Lately, one part of me can’t seem to sit down and write a blog post. It’s not that I don’t want to write or intend to give up blogging. The problem is another part of me has found dozens of other equally important or fascinating things to do with my time. Ever find yourself in the same position where you want to do something but other actions seem necessary or important? Or what about when you know you should do something but find yourself mindlessly scrolling on the computer? Well last week I happened to be listening to a podcast while doing my morning walk and discovered the likely answer. Apparently, each of us has many different “selves” within us that have different needs and agendas. I learned that the concept of multiple selves has existed within the psychological and philosophical awareness for decades. And according to some “experts” it can be very beneficial to us all to learn to understand, appreciate and orchestrate these selves into a coherent harmony. Let me explain.
The current podcast I heard was an interview with author and university professor James Fadiman, Ph.D. who carries degrees from both Harvard and Stanford. His book co-authored by Jordan Gruber is titled Your Symphony of Selves: Discover and Understand More of Who We Are. Fadiman challenges the idea that each of us contains only one personality and contests the idea it is pathological to recognize our multiple selves. In contrast, the idea that we only have one personality (called the “single self-assumption”) is patently false.
Don’t believe him? Ask yourself if you’ve ever had an argument with your self? Just who is doing the arguing with whom? Or have you ever had two different desires in your mind? Or if you’re like me, commonly referred to times when you feel you have two minds going at the same time? Fadiman believes we all have those minds going within us. But again, we tend to think multiple selves is pathological because most of us grew up thinking that Multiple Personality Disorder (now called dissociative identity disorder) is a mental health condition. After all, didn’t most of us watch the movie Sybil back in the mid-seventies?
Instead, Fadiman and many others are convinced that multiple selves are completely normal and that we commonly have a variety of these selves inside of each of us. Sure, in some people there may be extreme cases where aspects of their personalities become destructive and refuse to harmonize, but that is extremely rare. Author and professor-emeritus Robert V Levine, author of The Face in the Mirror: The Scientific Search for the Self agrees and said, “we are more like a republic than an individual, a collection of the many and diverse and sometimes adversarial.” Levine continues to explain that “we are malleable to the core. Everything about us, from our bodies to our neural circuitry to our personalities, from situation to situation and one time frame to another, is ever-changing.” The good news is, we can make that collection a symphony or just a clanging bit of noise.
So why does it matter? And how does it help us to be aware of these multiple selves within us? According to Fadiman, Levine, and others it is because it can help us make better decisions and take better actions in the future. Fadiman claims it helps us to be “In the right mind at the right time.” For example, if we consciously make the shift to the right “mind” or self in each moment, we can better accomplish what we hope to do. Like the case of me wanting to write a blog post. If I wander around in a self that is more interested in calling up friends or hanging out on Facebook, I’ll never get any writing done. Instead, I can call on the part of me that enjoys writing and has the discipline to do it. Luckily that aspect of me is fairly well known to me so it wasn’t that difficult. Sometimes we might need to develop certain parts of us that aren’t so accessible (like that part that enjoys and finds exercise easy compared to the couch-potato part of me!) but the effort is worth it. The goal is to get our selves working as a team where we accomplish our intentions for the benefit of the whole.
Also, according to authors Hal and Sidra Stone Ph. Ds authors of Embracing Our Selves it is important not to suppress or “disown” the aspects of ourselves we don’t particular like or think are negative. Just like calling one of your children “stupid” or a “bad seed” that can actually lead that part of us to act-out or live up to what label we give it. Instead, by embracing all the different parts of our self and learning to work with them, we become whole beings better able to love and accept ourselves. Plus, when we learn to recognize those parts of ourselves, especially the ones less desirable, it makes us more forgiving and compassionate toward the “selves” of others that might be acting and doing things we find objectionable.
Fadiman also suggests that we ask ourselves in any given moment, is this the best part of me to deal with the task (or problem) at hand? For example, say I need and want to comfort a friend, but my humorous self is most active. Consciously shifting to a loving and supportive friend is something I might want to do. Or again, say you must show up at the bank for an interview. Do you want to look, act and dress like the self that prefers riding your bike or playing pickleball during that time? Self-awareness of your-self allows us to consciously shift when necessary to be as effective as we desire in any given situation.
Fadiman offers a story of Navy Seal Team as an example of how we can optimally train our mind to work together. Called “Dynamic Subordination” Seals are able to make dynamic movements and adjust choices and action in a group in a split-second way to optimize their needs. So too can we all learn to orchestrate our many selves to best achieve our needs and intentions. Or another example is a good jazz band. Being able to follow the lead of any particular solo with the other members supporting in an ebb and flow is also ideal. Again, the goal is to optimize our many selves into living and harmonizing in the way we hope to best present to the world.
How do we start? Just start paying attention to which self is active in any given moment. Learn to recognize if you are picking the right self in any given situation and then attempt to shift to one better suited to what you want to do and be. I like how Robert Levine describes it by saying “Fluidity creates malleability, and this malleability unleashes a wealth of potential. The very features of our self that can be so confusing — its arbitrary boundaries, multiplicity, and malleability — create possibilities for change.” He finishes by reminding us that, “The self is what we make of it. It is an act of creation. We are all heroes-in-waiting.”
So, as you can see, I was able to write this blog post rather easily once I shifted into the part of me that enjoys putting my thoughts to paper. Will it always be as simple? Maybe not. But the SMART approach will be to remember that I can shift when it’s important—and so can we all.