There’s a brilliant poem by Portia Nelson about how we can change our lives simply by managing our awareness, learning from our mistakes and taking responsibility for our choices. The poem is called “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters” and it goes like this:
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.
I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I am in the same place. But it isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.
I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there. I still fall in… it’s a habit. My eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault… I get out immediately.
I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.
I walk down another street.
Copyright (c) 1993, by Portia Nelson from the book There's A Hole in My Sidewalk.
We’ve all been there in chapter one: finding ourselves in a situation and feeling unable to get out of it. Sometimes we’re so focused on blaming someone or something else for our circumstances, or we are unwittingly sabotaging our efforts to change, that we can’t see the way out. Even when we do see the way out, we find all sorts of reasons to procrastinate. Maybe the hole feels safer than the world above it. Or we actually enjoy the sympathy we receive from being in the hole.
In chapter two, we find ourselves in the same hole all over again – we continue to blame others and refuse to accept that we have had a part to play in creating our situation. Until we stop pretending and confront ourselves, we will keep falling in the same hole, time and time again.
In chapter three, we see the hole but we are trying to change, and recognise that we have a repetitive behaviour pattern that means we still fall in. But this time, there is awareness and acknowledgement that we are responsible for our actions. We’ve fallen into this hole so many times before that it’s a habit. But this time we know what’s happening and we are empowered to get out.
In chapter four, we see the hole before we fall into it, and we choose to avoid temptation by walking around the hole. But the hole keeps showing up in our life and it requires a lot of effort to avoid falling in each time. What’s different now is that we know what we need to do to avoid the problem, but we still give it our attention and energy so it continues to appear.
In chapter five, you’ve overcome the problem completely and it’s gone from your life. Because you’ve let it go, it no longer has a hold over you and because you are no longer giving it any energy, it stops turning up in your life. You’ve moved on.
Can you relate to this?
What are the “holes” in your life?
What chapter are you in at the moment?
What do you need to do to move on to the next chapter?
Joss Anderson is an ICF-accredited coach, Reiki practitioner and founder of The Wild Edges