One of my favourite poems is “Autobiography in 5 Short Chapters” by Portia Nelson. It was written and published in 1977.  It carries timeless wisdom that is just as useful today as it was decades ago.

On many occasions I’ve shared this poem with groups I’ve spoken to, and it never gets old.

Each time I read it, I’m moved by the simple, yet profound, message that it carries.  Most everyone who hears it feels the same.

I’d like to share it with you and provide an additional commentary. I’ve bolded the poem itself, and my added input is italicized.

Autobiography in 5 Short Chapters:

Chapter I.        

I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost. I am helpless. It isn’t my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.

Do you recall a time in your life when you were struggling with an issue that you couldn’t make sense of, and you were pretty certain it wasn’t your fault?  I’m sure we can all relate to this.

Being able to see an issue clearly and objectively, especially when we are stressed, hurt, or upset, is a challenge.

When we look at issues in our lives, we are looking in an outward direction from the standpoint of our own personal lens. Therefore, we are not necessarily able to see our own contribution(s) or lack thereof, which may have caused or added to the current dilemma.  

A good image to remember is that when we point a finger at others, there are always three fingers pointing back at us. Try that right now; point out your index finger and waggle it at an imaginary person or situation that you are having issues with. Notice the other fingers that are pointing back at you. Why might those fingers be pointing towards you? What information might they provide, that would give you a useful and more well-rounded perspective?

Chapter II.

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I still don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I am in the same place. It isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.

Denial can become a habit, and habits can be hard to break. Whether it’s an action, thought or feeling, once we’ve repeated it often enough, it develops into a stronger neural pathway – one that we easily default to. In other words, “repeat button” can easily get stuck on our brain’s software program.

Here’s an acronym that I’ve used over the years for “D.E.N.I.A.L.”, which is useful because it doesn’t lay blame. Instead, it uses the word, ‘notice’ – suggesting that the person isn’t even aware that they are lying to themselves.

  • D – Don’t
  • E – Even
  • N – Notice
  • I – I
  • A – Am
  • L – Lying

When life is busy, when we are tired, hungry, or stressed, it is hard to have the mental capacity or cognitive energy to look at things clearly and objectively. We may tend to function on ‘auto-pilot’.  This can lead to ‘tuning out’ extra awareness or information that requires resources that we just don’t have available.

An image that is useful to depict this state is the ostrich with its head buried in the sand. Can you relate? Have there been times in your life when you did not have the energy or capacity to look at things more closely or more accurately?

Chapter III.

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it there, I still fall in. It’s habit. It’s my fault. I know where I am. I get out immediately.

Owning-up and taking responsibility for our actions and circumstances, even when we are still repeating the same mistake(s), is big progress and significant personal growth!

Have you ever been in a situation where you could actually see yourself making the same blunder, or continuing to take ineffective or even unhealthy actions? While you weren’t officially rid of the behaviour, you were able to view this situation more objectively. This is important growth, and this is a precursor which leads to taking new action(s).

Chapter IV.

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.

Your life becomes energized, and far more exciting, when instead of falling into old patterns and habits, you have options and the ability to go in even a slightly new direction and to create new experiences for yourself. This is empowering!  Now you have choice and freedom.

Chapter V.

I walk down a different street.

Bravo, you have arrived at the stage of birthing new neural pathways and a new reality!

It can take immense trial and error to get to this point. However, it’s absolutely possible and worth every ounce of your care and energy to move towards this level of responsibility and creative power!

Now you are owning your innate role as the sculptor of your brain and life!

To Your Fit Brain & Fit Life,