A Choice

Attitude is a choice. Happiness is a choice. Optimism is a choice. Kindness is a choice. Giving is a choice. Respect is a choice. Whatever choice you make makes you. Choose wisely.
Roy T. Bennett

I make choices every moment of every day and whilst that seems obvious I hadn’t appreciated that the choices I make contribute directly to my overall life and well being.

I’ve recently learnt so much about what it means to make a choice, not just the usual choices I make but a more profound choice that has fundamentally changed my life.

The opportunity to even make this choice only became visible as a byproduct of seeking to understand something else. I spent some time searching, reading, listening and sitting in silence.

I found the choice right in front of me whilst I was digging into how I understood what was missing or lacking from my life that made me feel 1) psychologically safe when in group situations 2) my own awareness and mindfulness state and 3) how my personal values shaped and influenced me.

This searching was triggered from a series of events and part of that story was shared in my last post on depression and shame here.

In reality the choice was made visible because of the work and discipline I’ve been exploring and developing around my personal awareness and many of the stories relating to this have been shared already – examples include;

This one – Understanding and working with shame

This one – Learning, leadership, being vulnerable and developing shame resilience

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

And this one Development and Growth – A perspective on vulnerability

Psychological Safety:

I learnt that there were two domains of my psychological safety that were not being met, these were;

    Autonomy – the sense one has choice
    Trust – the need for belonging

I’ll come back to these later as they play quite a big part in my choice.

Personal Practice:

In relation to my personal awareness practice, I had unintentionally stopped some of my practices as I mistakenly assumed some of my work practice learning was a replacement for those practices.

I’ve now know that those practices help me maintain a healthy state of awareness and mindfulness and my practices from work benefit from time having discipline here.

Values:

Significantly I discovered that my view of my personal values and how unintentionally placing them in a logical order actually created a barrier for my development.

After much work following the section on personal values in the Dare to Lead workbook I know my values are Love and Loyalty. However for some reason I referred to them in the reverse order and in consistently doing so, I created a priority ordering which created a bit of a false loop in my head. I literally took them in an order…

I learnt that I was prioritising loyalty to others over myself and love for others over myself.

This realisation prompted by hearing for probably the I’m 20th time, the wonderful Brene Brown state that “your ability to love someone else can not exceed your ability to love yourself” helped me to start a process of letting go.

This brings me back to autonomy and trust.

In my moment of clarity I realised that outside of group contexts I had the conscious awareness to create autonomy for myself and make the biggest choice of all – to let go of being controlled by the variety of thoughts that flow through my mind. I now see those thoughts simply as a set of tapes and stories which I now know hold no power over who I am but for so long held me captive to shame.

I’m not saying I’m permanently free although my awareness is at a place where I am consciously and consistently aware of what triggers me and I’m now able to hold space for myself. It’s new so I’m expecting some challenges in maintaining this but it’s all of incredibly powerful learning.

I also realised that in relation to trust I placed too much emphasis on other people satisfying that need and desire and was too focused on external factors which created a level of dependency which was and is unsustainable and counter to personal growth – I now know that true belonging comes from within.

I could try and sum it up but Maya Angelou says it best

“You only are free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.”
It hasn’t been an easy path to take…and it’s a path I had to find myself.

But I now know it was worth it.

Finally I want to acknowledge a selection of books or audiobooks which have helped guide me – all of which have in some way played a part in helping me unlock this choice. This is not a comprehensive list…

A New Earth is by Eckart Tolle

Play by Stuart Brown

Dare to Lead, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, Power of Vulnerability, Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Untethered Soul, The Surrender Experiment by Michael Singer

Immunity to Change by Robert Kegan / Lisa Laskow Lahey

The Path by Michael Puett / Christine Gross-Loh

Awareness by Anthony De Mello

What I know for sure, Super Soul Conversations, The Wisdom of Sunday’s by Oprah Winfrey

Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav

Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu

You’re It by Alan Watts

The Holy Man by Susan Trott

How to see yourself as you really are by the Dalai Lama

I also want to acknowledge the Kung Fu Panda Trilogy and the important role it has played in helping me develop my understanding.

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Depression and Shame – The simple yet unconscious patterns that feed and develop an unhealthy mind.

I want to start by saying I’m ok, I’m more aware about myself than I was 3 months ago and I’m on a developmental learning journey towards becoming (hopefully) more human.

This post is simply another story within my journey and I share this for my own reflection but hope that you also find it helpful as a reader.

I’ve learnt that on that journey you learn some big things about yourself and recently I learnt that I have been suffering with shame and depression for the last 3 months and I wasn’t consciously aware I was in a spiral which could have taken me in so many different places.

I’m incredibly fortunate and grateful that I’ve got support and can ask and do ask for help (from family and colleagues and a professional coach) but even with all of that I wasn’t aware of my own blind spot, the subtle shame trigger that started this and it surprised me how two simple words and trying to incorporate those words into who I am as a person created a series of events that unbeknownst to be created feelings and emotional responses of depression and I was full of shame in a way I’ve never felt before.

The words are in themselves perfectly fine but as part of my personal learning journey they sparked reactions which I was not prepared for nor did i anticipate.  I learnt a valuable lesson in relation to the power of words and the subtlety of language, the two words are;

  • Directive: an official or authoritative order
  • Decisive: showing the ability to make decisions quickly and effectively / settling an issue; producing a definite result.

The context for these words is that as an organisational development team we were reflecting collectively with a new external provider and one of the reflections we landed on was that we needed to be more directive as individuals and more decisive so that we could focus on pace and momentum – a very sensible reason on face value. 

This for me personally meant that this was about a personal change and a set of personal behaviour changes and for the last 6 months I’ve been attempting to learn how to be and show more directiveness and decisiveness but have not managed to effectively embody these behaviours.  This in itself was a starting point for my shame (I’m not good enough to do this job was a frequent voice in my head).

The lack of being able to embody these behaviours was causing quite a bit of cognitive dissonance and later escalated to feelings of depression and building on the initial shame but later incorporating the other aspect of shame (who do you think you are to be directive and decisive – no one will listen to you) this plays into and back out of the not good enough frame…

The result of these feelings and state of mind which for some time was unconsciously happening for me I would literally feel disconnected to work, the team and would not want to even do the job and would rather do something else, ideally nothing…what surprised each as during this time even though I was making aspects visible the help around me couldn’t and didn’t help me as I wasn’t consciously aware of the problem yet!

This was not a happy place to be because i knew that i loved my job and the conflict i was feeling was incredibly unsettling, emotionally exhausting and physically affecting my health too.

Moving on to how I became fortunate enough to spot this and take action before it escalated to a more severe situation.

During the same time frame I’ve been continuing my learning helping leaders and developing and deepening my understanding of development, which is as i have already acknowledged very fortuitous.

Learning through and connecting to a few connected and complimentary frameworks and models such as the following allowed me to develop self awareness due to the practices I’m developing but yet consistent in within these models too.

A colleague of mine Roxanne who I work with closely on the leadership work with colleagues in Health and Social Carr shares this with others in the following way which has really helped me connect to all these models in a way that helped me start to unlock the self awareness required to get me out of this shame and depression.

Drama Triangle - Empowerment Dynamic - Braving Inventory

It’s overly complex to describe via this post how these frameworks have actually helped me connect to my learning, however if we ever connect face to face, feel free to ask me to share and draw this picture with and for you.

But over time my deepening understanding of these frameworks and using them alongside each other has allowed me to find a space to reflect on my actions, assumptions and behaviours.

Where I’ve discovered my learning has taken me is in finding clarity about the words and importantly the meanings of those words. I was reminded on the saying from my childhood “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me”. The learning I’ve understood is that the latest research and findings around neuroscience shows that words have a psychological impact but also a physical impact on you long after they were first said.

So in relation to the words that triggered my shame and depression I’ve found a path out of that by carefully considering and choosing words that help anchor me in a different space…in my current understanding i’m deliberately trying to anchor myself in a space of new leadership behaviours and directive and decisive don’t allow me to do that nor do I find myself being authentic to who i am and able to become.

So the two new words i’ve landed with that are helping me avoid depression and feelings of shame can now feel that i can live and be more vulnerable and authentic:

  • Assertive: having or showing a confident and forceful personality
  • Resolute: admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering

I’ve had to acknowledge in getting to this place that there is a level of requirement in both the role and organisation for the directive and decisive behaviours however that is a current organisational perspective and requirement and part of the role is also about modelling new leadership behaviours and that is where my dissonance comes from as I see the two terms directive and decisive being traditional leadership traits and assertive and resolute being new leadership traits. Perhaps this is too simple but for me this is a profound shift in how i’m seeing myself and learning how to maintain my authenticity.

What I’ve tried to do is understand what outcomes I’m being asked to shape and focus less on the specific traits of directive and decisive and learn about what helps me be the best version of me (as a leader, teacher and coach) and the framing of new leadership is something that helps me fulfil my potential and help role model for others.

Finally I’m incredibly grateful to be able to be able to write this post – to feel safe in my own space and to say what I need to say to help me heal.

To those people who feel this is currently beyond their limits – I know what that feels like and can simply offer these words of support.

Asking for help from others is hard but worth it more than you can realise however it only works when you first allow and accept that help from others can only build upon the help you give yourself. It’s possible to take that first step, no matter how small a step you can manage to make – a small steps is all you need to start you on your path to self healing, belonging and self compassion.

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.

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.