So you’ve made some changes in your life, and you feel like you’re becoming a new person – that the person you were, full of fear, hostage to other people’s expectations, is fading away and you’re ready to live a new life.
And then something happens that hooks you right back in again. You’re filled with doubt and uncertainty. Have you really changed at all? Are you ready to make a key decision that reflects the new you?
Something I enjoy a lot is getting email from people who read my blogs. I feel I’ve made a connection if someone can be bothered, or can pluck up the courage, to write me an email and tell me how I’ve helped them, or ask for some advice.
So I was delighted recently to get an email from a reader who was in the situation I’ve just described. I won’t go into the details, since they were told to me in confidence, but I do want to talk about the suggestions I gave about how to be a new person.
Your mind is a European city
I’ve not yet managed to make it to Europe, but I have a good friend who lived in London for a while, and he’s described how old and new exist next to each other – a 17th-century pub surrounded by 19th-century houses and a 21st-century office tower. Even in the brash young colonial city I live in, you’ll see a brick building with the date 1865 on it opposite an Edwardian facade which has a mirror-glass monolith rising behind it.
And that’s how your mind is if you’ve experienced personal change.
After a severe stress breakdown in my early 20s, I felt as if my earlier self had died and I’d inherited his name, his body and his possessions – but the break was profound enough that I was no longer him. I was a new person. But in bits and pieces scattered through the city of my mind, I still was that earlier young man.
I was born in the late 1960s, and that decade and each decade since has contributed a layer to who I am right now. Put me in a room with someone I was at primary school with, and I’m back in the 70s. Play me a song from the late 80s, and I’m back at university. It’s all a part of the mix.
But when you’ve made a profound change, there are whole areas of yourself that have undergone urban renewal. The slums have been cleared, the archaeologists have had their go, and contemporary buildings are going up.
There may still be some stuff buried in the basement, though. You can’t really be a new person completely until you deal with it.
How to start over
The advice I gave to my reader was to draw a clear line between old and new, to become the new person as clearly as possible, and to make the important decision she’d asked for advice about from that position.
One excellent way to do this is the Gestalt “empty chair” roleplay technique. In traditional Gestalt psychology it actually uses two chairs, and you get up and swap between them when you’re swapping roles. I was taught it in a hypnotherapy context, which uses your imagination instead of physical movement. Either will work.
Here’s how to be a new person with the “empty chair” technique.
- Sit comfortably in a chair. You can have another chair positioned opposite you, or you can simply imagine it – whichever you think will work better for you.
- Get into a relaxed state of mind where you can more easily apply “dream-like” logic to your situation. I have a short track to help you with this, which you can download off my self-hypnosis site.
- Since the new person is (or is becoming) the “real you”, start by becoming that person as clearly and distinctly as you can. Think about the future as well as the past, and all the distinctive things about being that person. You might say things like, “I am strong, I am confident, I look after myself.”
- Picture being that person in everyday situations. Remember recent situations, and also invent future situations where you act in the new way. Be as vivid and clear as you can in imagining the sights, sounds, feelings and even smells and tastes of acting in the new way.
- Once you are really in the new person’s skin, imagine the old version of yourself in the other chair. Imagine the facial expression, the body language, the voice of the person you were before you changed.
- Have a conversation between the two versions of yourself about the decision you want to make. Discuss it back and forth. As you shift between the personae, either imagine swapping chairs or actually get up and switch chairs (whichever works better for you). Make sure you keep a really clear distinction between the old and the new – using the two chairs helps with this.
- Reassure your old self about the decision your new self wants to make. Calm its doubts and fears.
- Here’s my own innovation to the technique: When you’ve had the discussion, ask the old self to retire, to give up active involvement in your life and become a portrait on the wall, an honoured former self that provided the foundations that your current life is building on. Say some words of appreciation and care for the previous self.
- Imagine the former self actually becoming that portrait on the wall, beautifully painted, beautifully framed, a piece of the past but no longer a part of the present. Standing before the portrait, make your decision as the new person you’ve become.
- After you reorient yourself to the room you’re actually in and your real body, take a moment to reaffirm that decision as part of your new life. And then go and act on it.
I hope that helps you make your personal transition more real in your life. Here are a few more resources – posts I’ve written elsewhere on the topic of being a new person:
- How to Become a Different Person (Pick The Brain)
- Are You Anchored to the Past? (Change Your Thoughts)
- Why Nothing is Scarier than Change (Pick The Brain)
- Firing Chekhov’s Gun: How to Get Over Stuff and Move On (Living Skillfully)
I’ll leave you with those, because I won’t get a chance to post next week. I’m going to be at the NZ Hypnotherapy Federation conference this coming weekend, which is always a great time and always gives me new ideas. And the week after that, I’m at the NZ Association of Positive Psychology conference, which I’m very excited about. That should keep me in ideas for a few weeks, anyway.
If you try out the technique in this post, please let me know how it went – either by email (mike at howtobeamazing.com), or better yet in a comment on this post so everyone can share in your insights. Thanks!
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