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6 – Attitude to Self

Recognising your different selves

Your attitude to self is a critical component of your success. I’ve recently become very interested in the thinking behind the model of Voice Dialogue. The people who founded the movement that has become Voice Dialogue realised, in summary, we don’t have one self. We don’t even have just the three selves of Freud (super ego, ego and id). Rather we should see ourselves as being a multitude of selves. For each of these selves there is an opposite self that we have disowned. 

If you’ve ever heard people talk about inner critics or inner child, then they are referring to selves that are identified by the Voice Dialogue movement. The theory is that in our early stages of development we adopted primary selves that allowed us to protect and survive and perhaps thrive, but as we get older for each of those primary selves the opposite disowned self needs to have its voice. If you have a primary self of the pusher you’re always pushing to make things succeed, then there will be an equal opposite self, the one who perhaps is laid back.

Learning to love all our different selves

I think for too many of us our attitude to self, or our multiple selves, is that we hate those parts of ourselves that we have disowned. We judge those parts of our self that we have disowned. We are creating if you like a cycle of self-hate. We might love the primary selves that we see as working for us but, by rejecting the selves that we have disowned we are actually hating an important part of who we are. Over time that inability to love both the primary and disowned parts of ourselves undermines our characters. When we judge ourselves, we also judge those selves in others. When we hate those parts of ourselves, we also hate those parts in others. We can end up at war with ourselves.

Acknowledging those multiple selves

I would suggest that one of the key attitudes to success in relation to self is recognise, acknowledge and give voice to those multiple selves, including those multiple selves that we seek to disown. We will then have more awareness of the different voices that can speak into the situations we face and choose which self to respond to. We will connect to the richer tapestry of how we’ve been made. We will avoid operating out of the default settings of the primary selves, which, as we get older, are no longer best suited to the new challenges, opportunities and habits that we need for our future.

My experience of the disowned selves

I used to believe that success could always be achieved by working harder and working smarter. Nothing was insurmountable if only I worked harder and worked smarter. That meant that I would tend to live in a world of toil (working harder) and self-criticisms (you’re not working smart enough, you ought to be clever enough to solve this problem). It was extremely disruptive to my health and my relationships and ultimately undermined my success. I have come to accept that there is part of me that can be very stupid. I have come to accept some part of me wants to have leisure and pleasure. I am beginning to accept and forgive those selves that I’d disowned in the past. I am more able to adjust and flex to the new situations that I find myself in.

Conclusion: Excuses or wisdom?

Many people will say “Well we are all human aren’t we?” and for those people it can be just an excuse for unacceptable behaviour. For others this phrase is applied with wisdom. The acceptance that we have these multiple selves, these good sides and bad sides, these preferred behaviours and less preferred behaviours, these primary selves and these disowned selves, means we can start to make better choices as to how we live day to day, week by week.

Acknowledge those multiple selves. Listen to the voices they offer you and, more powerfully, make choices about applying your selves and engaging with others.

That for me is a key attitude for success. 


Charles McLachlan is the founder of FuturePerfect and on a mission to transform the future of work and business. The Portfolio Executive programme is a new initiative to help executives build a sustainable and impactful second-half-career. Creating an alternative future takes imagination, design, organisation and many other thinking skills. Charles is happy to lend them to you.