Have you ever made a really lousy decision, one where you ask yourself, “How in the world could I have done that?” I still mess up, but I owe part of my personal growth to an exercise I’ve used for over 20 years. I think of myself as a house.
Using a box of crayons I have stuck in an old box in my bottom drawer, I doodle the house that is me. I think about what kind of house I am today – what color and what shape. Imagination, reflection and observation are all a part of personal change.
On one sheet of paper, I draw in my windows and doors, my yard and my roof. Since I’m not showing this house to anyone, I give myself permission to go a little crazy.
First, I consider the exterior of my house. A realtor might call it my “curb appeal.” If a total stranger were to walk by, what would he or she first notice? What about family members and friends who know me well? What do they see? I combine words, pictures and colors to represent what I feel I’m showing on my outside.
Like all buildings, my house has a foundation on which everything has been constructed. These foundational blocks cannot be changed, but there is power in recognizing how they buttress the rest of my structure. I was born the fourth of four children in a small Iowa town. My skin is white. I have brown eyes and pretty average physical dimensions. I am not overly bright, nor dull. I developed an early stutter. I was raised Catholic. I had an inner imagination that took me to scary places. I acquired gumption from my mother.
On another page, I draw the different rooms of my house. This is how I structure the important aspects of my life. I generally have seven to 10 rooms, which include my wife, my work, my friends, my health and my finances. Generally, as I work on my house, a few temporary rooms pop up that may include a certain fear, a major problem or a big decision I have been putting off.
This focusing step allows me to enter one specific room calling out for my attention. I sketch this room on a separate sheet of paper. I make a list of the people and things involved with it. I think of how the room has changed over the months or years, and how it attaches to my other rooms. I ask myself how comfortable I am in the room and if I take responsibility for its current state. Finally, I write a little dialogue about the room as if I’m talking to someone I trust, admire or love. Often they talk back to me. I draw and color the room as it is now and, often, I draw another picture of what I’d like the room to look like in the future.
When all is said and done, I look over my house and can recognize its history, its order and what I can begin to work on changing. I actually have developed this exercise into a workshop I’ve conducted with other professionals and individuals going through a major life experience.
My house metaphor is just one way to structure self-evaluation and decision-making. It helps me stay away from making those really lousy decisions, and it keeps me from getting rid of my crayons.
About the author
Since founding The Change Companies® in 1988, Don has worked with approximately 150 agencies and corporations, tailoring Interactive Journals to serve those working and participating in the caring professions. His collaborative efforts in substance use, justice services, impaired driving, healthcare and education have consistently focused on helping individuals explore the process of positive personal change.
Earlier in his career, Don worked in many industries, including hotel management, publishing, higher education administration and healthcare business development. Along the way, he created numerous companies, experiencing both successes and failures. Many of these life lessons and joyous observations found their way into Don’s recent book, The Adventures of Binder-Man.
Don is most proud and appreciative of the outstanding employees who have shaped The Change Companies® for over two decades.
Word of the Week
The Old French word bouter meant “to strike or push against.” A conjugation of this verb, bouterez, eventually found its way to English as “buttress.” As a noun, this word is most commonly heard in reference to the “flying buttresses” of Gothic architecture, suspended supports which arc from wall to wall.