Your Boot Straps are in Your Brain
Updated: Feb 21, 2019
Pause for a moment and listen to the voice inside your head:
What is it saying?
I won't bother asking if you even have a voice inside your head. I know you do; we all do. Maybe you think you don’t pay any attention to it, but you do. Even if it’s on a subconscious level. What that voice says is really, really important, and if it’s saying the wrong things, you need to do something about that. This is non-negotiable. This is the great and luminous Step One for all the epic changes you want to make in your life. You don’t get to skip it. You don’t get to Pass Go and Collect $200! If you want to be able--as the old saying goes--to "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, " you need to know where those bootstraps are located, and exactly how you're going to get the leverage to perform this technically impossible task.
Spend the next day (or two, or three) paying attention to that voice in your head. You will forget, of course, so set up some kind of reminder: a post-it note on your computer, a wristband, a thread tied to your finger—it doesn’t matter, just do something.
So, does that voice argue a lot? Not with you, per se, but with other people. Are you staging dramatic arguments in your head where the end result is that you put someone in their place and you walk away victorious?
Does your inner voice make snarky remarks? The inner voice says they are “clever” but they are, at best, snarky, and, at worst, cruel.
Does your inner voice say things like “I hate,” “I can’t stand,” “it makes me so mad,” “why can’t,” “what the hell,” “as if,” and other remarks of that ilk? These are all the things you think are OK to say in your head because you’re not saying them out loud.
No. Stop it.
OK, that was just surface cleaning. Now we go deeper. What does the inner voice tell you about yourself? Does it say you are fat? Ugly? Not very smart? Unmotivated? Tired? Sick? Fed-up? Irritated? Angry? Lame? A loser? Does it make excuses? Does it tell you that you need more money before you can improve your circumstances, more free time before you can practice your art, a better car before you can go back to school?
That voice doesn’t know shit. That voice is undermining you and keeping you down. That voice is a whining, lying, victim. Shut it the hell up.
Only don’t do it like that. You see, the idea here is that you want to get rid of negative energy in all its forms. If you need to tell that negative voice to just shut the hell up, initially, to get a reaction, then go ahead and do that. But the goal, ultimately, is to fill your head with better things. Positive energy. Gratitude, and hope, and encouragement, and peace. Go ahead, say it; say something about unicorns farting rainbows. Was that your snarky voice? Do you want to tell me to get a grip? Get a life? Get real?
I know what those voices say; I’ve heard them in my own head. They are liars, distractors, victims. Until you train them to be otherwise. So the point here is not just to shut them up, but to actively engage in getting them to say something else.
I’m sure you’ve heard about the power of particular “mindsets” when it comes to setting and achieving goals. (If not, may I recommend the game-changing book, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” by Carol Dweck?) How do you think we get our particular mindsets, and what do we do to change them? It is, in part, those scripts that we are constantly running through our heads. If we want to change anything, we have to start by changing those scripts. Erase the old code; start to program new code. You will run a different script, a different story, a different life. Deliberately choose what that life is going to be, and start training those voices in your head to say things that are supportive of that life. The reason this works is because our subconscious mind believes those voices and begins to work very hard at creating the particular reality that is being reinforced.
To give you an example of how this works, consider this: I once took on the task of learning to speak a bit of Russian. This is a very different language from my native tongue, and different than any other language I had previously been exposed to (like Spanish and French). Part of that difficulty is that it uses a different alphabet, and it contains sounds that I have never used before. I had virtually no connections pre-formed from which to build a working model of this language; I had to start from scratch. At first, the process was very frustrating. I would be unable to remember what I learned a mere 10 seconds after learning it. In some cases, I felt like I couldn’t even say the words at all, let alone remember them and their meaning. But then I noticed something. I noticed after several lessons that the voice in my head was starting to say Russian words. Short words, or just sounds. It would say them over and over; playing with them, getting a feel for them. I would wake up in the morning with Russian words in my head, and as I started to nod off at night, I would notice those words trickling back in again. What was happening?
I had fed something new into my brain, and my subconscious was now starting to work on it. Our subconscious works on things all the time; reinforcing, making connections, building models of reality. You’ve got to give it good materials to work with! Because no matter what you give it, it will build, create, solidify. The things you focus on tend to expand and grow. That is how you set or change your mind. That is how you learn.
In the same way that you can learn something new by feeding new materials into your mind, so you can create a different version of yourself through the same process. Ultimately, that is how you start being something else, and the only way to get a different life is to be a different person—and it doesn’t work the other way around. You can’t wait for the better life to come along before you start working on who and what you want to be. Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Don’t wait for it to start happening around you, let it happen in you, and with you. On a more specific level, I was reading a book recently by Dr. Jill Ammon-Wexler that instructed that if you want a promotion, for example, the way to get it is to be the person to whom that job belongs. Inhabit that role first; think the way you would think if you were the manager, the CEO, whatever position you aspire to.
Are the voices in your head talking right now? Are they saying that you can’t do that? That it’s impossible, unrealistic, silly? We need to deal with those voices because this is not the first time they’ve told you things like this. In fact, pause a moment and reflect on the times when those voices have told you encouraging things. Maybe they do it all the time and you are well on your way to shaping a positive internal environment. But if they don’t, that’s what you’ve got to work on first.
It’s not enough to just try to eliminate the negative voices; you’ve got to replace them with positive ones. Make no mistake, this takes some work. It takes deliberate, conscious effort over an extended period of time. But the payoff is so worth it!
Don’t you know who you are? You are not the small, frightened, incompetent, bumbling, lazy, fat, dumb, impatient, mediocre person those voices would sometimes have you believe. Those are the cloaks and masks you put on because you don’t know that it’s ok to be your authentic self. Every person, at their soul’s center, is a perfect and unique work of art—with gifts and talents that are just aching to be expressed. Start telling yourself that. Start noticing what you’re good at and where you shine. Start affirming to yourself the qualities you want to see or express—even if they’re not visible to you yet. Begin to change your brain’s coding. Begin to rewrite your life’s script. You get to create your own life; you don’t have to merely be a passive receiver that accepts what life hands you. Start flexing that creativity muscle. With use it will become stronger, and your life will begin to reflect this learning process.
Often, that snarky cynicism that runs through our heads is simply a way to hide our fears. We don’t want to believe in the possibility of changes like the ones I am speaking of because it puts the responsibility squarely on our own shoulders. If it’s really possible to create a different and better life, then that means:
1. I have to do something
2. I have to ask myself what the hell I have been doing all this time
3. My excuses don’t count anymore
It’s much easier, and more comfortable, and less scary to shrug it off, to employ sarcasm, to blatantly doubt, to ridicule than to knuckle down and give it a try
It’s never too soon and it’s never too late to make the changes that lead you to become the best version of yourself. Don’t waste a single moment wishing you had started sooner, or telling yourself that the circumstances later will be better-suited to this project. Now is all you have, and now just happens to be the perfect time.