Image by Gerd Altmann
Strangely, times of success are most dangerous for me.
— MIKE TYSON
Practicing safe success means protecting yourself by matching the right alter ego and the right superpower to the occasion. Sometimes you need your lover, and sometimes you need your lawyer!
Crossing your finish line can be a time of joyful celebration. But that can be followed by a myriad of emotions that might include melancholy as well as pride and joy. As you arrive at your finish line, new destinations beckon. If you’ve won an Olympic medal, do you try to make the team again — or do you do something completely different?
Think about what you’d like to do next. One talented performer created her own show with a large cast, which got rave reviews. When the show ended, she went into a period of despair because she missed it all so much. This melancholy made her desperate and clouded her ability to choose her next project, until her Wisdom alter ego recommended she take a step back. You too have that hard-earned acumen at your disposal.
Going from “I coulda been a contender”’ to “I’m a winner” can feel like sailing into a magnificent sunset. But in real life, that’s not the end of the story. What happens when the dawn arrives? The new seas you’re cruising in may not always be smooth. To adjust to the often disorienting reality of achieving your dream, you need to practice what I call safe success.
You can make better use of many of the wonderful productivity tools and methods that are out there, strategies you may have technically used correctly in the past, but which did not lead to success: action plans, business plans, five-year plans, and personal financial plans. If the tool works, use it. But make sure it’s in the hands of the right subpersonality, which will bestow such techniques with superpowers.
A classic example would be doing research for your dissertation, which reflects a remarkable 7/8’s worth of accomplishments. However, if this vital component of your PhD is put in the hands of your Perfectionist, Critic, Procrastinator, Good Girl/Boy, Restless Intellectual, Visionary, Scared of Applying for Academic Positions, Scared of Academic Committees and Department Heads, or Scared of Intimacy alter egos, you risk being trapped on a treadmill of never-ending research, never making the shift from research to writing your dissertation. This turns finishing your research into a mirage goal.
If, instead, you put your research into the hands of the appropriate subpersonalities (perhaps your Focuser, Project Manager, Strategizer, or Realist), you will end up with a well-documented dissertation. In order to complete it, try calling in some Finish Line selves, like your Inner Editor, Academic, and Expert.
What makes you strong can also make you vulnerable. The misperception is that as we grow more robust, wise, and more aware we need less protection. In fact, we may need more. As you embrace the final eighth process and feel its positive, empowering influence, you may suddenly find yourself backsliding. This is normal.
In behavioral science, extinction refers to the gradual fading of particular behaviors. As you get closer to your final eighth goal, the selves who are attached to your core negative belief, including your Inner Critic, may pull out big fat weapons to derail your progress and keep you trapped in your double bind. This is called an extinction burst, a sudden and temporary increase in old, self-defeating urges.
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Even though your Inner Critic may be screaming that you’re a loser, this experience means that you’re winning. But if you give in to the parts of you that support your core negative belief, you will be at risk of losing.
If you experience these brief, fierce impulses to relapse or fall into old patterns, pay attention, identify which inner selves are active at any given moment, and understand their competing agendas. You have the power to choose which alter egos are in control. Congratulations — an extinction burst is a sign you’re doing a lot of things right.
Hooray for Feng Shui
Practicing safe success includes using the assets you already have as well as strengthening parts of yourself, growing new parts, and tolerating the distress of throwing away what no longer fits (like core negative beliefs and that raggedy shirt). Feng shui is the ancient Chinese technique of balancing the energies in your physical space to support health and good fortune, and you can do it with your mental space as well.
The final eighth goal of a colleague was to break up with his longtime girlfriend. When they ultimately split up, he found himself soaring with energy that had been tied up in his dilemma. He cleaned house, threw out lots of unnecessary items, and rearranged his furniture. (Notice that none of this takes money.)
He followed his impulse to build wall art that became an altar of sensual images celebrating his new bachelor era. Before he even hit the apps, he was dating and having fun, while simultaneously being careful to reserve some alone time so that he could process his new final eighth status and not jump into something that would end up pulling him into old patterns. That’s safe success.
Do you have space and time carved out for celebrating? Your plan might entail doing nothing for the next month or taking a long, long nap every weekend. The physical, material world matters too. Look at your home. Is your environment in disarray? If the stuff around you does not support your expressed goal, what does it support?
Your surroundings maintain your status quo. What alter egos are in charge of your space? Do you need to break up with your mess? Do you need to add anything, like a file cabinet or an easel? If you collect magazines for your collages, are they in demoralizing crap piles so that when the urge to create hits, it melts almost simultaneously?
The best approach is to take action. Throw the bum out — whether it’s a broken toaster, dust bunny, or mooching roommate. Make space for your goal.
Take a Hit of Gratitude
As you struggle with the difficulties inherent in all challenges, pessimism you barely notice may float in and trigger your core negative belief, locking you in your double bind. Maybe it’s a wisp of a memory of being disappointed by a friend. This jolt of demoralization triggers a low-grade gloom that saps your desire to stretch yourself.
Regular hits of negativity are a mood-altering habit that disables forward motion. If you find you’re mindlessly toking on these downers, especially when it’s time to work, put them out.
Instead, take a hit of gratitude: revel in the feelings of happiness you have about something wonderful that’s already in your life. This can be as simple as savoring the ability to swallow, sharing your bees’ honey with the neighbors, or remembering when you won your election. While in this positive mindset, shift your focus to a concrete step you can take toward your goal now.
Safe Success Tracker
When some of my clients achieved success in their goals, they were shocked by the negative, unsupportive reactions of people around them. Family and friends who don’t want you to succeed are dissatisfied with themselves. Don’t make their dissatisfaction yours.
Who do you share your dreams with? How do they react? Be honest. If your friends feed on negativity, get new friends. This ugly phenomenon is deep-rooted and widespread. Schaden-freude is the German word for taking pleasure from the misfortunes of others and resonates with most people when they first hear it. How is it we don’t have a similar word in English?
You may not get a lot of outside support to help you handle your success. Who do you call when your first book gets the biggest presale offer in the history of the publishing company? That happened to a colleague — who was stunned and distraught when longtime friends actively minimized the significance and value of her triumph.
After a short period of resentment and grief, she used the final eighth process and began to access extroverted alter egos and expanded her social circle, which now includes many supportive allies. (True scenario.)
What do you do when you start to say no to certain people and situations so that you stay true to yourself, and they don’t like it?
Working with Your Inner Selves
One way to address the difficulties that arise from success is to create a Safe Success Tracker. Devote a section of your final eighth journal or file, or start a new one, to keep tabs on how you’re handling crossing the finish line.
Jot down any event, exchange, or emotion that seems to have been triggered by your recent success. Note what action you took (or didn’t take). Which self was in charge? Were you pleased with the way you handled things? If not, what might you have done differently? What selves might have helped?
Here are notes from the Safe Success Tracker kept by Wanda, a workshop participant:
The exchange: For years, I’ve been meeting my friend Gayle every week at a café and basically complaining about our jobs. I thought she’d be happy for me that I now have my dog walking and grooming business. Instead, she’s been subtly putting me down. This week she as much as said I was incompetent. I’m sad and mad she was up for coffee and kvetching, but not java and joy.
The action I took: I found myself downplaying how much fun I’m having and how proud I am. To stay connected to Gayle, I make myself small and put myself down so she won’t feel bad. I was not at all pleased with the action I took!
What selves were in charge: When I acted like my new business was nothing special, the personas that were in charge were my selves who fear abandonment, and wonder if my core negative belief, about not being good enough, is true. Plus, my Inner Critic reminded me of a small mistake I made last week, and I wondered for a few seconds if Gayle was right that I’m incompetent. That put the brakes on me!
What could I have done differently: I could have gotten in touch with my Inner Diva and confronted Gayle and asked why she’s not happier for me. My Inner Diva would tell her, “My life’s surrounded by love right now. Between the dogs and their humans, not only do I get paid really well doing something I’d do for free, but I get snuffled and kissed all day!” Also, my Empath, my Impervious-to-Criticism, my Worker Bee subpersonalities would definitely have been helpful.
Wanda realized her Worker Bee and her Deep Connector kept her business buzzing, and she delighted in the contentment and confidence those superpowers gave her. Armed with her inner allies, Wanda tried many tactics, including diplomatically handling Gayle’s envy by understanding that Gayle was scared of abandonment and change. She also summoned the resilience of her Impervious-to-Criticism self to shield herself from Gayle’s negativity.
However, none of this prevented Gayle from continuing to undermine Wanda. Gayle was bound firmly in her own core negative belief and hampered by unacknowledged hidden selves. The information Wanda gained from her Safe Success Tracker convinced her to let the friendship go. She then accomplished another final eighth — letting go of toxic relationships and choosing appropriate mentors, guides, and allies.
As you move through your final eighth and into your first eighth, it’s more than likely you’ll be stymied by new situations. That’s okay — that’s living! Note which alter egos step in when efforts are rewarded beyond expectation, and note which ones you might need to access or strengthen when difficulties arise.
Here's a partial list of possible inner selves or alter egos from a client's shared "Selfie Report":
Extra Helpful Self
Stupid Idiot Self
©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. Also available as a Kindle edition.
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/