Cultivating the Wiser Self
When we’re facing a difficult decision – leaving a job that’s no long in alignment with our values and passions, seeking new possibilities but risking failure, or staying in a job that provides reliable financial security and a rewarding social network but risking dying on the vine in a stultifying inertia…
It’s valuable to be able to consult with someone who has our best interests at heart and who can provide truly wise counsel, guidance, and support. And the best resource for that wisdom and care may be our very own wiser self.
The wiser self is an imaginary figure, evoked through guided visualization, real to the brain, who embodies the positive qualities that would lead to resilience and well-being: wisdom, courage, patience perseverance. This wiser self is someone who truly cares for you and offers you their understanding, support, guidance to help you change and grow. Your wiser self could be a version of yourself five or ten years from now, when you have fulfilled your aspirations for strength, competence, empowerment. Your wiser self could be drawn from a composite of many people who have been helpful to you already – role models, mentors, benefactors.
This wiser self is really an embodiment of our own intuitive wisdom. You can pose a particular problem or question to this wiser self and then listen for the answer, which comes from your own deep and trustworthy knowing.
Exercise: Cultivating the Wiser Self
[Note: the beginning steps of this exercise will remind you of the compassionate friend exercise in the recent Roots of Resilience post. Similar process, creating different resources.]
1. Find a comfortable position to sit quietly. Allow your eyes to gently close. Breathe deeply a few times into your belly and allow your awareness to come more deeply into your body. Allow yourself to breathe comfortably. Become aware of relaxing into a gentle field of well-being.
2. When you are ready, imagine you are in our own safe place, somewhere where you feel comfortable, safe, relaxed and at ease. This could be a room in your home, a favorite cabin in the woods or a place by a pond or lake, or in a café with a friend.
3. Then let yourself know you are going to receive a visit from your wiser self, perhaps an older wiser, stronger version of yourself. Someone who embodies the qualities you aspire to, and is mature and settled in them.
4. As your wiser self arrives at your safe place, imagine your wiser self in quite some detail. Notice how old your wiser self is, how they are dressed, how they move. Notice how you greet your wiser self. Do you go out to meet them? Do you invite them in? Do you shake hands, bow, or hug?
5. Imagine yourself sitting and talking with your wiser self, or going for a walk together. Notice their presence, their energy, and how it affects you.
6. Then, begin a conversation in your imagination with your wiser self. You can ask your wiser self how they came to be who they are…. Ask what helped them most along the way…. What did they have to let go of to become who they are?… Can they share examples of when and how they triumphed over adversity?
7. You may choose to ask them about a particular problem or challenge you are facing now. Notice what advice your wiser self offers that you can take with you. Listen carefully to all they have to tell you.
8. Imagine what it would be like to embody your wiser self. Invite them to become part of you. Notice how it feels to inhabit your wiser self from the inside out and to experience your wiser self within you. When you are ready, imagine your wiser self becoming separate from you again.
9. Imagine that your wiser self offers you a gift—an object, a symbol, a word or phrase—to remind you of this meeting. Receive this object into your hand and place it somewhere in your clothing for safekeeping. Your wiser self will let you know their name; remember it well.
10. As you wiser self prepares to leave, take a few gentle breaths to anchor this connection with your wiser self. Know that you can evoke this experience of encountering your wiser self anytime you choose. Imagine thanking your wiser self for the time you have spent together; imagine saying goodbye.
11. Take a moment to reflect on this entire meeting and conversation. Notice any insights or shifts from the experience.
12. You may choose to write down your experience with your wiser self to help integrate it into your conscious memory and to use it any time you need guidance from within about how to be more resilient.
As with any use of imagination to create inner resources, whatever you can imagine is real to the brain. You are using the default mode network of process in your brain to create a reliable inner resource of wisdom and resilience. The more you practice encountering your wiser self, the more reliably you will be able to evoke his or her wisdom as you respond to the challenges and difficulties of your life.
You’ll find more tools to strengthen relational intelligence within yourself in The Resilience Toolkit, forthcoming in September 2018.