The Four Steps, Expanded Edition

Last week I got super stoked on Star Wars and related a couple scenes to this idea of changing our orienting principle (and thus revolutionizing our life) in just four steps. I alluded to how, although the steps are simple, they are anything but easy. This week, I want to spend a little more time on each step, and offer suggestions, tips, and tools for taking action around these steps in your own life.

Step One: Discover What You Want. For some of us, this step is easy, for others, this may be the biggest struggle. If you are having trouble identifying what it is that you want, or how you want your life to be different, you're job is one of self-observation and deep listening. Ask yourself what you want on a regular basis, and answer the questions as best you can each time you do it. Start small and work with daily things at first, then slowly work your way to the big picture stuff. 

For some, even this practice is too much. Sometimes, in trying to discover what we want, it's best to start with what we know we don't want. While this is a necessary first step for many, it's important not to get stuck in the negative. If this is where you need to start, you must be mindful to switch to the positive side of the question in order to effect change.

The key with both of these is consistency.  If you keep asking, eventually you will get an answer. Once you have your answer, you can move on to step two.

Step Two: Uncover What You're Oriented Towards. Again, this step is challenging. Most of us are familiar with Step One and Step Four, know what you want, make it happen. Without Steps Two and Three, though, nothing ever sticks. Your current Orienting Principle is running just fine with or without your consent at this point. What's more, if you never take the time to uncover it, it will continue to do so.

The structure of our personality is often the first and strongest Orienting Principle we experience. The Enneagram helps us to uncover our deepest, darkest motivations and fixations. For example, as a type 8 on the Enneagram, my personality is oriented toward feeling strong, powerful, and alive. To support this orientation, I deny, reject, or avoid anything that may make me feel vulnerable, weak, or helpless. This really throws a wrench in everything from building healthy relationships to becoming financially stable. So, if my New Year's resolution is to build up my savings account, I first need to understand how my current orientation has prevented and continues to prevent me from doing that.

Enneagram work is not the only tool capable of helping you uncover your current Orienting Principle, different types of therapy and meditation can offer insights as well. What's important, though, is you find something that works for you and stick with it. Just like Step One, it takes practice.

Step Three: Relinquish Old Behaviors/Beliefs. While the first two steps fall into the category of Kriya Yoga called Svadhyaya or "self-study," this is the first half of the catagory called Tapas or "purifying action." Now that we can see and understand what's running our show from our unconscious, we now have to work to remove our behaviors and beliefs that support that unconscious program.

To go back to the example from the last step, I need to remove the beliefs and behaviors that support the idea that I am invulnerable. I tend to spend money whenever and however I want, because not doing so would indicate that something bad would happen to me if I ran out of money, meaning I'm vulnerable- and my personality needs to avoid that. So, I have to get real with myself. I have to consciously stop being a dumb fuck about spending money, and I need to consciously remove the belief that I am invulnerable.

This is the step that rarely has easily defined tools, it will be different for each situation. For me, it may involve leaving my debit card at home and only carrying a certain amount of cash, or having a friend to keep me accountable. If you're working specifically around beliefs mantra meditation, and denials and affirmations are especially useful. Just like removing weeds, the tool you use will depend on the weed itself. 

Step Four: Affirm New Behaviors/Beliefs.  Once we've removed what's been standing in our way, now it's time to put in the new beliefs and behaviors. This is where we take action to move in the direction we're wanting to go.

There is no shortage of tools to help you achieve your goals. From planners to apps to online courses, there is an entire industry around creating meaningful life change. If you are looking for more support while you work through these big life changes, though, community is really the best thing out there. Get a therapist or coach (depending on your needs), join a group who already does what you want to do, see if any of your friends are interested in making the same changes and encourage each other along the path.

Although the steps don't always happen in order, understanding them as integral parts of a larger process can bring a lot of clarity to your journey. Living the life we want is rarely just about knowing what we want and making it happen. It requires self-knowledge, conscious effort, and a whole lot of patience.