Our most basic ability to create in life is our ability to self-create by intentionally developing our character as qualities and traits that produce natural behaviors. Most of us were created in a purely unconscious manner through stimulus – response as a natural part of our childhood conditioning, and we just kind of ended up the way we are, often without realizing that we can willfully recondition ourselves by deciding how we want to be, what qualities we want to develop in ourselves, and undergoing the process necessary to do it. The process of self-creation is something we’re all born knowing how to do, that usually gets “taught out of us” as we become young adults, because it comes most naturally as “pretending” and play-acting.
As children, we admire and relate to certain people, roles, qualities and characteristics, imaginary heroes, or to the characters in story books or movies. We all have those characters that we immediately resonate with and want to be like. We would then set up imaginary situations and scenarios, where we acted them out by embodying and employing the same qualities and characteristics as our favorite character. By playing in this way, we developed those same qualities in ourselves by becoming like them, by acting like them, talking like them, and taking on the same persona while engaging in the same type of activities, and so on. Because our personality wasn’t well established yet, and we hadn’t begun forming our identity, we were like fresh clay that was easily molded into different shapes. We were flexible, open to trying new things, spontaneous, and enjoyed experimenting with new ways of being. We didn’t have the inhibitions and limitations as beliefs of some form, nor the fears and insecurity around certain ways of being, and we engaged in various activities with a sense of innocence, joy, and curiosity. As teenagers, when we began developing our identity by coming into ourselves and learning how to think and make decisions for ourselves, we spent much of our time trying on different persona’s in order to find the ones that fit and that we felt most comfortable and natural with, except by this time, we were largely motivated and inhibited by other life issues and personality traits that had set in and were becoming a natural part of our everyday expression.
Yet this same process is how we continue to self-create as adults with established identities and habitual behaviors as ways of being in the world. As adults however, it requires a deliberate intention, choosing what qualities we want to employ, and a willingness to be awkward and unnatural at first (everything takes practice), and a form of dedicated discipline to consistently act them out until they become natural, built into the muscle, and an automatic part of us. We start by realizing what qualities and traits we admire in others, or want to develop in ourselves, and then we find someone who possesses and employs those qualities as part of their natural demeanor, and we study them. How are they doing it? What does this quality look like when it’s being expressed? How do they hold themselves, what postures, gestures, idiosyncrasies, facial expressions, or what are they doing with their physiology? How do they talk, what tone of voice, timing, rhythm, and words or type of language do they use? What emotional state and attitude do they embody, and what state of mind do they view things through? What are their beliefs that make their attitude and actions possible? How is it that they “do” whatever it is that they’re “doing”?
If you want to develop confidence, for example, you have to start by asking yourself, what does confidence look like? What is it that someone does that gives the impression of being confident? You then find someone you know that you feel demonstrates or comes across as being confident, and you study them. As you study them, you embody the same qualities and behaviors – straight posture, relaxed demeanor, eye contact, tone of voice, etc. – and you practice being like them. You don’t have to worry about appearing to “copy them”, because imitating simply provides a pathway for your own style to emerge naturally. Once you get the behaviors down and can “be” that way yourself, then you practice being that way throughout your day just as a general way of being. Practice it repeatedly and in as many situations as you can, until it starts feeling natural and you start doing it automatically or it starts becoming a natural way of being in all situations as a personality trait.
What you’ll notice is that just by changing your physiology to match theirs, you “feel different”. You sense yourself in a new way, and your outlook and perspective changes. You create an experience of yourself as being confident. You come to know what it means to be confident as an actual experience of yourself. As you begin experiencing yourself in new ways, you become associated to that way of being, and you begin identifying with it. You know what it means to feel confident through the experience of pretending to be, and you become it. We become whatever we pretend to be. By modeling behaviors, we simultaneously change our perspective, how we look at and approach things, how we feel about ourselves, what we tell ourselves about how we’re feeling, and the very nature of our thoughts change accordingly. We change how we feel about ourselves, about others, and about life in general. Life appears different to us, and we influence things in a different manner, and people start seeing us in a different light and respond to us in a different manner. As we begin creating new types of experience, we transform ourselves by way of those experiences.
In this same manner we can also transform bad or undesirable behaviors and traits, by first recognizing what they are, deciding we want to transform them, and intentionally employing opposite qualities in their place, that change not only our actions and how we interact with others, but also our mental outlook and perspective, what we see and use to create our experiences, how we form interpretations as what we tell ourselves about things and how we feel as a result. Most bad behaviors, ones that are destructive in nature, or built out of beliefs as illusions, come as a result of our conditioning or from traumatic experiences that had a significant emotional impact, which we responded to by building an illusion around as a way of trying to make sense out of it and learning how to cope with it. We establish natural behaviors through a form of training and repetition, and likewise, we can retrain ourselves to new behaviors that we associate to the same stimulus.
All reactions as automatic behaviors come through stimulus as an activating force or intense emotion that’s connected to a memory. A memory is formed as an interpretation of an event based on the emotions we are experiencing at the time of the event. This emotional state and the story we begin telling ourselves about it that made it mean something, becomes the template as a thematic pattern that becomes repeated whenever activated by the same emotion. The emotional stimulus instantly references the memory associated with it, and associates the meaning of that memory to the current situation, where the same emotion is being expressed, and we say to ourselves, “this means the same things as that did”, and we form the same basic perception and react or behave in a similar manner as a form of automatic pattern or knee jerk reaction. Habits, though they’re usually not reactive in nature, are formed in much the same way. We simply repeat some process over and over for a period of time, and it becomes habitual, we do it without even having to think about. The larger part of our everyday actions are performed unconsciously as either a reaction to some form of outer stimulus, or as a habit of some form.
So we can transform habits by first becoming aware of them, gaining a realization around them in terms of what purpose they served, and what they cause in our life as a result, and choose to transform them by replacing them with a new behavior of some form. All qualities as a state of mind and the actions that naturally come from them exist in a natural state of polarity as complementary opposites. We work to transform any quality that we’ve habituated by intentionally employing its opposite instead. Naturally this takes awareness in the mist of activities you previously did without any real awareness, and then a form of discipline or willful action in order to change. In many spiritual traditions this is laid out as a model of the seven virtues and seven vices, which give us the formula for transforming most negative and unproductive or destructive tendencies into positive, creative, and beneficial ones. For example, hatred can be transformed by employing love and understanding in its place. Fear can be transformed by employing courage, anger with forgiveness, greed with charity and generosity, and so on. Mythology also gives us a rich formula for how characters that possess opposite natures are pent against each other in an eternal battle for supremacy. These type of models provide us with the formulas and tools necessary to undergo personal transformation through use of our creative ability to choose who and how we’re going to be, then willfully act out that choice to become self-determined.
All forms of self-creation comes either through conscious or unconscious actions. We either develop in an unaware manner by how other people and situations affect us (unconsciously), or by taking control of our own mind and emotions and make a conscious decision as to who and how we’re going to be in any situation. This only comes by recognizing in ourselves attitudes and behaviors that act to sabotage our life, or that we don’t like about ourselves, and deciding to do what it takes to correct them. It only comes through an intention to work on ourselves by employing contradictory behaviors that not only require us to change how we’re looking at a situation, but require us to change how we interact with the outside world, and what type of effects we create as a result. As we change our habitual tendencies, we change how we feel and how we sense ourselves in relationship to everything and everyone else, and we literally change our mind. As we change how we feel, think, and behave, we change our reality as a correspondence. As our reality changes, the relationship we form with it changes, how we sense ourselves changes, and we literally become a different person by way of our own hand.
Dr. Linda Gadbois
Integrative Health Consultant and Spiritual Mentor