I’m reading two great books right now by Jean Houston: The Possible Human : A Course in Enhancing Your Physical, Mental, and Creative Abilities and A Passion for the Possible: A Guide to Realizing Your True Potential.
The premise of both is this: We’ve heard all our lives that we’re only using a tiny fraction of our brains, but then . . . we just accept that and move on. Why not instead retrain ourselves to use more of the hidden brain? Why not make the effort to access more of our potential in thought and behavior?
The thing I love about her books is she doesn’t make it hard. You don’t have to go to some boot camp of personality reconditioning where you sort out all your problems and your flaws and then sweat your way through getting rid of them.
Jean Houston’s books are relaxing. Her mental and visualization exercises are some of the best I’ve ever read and tried. I’ve turned other people onto her books, and they agree: it’s all so easy. And fun and (here’s that word again) relaxing. I’m into any self-improvement that makes me feel like I’ve been at a mental spa for half an hour, or even for five minutes. And some of her exercises take that little time.
One of my favorite visualization exercises of hers is walking up to a giant oak door that has a sign above it saying Room of the Skill. Deciding what skill you’d like to learn in there, then entering and feeling it in the air all around you. Maybe you’d like to learn to play the violin. You enter and violinness is already sealed into that room, and it starts seeping into your pores and you breathe it in and it sticks to your hair and it soaks into your bones.
There are other parts of the visualization that are important to gaining the skill–and I urge you to read the books to really get the full power of them–but I really love just that opening image of It’s already here. You’re already getting it. You don’t have to wait.
I’ve mentioned before my experiments in getting over my fears by just postponing when I want to feel them. The Jean Houston books open up another way of becoming what she calls The Possible Human. And what we’ll call The Possible You.
Let’s say you believe you have certain personality and physical traits: you’re shy. You’re not good at sports. You get angry easily. You’re a slob. You overeat. Whatever it is, I’m sure you could make up a list of four or five things right now with no effort.
What if you just decided Not anymore? And what if you also decided that there didn’t have to be any steps in between now and that next thing. You could just stop what you were doing before and start doing the new thing right now, right away, just decide.
Years ago I read a story in some Norman Vincent Peale book about a salesman who was having a really hard time. He couldn’t meet his sales goals, he felt awkward and ineffective around people–he was, in short, a failure.
And he got tired of that. Got tired of constantly having to stress over his paycheck and his bills, got tired of feeling so inadequate at a job where he actually meant to do well.
So one night he came home from another unsuccessful day on the road and decided That’s it. Enough. He peeled off his unsuccessful suit and took a bath. And decided during that bath that when he stepped out, he was a new man.
He threw away the old suit. Went out and bought a new, successful one (not expensive, just new. Different). And without waiting to go through some 9-step program of becoming a successful salesman, he just was one. He decided. He started behaving the way a successful salesman already does. No explanation to people who saw the change, no need to announce it to the world, just Do. Go. Be him.
By the end of the year he was the top salesman in the region. It looked like magic, but it was really just change. Deciding and then changing–right away.
I’ve done that, too. There was a time in my life when I got really tired of feeling shy. It was making me feel bad in social situations and even just stepping out my door into the world. I didn’t like it. It was a bad habit I’d picked up somewhere in my childhood, and I’d acted like it was just the way things were for the next however many years.
But one day I just told myself, “I’m not shy anymore.” And then in every single situation from then on, I made all my decisions based on that new law. I’d smile at people. Be friendly. Laugh when I felt like it. Little moments all day long, every day, when I let myself be different than I had been for years and years.
And what was key to pulling that off was I didn’t feel the need to explain the change to anyone. I got to skip all the steps of changing a little bit one day, a little bit more the next. I was like that salesman taking a bath and coming out a new person.
If anyone did ask me about the difference, I’d just say, “I’m not shy anymore” and move on. People don’t really need more explanation than that. They’re usually too busy thinking about their own lives.
I’ve also done the experiment with physical skills like athletic pursuits. Instead of telling myself “This is hard! It’s going to take a long time to learn this,” I’ve practiced just already being good at it. Letting it come easily instead of going through the performance of pretending to myself it’s difficult.
So much of what we do when we hold ourselves back really is performance. It’s theater. We’re so comfortable in our role of being shy, awkward, bad at math, a bad cook, bad at sports, ugly, scared (fill in your own blank) we just keep playing that part without ever realizing it’s only a part.
But if instead you start picturing The Possible You, the one who looks a certain way, is confident, has awesome skills, is friendly and happy (fill in your own blank), and then you just go ahead and begin being that version of you, right now, no middle steps, no announcements to the world–isn’t that a much better way of evolving into the next stage of you right now? Isn’t it time? Why do you have to wait?
In a way, it’s reverse-engineering your life. You think about how you’d like to be when you’re 80 or 60 or 19 or even a week from now, and rather than just hope you’ll turn out that way, you go ahead and become that right now. Skip all the time and skip all the steps.
The only steps you really do need to take are behaving the way that version of you behaves. Every moment of every day. And that includes reading the books that person reads, spending time with the people that person loves to be around, maybe taking the classes that person takes to learn the skills he or she loves to have.
And it means changing the things you hear yourself say. Because your ears are hearing it and your brain is taking it in. When you make a new choice and hear yourself say, even if it’s in a whisper just to you, “That’s right, because I’m not shy anymore,” it solidifies that new Possible You that you’ve become. Not “are” becoming, but “have become.” Because you already did that the moment you decided.
Why have I written this entire essay? For a couple of reasons: I’m not shy anymore. I love sharing my experiments and experiences with others. I’m completely confident writing in public and letting other people see my work.
I wasn’t always that way. But then I decided.