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True to oneself! Which self?
Which of my many.. . selves?
— KATHERINE MANSFIELD,
The Katherine Mansfield Notebooks
It’s painful to find yourself seriously stuck. Despite doing all the right things, inexplicably you’re unable to reach a long-held goal, whether it’s in your career, your relationships, your finances, your creative life, your health, or your personal growth.
Most of us endure a bout of paralysis at some point in our lives. It happens to CEOs and moms and CEOs who are moms; to students and teachers; to doctors and dancers; and to young adults, techies, and retirees. But being stuck when you are so close to success is a distinct phenomenon. It feels even worse when you are in sight of the finish line, yet you don’t cross it.
When You're Stuck in the Final 8th
When you’re stuck in the final stages of achieving a goal, whether it is to become solvent, get a dog, or gain a promotion, you’ve probably done everything pretty much right. You took the initiative, followed a plan, and moved toward your goal. This is the first 7/8. It includes successes, failures, and procrastinations — in other words, all the different experiences that have led to your current level of wisdom.
The first 7/8 can include the following:
- grappling with challenging habits but having difficulty finding support
- discovering your passion but not knowing how to empower it
- gaining physical strength but not being able to maintain progress
- boosting your emotional health but losing it under stress
- getting experience in your profession but not being able to move up
- studying but struggling with completing courses for credit
When the finish line is within sight, shimmering with promise, you just can’t get there. Despite the nearness to the goal, despite your hard work, despite the access to necessary resources, despite your admirable level of commitment, you find yourself unable to take the final steps to success. And sadly, you may have been in this position more than once.
My clients were baffled about why they were stuck. They reported feeling frustrated, stressed, sad, and scared. “I just don’t get it,” they’d say. “I’m doing everything I can think of. This is what I want more than anything, and I just can’t take the next step. Why is this happening?”
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They’d swear to me they yearned for the desired outcome with every fiber of their being. I’d tell them, “Believe it or not, some of those fibers just aren’t with the program.”
The truth is, not every part of you wants what you think you want! Some of your inner selves are opposed to your goal.
Get Going… or Let Go?
You assume you want the big mansion, the big (hybrid) car, the big bucks, the ambitious career, stardom, the fancy clothes, exotic travel, and the happy-ever-after life with your soulmate (when the polyamorous era ends). Parts of yourself definitely want this — and other parts do not! Perhaps they want to remain hidden, relaxed, and serene. Their desires are jeopardized by goal consummation (whether it’s marriage or a raise).
There are great reasons to not be totally on board with the big plan. Often, it’s not self-sabotage but a form of wise self-protection that’s bringing you to a screeching halt.
Different parts of you may be locked in a tug-of-war between your final eighth goal and your core negative beliefs, and you may come to a potentially unsettling realization: you may determine that it’s time to let go of your goal. Not every plan is consummated, nor should it be.
Sometimes not achieving the final eighth is a signal to relinquish the goal. As you free yourself from your double bind and continue to gain clarity and strength, you have permission to drop the ball and walk away from the game. Call it quits. Say goodbye. Throw in the towel. Throw it in the garbage.
If you don’t want to be here, you’re free to go. Free!
Reasons for Not Completing Your Goal
There are legitimate reasons for not completing the final eighth. For every gain, there is a loss. Some personas worry that too much change in the status quo will obliterate them. Many subpersonalities enjoy privacy, anonymity, down time, and low expectations. To these selves, capitalizing on opportunity is a nightmare of being on call and obligated to constantly achieve a new personal best. They prefer to avoid commitment, public exposure, strong emotions, dependence, independence, and change.
For some, the mere sensation of acknowledging a need elicits anxiety. Other subpersonalities fear disappointment if their hopes are raised. As you learn the true motivations of your alter egos, you’re able to make better-informed decisions.
Maybe you’re not moving forward because your goals were imposed on you by family and friends. Is the project really your idea? Is it an ambition left over from when you were four, which, let’s be honest, doesn’t fit anymore?
Sometimes a project only feels unfinished: it’s actually complete, because it has already served its purpose. For example, if after an intense period of emotional writing, you find yourself uninterested in completing your memoir, maybe its true purpose was to be a vehicle for processing and healing your trauma, not a published book.
Are Your Dreams Really Yours?
D’Aphne wanted to discover what was getting in the way of her pursuing venues for exhibiting her art. Her apartment was full of her distinctive, witty miniature paintings. Despite living in a metropolitan area with plenty of opportunities to show her art commercially, she rarely followed through. D’Aphne was able to pay her bills by working part time for a nationwide company. The rest of the time she spent in her personal nirvana with colors and brushes.
A part of her felt blessed with her artistic gift. Another part felt guilty, believing she had a moral obligation to do more with her God-given talent. Guilt led to long-term chronic insomnia. Ironically, the way she dealt with it — by getting out of bed and painting — made her artwork better and better.
She sold her signature pieces to family, friends, friends of friends, and of friends of friends, creating quite a flock of ardent fans. Some of these well-meaning friends went to great lengths to interest gallery owners in her work, sometimes without even telling her. When D’aphne tried to follow up on these overtures, she invariably bungled things and ended up feeling bad.
D’Aphne determined that her core negative belief was “I’m bad," a vestige of early exposure to a religion she no longer practiced. She also saw that her painting reflected core positive aspects that she hadn’t acknowledged: “I am strong, dedicated, persistent, good at concentrating, able to enter a flow state."
Getting in Touch with a Variety of Personas
Her perspective shifted dramatically after she communicated with a variety of her personas. Some of the selves who supported her thwarted final eighth goal included her Judge-from-On-High and the Sinner. She was shocked to discover that they pronounced D’Aphne guilty of a cardinal sin — laziness — for not pursuing an art career.
Her Inner Resistance quickly countered that accusation with a vital and astonishing insight. The truth was that D’Aphne’s ambitions were no greater than her miniature paintings. She realized she wasn’t stuck: rather, she truly had no aspiration to market herself and her paintings.
D’aphne decided to let go of the goal of breaking into the art scene. She worked on explaining to her friends that although she appreciated their enthusiasm for her work, their plan for her future wasn’t her plan. She followed her deepest desire — to spend as much time as possible with her canvases.
Put the Old Goal... Out to Pasture
Here’s a really tough question: Is it too late to achieve your goal? It’s worth asking. Reality matters, and time marches on. You may be a great runner but no longer in contention for Olympic competition. You may no longer be able to have biological children. If you’re older than a tween, you can’t realistically hope to become a professional ballerina if you haven’t started yet. It’s never too late to start dancing (for pleasure or ballroom competitions) or go to college, but it may be too late to become a dermatologist.
Perhaps your on-again, off-again lover of many years has married someone else and is rejecting invitations to return to your bed. This success interruptus might be a signal of what your friends are already telling you: Move on! Dealing directly with the issue may cause you hurt now, but will help you heal sooner.
Sadly, it’s not easy to know when it’s time to leave and when to hang on. But boredom and constant lack of motivation may be signs that it’s time to let go of a goal. However, the only certainty is uncertainty. So if you leave your project and it comes back to court you again and again, consider reconciliation. Maybe the approach you learn here will help you understand why you stumbled during previous attempts and negotiate a better deal with your various selves this time around: more project and less agony.
Overburdened and Overwhelmed?
One practical reason for failing to complete projects is simply having too many. If that’s your struggle, focus on one (or two at most). Put the others in the “Later” file, and if later comes, pick one to concentrate on. Imagine a still photographer trying to decide what to shoot. At some point she has to stop waving her camera around and focus on one thing.
The exercise below helps explore whether a project should stay or go. Relinquishing old dreams frees up energy to use in other ways. It happens in nature all the time. Snakes and salamanders shed their skins and slither into the new. You can too.
Let Go of a Goal That No Longer Fits
1. Imagine what your life will look like if you let go of your final eighth project. Journal what might happen if you walk away from it.
- In what ways will you feel bad?
- In what ways will you feel good?
- Which selves, subpersonalities, alter egos, and personas will be reassured if you decide this isn’t the right goal for you, and why?
- Which ones will feel disappointed or unfulfilled?
- What do you imagine the people close to you will think — your partner, family, friends, and colleagues?
- Sometimes walking away from a project involves serious consequences. Depending on the situation, who might be good advisers to help you exit ethically and gracefully — mentors, lawyers, therapists, accountants, coaches?
- If you walk away from your goal, what might you aspire to next? Is there anything this goal is keeping you from doing or feeling?
This exploration will either reignite your desire to continue (I will miss my project, and I don’t even know why I was thinking it was a pain in the ass!) or bring relief and certainty that the right thing to do is say goodbye (Wow, if I let it go, I could go hiking every weekend).
2. List positive traits that you’ve developed as a result of the struggle between your core negative beliefs and your final eighth goal. These qualities are yours to keep, whether or not you complete the goal.
3. Now imagine what your life will look like if you continue to work toward the goal. List the potential costs of success. For example, you may lose privacy, safety, sobriety, superiority, quiet Sunday mornings, or friends. If you can’t think of any costs, that’s okay. Keep going.
©2020 by Bridgit Dengel Gaspard. Reprinted with
permission of the publisher, New World Library.
www.newworldlibrary.com or 800-972-6657 ext. 52..
The Final 8th: Enlist Your Inner Selves to Accomplish Your Goals
by Bridgit Dengel Gaspard
Bridgit Dengel Gaspard coined the term “the final eighth” to describe a phenomenon she experienced herself and observed in others: talented, energetic, motivated people accomplish many steps toward a goal (seven-eighths of it) but then are mysteriously stalled. Practical tips and pep talks don’t work because the problem — and the solution — lies deeper. While the conscious, everyday self says, “I want this,” other inner selves worry that success will put them in some kind of danger. The powerful secret? Not every part of you wants what you think you want! The innovative technique of voice dialogue will help you communicate with your alter egos, whatever your goal is. In the process, you’ll discover and liberate inner “wise counselors, canny advisers, and magical sages,” transforming them into valuable allies who’ll help you finally achieve your goals.
For more info and/or to order this book, click here.
About the Author
Bridgit Dengel Gaspard, LCSW,graduated from Columbia University, founded the New York Voice Dialogue Institute, and has led workshops for Omega Institute, New York Open Center, and many other organizations. As a former performer and comic, she specializes in overcoming creativity blocks.
Find out more about her work at Bridgit-Dengel-Gaspard.com/