Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Power of Naming Your Inner Voices

Change Your Name & Succeed Neil A. Fiore, PhD For coaching, upcoming webinars, and free articles see

      When our slalom ski race team went to Whistler Mountain to train for the upcoming ski season we met an outstanding ski instructor named Wendell Moore. His task was to teach us how to ski the expert black diamond slopes of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. Wendell looked over his class of older, anxious hopefuls and said: “You have the latest equipment that allows you to ski effortlessly, but you’re struggling as if you still have those old heavy boots and skis from over twenty years ago.”     

     As a psychologist, I had to start taking notes because this is an excellent metaphor for what I see my clients doing when they’re trying to struggle with current issues using the limited coping skills of their childhood. When under pressure or distress we all tend to revert to primitive defenses forgetting our adult knowledge and strength and lose sight of the opportunities right in front of us today. As remarkable as Wendell’s first statement was, his next remark nearly knocked me out of my skis. He said: “I haven’t got time to teach the old you how to ski like an expert, so I’m going to change your names to those of native born skiers.” Pointing to one each of us in turn, starting with the woman, he called out: “You can be Ingrid; you’ll be Heidi; you’re Fritz; Franz; Helmut; Hans; Wolfgang; and Neil, you’re Jean-Claude Killy.    
    This seemingly small adjustment in my identity helped me to stop waiting for my old identity to feel confident enough to ski down an overwhelming glacier. Only my new, Olympic self could ski directly down an expert, black diamond slope faster, straighter, and steeper than I’ve ever skied before. My old self (and name) didn’t know how. To ski down this expert slope I would need to assume the identity of an expert by getting into the Zone beyond my old, limited identity.     
    Wendell’s amazing strategy also helped enhance the power of my coaching. I repeatedly see how my clients struggle from an old, limited sense of self—an old, outdated identity—and how it keeps them stuck in the same patterns just as it kept me stuck skiing at the intermediate level until I learned how to shift my identity to that of an Olympic champion.                                                
   Changing names has long been a way of assigning new responsibilities and powers as when a King, a Queen assumes the throne and takes a new name that links him or her to the long line of predecessors. This conferring of a new sense of self by changing someone’s name also occurs in the New Testament when Simon is given the name, Peter along with the responsibility to “feed my sheep;” Saul becomes Paul; and Levi becomes Matthew.    

  Taking a new name of course means that an old name is replaced or “cast out” as in the New Testament reports of prophets casting out demons by naming them. Today we don’t do much casting out of demons but, in my work, I often ask clients to give a name to a critical or demanding voice so this negative habit or part can be seen and heard as separate from the stronger, mature Self that has the goal of living more peacefully and productively. You might ask yourself, “Who’s that critical part of me? What do I –meaning your stronger, mature Self—want to say to that part?” Wendell might say, “Your old identity is still using old ways of coping but your current Self wants to ski [or live life] effortlessly like an expert. When you name your old demons—casting them out so to speak and casting out the doubts of those fearful parts of yourself ––you are taking on a new, empowered name of Self or Leader of my life.
    What parts of you needs to be named and, if not caste out, integrated with your larger brain and stronger Self to become part of your inner team? What will be your new name and sense of Self as you take on the empowered role of the leader and champion of your life? For coaching: