As of late, I have been very focused on the work of The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership and Acceptance Commitment Therapy.

What both of these practices have in common is a process by which we truthfully acknowledge our state of being by considering HOW we are relating to the content of our experience more so than WHAT we are experiencing. The 15 Commitments refers to the process of how we are relating to our experiences as “above the line or below the line.”

“Above the line” is a state of consciousness in which you are experiencing all that is occurring for you through a lens of openness, curiosity, and a commitment to learning. Whereas, “below the line” is a state of consciousness in which you are experiencing all that is occurring for you through a lens of guardedness, defensiveness, and a commitment to being right and protecting yourself.

For example, imagine you are to go into an ice bath. Upon entering and while submerged, ask yourself, “where am I… above the line or below the line?”

This question creates psychological distance. Instead of being focused on the contents of your experience–the cold, the pain in your extremeties, shivering, or how long its been, focus on HOW you are relating to these contents. From this vantage point, you get to observe your tendencies of thought, feeling, and behavior in real time with much more accuracy and compassion.

At the onset of getting in the tub and feeling the cold, most of us, even the cold exposure aficionados, will find ourselves relating to the cold stimuli from a “below the line” context. This is our body’s natural defense mechanism in response to what is immediately perceived as a threat. With this awareness, we do not need to change the content to feel better; rather, we can, simply, explore the possibility of relating to the stimuli from an “above the line” context. From “above the line,” we are less focused on feeling better and more focused on FEEEEling better, i.e., feeling all of our feelings more presently, mindfully, and non-judgmentally.

When you are “above the line,” you are in the GAIN. You are focused on what you have and are grateful for what you are getting to experience. Life is happening FOR YOU. Whereas, when you are “below the line,” you are in the GAP. You are focused on what you are lacking and what you need in order to overcome what is happening TO YOU.

Adopting this practice of regularly locating yourself as above the line (GAIN) or below the line (GAP), is a powerful, transformational, and very accessible way to train self-awareness.

However, I caution you to be mindful of the tendency to judge yourself when you find yourself “below the line.” The mental trap that our minds default to is judgment and when judgment dominates, we undermine our ability to learn. Because instead of focusing on what is really happening, we are focused on what we believe SHOULD be happening.

The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.

Carl Rogers
  • Step 2: Ask yourself… Can I accept myself for being right where I am?

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