“Who am I?” Is the Wrong Question to Ask Yourself

Many of us ask ourselves the age-old question, “Who am I?“This question presumes there might be a plausible answer, as if our identity could- or should be- reduced to a fixed description. Individuals who ask this type of question are usually struggling around their core sense of self and grasping for a concrete answer. The paradox is that the more you seek to solidify who you think you are, the more fragile you feel and become. So, this question as to who I am is the wrong question to ask. We’d be far better served to contemplate, “How would I like to experience my life?” The former question focuses on a fixed state of being, while the latter one envisions participating in the flow of your life-your process of becoming.

There is great benefit to be derived when we shift from notions of a fixed, inert identity to one of an evolving sense of self. Rather than taking a frozen snapshot of yourself, try to embrace an unfolding sense of self that enables you to perpetually re-frame, re-craft and re-think yourself and your experiences. This process of becoming allows you to move beyond the confinement of your past experiences and usher change into your life. When you learn to do this, you can access new possibilities in your life. The process of becoming lies at the heart of the possibility principle. This principle, which I illuminate in my new book, The Possibility Principle, reveals how we can prosper and thrive by embracing uncertainty.

As we strive to know ourselves, in all of our complexity, we must also pay attention to the evolving and unfolding process of life itself. We should consider how our past and our interpretation of it -the meaning we choose to give to it-has informed our present. Rethinking your past and placing it in a new context permits you to craft a different present and future. That is what a healthy change process looks like.

Often, it’s a sense of turbulence or insecurity that has us inquire, “Who am I?” Imagine that you’ve been imprisoned for twenty years, incarcerated since the age of twenty. You literally had no adult life experience outside of the penitentiary and so your sense of self is extremely limited. You are about to be released from your confinement. The question, “Who am I?” would provoke a very fragile sense of self that might leave you ironically apprehensive about your impending freedom. Yet it’s unthinkable that you’d choose to remain behind bars until you could secure your future identity. You’d have little choice but to move forward into the uncertainty of what lies ahead and welcome your experience of becoming. This process of becoming requires that you get out of your own way so that you can embrace your natural unfolding.To accomplish this, we must welcome uncertainty. 

The embrace of uncertainty results in new possibilities. I have worked with people who have been mired in unhappy marriages, were unsuccessful in couples therapy, and yet chose to remain stuck due to their fear of who they would be as a divorced person. They might ask worriedly, “Who would I be?” The challenge they face is around their need for certainty. The irony is that they might default to their current certainty-unhappiness- rather than elect to experience the uncertainty around their process of becoming.

At the other end of the identity continuum are those who claim to know themselves so well. This group of individuals may also have a deep fragility around their sense of self. To know yourself so well leaves little room for growth. It speaks to a very defensive and fixed sense of self. Even more, it speaks to a protective mechanism that may guard against deeper reflection and change. If I’m dead certain that I know exactly who I am, then I must be a fixed entity, stuck in my state of being.

It’s wise to self-reflect and invite introspection, but doing so requires maintaining a delicate balance. Be cautious not to fall prey to overanalyzing. The goal is to maintain malleability as you engage in your reflection, as if you were a willow tree rather than a sturdy oak tree. The willow is flexible and survives the storm as it bends with the vicissitudes of its environs, whereas the rigid oak is more likely to crack.

When you maintain this flexibility during reflection, you’re more contemplative and forward-looking, allowing you to unfetter yourself from the imprint of your wounds. Try to envision how you’d like to experience your life and note the aspects of yourself that you’ll need to let go of. Then look at your core beliefs and recurring thoughts that keep reinforcing your confinement. Work with that dissonance as you release your past.

Embracing uncertainty enables us to join with the perpetual flow of the universe. The process of becoming feels forgiving. In the flow of becoming, you’re no longer rooted in the hardship of fear, insecurity or concerns about mistakes. Becoming is boundless and infinite, whereas being is structured and limiting. Quantum physics informs us that all of reality is perpetually flowing, a kind of reality-making process. Nothing is static or inert. All is in the flow of becoming. We can join in that ride once we shift our perspective and embrace the uncertain.

Mel Schwartz LCSW MPhil is a psychotherapist, marriage counselor,TEDx speaker and corporate leadership and communications consultant. He is the author of The Possibility Principle: How Quantum Physics Can Improve the Way You Think, Live and Love.  Mel earned his graduate degree from Columbia University. Mel’s TEDx talk, Breaking Free From Anxiety receives over 50,000 views per month. He has written over 100 articles read by more than 3 million people. One of the first practicing psychotherapists to to integrate the principles of quantum physics into a transformative therapeutic approach.

 Mel practices in Westport CT, Manhattan and globally by Skype

Why New Year’s Resolutions Tend to Fail—And How to Make Them Succeed

At this time of  year  many of us make New Year’s resolutions that over time wither and fade as we try vainly to transform some aspect of our lives. What begins with a hopeful optimism descends in yet another unmet aspiration.

It’s always a curiosity to me how we seek change in the same way that produces the same failure. I imagine that if we conducted a survey six months after the New Year and asked people about the success of their resolutions, we’d find an abysmal rate of failure. Our struggle with change is resoundingly difficult and scant attention is devoted toward understanding why that’s so.

Change begins as a thought, underscored by a wish or even stronger, a desire. This may set in motion an even stronger feeling, an intention. Most people find themselves somewhere within this continuum. Clearly, where you fall within that range is important toward the eventual outcome, but nevertheless insufficient for an assurance of reaching your goal.

What typically prevents the success is the necessary commitment–the vaulting into action–that supports the transition. A number of years ago, on the occasion of my voicing a resolution —to get into shape and work out regularly—a dear friend asked me when I’d actually be doing that. I said, ” at least three times a week.” He responded with a ringing clarity, ” If it’s not in your calendar, day and time, you’re not committing to it.” He was quite right. The intention wasn’t enough. It was lacking willfulness. I came to appreciate that intention must be coupled with will. To change we must engage a willful intention.

It’s not uncommon to initiate the change, but over time we tend to retreat back into the old familiar zone and loosen our grip on the new progress. Sustaining change is often more difficult than initiating it. This is because we haven’t fully committed to the progress. We make a bit of change, breathe a sigh of relief and give ourselves a break. And the change evaporates.

Your willful intention, if grounded in conviction, can lead to what I call a defining moment. It’s an instant in which we become so invested in the change we desire, that we commit to a turning point in our lives. We are in fact changed as of that moment. This is a defining moment in which we come to see ourselves differently, act upon it, and become transformed.

The defining moment alters everything. It is the engine that drives the change. The introduction of this new catalyst alters how we think and how we operate. It introduces a new habit into our being and literally alters our bio-chemistry. Neuroscience is now clearly confirming that our thoughts do indeed alter our brain chemistry. Sustaining the new thinking and embracing it with conviction becomes achievable with a deeply rooted commitment. Anything short leaves us falling short.

Old habits die hard because old thought defends its territory. Thought and behavior are inextricably connected. This habitual pattern literally creates a groove of thought, feeling and behavior. And it here that we get stuck. In order to disrupt that habitual pattern, we must intervene with a significant force, the defining moment in which we embrace the change and nothing stands in the way. This requires embracing the disquiet of new behavior. We need to take the discomfort and make it our ally as we align with the new shift. A resolution isn’t enough; a turning point into new terrain is required accompanied by the energy to sustain it.

Self Esteem or Other Esteem?

woman-low-self-esteemIn my previous article, Self-Esteem: A Missed Diagnosis, I proposed that a devaluation of one’s self lies at the heart of most psychological and emotional disorders. Let’s now explore more deeply what the term self-esteem denotes and come to appreciate what we mean by it as well as what gets in our way of attaining it.

I have come to believe that the way the term self-esteem is used is actually a misnomer. The first half of the expression, self, would seem to indicate that esteem, the second half of the expression, is derived from one’s self. Yet if we look closer, we find that most people seek a sense of worthiness from that which lies outside of them. For a student, it might come from good grades; for a businessperson or worker, it’s derived from a promotion or a raise; and for most individuals, praise or acknowledgement provide a temporary increase in esteem. Our society generates billions of dollars in revenues from inducing people to seek the quick fix of vanity as a means toward feeling better. Yet none of these actually contribute one iota to self-esteem. Ironically, they may even get in the way.

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Would You Like to Be the Partner I Want You to Be?

In my role as a relationship therapist, I’ve begun prompting couples to ask their partners, “Would you like to be the person that I’m asking you to change into? Would you like to be the partner that I want you to be?”

This type of inquiry quiets the tired back and forth, right and wrong ping ponging that gets us nowhere. It’s not uncommon to ask your partner to make changes in their beliefs, attitudes, or behavior to accommodate your wishes. Very often, though, this is met by an entrenched resistance from the person being asked to change. You should ask yourself if you’re resisting simply for the sake of resisting, or would the requested change be consistent with your own growth and personal evolution?

If what is being requested seems authentic and resonant with your growth, and you are nevertheless resisting, then you might want to pay attention to why you’re digging your heels in. If you’re caught up in the power struggle and keeping a scorecard of offenses, the path to amicability remains obstructed; the larger picture is surely being missed.

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Turning Crisis into Opportunity

Crises come into our lives, no matter how we may try to avoid them. They are troubling, unwanted experiences or events that take us out way out of our comfort zone. Typically, crises result in some type of loss. The very nature of crisis is antithetical to our core values of certainty and predictability as they vanish in an instant.

We desperately try to restore order to our lives, as chaos seems to prevail. Yet, if we learn to reframe how we see crisis, we might actually take advantage of it. There is the potential for alchemy as the crisis unfolds into a gain, provided we learn to stop resisting the unwanted change.

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Breaking Free from Your Comfort Zone

Our Most Intimate Relationship

The most intimate relationship we will have in our lives is not with our parents, our spouses, our children or closest friends. It is with our thoughts. They are our constant companions. Our thoughts will impact our lives far more than any relationship. In fact, they will greatly impact those relations. The quality and nature of what our thoughts tell us will largely script the experience of our lives. Learning to break free from the confines of old thought is the key to personal growth.

Thoughts can either be our supportive allies or our critical antagonists.  They are the very filters through which we experience our lives. A particular thought – embedded as part of a larger belief – can either imprison or liberate us. Our thoughts very much tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies.

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