The Best Guidance

In his recent book Manifesting for Non-Gurus, Robert MacPhee contrasts two different methods for making your desires a reality.

The first method is to define your outcome and then dive right into massive action. Adjust your approach along the way, and keep going until you get there. This approach is easy to begin, but as Robert points out, you’ll typically run into serious resistance down the road. Very often such goals get derailed long before they’re achieved. Sound familiar?

The second method, and the basis of Robert’s book, consists of 5 steps:

  1. Ask and answer the question Who am I?
  2. Ask and answer the question What am I intending to attract?
  3. Ask and answer the question How will I feel (when I experience what I intend to attract)?
  4. Let go of attachments
  5. Take inspired action

With this second method, you don’t set an intention or a goal until the second step.

Who Are You?

What I like about Robert’s method is that it begins with deepening your sense of self.

When it comes to setting new goals or defining their desires, lots of people struggle to figure out what they want. They focus on the external aspects of manifesting or goal achievement, and they get stuck because they don’t know how to choose between the limitless possibilities of what can be created in the external world.

One reason people struggle here is that they don’t have a very strong sense of self. So they latch onto desires that come mainly from external influences, but those desires may not align with the person’s best self image.

Earlier this month I attended a 3-day conference for entrepreneurs. As I expected for this kind of event, it was heavy on the product pitches and upselling. After each speaker finished presenting, some attendees would go to the back of the room and buy whatever the speaker was pitching. But how many of the people who bought those products are really going to follow through?

If they were to ask the question Who am I? and answer it seriously, would part of their answer truly be, “I’m a successful real estate investor”? If not, then why did they spend $500 on a real estate investing program?

For a fraction of those purchases, perhaps there is a strong alignment between the product and the customer. But the rest of those people were most likely acting on impulses that don’t align with their inner selves, and the result will be predictable — a year later that same info product will still be in the shrink wrap.

The worst part is that some of those people will beat themselves up for lacking the discipline to follow through on their purchases, when their real mistake was that they made a bad purchase that didn’t align with who they really are. Instead of making a conscious and intelligent choice, they got sold. Their desire was dictated by an outside influence.

How many bad decisions of a similar nature have you made over the years? What’s piled up in your closets, garage, hard drive, etc?

External Influences

It’s very easy to set goals and intentions that don’t align with who you are. This is a very common trap, so don’t feel bad if you’ve been stung a lot. There are certainly plenty of marketers who will influence you to make unwise decisions. Just turn on the TV, and there will be people trying to influence you one way or another. Or simply go out and talk to people. You’ll be subjected to external influences automatically.

Not all of them are profit-driven or sales oriented. Even friends and family can influence you to do things that don’t really align with who you are.

Those influences aren’t going away. They’re always going to be present in your life to some degree. But when it comes time to set some serious goals and intentions for yourself, this is when you need to step back from those influences and be present with yourself.

Even though you can’t entirely escape external influence — short of moving to a deserted island, that is — you can take steps to limit your exposure by turning down the volume, so to speak.

This is one reason I decided to shut down my online contact form last year, and it also played a role in my decision to quit Facebook last month. I wasn’t trying to run away and be anti-social. I love interacting with people, especially the growth-oriented people who tend to reach out to me. However, things got to the point where so many external influences were urging me to go in different directions (write about this, speak about that, help me with this) that I began to feel like a pinball in a pinball machine.

I felt that I was inviting in so many external influences that I was losing touch with my inner guidance. It became difficult to listen to myself and to make good decisions because my mind was constantly cluttered with thoughts injected by other people. I felt busier than usual but less productive at the same time.

Some external influences can be very positive, but the total summation of lots of disparate influences isn’t usually harmonious. It can be quite discordant in fact. Imagine what your life would be like if you tried to say yes to all the external influences that request something of you. Your mind would be overwhelmed with shoulds.

Often we soak up these influences subconsciously without even realizing what’s happening. Then when we sit down to get clear about our goals and intentions, we end up regurgitating some of those external influences as if they’re our own goals. Our intentions become cluttered with too many items that aren’t a good match for who we really are on the inside.

How Do You Feel?

Step 3 of Robert’s process is to ask yourself how you’ll feel when your intention becomes a reality. This takes some careful thought. The surface impression may be, “I’d feel happier.” But if we consider the full range of consequences of the intention, the true answer may not be so rosy.

When we make a mistake, then we usually discover the truth of our feelings later on — when we try to take action. We may also suffer from mixed feelings that lead to self-sabotage and procrastination.

Our feelings can be a powerful guide to our true selves. They can be very difficult to decipher, but overall they do a pretty good job of pointing us in the right direction, if we stop and take the time to listen to them carefully.

Socially I love to interact with people who read my work, but when I had so many communication channels open for people to contact me (my online contact form, Facebook, Twitter, our discussion forums, live workshops, in-person meet-ups when traveling), it got to be overwhelming.

The external influences mostly pushed me in the direction of being more accessible. You should have a Facebook page. Add a fan page too. Have more meet-ups. Post more inspirational tweets. Write another book. Do an interview with me. And so on.

That seemed like a reasonably positive direction at first. Accessibility is a good thing, isn’t it? Surely it’s better than inaccessibility, right?

But when I actually followed this path, my feeling about it became less and less harmonious.

Sometimes I liked it. It really is nice to connect with so many cool people. But sometimes I felt poorly about it. The communication seemed endless and overwhelming. I didn’t like having to perform so much triage just to keep up. I felt conflicted. Was I on the right path with all of this accessibility, or was it a mistake?

I couldn’t really make sense of those feelings because the volume of the external influences in my life created so much mental clutter that if I tried to tune in to my true self, I’d most likely hear other people’s thoughts playing back to me. It was hard to tell which thoughts were really my own.

Do you have any situations in your life right now where you’re suffering from mixed feelings? Are you facing a difficult “Should I stay or should I go?” type of decision? It could be that the reason you struggle to find clarity is that you’re being bombarded by discordant external influences, making it nearly impossible to discern which thoughts are really yours.

Is This Really Who I Am?

When you notice that some part of your life doesn’t quite feel right, I think it’s wise to pause for a moment and get in touch with your true self. But in order to do that, you may need to turn down the volume of external influences.

When I finally turned off enough of the external input that was coming at me each day, a wonderful thing happened. First, I felt relieved. After a few weeks, I began to experience much greater mental clarity about my goals and intentions. Planning ahead became significantly easier. My workflow sped up.

As the noise died down, I could clearly see which new goals and intentions were congruent with my true self and which were more like thought injections being pushed upon me from the outside in.

I often like to do a simple meditation where I visualize a room with two chairs facing each other. I imagine myself sitting in one chair, and I invite my highest and best self to sit in the other chair. Sometimes I invite my future self, the version of me that’s 5 years older. This works well either way, but lately I’ve been getting the best results by tuning into an alternate-reality version of my present self. His reality is the one in which I’m the happiest and most fulfilled. The most important element of this meditation is that I’m consulting with another version of myself that I feel is wiser in some way.

Then I imagine having a chat with my other self.

The main value in this exercise isn’t about getting specific answers to questions. The value lies in connecting with my true self and getting a better sense of who he really is. What kind of a man is he? What does he value most?

When I understand who my best self is, then I have a clearer sense of the man I wish to become. This understanding makes it easier to set good goals and intentions. When I set goals with this level of understanding, I’m more likely to follow through on them because they’re well aligned with the kind of man I most desire to be. They may be very difficult goals, but I’m less likely to experience self-doubt about my desire for them. I just know they’re right for me.

An example of such a goal was when I decided to quit the computer gaming industry in 2004 and start a new personal development website. Obviously that turned out pretty well. Because the goal was aligned with my best self, I didn’t suffer from self-doubt. I knew it was the right path for me to pursue.

My lower self likes to ask What should I do? But each time I ask that question, I get different answers, depending on which external influences happen to be the loudest or most infectious at that time.

I find that a better question to ask is: What would he do? where “he” refers to my best self.

When considering different possible paths, I can ask myself, Does this help me align more closely with my best self? If the answer is no or probably not, then I know it’s a path I should reject. If I pursue such a path, I won’t feel good about it, I’ll doubt myself often, and I’ll encounter a lot of resistance along the way. But if it’s a path that does align well with my higher self, then I tend to experience wonderful flow and fulfillment.

The key idea here is to set goals and intentions very carefully. You can waste a lot of time and suffer unnecessary frustration if you try to pursue a path that doesn’t align with the person you most desire to be.

Embracing Paradox

When I imagine my best possible self, I love what I see. He has all the qualities that I value most. He’s strong, disciplined, confident, and brave, but he’s also loving, caring, compassionate, and gentle. He’s tenacious but flexible. He’s brilliant but intensely curious. He’s focused but spontaneous. He keeps his life simple, but he gets a lot done. He prefers a lifestyle far from the norm, but he can still connect well with people.

In my present day reality, I often struggle to balance these different aspects. My best self, however, is able to blend them harmoniously into a perfect whole. The more I take the time to understand who he is and how he’s able to integrate all these seemingly paradoxical qualities, the more clarity I have about my own path of self-development.

A while back I was hanging out with a good friend who’s a successful tech investor. At one point during our conversation, he said to me, “Steve, you’re a bit of a paradox. I mean… on the one hand, you’re a successful entrepreneur, and you’re also very smart. But on the other hand, you’re not an asshole like many other entrepreneurs and smart people I know. You actually care about people, and in-person you’re very friendly and easy to talk to, but most people who are like that can’t build a successful business that makes money.” Then he went on to explain how he considers himself a paradox as well, and he explained how it helps him to embrace these seemingly conflicted elements.

I think the real truth is that the paradox is only an illusion. External influences condition us to believe that we have to be one way or another. Fictional characters such as what we see in movies and TV are often depicted in ways that make us think that if we develop some positive qualities, then we must sacrifice others. Real human beings are richer and more complex than any fictional character, no matter how well developed that character is.

If we aim to be strong and powerful and successful, then supposedly we must be less loving, less caring, and more cold-hearted. If we want to be heart-centered and loving, we must be less ambitious. If we want to be very disciplined, we can’t be impulsive or spontaneous.

Have you ever bought into such nonsense? I certainly have.

For example, if I post a tough love article, then according to the feedback, I must be a hard-ass kind of guy… since obviously only that type of man would write such an article. It amuses me to think there are people who actually believe that’s the kind of person I am, as if I go around every day trying to do everything in a tough-guy manner.

If I post a compassionate and heart-centered article, then the feedback tries to get me to believe that I must be a very sensitive man… since obviously only such a man would write something like that. But to those who’ve already concluded I’m a hard-ass, then I must be having an off day. 🙂

I think the apparent paradox isn’t really a paradox at all. The truth is that good qualities can blend together beautifully, just like different instruments can be used to create delightful music. You don’t have to choose between being a percussion instrument and a string instrument. You can be both at the same time.

After my last blog post about the survey, someone posted in the forum discussion thread, “Who are you, and what have you done with Steve?” Apparently my character isn’t allowed to conduct surveys. I apologize for going against my programming.

This really is the sort of programming that gets injected into our minds, often without our conscious awareness. Others expect us to behave a certain way, and they communicate their expectations to us, either directly or indirectly. Over time their expectations mesh with our dominant thoughts, and their expectations become our expectations of ourselves.

At some point it’s a good idea to back away from all these influences, clear your mind, and get to know the beautiful paradox that is your true self. The more you understand that person, the easier it is to set goals and intentions that are achievable — and enjoyable — for you.

The Practical Benefits of Self-Knowing

When you deepen your connection to your higher self, you gain many real-world practical benefits. One very powerful benefit is that you can get yourself unstuck where you’ve previously felt stuck.

For many years in my marriage to Erin, I struggled with the decision Should we stay together or break up? No matter how much I thought about it, journaled about it, or sought advice, I couldn’t get to a place of clarity about it.

Why couldn’t I get clear? Perhaps the main reason was that I was paying too much attention to what other people thought. My mind was cluttered with input from Erin, from friends and family, from authors I’d read, from people whose opinions I respected. Some of that was direct feedback, and some was just a general impression of how the other person would likely react.

But those external influences were incongruent. Some said stay. Some said go. It was impossible to weigh them against each other or find peace among them. They could never agree. Since these outer influences had infected my thinking, I couldn’t achieve any real clarity within my mind. I always felt internally conflicted, when the truth was that I was infected with too much thinking that wasn’t my own.

What got me past this place of stuckness was to pull back from allowing outside influences to get into my mind. I took time to deepen my connection to my best self. I didn’t ask him whether Erin and I should break up or not. I knew that would be a bad question to ask that would just bring up all the mental clutter again.

Instead, I took the time to understand the kind of man he was — the kind of man I desired to become. Fortunately, this was relatively uncluttered territory because I didn’t have many external influences telling me what kind of man I should be in great detail.

Once I understood who my best self was, I set a new intention from that base of clarity. I intended to attract into my life relationships that were congruent with my becoming my best self. I remained open to the possibility that my marriage might be transformed into that kind of relationship, and I also accepted that I might be guided to pursue a different path.

This led to some tumultuous changes, and the outcome wasn’t what I expected, but it certainly took me down a path that helped me do a better job of aligning with my best self. I didn’t achieve perfection of course, but it’s definitely been a step forward, and I’ve been happier and more fulfilled as a result.

Taking Action

When you really get to know yourself, and you set goals and intentions from that place of knowing, it’s easier to take action because you’ll feel a positive pressure to get moving. If the action part seems unreasonably difficult or if your intention seems to be lost in limbo with no signs of manifesting, perhaps you picked a bad goal to begin with.

What’s the point in setting a goal anyway? Why bother to invest so much effort into it?

The point is to use goals to more fully become your best self.

When I look back on all the goals I’ve set and achieved, the real gain is how my goals sculpted me as a person. Those are the best payoffs. If I didn’t set and pursue goals vigorously, I’d be more fearful, timid, shy, and socially awkward. I’d be less energetic. I’d be lazier. I’d be less confident in myself. My self-esteem would be much lower. I wouldn’t care about people as much. I’d be more focused on survival than contribution. I’d be a hell of a lot less happy.

Take a look at your best self. What is s/he like? Can you clearly describe your best self’s character, personality, attitude, and beliefs?

Do you notice the contrast between your current self and your best self? When you see the contrast, use it to set new goals and intentions that will help you align with your best self.

If you see that your best self is braver than your current self, set a goal that will compel you to face your fears and build your courage muscles.

If you see that your best self is more friendly and social than your current self, hold the intention to develop better social skills. Go out more. Set goals that will compel you to socialize more. Join a club.

If you see that your best self enjoys great abundance while your current self wallows in scarcity, ask your best self how s/he got there. What goals could you set to create more abundance in your life? What bad habits could you release?

The answers are inside you. But sometimes in order to hear them clearly, you have to tell the rest of the world, Shut the hell up! 🙂