Have you ever been broken out of yourself?
Maybe you were pulled reluctantly into an unfamiliar sport, or perhaps pushed to speak up, step out, or otherwise participate in some new and adrenaline-rousing scenario.
Self-help seminars with motivational speakers are designed to break you out of yourself. Here’s how the experience might go:
Seated outside the venue in your parked car, you talk yourself through the likely process of making your way in, getting registered, and finding a seat.
You consider who you might run into on the way, hoping to exude an air of confidence as you approach and step through large double doors and down a narrow corridor.
You see a few others scattered about. Some are clustered in tight bunches, though most appear alone and focused on phones or other items in their hands.
You come to a welcome table where friendly name-tagged greeters smile as they search out names on rosters. One confirms your admission, handing you some set packet or notebook for the day.
You turn to face where the meeting will be held. It could be a little hotel conference room with foldout chairs and loud carpet, or perhaps a vast auditorium with dazzling lights and a booming sound system.
You slide in and quickly find a seat.
You glance around at all the others, watching those still arriving as they sign in and get situated. You try to pay close attention without being too obvious, seeing what you can guess about their stories.
You wonder if they’d be interested in knowing yours.
Gentle music fills the air, only to be drowned out by the telltale over-overtness of small talk. The chatter seems to originate from a few distinct spots and spread outward through the crowd in waves.
You wonder if those you see and hear are the same as you.
Why are they there? Why are you?
Wouldn’t it be nice, and seemingly logical, if you could all just open up somehow and be completely honest with each other? Why have to jabber on about the sorts of details everyone’s supposed to seem interested in (but will soon forget)? Why shouldn’t a group of motivated strangers who’ll likely never see each other again feel free to briefly bear their souls?
Some sort of signal occurs. Either one of the welcome desk workers steps forward to press a few buttons on a stray laptop up front, or lights dim as dry ice smoke billows across the hallways and a radio voice announces from everywhere it’s time for you all to put your hands together for so-and-so.
A charismatic, well-dressed individual trots to take the stage (or front of the room).
All are exhorted to rise.
You stretch and bob to your feet, or perhaps slither up like a wary snake.
Short, pithy, excited sentences are fired in rapid succession to remind you why you’re there. You’re assured you won’t be spending the coming hours merely rifling through a few exercises and taking a page or two of notes; rather, you’re given a grimly toned ultimatum that offers you absolute power to use what you’re about to receive to radically change your life . . . if you choose to.
It’s all up to you.
You’re told to turn to someone near you and shout something along the lines of, “We have the power!”
Feeling ridiculous, you nervously half-pivot your gaze until it catches that of the nearest stranger. As your eyes meet, some silent form of instant wordless communication takes place. Each of you quietly mouths the line below the unsteady drone of all the rest.
You’re not given time to feel like a failure for fluffing through your first assignment.
The speaker starts to ramp up again, busting out word picture after word picture.
Some of the described scenarios start to strike dangerously close to your exact circumstances.
With each representation, a choice is offered. You’re told in no uncertain terms that there’s nothing you can’t accomplish if you believe in yourself enough, and if you just find a way to do those things you know you should be doing.
Affirmations of hope are shot like arrows, and you begin to repeat them back with ever greater intensity.
You stand, sit, jump, and scream on cue.
Before long, you’re peering sidewise at that same stranger again, though now without the paralyzing flood of apprehension. You each see in the other’s eyes the same newfound resolution . . . the same pride . . . the same purpose for having come to the meeting in the first place, now fulfilled.
You’re given a few final, crucial lines to yell and remember before the speaker ducks out, flashing one last knowing ear-to-ear grin.
Smiling, you rise to your feet and begin to pace back to the hallway. You note an air of confidence to your step that feels far less forced than when you first arrived.
You watch yourself in awe striking up conversations with other attendees. You marvel at your newfound sense of boldness and self-assured demeanor.
You feel yourself being surrounded and absorbed into a somewhat sweaty human mass of hopeful potential and optimism.
You pick up a copy of the speaker’s latest bestseller, staring at that familiar beaming face on the cover as if sharing an unspoken secret with the glossy image.
As you carry the book back to the table up front to pay, it occurs to you that you’re happy.
You’ve been broken out of everything you were.
In time, you hear the boisterous noise of the crowd begin to dim.
Stepping out into the breeze, you pause to absentmindedly remember where you parked.
It seems unusually quiet and still as you saunter back across the lot. Your vision is inexplicably drawn to tiny cracks and slight vegetation growing deep in the faded, painted-over pavement beneath your feet.
You pop your driver door and gently enter, your car feeling like a pair of old jeans or pajama pants after having shed a stiff tuxedo.
The radio scratches to life as the engine kicks over and on, but you quickly switch it off. Your mind is still buzzing with the roller-coaster pace and tone of the speaker’s amped-up words. It’s the only voice you want to hear and think about.
You’re glad to find that all those lines which hit so close to home seem to be holding fast like knots in your mind.
You carefully pull out and onto the street, watching for oncoming traffic.
You zone out as familiar roads construct themselves into a recognizable gridded blur.
You glance down at your phone in the cup holder to see it’s now 9pm. You start to consider the unaccounted-for space between arriving home and sleeping. The idea of a couple hours spent glued to TV while sprawled across your couch doesn’t quite seem to align with the values of the new you you’ve become.
You repeat the lines you were given to use to maintain your peak state.
You watch all those who dot the streets ambling along in every direction. None seem anywhere near as intentional or excited as you’ve learned to be.
You decide to make it one of your life’s missions to help as many others as possible experience breakthroughs like yours.
As you dreamily picture the speaker’s face again, you see yourself one day thriving in that role.
You pull into your garage.
Work, calls, emails, TV…
Social media, family events, unexpected deadlines…
Plans are deferred, and some forgotten.
You see yourself missing slight opportunities whenever your focus is momentarily misplaced.
Maintaining your new standard of being feels sort of like holding a heavy dam up over your head to keep water from trickling across the top.
You see yourself not greeting each acquaintance with quite as wide a smile.
You see conversations, and projects, and your appearance slipping at times, but only slightly.
You continue to fight whenever you can, doubling-down on your convictions just as you were taught.
You recall every magic word to shout at yourself, though lately you’ve only been shouting them from within.
You smile whenever you think back upon that monumental day—whenever you remember how the speaker made you feel about yourself.
You know you’ll be that new person again soon, because you know that’s who you really are. That’s who you’ve seen yourself made into. That’s who you can still choose to become whenever you…
Something bad. Something unforeseen.
You see yourself unappreciated, unnoticed, let down, passed up, betrayed…
You watch yourself get hurt or hear bad news.
The skeleton dynamic of some old, long-buried relationship protrudes its ugly head at just the wrong moment.
Sets of grinding gears begin to grip and squeeze your thoughts like a shrinking room.
You know full well you could resist. You know exactly how. Your next breakthrough could be but moments away, requiring only that you pick yourself up, repeat a few of the right magic lines, go into your car and scream at yourself, get yourself to the gym…
Nothing could be simpler for you than to bring your puppet self back to where you can be broken out again.
But you don’t.
You might the first time, and even the second…
But eventually you see yourself simply not doing what’s become the least appealing of all options.
Your mind no longer feels trapped by crushing waves of interminable thoughts. Your heart has mostly risen from its state of heaviness and restraint.
You watch yourself go to work each day, even reaching some of your potential.
You see yourself sort of trying to be a good person, often smiling at most friends, often not muttering too many angry words, often not drinking or smoking too much, often not giving all your spare time to TV, often not overeating…
But what happens to your breakthrough truths once you unconsciously decide how much less than them to settle for?
Well, you still talk about those truths as much as possible. You still read related articles and tap appropriate social media buttons.
You basically become the loudest of all of life’s congregants to say “Amen!” whenever you hear the principles you recognize; but what you’re really doing is acting as though affirming your convictions is same as actually living by them.
How long such cycles of settling take can be somewhat age-dependent. If you’re young, you can probably grip the essence of your transformation much longer, carrying the hype much farther up your every-day mountains.
Any older, and those experiences of being broken out start to get swept up into a life of verbal assent (but contrary action) much faster.
The more often you seek to be broken out of yourself, the less permanent the transformation becomes until your whole life ends up a lie you simply won’t acknowledge. You unwittingly allow yourself to live below what you proclaim, never fully admitting the distance you see between your ideals and your reality.
So, is self-improvement possible?
I call myself the Happy Cool Motivational Speaker, sort of as a joke.
Some motivational speakers seem to take themselves very seriously.
Basically, I don’t believe in hype at all. I don’t think breakthroughs built on the adrenaline of being forced out of your psyche are ever sustainable.
I’m not here to give you affirmations or lines to memorize so you can rise above your current self.
I don’t want to hold meetings and get you all excited in environments far removed from your real world.
Instead, I’ll be happy when you can completely own and identify with every aspect of your life just as it is right now—when you can truly face and acknowledge the full weight of all your current hurts, joys, frustrations, accomplishments, unbearable feelings, hopes…
Because external pressures to live up to external standards are neither natural nor helpful.
I believe such motivations and ideals (imparted from without) are actually just tricks used to keep you useful to those who set or advertise them.
I also believe you’ve really always known what you truly want deep down, and that it’s not the flashy, perfect, driven life society convinces everyone we should all always shoot for and portray.
Your mind, left to its own devices, has always freely imagined and affirmed the simple desires closest to your heart. It’s called daydreaming, and it occurs about as naturally as your body digests food.
I’m not telling you to stop chasing your dreams. Quite the opposite. What I’m encouraging you to do is to start letting your real dreams and passions catch up and awaken you from the inside out.
Hype scenarios involve buying manufactured momentum that’s drummed up in environments completely detached from your everyday experience.
In real life, you can never perfectly live by that hype forever.
Your breakthrough occurs; but then you see yourself falling short, first a little . . . then a lot.
Before long, you get really good at pretending that being excited about change is the same as actually changing.
I don’t think you need to be broken out of yourself, lifted up, or given lines to shout in the mirror. Rather, I believe the more of your imperfect (human) life you can gradually start to face and really own, the more you can step back from it all to gain a more objective perspective of your true core values.
Ironically, it’s only when you arrive at that new perspective that real change can occur.
It doesn’t happen in an afternoon. It can’t be reduced to a methodology or beaten into you with mantras. The change I’m talking about equates to maturity, and each individual’s growth process looks different.
When the appeal of your specific values comes to gradually outweigh the comfort of your unique limitations and compulsions, you find yourself unable to go on settling.
When that happens, instead of forcing yourself to live by some imposed standard or ideal, you’re really just living a little more the way you’ve always wanted to.
Then little more…
A little more…
In my Facing Addiction story, I talk about the power of finding a way that works for you to go public with any transformation journey you wish to undergo. The dynamics of going public over time (anonymously or not) enable you to truly face and grow beyond whatever combination of addictions, compulsions, cycles of settling, and other personal limitations hold you back from living by your values.
You can read, watch, or listen to Facing Addiction for free here.
By the way, your real life is actually already happening right now (in case you forgot).
So go be you.