This is an exercise I use all the time when I find myself stuck around a particular word or phrase. I think I first read about it here but I’ve come across it other places too — in any case, this is my spin on it.

Here’s how it works:

1) Write the word or phrase that is tripping you up in big letters on a blank sheet of paper. Then write = [as many associations that come to your mind as you can].

DON’T THINK, just write as fast as you can. If you want, you can try writing with your left hand — that’s one way to tap into your creative/unconscious/unverbal brain.

Here’s an example, using something I frequently get tripped up over:

MONEY  = cash

= power

= freedom

= pain

= stuck up

= glamor

= fake

= plastic surgery

= cancer

= seductive

= can’t refuse

= Robert Redford, the devil, big ego, blind

= dollars $$$$

= less fighting

= time

= cage

= grandma

= strings attached

= residue

WHEW. That’s a lot of associations. Now you try it! You can use MONEY if you want, but it could be anything. LOVE. BABY. JOB. WINTER. BREAKFAST. Any words that are currently a flash point for you — that shut you down or light you up or make you think in circles.

2) Now, pick 5 of the words above, and go further. Whatever associations come up when you think of those words, write them down — even if they don’t make sense. Like this:

stuck up = suburbs, people moving away and getting stuck up, beige carpet, too quiet, dream house –> end of something.

strings attached = manipulation, forcing, not trusting, hoarding, puppetmaster.

plastic surgery = hollywood, once you start you can’t stop, can’t hold onto realness, can’t abide realness, cutting out humility and vulnerability and humanity, fucked up superhero.

can’t refuse = at mercy of boss because you need the paycheck, they own you because they pay you. Being bossed around, beholden.

3) Now brainstorm the opposites of those words:

stuck up –> low key, down to earth, more connected, putting time and money into something you love (a house you build with your own hands as opposed to a big cookie cutter house in the suburbs). Sharing what you have. Staying true to your roots.

strings attached –> giving with no expectation. Using money to connect and help people. Cutting strings, letting go. Opened up, not walled in. Giving things away, clearing, making space for new things. Following curiosities, using money to have adventures.

plastic surgery –> Frances McDormand, she doesn’t need plastic surgery. An interesting face. Being ok with your own face, with getting old, with wrinkles. Not improving yourself. Refusal = defiance = badass, refusing to be more than you are.

can’t refuse –> freelancer, what a beautiful word. No boss. Nothing owed to anyone.

Robert Redford –> what is the opposite of Robert Redford?! Barbra Streisand in The Way We Were? Kris Kristofferson? Someone who’s not afraid to play the bad guy, not trying to save the world, just doing their thing. NOT branding yourself.

You might notice some themes emerging, and if it helps, you can put them together into phrases and sentences. In my case, I’m noticing that I seem to believe that money is associated with presenting yourself as something you’re not — a superhero, a moral leader, a dream house — and being controlled by nefarious forces. No wonder I’m having issues with money!

What if instead of this hollywood suburban nightmare, I could exist in a down to earth world where people helped each other out and followed their curiosity? A world where I don’t owe anyone anything and can do exactly what I want and present myself exactly as I am. Hmmmm.

4) In that vein, I’m going to brainstorm all the qualities I’d LIKE to be associated with [that world / thing]:

[new thing]     = cash, free and clear

= paid in full

= currency — trades, services, symbols, metaphors, proxies

= fair exchange, fair trade, fair price for services rendered

= paid gigs

= no boss

= FREELANCER! (this reminds me of HIGHLANDER and immortality and Sean Connery)

= not a guru, not the good guy, not a moral leader, just a person

= being exactly what I am, presenting myself exactly as I am

= helping people, connecting people

= action (actions speak louder than words)

= have more adventures

= crowdsourcing / crowdsurfing

= economics

= transaction –> Trans Action –> exchange of energy, services, goods

5) Like in step 2, we’re going to pull out key words and push them further. Not all of these will lead to something tangible, but usually by the time I get to this stage, tangible action starts to appear. It may or may not be related to my original word, but then again, it might in a way my rational everyday mind doesn’t understand.

freelancer = get gigs, get the word out. Email friends, make facebook page, make business cards, put my thing out there, no big deal, take it or leave it. Explain it exactly as it is.

have more adventures = go on a hike every day. Eavesdrop on people when waiting in line instead of checking my phone…? Listen. Try posting whatever the hell I want on my blog. Wear a radical outfit. Buzz cut my hair.

helping people, connecting people = find free workshops to take, offer free workshops? Share ideas on blog.

trans action = try more things, do things for others, ask for help, ask for support when I need it, share more, risk letting people in even if it scares me. Invite more people over to my house. Set up playdates. What is a playdate between adults (not in a kinky way)?

And at this point, if a word or phrase has appeared that you can use in the place of the original word, awesome! Use it! In my case, I’m going to use the word Trans-Action so I can remember that I’m not cheating people out of their precious dollars by pretending to be a moral leader — no, I am using the resources I have to help people out and asking for help when I need it and following my own curiosity and going on adventures and connecting with other people who are doing this too. We are supporting each other.


And instead of charging MONEY for my services (eeek, what a fraud, I’m cheating people, I’m a poser and a fake!*), I’m engaging in Trans-Actions in which people offer me something in exchange for what I’m offering them. Fair trade. They know what I’m offering, I know what they’re offering.

What do you think? Let me know what you find out if you try this exercise!

*related topic: imposter syndrome. Duh duh DUHHHHH! We’ll talk about that another time. 


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