“Man know thyself; then thou shalt know the Universe and God.”
Typically when one enters into a 12-step program, they already have a pretty good idea of their primary issue, be it drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, food, etc. But for “non-addicts”, the sign posts aren’t necessarily so clear. This can result in a life of seeming chaos and confusion, full of feelings of unresolved discontent. For those individuals, and anyone else for that matter, I am going to lay out 3 different exercises. Each exercise can be used on its own or it can be used in tandem with the others. Each exercise is meant to give folks a better perspective and offer some light on their habitual thoughts and actions, as well as the feelings and emotions that accompany those things.
The premise for the first exercise I originally discovered back in 2002 in a book entitled, The Teachings of Don Carlos by Victor Sanchez. This was a book of the “practical applications of the works of Carlos Castaneda”. Many know Castaneda as the author who brought Toltec Warrior Shamanism into modern western consciousness through his series of novels dealing with the sorcerer Don Juan Matus. The following exercise is based upon an exercise in the book that was referred to as an “Inventory of Energy Expenditures”.
1. Get a pen or pencil and a notebook. In the notebook, divide the pages into four columns. At the heading of column 1 write: What was I thinking? At the heading of column 2, write: What was I feeling? For column 3: What was I doing? For column 4: Is this what I want to do?
2. Set an alarm for every 15-30 minutes. If an alarm doesn’t work, use a signal like walking through a doorway, or anything else that you know will occur at a consistent interval.
3. Each time the signal goes off, stop and observe yourself in that moment, then answer the questions honestly in your notebook. Simply observe your thoughts, feelings and actions objectively. Don’t analyze, don’t judge, don’t justify- just observe as a non-biased witness and record the data. The time should be recorded and the answers should be brief and concise.
4. Before you go to bed, review what you wrote during the day, and then on a separate piece of paper answer the following questions:
• Were my thoughts repetitive or varied?
• What were the most frequently occurring elements in my thoughts?
• Were my feelings and emotions steady and controlled or were they all over the place?
• What were the most frequently occurring feelings and emotions I experienced?
• Were my actions repetitive or varied?
• Which actions were most repetitive?
• Was there a relation between my thoughts, feelings and actions?
• What percentage of my actions had anything to do with what I really wanted to do?
5. Repeat this exercise for one week. Then use the questions from step 4 and apply them for the entire week, reflecting on the sum total of your thoughts, feelings and actions for that week. Look at them and see whether or not they are truly productive for what you want to do in your life and who you want to be. Do you find your thoughts, feelings and actions being unified or are they in conflict with one another?
6. Repeat this process for four weeks, doing a similar review process at the end of the month. By this time you should have a pretty good idea of any sort of negative ways of thinking and doing that may need to be addressed further. It should also show what sorts of emotions are dominating your life, and how your thoughts drive your emotional state.
I realize this may seem a bit intense for some, but these types of exercises do wonders for us in gaining further understanding and insight into ourselves. The more time you put into understanding yourself, the better results you will be able to obtain; you reap what you sow.
Another good method for getting some insight into our thoughts and emotions that is a little less intensive is an exercise used by some therapists known as “Emptying the Jug”. In this exercise you are first going to write down anything that you are mad about at that moment. Then you are going to write down anything you are sad about in that moment. Then you are going to write down anything you are feeling scared about at that moment. Finally, you are going to write down anything you are feeling glad about. This can be done once or twice a day or more if you so wish and can be done continuously. I would suggest doing it for at least 30 days if you are going to use it to gain any real insight into your thinking and emotional patterns.
The third method I was going to recommend is stream-of-consciousness writing. This is simply sitting down with a pen and paper and writing whatever comes to your mind. Don’t try to control anything, just let the thoughts and dialogue that is normally chattering in your head empty out onto the page. We are not trying to make something that “makes sense”. I would suggest doing this once or twice per day, writing three full pages of stream-of-consciousness dialogue. The best times to do this would be first thing in the morning and right before bed. Let it all out on the page.
At the end of the week review what you wrote and look for patterns in your thinking, especially those that seem particularly negative and/or repetitive. You may also find yourself “unlocking” past events that you had forgotten about or repressed. Again this is about understanding why we do what we do so the ways of being that seem out of our control no longer are. The 12 steps are about healing our relationship with ourselves and others, so first we need to gain insight as to what parts of ourselves need healing. This will give us what we need to move into the steps. In the next posting we will move into step 1, until then, take care.