Pause Your Judgement and Notice the Beauty

Steam locomotive
A beautiful example of a steam locomotive

I had a wonderful experience the other day that reminded me of my own biases and judgements. I got to see them clearly, and the beauty that exists in those I might judge. I was richer for the increased awareness.

I caught the train into Wellington city and one of the conductors collecting tickets walked along and clicked each ticket and said in a very robotic, short, sharp fashion, “Thank you.” He was stern looking and seemed quite stiff in his body. Click. “Thank you”. Click. “Thank you.” Click. “Thank you.” My judgement: he was bored to tears and going through a learned process or routine. Then magic happened. He finished the ticketing process and stopped to chat with a small group. His whole being softened. His face lit up. He changed roles and was instantly a bright, engaging, excited and friendly character. In that moment, for me, he shifted from being alien and difficult to fathom to a beautiful and vibrant human being. I got to see the problem with my own biases and judgements.

Judgement is a very natural survival- and fear-based process that occurs within milliseconds of meeting anyone. It enables us to simplify the complexity of life and make decisions quickly. It was massively helpful when walking around a corner and meeting a sabre toothed tiger or a mammoth, or a strange cave person. It does help us now as well. Is this a hostile or a friendly audience? Is my customer pleased to see me, irritated, or angry? Judgement is natural and essential. It is not always accurate. Some of our judgements are biases we have learned, as children from our parents or from our own experiences. Often they are very contextual and then get applied generally. They limit our openness to others, particularly those we judge as different.

A friend of mine, who has some clear understanding of some of his biases, was taking his daughter to choose a new school. In meeting with the principal, he heard, paraphrased, “We are largely a white school”. His response: “I may be a racist but that doesn’t mean my daughter has to be.” They went looking for a different school.

Research highlights that diversity in our teams and organisations creates an environment where we get better solutions and results. The varied opinions, experiences, thinking processes, however annoying we may find them from time to time, create variation that challenges and improves the outcomes.

I remember an organisation that decided project managers must be Myers-Briggs ENTJ. Any other type was excluded from being a project manager. Their projects all had a common look and feel, and failed to respond to variation in a similar fashion. It is difficult to learn from others when those others are the same as you. In a different organisation I had consulted with them for several months, and had worked with the manager in a different context for several years. Then, because he was considering offering me a permanent role, he had me psychometrically assessed. I did well in all the cognitive and behavioural aspects, but he turned me down for the role because, in his opinion my Myers-Briggs suggested I was a business analyst, not a project manager. That was a thoroughly unscientific judgement based on his own misuse of the tool. This was in spite of him having observed me as a successful project manager in a variety of different contexts over the years we had known each other.

What challenges are you aware of in building diversity and inclusion in your teams and organisations? What benefits have you noticed? What judgements get in your way? Do you surround yourself with those you feel comfortable with or do you actively engage with those who are different from you, who may challenge your ideas? What value is lost when there is a push for sameness rather than diversity?

Reclaiming Self, Again

Dark, dreary and forlorn
When all seems dark and dreary… how do I find and reclaim myself?

The world seems dark, closing in around me. My vision has dimmed. My inner emotional and mental turmoil grows. Dense, dark clouds of desperation choke me. I feel like I am losing myself, my grip on reality, and wonder how or why I should carry on. And only moments ago I felt okay. What changed? Why am I pitching and tossing as though I am in a tiny boat on a raging ocean storm? Where is my virtue? Why has my positive sense of self vanished? Why do I feel abandoned and alone? Is there a way out of this seemingly impenetrable darkness? Why can’t light flood in as easily as the darkness? What am I to do?

Ever known moments or periods like that? I have. It can seem like goodness has evaporated and darkness is all that is available. What causes such experiences? How can such moments/periods be overcome? Answering questions such as these was part of the motivation behind my book, Appreciate the fog: embrace change with power and purpose. I continue to experience and learn.

Many things can create the loss of light, disconnection from what feels positive and good, and plunge us into chaos, confusion, and uncertainty. Trauma certainly can. New trauma messes with our sense of safety and trust. Events may remind us of past trauma and return us emotionally and mentally to old states. Loss, and the accompanying grief, is another trigger. Losing someone through death, capability through illness or accident, a job through retrenchment, or any number of other sources, can cause us to question life, purpose, and our place in the scheme of things. Shame can trigger the downward spiral or dramatic plunge, as the case may be. It could be through returning to an old habit, one we thought we had beaten, or being reminded of something we have done that we regret. Shame can also accentuate the downward process initiated by other causes. This one has a fabulous ally in the descent into darkness, our inner critic, who, through shame, has received a package of evidence of our uselessness as an individual. We may have a massive job disentangling ourselves from our critic’s habitual negative messages before we can even consider climbing out of the pit. The critic is such a potent voice, and if we attack the critic for being critical, it only serves to strengthen the critic and deepen the hole we are in. There are many other triggers that can take us down.

With the brain surgery I had several years ago came a raft of such roller-coaster experiences. It was traumatic in the extreme, far more so than it actually seemed to be. One moment I was fine. The next I learned I had a life threatening tumour, and had life-saving and life-changing surgery with loss of physical function and capability. It is all invisible disability, but I know it is there. So does my critic. Every now and then I find myself back in the negative soup, needing to yet again extricate myself. In response to the trauma, I found myself plunged back into unproductive patterns I hadn’t seen since I was a teenager where I had little trust that I would be okay. For all the miraculous outcome of the surgical intervention, a brain tumour does highlight safety concerns, and I found myself working with very old patterns and attitudes: isolation, distrust of others and life in general, and a generally bleak mental outlook. “There goes 30+ years of personal work down the toilet” was one of my evaluative internal comments. “Hey, I have written a book about this stuff. How could I get caught in this trap?” Pretty easily actually. The brain never drops old wiring. We may manage to create new pathways and implement new habits, including mental and emotional responses, that are useful and forward moving. In some ways trauma can unearth disused paths and bring them back into use. The difference this time however is that I have worked my way through and out before.  I am armed with that knowledge and capacity. This whole process became another chance to bed down the restorative processes, and heal past old hurts at a deeper level.

So, how can we reclaim ourselves at such times? This is the equivalent of redeeming ourselves from hell, the turmoil created within one’s psyche by mental and emotional processes gone awry. Some examples of methods for reclaiming self include:

Implement new positive routines. These have the effect of reminding ourselves we matter and provide positive feedback and self-care. For me, something as simple as stopping each hour to do a few stretches that break up my day of sitting and working on the computer makes a massive difference to my sense of self and my outlook.

Inventory the qualities and virtues you seem to have lost, and reclaim them. When I hit these sorts of dark places I tend to lose playfulness, trust, hope, delight, innocence, many other child-like qualities. The world seems to be too big, bad and unsafe, so they get stowed for a brighter day. Without them the brighter day doesn’t actually happen. Check in on what you don’t seem to have access to, because you have hidden them away, and reclaim them. Bring them back into active use. For me I metaphorically throw my items into a sack I carry on my back. To reclaim them I go through a process of recognising that has happened, and mentally opening and exploring my sack to find the qualities I want back. Sometimes I use a physical bag full of items and enact the process to strengthen my mental and emotional connection to reclaiming myself. That has a great effect in opening my awareness, establishing the importance of the qualities I am reclaiming, and reasserting them as valuable and available in my life. The world gets brighter in that moment.

Practice loving and accepting yourself. A simple way of doing this is to say: “I love myself and I accept myself, even though I don’t understand myself… and I forgive myself.” You could even list the things you find difficult to understand about yourself. This phrase asserts love and acceptance without judging yourself as good or bad . You can up the experience by standing at a mirror, taking up your own gaze, and then saying it. Do this multiple times and notice your inner response to yourself saying such a simple statement. I find this is an invaluable feedback mechanism. Any difficulty I have when holding my own gaze and saying this statement quickly informs me how strongly judgemental and unaccepting I am of myself in that moment. Staying with myself, when it is difficult, and finding a way back to loving and accepting myself, is a powerful, valuable, and often challenging, investment in self.

Phone a friend. Reaching out can be an incredibly difficult action when surrounded by your judgement of how pathetic you are. A real friend loves and accepts you even when you don’t know how to. It is a great lifeline to have and call on when the moment requires it. If you don’t have a friend available in the moment of crisis, call a helpline or see a counsellor. All these options are positive steps that say “I want and deserve better for myself.”

Gratitude. Find and name a few things for which you are truly grateful. If you can’t find anything, ask yourself what you could be grateful for, and then be grateful for that, and for asking the question. If you have done any of the previous actions, or anything else that works for you, express gratitude to yourself for doing them, for investing in yourself. Work with whatever small sliver you can find, and build on it.

Practice while the going is good. Build up your capacity to reclaim yourself when you don’t need to. It is easier to hit those negative experiences if you are already resourced. As challenging as my process of working through my surgery and aftermath has been, it has been much easier for having already established mechanisms for reclaiming myself. There have been times when, regardless of all I know, I wondered what the point was, but underneath I have known there is a point, and I that I could find my way back.

These are by no means all you can do. What are ways that work when you need to reclaim yourself?

Refer to “Reclaiming Self” for an earlier article on the same subject.

Reclaiming Self

The innocence of children
Children, relatively free of protective patterns of behaviour

When we are born into this world we are innocent (in my belief system) and unfettered by protective patterns of behaviour. As we experience life, encounter pain of varying kinds, we learn to erect protections to keep us safe. These become increasingly complex as layer upon layer of protection is established in response to all that life throws at us. Each protection requires energy from us to support and maintain, and as a consequence robs us of our life force and capacity to freely respond to life. It is often a crisis that makes us aware of how our behaviours interfere with our ability to engage with life in a meaningful way. We may experience ourselves as “too…”, an indication that our internal Critic or Judge (or external, when heard from those around us) considers us as having wandered from appropriate expression. Examples include “too volatile”, “too reserved”, “too pleasing”, “too aggressive” and any number of other judgements, singularly or in combination. These behaviours, when the judgement has some merit, have typically been developed in response to our needs being unmet and us seeking to satisfy them to the point that the behaviours become patterns that are applied without conscious thought, long past their use by date.

In becoming aware of such behaviours, perhaps through the failure of relationships, difficulties fitting in, negative feedback from multiple sources etcetera, the question then arises ‘What should I do about me?’ The process then becomes a matter of reclaiming oneself and finding ways of freeing our life force, returning to a spontaneous, creative and adaptive way of living, being better able to respond positively to the present.

In my own life this process started with a crisis of identity in my early 30s and has subsequently seen me free myself up and how I live and present myself to the world, an ongoing process. Earlier this year the surprise need for life-saving surgery plunged me into a whole new cycle of self-reclamation. The process of recovering from surgery required adapting to the loss of hearing in one ear, and developing physiological strategies to compensate for impairment in my balance processes. The physical recovery, while being a challenge, has been easier in many respects than the process of reclaiming my concept of self. In many respects it is as if the surgery sliced through significant protective mechanisms and unleashed old patterns of thought and feeling that I haven’t seen since I was a teenager and that I found particularly difficult in the first instance. Now, it is difficult seeing poor concepts of Self return, but at least they do so in an environment where I know I can process and work through them in a constructive fashion. In a sense, a very real sense, I’m back to dealing with old issues all over again. The reality however is that I am now working at a much deeper level, as if I have taken the head off and am cleaning out an infectious boil, rather than dealing with a superficial spot. While the issues are similar, feel very familiar, and are, I am better equipped to deal with this new level of emotional healing than I have been previously. The act of staying engaged with what arises within me, riding the wave as it forms rather than trying to escape it, will eventually lead to me being freer than ever before.

Some ways of engaging in the process of reclaiming Self include:

  • develop capacity to identify and observe behaviours in yourself that do not fit well relative to how you would prefer to be and what would work best in your context
  • develop love and acceptance of self that is free of needing to understand why you behave as you do and that opens you up to being able to forgive yourself unconditionally
  • define your core values, life purpose, vision and mission which will provide you with clarity about how you would prefer to live and present yourself to the world, something to aspire to
  • establish goals for moving forward into new, more productive, behaviours
  • find trusted individuals who are able to provide you with love, support, and constructive feedback
  • recognise that life is an ongoing journey and while you may have a preference for where you end up, and how you behave, perfection is out of the question and any vision you hold is a guide rather than an edict that must be obeyed at all costs
  • appreciate the fog that arises when life serves you growth opportunities, and allow that fog to water your life as rain does fertile soil

Through these approaches we can reclaim our lives, incrementally bring ourselves back to a fully free and available space to manifest our full, unfettered potential.

Do I Matter?

Diving into darkness
Willing to dive deep

I know I have asked myself the question ‘Do I matter?’ from time to time. I know of other’s who also find themselves struggling with that question. At such times it seems common to look outside for evidence, and when we actively look it seems that often the world conspires to assert that we indeed don’t matter. Hmm! What to do?

The best person, and only person capable of truly affirming your value, is you. Other people may help, may provide support, may be there at times to lift you when down, but no one other than you is always with you. The challenge is finding the truth of your value within yourself when all your learned behaviours and protective patterns support your fear that you do not matter. And when you do negatively judge yourself that is when you seem to draw negativity towards you like a massive, unrelenting magnet. Even more important then, it is crucial that you are able to connect with yourself, with your needs, and dive below the seaweed of fear and muddiness of hurt to the place of unencumbered beauty and light that does exist deep within you. First you must step into the apparent darkness to find it.

What do you identify with as defining your value? Do you refer to external feedback and measures such as popularity, praise from others, financial or other success, possessions, rivalry with and one-upmanship of others? Do you have access to your own inner voice that speaks to you of your value irrespective of the feedback from the outside world? Can you weather the buffeting of an unwelcoming or critical world that rips you down rather than builds you up? When the world does turn on you, how do you find your worth then? How do you remain connected with or reconnect with your worth and that you matter in those dark moments?

One key thing at such times is to truly love and accept yourself as you are. If you have hit a dark patch you may well be working really hard to do the right thing. You may find that lots of energy and activity is undertaken in an effort to save yourself from the abyss you secretly fear will swallow you? You may be using distraction and procrastination to avoid engaging with your fear of your circumstances. You may know you must work hard and then get annoyed as you get distracted by petty diversions you know do not help. You may work really hard to help others at your own expense (because there are things you need to be doing for yourself) so that even if you perish you know you’re a worthy being. Whatever your pattern, however you manifest your inability to apply yourself as effectively and productively as you know you should, love yourself for who you are. Accept yourself as you are. Forgive yourself for your shortcomings. Show true compassion to yourself. Open your heart to your own inner self, and drop any expectation of any particular performance. Reconnect with yourself, and recognise should, must and other such directive words are from your critic. They lack love, and will not support you as a person who is currently hurting. Own up to your pain, to the emptiness within, and pour the light of your own love into your soul. If you do have a friend who can support you in that moment all the better, but there is not greater gift that you can offer yourself than to love yourself in that moment when you do not feel worthy of it. Then you get to start learning how much you matter to yourself, and actually begin to demonstrate that it is true, attend to yourself and your needs in a gentle and authentic manner.

Master the Inner Critic When it Matters Most

Inner Critic
Inner Critic

Anyone can be positive on a good day, but how do you regain a positive sense of self when you are suffering doubt or have a rampant internal critic, and you need to authentically front up with confidence and belief in self? Perhaps you’ve had a bad performance review, lost your job, messed up in some way, or some other trigger has magnified your inner critical voice that suggests you’re inadequate. Maybe you don’t need external circumstances to trigger negativity and self-doubt. What can be done at such a time to reclaim a positive sense of self?

Some approaches that can help at such times include:

  • Own your [negative] state of mind, that you are beating yourself up, that it is not helpful, and that you are the one who needs to make that different. Awareness, acceptance and self-responsibility are important.
  • Acknowledge that there is a purpose to the negativity. The critic is attempting to keep you safe from further pain, whether based on fear of failure, rejection, disappointment or some other potential hurt. Thank the critic for its efforts to keep you safe, and gently request the protection to cease. Retraining the critic in a loving manner is an important, long-term activity.
  • Take some time to connect with your value as an individual. It helps to have done some work on this prior to a negative state, but it is not essential that you have. Identify and name positive qualities that replace the messages from the critic. Invite people you trust to contribute if you cannot find much to work with. The process asserts your value against the voice of negativity. Each positive quality you identify and claim creates more space for your positive sense of self, asserting your position on this planet as worthwhile, and edges out the critic (for a while at least).
  • Maybe you have done something that did not work as desired or was plainly wrong. Love, accept and forgive yourself. There is no need to understand what you did or why to move into a positive place, though some form of rectification may be necessary at some point to truly move beyond it.
  • Before a negativity outbreak, identify and write a genuine statement of personal purpose that is truly inspiring. When feeling negative recall and connect with the purpose, a way of pulling yourself out of the ditch. I have personal dream, life purpose and contract statements that I recall when I need to return to my centre. I have used them many times over the years.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I hope you find it helpful. In the future I will write more about each point, or you can buy my book and get a fuller concept quickly.

How Do I See Myself?

New Year 2013 has arrived, and some questions worth asking are:

What do I see when I look at myself?
How do I see myself?
  • How do I see myself?
  • Am I comfortable, content, and at peace with myself?
  • Do I have a list of ‘Must Change’ or ‘Should Have Changed Already’ items?
  • Do I accept myself as I am?
  • Do I love myself unconditionally?
  • Do I hear a voice of condemnation ringing in my ears?

I recommend dropping ‘must’ and ‘should’ from your vocabulary, and use words such as ‘could’ and ‘may’. ‘Should’ and ‘Must’ carry a degree of aggression and force against yourself, compulsion to do things, and condemnation when they are not accomplished to the satisfaction of your internal critic. They arise from the Fight Survival Reaction, and is rooted in fear.

A gentler approach identifying what you ‘could’ choose to do, and ‘may’ accomplish does not remove the possible goals. It does reduce the dictator that we so often resist anyway. How many of the past goals you have said you ‘should’ or ‘must’ do have you actually achieved? No one like a bossy boots, even when it is us against ourselves. Developing a warmer, gentler, accepting and loving relationship with yourself could be a fabulous gift you offer yourself in this New Year.