To change your life, change your Everybody

Photo credit: © 2007 Tim Parkinson, from Flickr | used via CC-BY licensing

No matter how badly we want to make changes in our lives, we often wind up running into strong internal resistance that sabotages all of our attempts to move forward.

Most of the time it is the effort of our social self at keeping us safe that’s actually what keeps us stuck.

We may long to live life in full color, but deep down we “know” that only black and white sheep are acceptable. Our social self therefore works hard beneath the surface to make sure stay black and white to prevent rejection. And we are left wondering why all our attempts at creating color keep failing.

To understand this dynamic, we have to understand how the social self works.

How our social self works

Because humans are social creatures, we have a strong need to belong and to have the approval of those who surround us. Our social self does its best to help us avoid the threat of rejection and abandonment by enforcing the norms of the crowd. It tells us things like:

  • Everybody will think you’re crazy if you do …”
  • “You’ll become a laughingstock to society if you …”
  • Everybody knows that you aren’t good enough to have …”
  • People will never accept you if you …”
  • Everybody knows that you can’t do ____, so you shouldn’t even try.”

In this way, our social self is constantly monitoring our behavior to ensure that it stays within the bounds of what Everybody would approve of to keep us safe.

Most our current patterns have been formed by the definition of what Everybody would approve of. For this reason, any attempt to change those patterns will put us smack up against our social self’s strongest resistance.

In fact, these messages from Everybody often become so ingrained over time that it becomes impossible to actually hear and process any contradictory information that comes in. We can’t see ourselves or our options as being any bigger than Everybody thinks they are.

This resistance from our social self to changes that we think Everybody might not approve of is what can keep us stuck in place even when we are deeply committed to change. But who is this Everybody anyway?

Defining Everybody

None of us can truly know was everybody thinks, of course, so our social self (completely unconsciously) creates a shorthand Everybody using the people we know.

In fact, in Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the life you were meant to live, Martha Beck says that we form this Everybody out of the opinions, taste, standards, belief systems, and preferences of no more five or six people.

Ironically, the people who are chosen by our social self to construct this Everybody are most often our loudest critics, those who dislike us, and those who have rejected or abandoned us in the past. Surely if we can push ourselves to measure up to those people’s standards, then no one else would ever reject us, right?

Thus, we are held hostage by an unconsciously created hypothetical Everybody made up of our harshest critics who prevent us from becoming the people we want to become … or often from even clearly seeing ourselves as the wonderful people we already are!

We could, of course, use this information to choose to ignore what Everybody thinks and make whatever change we want, but the intensity of the anxiety our social self produces when we attempt this does not make it an easy route. Our human need to belong runs too deep.

A better approach is to make our Everybody conscious and begin shifting who gets included in our Everybody to create a more realistic take on who we are and what is possible.

Who is your Everybody?

The first step is figure out who is currently included in your Everybody. Doing this requires paying careful attention to the internal dialog that we often ignore.

  • When that internal critical voice tells you that you can’t do something, can’t be something, or can’t have something, whose voice is it that you are hearing?
  • Who in your life (past or present) actually spoke those words (or similar ones) to you?
  • Whose beliefs and opinions does your Everybody most closely mimic?

As you continue to listen to your internal dialog, repeat this for the various criticisms, limitations, and restrictions that this voice places on you. You’ll quickly notice that a few names will keep popping up.

Those people make up your Everybody.

Take a moment to think about whether these few people are really the yard stick you want to use for who you are and what is possible in your life. (Hint: If they are keeping you from living the life you want to live, they aren’t. Period.)

Given that your Everybody is only a fictional construct (albeit a powerful one) anyway, you are free to redefine your Everybody as someone who empowers you instead of holding you back.

Redefining your Everybody

There are a variety of ways to shift your Everybody, and I list a few of those below. All of these take time and work, but the resulting freedom is worth it.

  • Review your life history for feedback and occurrences that prove your Everybody wrong. What evidence do you already have of how you have been, done, or had the very things you think are impossible for you? Write it down.
  • Review the people you know that you most admire. How many of them hold opinions that are contrary to your hypothetical Everybody? How many of them would actually applaud and embrace your desired changes instead of rejecting them?
  • Get feedback from people you are currently close to (and who like you) to compare to your Everybody’s feedback. Be open to accepting what they say even as your Everybody tries to drown them out. It is hard to hear and accept new data that contradicts your old patterns.
  • Use the refuting evidence you uncover to challenge your social self when it threatens you with the old Everybody’s rejection. Keep a list of this positive reinforcement from past evidence and the feedback of others to refer back to when you feel anxiety mount as your old Everybody raises its head.
  • Incorporate new people into your life who are already living the life you wish to live. (For example, if self-employment calls to you but everyone you know is an employee, chances are good that your Everybody thinks that self-employment is risky, unacceptable, and outside the norm. Including more people who are already self-employed in your network will help with shifting your Everybody. The same goes for a white sheep who only knows other white sheep …)
  • Choose to listen to the voices that tell you that you are good enough. Even when you struggle to believe them, choose to trust those voices more than the ones that tell you that you aren’t enough. You have the right to choose an empowering Everybody.

The old Everybody will continue to raise its head out of long habit, but consistently embracing a new Everybody will weaken its hold on you, and you’ll find yourself less and less stuck with those changes you were trying to make.

Before you know it, you may discover that you’ve not only filled your life with all the color you hoped for, but that Everybody (at least those that matter) is celebrating the new you.

What changes do you want to make that Everybody disapproves of? Are you willing to do the work to identify and shift your Everybody to achieve those dreams?

[Note: For more ideas on working with your Everybody, see chapters four and five of Martha Beck’s previously mentioned book. (In fact, if you’re trying to create a life you love, give yourself the gift of reading the whole book. It’s an enjoyable read filled with powerful encouragement and insight!)]

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