In the 1977 movie Star Wars, the sage-like character Obi-Wan Kenobi planted the phrase
“Use the force, Luke”
into our collective consciousness. This scene was towards the end of the original Star Wars movie in a touch-and-go moment where Luke (the unlikely hero) was flying his X-wing fighter in close to try and bomb and destroy the evil Empire’s Death Star spaceship.
My understanding is the force is a metaphor for the spiritual power of humanity that can be harnessed for good purpose. There is, of course the dark side to the force as well as harnessed by the enemy, Darth Vader.
All of us - it seems - have a dark side. Hopefully your dark side doesn’t cause you to create a universe dominating autocracy. Still, it’s there. The dark side is the part of your character, which you don’t really like that much, it is the part of you that you feel embarrassed about. It’s your Achilles heel, it’s the times when you can’t really be your best self, it’s when you sabotage yourself. Some psychologists have called this your shadow self.
You may think it’s a good idea to keep your dark side under wraps. Keep it under control. I used to think that too. I’ve recently discovered that there is some real latent (untapped) growth potential to be had by exploring this dark side. That may sound like a contradiction but it’s not. It is however uncomfortable and takes some time to work through. You may need a coach to help you through it.
With my coach (who, as co-incidence would have it, is also called Luke), I started out by writing down all of the things I thought of that I do well, behaviours that I’m proud of. Luke then challenged me to write down a list of the things I awes less proud of, things I do that trip me up or that I might regret.
This territory is dark stuff. It takes time to admit it and write it down.
I’ll share one example. I have a tendency to be slightly hyperactive. I will go go go go go all day long, sometimes all week long, sometimes for a few weeks. I am incredibly productive during this time. I don’t really rest, I might just grab a cup of tea before cracking on again. I probably don’t take enough lunch breaks during that time. It’s not quite manic, but it’s in that direction. All this activity, this action, can be very powerful (if applied to meaningful things to solve or do). It means I can get a lot done in a very short space of time. Action-orientated, I can smash things through and get stuff done. It is a strength if you look at it that way, but as I said before strengths are weaknesses, the downside is that when you do that yourself, eventually your body says no thank you and for me it can take quite some time before I get to that point. I can run on adrenaline for weeks and then there comes a point where I absolutely just hit a wall and I’m useless. I’m useless for as many days as it takes me to get my energy back and get some balance in my life - so this strength has a downside.
In the past I’ve tried to moderate this behaviour by saying things like “it’s a marathon, not a sprint”. This simple phrase clearly didn’t hit the mark because I kept doing it and finding myself burnt out. It’s my duty to turn up at work ready to do my best and being burnt out isn’t that.
What is needed is an affirmation action that balances out the shadow behaviour.
With Luke, he suggested that we work on a phrase starting with “it’s like me to…”.
It took a while but we ended up with this.
It’s like me to be intense with my recovery as I am with my action.
This is an affirmation. It is something that I want to do, that I can do. It doesn’t prevent me from having intense action. It does however give me a way to recover from my intense action by practicing intense recovery. Now when I say this to myself, I see value in the act of recovery. Just like an athlete needs to recover from a difficult workout to make that workout count, so do I need to recover from intense creative work, physical effort or mental effort. Being more of an introvert, I need “time out” after a period of social activity before I can enjoy a fresh bout.
“It’s like me to…” is quite a powerful phrase. It gives me permission to strive towards it rather than feel failure if it don’t do it. (“I always” by comparison would lead to more guilt and feeling of falling short).
An affirmation works well if it’s short and catchy, easy to remember. It’s inspirational. You won’t always do it, but you’ll be happy to strive towards it.
So. don’t be afraid to visit your shadow. There is a powerful force there to use if you let yourself. It can be a powerful driver of growth.