‘What a liberation to realise that the “voice in my head” is not who I am. Who am I, then? The one who sees that.’ – Eckhart Tolle
I’ve been at this self-development game for so many years now that I had almost forgotten what it was like back when I first started to delve into the subject. It really hit home a few years ago when I was talking to a work colleague about life. I was trying to get to know them, what made them tick, what their goals and dreams were. My close friends always chuckle when I do this. They say I have a knack of getting someone’s life story out of them in five minutes!
My colleague was slightly taken aback at the level of my interest and said, ‘Wow, you’re really deep!’ I remember thinking how strange that remark was – surely, everyone is deep? Afterwards, it reminded me of how far I had come in terms of understanding myself and others. Of course, it hadn’t always been that way.
At certain points in my life, I have been thrust into circumstances which were pretty alien to me. These transitional periods were filled with excitement, fear, and uncertainty. For example, in my early twenties, I had no clue what I was doing. I didn’t know how to use a washing machine, manage my finances, or cook a proper meal. Emotionally immature, I fumbled my way through the best I could. I had very little self-confidence, and at times, I felt alone, useless, confused, self-conscious, and unclear about a way forward.
Regardless of our age, every significant life change, such as leav- ing home, starting a new job, moving house, getting married, having a child, getting divorced, losing a loved one, or becoming serious ill, can have a major impact on us in ways we could never have imagined. These are the times when we are presented with a choice to either ‘react’ or ‘manage’ the situation. It may require us to change our whole perspective, become resourceful, take responsibility, and make different decisions. Perhaps we need to adopt alternative behaviours, or just surrender and let it be.
Becoming self-aware, building confidence, and making con- scious life choices backed up by resolute faith has kept me on my right path. I continue to strive forward with determination and succeed in all of my endeavours. Why? Because I’m clear about who I am, who I want to associate with, and where I want to get to.
I know what you might be thinking. ‘It’s easy for you – you’re strong, lucky, or fortunate.’ Right? Well, like I said to my colleague who believed they didn’t have what it took to achieve positive changes, I’m no different to you. By being open to new ideas and adopting healthy practices, I’ve achieved things I previously considered impossible. The good news is, so can you! You just need to be willing to let the good stuff in and allow your inner beauty to shine through.
My colleague made another interesting comment. They thought it would be selfish to focus on themselves. This had never occurred to me, and I’m glad to know it may be a concern for some people. You’ve heard the announcements on the plane before take-off, haven’t you? ‘Please place the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others.’ If we don’t learn how to take care of ourselves first, our capacity to care for others will be limited.
‘Self-worth comes from one thing - thinking that you are worthy.’ – Wayne Dyer
The Concept of Self
What is the self? I realise this is a huge question that we can ponder indefinitely, but I’d still like to look into it with you.
I believe that we become what we think. Our concept of self comes from the stories we tell ourselves about who we have been and should be, or what others expect from us. Our basic values dictate the life choices we make, and it’s those choices that reflect who we are and what’s important to us.
Difficulties arise when we lack a coherent sense of identity, especially as we have a large number of roles; parent, child, partner, sibling, friend, etc. Each of these roles has a unique meaning and comes with a set of expectations. A clash of priorities or demands from others can potentially put us at odds with our true self.
To gain clarity on our true self is one of the most challenging tasks we can ever undertake. The ultimate goal is to develop and nurture those life choices that are consistent with our ‘authentic self’. The compelling reason to undertake this challenge is that it allows us to live in harmony with our true desires and create more happiness. To deny the authentic self is to deny the best within us, which leads to suffering.
Here are three suggestions to gain clarity on your authentic self:
1. Discover and develop activities that ‘feel right’ and that you are naturally good at.
The easiest way to approach this is to create a mind map. A mind map is a diagram in which information is represented visually, usually with a central idea placed in the middle and associated ideas arranged around it (see example below). The idea is that you note down everything, no matter how silly it seems. The trick is to get everything out of your head and onto paper. By doing this, you will formulate your thoughts and build up a picture of possibilities over time.
Some activities are more obvious than others. There could be things that you are naturally good at but don’t enjoy. This requires some reflection, and you’ll have to decide whether you want to continue with them or not.
These are a few questions to ask yourself: As a child, what did I want to be when I grew up? What natural abilities do I possess? What do I feel passionate about? What interests inspire me? Is there something I’ve been longing to do but just haven’t had the courage to put into practice? If there were no restrictions at all, what would I be doing?
To think outside of your perceived boundaries is surprisingly helpful. You can be as creative as you want. As adults, we tend to lose touch with our childlike imagination, but it is crucial to recapture this spirit if we want to ‘think outside the box’ and transform our life experience.
2. Decide on what you would ultimately like to achieve, i.e. your life purpose.
Consider what would get you out of bed in the morning. I’m talking about being genuinely motivated here, not doing things out of obligation. Yes, there will always be mundane tasks that are required of you, but why should they take up more time than necessary and get in the way of your joyful living?
These are a few questions to ask yourself: What was I put on this earth to do? What is it that burns within my heart? What causes are important to me? What do I find myself being naturally drawn to? What would I like my legacy to be? How would I like to be remembered when I’m gone?
3. Find opportunities to implement your activities and purpose within society.
Once you know the answers to the two points above, you can start investigating how you can put your uniqueness to good use in the world. This can feel a bit scary at first because suddenly, your true self is exposed for all to see.
Be confident, because your liberated spirit has boundless energy and resourcefulness. I found that a renewed faith in myself busted through every challenge that arose. We’re so much stronger than we think we are. When we are motivated by true passion and belief, there really is nothing that can stand in our way!
These are a few questions to ask yourself: Do I know anyone who already does this? Reach out and talk to them to find how they did it and what advice they can give you. Are there organisations I can work with, or charities I can volunteer for, whose mission and values I relate to? Do I need to create my own service to offer the world? What training or self-development work do I need to undertake to feel more confident about my talents and gifts?
[mind map image]
Bear in mind that the self is never static. It continues to evolve over time. Being open to change and receptive to new ideas is key to overcoming mental blocks. When you’re doing what you think you should be doing, it increases your self-esteem and reduces anxiety and depression. By contrast, when you present yourself in out-of-character ways to gain approval from others, this behaviour will feel unnatural and be exhausting.
‘I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.’ – Carl Jung
The Model of Understanding the Self
We all know pictures speak a thousand words. Therefore, I have created my own model of understanding the self, which came to me as a flash of inspiration. Thank you for indulging me!
[Helen Edwards’ Model of Understanding Self Image]
Layers that radiate from my central being out to the external environment:
Ultimately, how I interact with others in my external environment. The quality of connections is determined by the amount of self-mastery achieved.
How I operate out in the world at a more superficial, instinctive level. There are things we all need to survive, such as food, shelter, and safety. These need to be in place before self-transcendence is possible.
Mindset & Emotions
If I’ve developed my conscious mind effectively, then I choose which emotions and behaviours are appropriate to display. However, if there is confusion or trauma, then my inner judge, mindless chatter, and anxiety might take the lead.
My point of view and attitudes. These are shaped by what I’ve learned and experienced as I go through life. My intentions and motivations shape my mindset and, ultimately, my behaviour and actions.
Beliefs & Values
Overlaying the authentic self is my faith or confidence in that which I consider true and important.
The very centre and deepest part of who I am. Here lives my higher consciousness, soul, and heart energy. The inner wisdom intuitively guides me to what I need to achieve my life’s purpose.
Exercise: Deep Dive
Ready to get to the root of who you really are? Great! Grab a pen or pencil, and take a moment out of your hectic day to answer these questions:
1. Who are you to yourself and who are you not?
2. What are your most important beliefs and where do they come from?
3. How happy are you overall? (Score of 1-10, 10 being very happy)
4. Overall, are you optimistic, pessimistic, or realistic?
5. Who are you in your relationships?
6. Who are you at work?
7. Are you a free thinker or conformist?
8. How comfortable are you with change?
9. What would be your dream life?
10. What’s stopping you from achieving it?
The Child Within
The previous section has given you a better understanding of who you are. Please don’t worry if clarity is not immediately forthcoming. This stuff takes time and practice, so go easy on yourself.
The concept of the ‘inner child’ is regarded as our original true self, which can be concealed in adulthood. In other words, if we do inner child work, by connecting to the little boy or girl within us, we can reconnect with some of the reasons for our adult fears, phobias, life patterns, and wounding. Once we understand these intricacies, we can start to heal those lost parts of ourselves, release earlier negative emotions, and create room for transformation to occur.
You may have had many wonderful experiences as a child, and it’s important to remember those too. If you have children of your own, you will know they have no problem saying what they think, regardless of the consequences. They are naturally curious about the world and how it works. They don’t carry with them emotional baggage because everything is new, wonderous, and waiting to be explored. Did you have an imaginary friend growing up? A child’s imagination is amazing.
As a child, I made up dance moves and song lyrics. I would perform them in the school playground with rapturous applause from the younger pupils. I used to draw pictures of myself with wings, like an angel, and then convince my poor unsuspecting brother to play along with me, jumping off things and flapping our arms. Just reading that back makes me giggle! Everything is possible as a child.
As we grow older, we learn how to behave in the world. A com- bination of family upbringing, schooling, and then later work environments can shape our attitudes and beliefs about our life. That’s when we potentially start labelling ourselves and others. We use mental categories such as poor/rich, working/middle class, etc. We become convinced that people like us should live in a house like this, we should behave like that, etc.
The truth of the matter is, we can all be who we want to be. Limits are only those we place upon ourselves. Don’t be fooled, that sense of magic in our childhood never really leaves us. Most of us just cover it up so as not to appear silly. That’s a big part of ourselves that we’ve potentially neglected, which is a real shame, but we can reactivate it and still be a fully functioning adult!
Warning: The following exercise needs to be approached with caution, particularly if you have unhappy childhood memories that are yet to be resolved. Our inner child holds our insecurities and feelings of neglect. For example, when I asked my husband to draw a picture of himself as a child, it triggered a childhood memory of when he used to live with his parents on RAF bases. They moved very often, and each time his toys would be packed up and shipped off, never to be seen again. These experiences left him distraught. Now, he holds on to everything and every- one, treating them like precious gifts he never wants to let go of. Delving into this can potentially bring up intense emotions, so go easy and, if necessary, seek professional therapeutic advice.
Exercise: Create Space
Sit quietly and tell your inner child that you want to know more about them, that you’re available to talk, and that you want them to feel safe.
Your inner child is a vulnerable person. They may need a safe space before showing themselves. It may sound silly at first, but what you’re doing is accessing another part of yourself and your unconscious mind.
1. How are they feeling?
2. What do they like?
3. How do they feel about themselves?
4. What can you do to take care of them?
Becoming self-aware takes a willingness to change and learn new ways of thinking/being. It requires courageous vulnera- bility and complete honesty with yourself and others. It can hone patience, wisdom, and compassion. Every life stage brings challenges with it, but it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you choose to react that really matters.
If you want to uncover your ‘true self’, you’ll need to do some digging and reflecting. The process is subject to trial and error, as you evolve over time. One thing is certain, to deny one’s true self is to deny the best within you. Authenticity can therefore be the key to true and lasting happiness.
By consciously monitoring your thoughts, feelings, and actions, you can start to recognise how well you impact yourself, other people, and your environment. If what you discover is not appealing, then there’s great comfort in knowing that with the right tools and strategies, you can improve the quality of your life.
It’s natural to feel a little lost and alone at first, but there’s a wealth of information and support out there to help you get back on your unique track. If, like me, you have a particular spiritual inclination, that can add a profound dimension to your understanding.
Determine, Believe, Achieve
The start of your self-awareness journey will feel a bit like a spring-clean. The first stage is to uncover all of the ingrained negativity you have been conditioned to believe up to this point. It’s important to de-clutter this mental debris, so you can make room for the new and improved thoughts you will now start to cultivate.
The next step is to create positive self-declarations, commonly known as affirmations, to transform the negativity into positive reinforcements. Affirmations are positive statements that can help you to challenge and overcome self-sabotaging and negative thoughts. When you repeat them often, and believe in them, the incremental changes you can make in your life will ultimately astound you!
Before you start thinking this is all crazy talk, consider the following benefits. Creating positive statements that you can repeat at any given moment means that you can immediately halt a negative thought in its tracks. We think and say negative things to ourselves all the time without realising it. When I first became conscious of my negative self-talk, I was astounded at how many off-the-cuff things I used to say and think, not recognising the long-term damage this caused for my self- esteem and emotional state.
At first, you may not fully believe the statement. That’s normal! If you already believed in the statement, you wouldn’t need an affirmation. The repetition of these statements is the key. Over time, this builds up conviction in what you are saying. I made a conscious decision to eradicate ALL negative statements (not easy!), and my mood and outlook pretty much changed overnight. Over time, you will build up belief and conviction until this becomes your new positive reality.
The danger here is self-sabotage. After declaring a desired outcome and not seeing any tangible results for a while, you can start to question the validity of this exercise. I believe this is a challenge to one’s faith. As the saying goes, ‘Nothing good comes easily.’
In my personal experience, I may have been requesting some- thing that just wasn’t right for me, so not receiving it was protection. At other times, I received the outcome but not in the form I was expecting it. That was okay – we get what we need, not necessarily what we want!
The important thing is to put whatever it is you want ‘out there’ so the universe can respond. If you want clear results, ask clear questions or make clear requests. Also, the subconscious is clever, so it knows when you don’t buy into something. When you say an affirmation, but you secretly think it won’t work – guess what? – it won’t. Just keep believing it with your mind and heart.
In 2007, I created a vision board of all the wonderful things I wanted to achieve in my life. Some of these things didn’t materialise until 2019, when the time was right. So don’t give up – sometimes, when we shake the apple tree, we get an orange!
Make a comprehensive list of EVERY negative comment you can remember that implied you were not good enough. These opin- ions can come from yourself, your parents, authority figures, or anyone else.
Now re-write each one by replacing it with a positive and empowering statement. Always use present-tense statements. If you use the future tense, the positive results potentially remain out of your reach. Repeat these affirmations daily when you wake up and/or before you go to bed. Start to notice how your feelings and attitudes change over time.
EXAMPLE: ‘You will never amount to anything’ BECOMES ‘I have my own unique skills and abilities. I am growing into my authentic self.’
Before we start pointing the finger of blame, it’s good to remember that everyone (including us) is doing the very best they can with the information they have at the time. We are all on our own unique healing journey. The only thing within our control is our reactions.
We can all be our own worst critic, and if we don’t learn to like ourselves, then we certainly won’t convince others to like us. Remind yourself how great you are and believe it. The past is gone, the future is uncertain, so concentrate on the now and make it the best possible now you can imagine.
Seven Levels of Personal Consciousness Model
When it comes to self-awareness, it can be difficult to see the wood for the trees. When we’re in the grip of stress or anxiety, we often feel confused about where our intense emotions and thoughts are coming from.
To avoid dealing with pain and discomfort, we can start to project our fears and fantasies onto other people, without un- derstanding the boundaries where our personal responsibilities begin and end. This is a defence mechanism; rather than consciously address and flow with our feelings, we may start to shut down, push people away, or make unreasonable demands.
The only way to free ourselves from our conditioned patterns is through a full, conscious experience of them. Learning to ride the waves of our feelings rather than becoming submerged in them. Then we can clearly see how they affect us and how to resolve them.
The Seven Levels of Personal Consciousness Model is a tool developed by Richard Barrett, founder of the Barrett Academy for the Advancement of Human Values. He worked on simpli- fying and expanding Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – a theory of human motivation. Based on two decades of real-world experience, the model identifies the seven most important areas of human motivation. They range from basic survival at one end of the scale, to societal contribution and future generations at the other end.
Richard Barrett concluded that when people or groups operate from the first three levels of consciousness, their sense of well- being will always be linked to the gratification of their deficiency needs. Only when they have learned how to satisfy and master these needs, are their minds free to focus on the gratification of their transformation and growth needs.
‘Bridging the gap between our deficiency needs and our growth needs is the transformation level of conscious- ness. This is where we begin to release the limiting fear- based beliefs we learned during our formative years and start to align our ego motivations with our soul motivations.’ – Richard Barrett
[Richard Barrett’s Seven Levels of Personal Consciousness Model]
This useful visual representation will help you develop a better understanding of consciousness (your awareness and perceptions). It highlights how your basic needs drive your reactions to life conditions. This knowledge can help you identify the level relevant to you currently. You can use that knowledge to reflect on what changes are required to get you to the next level of consciousness, progressively making your way from Level 1 to Level 7.
Bob is financially stable, physically and mentally fit, and has satisfied his basic needs (Level 1, Survival – Building Stability). However, because he felt neglected by his parents as a child, he has grown up with the fear of being un-lovable. Bob’s adult relationships have been perfectly adequate, but no matter how much love someone gives him, he is unable to let himself be open to receiving it for fear of being hurt. Bob’s subconscious fear keeps him focussed on satisfying Level 2, Relationships – Sense of Belonging. He finds it difficult to widen his perspective and is therefore unable to progress beyond this need. Only when he is able to fulfil this need, will he have the capacity and motivation to focus on his personal growth to Level 3, Self-Esteem – Focus on Achievement.
That’s the power of our subconscious – it can keep us stuck!
Therefore, if we wish to change ourselves on a fundamental level and improve our life experience, then finding ways to raise our consciousness, commune with our soul, and develop who we really are is not only logical, but also the most healing and loving choice we can make.
‘What we think, we become.’ – Buddha
Let It Go
If you feel stuck, don’t despair – it’s not all doom and gloom! Thankfully, this is the hardest part of the book. Getting to know yourself can bring up lots for you to consider, and some of this can be a little uncomfortable to face and deal with.
In the next chapter, you will learn more about your conditioned thoughts and emotions and how to proactively forgive and release the past. I also introduce you to other great techniques that will profoundly change your mindset.
[self-belief funny cartoon]