The root of human suffering lies in our inability to know the difference between an assessment and an assertion. ~Byron Katie, Loving What Is
If you’ve ever taken a personality assessment (like MBTI, DiSC, or a host of others) you know that for all the uniqueness of the 6 Billion people on earth, we all resonate with one of about a dozen core personality styles. Whether you name your style using letters, words, colors, or earth elements, you can improve interaction with others when you understand your own behavior preferences and make deliberate choices to adjust to others’ preferences.
In a like way, we all have a core story, or assessment, we believe about ourselves, and there’s only a handful of those. I’m not talking about the stories you’ve made up about who you are or pretend to be. I’m talking about your core belief about self. We call this your Master Assessment (MA).
Your Master Assessment was planted in you by the culture of your upbringing. First, there was your family/community culture, then the culture of the socio-economic group of which your family was a member, which nestled inside of a city or region or country that also had stories about itself.
You are “innocent” in the acquisition of your Master Assessment – the world trained you in it. So there is no good or bad in your MA – it just is. The question is, WHAT is it, and how does it affect you?
What’s your story? I mean the one you tell yourself deep down, when you think nobody else is listening? Or sometimes, so deep down that even YOU are not listening?
Think about a tree. The branches and leaves represent the most visible parts of you, the way you interact with others, the ways you “put yourself out there” in the world. The leaves and branches change throughout the year, just as you adjust your behavior to the situations and “seasons” of your life.
The trunk is your core personality, the part you keep behind a thicker skin (your bark). In your trunk is your history, just as the rings in the trunk of a tree will tell the history of that tree. This part of you changes more slowly as you add layers each year.
Below ground are your roots – the stories and assessments and learnings of your past, the things that fed you growing up. These assessments are invisible, yet they are strong and persistent like the roots of a tree, weaving their fingers into everything and holding on fiercely. Sometimes roots (your stories) get moved or removed, forcing growth in another direction. But the main root, your Master Assessment, never changes – it is what holds you up and holds you in place.
Your MA is fundamental to how you show up in the world, always sitting below the surface, and most often showing up when you feel stressed. You probably notice your MA as the conversation you have in your head, with yourself.
Here are the six Master Assessments. Each of us holds one or two of these in our deep roots. Which one is yours?
- I can. (I have the opportunity, I have permission, it’s OK for me to try, it is possible for me to succeed)
- I can’t. (I do not have permission, no one will let me, it is not possible for me to succeed, I don’t have a chance)
- I’m loveable. (I deserve love and affection, I am important to others, I have a place in the world)
- I’m unlovable. (I am not important, people treat me well only because they are being polite, I do not deserve to be loved or trusted)
- I should be able to. (I am entitled, I deserve to have what I want, I am better than you, I’m special)
- I’m not good enough. (I am insufficient, others are better than me, no one wants what I have to offer, I have to try harder)
Each MA is rooted in a different emotional space, and can have both positive and negative impacts on how you live your life:
- I Can creates the mood of Ambition. I Can looks forward to foster optimism and action. I Can believes Happiness is possible, if I work toward it. On the flip side, living always in I Can may cause me to overestimate my chances, or to move forward before I’m fully prepared.
- I Can’t creates a mood of Resentment, even Anger. On a positive note, anger spurs me to action, blasting through obstacles in order to take care of myself. If I’m unaware of I Can’t, however, I can end up paralyzed because all I can see are the obstacles in my path, to the point where I lose hope. Thus, I Can’t may either fight for Happiness OR give up entirely because I don’t see it as possible for me.
- I’m Loveable creates a mood of Acceptance or Calm. The belief that I deserve respect and affection helps me weather any storm and find Happiness. It is easier for I’m Loveable to risk and be more open with others. On the downside, I may expose myself too much and so experience rejection and hurt more often.
- I’m Unlovable often lives in a mood of Resignation. Why bother if no one cares? This MA can lead me to stay apart from others, to isolate myself or to only notice the mean things people do and say to me, which means Happiness has trouble taking root in my life. Yet I’m Unloveable can also inspire me to focus on earning respect, admiration, and appreciation of my work and my contribution.
- I Should Be Able To can lead to a mood of Arrogance if left unchecked. The positive dimension of I Should Be Able To is that I am more likely to be bold, to step confidently into situations believing they will work for me. The dark side of this assessment shows up in selfishness, entitlement thinking, or believing that I can do whatever I like regardless of impact on others. Happiness eludes me because I can only access when others are made “less than.”
- I’m Not Good Enough struggles to find Happiness, not because I don’t deserve it, but because there’s always something else I need to do, something I’m missing. If I’m Not Good Enough is strong, I may either end up in Resignation (give up) or work so hard and long to get better that I burn out. On the other hand, this MA does drive me to constantly learn, ask for and use feedback, and continually improve myself.
There’s no good or bad in any of these MAs – again, remember they were planted in you and you did not choose your Master Assessment. The power lies in being aware, so you can choose differently when your MA is getting in the way of your growth, your relationships, or your happiness.
Your Master Assessment has been the driver in your car of life. You are sitting in the back seat, thinking you are driving, but it’s really your MA that’s taking you places. You intend to go right (to take a different path) but your MA is driving and very quietly keeps you going straight down the road you’ve always traveled (while telling you, “sure, we can go right! Heh heh!”)
You can’t get rid of your MA – it’s who you are, your core story, your main root. What you CAN do, if you’re aware of it, is kick your MA to the backseat. Instead of lamenting, “Woe is me; this is my Master Assessment,” you can say, “Oh, there you are. You’re just my Story.” Your MA is still going to nag you like any backseat driver, but you have the power to choose when you listen.
Hopefully you recognized your own MA from the list, if you did not know it already. Follow these five steps to create a new path.
- Be aware of your Master Assessment and the mood it puts you into.
- Ask, “How is this story working for me right now, in this situation?”
- Name the story(ies) or emotions you want to enjoy instead. Trick: often the emotion you want is the exact opposite of the one you’re in. E.g. if you’re in resignation, the opposite is determination; if you’re in arrogance, the opposite is humility, and so on. “Put on” that opposite body – think of it like shrugging on a different jacket that’s been hanging at the back of your closet.
- Notice your language and go to the opposite. Shift from “I can’t” to “I will,” from “I’m not worthy” to “I am enough!” or from “I’m entitled” to “I will earn this.”
- Finally, PRACTICE that new body and conversation. The most powerful way to shift an emotion is to put yourself into the body of that and to behave “as if.”
Your goal is not to dump your MA – remember, it’s helped you in life at least as much as it’s hindered you. Rather, your goal is to remind yourself that you have a choice. You have the power to create a new path to Happiness, different results, better relationships, or more satisfaction. Enjoy the journey!