The study of clinical cases of multiple personality gives a fascinating insight into our own minds. In some cases one ‘personality’ actually has a different eyesight prescription than another- yet both inhabit the same body! Our bodies follow our minds in the case of identity it seems.
An actor employs the tricks of multiple personality as his trade. Using a few words that have meaning for him, maybe an image or two, a few mannerisms- he is able to create a whole character- and, most importantly, know how that character should act at any moment.
Character is rather more malleable than we might suspect. Only because the word is associated with its other meaning ‘to be reliable and steadfast’ do we assume it is something that is deep and inalienable.
Life teaches us what roles or characters work or not. These become our stock in trade- but we don’t notice because most of the time we are not observing ourselves.
Observe the next time you emerge from a bad mood. One minute the world looks grey, the next you find it inconceivable you could have thought such a thing. And it IS inconceivable because now you inhabit a different self for whom the negative mood doesn’t exist.
When people consume alcohol their inhibitory processes are subdued. Very often a suppressed ‘self’ comes to the fore- someone more aggressive or more friendly- who rarely sees the light of day due to the need to conform socially. Indeed the pressure to get drunk may be driven by the need of this self to get some ‘air-time’.
I went for several years in my 20s achieving very few of my goals. In fact the only success I had was to complete a long mountain walk of 700km. I now know I was at the mercy of my different selves- what one started another would gleefully abandon. The advice of many self-help books to write and review goals, repeat goals, say prayers asking for a certain result are all attempts to keep the ‘self’ that wants success in the driving seat.
Instead of these methods, which may repel more practical people, a more substantial way to stay in the right ‘self’ is to construct an external reality that keeps you on track. It is a more elaborate version of persuading someone to lock your study door for a set period to force yourself to revise for an exam.
Observe your many selves.
Observe yourself as you do different activities. Observe the kind of likes and dislikes that seem to crop up while doing that thing. Different selves have different likes. I have a self I rather ambitiously call ‘the moneymaker’ who likes nothing better than mixing with all kinds of people picking up new ideas for businesses. Another, who surfaces after a few hours of fiction writing is ‘recluse’ who doesn’t even want to leave the apartment, is almost fearful of what is out on the street. If ‘recluse’ is forced outside and made to do heavy exercise- like running up a hillside- he can flip into ‘mountain man’ a self who likes nothing better than grueling physical exertion.
All change begins with observation. Observe your different selves without judging them. You may find odd things- for example I discovered that when I was in 'the moneymaker’ self I made fast instant decisions about my writing that ‘recluse’ took ages and ages over. So a different self than usual actually helped the process.
Another self I have ‘dreamer’- who likes nothing better than to stretch out on a couch and daydream or lucid dream- is very good at solving difficult problems that ‘the moneymaker’ might try to bulldoze his way through.
We’ve all made the complaint, “I’m both extravert and introvert. It depends who I’m with.” Psychology tests try and get around this by positing a gradated scale of extroversion. But this misses the real point. Sometimes, in some situations, you are a real extrovert. At other times a shrinking violet. The answer is that different selves are in control at different times.
Controlling these selves starts with observation, rather than a desire ‘to change’. Only through observation do we learn what are effective triggers for flipping from one self to another. When we manage to flip into the best self for the job we find tasks become so much easier. For example, because I was overawed by the martial arts environment in Japan I was in ‘student’ mode a lot of the time. But actually to do something physical it was far better to be ‘mountain man’- but I didn’t really realize that until nearly the end of my year of intensive training.
In accelerated learning programs people are tested to find their preferred ‘learning style’- but each self has a different style. One may learn best from books, another from being shown and another from audio materials. But if you are ‘tested’ you may find yourself stuck with a learning style that suits only one self. The key is to focus more on which self will be doing the learning- when that is settled the preferred learning style will be obvious.
In lifeshifting you devise external means to keep you in the right self until the job you want to do is finished. From multiple personality studies we can benefit from looking at the case of Sue and Anne, two personalities who co-existed in one woman. Sue was outgoing and energetic and naughty. Anne was quite, shy and lacked stamina. Sue’s favourite game was going on hugely long walks and then deserting Anne halfway- leaving the poor, shy and exhausted girl to make her way home.
How many of us are enthused by one self into signing up, for, say a language course, only to be deserted for a more mundane self who can’t be bothered?
Only with an external structure that prevents the departure of the necessary self (using a uniform, codes of behaviour, timetables, keeping your schedule clear) or by physically restraining that self (Victor Hugo used to instruct his servant to lock him in naked until he had finished his day’s writing) can you ensure that you actually make progress.
Problems of the many
The self that you engage for getting things done may be type a, aggressive and physical. What if the thing you want to get done requires a relaxed and calm attitude? I remember seeing a rugby player literally try and punch his way up a rock face- of course he fell off- rock climbing requires a delicate measured approach not a bull-like energy. I found I could achieve physical things like walking a 700km long distance walk but kept failing with non-physical things like completing a book. Only through imitating the circumstances of a long walk – set time for walking so many hours a day- did I begin to make progress writing. I also wrote at high energy times- just like walking, rather than at low energy times- as I had done previously. This actually didn’t benefit the quality of my writing, but it did mean I got it done.
Lifeshifting is about welding those many selves into something usable, workable, even if it is not as smooth as you would have hoped.
As Mark Twain wrote, “There are many ways down a river- if you succeed, then it follows you took the right way- whatever your detractors might say later.”