Wednesday, November 4, 2009

It's Just Who I Am!

Last night, Iris and I had dinner with Joy who's in town for a personal growth course. Joy just finished running the New York City Marathon. She was full of energy, enthusiastic, happy and looking really great! Not at all European.

Iris and I love hanging out with Joy. We have a common frame of reference, we're thoroughly authentic with each other, and we have so many things to explore.

At one point in the conversation, Joy voiced her concern for Mark K in that "he doesn't seem to be getting enough sleep." We segued from Mark to a more general discussion of how much sleep we "need."

Joy suggested that we need at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night in order to be healthy.

I responded that I didn't believe seven to eight hours was required and that, if I get more than five or six hours per night, I start to sleep less well and start to feel run down.

Joy then said that I may not need as much sleep as other people, but most people need seven to eight hours.

The conversation proceeded through discussions of quality of sleep versus quantity of sleep, what the actual restorative effect of sleep was (e.g., chemically, physically, electrically), whether or not one could achieve that same restorative effect without sleep, a comparison of meditation to sleep, the impact of exercise and nutrition, and the effect of attitude. It was really fun!

A common theme throughout the conversation was that of different types of people needing more or less sleep. In the end, this was the theme that I found most fascinating.

Hardwired
Whenever we say things such as, "I'm the type of person who needs at least eight hours of sleep per night", or, "I'm someone who needs to fully prepare and practice before presenting at a meeting", or, "I'm not the type of person who can simply pop out of bed in the morning and head out the door", we're implying that we're somehow hardwired. Whatever we just said is simply the way it is. There's nothing that can be done about it.

Not only is this point of view severely limiting in terms of who we are and who we can become, but despite all the evidence that we have collected to support it, it's simply not true.

When we make a hardwired statement about ourselves, what we're really doing is defining our future based on our past. Now, if we really believe what we're saying, then we're probably right. However, it's our belief that we're hardwired (not our physical or emotional makeup, not our history or genetics) that makes us hardwired.

Starting Point vs. Predetermined
Now don't get me wrong. I think there's a lot to be said for individual physiology, genetics, chemistry, skills and the like. Even at birth, each child seems to be truly unique and predefined. Where we go awry is when we take this predefined set of temperaments, capabilities, and physical attributes and decide that they imply something about who that child can become.

Sure, some us arrive with genetic code that will make it easy for us to compete in athletics and others with the genetic code that will make it easy for us to do math, but these codes simply give us a starting point further down the path than people who don't have the same code.

If we're not born with the genetic code that gives us the advantage, it doesn't necessarily mean that we can't do something; it just means that we're not starting from the same place as others with the code.

Yet, we often get grouped at very young ages based upon our starting place, not our potential. In the end, there are very few people who can't learn music, who can't learn sports, who can't learn math, who can't learn to cook.

The Predetermined Me
Similarly, the type of person each of us views ourselves to be is also just a starting point and not deterministic. We may have started life as someone who needs eight hours of sleep per night. We may have spent our entire lives getting emotional and upset over little things. We may never, ever have taken a risk with anything. We may have never participated in any type of creative activity. All are reflections of where we started and what we've done, not our potential.

There's no such thing as a person who simply is not creative, or smart, or energetic, or enthusiastic. There are only people who haven't yet done creative, or smart, or energetic, or enthusiastic, or...

What's Your Past/Potential Differential?
So, what type of person are you? Are you someone who has an abundance of energy or someone who is easily rundown? Are you someone who needs to prepare or someone who can just wing it? Are you someone who simply can't get organized or someone who has to be organized?

Not surprisingly, much of our life situation has been determined by the assumption that many of our attributes, patterns and behaviors can't be changed. What if they can be changed? What if nothing about us, not matter how young or old we are is permanent?

What would you do differently if you didn't actually need this or that? Who would you become?

Homework
Here's little exercise that might be fun to do with a friend or your partner. It might help you better understand one another and perhaps make some changes in your lives.

First, on a piece of paper, write down the attributes that define who you are. They can be anything that you consider to be your signature attributes.

Second, without looking at his or her list, write down the defining attributes of your friend or partner.

Third, look at each of the attributes (for both you and your friend or partner) and place a '1' next to each attribute that you would like to change, and a '2' next to each attribute that you would like to keep or build.

Fourth, share your lists with each other, each one of you first presenting your view of the other, and then comparing that with your views of yourselves. Talk about what you would like to change and what you feel you can't change. Then talk about how life might be different if you did change.

Have a great Wednesday!

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