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Malcolm, the chief executive officer of a good size software company, was talking with Anne, his coach.

“We’ve been working together a while,” Malcolm said, “and from the beginning, you’ve asked me who I am. And, from the beginning, I’ve had answers. Over the weekend, however, I realized that I don’t have a clue. Not really.”

“You’ve always had ready answers to my questions. What changed?”

“Talking with my family. I heard my son telling a friend what my son wants, and it was everything I’ve been telling you. Then, talking with my siblings, I heard those same words come out of them. That set me back. Meditating on it, I remembered those same words coming out of my parents’ mouths. If everything I thought I want is what my parents told me I should want, what do I really want?”

“So now you don’t know what to trust?”

“That’s it exactly. How do I know what’s me and what’s someone else?”

Well-meaning people may have dropped their beliefs on you

“What were you encouraged to do growing up?”

“I was rewarded for doing well at school. Keeping a stiff upper lip. Stand up for what was right.”

“How did you know what was right?”

“I guess I built my definition based on approval versus disapproval. ‘You’re so brave’ and ‘That was so kind of you’ versus ‘That was really dumb of you.’ And ‘You don’t really want to do that.’”

“Did you ever push back on people’s opinions of your actions?”

“Sometimes. I remember a few times when I knew what others told me wasn’t right. Mostly, however, I took their opinions as mine.”

“That’s pretty common. We don’t know how to think for ourselves when we’re young. We look up to the authority figures in our lives and assume they know what they’re talking about. People fill us with rules and instructions. When we do push back, we don’t have the awareness to discern when our parents are truly preventing us from doing harm, when they’re tired and don’t have the patience to deal with us, when we’re violating a dearly held principle of theirs.”

“Even the most well-meaning parents can’t spend all of their time saying, ‘Well, what do you want to do?’ and then finding a safe way to let their children experiment.”

“Not at all.”

“So, you’re saying I’m not alone in not realizing before now that much of what I believed about myself had come from other people?”

“You absolutely are not alone in that.”

Find these false beliefs by noticing what becomes visible

“I recognized this because I noticed so many different people around me using the same words as me to describe who they are. But, I’m sure that’s not the full extent of the false beliefs I’ve taken on.”

“Likely not. At least, that’s been my experience for myself and most of my clients.”

“So, how do I find them all? And how do I get rid of them?”

“Finding them all is a tall order. I’m not sure that’s even possible. I’ve been working on this for decades now, and I still find them on a regular basis.”

Malcolm looked dismayed. Then, a stubborn look came across his face. “Well, I’m going to try anyway.”

Anne laughed. “I know you will. Finding them all isn’t necessary, however. Nor is even finding most of them. Instead, focus on noticing the ones that you notice. They’re becoming visible because you’re ready to deal with them.”

Malcolm looked puzzled. “Because I’m ready to deal with them?”

“You know the expression about the teacher arriving when the student is ready?”

Malcolm nodded. “Oh. I get it. There’s no point in becoming aware that a belief about who I am isn’t actually about me if I’m just going to run away from it.”

“Almost. Being ready to deal with it and willing to deal with it are two separate things.”

“OK, that makes sense. So, no active searching required, only active awareness of what’s becoming visible. That’s how I find them. Now, how do I get rid of them?”

Remove these false beliefs by transforming them

“One option is to transform the belief or rule into a guideline. Change it from something that rules you to something you apply when you wish.”

“That fits with your general gentle approach. Don’t forcibly eradicate it. Instead, redirect it.”

“Yes, exactly. Another option is to track down the source of the belief. Identify who or what laid it upon you. Sometimes, simply recognizing that it didn’t come from you is enough to let it go.”

“And if it isn’t, I can guess why the person laid it upon me. What they were trying to protect me from, or get me to do. Then I can decide whether I want that outcome now.”

Anne nodded. “Yep! I was just going to say that. You can do this even when you don’t know the source.”

“Great. This gives me an idea for a fourth option: ask whether this belief is serving me now.”

“That’s a powerful one.”

“I know you have more in your toolbox. These seem plenty for now, however. Any more, and I’m likely to spend all my time deciding which strategy to apply and never get around to applying it.”

Find who you are by finding who you aren’t

“I started our session today asking how I know which beliefs are truly mine and which came from someone else,” Malcolm recapped. “Now I understand why the people who care about me may have imposed their beliefs on me. I know how to find those beliefs they imposed. And, I have several different approaches to resolving their hold on me.”

“How are you feeling now, about not knowing who you are?”

“I’m still pretty uncomfortable about that. But, I also know adding that to the pile is too much for me right now. Maybe letting go of what’s not me will help me know what is me. Even if not, shedding all these false beliefs about who I am can only let my true self shine through more easily.”

“One hundred percent,” Anne agreed.

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