Describe – don’t explain it away
What happens when we take a piece of behavior and identify ourselves with that behavior? Or refer to something as if it were our personality: i.e. “That’s me, I’m clumsy!” (Identity? Personality? Behavior?) “I always get angry when someone does xyz.” (Identity? Personality? Behavior?)
You’re describing a behavior – not your identity, and not your personality. You are telling what you do – not telling who you are.
You might be inclined to counter this statement by saying something like, “Well, that’s just the way I am.” But are you really always that way? Everywhere and all the time?
Sometimes things can trigger us, and we act in a certain way, but here’s the catch: we don’t have to act “that way”! That is just how we have practiced acting (repeated the behavior), and now that we’ve practiced “that way” (the behavior) long enough, we think it is “us”. When in reality, it has just become our habitual way of acting (behaving).
It is not who we are. It is just how we sometimes express ourselves.
So how can you stop “being clumsy” if you think that is you? How can you stop being angry when someone says or does something that triggers you?
The first step is to become aware of whatever the trigger is. If, in your environment, there is something that triggers you, you need to identify that trigger first – become aware of the trigger. For example, “I am always clumsy at my mother-in-laws house.” Aha! Mother-in-law’s house is the trigger! “I always get angry when someone interrupts me in a meeting.” Aha! The meeting setting is the trigger.
Then the next step (and this insight, although known for many, many years, has been confirmed by recent neuroplasticity research) is to express acceptance of this, your own, behavior. By accepting it, you are telling your mind you want to work with this behavior, and not against it. (Dear Brain, there is no reason to get all afraid that I will go and change my oh-so-comfortable personality. You don’t have to bother about going into defensive, protective, or child-pout mode.) By acknowledging that this behavior is a part of “you” (better said, a part of how you interact with the world and how you experience reality), you are working with your brain/mind and not against it. So go ahead, acknowledge it, but do it like this: “I do this abc behavior in xyz circumstances.”
Then the third step is to ask yourself, “in what situation do I not act clumsy”? “In which situations am I able to easily control my anger”? Whatever you’ve been erroneously identifying as being “you” or “your personality”, you now want to think about a time when you are not “like that”.
You are not always clumsy, not always angry, not always <fill in the blank here>!
To take this exercise to the next level, you may want to consider what I consider the overall-best self-help question of them all: “When am I at my best?” This is who you want to be as often as you can. Who is that “best me”? Can you describe her or him? In what situations are you your “best me”? Make it “real”: describe this “best me” in all its lovely details! Who is there with you? The people, the place, the sights and sounds, the smell, the temperature, what you are wearing, where are you sitting, where you are standing …? Think of as many details as you possibly can, and in your mind’s eye feel it, hear it, see it, smell it and bathe in the glorious feeling of being “best me”.
Tell me how you’ve practiced this little powerful little tool in the comments section. I would love to hear from you!