very same thing can be accomplished with thought as we learn to see it in advance of becoming it. In the nanosecond before you merge with your next thought you exist in a pure state of potential. Everything is possible. You don’t need to be confined by your life history but can break free to create the life you choose. But you need to learn to think differently. Detoxing your mind is altogether achievable once you set your intention to do so.
Mel’s method for detoxing your mind will be discussed in detail and at length in his new book, The Possibility Principle: How Quantum Physics Can Improve the Way You Think, Live and Love.
The pursuit of our personal change process often results in frustration and struggle. As much as we may fantasize new visions for our life, we tend to remain anchored in the familiarity of our life script. The question arises, “Why do we fail so often in our ability to make changes in our life?” My answer may surprise you, but it’s rooted in the way we think reality operates. The 17th century scientist Sir Isaac Newton postulated that the universe was like a giant machine, comprised of separate and discrete parts. He stated that with sufficient data one could reasonably calculate future conditions. This principle came to be known as determinism. And we live out our lives impacted by this “reality.”
The more that we try to know the future in advance, the more wed we become to certainty. If we need to know what will happen — what the consequences of our actions or inactions will be — the more fearful we become about entering into the flow of life. So we hold back and become frozen with apprehension as we analyze our choices. This is where fear resides. People who become addicted to these calculations often suffer from anxiety, as their thoughts perpetually analyze future consequences. Anxiety is directly correlated to our attachment to these fearful thoughts. This freezes us out of the change process as it robs us of our ability to craft a new tomorrow.
An Uncertain Universe
In the early 20th century, the field of quantum physics discovered that the universe and reality itself is thoroughly uncertain. It now appears that uncertainty applies to our everyday lives as much as it does to the quantum realm. Paradoxically, this uncertainty should be seen as welcome news. How do I come to make this statement? Certainty or predictability precludes new possibility. If the future is already known in advance we lose the ability to truly be present. Uncertainty is necessary for new potentials to arise. The new science informs us that reality is inexorably unfolding and flowing, creating possibility in every instant. We can join in this life-enhancing flow, if we simply let go of the compulsion to know an unknowable future. Doing this enables us to become free of our addiction to fearful thoughts.
Picture standing by the bank of a river and imagine that the river as the metaphorical flow of life. I am coaxing you to enter the river with me to engage this flow. Hesitantly, you agree. Yet, upon moving into the river you grab a hold of a boulder and try to hold back the river. I ask you to let go and embrace the flow. You look ahead and see a bend in the river and you protest, “but I can’t see where the river will take me, I need to know.”And so you block the current of life. You’re not supposed to know where it will go but you are free to navigate your direction as you go along. But you must enter into the flow of your life and the current of change.
Being stuck in determinism blocks us from becoming the author of our own life script.Yet, most people continue to avoid uncertainty at all costs with sad results. Our relationship with others and with ourselves becomes repetitive, rather like watching the movie Groundhog Day, in which the protagonist finally breaks free. The key to change lies in altering our relationship with uncertainty. Rather than trying to ward it off, embrace it. It’s the engine of your change process.Your resistance is about coming out of your familiar zone. You can’t elicit change and new possibility and remain in the familiar at the same time. You must chose.
“I am an alcoholic,” the central refrain of AA is pivotal in helping addicts face their reality. This statement renders a clear and precise surrender to their affliction. This represents a bold and courageous first step in the recovery process. These addictions may stretch from drugs, alcohol, sex and porn to a vast array of other disordered compulsions. The AA approach is the gold standard for helping people achieve and maintain their sobriety alongside the incalculable benefits of fellowship. Arguably, AA does this more successfully than anyone else. Yet, in helping to secure an individual’s substance and emotional sobriety, the previously stated proclamation may ironically imperil that person’s personal growth.
Who Am I?
I was working with a man in his late fifties who had been sober for three decades. He was no longer tempted by alcohol and could even sit at a bar with friends enjoying his club soda. This gentleman was clearly well past his previous battle with alcoholism. Yet, in accordance with the AA protocol, he continued to refer to himself as an alcoholic. This imprint limited how he looked at himself. He didn’t see himself as an evolving person but remained stuck, in his self-image — one that was cemented into his psyche from the age of twenty- five. His snapshot of himself was frozen in time, as was his identity. This in turn impacted not only his relationship with himself but with those close to him. He wasn’t evolving in his life, while others around him were. This is the stuff of victimhood.
Consider the difference between saying “I am an alcoholic,” as opposed to, “I suffered from alcoholism for a number of years, but I’m sober for the last 25 years.” If we’ve broken free from the grip of our addiction and no longer feel at risk, we need to differentiate between the past and the present. If I’ve been sober for thirty years and still declare, “I am an alcoholic,” the word am betrays my progress. Reiterating my addiction reduces me to still being an addict. If I’ve broken free of my addiction, why would I still choose to identify with my victimhood? If someone says, “I’m a convict,” I’d assume they are incarcerated. If they served their time and are now free, they might say, “I’m an ex-con,” as they signify the difference. Why should it be different for addiction?
As quantum physics wondrously describes, reality and the universe itself – including us humans as well – appears to be inexorably flowing and evolving. From this perspective nothing remains in a fixed state of being, everything participates in the dance of becoming. Nothing is left out of this movement. This includes the recovering addict. Addiction is a horrific affliction, but one that can be overcome. Why would we want to further the punishment of the past by carrying it with us when it no longer applies?
Victim or Victor?
Overcoming addiction — in whatever form it may present – is enormously challenging, but if you’re successful it’s also incredibly noteworthy. You should feel proud of your success. You are not who you used to be. I’d encourage you to announce your victory as you fully invest in your process of becoming, as you further advance your growth. The greatest guarantor of your continued sobriety is your forward movement. It’s your choice as to see yourself as a victim — or as a victor.
Those of us old enough to remember vinyl records-notwithstanding their recent comeback-might recall that when there was a scratch on the album, the needle sometimes got stuck in the groove. The same music or lyric would keep repeating as the tone arm couldn’t navigate into the next groove. Our thoughts have a similar habit as […]
In any given year approximately 40 million Americans will suffer from a debilitating encounter with anxiety. Over the course of your lifetime, there’s a 25% chance you’ll experience a diagnosable anxiety disorder. This is such a staggering rate of affliction. It appears we’ve adapted to a new norm—one of mass disquiet. We have become habituated […]
Many years ago, I’d often fall into a recurring disagreement with my former wife. At bedtime I’d frequently find myself saying, “It’s hot in here.” She’d respond, “No it’s not, it’s cold. ‘’ This led to a frustrating ,mind-numbing back and forth that went nowhere. It took quite some time until I reached a […]