Americans are known for their positive attitudes, their innate sense of go-get-itness. We have that deep belief in the American Dream, in the rising up through the ranks and creating anything we can put our mind -- and our hard work -- to.
And this sense of positive action is rewarded throughout our lives. We hand out stickers, medals, merit badges, and trophies, all in the hopes of instilling a competitive attitude and a conquering mindset into our youth.
So you’d think that with all that support for coming out on top, that the inclination to achieve would be deeply embedded and easy to access. Right?
Then why is it so hard sometimes to do the thing we set out to do?
I’d like to propose an idea. That possibly you both want the thing you want – and also don’t want the thing you want.
That there is some part of you that is deeply, concretely, decisively opposed to getting the thing you say you want. The thing that by all accounts you should want.
How could that possibly be? Let’s take a look…
1. You keep saying tomorrow is the day your diet will begin.
You say that losing weight is important to you. You know you don’t feel confident in your body and your knees hurt and you feel super emotional from the sugar highs and crashes you put yourself through. You look at clothing sales and wish you could buy the sexy outfit that catches your eye.
And yet, you still reach for dessert every night. And yet, you still say yes to the afternoon cookie. And yet, you still pour heaps of sugar into your morning coffee.
2. You keep saying you want a relationship, but you do barely more than swipe right every few weeks.
Your friends are happily married or in serious relationships. You know that a partnership is important to you. You want to find someone who complements you, who can share in your victories and comfort you in your defeats.
And yet, you keep cancelling plans to go out and meet new people. You can’t be bothered to answer anyone who reaches out on the Tinder or Bumble. Hell, you’ve just deleted all the apps from your phone.
3. You keep meaning to step up at work and ask for what you’re worth… After the next big project wraps.
You know you deserve more. A title bump. A bigger paycheck. You know you’ve earned it with your hard work and dedication. You know you should march into your boss’ office and stake your claim.
And yet, the idea of owning your true value makes you want to barf, so you put it off. Next month. Next year. After you get more training. After you pull off some especially big feat.
4. You want to grow your bank account … after you figure out the rest of your life.
You know that part of adulting is growing your net worth. You’ve read the books on investing. You know retirement will come quicker than you can fathom, and that now is the time to do the work. Compound interest and everything.
And yet, the economy is a wreck and it’s just too damn hard. And yet, you’re not that old, and grown-up-hood can surely be put off for another 2 years. Or 5 years….
5. You keep dreaming of writing that book one day. One day...
You know you have a book in you. You know there are stories you want to share and words of wisdom that will have others laughing and crying and learning.
And yet, you can’t find the time. Your spelling sucks and your grammar is atrocious. You’ve lost the ability to compose anything longer than 140 characters.
6. You have a secret desire to try some of those Fifty Shades of Grey moves you’ve read so much about. Maybe in another life…
You are noticing a desire for something unexpected and potentially naughty. It tingles in your body when you think of it. It puts a secret wicked smile on your lips.
And yet, you’d rather die than speak out loud any of these desires.
You can’t imagine the embarrassment or shame you’d feel if you ever even tried any of these things.
You know you’d scare the bejeezus out of your partner if you even suggested it.
7. You’ve called the white river rafting tour group so many times they know you by your first name. And you know you’re going to book a trip. Soon.
There is a craving for adventure inside of you. You are desperate to feel the rush of adrenaline that confirms that you are fully alive.
And yet, that is a loooooong liability waiver you’re being asked to sign.
And yet, you know that people die or get paralyzed doing stupid things like skiing or white river rafting or sky diving.
And yet, you’d like to feel alive for a few more years, even if that aliveness is less… alive.
Does any of this sound familiar?
I’d like to suggest that these are not failures of will power. That rather, there is some other part of you, an unacknowledged part of you, that wants the opposite of what your conscious self knows it desires.
I call this the Shadow Self.
It’s the subconscious. The deeply hidden, regularly rejected part of you.
The Shadow Self doesn’t work according to logic or accepted societal norms. It wants what it wants. And it often wants in direct opposition to our stated goals.
Our Shadow Self wants to stay fat, because being fat keeps us safe from unwanted sexual attention. Or our Shadow Self wants to stay fat because it rebels at the idea that your only value comes from aquiescing to society’s demands of your body’s dimensions.
Our Shadow Self wants to stay single because it’s pretty damn sure that a relationship will drain all its time and resources. Or the Shadow Self is convinced that any great love affair will end with even greater heartbreak, and it would rather avoid the pain and the mess of it all.
Can you see a pattern?
Can you see how we can both want what we want -- and also want the exact same opposite thing, with an opposing force just as strong?
No wonder we feel stuck.
No wonder we feel like we’re slamming our heads repeatedly into a wall.
So, what’s a human to do?
I’d like to suggest something quite radical.
Make friends with your Shadow Self.
They need to be heard. In fact, your Shadow Self is demanding to be heard.
It is our repulsion and our denial of our Shadow Self that gives it so much staying power.
What we push away, we are energetically binding to us.
We must embrace to release.
So sit with your Shadow. Have a conversation.
Give her -- or him, or it -- a name.
See how you can touch it with compassion.
Watch how the Shadow Self relaxes in your attention, and begins to release you from its grip.
It’s a long road and this is where the work begins.
And I’m right there with you, walking the path with my own Shadow Self.