Building Blocks for Better Stories

There have been a few common themes popping up among my favorite motivational resources recently: Cultivating greater self-awareness, expanding our understanding and language around emotions, and the impact of our stories on how we navigate life.

In my last blog post, Re-Writing Our Story, I revealed the insightful discoveries I made when I revisited my own childhood experiences through the lens of all the inner work I’ve been doing. I went searching for the seeds of the navigational coping skills I used to make sense of my life — and I found them.

It dawned on me that not only do we devise unique coping skills to help us make sense of things we are too young to understand, we often mimic poor behavioral patterns of our parents when we are young. Some of this is by osmosis, some of it is by keen observation. This “aha moment” was a clue to one of the ways that we can better support younger generations. Recognizing our outgrown behavioral patterns and working on them earlier in our lives, would break that generational “handing down” of unhealthy strategies for navigating life.

In one of my prior blog posts, I shared that I went into parenthood armed with a dog-eared copy of Dr. Spock, a list of things my mom did that I would never do, and a fairy tale-like image of what I anticipated motherhood would look and feel like to both me and my children. Looking back, I wish that someone would have better prepared me for parenthood by helping me recognize the childhood behavioral patterns that were no longer needed. I set out to make a better life for myself and my family, but I was unnecessarily encumbered by those patterns.

I vacillated between believing the story I had crafted in childhood and trying to defy that story. On any given day, I could lean heavily into one — or the other. On the one hand, I accepted the fact that I had a dysfunctional childhood and was not so well equipped or educated to enter into adulthood — and on the other hand I would draw on my resilience, optimism and strong desire to learn to stand my ground and pursue a plan or goal with a vengeance.

Oddly enough, it must have been those childhood behavioral patterns that kept me tethered on that see-saw. What I needed was someone to really listen to my story and then help me to re-write what was no longer needed or serving me well. A boost like that would have helped me gain some balance and pointed me in a clear and better path.

Have you ever looked at one of your children and saw yourself reflected back? I know I did. Today, I can look back at my middle son and clearly see the behavioral patterns he adopted from me — harmonizer, helper, easy-going. And I can also see the roots of those patterns that gave me some parenting challenges. He had a really hard time making a decision. It often frustrated me. Now I realize that he was most likely putting all his choices through the filters of what others wanted.

This is one small, yet very relevant, insight into what I am discovering about learned behavioral patterns. I was a people pleaser. I had a hard time expressing my own needs and my fear of those needs being rejected kept me quiet and compliant most of the time. My son adopted that same coping style, most likely through osmosis. It served him well in childhood, and helped him create a safe cocoon when his feisty siblings created chaos. When he was an adult, I would often wonder why it took him so long to make a hard decision — one that seemed rather obvious to me. Now I realize that the behavioral pattern and his filters for what others needed were clouding his ability to stand his own ground and honor his own needs.

Today my daugher looks at her young children and readily recognizes the ways that they are like her. Some of their behavioral patterns are so familiar to her yet she also knows that those didn’t serve her so well — even in childhood. We have some of our best conversations diving into understanding her children and their unique personalities, reading and learning how to parent with better emotional tools, and giving them the best environment to be their true selves.

My friends and I openly discuss how we are striving to help our adult children discover and learn better parenting skills than we had. We also recognize the role we can play in providing scaffolding for both our adult children and our grandchildren in this new landscape. The more we become keen observers of behavioral patterns, cause and effect, and how we “show up” in those moments for these little children, the more likely we will break the generational chain — and the greater opportunity for our young people to enter adulthood without childhood baggage holding them back.

Another area where we can make an impactful difference is by teaching our children that emotions are an invaluable part of their lives — and they are helpful teaching aids that deserve our attention. No more dismissing what a child is feeling, no more assuaging with candy or toys, no more shaming.

When we know better, we do better, as Maya Angelou reminds us. And now thanks to neuroscience and psychological research, we know that unprocessed emotions (especially painful ones) never go away and become the birthplace of poor emotional regulation, harmful coping methods, lifelong emotional triggers, and cumbersome emotional baggage.

One of the most impactful shifts we can make is to change our perspective about emotions. Emotions are the drivers of our lives — that is just how we are hard-wired as human beings. While we have the most incredible brains and the capability of thinking and creating in extraordinary ways, it is our emotions that often derail us from our greatest potential and satisfaction in life.

Imagine how transformational it would be if children learned that it was essential to express their emotions? Emotions are neither right or wrong. They are simply what we truly feel, in that moment. What we often do not recognize as parents is that our child’s emotion is their internal warning system telling them that something does not feel right to them. It could feel scary, dangerous, unfair or unpleasant. Our emotions are the indicator signals tied to our basic needs and values. Kids (like all of us) need to feel safe, to be seen and heard, valued and loved.

Dr. Dan Siegel has written an incredible book, The Power of Showing Up, to help us all become better parents and grandparents for our children. It is how we “show up” when our children’s emotions hit them. How we respond changes everything. How we role model emotional processing and emotional regulation reinforces all the good things we are teaching them to understand about themselves and others.

In her newest book, Atlas of the Heart, Brene Brown introduces us to an expanded vocabulary for the myriads of emotions that we human beings experience. Our children often grow up only knowing a few words to describe a multitude of the emotions they feel. Those 3 words are mad, sad and glad.

But within each of those three simple words are many nuanced emotions that we really need to understand better. In fact, if we can label those emotions correctly, we can process — and learn from them — in a meaningful way. We can help our children learn to express disappointment, envy, embarrassment, fear, pride, fearlessness and joy — and so much more. We will all benefit greatly from expanding our language and our definitions of our vast array of complex emotions.

My six year old granddaughter was recently sitting in her car seat, deep in thought. When she spoke, she described three distinct emotions she was feeling. Then she sighed, smiled and said “I think this is a learning experience for me and I think it will help me be patient.” (Note to self — never underestimate the power of a young child to learn!)

Lately I have been finding new ways to reinforce how important feelings are when interacting with my grandchildren. I tell them that I respect how they are feeling — in the moment. “I respect you, buddy, and that you are feeling angry and disappointed right now.” Even though we cannot often change the reality of the moment, taking that time to respect how he feels, to hear him out, often is just enough to diffuse big emotions. It doesn’t mean we can — or should — fix a situation. It might be a lesson in disappointment. It is these tiny moments that help to build emotional agility and resilience.

There is one more area that deserves some attention — fostering a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset for our children. It’s another area where language really matters. We often tell our kids that they are good drawers, good skiers, good singers. The language we use focuses on the child — defines them. Research shows that we should be using our accolades and encouragement to shine light on the “process” that our kids are using for drawing, for learning a new skill or sport, or for the pure pleasure of belting out a song.

We can inadvertently set our kids up for a fixed mindset if we aren’t careful. The beauty of a growth mindset is that it takes away the limitations we often place on ourselves and frees us up to try new things without feeling we need to excel or master them. It is the “process” of learning something new that we find stimulating and enjoyable and very fulfilling. Cultivating a growth mindset in our kids really opens them up to possibilities and agency over their choices in life. (You can learn more about ways to encourage a growth mindset for yourself and children from The Happiness Lab podcast episode I share below in Recommended Resources.)

I’ll wrap this up by summarizing how integrated resources that are becoming more accessible and mainstream will help us all navigate through life a little easier, less constrained, and more fluidly:

  • Cultivate greater awareness of behavioral patterns. Take stock of your own periodically and assess if they are serving you well in your current stage of life.
  • Learn from your emotions — they offer so much guidance to keep you in alignment with your needs and your values. Expand your emotional vocabulary.
  • Foster a growth mindset — give yourself the freedom to try new things without letting your inner critic get in your way. Have fun on the journey and enjoy the process.

The bottom line is that we are emotional beings who keep moving through life with experiences of all kinds. We can make a choice to keep learning, re-assessing what is working and what isn’t from time to time. And we can make a difference in the lives of others, by sharing what we are learning and helping others have an easier path.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

This Being Well episode is Entitled How to Break Your Old Patterns. I have shared often that the Enneagram is such a great resource for learning about behavioral patterns common to many of us. Well, knowing your behavioral patterns are one thing — breaking them is quite another. This episode is chock full of relatable ways to recognize and free yourself from behavioral patterns that just aren’t working.

Click the link on the left to watch this episode.

Check out this Happiness Lab Podcast on How to Adopt a Growth Mindset with David Yeager, a psychology professor at UT-Austin and Dr. Laurie Santos.

The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know

Re-Writing Our Story

A recent Typology podcast with Ian Cron inspired me to do a little more forensic excavating into my own childhood story. It was Ian’s comment that we need to go back and uproot that old childhood narrative that no longer serves us well as adults that motivated me to do so.

The striking difference in my approach to this unearthing project had quite a bit to do with gaining a deeper understanding. It wasn’t just about healing from painful events that happened to me, it was more evolved than that — it was shining light on parts of my family’s story that had remained in the dark for far too long. It was the very first time that I could go back and revisit a poignant memory and recognize the deep roots of behavioral patterns when they were merely seeds.

When I was about three or four years old, we lived in a second floor apartment of an old house in a tiny quaint rural area. There was a little square sandbox in the backyard and one large maple tree. Most mornings, my mom would put me in that sandbox all by myself and return to our apartment, cigarette in hand. A neighbor had a nasty little dog that roamed freely in this backyard and I was frightened of this yipping, biting four-legged terror. My mom would arm me with a closed child’s umbrella every time she put me in this sandbox. Then she’d leave me — alone.

In the past, when I would revisit this memory, I would be sad for that little girl. Mostly I would focus on how I would have handled things differently as a mom. I’ve even used those tools of revisiting that memory and imagining swooping that little blonde-haired girl into my arms and assuring her that she was safe.

But today I was on a quest to discover the seeds of childhood behavioral patterns – those patterns we develop to make sense of our world and navigate our little lives as safely as possible. This is the deeper exploratory work that the enneagram inspired me to do. That one little vignette from my early childhood provided many clues.

Picture a few conversation bubbles placed over that sandbox scenario that go something like this:

Why am I alone in this sandbox? My mom can’t possibly hear me or get down here fast enough if I need her.

I am scared to death of this terrifying dog. Who is going to protect me?

I’m supposed to use this umbrella to hit that dog? I can’t hurt that dog even if I am scared to death of him.

Being alone in this sandbox day after day with that scary dog is not my idea of fun. There is no way I can play while I am constantly on the alert for danger.

Why does this same scenario play out over and over, day after day, even when I have told my mom that I am unhappy and afraid? My crying and pleading never bring any changes.

As I teased apart each of these conversation bubbles, I found the seeds for which I’d been searching. I also discovered the familiar framework that I grew up in — a template for the repeated cause and effect of our rocky family dynamics. My childhood behavioral patterns were deeply engrained by unconscious and unchecked parental actions that repeated themselves for years.

I have a vast collection of vignettes similar to my sandbox story where I was either left to fend for myself or that the consequences of asking for help resulted in a punishment far worse.

What I did not intellectually comprehend through most of my childhood was that I was afraid of my mother.

I’m beginning to see one of the ongoing internal conflicts that led to blind spots in my adult relationships. As a kid, I struggled with being afraid of the one person whom I was supposed to trust and who was supposed to protect me. Was this the origin of feeling not worthy, not valued? Was it part of why I found it so hard to hold others accountable for inappropriate behaviors?

I now realize that another parental complication was also in play: I was mad at my dad for not standing up for me and protecting me while simultaneously empathic and understanding that he was in the same boat — he too was afraid of my mother. Unknowingly I may have adopted some of his ineffective coping strategies. Some of those strategies made it easy for both of us to be controlled or manipulated. My mom had “power over” us.

A few of the childhood patterns that I came to rely on were people pleasing, hyper-vigilance, trust only yourself, don’t complain or ask for your needs to be met, keep the peace at all costs. I am a Type 2 on the Enneagram — aka The Helper.

When I became a big sister, most of my early coping patterns were amplified in order to protect my younger brothers. Adding more children to the unhealthy and stressful parental dynamic only made a dysfunctional template stronger. Now I was not only protecting myself, I took on the hefty responsibility of looking out for my innocent younger siblings.

This forensic excavating that I did was so incredibly catharttic for me. I was just a little kid trying to make sense of things that did not make sense. I even gained some invaluable insight about my brothers as I looked back on our childhood. Both of my brothers also found their own ways to navigate our volatile home life which resulted in behavioral patterns and coping skills unique to each of them. For the first time, I think I understand the root causes of my youngest brother’s short and very troubled life.

When I first discovered the enneagram as a valuable tool for my self-discovery and personal growth, a sense of great relief washed over me. I felt seen, heard and even understood as I soaked in all that I was learning about my type. I laughed and I cried as I recognized lifelong behavioral patterns and began to understand why I adopted them. But at the same time, I could see where these childhood patterns had not served me well in adulthood. I let people take advantage of me. I accepted behaviors and stories about me because I believed I didn’t deserve better. It was hard to dispute the fact that I came from a pretty messed up family. That was the hard truth. Yet there was another truth that brought me so much comfort and encouragement to change — We are not our broken stories.

In the recent 3-part Sister Series of Unlocking Us, Brene Brown and her twin sisters, Ashley and Barrett, openly discuss their childhood experiences and the behavioral patterns that they developed as a result. Brene, being the oldest of four, became the “protector” and developed a super power of being able to read a room and moods. She was a hyper vigilant observer of others and always at the ready to do what was needed to protect her siblings from the fallout. This honest, heartfelt conversation between siblings underscores that we all have recognizable behavioral patterns that developed from seeds that were planted in childhood.

The enneagram is a field guide for behavioral patterns. It helps us define them and make sense of our own. With increased awareness of specific patterns, we begin to see, and feel, when they arise in our day to day lives. It is from this vantage point that we can figure out if those patterns are really serving us well in our current stage of life.

This brings me back to Ian Morgan Cron’s podcast about uprooting our childhood stories, and writing a new story. Again, the enneagram is such a helpful tool for crafting this new story — because if you use it to help you move toward the healthy end of your type’s spectrum, you will be cultivating your unique gifts, talents and strengths in a way that fosters your personal growth. Changing our outdated, outgrown behavioral patterns is the uprooting process. It opens space in our inner gardens to give the good seeds –the best parts of ourselves — room to grow. Without the heavy dark shadow of old patterns, light and fresh air fall onto the best parts of ourselves. This is how we get out of our own way! This is how we craft a better story for our evolving lives.

There is another thread to my recent excavation process that is worth noting. I don’t think we go out into the adult world openly stating “I am less than or I am not worthy.” I think those buried beliefs are wrapped up in shame. We are ashamed or embarrassed of our broken stories. At 18, I could not deny that my family history was messy. So two things happened: If someone reminded me of that truth, I relegated myself to the second-hand bin of life. The bar had been set low and I just acquiesced and kept my dreams small; or, I kept my family story hidden and fought really hard to push that bar for my own life beyond those restricting limits. In the middle of those two scenarios was a whispering self-doubt, keeping me tethered to my old story.

Are you beginning to see how old patterns, old belief systems and avoiding emotions are inter-connected?

We have such a rare and inspirational opportunity right now to combine the wisdom of the Enneagram with the body of work that Brene Brown offers on Emotions in Atlas of the Heart. These two invaluable resources have the potential to dramatically improve our self-awareness and our understanding of who we really are and what makes us tick.

This post is part one of my excavation discoveries. In my next post, I will share what I’m learning from my research and my friends about how we can help prevent childhood narratives from trapping our children and grandchildren. I am very excited about all that we are unearthing in our own personal growth journeys that will help others on their own paths.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Ian Cron’s latest book on the Enneagram – and a great resource for re-writing your own new story
Listen to this episode on childhood stories
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ul0U5JLjU0Y
Beatrice Chestnut’s latest book – written as an introduction to the Enneagram . Beatrice is a renowned Enneagram expert and a friend of Ian Morgan Cron. Dr. Dan Siegel – author of MindSight and the Power of Showing Up , writes the forward for this book!

Expanding our Emotional Vocabulary

Unpacking the multitude of mysteries around our human emotions could be a daunting task — and yet the more we really understand, the more intriguing it becomes. For starters, Brene Brown’s research revealed that most of us operate under the guise of three basic emotions — happy, sad and angry.

In her newest book, Atlas of the Heart, she unearths 87 emotions and experiences that are woven into the fabric of our lives, our relationships and how we make sense of our world. From 3 to 87 — imagine that! Now imagine what it might be like if we really understood the complex and nuanced landscape of each of those 87 emotions and emotional experiences. It literally changes everything — from self talk, to relationships, to parenting, to better understanding others.

Although Brene Brown is a decade and half younger than me, her childhood experiences and learned behavioral patterns mirror many of my own and those of my friends. For far too long now, prior generations were taught not to show –or even acknowledge — their emotions. Is it any wonder that we found a lot of creative, but unhelpful, ways to navigate rocky emotional terrain? This is especially true of negative emotions because it is human nature to avoid what hurts.

As Brene recently shared on The Happiness Kit podcast, “Many of us grew up with the belief that we are “thinking, doing” people who on occasion feel — and that can get us sidelined.”

The truth is our emotions play an instrumental role in the quality of our lives. What really sidelines us is not paying attention to our emotions. We can change the old belief system that feelings are best left unacknowledged. That meaningful work starts with us.

How empowering to really get to know our full range of emotions, to understand why some are stronger for us than for others. Building a more expansive vocabulary to help us articulate clearly what we are feeling could be a bridge to better communication and deeper understanding of ourselves and each other. Most importantly, we can teach younger generations to embrace their emotions, and to learn from them. No more hiding our true emotions and our authentic selves.

What happens when our language is not as expansive as our human experience. What does it mean when we have to shove an experience of despair or disappointment into one of these 3 buckets? (sic. happy, sad, angry) It cripples our ability to own and communicate our emotions. — Brene Brown, The Happiness Lab Podcast 1/2/2022

Brene highlights how neuroscience informs and supports her research and findings especially as it relates to how our bodies instinctively respond to our emotions. It is our personal history that often snags us and amplifies an emotion even decades later. We refer to this as being “triggered”.

Having better language to name our emotions can be a catalyst for loosening the grip of our emotional triggers and help us better respond biologically. Our bodies not only react to an emotion, if we label an emotion incorrectly, our bodies will respond to that too. Brene shares an example of how we often misuse the word “overwhelmed” and that sends an emergency message to our bodies to begin a major shut down. Once you understand what happens when the brain releases chemicals in direct response to your emotions, you will be motivated to learn more about emotional regulation.

About 4 -5 years ago, we started seeing how language doesn’t just communicate emotion, but it also shapes it. We are individually and collectively in trouble if we don’t have language.” –Brene Brown in her interview with Dr. Laurie Santos on The Happiness Lab Podcast, January 2, 2022

If you are familiar with Besser Van der Kolk’s book, The Body Keeps the Score, you will recognize the intrinsic value of helping our bodies process emotions, anxieties and trauma in a more immediate and healthier way.

Perhaps the most eye-opening discovery that Brene makes is how languages shapes our relationships. She admits that for many years, she believed that we just needed to get better at reading other’s emotions. At the conclusion of all her research for Atlas of the Heart, she now acknowledges that this is not possible.

One compelling reason is that so many emotions present the same way.

In Atlas of the Heart, Brene gives us not only language, but relatable definitions and real life examples for these 87 emotions and experiences. She explains the impactful differences in words that we often use interchangeably such as envy and jealously. She’s organized the book in chapters that help us recognize “The Places We Go When (fill in the blank with your own emotion)”. It is an incredible guide to understanding where we go in our bodies, our old narratives and our actions when emotions are in the driver’s seat.

Once we begin to realize all the ways we ourselves are impacted by our own emotions, we can gain greater empathy and patience with others.

While we can’t read emotion in people, we can get curious — and connect with them deeply – as opposed to diminishing, questioning or challenging the stories and the emotions they share with us.” — Brene Brown

Along with an expanded vocabulary for our wide array of emotions, Brene sheds much needed light on the reality that our emotions show up in layers. She offers these four B’s to help us understand these layers:

Biology — Emotions are called “feelings” because our body is the first responder — we FEEL emotion. Emotion is physiological — Where in your body are you feeling it and what are you feeling?

Biography – What did you grow up understanding, believing or learning about this feeling?

Behavior – How are you showing up when you are triggered by a strong emotion? Do you want to punch the wall, hide and cry, feel like you are coming out of your skin?

Backstory – What is your personal history and lived experiences? How do they impact your emotional responses in life?

I’ve been on my own self-discovery journey for over six years and it required a lot of unpacking of emotional baggage and entangling myself from behavioral patterns I developed as a young child to help me navigate an often confusing, disruptive environment. None of that was serving me well as I matured organically through life. I believe that we can all benefit from the game-changing research of Brene Brown and the field of neuroscience about emotions. It is time to bring our emotions to the forefront of our self-improvement work and get to know them intimately. They power our lives and have so much to teach us.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

This January 2, 2022 episode of The Happiness Lab podcast is a great introduction for anyone who wants to hear directly from Brene what she offers to us in her newest book, Atlas of the Heart.

The Happiness Lab podcast is brought to you by Dr. Laurie Santos and this coming year she is focusing her attention on learning from our negative emotions with dynamic guests and relatable stories.

This will become one of your greatest reference guides in your home. It is a coffee table book — and will require lots of conversations over coffee to fully appreciate its value.

Getting to Know YOU….

Do you love really getting to know someone? Do you find yourself drawn to a new friend, eager to hear their story and gleefully discovering common interests, common ground? What stories do you tell your new friend about you?

I was thinking a. lot about Brene Brown sharing with us in Atlas of the Heart that we can all become better at being good stewards of stories. She guides us to become good listeners, to hold space and withhold judgment and to “accompany” others on their journeys rather than attempting to fix, rescue or dismiss.

As I reflected on Brene’s teachings, I wondered just how well we really know ourselves — are we good stewards of our own stories. Just maybe, we need to start there…..

I’m so grateful for my “marble jar” friends because I can go explore this idea of self-discovery and self-awareness with them on a deep and personal level. What fascinates me is that I have known several of these remarkable women for many years. I’ve known them to be big-hearted, resilient, hard-working good human beings. It is only recently that I have come to know the broken parts of their stories – and they are learning mine. My love and respect for them has grown exponentially as we pull back the curtains and take a deeper look at our lives honestly and face the truth about the places where we have room for transformation and growth.

Most of us are in our 60’s and 70’s. Why did it take us so long to do this inner work? How would our lives have been different had we known how our old narratives and lived experiences had impacted the way we showed up in the world? What were we teaching our children by osmosis when we armored up, shut down or shape-shifted to fit in?

As we unpack so much of our personal history, we begin to see more clearly why we get emotionally triggered by certain things. The more we open up to each other, the more common ground we find in behavioral patterns that we used to navigate our life situations. Most importantly, we gain a lot of clarity about how easy it is for all of us to get stuck on the broken shards of our past.

Each of my marble jar friends was independently working on self-improvement — and frankly had been for decades. Our nightstands and desks hold stacks of books from the “self help” section of Barnes and Noble, countless journals and post it notes with inspirational quotes. We all had found authors, inspirational speakers or podcasts that were pushing us along our path. Could it be that we were spending all those decades doing this work secretly, hoping that no one would notice that we felt flawed in some way, that we longed for life to flow a little easier?

I remember years ago sharing parts of my young harried, married life with girlfriends. We all commiserated about the juggling act of parenthood, jobs, marriage, housework and bills but we never really took a deep dive into our emotions. My generation was encouraged to suck it up, put your head down and plow through. We read magazine articles about the top 10 ways to “(fill in the blank)” — get organized, get in shape, get more done, clean your house in 15 minutes. There was often more gossip than genuine support when the wheels came off of life.

The “window dressing” of our lives that became prevalent with social media over the past decade only took us all down this rabbit hole a little further. We slowly were digressing away from revealing any of the messy parts of life and showcasing the highlight reel instead. The more we would compare our lives with others through the lens of social media, the more likely we were to keep the broken parts of our own lives to ourselves. Just maybe we were becoming isolated long before the pandemic struck.

I can almost laugh when I look back six years and realize that it was a pretty bold move for me to launch a blog on personal growth and be so candid about the messy life event that pulled the rug out from under me. This was not at all typical fodder that you’d scroll through on social media. Yet I had a found a little community through Mindfulness Magazine and knew I wasn’t alone. Often in life, when I’d hit rock bottom, I would try my best to be a good example for moving on. Helping others who were in similar situations helped me get through big challenges. Two of those past challenges were breast cancer and the sudden death of my beloved husband. Now my life challenge was getting to know myself on a much deeper level.

It was this blog and an online Brene Brown discussion group that forged a reconnection between me and two friends from my younger life. Today these two women are treasured trust buddies. We know more about each other know than we thought possible and we have each other’s backs — and hearts — through thick and thin. It turns out that we each could feel the “nudging” for self-discovery and personal growth. The realization that we were not alone in this feeling drew us to each other like a powerful magnet.

It may have been the very first time that any of us had done this deep exploratory inner work with a trusted friend. We’d gone to counselors, met with pastors and been to support groups. But to have a “dive buddy”, who was on the same quest — well, that was uncharted territory. The more we explored and unpacked, the more common ground we found. Not surprisingly, we also discovered that many of our behavioral patterns, triggers and vulnerabilities looked and felt exactly the same. We were not only willing, we knew it was necessary, to do this hard work.

Over the course of the past two years, these two treasured friends have introduced me to other women who are also longing for increased self-awareness and personal growth. Our circle of friends has become an invaluable network for transformation and self-development. Together we are discovering passions and purposes for this chapter of our lives. Oddly enough, it is the “work”, the hard work of breaking old patterns and healing old stories that keeps us so energized, engaged and eager.

The big reason for this is that we have bonded in ways that have deepened our friendship connection and swelled our hearts. Where we once felt alone, we have found others just like us — basically good people who have struggled, who wished to do better, who were weary of dragging around a lot of unnecessary emotional baggage. We are becoming good stewards of stories — our own and those of others.

It was friendship that opened the door and it was vulnerability that sat us down and gently persuaded us to share our stories. I give so much credit to Brene Brown’s body of work for providing us with the framework, the language and the courage to share our messy, broken stories. She always provided us with accessible, relatable real life stories of her own as the whiteboard for the rest of us. When we dumped out our stories, we could all begin to see the common ground we shared.

Ian Morgan Cron, enneagram expert and author of two incredible books — The Road Back to You and The Story of You, encourages us each to rewrite our stories — to let go of the old title that no longer serves us in learning, growing and evolving. It is with his wisdom and encouragement that I have begun to realize that all the broken pieces of our collective stories create the most beautiful stained glass window from which to view our lives anew.

I am witnessing the positive impacts that self-discovery and personal development have been having on me and my friends over the past few years. The better we have gotten to know ourselves, the more space we have created in our awareness, hearts and minds for learning from the stories of others. I can feel empathy and compassion growing.

I’ve shared many times in my posts over the years, how I will notice a theme that seems to overarch many of the resources I rely on. Currently that theme is “storytelling”. You may not be aware of how the “story you are telling yourself” is holding you back from being your most authentic self. Any work that you do to better understand yourself and your life story is the best investment of time and energy you can make.

Here’s to a Happy New Year — and to getting to know yourself and others better. If we all became good stewards of our stories, I believe we will make meaningful contributions to humanity.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

The Enneagram – check out The Enneagram Institute online for a great introduction to this dynamic self-discovery tool. https://www.enneagraminstitute.com

Ian Cron’s Enneagram Podcast – Great discussions with diverse guests on how they use the Enneagram to enhance their lives.

I highly recommend a very recent episode of the Typology Podcast entitled The Enneagram and Shame. Dr. Curt Thompson, a noted psychiatrist, speaker and author offers deep insights into the way our shame triggers” show up and the neurobiological and physiological impact that they have on us. Brene Brown talks often of shame and how it can isolate us. This podcast offers real life examples of how ineffective behavior patterns we adopt to secure love and belonging often do just the open — pushing others away. This podcast was one of the most insightful explanations on shame I’ve heard. Here’s the YouTube link to this episode https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CSr1XKANOY

Relatable stories that will help you better understand not only your own enneagram type but those of your friends and loved ones.

This podcast features Dr. Rick Hanson, neuroscientist and mindfulness expert and his son Forrest as they explore the practical science of building inner strengths and emotional awareness. This “Break Your Old Patterns” episode is a great resource for self-awareness. https://www.rickhanson.net/being-well-podcast-break-your-old-patterns/

New Year, New Look

Call me a forever optimist, but there is just something about a brand new year that brings a sense of rejuvenation and hope to me. One of the reasons I am so uplifted is the bigger community I am feeling a part of — a community of people who are actively discussing personal development and embracing meaningful changes in their lives.

This collective positive energy and rich, deep conversations inspired me to revamp my blogging website and I am unveiling it today! It’s a brand new look with some major changes to my navigational menu. Gone are tabs that are no longer relevant and in their place are ones I believe better suit the evolving direction of my blog.

I have a renewed focus for my blog now. It’s my strong desire that it will become a resource for others — a place where they can discover helpful tools and teachers for their own self-awareness journeys. My new menu tabs include Noteworthy Resources, such as podcasts, books and Instagram influencers. Inspirational Quotes is another new tab. These are impactful quotes that guided me to start the personal growth journey and motivate me to stay committed to the ongoing work. Best of all, many of these inspirational quotes come from relatable peers who are deeply steeped in doing their own work.

When I first started Inspired New Horizons six years ago, my goal was to share with others what I was learning through my self-discovery journey with the intention that it might help others on their own path of personal growth. To be honest, I felt pretty alone in the process at that time. It was not a topic of regular conversation among most of my friends. My secondary goal with my blog was to keep myself committed and accountable to the inner work I was doing. I’m not only still doing that work six years later, it has become a part of my daily routine.

I credit Brene Brown and Glennon Doyle for the growing community that is keeping me so inspired these days. Glennon’s book Untamed unleashed a groundswell of women who began to look at their lives through very different lenses. Her “We Can Do Hard Things” podcast and her Facebook discussion groups opened up the floodgates of women wanting to share their stories and dig deeper into some serious personal development. Brene has been on fast-moving upward trajectory to get us to embrace our authentic selves and to shed ourselves of protective armor, numbing, debilitating behavioral patterns, and painful triggers. She calls for us to step into our vulnerability, courage and creativity and live a wholehearted life, rooted in grounded confidence.

Brene’s work has created several global discussion groups that I belong to, and honestly the conversations have been real, raw, meaningful and purposeful. All throughout the pandemic, I found ballast from the news and political chaos, in these discussions. I’ve made friends, gained followers for this blog and my Instagram posts, discovered incredible activists and had my faith in humanity restored. The diverse perspectives and heart-opening stories that are shared serves as a healthy reminder of the power of connection and empathy that Brene espouses.

I mentioned in a recent blog post entitled Becoming Part of Something Bigger how Brene’s latest book, Atlas of the Heart is an impactful reference book for anyone who is committed to personal development. She taps into the wisdom and research of so many of the teachers I’ve used over the past six years. This prompted me to make changes to my blog website to help others easily find these resources. It’s my hope that my personal stories will help others feel less alone when they peel back their own layers.

And this brings me to one of the most dramatic changes I have experienced and witnessed because of self-discovery and improved self-awareness. My close circle of friends these days is comprised of women with whom I can have deep, emotional conversations. No subject is off limits, no confidence will be betrayed, no judgment or dismissing of feelings. I have a beautiful jar of diverse, empassioned marble jar friends. My marble jar friends have revealed to me that they too now have the most remarkable collection of trust buddies. Somehow, over the past few years each of us has drawn to us the women we needed to help us excavate our histories, reframe them, and shine a light on all our potential and possibilities.

It is my hope that my blog posts will inspire others on their journey. I’m going to keep sharing my stories, the lessons I am learning and relearning, and the benefits that come from self-reflection and embracing change. I wrote a post entitled Awareness Activist some time ago — it is where I feel I make a meaningful contribution in this world. We cannot change what we are unaware of — and once we become aware, we can make better choices — for ourselves and others.

Wishing you Peace, Love, Joy and Hope in the coming New Year.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCE:

I’m offering only one resource to accompany this post today. The reason is that this podcast is so relevant for reflecting on the past year and our own past, as well as for looking forward and pondering what will best support and guide us. I think you’ll really enjoy this conversation with Dr. Rick Hanson and his son Forrest.

How to Get the Most Out of 2022 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lz17LizwD8