Understanding Yourself by Asking “What if?”
The Rewards of Personal Development
I love the “What if?” game. By engaging fully in this game, I have come to a place in my life of great joy and deep contentment. However, the process of playing the “What if?” game is anything but joyous. In fact, it has probably been one of the most difficult areas of my personal development and spiritual journey. It makes me think of the famous quote from Peter Parker (yes, Spider-Man vis-a-vis Stan Lee):
“With great power comes great responsibility.
This is my gift, my curse. Who am I?”
The “What if?” game could just as easily be the “Who am I?” game, however, “Who am I?” is a question we’ve mulled over in our own minds too many times for it to be effective anymore. The “What if?” game allows us to play in an arena outside of our own minds as we try, often desperately, to figure out the infinite complexities of who we really are.
Playing the “What If?” Game
To play the “What if?” game think of a person in your life who causes you great angst, who triggers you every time you see them, or who pushes every one of your buttons. If there are several people like this in your life try to focus on one of them right now and take a moment to think about a recent interaction with this person where they really got under your skin, it is important that this person creates a strong emotional reaction in you, then try the following process:
- As you initially think of this recent interaction, allow the emotions to wash over you—frustration, anger, annoyance, whatever the emotions are, just allow them to be for a moment.
- Take a few deep breaths and as you exhale, imagine you are releasing all of these emotions until you can feel them dissipate.
- Imagine stepping outside of yourself; become the observer.
- Look beneath the surface behaviour and try to identify the trait or characteristic the person exhibited. This is the tricky part so here’s an example: you are at an upper-class restaurant for a business lunch with a co-worker and there is someone a few tables away dressed in a torn t-shirt and jogging pants. The person you are with says “Honestly, I can’t believe they let people like that into this restaurant, don’t they have any standards?” This comment immediately triggers a reaction in you of dislike, annoyance or even embarrassment. Their statement is the indicative behaviour, but the trait they exhibited is ‘judgment’. Sometimes it can take quite a bit of thought to mull through the behaviours to uncover the trait, especially if you can still feel the emotions this person elicits from you. The more you can become objective, the easier it is to identify the trait.
Now, ask yourself, “What if that person is a mirror for me, reflecting back to me those aspects of myself that I don’t want to see? What if they are merely playing a role to show me the traits or characteristics about myself that I don’t want to admit I have? What if they are here to help me? What if, by recognizing the trait in them that I despise, I can acknowledge it in myself and move past it? What if acknowledging this trait within myself, and forgiving myself for it, can eliminate the need for others to show it to me over and over again?
Personal Development Using The Mirror Theory
If you are not already familiar with Debbie Ford’s book, The Dark Side of the Light Chasers or her recent movie, The Shadow Effect, or even what some people refer to as the Mirror Theory, then this may be a startling concept. Let’s look at it from another perspective. As you have moved through your life, to new sets of friends, new jobs, new communities, etc. can you identify someone, from each one of those experiences that exhibited the same trait you identified above in the four-step exercise? I can almost guarantee you that you can. Our thoughts become our creations and what you resist persists. So the more we try to avoid those aspects of ourselves that we don’t like, the more they are going to show up, in our faces, until we deal with them.
Try an experiment to see how this works for you: the next time you come across anyone who creates that immediate negative reaction for you, the burn in your belly, the energetic charge, try to step outside of yourself and objectively ask the question, “What is it about this person (experience, interaction, situation) that I don’t like?” Then ask yourself, “Where do I exhibit this in my life?” I think you’ll be surprised at the answer.
A final note as you move through this process of reclaiming who you really are. Look upon each of these people in your life as special gifts (they are both the gift and the curse Peter Parker reflects on). They are playing a role you gave them so that you may be blessed with information that can support you on your journey to finding out who you really are. When you identify these people in your life, send them thoughts of unconditional love, forgive their behaviour, and then take the most important step of all and forgive yourself.