When asked, a lot of people take a while to answer, “Define your most defining moments in life.”
They’ve never really thought about it.
Your life is a continuum of moments, some of which are not distinguishable from others. However, sometimes, there are moments that shine vividly in your mind, and they change your self-concept in such a crucial way that you can never go back to the person you used to be before that experience. In his book, Self Matters, Dr. Phil talks extensively about the importance of figuring out your defining moments. He writes that these can present themselves as positive moments or negative moments; the former affirm who you are and make you believe in the possibilities that life can present, while the latter limit your capacity in some way and sadly enough tend to be more common.
So today’s first journaling exercise is to look back at your life and isolate those defining moments. Recall incidents from your past that have transformed you. Define your self-concept ‘before’ and ‘after’ the incident. Then decide whether it’s a positive moment or a negative one, and finally make a choice to either accept it or let it go.
Sometimes the incident is a commonplace life-altering one like graduating or moving to a new city or getting married. Sometimes it’s tragic like losing someone or getting a diagnosis. Sometimes it’s explicit like a statement that throws a relationship off a cliff or it’s implicit like the calls that go straight to voice mail or the messages that don’t get answered. Whatever it is, stop and think about how you’re the triple integral of all your core values, your personal experiences, and societal conditioning, and learn to remove the weed from your inner garden so it can bloom with hydrangeas, hibiscuses and bougainvillea [figuratively speaking of course].
A famous defining moment happened in the life of the writer J.K. Rowling. As she mentioned in her Harvard commencement address,
“An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless [..] By every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew. So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.[…]I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
This is a really powerful defining moment, because it reaffirmed who she was and helped her reconnect with the writer in her. She could have misinterpreted it and said, “What’s the point?” She battled depression at the time and could have ended her life. Then humanity would never have been introduced to the world of Hogwarts she built over the years.
Most common defining moments are negative, though, especially at the beginning. It is only after you learn the art of connecting the dots, do you realize they were somehow positive but your nose was pushed right against the window of the experience and you were too close to it to notice it was positive.
So your second journaling exercise is to look at all the negative defining moments, and using the power of your imagination to turn them into a powerful positive moment that builds your inner strength and rise above your circumstances.
As Elisabeth Kübler-Ross writes, “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
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