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  • Writer's pictureJosh Wymore

1+1: You are the one who notices + Untethering your soul

Hey there! Here’s one leadership idea and one resource I’ve found beneficial this week:

A grapefruit sliced in half

1 idea: You are the one who notices

Who are you really? That’s a question that Michael Singer tackles in his book The Untethered Soul by means of a trippy thought experiment. It goes like this:


If I met you for the first time and asked, “Who are you?”, you’d probably tell me your name. I’d smile and nod but challenge that assumption. At your core, are really just a collection of letters? Wouldn’t a rose by any other name still smell as sweet?


You roll your eyes and tell me where you’re from instead. But I push back again and say that other people have come from your same hometown, and clearly you’re not them.


Your eyes narrow with annoyance, but you stay in the conversation, determined to win. You go on to tell me more about yourself: your job, your spouse, your kids. You even include your height and weight for good measure. Again, I disagree. Weren’t you “you before you took that job, married that spouse, and had those kids? Weren’t you the same person before you were this height and that weight? Clearly these biographical factors do not encompass all of who you are.


Now you shift from being annoyed to perplexed. How could you define yourself without relation to any other person, place, or thing? You think for a while and decide to go even deeper. You open up and share your hopes, dreams, and fears. These inner thoughts and emotions are the most personal thing you can think of. But once more, I press the issue. Haven’t your dreams and emotions changed over time? Haven’t you been able to change them yourself? If you are the one who is changing them, then clearly you are something beyond your thoughts and emotions.


Finally, you give up. You ask, “Who am I, then?”


Singer answers this question in a simple but profound way: you are the one who notices. You are not your thoughts or emotions because you can notice those things and change them. You can step outside yourself to think about yourself and decide who you want to be or what you want to do. At your most fundamental level, you are your sense of consciousness and awareness. This is your soul.


This idea seems radical until you start to think about the internal battles waging inside yourself all the time. When someone says, “be true to yourself,” you could ask, “Which self? The self that wants to train for a half marathon, or the self that wants to re-watch The Crown on Saturday and eat two pounds of nachos?” You seem to have multiple “selves” at any given point in time, and yet something inside of you plays referee and decides which self wins in that daily battle. That something that decides—that notices—is you at your most fundamental level.


This critical distinction gives us both power and responsibility. It gives us the power to transcend the impulses that often lead us into poor choices. It gives us the power to decide not to snap at the rude coworker because we can notice that inclination but decide against it. It gives us the power to feel our sadness deeply without being overcome by loneliness.


But this great power also brings equivalent responsibility. Once we become aware that we have a choice, we can no longer justify poor behaviors with “well, that’s just who I am,” or, “that’s just my personality.” Our personality and past are part of us, but they are not all of us. We always have a choice, even if we choose not to consciously make it.


  • If I believed that I was not my thoughts, emotions, or personality, how would that change my daily life?

  • Where have I been unconsciously following my thoughts, emotions, or personality?

  • How could I be more conscious of the battles waging inside of me?

1 resource: Untethering your soul

Michael Singer's book The Untethered Soul really challenged me with its mind-bending concepts. Singer's definition of soul was a game-changer for me:


How do you free yourself? In the deepest sense, you free yourself by finding yourself. You are not the pain you feel, nor are you the part that periodically stresses out. None of these disturbances have anything to do with you. You are the one who notices these things. Because your consciousness is separate and aware of these things, you can free yourself.


You'll find plenty in this book that will challenge your thinking--and like me, probably a lot you disagree with. But hopefully, it will enable you to live more untethered. 


You can find the book on Amazon or wherever books are sold.

Cover of James Clear's book Atomic Habits

Note: If you purchase a book via the link above, we may receive a small commission (at zero cost to you).


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