“An old Cherokee told his grandson, ‘My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, inferiority, lies, and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, and truth. The boy thought about it, and asked, ‘Grandfather, which wolf wins?’ The old man quietly replied, ‘The one you feed.’” –Cherokee parable.
March 10th, 2016: For two weeks, I’ve been trapped in existential limbo. I finished my last speaking tour 10 days ago. JasonConnell.co doesn’t launch for another five days.
The gap between the two projects is just enough time for me to begin seriously doubting myself.
Endless thoughts of “What if” fight for space in my mind. “What if I’m not a good enough writer to build a following? What if I burn through my savings and go broke? What if my previous success as an entrepreneur was a fluke? What if I fail? Shit. I might fail!”
I mention all of this to one of my close friends and advisors, T*. I tell him, “This is the first thing I’ve worked on in a long time where – if I’m being realistic – there’s a serious chance of failure.”
T* looks at me and says, “I don’t think you’re going to fail. In fact, I know you’re going to succeed. I also think you know you’re going to succeed too. I don’t know what sort of game you’re playing by pretending to doubt yourself, but you should stop. It doesn’t serve you.”
That comment from T* was one of the most important comments anyone has ever made to me. It made me realize that there is a quiet part of me that believes in myself, but it competes with a much louder inner monologue that makes me feel incapable.
In this article you’ll learn a simple – and consistently effective – method for defeating your inner critic and releasing yourself from your insecurities. This is a tool that I routinely use myself and one that I teach to all of my clients.
The Big Self and Little Self
For just a moment, imagine what it would be like if you stopped letting your demons run the show and stepped fully into your life. Maybe you’d quit your corporate job to become a house painter. Maybe you’d come out of the closet. Maybe you’d lean into the hard conversations you’ve been avoiding. Maybe you’d throw it all to the wind, sell your things, and move to Costa Rica.
When most people imagine taking control of their lives, they go through a predictable process:
First, you’re flooded with energy and excitement about living more boldly.
Next, a loud voice explains why your dream isn’t feasible. It reminds you that you’re busy, that you lack the requisite talent and courage, that you’re likely to fail, and that you’re not rich, energetic, or young enough. But most of all it reminds you that chasing your dreams is hard work. We’ll refer to that voice as the “Little Self” or the “Small Self.”
The Little Self encourages you to quietly accept that your dream isn’t realistic. You resume moving in whatever direction your life was already going.
This narrative is extremely common. It’s also incomplete. If you sit with your Small Self it loses power. Though you may think that the Little Self will gain power because you’re paying attention to it, like all phantoms, it’s power rests in the ability to hide in the dark.
What most people fail to realize is that hiding beneath the Little Self is a calm, confident, stable voice. This is the voice that knows you can create whatever you truly desire. We’ll refer to that voice as the “Big Self.”
Your Big Self knows that you can handle anything thrown your way. It knows that you’re more capable than anyone – yourself included – has ever imagined. Your Big Self knows that reality is more malleable than you’ve been led to believe and that you can work to shape it.
Distinguishing between the Big Self and the Small Self
We all have a Big Self and a Little Self. The Little Self is the one that allows your insecurities to hold you back from living. The Big Self is the one that allows you to come fully to life. The goal is to strengthen your Big Self, while weakening your Small Self. This begins with understanding the difference between the two.
The Small Self:
- Comes up with excuses
- Avoids negative feelings and fears surrendering to the positive ones
- Plays small
- Points blame
- Is afraid of silence and honest reflection
- Avoids tension and difficult conversations
- Focuses on limitations
The Big Self:
- Trusts that you can blaze your own path
- Leans into negative feelings and revels in the positive ones
- Embraces its own power and ability
- Accepts circumstances and works to either improve or appreciate them
- Allows space for reflection, rest, and serendipity
- Addresses tension from a place of openness and vulnerability
- Shows up honestly even when it hurts
- Notices countless possibilities
Most people unconsciously lead their lives with their Small Selves. The Small Self bludgeons them into submission and tricks them into accepting mediocrity.
Defeating the Little Self
Fortunately, it’s possible to defeat your Little Self. To do so, you must learn to identify and then sit with the tension that your Little Self causes. Here’s how:
Step 1: become aware of your Little Self. When you notice fear, anxiety, tension, scarcity, laziness, apathy, your inner bully, an urge for validation, or anything else holding you back, pause. Notice that the feeling is sabotaging you. This is your Little Self trying to run the show.
Allow the negative emotion to act as a meditation bell, letting you know that your Little Self is present. This type of self-awareness can be difficult. If you struggle to gain awareness of the emotion or thought that you’re experiencing, you need to deepen your self-awareness. You can generate awareness by spending a few minutes each day doing any or all of the following: silently reflecting, meditating, journaling, or engaging in deep vulnerable conversation.
Step 2: when you notice your Little Self trying to run the show, eliminate all distractions and sit with her. Allow your Little Self to express herself without interruption. She’ll say some nasty things. Realize that the more effort your Little Self invests in fucking you up, the bigger your reward will be for defeating her. The only time fear is deployed as a weapon is when there is a very real chance of losing the battle.
Your Small Self will be very compelling and convincing. She will generate difficult thoughts and feelings. Your natural reaction will be to distract yourself or give into the thoughts and feelings, mistaking them for the truth. Don’t. Instead, let them run their course. Don’t flee from the tension. Just stay with it. In a few moments, the Small Self will become weaker and weaker.
Step 3: as the Little Self weakens, turn your attention to the growing sense of confidence resting within you. As your Small Self exhausts herself, you’ll notice that there is still a part of you that wants to live boldly. This can be as simple as asking someone on a date or as profound as transforming your life. This is your Big Self. In the same way that you sat with your Small Self, sit with your Big Self.
Allow yourself to become excited by the possibility of getting exactly what you want in life. Open yourself to the possibility that the process may be fun, and that the results may come easily.
Don’t dismiss the ideas that come to you – only the Small Self writes things off as impossible. The more you sit with your Big Self, the easier the path forward will become.
If you can, smirk at your Little Self in the way that you’d smirk at an irritating child who tells you what to do.
Step 4: take the first step, and take it now. Once you’ve felt the power of your Big Self, start living it. You do this by taking action (even if it’s just a very small step). If you do not take action of some sort, the Little Self has very subtly – but decisively – won.
Step 5: accept that the battle is never over. Continue working through the process of sitting with your Little Self and embracing your Big Self as needed. The more you do this, the more powerful you will become.
Which Self is telling the truth?
As you become aware of the competing senses of self, you’ll wonder, “Am I the Big Self or am I the Little Self?”
The lazy answer: you’re both.
The deeper answer: you are the self you choose to focus on.
If you allow your focus to be controlled by your Little Self, then you’ll feel and act small. To do this is to perceive limitations within your life. Eventually you’ll surrender to the Little Self’s limitations and become your Littler Self.
If you allow your focus to rest primarily on your big self, you’ll feel and act as though you are capable of creating the life and world you desire. To do this is to perceive opportunities within your life. Eventually, you’ll embrace the Big Self’s opportunities and become the bigger self.
So at the end of the day, the answer is simple: both the Big Self and the Little Self have the potential to be the true you. The question you need to ask yourself, “Who do I want to be today?”