As the new year approaches, many of us are setting aside time to reflect on the the past 12 months. In my coaching sessions, my clients and I will be settling down with at least a few big questions to illuminate how we've changed, what we've stepped into with intention and how it affected us, where we've been invited into new behaviors and feelings that we perhaps had not anticipated or even wanted, and what we've learned about ourselves.
The turning of the new year is a prime time for us to engage this process, but it is aimed at bolstering a more universal trait that all of us can benefit from-- self-awareness. Greater self-awareness can help us discover why we do what we do and helps us to make sense of our unique motivations, values, beliefs, and mindset. Self-awareness can also support us in uncovering our humanity-- the tendencies and natural ways of being or thinking that are common to all humans. For example, the nervous system's baked-in motivation to move toward pleasure and away from pain. If you're one of the millions of people who will be hoping for more motivation in the coming year to do whatever it is that is important to you, you should know that you are already motivated. What's kept you from doing whatever it is you want to before now is indicative of where your motivation is directed. The costs of doing the new thing may be viewed as much bigger than the cost of staying the same. The benefits of the latter may be incredibly strong and layered with fear should they disappear. And, as humans, we are geared toward energy preservation. So we do what demands the least effort. And guess what, if you've been doing something a certain way for a long time, no matter how dysfunctional or harmful you intellectually know it is, it's easy, comfortable, and convenient. Here's the problem: while our nervous systems are wired for impulsivity and the least amount of effort, we have the ability to choose, reflect, and act more consciously & deliberately. Our brains have evolved to help us do so. In essence, we're set up to do what's easiest, but we also have the capacity, if we harness it, to do what's most important! Self-awareness is important here because with it, we can understand why we may be driven to pursue something even when it's not necessarily healthy for us. Or, when there are times that we find ourselves in the middle of a behavior that we told ourselves we would not engage in, we can more gently step back and choose the next best option. Notice that I used the word "gently." This is crucial, because if you remember that we're wired to avoid pain, if we berate, criticize, or threaten ourselves when we do end up disappointed with our behavior, we're sending our nervous system's right into what's perceived as dangerous. Imagine your partner, looking at you with crazy eyes when you've behaved in a way that you've said you wouldn't, screaming, "what is wrong with you?! You're such an idiot! Why can't you figure this out?!" Do you feel open? Expanded? Ready to approach the situation with a soft heart? Or are your hackles up? I'm betting if you tune into your body, you feel contracted and rigid. I'm betting you feel as if a wall was just erected around your heart.
Here's why this is important: when you are activated this way, with fear, intense anxiety, or significant hurt, you cannot think and reflect logically. Impulsive behavior happens most often when we are NOT calm and NOT moving around in a relaxed body. In other words, if our physiology is in a heightened, tense state, logic and rationality can't be accessed. I believe you already know this, but my hope is that now you understand why. Beating yourself up may move you to action, but let's be real, is it action oriented toward what's most beneficial long-term, toward your greatest growth, and aligned with your foundational values? Many of my clients will ask "why?" about their behaviors when they're smack dab in the middle of intense stress or anxiety. I'm all about a good "why" question, as you know now, but not when the environment isn't appropriate or facilitative of a mindful answer. Physiology first, my friends. Don't try to think through things when your body is asking you for your attention, all buzzy and activated! Whether you want to or not, as they say, feelings will demand to be felt. When you develop self-awareness, you develop the capacity to be more in tune with what's occurring below your neck. As I remind my clients in session often, it's about taking the stairs down into the body. We tend to view awareness in this culture as a largely intellectual exercise, focusing primarily on the mind. Even mindfulness has been misconstrued as an intellectual practice, adopted by many to learn how to quiet the mind and "all the thoughts." In fact, mindfulness is a practice of getting to know ourselves, without judgment. All of ourselves. And that anxiety you may feel much of the time? That can be a result of ignoring yourself. In her book, The Science of Stuck, Britt Frank shares with us that anxiety always comes from somewhere. Often the source is unidentifiable, however, when we learn how our brains process the present moment, as a result of our pasts, we can meet the present moment in a way that will allow us to change the future. For example, a client I'm working with reached out to share the anxiety she was experiencing regarding a situation with her husband. After explaining the details, during the reading of which, I kept thinking, "gosh, no wonder she's feeling this way!" she said, "I just want to let go of this feeling and move on."
We've all been here, right? We feel something, it's uncomfortable, we don't like it, so we want to get rid of it. Except it doesn't work that way. That discomfort is a signal that we need to pay attention more deeply. Not only were the physical sensations unpleasant that my client was experiencing, so too were the thoughts she had related to the potential actions she would need to take if she actually met her feelings differently. What if she sat down with them to understand their ferocity?
I'm watching an older show, The Americans, and Phillip, one of the main characters & husband to Elizabeth, has been attending a self-development seminar without his wife knowing. It's opening him up in ways that he's never known were possible, and he finally tries to tell her that he's been going. She asks, "What do you do there?" He says, "it's hard to explain. You learn how to be in your life differently. You start to feel things... but then you have to think about them." Phillip and Elizabeth are Russian spies, living in America, trained to ignore their feelings.
As Phillip begins to feel the weight of what he has done and what he's doing, he struggles. He doesn't like what's arising within him. Few of us do when we view the feelings as burdens, unwelcome visitors, or worse, needing to just disappear. Few of us do, when we've been trained to ignore our feelings and when we've been sent the message that our feelings don't and should not matter. Phillip is learning to have a different relationship with his feelings because he's beginning to recognize what he's been without his entire life. He's discovering that he wants to live from a deeper, more conscious place. He's uncovering the inevitability of pain, no matter how much one tries to shove it down and out of the way. This is self-awareness.
In a podcast I listened to recently, the host was sharing her path into awareness, perhaps surprisingly prompted by an obsession with none other than bed bugs! What her journey led her into discovering though, were the deep rooted ways in which she had learned to live in a space of fear and how the actions she was taking were leading her further and
further away from herself. She discussed her infatuation with crime thrillers and murder mysteries in any form and began noticing how much they reinforced a sense of disembodiment. She realized she didn't want to live in fear all the time, in fact, as a writer, creator, and entrepreneur, she needed not to live in fear all the time. Living in fear meant she could not be open to flow, to spirit, to the spaciousness necessary for thoughtfulness.
So why am I sharing this with you? The turning of the new year offers a freshness of hope, aliveness, and energy. Each year I pick a word to represent what I most deeply and intentionally want to practice, and this year, I'm leaning toward release. I possess an awareness of my tendency to hang on to things, often for far too long. I have a sense of where this comes from, its history, its complexity. I've learned to ask myself different questions to uncover the motivations that contribute to the tight grip I often find myself wielding. On the other side, however, is the awareness that in some areas I need a reliable and stable dose of steadfastness -- to work the process, trust it, open to it. I'm curious for you, what might happen if you were to begin to live with greater consciousness? If you were to view your emotions as having power and potential? If you were to practice welcoming whatever discomfort arises (even when you don't like it)? If you were to choose this year as the beginning of your journey into understanding yourself?
If you were to really take stock of how you're hiding, pretending, and denying?
If you were to create an environment inside yourself that feels like home-- warm, welcoming, inviting, and trusting?
We live in a culture with no shortage of ideas that you could choose to latch onto as you set your intentions or review your resolutions. Please look inside yourself to decide what would benefit you most. Your whole life is waiting for you to write it. And, if you need support and guidance, you know where to find me.
Choose now to... Reclaim Your Voice Restore Trust in Yourself Realize the Power of Your Emotions & Grow your Capacity for Life with Purpose, Passion, & Presence