Blocks That Prevent Us From Being Who We Mean Ourselves to Be

BLOG Blocks from Being Who We’re Meant to Be: Are They Real?

life is a verb
Patti Digh and David Robinson recently offered an audioconference on the subject of “playing with blocks“, which was kind of a riff on the issues I’ve been talking about recently in my posts on the fictitious stories we tell ourselves and the emotions they evoke, learning to live in ‘now time’, and about the need to slow down and know and appreciate yourself for who you are.

Part of the problem is that in our busy modern life, we are often unconscious of why we do and think what we do, and what is ‘blocking’ us, holding us back. There is just not enough time to reflect on this, so we end up, Patti and David explain, following the path of least resistance. In the process, we start to create our own stories about ourselves, which include falsehoods and excuses that block us from being who we are and doing what we can do. When we pay attention to the language we use in describing our lives and situation, they say, we start to notice how we use self-description to abdicate responsibility for our blocks, lower our self-expecations, and resign ourselves to having fewer choices than we really do. We convince ourselves that we’re ‘broken’ and need to be ‘fixed’ (hence the popularity of the self-help section of the bookstore). What we need to do, they suggest, is to apply the power of attention and participation, to become the expert of our own self-management process, to become more conscious of and attentive to who we are and what is really holding us back, which is, often, our own stories about ourselves, stories we have the capacity to change.

The original block in all our lives, they explain, comes from the experience in each of our childhoods when we first separated ourselves from ourselves — when we first judged ourselves (probably critically) in the third person. This separation then becomes the frame for all the stories we subsequently tell ourselves about ourselves.

The blocks that stem from this original block are of three main types, they propose:

  1. False comparisons with others
  2. False expectations of ourselves
  3. False investments in our ‘stories’ (we are hard-wired for story; it’s how we ‘make meaning’, but we can get too caught up in untrue or limiting stories)

They then go on to describe some of the many stories we tell ourselves that limit us, needlessly, falsely, and block us, hold us back. See how many of these you recognize in yourself:

  • “I have to find my own voice before I can move ahead” (if you had a voice, what would you say?)
  • “I need to wait until I know the right way, and know enough to start”
  • “This is much easier for others to do than it will be for me”
  • “I need to find someone who’s done this that I can follow, copy their style and approach, who can mentor me”
  • “I just write little stories and articles, I’m not really a writer yet”
  • “I’m not ready to share/show any of this with/to the world”
  • “I’m still working on it, it’s not ready yet”
  • “I need to get some validation from others before I can go forward”
  • “I’m not/can never be nearly as good as X at doing this kind of work”
  • “I need to be able to achieve this (very challenging) measurable outcome”
  • “If I really knew what I was doing I wouldn’t be struggling so much”
  • “If only I could find someone who knows how to do this/help overcome this obstacle”
  • “I need to get this right, polished, before I proceed further”
  • “I’m angry/frustrated/impatient with myself for not doing better at this”
  • “Others need to appreciate this before there’s any point in going ahead”
  • “It’s still not right”
  • “This is always going to be a struggle; I can’t expect to succeed”
  • “If it’s a success, that means I must have sold out/compromised”
  • “I have to do this — I have no choice”
  • “All these things must necessarily happen/work before I can say I’ve succeeded”
  • “I’m not really any good at this; I’m really a fake”
  • “There’s no point in trying; my audience will never appreciate this”

Patti cites James Barrie’s famous quote about our stories:

“The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story and writes another, and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it.”

If we want to move from the story we are living to the one we mean to live, we must first have the humility and wisdom to understand both stories and the differences between them, and the reasons for those differences.

Patti and David go on to suggest things that can be done to ‘play with’ and work through these blocks, these false comparisons, false self-expectations and beliefs in false stories. Here are several ideas they noted:

  1. Walk towards the block and question it: Be aware of it, recognize it for what it is, and challenge it
  2. Stop ‘becoming’ and just do, begin, start practicing (they tell the famous story about pot-making from David Bayles’ Art and Fear, and tell us to ‘make more pots’)
  3. Let go of outcome
  4. Intend one clear thing, rather than splitting your intentions among too many things, some of which may be incompatible with each other
  5. Look below the surface of your stated intention, at the core desire/passion that underlies and drives it
  6. Examine what you get from telling yourself these dubious and self-limiting stories
  7. Take full responsibility for your own blocks — though this is difficult and sometimes painful work
  8. Take responsibility for your thoughts underlying these blocks — you can dissipate them by listening to them, paying attention to them, witnessing them, and not “biting the hook”
  9. From there, develop the capacity to change the stories you tell yourself about yourself, then bring it back to the present: focus on actions, not things, processes not arrival points
  10. Appreciate that the essential plots of all enduring stories are yearnings/desires/intentions meeting obstacles/blocks, and examine these tensions in your own stories about yourself
  11. Accept that you cannot remove blocks: You ‘play’ with them, understand them, move through them by recognizing and engaging them
  12. Control the controllable and let the rest go, by stepping into the present

When I think about what’s holding me back, I think most of all that it is my reluctance to accept myself as I really am, and to acknowledge my false expectations of myself. I’ve described myself often as a procrastinator, a person who is always disappointing others, letting them down (usually because I raise others’ expectations of me in the course of publicly raising unreasonable expectations of myself). As a result I am blocked by my accursed idealism, the same idealism that makes me an exceptional imaginer of possibilities, a writer, an artist. I picture myself as sitting on a ledge, ready to soar, but holding myself back because I’m not quite ready.

Pete McGregor told me that, often, as soon as he has identified something that seems to make real sense, ring true, hold great promise, be the right thing to do, he confounds and stymies himself by doubting, by seeing all the reasons why it might not be right. I am the same way. On the one hand, I think too much and too long, before taking action, before just starting. On the other hand, I don’t allow myself enough time to really think, reflect, slow down and do nothing and let ideas percolate and flow and emerge and take form.

In recognizing myself, acknowledging and understanding who I am (not who I would ideally like or hope to be, just who I really am, nobody-but-myself), it seems to me that I need to do five things, more or less simultaneously:

  1. Really know and appreciate myself, with all my non-ideal qualities, to the point I can find joy and laughter and humility in just being myself. (How?: I’m well on the way to doing this, thanks to a lot of wonderful people who have taught me how to come to know myself better.)
  2. Give myself time and space to think and feel and sense and intuit, in balance, to allow truths I have not allowed time and space for to emerge (this means I need to do less, to stop doing some of the things that are now occupying too much of my time and space). (How?: Identify things to stop doing, and stop doing them.)
  3. Picture myself acting, competently, present, decisive, in ‘now time’; I don’t mean picturing outcomes or ideals or perfection, but rather picturing myself moving forward, not being anything other than nobody-but-myself, just acting — this, for me the procrastinator, is intention. Goethe said: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” (How?: Write my new, true, authentic, realistic story.)
  4. Just begin. (How?: Well, just begin, damn it.)
  5. Practice. We are always and forever who we are, but through practice we grow capacity, capacity to do more and better. (How?: List the capacities that would be most of use, to the world, and practice them until I am competent.)

Sounds like a plan.

The important message from Patti and David, I think, is that we should stop trying to “self-improve” to be better or other than all we are, and focus on doing instead of being, and that key to that is to understand what is blocking us from acting.

They have planned a 12-part series of audioconferences that you can sign up for, that dive much deeper than the one-hour teaser this article summarizes. I intend to sign up, mostly because I think these two people are brilliant and I really enjoy their ideas, but also because I think this series would be a great capacity-builder. The purpose of the course ostensibly is to teach you how to ‘play with blocks’ and move through them for yourself, but my guess is that the higher value of the course could be to teach participants how to help others, one-on-one, to do so. We need millions of competent facilitators to make this world a better place, and it seems to me that teaching people how to facilitate others to understand and move past what is blocking them from acting, would be a priceless gift.

Maybe I’ll ‘meet’ you at Patti and David’s class, and we can grow our capacities together.

Category: Human Nature

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5 Responses to Blocks That Prevent Us From Being Who We Mean Ourselves to Be

  1. vera says:

    “expert of our own self-management process”Ugh. Last thing I want is more of this whole management/mismanagement paradigm.”Well, just begin, damn it.”Well?

  2. Chaitanya says:

    Hi, good post Dave. The central theme of some of your recent posts seems to be about the importance of being mindful/aware/attentive of the present moment as-it-is, including one’s wishes to “change” it for the better. Just being aware of, and “understanding the whole mechanism of the mind” (paraphrasing JK’s words), is a great learning tool.”The unawakened mind is at war with the present moment” — Jack Kornfield in “A path with heart”.

  3. Ivor Tymchak says:

    “We need millions of competent facilitators to make this world a better place,”Define ‘better’. And if you are not going to believe the capitalist stories, who’s stories are you going to believe? Why are their stories more valid than anyone else’s?I don’t think there is an answer, only varieties. Surely you can practice thinking and get ‘better’ at it. Why is that not as good as ‘doing’? If there are no absolute truths, why do we behave as if there should be?I think I am in the same place as yourself Dave, questioning everything, except I enjoy the questioning. That is my strength as a contributing member of society. I don’t despair over it, I rejoice in it.

  4. Regina says:

    Dave, How I know such blocks as well

  5. Amanda says:

    I was on the call and your summary is fantastic. So glad I found your blog..thank you.

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