Third post in a short series …

The very, very short introduction:

  • I find most self-help-ey books to be pretty insipid. At best.
  • But I adore Wishcraft by Barbara Sher.
  • You can download the ebook version at no cost on her website if you like.
  • If you do, you’ll want to print it out so you can scribble all over it. Personally, I’d say: buy the book. Totally worth it.
  • My duck and I are going through Barbara’s wacky exercises and sharing that process with you, so this is a pretty atypical blog post, but what the hell.

So far we’ve done the Five Lives exercise and the color exercise, both of which were pretty cool. You can read the comments on those for people’s beautiful (and surprising) results.

Anyway, here’s the next one.

It’s a big one.

One of my favorite exercises in the book centers on Barbara’s concept of the Ideal Family.

Barbara writes beautifully about something I have strong opinions on: the wonderful, crazy power of having someone to believe in you.

Learning how to be that person for yourself is a huge part of the destuckification process. But it’s a lot easier to remember what that feels like when you’ve had someone around to model it for you.

Barbara points out that if you’re, you know, alive, you probably didn’t grow up in an “ideal” environment.

And she defines an ideal environment as (among other things) one …

“… in which you were:

  • given real help and encouragement in finding out what you wanted to do and how to do it …
  • allowed to complain when the going got rough, and given sympathy instead of being told to quit …
  • bailed out when you got in over your head — without reproach…”

There’s more of that kind of mind-boggling craziness in the book, but you get the point. And the point is that no, most of us don’t get to experience that.

And we need to learn to create that experience for ourselves. That’s why she has us come up with this thing called the Ideal Family.

Barbara Sher’s smart question*:

It’s actually pretty revolutionary, even though it took me a while to see it.

“It’s time to start admitting that your positive qualities really do belong to you. Like every human being, you need positive feedback from someone who’s on your side before it becomes safe to feel openly good about yourself.

“You can create an imaginary ideal family to be your private cheering section. They will tell you all the good things about you that you really know — but aren’t allowed to tell yourself!

“Take a few minutes now to think of the four or five people you would choose if you could have anyone in the world — anyone in all history and literature — as your ideal family.

“Now close your eyes and imagine that you are one of those people, and you are watching yourself come through the door. Write down all the positive qualities you see.”

*And no, I’m not the world’s biggest plagiarizing asshat for giving away her content. She lets you download the entire book for free.

The weird part.

This was another one of those exercises where I was all, yeah yeah I get it. And then when I actually did it, whoah. It blew me away with fabulousness. Tears in my eyes.

But I’d totally thought it was just going to be one of those shallow feel-good self-help-ey things. I didn’t realize it was going to go deep.

I’ll also add that this exercise fit in really well with the theme of sovereignty that I’ve been working with.

(Sovereignty in this context means: you being in charge of your body, your space, your stuff, your feelings because you are the queen of your queendom or the king of your kingdom).

Because owning your positive qualities and feeling safe being allowed to have them is a terrific expression of sovereignty.

And the big thing is that you’re only writing positive qualities. As Barbara says, “you don’t need to hear all the negative stuff for the umpteenth time”. Swoon.

Okay. My Ideal Family.

  • Shiva
  • Suzette Haden Elgin
  • Malcolm Gladwell
  • Audrey Hepburn
  • Barbara Pym
  • Athena

A very brain-centric list, really. Three writers, the goddess of wisdom, and — of course, let’s not forget the god of deconstruction and taking stuff apart. Who is also, interestingly, lord of the dance.

I’m not completely sure how Audrey fits in with the rest of them, but I do know that she absolutely had to be there.

(My gentleman friend chose Sam Clemens, Benjamin Franklin, Stephen J. Gould, Katherine Hepburn, Erich Kästner and Buster Keaton. How can you not adore him?)

The exercise itself:

What each member of my Ideal Family had to say about me and my positive qualities.

What Shiva said:

“Havi transforms things.

She transforms almost everything she comes into contact with. She’s not afraid of change, even though sometimes she thinks she is.

She’s a tough cookie. She’s adaptable. She knows how to change course and shift direction. She’s powerful, capable and determined.”

And Elgin?

“Havi is smart and capable. She’s compassionate and kind.

She doesn’t take crap from anyone.

She’s a Leveler and a good communicator. She’s eccentric. She’s brave. She’s a fighter. She knows how to survive.”

What about Gladwell?

“Havi is thoughtful. She’s a good writer. She is surrounded by people who care about her and about her work. She interacts with ideas in a very careful way but also with a lot of passion. She’s not gullible. She has a fine, clear mind.”

Audrey Hepburn:

“Havi is graceful and gracious.

She cares deeply about so many things. She knows how to be wonderfully silly and to really, truly have fun with life. She is completely charming. She has a good heart.”

And Barbara Pym:

“Havi notices everything. She is a good observer of life.

She engages with it passionately and has fun being alive. And she’s also very pretty.”

And Athena?

“Havi is tough, brave, strong and very, very determined. The good kind of ambitious. She’ll move mountains, that one.

In fact, she’s ready right now.”


This is the part where I usually talk about what I’ve learned and all that stuff, but I’m still kind of in recovery mode from this exercise. Whew.

First of all, that was really, really cool.

I’m also noticing that there is a part of me (the “scientific method” part of me) that wants to do this exercise a few more times, to see if different things come up or if I react differently.

And, of course, my stuff is coming up all over the place when I think about actually posting this.

I mean, oh god. Is there anything more embarrassing than admitting out loud that — for example — I was imagining that Malcolm Freaking Gladwell would say that I’m a good writer?

So yeah. Embarrassment. Awkwardness. Discomfort.

And at the same time? I feel immensely supported to have all these people whom I so deeply admire on my side. Cheering for me. Believing in me. Impressed by me and my abilities. Even if it is just in my head.

Having them see it makes it easier for me to see it (or to consider being eventually able to see it). And that is big.

Do you want to play with me? Yay.

Obviously I would love it if you gave this exercise a shot. It definitely helps to have context of Barbara’s amazing book, but you’ll get cool stuff from it either way.

And then if you want to share some (or all) of your results here, that would be really interesting! And fun!

And then I won’t be being all self-help-ey all by myself. (Also, you definitely don’t have to do the exercise for your entire Ideal Family — imagining one person works too.)

Comment zen:

We’re all practicing.

Wheee! Play with me!

The Fluent Self