For the last few months, my wife and I have been experimenting with a new morning habit. First thing after waking up, we now make a conscious decision about who we’re choosing to be that day.
It’s as simple as asking each other, “Who are you today?”
Don’t be worried… we aren’t going through a psychotic break with reality. Rather, our answers might go something like this:
- Today, I am patient, open, and compassionate
- Today, I am brave, dedicated, and focused
- Today, I am cool as a cucumber 🙂
What’s the point of this you ask?
First, I’ll say what these statements aren’t intended to be. They aren’t an attempt to describe reality – it’s irrelevant whether or not we feel naturally patient, or brave, or outgoing, or whatever quality we’d like to step into.
What’s more important is who we choose to be. Each statement becomes a symbol of taking ownership – and of our decision to shape reality through intentional self-creation.
Because in the end, our reality is defined by our state of being in each moment, and our state of being in each moment is defined by a decision (or lack of decision) to call forward the best in ourselves.
In the language of psychology, you might see these ‘calling forward’ statements as a form of priming. Priming describes the phenomenon where one stimulus influences our reaction to a second, follow-up stimulus. This usually happens rapidly, at a subconscious level.
To illustrate priming in action, here’s a simple example from the world of advertising (the kings of priming). Say you wake up one morning, late for work. Like always, you flick on the TV while getting dressed in a hurry. On the periphery of your awareness, you just barely register an advert for McDonald’s pancakes.
Being late, you choose to skip breakfast and head out the door. En-route to the bus station, you pass several local eateries and brunch stops. But it’s only when you pass McDonald’s that you get an unexpected twinge to stop by for (you guessed it) pancakes. That’s priming in action.
Whether we’re talking about pancakes or patience, this can have profound effects. If I prime my subconscious mind with the concept of patience first thing in the morning, I’m much likelier to notice opportunities to step into patience. When I’m feeling irritable, and someone asks me a question for the third time, there’s a good chance I’ll notice my impulse to lash out. This gives me the power to respond mindfully.
Priming enables us to recognise these crucial choice points, which we navigate every day, hundreds of times. Those choices represent tiny forks in the road, and in sum the forks determine the course of our lives.
This is where our calling forward statements become crucial – they allow us to step back and notice opportunities to shift trajectory in the moment. In my experience, this act of recognition is (and continues to be) the biggest obstacle to my personal growth.
I sometimes liken this obstacle to a spell – the spell of my conditioned reactions. As is true for each person, I’m prone to several spells – there’s the impatience spell I just mentioned, the untamed anger spell, the bitter envy spell, the harsh judgement spell, and perhaps at the root of them all – the inner critic spell.
Once cast, these spells tie me in mental knots, nudging me into an unresourceful, trance-like state. Before long, I find myself drifting rapidly away from the person I long to be, and the life I want to create.
But by setting a clear intention about who I create myself to be – and stating the qualities I choose to call forward – I can reprogramme my subconscious with new instructions (preferably first thing in the morning, before my conscious mind has a chance to throw up objections and defences).
Those instructions are informed by reflection on my core values and life purpose. In this way, my daily calling forward statements become a powerful tool for shifting my purpose from the level of abstraction to action.
If I’m a sailor, then each word becomes another navigational star in the night sky, helping me to course-correct when I’m lost or confused.
Stepping Away From The School of Determinism
At this point, you might be doubtful. Perhaps my talk of ‘self-creation’ and ‘calling forward’ sounds suspiciously New-Agey. I hear you. My invitation is this: give yourself permission to step away from the school of determinism, which has been plaguing the western world for so long.
Being trained in both Medicine and Psychology, I’m no stranger to this. I was taught to see people primarily through a deterministic lens, with each human reduced to a passive, machine-like entity, subject almost exclusively to outside forces.
We’re obsessed with identifying every last factor that can explain our past and predict our future. At the present moment, that obsession takes the form of genetics, neuroscience (our ‘wiring’), and the notion of a fixed personality.
Each human being – and especially human behaviour – is impossibly complex. While we love to have a cause for every human shortcoming, this tends to perpetuate an oversimplification – that people are mechanical things which can ‘break’.
This is true for some problems, and not for others. Breaking my tibia is a mechanical issue. Feeling upset when my cat dies isn’t. Finding out I have a strangulated hernia is a mechanical issue. Feeling restless before an important interview isn’t.
The deterministic, mechanical model can throw up some subtle issues. In the realm of personality assessment, for example, many people find themselves boxed in by the limiting confines of certain ‘traits’ – neurotic, introverted, narcissistic, emotionally unstable, and on goes the list.
I’ve fallen into this thinking many times. As part of my psychology studies, I took various psychometric tests and internalised labels like ‘conscientious’, ‘agreeable’, ‘neurotic’ and ‘introverted’. I sort of enjoyed reducing myself down to predictable components, and I came to believe (on some level) that these traits would seal my fate. Sometimes, it was even a relief. Finally! An explanation for why I behave so irrationally… thank goodness I’m not responsible.
But on reflection, I started to realise something important. While my default nature can be described, this default does not determine who I am.
Take introversion. Most of the time I prefer to recharge alone, and in large groups I tend to be reticent. But sometimes, I flip to the other side. Perhaps I make a conscious effort to connect more authentically. Or maybe something happens externally – my favourite conversational topic comes up, or someone I’m fond of enters the room. Suddenly I’m effervescent, outgoing, and energised around people. All traces of self-consciousness go out the window.
This goes for all of us, across many psychological dimensions. You’re self-absorbed and full of self-pity for days on end, and then the phone rings – a beloved relative is gravely unwell. At once, your mood shifts. You become totally focused on the task of finding out more information. Self-pity transforms into curiosity, compassion, and concern.
The fluidity with which we can adapt our personality is phenomenal.
In fairness, contemporary psychology is starting to recognise this fluidity. We now recognise that describing people is just that – a description, not a definition. We can describe the default principles from which a person might operate, but not their potential to transcend this starting point.
3 Guiding Principles
Only you can discover your potential. Only you can unleash the person you’re capable of becoming. Only you can call forward the absolute best in yourself.
1. Make a Clear Commitment
This first pointer is maddeningly simple, but that doesn’t make it any less important: make a commitment.
I highly recommend maintaining an orderly list of commitments in general, and this case is no different. Essentially, your commitment to this habit will consist of the following points:
- Description: what precisely does successful completion of this habit look like? Writing down 3 statements each day? Speaking them out loud? Where will it happen? (I recommend starting with 3-5 statements, so as not to overload your psyche).
- Duration: for how long will you maintain this habit? 30 days? 60 days? Ongoing until further notice?
- Trigger: which hook will act as a trigger to perform your calling forward ritual? Some examples: your morning alarm, brushing your teeth, finishing breakfast.
- Tracking: where will you keep track of this habit? An app? Your calendar?
- Purpose: what’s your purpose for this ritual? (See Point 2 below).
That’s it. Don’t skim over this point – if you don’t write it down, you probably won’t stick to the habit for very long.
(Note: for the “trigger”, I like to vocalise my calling forward statements upon switching off my morning alarm. I’ve found this to be a great move, because it means I get to consciously choose my very first thoughts each day instead of passively allowing worries to flood in. For the same effect, you could perform this ritual right before falling asleep – when you’re at your groggiest, your subconscious mind is at its most suggestable).
2. Call Forward With Purpose
If you don’t yet have a grasp on your values, or your purpose in life, this exercise might not come to you easily. Which is why it’s a great idea to reflect on them upfront.
When you’ve made a clear decision about who you want to be, you can engage with your calling forward ritual with even greater purpose. A useful place to start would be asking yourself, “Which qualities are non-negotiable if I’m to fulfil my purpose?” And, “Who do I want to become?”
For me, this looks like patience, compassion and presence. I’ve found those to be my most pertinent areas of growth at this time, so it’s not surprising to see these words cropping up again and again in my daily statements.
In fact, even if you don’t do any values/purpose clarification exercises upfront, paying attention to words that keep resurfacing may actually yield some important realisations. Say you mention the word ‘brave’ on 9 mornings out of 10. Chances are, this means ‘courage’ is a deep, authentic value for you. Or perhaps something in your life is calling you to bravery right now, which may be a powerful clue about your current purpose.
3. Use Words Carefully (And Creatively)
Lastly, be a twofold point on language.
It’s important to avoid any language that distances you from the qualities you’re choosing to call forward. This is about embodying and feeling into certain ways of being in the present moment. It isn’t about coming up with nice-sounding, abstract ideas, and then putting them in a pretty box for later.
The question to ask yourself each day is this:
“Who are you… today?”
Notice the language. The question isn’t “Who will you be today?” Nor is it “Who do you want to be today?” Nor is it “How are you going to behave today?”
The question “Who are you today?” removes all the distance between you, and the quality you’re stepping into – as of now. For the sake of immediacy, we must state who we are, henceforward.
As well as being precise with words, the second point is to call forward creatively. Be inventive. As long as you take the exercise seriously, and speak from the heart, there aren’t any right or wrong answers.
You might speak in a more thematic or poetic way, as long as it resonates with you:
- Today, I am perfectly imperfect
- Today, I am pure tenderness
- Today, I am love in motion
These statements could have a potent effect. They could wrench us out of familiar patterns of thinking, and bring us right back into our body.
Experiment and play with words. Find out what happens. Create your life.
Another note here: we’re not rehearsing affirmations or mantras by rote. I’ve found “Law of Attraction” type affirmations only raise my mental defences over time. It’s tempting to approach the statements with a mentality of ‘set it and forget it’ and see them as a quick fix, panacea, or silver bullet.
But the aim isn’t necessarily to brainwash ourselves into submission. It’s to train ourselves to make a conscious choice, thereby taking a fresh approach to self-reinvention each and every day.
Above all, stop looking to “fix” yourself, because there’s no “self” in the first place. The self is an illusion – what you are is pure potential. Harness that potential by calling forward the best in yourself each day.
As a final point, don’t feel you have to take my word for any of this. It takes a leap of faith to try something new, and there’s no substitute for experimentation through trial and error. Become your own laboratory, and see if this works for you. I’d love to know how you get on.