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The Three Selves – an Interview with Tony Schwartz

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Being your best self when you’re experiencing negative emotions can be very challenging. Brian recently interviewed author and thought leader Tony Schwartz about how we can become more aware of what we’re feeling and why so that we can gain control and better manage complex situations. Here are some of the top takeaways:    

The Fight or Flight Response

When people experience anger, frustration or fear, they have a fight or flight response and the capacity to think rationally is lost. Some people react defensively to protect what they perceive to be their own survival; others become highly self-critical or move to isolate themselves.

The Three Selves

We might believe we are just one ‘self,’ but we actually have three separate selves inside of us, each of which operates depending on what’s going on in our world.

  • Our child self gets triggered whenever we feel threatened or at risk. Our youngest and most helpless ‘self’, the child self isn’t capable of resolving a challenging situation.
  • Our survival self is the ‘self’ that comes to the defense of our inner child. When we’re under pressure, these two selves will try to solve the problem, often unsuccessfully. In the meantime, we lose connection to our third self – the adult self which is hiding in plain sight.  
  • Our adult self is the most mature and capable ‘self’ we have, but it can get overwhelmed and allow the other two selves to take over.  


In difficult situations, we must learn to self-regulate. Self-regulation is the ability to calm our nervous system and take good care of our well-being. Self-regulation requires self-observation. We can’t change what we don’t notice – but noticing changes everything. The real question we must ask ourselves when we get frustrated or angry is ‘What am I afraid of?’

Gain Control

To gain more control of a stressful situation, we must develop the capacity to stand back from an experience and observe it, without reacting to it. When we can do that, we can make a decision and a deliberate choice about how to show up. Instead of reacting defensively when feeling under threat, we will be able to summon our calm adult self and have it deal with things.

To learn more and get exclusive access to PeopleFuel®, a unique program that’s designed to help people more skillfully manage their physical, emotional, mental and spiritual energy, listen to the latest episode of “It’s a Good Life.

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