Robert van Lieshout

Sep 10, 2019

4 min read

Who are you?

I promised to experiment and share those experiments here.

In previous posts I would add “together with the inevitable failures”, but not anymore. I’m now convinced that whatever the outcome, each experiment is valuable to me in some way.

This time I want to share a valuable experiment called “Who are you”. I came across that experiment in a blog I read. This is what it boils down to:

You have to answer one question: “Who are you?” — over and over.

The exercise is pretty straightforward: one person asks “Who are You?” and the other responds whatever comes to mind.

The first person keeps asking “Who are you?” right after each answer. This goes on for two minutes, and then people switch roles– the person who responded now gets to ask “Who are you?”

This is me

I suggested this experiment to my buddy. She was intrigued but hesitant. We talked about it and she decided it was worth exploring and to just get on with it. We agreed to do the experiment.

A few days later we met up to do the experiment. My buddy went first, so I started asking “Who are you?”. Her initial responses showed low self-esteem, but after a while her confidence returned and her answers were more positive.

Then we switched. She started asking me “Who are you?”. My first few answers were different variations on my name: the French pronunciation of Robert, the Dutch version, and the shortened version Rob. The fact that I accept so many variations on my name could be something to explore. I have a feeling it is related to my flexibility.

The late Mr. Belsac, photographed by my dad

We continued, and my answers moved on. My buddy noticed that many of my answers seemed to be defining myself in relation to others.

helper, listener, supporter, inspirator

There were a few negative answers as well, but nothing too bad. I seemed to get stuck, so we stopped.

A bit later we tried again. My buddy once more noticed that my answers were related to others. She decided to change the question slightly to “Who are you to yourself?”. She hoped to move the focus. My answers changed. They all became negative.

coward, lazy, invisible, spineless

We continued a bit longer; the negative phrases remained. When we stopped, my buddy was concerned. Was it wise to stop on such a negative streak? Oddly, I didn’t feel bad about it. I felt relief. Relief because it was out in the open, no longer hiding inside me.

We talked some more, discussing what stood out: specific words, patterns, body tension. At the time they didn’t trigger any insights.

Back home I continued to reflect on the patterns we had noticed. How is it that I can be positive about myself in relation to others, and at the same time be so damning about myself? Something began to dawn on me.

When I help others I can avoid my own insecurities.

I can be the hero when I help others. In the past I would go very far in helping others, I would even take over tasks from them. NLP training has taught me that this is ineffective. Over time I’ve learned to let people take ownership themselves; I’m more likely to just hold a mirror for them. Even with my new approach, helping others is safe for me. I can avoid looking at myself. I can feel good about myself when I help others.

But when I take a hard look at myself, I judge myself to be spineless. I don’t stand up for myself enough. Or so I tell myself.

But is that really true? I know I don’t always speak my mind or my heart, but I do speak up frequently. Could it be that my belief that I am a spineless coward is no longer true? Was it ever true?

Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

This thought was triggered thanks to a session of my coaching circle, which happened to be on the same day as my “Who are you?” experiment. One of the people in my coaching circle questioned a (different) belief of mine. He said he didn’t recognize it, and encouraged me to explore if it was an outdated belief.

This has helped me to have another look at the facts. How often do I speak up? How visible am I? What have I done recently that took courage? By doing that, I’m starting to accept that I’m not a coward, not lazy, not invisible, and not spineless. I’m not the most courageous person out there, but I’m no coward. The experiment helped me surface some limiting beliefs about myself. Now I can start to invalidate them. With a little help from my friends.