We’ve all been conditioned to think about life and situations in certain ways. We may have been told that we are dominated by the left brain or the right brain, the “creative” or the “logical.” Some of us have been told that we have a Type A personality, that we are “competitive, aggressive, and ambitious” – and thus different from Type B’s, who are more “relaxed” or “easy-going.” These types of labels present false choices – they condition us to think of ourselves as one way but not the other way – and more importantly, not able to change, because these qualities are somehow inherent. We’ve grown up thinking this is the way we are – this is who we are – this is how we interact with the world.
Humans become easily pigeonholed into certain roles in certain situations. If you’re always the one organizing your friends, you may become “the planner” in the group. Perhaps you are the one always cracking jokes, so you are known as “the funny one.” People fall into habits and ruts because these roles are being reinforced everywhere we turn throughout our lives, and we lose the ability to think about ourselves in different terms.
In a recent psychotherapy session, my therapist posed the question, “How can you live your life from the right brain?” My therapist was coming from the left brain/ right brain dominance theory because I have always thought of myself as being left-brained. My therapist was trying to get me to look at letting go of needing things to be a certain way, a common trait of left-brainers.
To answer my therapist’s insightful question, I had to look at what experiences could help me see myself differently and strengthen new qualities.
Since I think of myself as a planner, I looked at experiences that would help me build an appreciation for spontaneity. I started taking an art class. This provides me a couple hours a week of unstructured time to explore my creative side. I don’t know what I am drawing; I just show up and follow the guidance of the teacher. I give up control, and I don’t have a schedule – it’s hard to do, but after I finish the class, I feel much more relaxed.
I’m always analyzing and thinking about how things are going to go in the future. One way I have found to be more in the present moment is through Buddhist practices, like meditation and mindfulness. Studying Buddhism teaches one to walk the middle path where we notice our mind habits that pull us too far in either direction. The practice of mindfulness helps me see this habit of what’s happening right here, right now and meet it with awareness, and sometimes humor. “There goes my need-to-control-everything side.”
My close family and friends refer to me as a perfectionist, and I agree that I have high standards. To help with accepting my flaws, I have found mantras or positive affirmations help loosen this thought pattern. For example, I use the phrase “good enough” when something isn’t going perfectly. This helps me learn to accept mistakes, and go with a less than perfect outcome, while standing by my work.
These are just a couple of ways I am breaking free from these labels and trying to think about myself differently. I’m giving myself different experiences to build new ways of thinking and being.
We’ve all put ourselves into certain buckets, and it may not occur to you that you can be different. Just by being aware of these labels helps loosen their hold over us. The next step is doing something about it. What other ways have you tried to think about yourself differently, and defeat those negative thought patterns?