Isn’t it funny how often we say that we know what we want, but we can’t seem to get there? In my job as a life coach for musicians, this is one thing I often hear from my clients. So we draw diagrams, put together action plans, list next steps, set goals for 3 months, 6 months, one year… And then the next time we meet often little has changed. I’ve come to expect this now, and don’t take it as a setback. It’s just a sign that other factors have come into play. This article is about how to tackle those other factors that get between you and what you really want.
From the moment we are born, other people start to determine who they think we are, and who they think we should be. When I was a child, I wore my hair in long braids and played the piano. It wasn’t until much later that I realized neither of those things was my idea, but were part of my mother’s dream of a perfect daughter. One parent I saw interviewed on TV recently decided that her son would be a prize-winning violinist when he was still in utero- and so he turned out to be. He may be very happy that way… or maybe one day he will wake up and realize he has a completely different dream for himself.
What were your parents’ dreams for you? Your teachers’? What have been your dreams for yourself, as a child, as a teenager, now?
Conversely what did those people decide you could not do–you didn’t have the ability, they didn’t have the means, or maybe just it was something that was ‘not done’ in your family? Who told you things about yourself? Do you still believe them? Do you still judge yourself through their eyes and find yourself wanting?
Without realizing it, most of us internalize these opinions and judgments, and they become part of the way we talk to ourselves about what is possible for us. So when we set goals and allow ourselves to dream big, we are often not prepared for the conflict that can arise when those other voices make themselves heard. In fact, for some of us, the idea of dreaming big is too overwhelming in the first place. We are so subject to critical voices that we can’t even hear the voice of our heart, and what it really wants.
Sometimes if I discover that a client feels paralyzed in this respect, I suggest a particular exercise–one that you might like to try also.
Firstly, sit down with paper and pen, and take time to get in touch with your breathing. Ask inwardly for the part of you that is loving, wise and compassionate- the part that truly knows what is best for you- to come forward. That part is going to be the mediator in a discussion between different aspects of yourself.
Next, start to write down what’s going through your mind with regard to the goal. For example, “ I really want to enter the piano competition next month. It would be such a good opportunity for me to try out some fantastic repertoire, and increase my profile in the community.”
Usually it just takes one or two statements about moving towards your goal for any opposing aspects to jump in.
One aspect might say, “Yes, but you know you never play well in competitions! You’d be much better off giving a recital to friends and family. You always get so nervous that your hands shake, and you start worrying about what the jury is going to think, and then it’s all over.” Write down whatever comes forward, making sure to give both aspects a nickname or a letter.
Here’s an opportunity for the mediator to ask questions of both aspects, and to give them each the opportunity to express themselves fully. Initially, it might look as if the first aspect is the positive one, and the second is the negative. This might well be so, in which case the mediator could help support the first aspect in coming to a decision about the next steps to take, and defending itself against unfair criticism.
However, sometimes an aspect which we perceive as negative or ‘in resistance’ can actually have valuable information for us. In my case, the above dilemma did occur for me at times over the years, and I began to realize that the second aspect was reminding me of the truth- that I flourished musically in warm and inviting environments, rather than the cut-throat atmosphere of competition.
However it turns out (and there may be many more aspects that come forward), do your best to let the mediator remain in charge as a voice of compassionate reason, and let it guide the aspects into listening and communicating with each other, with the objective of coming to a harmonious conclusion.
This tool has been extremely valuable for my clients and me over the years. It can be astonishing to discover how many aspects are active inside of us, and how valuable it can be to let them have a voice. As Walt Whitman said, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”
The more we can connect with these inner aspects of ourselves, the more self-aware we can become and the more able to be understanding to those around us- our family, friends, students, and colleagues, who also contain multitudes- and hopefully more able to be a kind, compassionate and wise presence in their lives.
Do you notice competing intentions when you move towards a goal? How about your students- do you witness them wrestling too?