Most people are unaware of how their internal stories or the automatic ways personal meaning is ascribed to daily events influence what they believe about themselves. These self-narratives are often oppressive and can take the form of self-criticism, worry, fear, and hopelessness. It can be a persuasive argument where fatigue becomes about the climber, rather than the difficulty of the climb. Remember, we are not the problem; the problem is the problem.
When people are unbound by restrictive, and often oppressive truths about their lives, new options emerge for addressing life difficulties. As Michael White (2007) once wrote, personal change is about the “…re-authoring of the compelling plights of [our] lives that arouse curiosity about [personal] possibility and in ways that invoke the play of imagination”.
Imagination opens space for contradictory and divergent personal inner experiences: moments of exception from the usual automatic messages we give ourselves. These messages “team up” with feelings of powerlessness, worry, and doubt that serve to support internal notions of diminished worth and competence.
Although exceptional moments in which we remember how our positive emotions endured during adversity occur all the time, they are often dismissed as flukes, accidents, or trivial events. Imaginative remembering, then, is a noticing of resilient efforts and available strengths that often go unrecognized. It is a deliberate opening of perceptual space where remembering small increments of personal agency highlight degrees of freedom and choice.
By painting a vivid picture of how these exceptional moments withstood familiar oppressive narratives, a bridge from the known and familiar toward the unknown and the unfamiliar is established. This is where hope resides, and if traveled with intention, integrity and acceptance can also be found.
To assist with engaging your imagination to the experience of remembering, consider a moment when you were at your best (or closer to it). Make note of your reactions to the following questions and share with a learning partner:
- What was different about you in than moment than from other life moments?
- What feelings were more alive with you?
- What parts of yourself were you tapping into that seemed to give rise to your best self?
- How did your best self influence your wellness? The interactions you had?
- What values were you holding close?
- What was alive in you that gave rise to your sense of hope, creativity, and/or personal vitality?
It is a short step from remembering our best self to noticing these strengths, values, and actions during the routines of our day. It can give rise to the intentional use of inherent and often unrecognized efforts of personal resilience, and make present our best self even in face of our most difficult moments. Practice noticing:
- The strengths you tap into that seem to give rise to your best self;
- How the story you have of yourself highlight the values you wish to be of greater service to (e.g. gratitude, compassion, kindness, acceptance); and
- In what ways might you predict changes in your life, if the knowledge gained from this exceptional moment were more alive in your daily life?
The remembering and noticing of exceptional moments can provide a point of entry for a broadening of how we think of ourselves.
Where there are deficits, there are strengths;
where problems arise, there are preferences;
where there is resistance, there is also anticipation;
where there is illness, there are opportunities for wellness; and
where despair resides, hope lives also.
This is often novel for people who have often been subject to the meanings internalized by others of their lives. Conversations that highlight exceptional moments provide people the opportunity to give voice to the values they wish to live more in accordance with.
So, remember the exceptional, make note of our best self…and imagine holding that wisdom close to you as you begin each day. –Colin Ward, Ph.D., LMHC.