And that shall lend a kind of easiness
To the next abstinence, the next more easy;
For use almost can change the stamp of nature,
And either master the devil or throw him out
With wondrous potency.”
~ William Shakespeare, Hamlet
Press play to hear an audio enhancement as you read.
They say that practice makes perfect … and permanent. If we’re interested to shift our priorities away from meaningless distractions and towards a fulfilled life, then it’s a simple matter of choosing differently and repeating the new behaviors that result. It’s especially vital to change our belief about who we are.
Habits can be difficult to break. We’re approaching the season of New Year’s Resolutions, that annual ritual of doomed expectations, repeating our intentions for change but, for many of us, failing to carry through after about two or three weeks of noble trying.
Gandhi had an intelligent perspective on what’s going on here. He said, “Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny.” Following that train of logic, it makes sense that if we only focus on changing negative habits – like eating too much, forgetting to exercise, gossiping, etc. – we’re probably going to struggle and fail.
Short-handing Gandhi’s formula: Beliefs become thoughts become words become habits become values become destiny. For change to happen, then, we would be wise to start with beliefs. What do we believe? All of us have our own beliefs and positions but, since our topic is personal change, let’s focus on beliefs about ourselves.
Many of us don’t think all that much of ourselves. Even boastful people harbor secret self-judgments. And we all deal with self-talk, much of which is negative. “Why did I do that? Oh no, I messed up again. Will I ever get this right? Why don’t they see my value… maybe I’m not really all that?” Those are just some of the thoughts that may arise, summed up in these words: “I’m not good enough.”
Of course, those aren’t likely the words we speak aloud. Instead, we might use words to inflate ourselves and/or belittle others. Why? It could be because we are suffering from what’s known as “imposter syndrome.”
Imposter syndrome is defined as “a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.” 1 While this applies to con men and those with low self-esteem, it’s also an affliction that can infect those on the spiritual path.
Despite centuries of wisdom and tons of sacred writings, all pointing to the innate truth of being, most humans feel disconnected from their true selves. So, when we hear the advice to “be yourself” or to “be authentic” that may not actually be an appealing idea. In fact, I remember a cartoon where someone said, “What if I expressed my true self and no-one liked me?”
Indeed, the low self-esteem we inevitably feel when we are fragmented in disconnection from the wholeness of human consciousness has a nasty habit of feeding back on itself, like a self-fulfilling prophecy. We feel we are inadequate (and tell ourselves internally, in one way or another) and then we gather proof in our relationships and activities. “It’s true!” we may then declare, “I am an imposter. If only people know what I was really like?”
The Wiki definition elaborates: “Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon (imposter syndrome) remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved.”
There’s a simple solution to this problem: make it our every-moment priority to be the truth of ourselves. How exactly do we do that? First, by acknowledging that there are two aspects to us. We are “human beings.” The human is this bundle of body, mind, and emotions. The being is an eternal spirit, the one who is One with all. The imposter syndrome activates when we attempt to replace the eternal One with our humanness.
I am not my body, my mind, or my feelings. I am not my career, my accomplishments, my skills and experiences. I am a being of eternal majesty and beauty… as is every one within the One.
Knowing and honoring this distinction is the key. By the way, no human can become divine, although that is the struggle for many on the spiritual path. This human form has its limitations and always will. Enlightenment, so-called, is not about finally achieving some sort of human perfection to become a flawless expression of God, but rather gaining and sustaining the full conscious awareness of true identity and, through the actual (not theoretical) experience of Oneness, being able to flow spirit through our limited human forms, as accurately as they will allow.
So, the next time that inner voice tempts you into self-flagellation, remember Shakespeare’s instruction and “either master the devil or throw him out with wondrous potency.”