I am a big believer in working the question “Who am I?” regularly, and from multiple angles. This is a great personal inventory tool that was inspired by Byron Katie‘s “four questions.” I call it “spring cleaning” because it involves the same process of discernment that you could use for culling your wardrobe. The point of this exercise is to OPEN TO POSSIBILITY. For you will never know who you are becoming if you never question and revise your idea of who you are now.
This is a gentle form of shadow work because it involves taking a look at those pieces of yourself that cause you some doubt and consternation. But I say this is “gentle” because the real issues will almost always fall under LET GO, and you will see below that we are leaving those aside for another time. What I’m interested in is the ambiguous MAYBE? pile. This pile is juicy in its own way because we can do some really subtle work here. We can go about this as detectives and become really curious about how things will turn out. (Will this aspect of myself end up on the chopping block or will it live to see another day?)
What I mean by “subtle” work is that we can really inspect those parts of ourselves that don’t immediately appear troublesome, but nonetheless open us to possibility when we bring them into consideration. One person in the room offered up an examination of her trademark calmness. Almost everyone turned to her as if she were absolutely crazy—Why would you ever want to let that go??—since calmness is such a prized characteristic. But she astutely put her finger on her overidentification with that trait as a nudge to place it under MAYBE?.
- Create three piles of personal attributes: KEEP / MAYBE? / LET GO
- Under KEEP file those aspects of yourself that satisfy the following two criteria: it feels absolutely true and it currently serves you. (The latter criterion is absolutely paramount, so be honest about it.)
- Under LET GO file those aspects of yourself that you know are no longer true about yourself. These are old stories, habits, behaviors, labels, etc. that just aren’t true anymore or have a ring of falseness to it. They feel worn out and tired. You are ready to let them go because they no longer serve you. [Side bar: you may need release work on some of these items, but that is another topic for another day.]
- What we are really interested in is the middle category: MAYBE? This is the category where you file those aspects of yourself that you aren’t quite sure about.
To return to the clothing analogy, this might be the reliable t-shirt that has gone past “comfortably worn” to threadbare. Or it might be that beautiful dress that you haven’t had an occasion to wear it to in several years. Or it could be that sweater someone special gave you, that just isn’t to your taste, but that you’ve kept purely for sentimental reasons. Point is, you can come up with a whole list of reasons why you are holding onto these things, or your heart strings feel pulled at the thought of clearing these pieces out.
What goes under the MAYBE? category? Whatever aspect of yourself you’re unsure about, whatever feels hard to let go of, those characteristics that sometimes serve you…you think. And that is the biggest clue: this is where your left brain kicks anxiously with a whole list of reasons why you should hold onto these aspects. And that’s okay. That’s just your ego trying to protect you. When that happens, acknowledge it, thank it for chiming in, and appease it by saying, “We are just placing this into the MAYBE? pile for closer consideration. Don’t worry. We’re not under attack. We’re doing nothing drastic without some careful thought.”
5. With each item, open to possibility by asking yourself, “If I were to let this go, who would I be? What would I do? What could happen?” Another way of framing this is to use Byron Katie’s four questions. Remember to drop into your heart when you do this portion of the exercise. Notice how you feel when you answer these questions. Your body will give you your answers.
Is it true?
Can I know for certain that it’s absolutely true?
What happens when I believe this?
Who would I be without this belief?
Going through this process gives you a way to weigh the pros and cons of retaining or releasing these MAYBE? aspects of yourself. Remember that there is a reason behind even the craziest things that we all do. When we keep a behavior or identity around it is because it serves us in some way. Until the costs of doing so outweigh the benefits, we will not change, no matter the suffering it causes us or the people around us. You can let yourself off the hook for guilt, self-judgment, etc. and be honest about what you are and are not ready to change.
When we did this aloud with a volunteer she immediately felt the stark contrast between tightness and relief in her body when answering the third and fourth questions. Just that experience alone led her to decide to place her concern under LET GO. How liberating it is to discover these things about ourselves!