“Just be yourself.”
People throw this aphorism around like it’s that simple: “All you have to do is say, “just be yourself,” and then it happens!” While this contains a kernel of truth, the saying deceptively suggests that being yourself is a passive endeavor. In truth, it requires a strong intentionality.
This is because of the world in which we live. In cities today, the average person sees 5,000 ads per day, a number that has more than doubled in the last thirty years. These ads generally exploit the viewer’s insecurity and promise relief with their product. The not-so-subtle suggestions underneath the advertisements that we see go something like this: “You smell. If you smell, people won’t like you and you’ll die alone. But! If you buy our soap, then people will love you and you’ll die happy.” Or something like this: “The only way to be happy is to have an attractive partner and the only way to have an attractive partner is to be attractive. If you buy this cologne, you’ll be attractive.”
The false logic of these advertisements is readily apparent, but emotionally, they are so powerful that often our emotions override logic. So, the question becomes: In a world that is spending billions of dollars to turn you into someone else, how can you be yourself?”
A fantastic question. While there are many strategies to gain self-awareness and self-confidence, I’m going to share the one that resonates the most with me. These ideas are pulled from the Inner-Relationship Focusing work of Ann Weiser Cornell and Barbara McGavin, two self-awareness wizards who are true masters of their craft. As a side note, you can learn more about this work at focusingresources.com.
Inner-relationship focusing begins with the simple claim that you are not your desires and opinions. Instead, each desire and opinion is only one part of you. This makes sense, if you think about it, since so many of your desires and opinions or beliefs contradict one another.
The goal of this work is to be present in the moment so that you can accurately see these different parts of you. For example, let’s say you are walking around thinking, “I’m so angry. She never should have said that. I’m so angry about it!” Many of us exist fully merged with one part’s ideas. If you are walking around thinking—either intensely or distractedly—about how angry you are, then you can’t see any other parts of you. There likely also exists a part of you that isn’t angry, perhaps one that is perhaps feeling guilt about the situation or one that understands why the other person said what she said. The specifics will be different for each person, but the point is that, if you’re so involved with one part of you—in this case, the angry part—then you can’t see any other part of you. You won’t be able to see the parts of you that understand or feel other emotions.
This is important, because without this larger inner awareness, we can easily be roped into believing the bountiful messages that are given to us every second of every day by advertisements, other people and our own inner parts.
So what can you do about this?
First, cultivate mindfulness. As often as you can throughout your day, take a second to say to yourself, “I am here. Right now, in this moment.” Find something that helps you feel present in the moment. Maybe this means focusing on your breath for thirty seconds. Or listening to as many sounds from your environment as you can hear at one time. My strategy is to momentarily bring my attention to what my feet and hands are touching. The feeling of the floor or the table helps me feel grounded in the present moment, connected to the space that I am currently occupying.
From that place of mindfulness, or “presence,” you can then briefly scan your inner body for…anything. Body sensations, tension, emotions, memories, etc are all fair game. Often it helps to start with a body sensation. For example, you may notice that there’s a tense feeling in your chest. Then you can internally say to yourself, “I am noticing that something in my chest is feeling tense.” And then simply observe the tense feeling in your chest, checking periodically to make sure you still feel present in the current moment. In the example above you could say, “I am noticing that something in me is feeling so angry about what she said.” And again, observe that. See if you can feel that anger anywhere in your body. If you can, then notice that.
Approach each observation with a sense of curiosity, patience, and compassion, the way you would listen to a small child who you love. If you can’t access curiosity, patience or compassion, then check to see if you are feeling grounded in the present moment, if you can hear the sounds around you, feel your breath, feel what your body is touching.
This is the beginning of the Inner-Relationship Focusing process. It is, without a doubt, the best strategy that I have found so far. If you can approach your inner world with a mindful approach that is grounded in curiosity, compassion and patience, then you’ll be much more strongly rooted in what is actually happening in your interiority. You’ll be more connected to who you actually are and more aware of how other people’s opinions affect you.
For more information on Inner-Relationship Focusing, visit Ann Weiser Cornell’s website www.focusingresources.com, where you’ll find many free articles and recordings that offer more in depth information. If you have any comments or questions, please comment below and I will respond ASAP! Thank you for reading!