How’s That Like Your Life? A Gestalt Self-Awareness Prompt

This post was originally published as an edition of the Morsels of Change newsletter. If you like it, you may wish to sign up here!

Morsels of Change question to ponder:

How’s That Like Your Life?

Last night the Transpersonal Therapy Centre (TTC), of which I am a graduate, held an open house for new students. It seemed timely for me to honour some of what I learned in that program by referencing it in this newsletter.

Sometime during my first year at the TTC, when we were up to our necks in Gestalt psychology, “How’s that like your life?” became a catch-phrase for my cohort. (I’m sure it does every year, for every cohort.)

It went something like this:

Someone would start a piece of therapy by talking about something that had been capturing their attention, and sooner or later one of us would interrupt with, “How’s that like your life?”

“I decided to wear this necklace; it’s shiny but understated–”
—> “How’s that like your life?”

“In my dream I was running away, and I couldn’t catch my breath–”
—> “How’s that like your life?”

“I got really frustrated in the group because I couldn’t get my point across–”
—> “How’s that like your life?”

“So I did all the cleaning and the dishes and got angry about it–”
—> “How’s that like your life?”

“I felt guilty because I didn’t even tell her that I wasn’t going to show up–”
—> “How’s that like your life?”

The theory that we were drawing on, Gestalt-wise, is that everything that we notice out in the universe is a projection of our own making. What we see around us is what is inside us. The good I see in you is my projection of my own goodness onto you. The bad I see in you is a projection of my own badness onto you. The perspective I have on what happened is a projection of my internal perspective. The way I behaved is a projection of my internal interpretation.

The gift is that everything you see around you is fodder for your own growth, because it illuminates your projections. The world around you points you to what you need to pay attention to within yourself.

What’s been capturing your attention this week? Take a few moments and think about it. Jot down some of the characteristics about this thing or event that’s been capturing your attention. And then look at those characteristics and inquire of yourself: “How’s that like my life?”

Morsels of Change question to ponder:

How’s that like your life?

Exercises for Self-Awareness (part 2) – the “should” exercise

Last week, I talked about self-awareness tools such as the MBTI, the Enneagram, and the Via survey of signature strengths. This week, I’d like to offer you a description of another self-awareness exercise that I’ve found powerful and illuminating. And more exercises will come in future blog posts!

The Should Exercise

I learned this one in Gestalt training at the Transpersonal Therapy Centre.


We all have internalized rules and messages that we carry around inside us. In Gestalt, these messages are known as introjections — something we swallowed whole and haven’t “chewed on” enough to see if it’s truly our own desire/rule, or if we’ve just absorbed it from the outside world.

Every time you hear “I should” in your head/voice, it’s a sign that you might be dealing with an introjection — and thus it’s an invitation for you to take a closer look.

Step one: “I should”

Spend ten minutes or so writing down all the “I should”s or “I shouldn’t”s that regularly come into your mind.

Here’s what my list looked like the first time I did this exercise (November 2008 – I still have the piece of paper!):

  • I should pay off debt.
  • I should have more money.
  • I should be on time.
  • I should do something for my sister.
  • I should get more done in less time.
  • I should have fun.
  • I should have passion.
  • I should be loving and accepting and spiritual.
  • I should organize my time better.
  • I should chill out.
  • I should practice the piano more.
  • I should get a real job.
  • I should make some friends.
  • I should meditate.
  • I should stop worrying.

Step two: “You should”

One statement at a time, ask someone you trust to read your list back to you, reading it as “You should…”.

So, my partner would say, “You should pay off debt.”

After each statement my partner reads to me, I take a moment to:

  • notice any internal feelings or emotions that come up in me as I hear the statement.
  • notice whether it feels like my own voice, something I truly want to do, or whether it’s someone else’s voice (e.g. often someone has a “should” statement that really belongs to a parent, and as soon as they hear someone else say “You should…” they recognize that this statement is their parent’s voice, not their own inner guide).

Step three: Decide and Take Ownership

After each statement my partner reads to me, I decide if “I will” or “I won’t”, and then I report the new statement back to them.


My partner: “You should pay off debt.”

Me: “I will pay off debt.”

(Or, “I won’t pay off debt.”)

(Or, “I will pay off debt within five years.”)

(Or, “I will not focus on paying off debt until I finish school.”)

Whatever you choose — whether you will, or won’t, or under which conditions — is fine. The key part is that instead of carrying around an unexamined “I should”, a statement weighing you down with judgment, you are now carrying around a decision that you have made and owned yourself.

It can be incredibly liberating to move from, “I should practice the piano more,” to “You know what? I don’t want to. I won’t.”

It can be empowering to move from, “I should organize my time better,” to “I will be highly organized from 8am-12pm everyday, and after that will work in an unstructured way.”

Whether you’re already smitten with this exercise or not, I invite you to give it a try and see what you discover.


Laura McGrath is an Ottawa-based life coach and therapist who works with clients all over the world. She and the love of her life do a kick-ass job keeping “shoulds” out of the house.

If you’d like to talk more about self-awareness exercises designed just for you, Laura is more than happy to pick up the phone and have a conversation. Get in touch.