Sun Tsu, in The Art of War, says, “Victorious warriors win first in their mind, and then go to battle. All others go to battle first, and hope to win.” In order to win first in your mind, you will need to can the weak thinking.
Thinking about your thinking requires an examination of those stories you tell yourself. Many of these are limiting, such as: “I’m not good looking” or “I’m not athletic” or “No one likes me” or “I’m a tough guy” or “I’m too weak.” Even a story identifying with a career or vocation is limiting, such as being a business leader, an educator, etc. The worst are the family of origin stories, such as “Divine’s are special” or “We don’t do those things.” The constant exposure to the culture and dialogue of your family and peers creates the BOO stories with associated internal dialogue, imagery, and emotional states.
As long as you’re living these core stories without examining them, you will get, or stay, stuck. And you will never achieve 20X potential.
Carol Dweck, in her book Mindset, correctly states that one has either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. If you haven’t examined your stories, you’re stuck in a fixed mindset. You’re not asking good questions, and you will continue to get what you’ve already got. You are who you are, and that’s that.
Finding the truth and scripting a new story requires asking better questions. Perhaps the most powerful one you can ask to start this process is: “Who am I, really?” Most people never ask this question. Instead, they believe what they are told about themselves and about the world around them. That is common. I believe that winning in your mind starts by seriously considering this question.
Who Am I, Really?
Get out your journal. Write the words “Who am I, really?” at the top of the page. Then begin to deeply contemplate the question. You will start to list the obvious things. Let me use my own personal example when I began this inquiry on the meditation bench…
I am a 23 yr old male, 6’1, with red hair, blue-green eyes. I am strong and athletic… a swimmer, rower, triathlete and martial artist. I have a BA in Economics from Colgate University. I come from the Divine family, a business family in upstate New York. I am working in New York City for a top consulting firm, getting my MBA at NYU and sitting for the CPA exam. I look successful to the world, have a beautiful girlfriend, am making $40k at 21, live in a nice apartment and drive a black Jeep. Life is good.
All that stuff was the outer layer, the material, visceral part that I could touch and see. It is natural to identify with those types of things. We are taught to think that way. But they are all temporary, or not important. None of them matter to me today. And though others may see you differently, there is a part of you that sees you differently as well. Let’s move on to that part of you, the non-material.
But first, do your own “first layer” list.
When you are done, ask the next question: “If I am not the things on this list, then who am I, really?”
Now you’ve got to go deeper inside and look at the stories you have been telling yourself, and at the beliefs underlying those stories. This is where it goes from a simple exercise to a much more challenging one requiring brutal honesty. Sit in silence and contemplate the stories that you tell yourself, and write them down in your journal.
Back to my experience… when I got to this level of the questioning, these are the stories about Mark Divine that began to surface:
I am driven to get my MBA, CPA, and Black Belt because I want others to see me as successful and strong. I am supposed to be in business because of my family, but I am not sure I care about being a CPA, or whether I want to be in the family business at all. Perhaps I can be a trader or investment banker, but I am not as smart as my friends from Colgate who are doing that now. And money doesn’t really motivate me much. I do not feel confident, more like confused. I like women, but am terrified to be intimate. In fact, I have no idea how to communicate and have screwed up so many relationships. Crap, I am miserable, I don’t like my life!
That level of self-awareness can be painful, but trust me, it is a critical part of the process. You need to dissolve your ego identification with the weak outer things and establish a new storehouse of insight about who you really are, at the deep inner level. Pave the way to let go of the “known” and allow the unknown to flow to you from that deep inner voice. That voice is your soul, or witnessing self. I don’t really have a great description of what I experienced when I did this work. I also wanted to avoid spiritual or religious comparisons, so I called it my witness. It felt like there was part of me just witnessing “Mark” doing all this stuff, living this life, and patiently waiting to be asked if he was on the right track. When I finally asked, my witness said “Hell no!” More on that in a moment.
It’s time for you to do the work… and be patient. This part took a lot of time, “on the bench.” Ask the second question a few times: “If I am not that story or belief, then who am I really?”
As you get deeper into this self-inquiry you will break through your thinking mind and touch bases with your own witness. This is a breakthrough experience where your life will immediately change, and your real work begins. An awakening moment awaits… embrace it and enjoy the ride!