Every year around this time my mind wanders to a book that someone recommended to me some years ago on how to handle a new year. Your Best Year Yet, by Jinny Ditzler is subtitled 'A proven method for making the next 12 months your most successful ever,' and it takes you through an exhaustive process which helps you to lay aside last year, having drawn every useful thing you can from it, and look forward to the next. An early task that she sets the reader is to work out the paradigms by which you live, and how they limit you.
A paradigm is defined as:
'A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality'.
These beliefs about ourselves or the world are usually picked up in early life. Taught to us by our parents and/or the society into which we're born, they latch on to our subconscious and run our lives.
This first tip for 2013 explores how a new paradigm could make this year a whole lot better than last.
Something that has been part of my identity for as long as I can remember is that I am an outsider. My mother was born into a working class family in the north of England. She was bright and when she came to deciding what to do with her life she quickly spotted the one way out of the poverty that surrounded her - nursing. She trained as a nurse, the war came soon afterwards, and suddenly this young woman, who had never been more than a few miles outside the town she was born in, was sent with the Queen Alexander nurses to Nigeria. After the war was over she was posted to Malaya; and there she met my father. My father was a confident, handsome, witty, sport-loving man, who came from a well heeled family. He went to Harrow and then studied classics at Oxford. My mother was bowled over.
My mother always felt like an outsider, and in a way she was. When our family came back to the UK we mixed with people of my father's class, not my mother's. Her feelings of inferiority and exclusion were ever-present and I adopted them as if they were my own. That's what children do. Fate would have it that my life would provide several experiences to confirm that belief. I moved schools regularly during my early childhood, I was always the only new child in a class where everyone knew each other, and even when I first went to university, a delay in my a level results meant that I arrived a month late at medical school. My mother always did things slightly differently to other mothers, and however much she studied Nancy Mitford's book on what was 'U' and 'non-U', somehow we never quite belonged to this posh set that we found ourselves in. But we didn't belong to any other set either.
A belief that you don't belong is a common paradigm. Here are some others:
People can't be trusted
There's never enough money/time/anything
I'm a fraud
The world is a dangerous place
I'm not the sort of person who is successful/happy/loved
Nothing comes to you unless you work hard
I'll never have a good relationship
I'm not very clever
Feelings are dangerous/shameful/irrelevant
I can't be happy until...... I find a partner, job, new house etc
Love has to be earned
We are all measured by our achievements
You don't need to spend much time trying on these various paradigms to discover just how constricting, stressful and de-motivating they could be.
Why on earth would we hang on to such unhelpful ideas?
Well, along with these beliefs go a number of important supplementary beliefs and behaviours that are essential for strengthening and maintaining them:
The first is that we think that it's only us who feels like this. Having worked on my own and other people's development for some years now, I've come to realise that perhaps every second person in the world feels like an outsider. When I was busy feeling shy and excluded at new schools, it never occurred to me that anyone else felt as I did. In truth there are probably so few people that feel like insiders that the question arises - are they the outsiders? If only us outsiders could find each other then we could belong to the largest of clubs!
Secondly, we generalise. If you feel like an outsider, or not very bright, or undeserving of success, you apply it to pretty well every area of your life, not just the one where it originated.
Thirdly, we rarely question whether it's true. Paradigms are givens. That is just how things are, or who I am, and there's nothing I can do about it.
And fourthly, what finally seals our fate is that we behave as if it's true. People who feel like outsiders behave like outsiders. They aren't excluded from groups, they exclude themselves. When they're deciding whether to go to a party, they are more likely to decide not to. They hang around on the outside of groups waiting to be included, but never putting themselves forward. Instead of expecting to be welcomed, they expect to be rejected or simply not seen.
People who doubt their worth don't apply for good jobs. People who think love has to be earned try to earn it. People who think feelings are dangerous suppress them. People who think the world is hostile take precautions and not risks. People who think they're not very clever avoid people and situations that challenge them.
Conversely, people who are confident challenge themselves and achieve, those who have a sense of belonging join groups, those who expect good relationships seek and attract them, those who honour their feelings have them and feel better.
Think of an area in your life that you've felt unsatisfied about during this last year. Money, career, friends, relationships, time, feelings.
Eg. I failed an exam/didn't get jobs I applied for/felt inadequate at work.
What do you believe is the explanation for this state of affairs, and how does this make you feel?
Eg. I'm not very intelligent. Makes me feel inferior and unmotivated.
What is your evidence for this belief?
Eg. You failed your 11+, your school friends got better grades than you, there are things you find difficult to do, you haven't achieved what you would like in your career.
What is the evidence against it?
Eg. You have three A levels and a degree. You hold down a senior job. You talk regularly with bright people. You can do 'very hard' Sudoku puzzles in twenty minutes.
Over the last year, how has this belief affected the way you have lived your life, either consciously or unconsciously? Eg. Didn't apply for certain jobs, didn't embark on certain projects or gave up easily, felt bad about yourself, avoided people or conversations that made you feel out of your depth.
What new paradigm would give you a happier, more fulfilled 2013?
I'm much brighter than average.
I look forward to using my brains this year.
I am clever enough to do what I want to do.
Write it down and put it somewhere prominent.
Imagine what 2013 would be like with this new belief.
Mine is 'I belong.....'
Wishing you a very happy 2013.