Easier Can Be Better

Taking the easier course of action
Easier can sometimes better

Tremendous energy can be poured into changing old patterns and behaviours. When you identify some quality of yourself that is not working for you, the tendency is to place enormous attention on changing it to a satisfactory behaviour. For most of us, that is accompanied by our internal critic working overtime, that voice within us that speaks into our middle ear about how we don’t measure up, won’t amount to much, and are under performing. The more effort we exert to change, the greater this voice that articulates all the accumulated negative feedback of our past becomes. It can become a riot in our mind. Even without the critic, and there appear to be the fortunate few with that blessed silence, focussing on changing old patterns tends to be a long and relatively unrewarding process.

Neuroscience has identified that once a neural pathway is established, and only a few repetitions are needed for the brain to adopt and establish a new pathway, it is almost impossible to remove. The best approach for change is to bed down another pathway, and place attention on asserting that behaviour until it becomes dominant. Rather than remove the old pathway, the idea is to create a newer, more productive, and more frequently used, pathway that makes the less productive pathway irrelevant through disuse.

I had an experience of this recently. Following significant surgery I had earlier last year I have found my confidence when facilitating groups markedly diminished. The degree of nervousness prior to running a session was significantly greater than my pre-surgery experience, and after I completed a session I found my critic undermining me for the most insignificant of reasons. However, when I was actually in front of the group running the session I had almost none of those issues, finding myself comfortable and increasingly fluent in my facilitation. On a recent weekend programme, the struggle against these before and after pain-laden attacks on my psyche were particularly pronounced. Rather than fretting over the behaviours that were undermining me, I shifted my focus by firstly sharing very simply with others I trusted that I was anxious, struggling, and otherwise authentically expressing and naming my experience in the moment. This had the effect of diminishing the energy building up around the anxiety, and curbed it. I then found that my capacity within a session improved because my warm up to it was cleaner, and the post-session internal shame game also diminished. As the multi-day programme unfolded I continued this practice and found that the confidence was easier to achieve as I owned my anxiety without making a big deal of it. I consciously placed my attention on the outcome I was seeking, a fluid and confident facilitation session. My focus and attention was very much placed on the outcome I sought rather than on changing the old pattern of anxiety, and the transition felt relatively smooth.

When you have an unproductive behaviour that is dominating you, perhaps you can identify what you would prefer to do instead, and find ways of asserting that behaviour, rather than condemning and “changing” the old one. Some ways of supporting and enabling such change in oneself can be journalling, enlisting the support of a coach, and developing awareness of your inner mental and emotional world to determine the most opportune intervention to offer yourself.

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.

Construction Zone, New Development Underway

Construction zone
Construction zone, new foundations forming

A specific change within ourselves may be initiated for any number of reasons. Two significant motivations include recognising and consciously deciding to attend to an underdeveloped or absent role that we require; and a specific situation demanding responses that we are unable to sufficiently offer. Whatever the catalyst for personal change, the more dramatic the change and the urgency or drive to change, the greater the upheaval you will experience. It can look very much like your inner being is a construction zone. Internal structure are pulled down, old patterns and beliefs that have been dormant may be liberated and occupy your psyche, even if unconsciously, and groundedness may disappear while a new foundation is formed. This all depends on the magnitude of the change. Life crises can often stimulate such upheavals, with examples of such events being birth of a child or grandchild, divorce, illness, death of a loved one, or the proverbial “mid-life crisis”.

A recent example from my own experience has been recognising patterns I have around taking leadership roles. Based on my life and experience there is no question that I can step into leadership and do well. However, my journey into leadership often takes me through one of the following routes:

  • If others are seeking the leadership role, I step back and say to myself, “Let them have it.”
  • If no one wants a leadership role (or it is an initiative I have started), I throw myself in with energy and gusto.
  • If I am invited into leadership, there is some degree of internal resistance that doubts my capacity and pushes the opportunity away.

All of those being true, I have sometimes surprised myself and moved forward with a degree of ease, though internal resistance invariably manifests at some point.

Lately, as I have recognised these patterns more fully, I have decided to develop my capacity to gracefully claim leadership, step into the space and occupy it with a sense of ease and belonging, and allow myself to be seen. Sounds easy! What a journey it is so far. In a recent situation where I was facilitating I was feeling great, owning the space, and fully there, and then familiar voices sounded off in my head that I was inadequate, should not be there, and I would surely fail. I realised that the difficulty for me serenely and gently occupying space is that I then hear the cacophony of voices that pull me down and back. That moment became a process of choosing to stay in that space, recognising all my own internal nay-saying voices, expanding my capability for intentionally remaining in leadership and cutting, or at least acknowledging and loosening, the bands that hold me to past experience and beliefs. In the meantime my internal world is in a state of relative turmoil, with anxiety and shame being merged with excitement and hope of a new way of being. This is a great time for me to appreciate my fog, recognising it is a natural part of the process of change, and that at some point the dust will clear. Then, I will have easier access to the new capacity forming within me.

What do you do when the fog arises from within? Do you allow it to be, and recognise it as a natural and necessary part of the process of change, or do you avoid the change or otherwise attempt to suppress the fog?

Journeys of Self-Discovery

Extending self to achieve great heights of achievement
Extending self to achieve great heights of achievement

Literature is full of stories of the hero embarking on a journey into lands and worlds previously unknown, uncharted and unconquered. Some of those heroes set out believing they are unconquerable, and experience trials and tribulations that take them to the brink of their will and capability, such as Homer’s Odysseus, some of their infallibility being knocked off them. Others set off on an adventure, ignorant of the world, following something within themselves, a calling, that they don’t understand. Parsifal, who had been protected from learning his kingly heritage by his mother, eventually had his true nature emerge and he had no choice but to follow where it took him.

Whatever the initial motive, the hero had to learn who they truly were, dig deep within themselves and manifest themselves as they never knew was possible. Some of their qualities were noble and inspiring. But heroes have flaws that almost certainly interfere with the clarity of purpose and ethics and morality of what they achieve. A necessary part of the hero’s journey is as much about conquering their inner world as it is about confronting significant external challenges. In the stories they eventually overcome all and manifest a new capacity from within themselves that enabled them to succeed, and which is often what they are then known for.

The hero is an archetypal energy we can all relate to and can draw on for power and inspiration as we engage in our own life and confront the challenges that are in our way. The question to hold as you meet your challenges is ‘What new role development do I call on from within myself to succeed here?’ So often life feels cyclic. “I have been here before”. It may be familiar but it is different and it will require something new to succeed, though it may be based on familiar qualities of yourself. Life is not a circle, rather it is a helix (shaped like a spring), and when we encounter something again, we are a little further forward. We are either needing to truly learn the lesson we did not master previously, or to expand our role repertoire to achieve something more significant. And, as with the journey of the hero, you will be required to dig deep and draw on courage and resilience to conquer, particularly in the internal part of your quest.

One example of such a helix in my life relates to staying in my power in relationship with others. As a result of a teenage experience I spent some year’s shutdown against and avoiding any form of conflict. I would not engage with someone who wished to confront me, rightly or wrongly, about who I was and how I was behaving. My belief system was such that I presumed I was likely at fault. Not a particularly useful approach when attempting to lead. I then found myself in leadership positions, and I was either going to perish without any capacity to create a difference, and fail as a leader, or find a new way of being. Direct and open confrontation was one learning. Another was staying engaged in the conversation, remaining present. Yet another was to truly listen to the other party, parking my need to respond immediately, improving my capacity to comprehend the other person’s perspective. This has been true throughout my working career, and in my personal relationships. No two occasions has been the same, but the recognition of being somewhere familiar has been high, and also that I have more on offer and available from within myself. Now, I am often called in to help team’s work through conflict and strengthen their capability to work effectively together.

What are your developing lessons in life? Your themes? What has strengthened your capacity as you have brought more of yourself into a situation? Have you taken your own heroes journey and become better acquainted with yourself, both your strengths and your weaknesses? Do you love yourself and accept who you are, even your uncomfortable or ugly bits?

In The Zone

Guidance and companionship
Two companions journeying together

Last weekend I co-facilitated a weekend for men, and came away energised and enthused. When I work in alignment with my purpose I experience ease and lightness in my being. I become more energised, enthused and engaged with life, and have complete certainty I am doing what I am meant to be doing. When I am off purpose I get tired and restless even if I am satisfied from doing a good job; on purpose, I soar.

I have several deeply held statements of vision, purpose and contract with myself that ground me in my life. When I drift from them I feel a degree of disturbance that highlights the distance, and that acts as a call to return. The statement that sings most fully to me at present is: I am the wise guide who walks with and walks by the weary traveller at the temple of love and transformation. For me, this speaks to how I function when I work with others through transformative periods and processes. I do have value to offer. The other person is there as a self-directed, autonomous being. My contribution arises from having been through significant transformation as I have journeyed through life, and carrying the wisdom of such experience. I am available, have much to offer, and it is the traveller’s own choice whether to engage with me. It is also for them to determine what to adopt of what I have to offer. As a guide I offer or invite. Compulsion, coercion and demand have no place.

The joy for me from last weekend was from profoundly engaging with men who chose to have me as their guide, who fully owned their desire to create something more workable in their lives, and who courageously stepped forward and did their work. I was present. I offered suggestions, support and invitations along the way. The results were and are all theirs. They continue their journey owning their own wisdom that I may have assisted them to connect with.

The process of engaging with your own work, deciding to transform your life, and to step forward into the unknown with determination is an extremely courageous and powerfully liberating act. My privilege is to be party to some precious moments as an invited guide. When I am in that space, I know I am in my zone, doing the work that aligns with my purpose.

Do you know what your purpose is and where your zone is?

 

The FACT of Life

Father with son in play
Supported learning process

Life is full of its surprises and moments. There are some that catch us off guard, with only subtle differences from other situations where we have succeeded against all odds, yet in this instance we come crashing down. From the outside observer it could almost feel random, yet within us there is something new and uncharted that makes the result no less shocking but perhaps less surprising.

We have roles we develop from the moment we are born. Survival functions include eating, eliminating waste, learning and coping. We might have a role of “playful eater” which our parents sometimes found funny, and at other times got angry with us, perhaps because that moment seemed less cute, especially as they were in a rush to go out. The “Inquisitive Learner” is something toddlers are well known for, getting into everything.

As we develop and experience life, we develop roles for each context of life that we encounter, the collection of roles comprising our personality. As we enter a new context we may be able to borrow capacities from similar roles, but there is a period of vulnerability as you familiarise yourself with new areas of development, particularly when there are areas of functioning required in the role that you have not developed. Each role can be underdeveloped, embryonic, adequate, or overdeveloped in some aspect.

Each role consists of Feelings, Actions and Thoughts, and are used within a Context. FACT is an easy acronym for remembering them. When we lack a fullness of expression across any of the feelings, actions and thoughts, we are underdeveloped. Where they exist but have not achieved adequate expression in the given context, they are embryonic. Those that we over rely on, that are patterned behaviour, and that therefore get in the way of us fully, spontaneously and creatively living life are overdeveloped.

Whether moving into a new position at work, starting a new relationship with someone, embarking on a new adventure, or seeking to learn a new skill, we have many unknowns and among those there are roles we will need that we don’t fully embody. That is a great time to consider your preparedness and the possibility of some form of coaching support that can provide you assist you bring to the fore and strengthen those roles that you need to succeed. In a new situation you don’t know what you don’t know, and to have someone that can assist you gain the FACT of life can be a fantastic way to walk with confidence into new environments, responsibilities and relationships.

Stepping Into New Places

Every time you step into something new there are potential threats and opportunities. There is the unknown that may stir up fears within you, and also there are the hopes of something worthwhile, else you would be unlikely to venture forward. Stepping into a new space is a new birth and carries vulnerability, the uncertainty and the ignorance of what exists beyond the place you’re at. There can be a significant sense of aloneness and fragility like a butterfly emerging from its’ cocoon. At such times it is great to be companioned by true friends, those who you trust and who offer a degree of safety and prior experience as you learn to grow and expand in the new world. And when you cannot find someone to trust, then is a truly good time to feel a strong connection with your own self, and be open to trusting your capacity to cope with whatever may come your way, even if you have little reason to know how you will manage.