Unconscious suffering…

This is a reflective post – drawing on my own journey of self discovery …

We’re all suffering. I know that I’ve suffered.

Some people have found a way through or perhaps a cure if you like, but many, many people are suffering – maybe consciously but my assumption is people are unconsciously suffering.

We are suffering from ignorance – ignorance is the lack of knowledge or information.

We continue to unconsciously suffer as we choose ignorance through our collective divisive behaviours and whilst we may hold a belief that, our current views will keep us safe, we are all increasing the ignorance that leads to developing our fears, creates more instability and injustice and erodes the safety and human connection we all desire and crave in these times of distraction.

Until we tackle the root causes of our collective suffering the planet we call home and importantly all life including human life is at risk of ending and that is a tragedy

Our collective actions hold us all back from reaching our human potential and delivering the future everyone seeks and yearns for.

No single person can be blamed, for we all share and hold accountability through our collusion and complicity in all events we choose to participate in or ignore.

If we wish to see change from whatever perspectives we hold as our individual truth, we must first lean into and accept that for those changes to occur we must first change ourselves.

This is the single biggest challenge facing human kind – our denial of human development and growth.

This is the path open to everyone that leads us towards ending the suffering.

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The benefits of Practice and Discipline – reflections on 5 key practices

It was a little over a year ago that I really committed internally to pushing forward with a level of personal development that has had profound impact on who I am.

The type of development I’m referring to is truly leaning into learning new practices and disciplines that are intended to anchor me in a more creative, playful and purposeful frame.

For me I used to think that knowing or having just enough experience in certain things was enough – Brene Brown nailed it for me as she explicitly made visible the typical frame people have – attitude vs practice – I had an attitude to learning and developing as opposed to truly having a practice of learning and developing. Learning and seeing this challenged me as it knocked me sideways for a while as I believed I was continually learning and developing but was doing anything but that given my understanding now.

For the purpose of this post and to share what these words mean to me I offer my perspective below for which you are welcome to inquire into should you have different perspectives to share.

practice : to perform repeatedly / habitually so as to become proficient

And…

discipline : to develop by instruction and exercise especially in self mastery

There are many practices I’ve now integrated into my day, my work patterns and my life in general but I wanted to share my experiences into 5 key practices for me and the learning and benefits I’m gaining as a result.

1) Gratitude

I didn’t actually think this would have the impact it has had but practicing gratitude in various forms has increased the joy I feel and experience in my life.

I started by mentally taking note at the end of the day things I was grateful for, at the beginning I found this awkward as I didn’t feel the things I was grateful for was worth being grateful for.

However weeks into the practice I had a moment when during a normal work day I simply stopped and enjoyed a single moment working with some leaders in health and social care and after that finished I felt the gratitude wash over me and a sense of joy emerged.

After that I accepted that the practice is not a quick fix to anything but is a discipline to hold that allows you to see and sense the moments in our lives that give us meaning and joy. That has transformed my life, I never realised joy could be found and felt in such simply things…naive I know but for me transformational.

I’ve now expanded my practice and have a gratitude journal as I’m keen to capture and reflect on those things.

2) Checking In / Showing Up

The practice of checking in, in its simplest form is sharing how you feel, what holds your attention and what’s going on for you when you connect with people/colleagues etc.

It’s a practice I had curiosity in about a year ago but it wasn’t until last summer when working with a health and social care team in northern Devon I introduced it as a practice to build connectivity and togetherness.

It was such a powerful practice with the team that members of the team refuse to start meetings without having the opportunity to check in.

The benefits and impact on me personally have been that in every meeting this happens I feel I can show up as myself and can have how I feel acknowledged by others which helps that simplest of human desires – connection.

The practice is so much of what I do and how I work now that only last week with the teams support I, along with co-facilitator Kelly – guided 30 senior leaders in the council including the chief executive and leader of the council through a learning session where everyone checked in.

This exercise in that setting fundamentally shifted the discussion into a space where a deeper and more personal honesty was actively shared and displayed. So much so I was at times overwhelmed with emotion as colleagues shed their armour and were vulnerable. It was a humbling moment.

3) Noticing

This practice emerged from my use of the Headspace app.
I found this practice incredibly helpful as I found myself getting distracted often by the many thoughts that filled and consumed my mind.

In headspace you are introduced to noting as a way to create that bit of space, a moment where you can regain awareness and allow yourself to use the technique to let things go.

The practice creates the space for oneself to regain some personal clarity and learn more about thoughts, distractions and habits etc.

I’ve found the practice so transformative as noting can only happen when I have and hold awareness. If I’m not then through noting I can bring myself back. By definition, you can’t be both distracted and aware at the same time.

I’ve learnt that living more aware is healthier for the mind than living distracted.
4) Generosity

Within my practice development is the Braving Inventory from Brene Brown.

All of these practices are incredibly important and interconnected. However I wanted to share the practice of generosity as it has been the hardest to hold and make a discipline

Underpinning the practice is the assumption “everyone is doing the best they can”. So the practice involves holding this continually even in those moments people you might be engaged with lack tact, sensitivity, empathy or kindness and come across as angry or aggressive.

The practice invites you to extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words and actions of others

Try it and you’ll understand how much it challenges you but after time you develop your empathy skills and can more often than not hold that generosity and when you do it unlocks something inside.

I found it removes judgement and helps me move away from closing things down and encourages me to open things up with a curiosity that simply wasn’t there before.

I still wobble a lot on this practice but know that continually developing my practice I can live a life without judgement and that is a worthy goal.

5) Creating clarity

This practice wasn’t an intentional practice to develop but became visible through learning why and where my anxiety’s originated from.

Lack of clarity nudged me into a space where anxiety was a core emotion and that felt horrible.

I was sure how the act of creating clarity helped until I started a practice which helps create that more often. One of the key underpinning and contributing practices is understanding, playing back, summarising and agreeing. Clarity creates safety and Clarity is kindness (as Brene Brown shares).

It was a practice I started because once I experienced clarity being created I realised how much clarity was lacking from my work and life.

This practice along with and connected to the noticing practice allows me to seek and find external and internal clarity which frees me from a struggle I never had a conscious view was happening.

This has been the single biggest impact on my mental health and that allows me to engage fully with the other practices listed above and the many many more that are now key and core to how I live.

I hope you have found the learning shared above helpful and if you decide to try any or have practices of your own I’d be interested to hear what they are and how you benefit.

Learning, leadership, being vulnerable and developing shame resilience

Nothing has transformed my life more than realizing that it’s a waste of time to evaluate my worthiness by weighing the reaction of the people in the stands.  The people who love me and will be there regardless of the outcome are within arm’s reach.  They weren’t in the bleachers at all.  They were with me in the arena.  Fighting for me and with me.  This realization changed everything.
Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

Building on my last post about understanding, living and working with shame, I thought it might be helpful to share some more of my personal story.

I’d never actively thought about shame before If I’m honest, it was for a long time a word I’d rather not mention or associate myself with but I was acutely aware that I experienced it often and those feelings and emotions directly affected my actions and responses.

It wasn’t until, supported through work, that I started an intensive learning journey and as a result of that my curiosity directed me to Dr Brene Brown.Through her work (books, audio, video etc) I found a way to build an understanding. An understanding that allowed me to create a new awareness of what was happening to me in my life and my work.

The first and most important part of my understanding was to get clarity on the difference between shame and guilt. In its most simple terms how I now understand the difference is that shame is a focus on self and guilt is a focus on behaviour. For example If i hurt your feelings, guilt would make me feel that my behaviour was wrong whereas shame would make me feel that I was wrong.

That realisation and clarity profoundly helped me process a range of emotions and situations in and outside of work. It particularly helped me develop and grow more compassion for leaders who I had previously believed were bad leaders making bad choices (essentially shaming them), however this new frame allowed me to accept that those leaders are doing the best they can with the knowledge and understanding they have and my role as an interventionist is to help make things visible in ways that cause a sense of guilt or cognitive dissonance which would then drive a behavioural change in that leader.

So what I found was that I used to think that judging leaders was ok, I now know that developing compassion and understanding shame and guilt I fundamentally believe that all leaders (in fact anyone) has the capacity and capability to change their behaviour.  To do otherwise would be to give up on them completely and that didn’t feel very compassionate…

I want to say for anyone who might be reading this, that I am ok. I really am.  I’m happy, in fact very happy and peaceful with the imperfect person I am today and that has taken some time and yes I wobble a lot but I’m more consciously aware of what is happening so am now able to talk to the people I trust to get support and unpack situations around shame in ways that are productive and help me grow as opposed to forcing me to feel trapped, alone, fearful and inferior.

I also want to say that the journey I’m on was not a reaction to a particular situation but a desire and internal commitment to grow, develop and learn more about myself so that I can consistently show and be more compassionate, understand how to hold my integrity and let go so that I may find humility.

I’m privileged to be able to go on this journey and present myself as a whole person. The developmental journey within my role as an interventionist has been an incredible one and it allows me to understand how I can support others too.

To be in a position today where I can openly talk about shame with a supportive group around me has been as a result of a number of factors and practices which you may find helpful to know and understand.

In listening and reading Dr Brene Brown work and her story, she talks about strategies and tactics to help develop and cultivate shame resilience – from what I have learnt so far, my current understanding is that the purpose of developing shame resilience practice is to help people who feel shame, feel empathy and connection instead.  There are four components to shame resilience practice, which I will start to explain below.

  1. Recognise, note and acknowledge the causes/triggers of shame. This is about learning the physiological signs, mental signs – they are often the same as trauma, high stress. For example one of my signs is my body tingles and I feel sweaty…I’d been developing a practice of noting for over a year now since I started a mindfulness practice through the Headspace app. So further expanding that practice to include and recognise the causes and triggers of shame took a little while and is still developing but was not a new practice to me. I’ve found that noting as a practice is incredibly powerful to help me work towards a more still mind and to develop more awareness so I can be more present.
  2. Practicing critical awareness.  This is about reality-checking the story you tell yourself and the expectations that arise as a result. What external factors are influencing this, are they realistic? Is this the version of yourself you want to present as your authentic self?
  3. Reaching out and telling our story. This is about connecting and experiencing empathy. For me this has been the most powerful element and took a while to achieve as I found that you need to find a trusted group of people who have earnt the right to hear your story in order to support you without judgement
  4. Speaking and naming shame. Dr Brene Brown states that shames requires 3 things grow exponentially – secrecy, silence and judgement.  Shame can not survive if spoken and treated with empathy. Therefore if we recognise, note and acknowledge shame, practice critical awareness and reach out and share our story, we can grow our resilience as we practice.

This has been and continues to be an ongoing journey for me, one that helps me and reaffirms to me that I am worthy.

Understanding and working with Shame

Download image from Brene Brown.comI want to start with saying that the purpose of the team I’m part of is to help develop leadership capability in order to create a Devon where people can live their life well, however for me this has presented some personal challenges.

Some of the challenges for me have been around my own capacity and capability to learn and grow.  Without understanding this I would not be able to support leaders to learn and grow effectively.

This is why alongside learning more about how to achieve purpose within my role, I’ve had to consciously develop and understand myself. This has led me to understand a number of things which have been quite painful but incredibly liberating and transformative.

One of the areas that has been the most transformative for me is understanding and learning about shame.

Yes shame…that feeling you are not enough.

Lets just hold the space here for a minute. I’m conscious that even talking about it can trigger it in other people…so I understand if you need to park this and come back later.

When I talk about shame in this post, I am referring to the understanding shared by Dr Brené Brown (twitter)

I want to acknowledge straight away that I am incredibly privileged to be working within and alongside a team who allow me to show up and be vulnerable every day. So a big Thank you to Roxanne, Sara, Kelly, Louise, Kevin, Martin and Lewis. Without their support I would not be able to even write this post.

I wrestled internally about whether to write this post or not but I feel so passionately about this that I want to share my experience, it is likely to be through a number of posts as I am finding the process of writing about this somewhat healing and therefore I will find value in writing more than one post. I also hope that others may be curious to learn more or want to share their experiences too – I’ve learnt that shining some light on this stuff helps. I hope that people feel able to share this post wider.

In my learning about shame, what hit me the hardest was when I started to look back on my reflections and learning in this blog and what I started to see through a different level of understanding was that shame was and is pretty much in every single post I wrote and the underlying shame trigger behind my posts was “I’m not good enough”, there is a number of variations of this, I’m not tough enough, I don’t fit in, I don’t belong etc.

What I know is that along with reflecting on myself, I started to think about all the people I connected with over the years, all the people I’ve worked with over the last 20 years or so in Local Government/Central Government.  I now understand that many, many, so many people were struggling with and dealing with shame – it is sad and hard to say, but it is endemic.

Some of the areas I started to think about and reflect initially on were around some of the connections with people from outside my organisation.

I’ve learnt that all of my behaviours when involved in Local Gov Digital were driven from and in response to dealing with shame and that created unintended consequences for myself and others around me, such as controlling situation and not letting go, to mentally running away and not engaging and some variations in between.
In some way the network itself was a shame club, a group of people who didn’t feel good enough, in particular around not being valued or good enough within their own organisation. The group has achieved some very positive things but in what we never did was address the reasons why we came together in the first place – “shame”.
The very first meeting had been full of stories of shame and yet we didn’t know how to connect to it or even understand it…I’m looking back at those times with compassion and I know that my actions were not always from a place of integrity and If i ever caused people shame then I apologise as I did not possess the critical awareness to have made different choices.

I also realised that the tension I felt between internal and external was caused by shame. I know that when looking back, the biggest shame I suffered came as a direct result of winning the Guardian Leadership Award and subsequently the accolades in the LGC 100…at the time I was humbled and proud but those feelings were somehow empty and un-fulfilling, on reflection it had triggered a significant shame trigger and shame spiral which I’ve only recently managed to resolve.  The tension I felt was a shame of never been good enough as an internal employee as opposed to the perceived success of validation I received when engaging with other organisations.  I spent so much time and effort trying to prove myself that I often forgot about who I actually was.  I am now asking why is it that cultures do this, why is it that we use shame as a tactic on other people?

This lead me to think about and reflect on the cultures of organisations and why starting a conversation about shame can act as a catalyst for cultural and societal change. So I hope this short post and subsequent posts can or in some way might help.

I know that this is incredibly hard work and that it takes discipline and practice to help understand, work through and develop resilience techniques, but I also know and am learning that it is healing me and helping me grow so that I am capable to continually learn.

I’m only at the beginning of my journey into understanding and being open about understanding and working with shame.

What I know most of all now is;

As I am today, I’m enough

and that, that very simply fact, makes me happy

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you are curious to know and understand more about shame then i would highly recommend watching the following Ted talks

 

 

The transition from old to new

Growing by Marissa Elkind – Flickr – https://flic.kr/p/YmkGcE

A fable about letting go:

Two travelling monks reached a town where there was a young woman waiting to step out of her sedan chair. The rains had made deep puddles and she couldn’t step across without spoiling her silken robes. She stood there, looking very cross and impatient. She was scolding her attendants. They had nowhere to place the packages they held for her,  so they couldn’t help her across the puddle.

The younger monk noticed the woman, said nothing, and walked by. The older monk quickly picked her up and put her on his back, transported her across the water, and put her down on the other side. She didn’t thank the older monk, she just shoved him out of the way and departed.

As they continued on their way, the young monk was brooding and preoccupied. After several hours, unable to hold his silence, he spoke out. “That woman back there was very selfish and rude, but you picked her up on your back and carried her! Then she didn’t even thank you!

 “I set the woman down hours ago,” the older monk replied. “Why are you still carrying her?”
Unknown Author 

When I was a line manager I used to take a fair amount of comfort from knowing that there were documented processes for everything, which essentially helped keep me safe, my colleagues and my staff safe (that was my assumption).

In having processes for everything, what that meant for me as a manager was that in a strange way, I didn’t have to think about anything – I simply followed the process and trusted that it got me to the right outcome (again that was my assumption).

Perhaps obvious to many people but this essentially means that rulebooks, processes and procedures tell people what to do, insist on discipline and compliance if you expect to be rewarded or stay out of trouble.  It is pretty much the lifeblood of command and control organisations. However, this has an unintended consequence that any form of creativity is pretty much designed out of the flow of work.

I used to think I was being creative and could be creative but I now know that I wasn’t.  Everything I did was wrapped within the parameters of the rules and processes which surrounded me (visibly and invisibly).  So on a personal level, I was only tinkering around the edges which over time end up becoming part of the problem.

Many of the conversations I now have,  make this increasingly visible to me and I can now start seeing the restrictions or parameters played out in what people say and how they act.  It has taken some time (a huge amount of unlearning and practice) to see this and learn how to tune out the noise and pay attention to the things that make them visible.

Most people state that they believe they have incredible freedom to act and they feel empowered to change any aspect of the work they do.  But what plays out on a practical level is actually the opposite.

I used to think I had a huge freedom to act, but I now know that I didn’t and was blind to so much stuff that stopped me creating lasting and sustainable change.

It is true that people can change some processes and some policies so that some improvement can become visible, but inevitably that change is single loop thinking – see my previous post talks about the single loop and double loop learning.

When you help make these things visible, the challenge is to understand why these things happen, what the consequences of these things are on the work and on the people who interact with services.

In simple terms, once you have done this, you can change those things based on knowledge and understanding.  Now, this is where I’ve started to find things incredibly interesting…the transition between old ways of working and new ways of working”.

In this “transition” space – you really learn about letting go and what letting go actually means and that it isn’t straightforward and easy.

Essentially the journey involves an emergent process of learning, where you have to unlearn and let go of all the things that currently get in the way of doing good things and then learn from a base of principle how to think differently, behave differently and act differently.

Underpinning this transition is ideally a shift from model 1 behaviours to model 2 behaviours (Argyris and Schon).

On a personal level this transition is still very much underway and as a team, we are discovering and learning what principles make sense for us and help us achieve our purpose (To help leaders see, think and behave differently).

So when it comes to letting go of old behaviours, habits, thinking, all the things that provide comfort and allowing yourself to become vulnerable and exposed, it is a no wonder that this is a much harder journey than some would acknowledge.

However and this is one of the biggest realisations I have – In my experience so far, moving to a principled way of thinking, behaving and doing is something that truly does liberate oneself.    It does allow oneself to legitimately move away from the constraints of how we currently work and importantly the constraints I placed upon myself that stopped me from starting this journey of learning and growing.

I used to think I was continually learning and growing, but I now know that I wasn’t. What I used to do was build faulty feedback loops that reinforced my current thinking and created further barriers to exposing my true vulnerabilities, restricting my ability to grow.

A final reflection is that through all of this it has reinforced one thing – I am truly privileged to be in a leadership position and how I think, behave and act has profound implications on others. I have a responsibility to understand those things so that I can ensure I create and add value.