Turning Personal Growth on Its Head..

From Iceberg to Mountain Range

When Brene Brown launched her newest book, Atlas of the Heart, she offered this beautiful, profound insight:

For me, this quote captures exactly what my personal growth and self discovery journey feels like. I had no idea where I was going when I started. Seven years ago, I was leaning pretty hard on the quote “all who wander are not lost” which makes me laugh out loud…because I was indeed “lost”. I used a lot of maps to find my way – and I still do. Some of those maps are weathered and worn, some are pristine and folded neatly into a well scored rectangle, some are digital and some have ink so fresh it washes over the paper like a watercolor.

Initially I wanted the “how to” maps. I scoured the self help sections of libraries, bookstores and the internet. Over time I came to realize the most transformational way to go about self discovery and personal growth is to approach it more like looking for clues on a hidden treasure map and being open to discovery.

If I were to break out a gigantic three-feet long piece of butcher block paper, I could whimsically draw with chunky crayons what that treasure map looked and felt like for me. There would be volcanos, broken bridges, tornados and swampland…and a few fairies, leprechauns, trampolines and bungee cords, rays of warm yellow sunshine and a deep reflecting pool. I’d add in some glittery neon-bright fireworks to spotlight my “aha” moments.

It is only with the clarity of my “hindsight googles” that I can now truly appreciate all the trash and treasures I discovered on my ongoing personal growth adventure. My experiences are much like the one my grandkids have with one of those “shine a light” flashlight books where the hidden pictures are revealed when a focused beam of illumination hits them.

It occurs to me that so often when we talk about personal growth and self-discovery, the emphasis is on how hard it is. The images of peeling off the layers of our emotional onion, dumpster diving into the baggage we’ve accumulated and breaking old habits seem more like punishment than an appealing invitation to become a better version of ourselves.

Rarely do we hear the upside of embarking on the personal growth journey, at least not in tangible, realistic ways. We hear all those fluffy, gauzy accolades about finding our “authentic” self but it all seems as fleeting and surreal as dressing up in a costume and pretending to be Cinderella or Spiderman. Looks good…but what does it really “feel” like?

The greatest gift of personal growth work is how freeing and empowering it feels — once you get to one of the pinnacles in the process. That becomes the motivation to reach the next pinnacle. Each one creates more space for what we really want in our lives. We often are completely unaware of just how much we get in our way, until we start looking at our patterns and blind spots. As we lighten the load, the journey becomes a lot more engaging in a very positive way.

One of the most insightful moments in any self-discovery journey is when we realize just how far we’ve come. This is a big boost to our motivation to keep going — when we look back and recognize that we have actually made a lot of forward progress; that we are showing up in improved ways in old familiar circumstances.

Recently I was re-taking a self-assessment test with a friend of mine and expressed to her that I would have answered the questions much differently a few years ago than I do today. The same was true for my friend and she expressed her gratitude that over the past several years, I have often reminded her of all her forward progress. Both of us were well aware that we now move through our daily lives with greater ease, having discarded old patterns for better skills.

From my personal perspective, personal growth doesn’t have to be the “hard work” of a paleontologist digging through stratifications and fossilizations we’ve amassed for decades. We can turn this concept on its head and treat it as the fascinating adventure it truly is. What if we had a whole new, enlightened approach to how we enter and maintain personal growth and self-discovery?

Picture this: — we often use the image of an iceberg to help us understand all the baggage, beliefs, narratives and personal history we are dragging under the surface.

If we flip this image, we now have an impactful — and inviting — new way to look at personal growth, self-discovery and self-improvement.

This is a powerful transformational image….

We will get stronger physically, mentally and emotionally as we scale and explore; we will need a backpack full of supplies, resources, tools (and maps), it’s a great idea to have a buddy system for a host of awesome reasons (safety, shared experiences, a boost or tether, meaning and memory making). We will get fresh air, fresh perspectives and see the bigger picture.

We can re-write the guidebook for living our best lives. What if personal growth became a “call to adventure”. What if we “preloaded” all the resources and practices we really need to meet life in a skillful way?

The truth is that we are now spending an incredible amount of our time and energy undoing all the damage caused by old paradigms, old parenting models, old stereotypes, outdated methodologies and therapies – not to mention a complete lack of understanding about the value of emotions, empathy, and meaningful connection with others.

We have a growing mental health crisis, too many distractions for our attention, and a deficit of awareness (our own as well as “other” awareness). We keep throwing ideas and challenges at the problems. The big PIVOT is to look at the root causes.

All throughout my exploration of a wide variety of resources and modalities for my own personal growth, there was one common thread.

Regardless of the resource, the compass always pointed back to childhood: childhood narratives about who we are, behavioral patterns and protective armor we developed in childhood, our childhood attachment styles, our beliefs and how we make meaning from our emotions and experiences. There is a lot to unpack from our childhood BEFORE we can even begin a successful and meaningful adult life journey.

Once I discovered this overarching theme, it dawned on me that we can do better. Our children are sponges for learning — and we can equip them for life in transformational ways by “resourcing” them in powerful new, healthier ways.

Neuroscience, psychology, neurobiology and epigenetics are all converging in astonishing ways to shine a light on so much of what we did not understand, or got wrong, and can do better.

In upcoming blog posts, I will be unpacking what we are learning about the old childhood framework that did not provide healthy scaffolding for life. Together we can learn about the importance of secure attachment styles, how a child’s brain develops and how adult brains can be rewired, teaching emotional literacy and healthy coping skills, how we can keep our brains “updated and upgraded” thanks to neuroplasticity, and the importance of integrating our nervous system with our executive functions.

In just one generation, we can break cycles of dysfunction, addiction, insecurity and inauthenticity. At this very moment in time, we have more substantive research, more accurate knowledge, and unbelievable access to meaningful resources than ever before. Significant changes in what were ground-breaking, Nobel prize-winning discoveries 15 or 30 years ago are happening at a very rapid pace. Children are learning faster and differently than they did when we were kids. Even us adults are learning faster and differently in some arenas than we ever have before.

When I began my personal growth journey in my early 60’s, I did not realize that it would lead me to children – and I am ecstatic that it did. So many of us enter parenthood with hopes and dreams of giving our kids a good life, possibly a better one that we had. With all the new research, enriched skill sets and tools we now have, we can equip our children for life as smartly as we equip them for their favorite hobbies and sports; have you noticed that we now put helmets on those little developing brains for good reason?

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

BEING WELL PODCAST: Listen to this relatable AND mind-expanding conversation with Dr. Rick Hanson and his son, Forrest, on the Keys to a Great Relationship. Rick has a brand new book out as well that offers fresh perspectives on his many decades of counseling and his own personal growth work.

https://www.rickhanson.net/being-well-podcast-the-keys-to-a-great-relationship/

Learn 50 simple practices for solving conflict, building connection and fostering love.. Read Dr. Rick Hanson’s newest book – Making Great Relationships.

People Don’t Change….Right?

We hear this myth all the time — “people don’t change” or “you can’t make someone change” but quite honestly, this could not be further from the truth. None of us are the same person we were last week, last month or last year. All this phenomenal change is happening with very little awareness on our part. Our brain and its remarkable process of neuroplasticity are literally changing us every single day.

Neuro means brain; Plasticity refers to the fact that the brain is always transforming itself. When you meet someone new, or learn a new fact, your brain changes its structure and function. The environment can change our brains even if we are not aware of it. Some events change the way brain cells communicate with one another, by strengthening or weakening this communication. Other events will change how the brain interprets things. All these changes end up modifying our behaviors. — excerpted from Frontiers’ article, “Neuroplasticity: The Brain Changes Over Time” 1/12/2020

Now we can see that in reality we are actually changing at all times. It is hard-wired into us and proof positive that we not only CAN change, we have been doing it all along.

What is most intriguing is that we can become an integral and proactive part of this process. Rather than resisting change, we can embrace and even empower this human superpower.

Let me reframe this in a way that will shift your perspective about “growth mindset”.

What if we thought about our ever-evolving life changes as our CV: Curriculum Vitae (which ironically is Latin for “course of life”).

What would we put on our personal life resume that is directly correlated to the changes we’ve experienced – both unconsciously through neuroplasticity and very consciously through the effort we put in to effect change?

As you are reflecting on this, ponder why we always ask older people “What would you tell your 20 year old self?”

How often do we mutter to ourselves “if I knew then what I know now?” as we reflect back on our life history and realize that we could have made much better decisions and seized opportunities we let slip through our fingers?

Let’s put that on our life resume — the things we learned later in life that often came from repeated trial and error. A little hindsight with a healthy dash of knowledge is how we acquire wisdom.

So many of our life experiences have helped us develop a whole host of skills sets we often take for granted. From parenting to career changes, to marriages and health issues, the loss of loved ones — each and every one probably revealed something we did not previously know about ourselves.

For some time now, I have been thinking that one of the best entry points for self discovery and personal growth is through understanding how our brains operate. If we learned this, we could become proactive in setting ourselves up for better life skills and fewer problems.

It is incredibly hard to “do the work” of meaningful change when we have 40, 50, or 60+ years in which we have fossilized bad habits, dysfunctional behavioral patterns, and unhealed emotional wounds.

We could be doing all the “work” in real time, when it has the biggest impact and the greatest opportunity to transform us in healthy ways. By being proactive in the “change” process, we could actually be preventing getting “stuck” in outgrown or dysfunctional responses to life. We would simply be more prepared and skillful at navigating life. We would be in a continual state of building inner resources to support ourselves in evolving positive ways.

Neuroscience is revealing to us that we can do much better at “resourcing” ourselves with good coping skills, healthy emotional responses and emotional regulation as well as the resilience, resourcefulness and capacity we get from lessons we glean from our learned experiences. Without these inner resources, we can struggle to integrate our thoughts, emotions and body when faced with challenging circumstances or trauma.

Integration is the core foundational block for us to be able to deal with our experiences in healthy ways — and for us to learn from those experiences and build a strong neural network to tap into for future reference. We need to integrate our thoughts, our emotions and our bodies if we want to be better “resourced” for handling life’s difficulties.

If we think of our behavioral patterns as “memorizations”, we can get a clear picture of how we learned as kids to respond to anger, blame, hurt or fear. Often it was not only our own emotions we grappled with, but those of our caregivers. So we “memorized” what would bring us safety, relief, a return to connection. Our little developing brains did not yet have all the executive function to reason. In fact, our brains and bodies were flooded with cortisol and adrenaline — urging us to take quick action and seeking safety ASAP. We “memorized” what the fastest track would be to return us and our caregivers back to baseline.

We really don’t learn much from memorization. It’s just a steady “rinse, repeat” pattern of responding to similar situations. A better pathway to healthy co-regulation and growing core inner resources is to really engage with our own emotions, be informed about what they are telling us, calming ourselves so we can reconnect with our executive functions and then make rational, healthy choices about how to respond. Sounds simple enough, right?

Well, it can be — but not without an understanding of what is happening simultaneously in our bodies, with our thoughts and emotions. When we are young, it would be the equivalent of trying to recite the alphabet backwards while the grade school band was all warming up! Too much distraction, too much noise — just too much.

If we have a clearer understanding of how a child’s brain develops, then we can reset our expectations about what they are actually able to process when emotions and experiences get big and bumpy. We can “meet them where they are” and save us all a lot of angst. We shouldn’t want our kids to “memorize” how to navigate life; we want to teach them how to be captains of their ship, with a breadth of knowledge, skills and resources so they can face opportunities and obstacles in healthy, dynamic ways.

As neuroscience, psychology and psychiatry all intersected to address our growing mental health crises, many phenomenal discoveries have been made. Dr. Dan Siegel recently remarked that he would have never thought 15 years ago that we would have such concrete evidence of how our brains and bodies are functioning (or not functioning). It is revelational and game-changing for every one of us.

Breakththroughs lead us right back to the root problem — and that is where real change occurs. We can proactively and meaningfully begin to implement bold new ways to teach ourselves – and especially our children – how to process emotions as they are occurring; how to get back to baseline when our emotions hijack our ability to reason and think clearly; how we co-regulate each other (the hot tip here is that we can de-escalate a situation as fast as we can escalate an already emotionally charged situation); and how to learn from our experiences in ways that “resource” us for the future.

Imagine if we re-framed our attitudes about personal growth and the need to change in a whole new way. If we truly understood how our brains, bodies, thoughts and emotions all were working to support us in such astounding positive ways, we would be approaching how we parent, how we engage in life and how we support each other in transformational and empowering new ways.

Food for thought: Can you imagine learning to drive a car without understanding how all those moving parts actually synch up and work together? Did you learn how to take care of a car when you learned to drive (about oil and gas and windshield washer fluid, about engine warning lights?). Can you imagine teaching your child to drive if you didn’t know how to drive or maintain a car? Could it be that we actually understand more about the complexities of how our cars operate and even more about awareness and skills needed to navigate traffic than we do how our very own brains, bodies, thoughts and emotions are all working to support us?

I recently listened to a thought-provoking podcast with Adam Grant and Carla Harris about becoming great mentors and sponsors. During the conversation, Carla pointed out that so many folks returned to the workplace after coming through the challenges of a global pandemic with many new skills, strengths and inner resources. She was so insightful when she noted that we should always be on the lookout for ways that we are growing through our challenging experiences. She also noted that we all have changed as a direct result of that collective experience. There are opportunities we never saw before that are now being revealed to us.

Change is a good thing….and it is the only thing that is constant. We actually can change!

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Dr. Dan Siegel is one of all-time favorite resources for learning how a child’s brain develops, how our parent/child attachment styles impact our adult relationships and how we can transform all the chaos is our bodies and brains to an integrated, more healthy approach to life’s challenges. Any YouTube video featuring Dr. Siegel is sure to enlighten and inform.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fwmtgrWKQrY

Dr. Andrew Huberman is my “go to” resource for all things neuroscience. He offers deep dives into so many diverse topics in this ever evolving field of research on his Huberman Lab podcasts. For smaller doses of his worthy insights, check him out on YouTube where he offers bite-sized segments from his in-depth podcasts.

This episode is definitely worthwhile for parents especially — but as always, we have to put our oxygen mask on first…so learning this information for ourselves and then applying it to our parenting skills is invaluable.

Check it out: The Science of Emotions and Relationships:

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/huberman-lab/id1545953110?i=1000514835897

When I suggest a groundbreaking parenting book, I love the added benefit that comes with it — the opportunity for us adults to revisit our childhoods through the lens of more knowledge that comes from both the book and our own lived experiences. This is hindsight infused with real life experiences and new, improved skills and learnings. My deep dive into personal growth brought me to parenting time and again.

Living BIG

I recall standing in the kitchen listening to my partner once again ask me to give him the benefit of the doubt. At the time I was impossibly confused by this. It seemed to me that we’d been having the same issue repeating itself over and over but never breaking out of the pattern. As I reflect back on these moments, I’ve come to realize that all along he was really wishing to “show up” a little differently than he actually did. He was asking me to believe that. The problem was that wishful thinking alone was not going to get the job done.

Neither of us possessed the tools we needed to move past this relationship obstacle and into something healthier and more productive. We were in a relationship stalemate. I grew tired and resentful of the same old behavior showing up over and over. My capacity to “believe” that he was trying his best was fading fast. I’m guessing that he interpreted my inability to “believe” as a lack of trust in him.

The definition of “benefit of the doubt” is “the state of accepting something or someone as honest or deserving of trust even though there are doubts.”

It’s pretty obvious now why this became such a conundrum. Relationships are built on trust. Trust gets forged through trial and error. Dr. Dan Siegel teaches us that “rupture and repair” is the gorilla glue for our most trusting relationships. We can only get to repair, when we accept accountability for our behaviors and make amends. That important step was missing. Instead, I’d get a sheepish grin and a plea to give him the benefit of the doubt. What I wish I knew then that I know now is that what we both needed were better relationship and life skills. We needed tools not wishful thinking and false hope.

It is not surprising that so many of us go through life with more obstacles than necessary. If we weren’t taught healthy relationship skills and given tools to help us navigate difficulties, then all we really have are armor, behavior patterns and conditioning. Is it any wonder that we can see our three year old selves reflected in some of the ways we show up when we are 30, 40 or even older?

In a recent two part Unlocking Us podcast, Brene Brown and her sister, Ashley, took a deep dive into what it means to live BIG. That conversation became an impactful pivot point for understanding the importance of giving people tools rather than the benefit of the doubt. When we are able to live BIG, we are able to be generous in our beliefs that others are really doing the best they can. The transformational distinction is that we hold boundaries and stay within our integrity.

Let that sink in.

From personal experience, I can assure you without boundaries we can fall way out of our integrity in a heartbeat. When that happens, it is almost like an out of body experience, and suddenly we are behaving in ways that are not at all who we wish to be and who we really are. Without self awareness and quality life tools, we will find ourselves on a familiar but uncomfortable emotional roller coaster. We can be awash in shame and guilt, feel threatened, defensive and embarrassed. We simply cannot make our best decisions — or amends — while we are riding this out.

Yet this is exactly how many of us are unconsciously operating in our most treasured relationships. We get upset with each other and we each go into different roles than we are hoping each other will actually show up with — an emotional vortex that only complicates a solvable issue.

Brene Brown offers living BIG as a tool we can use to help us stay true to ourselves and operate from a genuine belief that others are doing the best they can. BIG stands for Boundaries, Integrity and Generosity. Her extensive research has shown that the most compassionate people are also the most boundaried people.

If that seems a little counterintuitive, consider this. Boundaries are very clear directional signs for ourselves and our relationships. When we really know ourselves well, recognize our innate self-worth and practice self compassion, we are very clear about what is good for us and what is not. Boundaries set us up for success. We can use boundaries instead of armor. Both protect us — but boundaries are empowering and proactive. Armor is defensive and does not foster learning and growth.

Few of us learned about healthy boundaries when we were younger. Setting and holding boundaries are invaluable assets for our life skills toolkit.

Compassionate, boundaried people stay grounded in their integrity, their most authentic self. They have a natural insulation from reacting unconsciously and out of character. Boundaries act as the guardrails to keep them in alignment with their core values. It becomes so much easier to navigate hard conversations and big emotions from this more balanced and stable foundation.

In turn, this enables compassionate, boundaried people to be much more generous with their belief that others truly are doing the best they can. Boundaried people who are in alignment with their personal integrity have a greater capacity to stay out of judgment, to see others through the lens of common humanity and to tap into their reservoir of genuine empathy.

It is hard work to unlearn the patterns and behaviors that no longer serve us well, but the reward is hindsight that becomes infused with new information and provides us with wisdom we would otherwise miss.

Compassionate people have often come through some of life’s hardest adversities with an enriched regard for resilience, hope and empathy.

Those who can be generous in believing that people are doing the best they have the capacity to see both positive intent and poor skill sets: “I want to assume the most generous things I can about your thoughts, your actions and your behaviors.”

This is where generosity really shifts us in a new and more constructive way in our relationships with others. Brene offers that the prerequisite for this positive intent is boundaries.

Without boundaries, we are always waiting for something different to happen. We get tired of waiting, get resentful, angry and feel taken for granted. ”

Those people who can set boundaries for themselves are very clear about what behaviors are acceptable and what is not acceptable. Boundaries keep us out of judgment, resentment, disappointment and exhaustion. It transforms our lives, not someone else’s. This is the transformational pivot.

So often, the reality is that others are in fact doing the best they can. We rarely know another person’s story and life experiences. They may have inherited a lot of bad coping skills or dysfunctional behavioral patters. Perhaps their toolkit for life is completely empty or full of painkillers and bandaids rather than healing aids.

For the record, even those with good intentions can have poor life skills and faulty relationship tools. People pleasers, rescuers and enablers may be certain of a better pathway for others and want to rush in with blueprints and implementation strategies, but this only keeps dysfunctional patterns in play. Neither the rescuer or the rescued will truly benefit from this approach.

The reality is that we are all doing the best we can with the tools we have. All the more reason for us to be invested in developing better relationship skills and a wide array of tools for our life kit.

I often reflect on this quote about teaching a man to fish when I think about all that we are learning about personal growth, emotional literacy, neuroscience, parenting and relationship skills. Too often, we spend a boatload of time fixing problems that keep popping up over and over again, creating misunderstandings, confusion and unnecessary obstacles. We are discovering so many new and improved portals for our personal growth, mental health, personal empowerment and meaningful relationships. Each and every one of us who is working on self improvement is making an impactful difference.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Check out both Parts 1 and 2 of the Living BIG episodes on Unlocking Us Podcast:

https://brenebrown.com/podcast/living-big-part-1-of-2/

Part 2 – https://brenebrown.com/podcast/living-big-part-2-of-2/

If you are a parent and want to discover how “discipline” is really a “teaching opportunity”, check out this incredible book by Dr. Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson: No Drama Discipline.

Spoiler alert: boundaries are a big part of the teaching/learning. Teach them young about the value of boundaries!

A Deeper Dive into Empathy

I grew up with the old adage of “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” as my long standing definition of empathy. I was less than 10 years old, when my dad first shared that insight with me. He crafted a story of a beleaguered old man in well worn shoes shuffling down a long dirt road to make his point both meaningful and memorable to me. I remember gazing down at my own shiny black patent leather Mary Jane shoes, feeling both fortunate and humbled.

In my early teens, I began to understand that there was a big distinction between sympathy and empathy. Because of my father’s story, I could literally feel the difference between the two. Sympathy was listening to that story of the beleaguered old man and pitying him for his plight. Empathy was hearing that story and recalling how it felt to me when I was wearing hand me down shoes on a long walk to my first day in a brand new school.

Once I could really feel that distinction in my bones, it became the compass I would use when listening to someone sharing their stories with me. One thing I knew for sure from my own life experiences, was how it felt to be pitied vs. how it felt to be understood. Pity felt awful; it only made my situation feel even worse. Being understood felt comforting and reassured me that I was not alone. Big Big distinction.

Even though I knew how the distinction between empathy and sympathy felt, I had not yet cultivated enough awareness and knowledge to fully comprehend how my “empathetic” responses to others still had a long way to go. I was operating on these simple definitions of the two:

empathy the ability to understand and share the feelings of another

sympathyfeeling of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune

Furthermore, I was limited in my ability to be genuinely empathic with other people because of my lack of awareness. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

The above image and quote was posted by Brene Brown on her Facebook page on October 31st, 2017. It symbolizes the lesson my dad instilled in me about empathy: Tap into our own experiences, recall the emotions and use both the somatic and intellectual memories to “plug in” to someone else’s current situation. Walk a mile in their shoes. Recollect how it felt when you were in a similar emotional state.

The compassion component almost always triggered me to want to offer exactly what I had hoped to get in that past painful experience. I’ve come to understand that offering what I wanted back then was NOT at all helpful to another. This is where we can fall into the pitfall of “fixing, rescuing and disempowering” others. We have to ask what support looks and feels like for another person.

So here’s the plot twist – too often when we “tap in” to our own experiences, we unconsciously get hijacked by our brain, which pulls our attention back onto ourselves and can even recreate bodily sensations from that old memory that feel very real in the present moment. Our own brains and bodies could automatically go on high alert. Understandably, it is really hard to turn our full attention to another person when we are doing our best not to get sidetracked by our own false alarms.

Last year when Brene Brown released her latest book, Atlas of the Heart, she confided that she’d gained new insights that caused her to update some of her prior findings, especially around empathy and being good stewards of others’ stories. This is exactly what ongoing research is supposed to do for us. It is also why it is of critical importance for us personally to be updating our former base of knowledge and beliefs.

It is now December 2022 and Brene Brown has unearthed more discoveries about empathy that breaks wide open our understanding of its profound potential –AND what gets in the way of cultivating it. This deeper dive into empathy reveals that it is not a singular skill; it is a collection of skill sets:

Let’s start with the first skill set of “perspective taking”.

As Brene details so clearly in Atlas of the Heart, many emotions show up in very similar fashion. This may lead us to”misdiagnose” what another person might be feeling. What we might take as anger could really be fear. What looks like confusion or flustered could be overwhelm. If we assume that a person is having the same emotion we would have in those circumstances, and what we witness seems to confirm our assumption, we are off to the races — and on the wrong track!

The biggest challenge of perspective taking is being aware of the lens we are using:

“The first step in real empathy is understanding that the lens I use, the lens through which I see the world, is soldered to my head. I can’t take it off and pick up your lens, ” Brene Brown, in her Dare to Lead Podcast (Building Brave Spaces — November 17, 2022)

For the record, this understanding about the lens we each possess (soldered to our heads and hearts) should make it very apparent that there is no way we could really “walk a mile in another’s shoes” and have a similar experience. All of our history, prior experiences, emotions and consequences are baked into our personal lens. We cannot transfer all that supporting data through a simple viewfinder.

As an example, my brother and I are only 4 years apart, yet our experiences and memories of our childhood are dramatically different. We’ve often laughed about our vastly different perspectives wondering aloud if we actually lived in the same family. If we zoomed out and began to look at our other family members, we become acutely aware of just how differently everyone was experiencing the world — even though from the outside looking in, we all seemed to be living the same kind of life.

The second skill set in the empathy collection is: “staying out of judgment”

This one builds on perspective taking. Having an awareness that someone else’s lens is different than our own should act as a signal to move from judgment to curiosity.

We judge based on our own experiences, circumstances, emotions and expectations. It is unfair and unhelpful to judge others through the lens of our life, our options, our support systems, our challenges. Unfortunately we unconsciously judge from the get go — and that gets in the way of us being able to listen with the intention of understanding someone else’s perspective and experience.

Brene offers that when we are staying out of judgment, we have to be able to hear someone’s story and believe them — even when their story does not reflect our experiences of the world, or our lived experiences. AND….We have to believe them even when believing them is painful and holds us accountable in some way for hurt.

That “painful and accountable” piece triggers our innate human nature to want to avoid hearing that we’ve hurt someone — and our struggle to deal with pain without causing more pain and hurt. Too often, we show up with a lot of emotional reactivity unaware that we are self-protecting, distancing or dismissing other’s emotional pain. It becomes a dizzying merry-go-round of hurting each other.

Some of the biggest chasms in relationships stem from the fact that judgment destroys trust and our ability to feel safe. If there is a long standing personal history of not being believed when we share our stories, we will not feel safe and valued. We stop sharing; the pain and the stories get buried alive. Nothing gets resolved. This is a major cause of estrangements in families and it is a prevailing factor in multi-generational patterns of dysfunctional behavior.

Just imagine the seismic shift that could occur if we could master the skill of staying out of judgment. Rather than eroding trust and safety, we would shift to opening up to learning; learning to understand and to believe another’s true story.

Staying out of judgment avoids the chasm; it builds a bridge.

Skill set number 3 in the empathy collection is: Emotional Granularity

The definition of emotional granularity is the ability to put feelings into words with a high degree of specificity and precision. This boils down to being able to accurately express a core emotion and add more context to it by describing other accompanying emotions. Instead of simply stating we are mad, we can add more context by acknowledging that we are also disappointed, frustrated and tired.

Emotional Granularity really drives home the point that “the difference is in the details.” Having all this extra information is so helpful when we are trying to really understand how someone else is feeling in the moment. Better yet, it more clearly illuminates the real problem. Mad is an umbrella emotion…. We need the context to get at what is causing anger. Anger is a warning signal, a cue to pay attention to something important to us.

A key discovery that Brene and her team made when doing research for Atlas of the Heart was that the majority of us identify just three main emotions: happy, sad or angry. Imagine how hard it is for us to cultivate emotional granularity if we have such a limited emotional vocabulary and are not even aware that we are experiencing several emotions at once.

The problem gets compounded when we learn that so many emotions present in the same way, but are quite different from each other. There is yet another caveat that can cause a lot of stumbling blocks — the messaging we received in childhood about emotions. Were we told to get over them, that some emotions were acceptable to show and others were not, or that some emotions would make us appear weak, or maybe too aggressive? Few of us were taught healthy and productive emotional skills in childhood. There are gender stereotypes baked into our perception of emotions, resulting in labels that shut down the opportunity to process and learn from our emotions. Let’s face it, most of us have a lot of emotional baggage that needs to be purged.

Is it any wonder that we get gridlocked when we are trying to understand our own emotional landscape let alone anyone else’s.

Here is why emotional granularity is so relevant:

Language is the portal to meaning-making, connection, healing, learning and self-awareness. If we lack the language to share what we are experiencing, our ability to make sense of what’s happening and share it with others becomes severely limited. Without accurate language, we struggle to get the help we need, we don’t always regulate or manage our emotions and experiences that allows us to move them them productively, and our self awareness is diminished. Language shows us that naming an experience doesn’t give the experience more power, it give us the power of understanding and meaning. –Atlas of the Heart, Introduction

In Atlas of the Heart, Brene offers us an incredible reference book that identifies and details 87 emotions and experiences. It is a phenomenal resource for cultivating emotional granularity.

I have read Atlas of the Heart twice. The first time I read it, I could barely put it down. I scribbled in the margins, had brightly color coded post it notes on nearly every page and lengthy conversations with my book club about each chapter. The second time, I journaled my way through it. It was cathartic to be able to go back and revisit past experiences with an expanded emotional vocabulary — and yes, emotional granularity. I gained a lot of clarity and revelations about situations that I’d struggled to fully process previously. It became crystal clear to me that accurate emotional language is healing; it helps us get to know ourselves better than ever; and in turn, we become better attuned to other’s complex, nuanced emotions.

It is teasing apart all the accompanying emotions that help us get “granular. The details are chock full of valuable information about needs, values, vulnerabilities. It helps us make discoveries we would have never unearthed without the nuance. We can articulate more clearly what we need – and we can listen more attentively to others’ needs.

Cultivating emotional granularity for our own experiences becomes the gateway to a deeper understanding of what other’s might be feeling – even if they themselves do not yet possess this skill. We can help each other by role modeling this skill set — adding context to our own emotions when we are sharing with our feelings.

Skill set number 4 – Emotional Literacy

Emotional literacy is the ability to recognize our own feelings, understand how they are informing us, and to be able to manage our responses to them.

This skill is cultivated through self-awareness; paying attention to how our emotions feel in our body, what our normal reactions are to those emotions and how we then respond.

So often we go through this process quickly, unconsciously and very reactively when big emotions hit us.

Becoming more self-aware helps us recognize our unconscious patterns of behavior. Armed with this information, we can develop more skillful responses to our own emotions. We can also become more attuned to and supportive of others’ emotional reactions.

Meditation is a great tool for developing more self-awareness and to recognize how easily we get attached to thoughts and emotions in predictable ways.

The better we know ourselves and the more expanded our emotional vocabulary is, the greater success we will have in untangling ourselves from emotional triggers and old reactive patterns of behavior. This in turn will lead us naturally to be able to handle our emotions more maturely, with less drama and cloud cover.

As we get more skillful at responding in clear and healthy ways, we also gain the ability to not get so attached to strong emotions that others emit. This is a game-changer because we co-regulate each other. And emotions are very contagious and sticky. Just recall how your body reacts when you hear an angry conversation. Even if you aren’t actively engaged in that conversation, chemicals are released in your brain and can set off a chain reaction in both body and brain. This is how we get “hooked”, “triggered” and “on board”. We can go from calm to frenzied in a split second.

I like the term that Brene uses here; emotional literacy invites us to be graceful and self compassionate as we hone this skill of recognizing, understanding and responding to our own emotions. It is not some innate “intelligence” that gets us to this place of being able to process our emotions in a meaningful way and respond more skillfully, it is a practice.

The springboard for this practice is self-awareness. The more self aware we are, the better we are able to discover the unconscious ways we operate on auto-pilot. Imagine a self driving car with an operating system that was programmed by a child. Now you have a good image of what all our unconscious patterning is doing for us as adults.

Begin a committed practice to emotional literacy. I can personally attest that it will dramatically improve your life and your relationships.

Skill set number 5 – Mindfulness

Mindfulness magazine launched its first issue in the spring of 2013. Here we are ten years later and now mindfulness has become “mainstream”. We see it everywhere — on magazines at the grocery store, popular books, podcast, social media, mental health resources and counseling. What was once perceived as sitting on a cushion with legs crossed and “zenning out” without a thought in our heads has been completely dispelled.

Mindfulness is being aware that we have both internal and external distractions bombarding us at all times. The skill we develop through mindfulness is proactively choosing where to focus our attention.

Sounds simple, right? We all know it is not.

The reality is that our attention has become a marketable commodity. Click bait. Every time you realize that you have been mindlessly scrolling through social media for 20 minutes, that is a moment of awareness. A chance to practice being mindful.

Just use the term “click bait” to label all the times you become “aware” that your mind is racing, or you’ve driven your child to school and don’t remember stopping for traffic lights, or you’ve burnt the bacon, had to rewind the podcast because you missed something, were staring at your phone while out to lunch with friends. Catch yourself when you are listening to a friend, but have time-traveled to a similar experience you had and are watching that replay in your mind instead of hearing her story.

Brene Brown has included mindfulness in the empathy collection for valid reason. Mindfulness is paying attention to where we are paying attention. In every single one of the prior 4 skill sets you will need “mindfulness” as the underpinning.

Being mindful that perspective taking requires us to not view another’s situation through our own lens that is soldered to our heads.

Being mindful, and fully present, in order to stay in non-judgment. Be open to accepting another’s truth, even when it is so different from our own.

Being mindful and in touch with emotional granularity. Recognizing that there will be more than one umbrella emotion in play when we are listening to understand.

Being mindful and keenly self aware of our own emotional landscape so that we stay grounded and respond from our values.

Mindfulness requires training and practice. While it seems too hard and we prefer to dismiss it as unnecessary, it really is irrefutable. Do you want a distracted surgeon performing your life-saving operation? Do you want a distracted bus driver at the wheel of your children’s school bus? Do you see distracted parents at the playground who miss their child’s joy or scary fall? Do you witness people on the street staring at their phones and nearly getting hit by a car? We have a growing epidemic of attention deficit. Mindfulness is the anecdote.

Simply put, mindfulness is paying attention to where we are paying attention. It is a simple concept that requires a disciplined practice. It is more than worth the effort. And here’s a word of encouragement: the more we hone this skill through committed daily practice, the more it easily shows up in our day to day life.

Wrap Up:

For several years, empathy has been top of mind for me. I was deeply moved by both the impact and the consequences of empathy after reading Born for Love by Dr. Bruce Perry, published in 2010. At the time, Dr. Perry was sounding the alarm about our collective empathy poverty. His research and his advocacy is deeply rooted in what happens in our bodies and brains in infancy and early childhood. He was witnessing firsthand in his patients and research how a lack of empathy was the root cause of dysfunctional emotional development issues in the early stages of life, and how lack of empathy was predisposing us to only compound emotional and mental health issues. It became very evident to me that we needed a comprehensive overhaul of the way we meet our children’s emotional needs with compassionate consistency — and that we need to learn and teach healthy emotional skill sets. Our collective mental health is at stake.

Brene Brown recently described empathy as being in the zeitgeist right now — in the moment, year end 2022. Twelve years after Dr. Bruce Perry sounded the alarm and we all hit the snooze button. Everything he predicted in his book has become our reality on steroids.

What is a zeitgeist? The defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.

Brene says that the need for empathy is showing up everywhere in our collective landscape from family to community to workplace and politics. I too have witnessed the subject of empathy showing up in all of the resources that I steep myself in — from personal growth to mental health, neuroscience and education, coaching and counseling, internal family systems, activism, self compassion and meditation. All modalities for improving our overall quality of life have been incorporating empathy into their teachings.

Empathy is now in the zeitgeist of this moment in our collective history. How exciting is that? Empathy can become the pivot point for a fresh start in the right direction and will have a dramatic positive impact for future generations.

It is my fervent hope that the insights I’m sharing in these blog posts will be helpful for those who want to participate in meaningful change for themselves, their families and for the greater good.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Who had a set of encyclopedias in their home as a kid? Who remembers getting the annual update each year and excitedly paged through it looking for all the new things we’d learn that made an old section obsolete?

Welcome to a reference book for emotions and experiences — 87 of them! Atlas of the Heart is a beautiful coffee table style book that will be used for conversations with spouses, with kids, with friends and family.

And I am confident, Brene will continue to update us as her research evolves.

Check out this recent episode on Dare to Lead: Building Brave Spaces

https://brenebrown.com/podcast/building-brave-spaces/

Sometimes it is just easier to relate to the power of a skill set like empathy when you hear the stories….

This book will introduce you to the incredible value of paying attention….in a relatable way that will captivate you. Dr Jha offers a 12 minute daily meditation practice at the end of the book to jumpstart your new habit.

Psychology Today Magazine:

Master Your Feelings with New Tools Inspired by Neuroscience (article published online 2019)

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-mindful-self-express/201906/master-your-feelings-new-tools-inspired-neuroscience

Check out this timely episode of the Being Well Podcast with Dr. Rick Hanson and Forrest Hanson –Responding to Criticism & Accepting the Way Things Are

This episode of the Being Well Podcast has very relatable stories that are prime examples of real life situations where we can learn to be more empathetic — with ourselves and others. Such a great conversation.

Deconstructing Patience

Years ago, I was told by a family counselor that I was “too patient”. Admittedly, that really threw me for a loop. “Too patient” — was that even a thing?

You see, my generation grew up being told that patience was a virtue and the definition of a virtue is: behavior showing high moral standards. Back in the day, being patient as a child mean being quiet and well behaved. I can chuckle now in hindsight with greater awareness that our youthful “patience” was really a test of will power — and a fear of the consequences if we failed. It had very little to do with high moral standards.

That counselor’s insight led me to reflect on my relationship with patience. I’d always been proud of being such a patient person, but I began to unpack all the ways that having too much patience might be causing some problems.

The tap root of my relationship with patience was silence. I’d developed a very common strategy of hiding and stuffing my emotions as a child. Better to be quiet than to give voice to what I was feeling. There were severe consequences for emotional outbursts and there were words of praise for keeping it together. So this strategy was reinforced time and again as the working model for success. I constructed a framework for my understanding of patience with a foundation of silence.

This is how the stratification of our childhood patterns begins. My motivation was to avoid negative consequences and keep the peace. This is not how to teach children about values and high moral standards. But my parents’ generation did not know better and was simply perpetuating the old Freudian practices of child-rearing.

As the oldest sister with two feisty younger brothers, I often felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility to protect them. I wanted to protect them from not having patience and I wanted to ensure overall family harmony. A nearly impossible challenge for an 8 year old old. Not only that, my brothers were developing strategies of their own quite different from mine. In fact, I’m pretty confident that my youngest brother employed the “squeaky wheel gets the grease” strategy which he fueled with unchecked, tsunami sized emotions and outlandish behaviors. Attempting to achieve any sustainable peace was like herding cats.

It’s only been with a lot of reflection that I can see now how yet another strategy became part of my framework for patience. I began to put other’s needs ahead of my own. The sacrifice seemed noble when I was young. But it created a big disconnect for me over the years as I lost touch with what was most important for me. As a steadfast harmonizer, my motivation turned to keeping the peace and avoiding conflict. I barely spent any time giving consideration to what I truly needed to foster my talents, to feel safe and to explore my potential.

There was yet another discovery as I deconstructed what patience actually looked and felt like to me — I became a control freak.

Yikes…I did not like facing this truth.

While it was wrapped up in good intentions, my need to “control” the situation was masked as helpful, supportive and even kind. I’d swoop in without being asked to fix, resolve and correct anything for anybody. The sooner a crisis was resolved, the safer I felt. I rarely took the time to consider that what I was doing was overriding what someone else really needed or wanted.

When I was younger, this part of me felt like I was some sort of incredible fairy, possessing a magic wand and skipping merrily into chaos and shifting dark energy to glittery light and sugary joy. As an adult, I altered the image to be more realistic — a competent problem solver or organizer. True confession, I still held tight to the image of a magic wand. I just didn’t show it to anyone.

What I have learned about the unhealthy part of being an avid helper is that inadvertently we are robbing others of their agency, their growth spurts and their consequences. We aren’t helping at all – just overstepping our bounds – and dismissing the needs and desires of others.

Let’s take a step back and look at what I have unpacked about my concept of patience which I developed in childhood and carried into my adult life, mostly unconsciously. These were my blind spots:

I learned to be silent. I did not express my emotions externally and I did not process my emotions internally. I hoarded them. This lead to a many layers of unprocessed emotions and a lot of confusion in my heart and mind.

I became a harmonizing people pleaser and disconnected from an important aspect of myself — my own true needs. Brene Brown writes about how we hustle for validation of our worthiness. I was trying to find that sense of love and belonging by “doing” rather than “being”. I’d wear myself out to the point of exhaustion helping others and forget to take care of myself. The biggest discovery was that this became the root cause of my tug of war with resentment. So much internal conflict between wanting to help others and feeling resentful for not being appreciated or reciprocated.

My gift of being a helper got clouded and I became a controller. I rarely asked for help I truly needed. Pride got the best of me — I had to prove I could handle anything on my own but deep inside I was crushed that no one was reciprocating all the help I’d given. I hid my own vulnerabilities. Brene Brown has emphasized that vulnerability is the birthplace of connection, trust, love and belonging. By hiding my vulnerability, I disconnected myself from my own self-worth and from the stronger, lasting connections that were possible with others when we let our guard down and lead with empathy. We are not here to fix or rescue. We are here to support, encourage and witness each other’s journey.

Deconstructing patience was a meaningful exercise for me and it totally transformed my framework for this quality that I still find worthwhile. In fact, I value my patience today more than ever because the framework and the components of it have shifted. This pivot came from close examination of “motivation”.

I found the enneagram to be an incredibly useful tool for this work. Beatrice Chestnut, author of the Complete Enneagram, describes it as a personal owner’s manual for how we make sense of life. So many of our concepts, beliefs and narratives about who we are were formed in childhood. Our “motivations” in childhood are to make sense of the families and the world we live in. We develop coping strategies and use stories to get our needs met. Our core motivations in childhood pre-dispose us to construct frameworks we carry with us into our adult lives. But the big caveat is that our motivations change as we mature, as does our environment, our autonomy and agency. We often enter adulthood eager to change a lot of things but we use the old framework to build the new…..and we end up re-creating the past.

If I was operating on an old framework of patience that included being silent, not processing emotions as they occurred, not honoring my own needs, over-helping and controlling others, then I could be assured that my being “too patient” was the root cause of so much of my own internal unhappiness.

The starting point was redefining my motivation for cultivating patience.

I wanted to feel calm and grounded regardless of what was going on around me. As an adult, I knew that I cannot control how others react or respond in any given moment. What I can control is me and my responses.

I wanted to feel a strong unwavering self-worth. How I feel about me, my gifts, my contribution to others has to come from within. This required unabashed acceptance, self-compassion and a recommitment to my own self-confidence in my core values and a big nod to the fact that I too have needs.

I wanted to be a compassionate, empathic teacher/inspirer/role model for others. No more fixing or rescuing. Much more listening, holding space and asking questions only others could answer for themselves.

Revisiting my core motivations and upgrading them to be in alignment with the vision of the adult I’d always hoped to be was just the catalyst I need to tear down the old framework and rebuild with my new and improved definition of patience.

The “too patient” framework was unhealthy, full of insecurities and flawed coping strategies. The healthy and empowering framework for my patience has a strong foundation of grounded confidence. The scaffolding of my patience framework is a steady work in progress, flexible and resilient, and always evolving. I am no longer silent; I have found my voice and more discernment about when and how to use it. I know myself better and honor my own emotions, set boundaries and am clear about my needs and my values. I heed resentment if I start to feel it — it’s my warning light that I might be overstepping my boundaries in the helping department. I have replaced “let me do that for you” with “what does support or help look like for you?”

I’d like to think that deconstruction of the old “too patient” framework has been a Goldilocks process for me — and that I have moved to the “just right” place to be with my core value of healthy patience.

The biggest and most rewarding benefit to this entire process of deconstructing our old frameworks of motivation and values has been to witness how parenting is evolving. Children are being taught patience in a whole new way. Mindful parents are proactively teaching their children emotional agility and self control in empowering, healthy new ways. No more dismissing or stuffing a child’s emotions. It takes only a few minutes to help a child name and honor what they are feeling. Parents are helping children make better choices once they are somewhat disengaged from big, strong emotional tugs. Children are learning that they are not defined by their big emotions or their ever-changing behavioral patterns, they are actually learning from them.

The big pivot in changing how we parent and grandparent with emotional agility, healthy patience and greater self-awareness is that our children will get a consistent, supportive framework for who they are, what their natural talents and gifts are, and toolkit of healthy tools for navigating friendships, family and life.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

This conversation with Andrew Chapman, psychotherapist and meditation teacher is so worthwhile if you want to learn how the enneagram can support your self awareness and self observation skills.

CHECK OUT THIS 11/17/2022 EPISODE: Unlocked: Mindfulness and the Enneagram https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/typology/id1254061093?i=1000586586066

Here are two of my favorite books for reading more about each of the nine types of the enneagram. Such insightful guides for understanding what our core motivations are in life:

Greater Good Magazine: Four Reasons to Cultivate Patience

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/four_reasons_to_cultivate_patience

External Roadblocks Matter Too…

So much of our personal growth work encourages us to get to know ourselves better, to take a long hard introspective view of our internal world. Yet there is another component to our personal development that is equally important:

The external roadblocks that can derail even our best intentions.

We can become fairly unaware of external obstacles that prevent us from gaining traction in our personal growth work. Our attention gets pulled in a lot of directions throughout the day and we lose track of our time and our good intentions. James Clear teaches us that consistent small investments of time and effort is the best pathway to developing new habits and skills. The one thing we really need to cultivate to help us gain traction with short and long term goals, with developing better habits and with improving our relationships is — self awareness.

A major external obstacle to cultivating greater self awareness is often in the palm of our hand…..our phone.

Let’s be candid about this. We do have a growing crisis with regard to our phones. We observe how so many people are walking down the street, their eyes fixated on their screens and not their surroundings. Parents at playgrounds are watching their phones and not their children. Families and friends in restaurants all sit with heads down, fingers flying across flat keyboards not engaging with each other or even the waitstaff. Standing in line at the grocery store or sitting at a red light in our cars seems to be an open invitation to check our phone. No one is immune from this. It is a habit that slowly seeped into our daily lives over time.

I’m old enough to remember a time when we did not have mobile phones on our bodies at all times. It makes me wonder what it might be like to measure the quality of our memories that were created more with our five senses than a camera roll of countless photos. I’m not being judgmental here, for I love the ease with which I can capture the moment on my thin phone too. I just wonder if we saw a chart or graph that could visibly show us the distinction of “being fully present in a moment” vs. “freezing a moment in time” would it help us want to moderate our phone usage?

While we may not have such a graph, we are learning through neuroscience about how we can enrich our present experiences and “store” them in our brains with all the sensory details to help override the brain’s default negativity bias. But in order to do this, we have to be aware of how we are letting our attention and our focus slip away.

BEING FULLY PRESENT: (even briefly…but a few times a day)

Dr. Rick Hanson has a brief and effective tip to help us capture more present moments. He calls it “taking the in the good”. Rather than reaching for your phone to take a photo, simply steep yourself in the full experience in real time. All it takes is 15-30 seconds to take it in — and imprint in your brain an incredible memory. Add sounds to your experience — listen to a child’s laugher as you watch her run through a pile of crunchy autumn leaves. Be aware of the sounds the crunchy leaves make and use your eyes to take in the rich autumn color palette. Gaze at the floating fluffy white clouds against a cerulean blue sky. For 15-30 seconds you are the creator and director of an internal movie memory; set it to music, imbue it with scents, enrich it with details.

Just doing this a few times each day will help in training our brains that we are in charge of our attention. We can resist the temptation to look at our phones and choose to fully be in the present moment. For fun, keep a little journal about your “fully present” moments each day for a week or two. It is a game-changer for cultivating greater self awareness and harvesting all the good that is showing up in our lives each day. Things we often miss…..because we are staring at our phones.

POSTURE AND SITUATIONAL AWARENESS:

Are you aware that our posture has been impacted by our phones? Dr. Andrew Huberman, neurobiologist at Stamford, recently referred to this as our “C” posture. Just look around today at the posture of others who are on their phones — do you see the “C” — forward neck position, slouched and rounded shoulders?

Many people are dealing with chronic pain in their necks, shoulders and spine as a direct result of spending a good portion of their day in this awkward “C” posture position. The tension we are adding to our bodies from our phone posture gets added to the stressors of our daily busy lives.

Do your own research as you go about your daily routine today: How many people do you observe with this “C” posture? How many missed opportunities to say “hello” or ask someone how their day is going? How many people do you see in the coffee shop or restaurant who are engaging with their phones and not their friends and families? Are people walking to their cars unaware of the traffic around them, heads down staring at their screens?

RESTORATIVE, RECHARGING BENEFITS OF SLEEP:

An essential way to care for our dynamic, powerful, personal processors — yes, I am describing our brains that way.….is to get consistently good sleep. There are simple things we can do to help us achieve the beneficial brain attributes of sleep. The easiest and most impactful is to not look at our phones first thing in the morning and last thing at night.

Instead, first thing in the morning take in 10-20 minutes of natural sunlight if you can. That will set your circadian rhythm. While it might seem silly, doing this in the morning actually helps you fall asleep at night. If you can’t get sunlight first thing, turn on the lights in your home and let your eyes take in that light. It is the blue light emission from our phones that inhibits the production of melatonin. The hot tip here is go “old school” and get an alarm clock if you need one to wake up, avoid looking at your phone for the first 30 minutes of your morning, and get some natural sunlight if possible. Just a few days of this new routine will make a noticeable positive difference in sleep patterns.

Of course, that blue light emission from our phones at night is also not helpful if we want to get a deep, recharging night of sleep. Best to put your phone on a charger and then do the same for yourself. Establish a simple nightly bedtime routine with reduced exposure to light, trying meditation or light reading to relax your busy brain and implementing some cues that work for you to signal that it is bedtime.

Neuroscience is proving that we need consistent quality sleep in order to operate a maximum efficiency for our cognitive and emotional well being. A key factor in our mental health wellness is deep, restorative, brain rewiring and rejuvenating sleep.

SOLVING THE CASE OF DISAPPEARING TIME AND ATTENTION:

Want to discover where so much of your time and attention has gone at the end of a day? Take a look at your average weekly screen time. That will be the biggest clue to solve your case of “disappearing time and attention”. All of can easily fall into the trance of mindless scrolling, or hopscotching from looking up a recipe to reading the latest scoop on a celebrity.

Even the most skilled practitioners of mindfulness, the best educated neuroscientists and the gurus of meditation will confess to using the password lock feature, turning their phone off completely for a set amount of time, locking their phone in a safe, giving it to a colleague or partner while they are working, or keeping the phone in a different room. So don’t feel too bad — you are not alone with regard to our attachment to our phones.

WHAT WE CAN’T GET BACK: (our time and out attention)

Dr. Amishi Jha wrote about how we are unconsciously giving away one of our most precious commodities — our attention — in her book Peak Mind. This won’t surprise you, but our attention is now a marketable commodity and there is even trading in futures for our attention. Now that is mind-blowing, isn’t it?

It is precisely because we are giving away our attention to our devices that we are also giving away time that could be better spent on things that really matter to us. f we could put our phones away for even 30 minutes a day, we could read 10 pages in a book, we could try a new recipe, we could chat with another person, we could take a walk and be awed by nature. Just for fun, challenge yourself to come up with a wish list of 3 thirty minute fun things to do in the coming week; then put your phone away for 30 minutes for 3 of the 7 days in that week….and do those fun things!

Maybe you can make your own chart or graph about how you are feeling about your time management, your attention and your happiness at the end of that one week challenge.

BUILDING BETTER CONNECTIONS:

It’s very evident that while social media was once touted as a great way for us to be connected to each other….it actually has had the opposite effect. We are heads down, eyes diverted and fully engaged with a device and all its mesmerizing content….and all the while our most incredible life is unfolding without us being aware.

When we shift our eyes from the screen to those people we are hanging out with all day long, something magical happens. Our amazing brains help us take in so much more than just the words they might be saying. We see facial expressions, body language, we make eye contact and we co-regulate each other with our emotions and energy. As Brene Brown would say — we feel seen, heard and valued. And all that happens by averting our eyes from the phone to the face.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT:

Dr. Amishi Jha tells us to “pay attention to where we are turning our attention”. All we need to do to cultivate greater awareness is to check in with ourselves in an honest way about where we might be leaking out our time and attention. Just commandeering a few short chunks of time each day for some dedicated “present moment” experiences will no doubt produce some pretty remarkable results for your overall quality of life. Are you willing to give it a try?

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Follow Dr. Andrew Huberman on YouTube and Instagram for short clips on his insights and teachings about neuroscience, our bodies and brains. Check out the full length Huberman Lab podcasts and his website if you want to do the deep dive into his teachings.

https://hubermanlab.com/focus-toolkit-tools-to-improve-your-focus-and-concentration/

Read this amazing book by Dr. Amishi Jha to learn from her own experiences, real life stories from her research about the incredible importance of our focus and attention for our quality of life and some of our most demanding decisions we make under tough circumstances. This book also offers a guide to a simple 12 minute daily meditation practice that will help you train your brain for better attention and focusing skills.

Read this article from the Wall Street Journal to gain some fresh insight on how our phones are impacting our kids, their educations and their interactions with teachers, friends, coaches and mentors.

THIS SCHOOL TOOK AWAY SMARTPHONES. THE KIDS DON’T MIND: https://apple.news/AgX2ev7f7SKCNtVqY0aLmyA

An Evolving Story…

Getting started on personal development often begins with identifying behavioral patterns that aren’t serving us very well in adulthood. While this is a giant step in the right direction, there is another major aspect that is truly transformational.

That meaningful component is a deeper dive into the limiting beliefs and false narratives that are baked into those childhood behavioral patterns. These old stories and limited beliefs hold us back; they prevent us from exploring our full potential and building a deep reservoir of inner strengths.

So while we can change our outgrown behavioral patterns and begin to show up more maturely, if we don’t spend some time untangling ourselves from the beliefs and narratives we heard and absorbed in childhood, we might stunt our personal growth.

There’s no doubt that this is hard work and requires challenging ourselves in order to unlearn and relearn. It is one thing to be fully committed to new habits and big goals, but if we don’t release those limiting beliefs that reinforce self-doubt, there’s a strong likelihood we will self-sabotage our best laid plans. Unfortunately, this is often occurring unconsciously.

As we cultivate more self-awareness for our outgrown behavioral patterns, we can also become more attuned to negative self-talk and the excuses we give ourselves for not pursuing our dreams.

Our limiting beliefs and childhood narratives are often very nuanced and will require some careful “teasing out” of the threads that weave our stories. It is not only the behavior patterns and messaging we struggled with in childhood, it is all the complexities of our family dynamics that played a role as well.

As a child, we were the ones adapting all the time — to our parents, to their actions and responses to life, to all the life events that were occurring. We did not have the brain capacity to reason or rationalize. We did not have the authority to make decisions and make plans that accommodated our unique needs. We had a lot of emotions swirling through us but many went unspoken, unprocessed and misunderstood. So we tried to make sense of all those moving parts by telling ourselves a story. It is our childhood story that shapes us as we move into adulthood.

Often that childhood story serves as a nautical chart for us as we navigate the changing seas of life. While we cannot wait to row our own boat with full independence as we enter adulthood, we are unconsciously aware that our minds are full of obstacles — remnants of childhood that clutter our path. These are limiting beliefs and false narratives about who we really are.

Many of us carry these limiting beliefs far in to adulthood. It might be a scarcity mindset around money if we grew up poor or had parents who gambled or drank away money needed for rent and groceries. We might have body image issues believing we are too thin or too fat, uncoordinated or a weakling. We may believe we aren’t good at sports, or math, or that we just aren’t smart or talented enough to pursue our heart’s dreams. We may think that we have limited future career opportunities due to a lack of higher education. Messaging we get in our formative years can stick with us for a long time and limit us in many ways.

This is why it is so important to include self-reflection on our limiting beliefs and stories of who we thought we were, or were supposed to be, when we were kids as a key component of personal growth.

The above quote from Adam Grant is from his book “Think Again”. It really resonates when applied to childhood stories and the beliefs we were raised on. We cling hard to the stories written in childhood about who we are but the truth is that we were often judged, experienced and molded by others, mostly adults. Parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches — they all see different things in us. Many times they are simply reflecting back what they see in themselves. This is precisely why it is so important to really get to know ourselves as we go through adulthood. We now have agency and autonomy to pick and choose what is right for us, to develop those strengths and skills we are drawn to, to keep learning and growing forward.

I love having conversations with friends who share their stories of realizing that they were still clinging to outdated, outgrown limiting beliefs. Even when their current lived experiences and how they were actually conducting their lives was proof positive that those old beliefs were wrong, there was a little nagging voice inside keeping that old narrative running in the background.

Once they owned the fact that the old beliefs and limitations were a drag on their forward progress, they let go. They embraced their newfound freedom and acknowledged that all along they had been “learning their way out” of those old limitations.

This is the simple, marvelous truth. We are always learning — sometimes by accident, sometimes incidentally, and many times by choice and intentionality.

Learning is the catalyst for freeing ourselves from limiting beliefs and the stories we tell ourselves when we are in struggle– especially those stories we co-author with our inner critic. We can step back and get a fresh, updated perspective — then ask ourselves if what we are believing is true. We do not need to stay forever tethered to an old narrative about who we are. We are evolving through our lived experiences every single day.

When you find yourself in a state of confusion — smile! It means that the information stored in your brain from childhood is colliding with the knowledge, information and experiences you’ve accumulated since then! It’s a big opportunity to shift away from an unconscious reaction to a more nuanced, mature, informed response.

“After all, the purpose of learning isn’t to affirm our beliefs, it’s to evolve our beliefs.” — Adam Grant in his book Think Again

Again Adam Grant offers an invaluable piece of wisdom that can be applied to our personal growth journey. The purpose of cultivating self-awareness and spending time in discovery through self-reflection is to help us clean up the clutter from childhood. We can create a much better nautical map for navigating the vast seas of life by removing impediments like limiting beliefs and old outgrown stories about who we truly are.

When we begin to adopt a regular practice of perspective-taking, we super boost our natural curiosity. This is one child-like quality we should tap into! We also open up and are receptive to take in new information, ideas and stories from others. The natural desire to resist taking in anything that conflicts with our rigid beliefs or scares us loosens its grip. We begin to find ourselves more pliable and flexible with paradox, with opinions different than our own because lived experiences are also different. All of this culminates in a grounded confidence that allows us to be truly authentic with an ability to listen to understand without all those old limiting beliefs and stories getting in the way. That is where personal growth thrives.

I’m sharing this little footnote to this post because it’s become so clear to me that regardless of your age, this inner work of self-reflection around limiting beliefs is incredibly necessary and game-changing. Because we got a lot of things wrong in prior generations about how to deal with emotions, myths about vulnerability being weakness, shoving our family skeletons into closets, and double standards — even younger generations (20’s, 30’s and 40’s) need to do this work. You’ll see what I mean if you listen to the podcast episodes I’m including in recommended resources with this post. Doing this kind of inner growth work is what contributes to breaking dysfunction cycles of poor life skills for future generations.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:


This episode covers a lot of ground when it comes to untangling ourselves from limiting beliefs. Julie Solomon shares how $30,000 in credit card debt became her impetus for honesty and growth.
https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/typology/id1254061093?i=1000576481143
Connecting With Your Best Parts. This conversation between Dr. Rick Hanson and his son Forrest is so relatable…and is a springboard for your own work on rediscovering the good in YOU! https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/being-well-with-dr-rick-hanson/id1120885936?i=1000567818618

4 Steps to Release “Limiting Beliefs” Learned from Childhood: Psychology Today:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/focus-forgiveness/201311/4-steps-release-limiting-beliefs-learned-childhood

Nuggets of Wisdom – Seeds of Growth

In this edition of my Nuggets of Wisdom, I am sharing some insights from conversations with my friends who are also committed to their personal growth and what they have been witnessing from their positive changes.

When we cultivate self-awareness, we do become more cognizant of the behaviors we have had that really held us back from being our “authentic” selves. We often said “yes” when we really wanted to say “no.”

Awareness and authenticity go hand in hand when stepping back and assessing why we do that. Sometimes it is just because we think it will “keep the peace”. Sometimes we believe that having the same old disagreement will just end up with the same old result. Sometimes we are putting our needs and even our values to the side because we think it will make someone else happy.

The truth of the matter is that we often get a gut feeling or a nudge of intuition that our values and our actions are out of alignment….and that can lead to resentment, stuffing our emotions and our needs and participating half-heartedly in whatever we have agreed to do. We simply do not feel comfortable in our own skin.

My friends and I have noticed that when we take that first uncomfortable step towards real authenticity and actually say no, or set a boundary, that we feel lighter, more empowered and confident. And that initial discomfort fades fast. In fact, often the other person doesn’t even really care that we didn’t go along blindly, or they discover something new about us that supports a better relationship.

This may be my favorite wisdom and insight. My friends have been sharing stories about some of the richer, deeper conversations they have been having with family members during these past few months of family reunions, summer vacations, and backyard barbecues. There is no doubt that people “feel” the energy and openness around someone who has really done a lot of inner work. There is a sense that it is safe to really open up. These heart to heart conversations have answered a lot of questions about family history, revealed hidden strengths, and unburdened others of heavy baggage they’d been carrying around for decades. Pema Chodrun has long taught that when we do our personal growth work, we make it easier for others to do theirs. My friends are now enjoying the benefits of these deeper connections with family members — something they had longed for and worked hard to achieve. The pivotal difference was going inward first, doing their own personal growth work, and then letting their positive changes draw others in.

One of the most effective tools for personal growth work is “reframing”.

Taking a fresh perspective to adversity can shift our unconscious brains from a negativity bias and help us engage in something much more positive to handle challenges and difficulties.

This reframing of being “planted in possibility” encourages us to lean on our inner strengths like courage, resiliency and resourcefulness.

We do possess some rich compost to support our efforts. Think about times in the past when you have successfully overcome an adversity. Draw on that experience. Recognize how much you have grown and discovered since then and tap into the greater resources you have developed. Use regret as a tool to help you recognize what you value most. Check in with yourself to see if you might have a pattern that isn’t serving you well when trouble shows up. Seek help and guidance from those you admire who have overcome similar adversities.

We seem to have this myth that soft skills are not very powerful or effective. That could not be farther from the truth. Perhaps the real truth is that it takes courage, confidence and commitment to actually employ soft skills. It is not easy to admit we were wrong or that we need to apologize. And yet personal accountability builds trust, respect and better connections with others. Owning our mistakes is a powerful soft skill. Personal accountability for how we conduct ourselves and the standards we hold ourselves to reveals our integrity and core values. By the way, did you know that others will often not hold us accountable because of the discomfort that they feel? If we know we have screwed up, it’s such a gift to others to admit and make amends. Now that’s a soft skill that packs a meaningful punch.

Another soft skill that requires awareness and a lot of practice is non-judgment. We can be all too quick to judge someone else, using our own experiences and standards as a filter. All too often, we are sadly mistaken about another’s situation, their choices and their emotional landscape. Catching ourselves being judgmental is the first step. The next is to lean into empathy. What if we were judged inaccurately by another? How would that feel? That little pause and frame of reference can shift us to becoming more compassionate, curious and non-judgmental.

If someone is courageous enough to tell us their story, can we listen to better understand them and their experience? This soft skill requires us to refrain from formulating our response while listening, from rushing in to give advice or fix. We are listening to understand. Seem simple enough, but it does not come naturally to most of us.

These simple (but challenging) soft skills are game changers. Imagine your closest relationship and how things might transform if you took personal accountability seriously, shifted from being judgmental and even critical to being open-minded and curious, and if you became a really good listener?

I hope you have found these nuggets of wisdom to be helpful and motivational. Just one more observation to share: It’s becoming very evident that people are really searching for more face to face interaction and better connections with each other. My friends and I have noticed this in our neighborhoods and communities. When we take a better version of ourselves out into the world, we become part of the “relational scaffolding” that Dr. Bruce Perry believes is transformational for humankind.

Everybody has something they are dealing with each and every day. Strive to help others by being kind, sharing a smile, holding a door, offering a compliment. It really does make a difference.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Check out my last two blog posts on Deliberate Growth to learn how you can “upgrade your brain” to fastback your personal growth work:

Deliberate Growth

https://inspirednewhorizons.com/2022/07/24/deliberate-growth/

How to Achieve Deliberate Growth

https://inspirednewhorizons.com/2022/07/26/how-to-achieve-deliberate-growth/

Deliberate Growth

We have positive experiences every day that present us with opportunities to learn something new. Yet all too often, we miss those golden opportunities for a variety of reasons. The brain’s natural negativity bias is one key reason.

Another is the fact that often we are just not paying attention. We do spend a fair amount of our time each day operating on auto pilot, navigating through life with habits and patterns we haven’t proactively updated for years.

Think about this: We update our phones to fix glitches and install upgrades. In fact, we are eager and excited about upgrades for our devices.

We can do the same thing for the most amazing experience processors we possess — our brains! We can actually “upgrade” our personal operating system by cultivating awareness and proactively rewiring our brain to “take in the good”. Maybe we just need to reframe brain health as our personal “upgrade”.

Every time you take in the good, you build a little bit of neural structure. Doing this a few times a day — for months, and even years — will gradually change your brain, and how you feel and act — in far reaching ways. –– Dr. Rick Hanson, Author of Resilient, NeuroDharma and Hardwiring Happiness.

Game-changing breakthroughs are occurring in the fields of neuroscience, neurobiology, psychology and mental health that we can tap into from the comfort of our own homes to give our brains — and our lives — a major operational upgrade!

In his recently published study in the Journal of Positive Physchology, entitled “Learning to Learn from Positive Experiences“, Dr. Rick Hanson reveals the profound revelations of our capacity for “deliberate growth”.

The focus of this study was how to make learning “stick”; how to build those internal resources that we need when facing life’s challenges. Those inner strengths are things like courage, resilience, patience, confidence, compassion, and emotional know how.

There has never been a study done quite like this. Previously, the little research that did exist had been primarily focused on external factors like settings, environments, behavioral patterns; or broad, global attitudes such as having a “growth mindset” or being open to our own experiences. Even cultivating “awareness” about our emotional triggers and childhood behavioral patterns was only the first step in moving towards healing and personal growth. Being aware is key — but how do we make lasting changes in the ways we show up in the world?

As Dr. Rick Hanson points out, “what makes the most difference is where the neurological rubber meets the road in how we directly engage our experiences of what we are trying to grow.”

Positive neuroplasticity!

This is groundbreaking and game-changing research that will become a foundational component of mental health, personal growth, brain health and overall wellbeing.

By being proactively engaged in our positive experiences as they are occurring, we can disrupt the brain’s natural negativity bias and build stronger neural pathways for our inner strengths. We become more skillful at “taking in the good” and we strengthen core resources for handling adversity.

Dr. Hanson explains that if we are trying to grow inner strengths like happiness, patience, or self-worth, it starts by actually experiencing it. So often, when we are having a positive experience, it can wash right through our minds like water through a sieve. A momentary experience of pure joy or feeling patient fades away quickly. It doesn’t stick.

In his earlier teachings, Dr. Hanson would encourage us to become aware of those good feelings associated with a positive experience and hold on to them for 15-30 seconds. While that was helpful for us to begin recognizing how many good experiences we were having during a day, it was one half of the equation — it was “activation”. This new research reveals the second — and most impactful –step in the learning process. It is “installation.”

Activation and installation are the keys steps for our brain upgrades. Makes sense doesn’t it? We can get messages on our phones about a new upgrade, but until we actually “install” it, we don’t get the benefits of that upgrade. Same simple concept applies to our brains — it takes both activation and installation.

By using the methods from Dr. Hanson’s study, we can deliberately and directly increase our positive neuroplasticity which causes the actual experience to lodge inside of us. The experience sticks. It’s like planting a seed of the resource we wish to increase.

The more we deliberately and directly engage with our positive experiences, the more we are attending to the growth of those inner strengths every day.

These are such extraordinary findings because we now have several key factors to add to the field of positive psychology which Dr. Martin Seligman introduced over 20 years ago. It was long held that a person’s character was pretty much set by around the age of 20 but we’ve learned that this is not at all the case. People change all throughout their lives and have the ability to grow and expand their inner resources as they evolve. As Dr. Hanson’s study confirms, we do have the capacity for deliberate growth.

Not only can we acquire resources like resilience, patience, courage, self worth and emotional know how, we can supercharge the acquisition of these inner strengths by moving them from “states to traits”. Dr. Hanson points out that we have to move from “states to traits” for any kind of lasting learning.

In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear encourages us to cast a vote for the person we wish to become. He often suggests we have a strong image in our minds of a real life person who embodies the values and characteristics that we wish to grow. This concept of “casting a vote” is that every small and simple action that reinforces those good habits, done consistently over time, helps us “install” new, improved habits. Eventually, we do actually become a better version of ourselves and it appears to be fluid, organic.

It is this very same principle that Dr. Hanson’s research proves for our capacity to grow core inner strengths. Over time, with consistent, engaged daily practice, we move from someone who can tap into reservoirs of calmness or resiliency, to a person who actually is calm and/or resilient. We move more fluidly and organically through life with those core inner strengths as our compass and ballast.

Very simply put learning is conscious. Dr. Hanson emphasizes that we must help our positive experiences change the brain. No brain change, no learning.

Here is the stunning truth: We have the most amazing computer installed in us from birth — it is our brain. Yet we operate unconsciously about all the features and capabilities of this most incredible, malleable, multi-functional technology. Few of us ever read an operator’s manual for our brain. That’s a core reason why we have trouble parenting — we don’t understand how a child’s brain develops. As our bodies grow and our lived experiences shape us, we keep operating on auto pilot with a brain that would love an upgrade.

Let’s not forget that the factory default for our brains is a turbo-charged negativity bias. Basically when we are young, that factory setting helps us to stay alert for what we need to survive — food, safety, nurturing. And we are completely vulnerable, dependent on others to ensure those basic needs are met. But as we grow, learn and become autonomous, we gain agency for ourselves. However, if we don’t upgrade our brain, that default setting of the negativity bias will not serve us well. Quite candidly, that is where most of us are operating from unconsciously throughout our adult lives.

Dr. Hanson was not shy about pointing this out as he discussed his research findings on the July 11th Being Well podcast. Imagine just how dispiriting it is for counselors and therapists to hear that the turbocharged negativity bias of our brains is one of the toughest roadblocks for our quality of life, for healing from trauma, for personal growth and building core inner strengths.

And yet — it is also the most profound pivot for all of us. Positive Neuroplasticity! We can embrace our capacity to deliberately upgrade and grow a bumper crop of inner strengths.

Dr. Rick Hanson partnered with the Greater Good Science Center in Berkley, CA, along with other esteemed peers to do this research study. His excitement for this new discovery is contagious and encouraging. Dr. Hanson has spent his life dedicated to melding neuroscience and psychology to help us live happier, healthier lives in alignment with our potential and our values. This transformational discovery about how we can deliberately “active and install” a positive upgrade in our most amazing brains is going to have a huge impact on mental health treatments and services.

In a few days, I will share another blog post that details the steps in the HEAL method that Dr. Hanson teaches for us to activate and install our brain upgrades. It is my hope that you will find this new neuroscience breakthrough as dynamic as I do — and that you will take the time to listen to the lively discussion about it in the Being Well episode I’ve linked below.

Who’s ready for a transformational positivity upgrade?

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

JOURNAL OF POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY – RESEARCH WHITE PAPER BY DR. RICK HANSON: LEARNING TO LEARN FROM POSITIVE EXPERIENCES”

https://www.rickhanson.net/learning-to-learn-from-positive-experiences/

The Problem with Loving our Problems

“The problem with problem loving is that we become satisfied with discussing the problem and uncomfortable with imagining solutions.” — Dr. Shawn Ginwright, author of The Four Pivots.

This keen insight from the book, The Four Pivots, really caught my attention. As a consummate “fixer” most of my life, I would dive headfirst into “problem-solving” mode for myself and others — without an awareness that I wasn’t being helpful in most cases. The root cause of my fixing pattern was — discomfort.

I learned this from my childhood. It was how I believed I was contributing in a positive way to my chaotic family environment. As a kid, I was “managing upward” trying to help co-regulate, calm and deflect my parents’ wildly uncertain behaviors. These childhood patterns often contribute to both our strengths and our roadblocks as we enter adulthood.

My problem solving pattern got honed in some very positive ways — I am resourceful, able to see both big picture and the smaller one at the same time, and I am highly attuned to problem prevention.

The roadblocks to my “fixer” pattern were that I often solved the wrong problems, disenfranchised people from their agency to solve their own problems, micromanaged others thinking I knew what’s best, and disempowered others from asking for the help they truly needed and preferred.

Add to this combo that I am a strong type A who is always busy and thrives on the “doing” and you can readily understand that I could become a steamroller with the best of intentions but doing more harm than good.

In his book, The Four Pivots, Dr. Ginwright brings into focus how doing our own self-reflection and self-discovery work shifts us to the healthier side of who we really are — growing up and growing into our more authentic, grounded selves. Released from the problematic components of our old behaviors, patterns, beliefs and biases, we can move with greater ease into our unique gifts and talents.

As both an enlightened and reformed helper, I often use this quote about teaching a man to fish as my anchor when I am interacting with someone who is in struggle or overwhelm. It serves to remind me that a bandaid is a temporary solution for recurring, problematic reactions or responses to life. How can I best support another person to find their own long-term solutions?

While reading Chapter 8 (entitled “Possibility”) of Dr. Ginwright’s compelling book, I had a rather profound “aha” moment. Reflecting on some of my experiences with others over the decades, I could now easily recognize that a core issue was in fact — problem loving. People often rebuke a possible solution or strategy to tackle a problem that just keeps happening over and and over again in their lives. Now I get it — there was innate satisfaction in discussing the problem, ad nauseum — and a lot of perceived discomfort by taking personal action to change. Two more quotes readily came to mind:

To admit that we might need to change, to let go out of outgrown armor and patterns, does require us to be honest with ourselves — and that is a very vulnerable space to enter. Just thinking about makes us uncomfortable. So we just might find it easier and more satisfying to stay stuck, to keep complaining, and to keep repeating the same patterns. Far less vulnerable to simply project onto others all the work we probably know we need to be doing for ourselves — and on ourselves.

Dr. Ginwright offers this profound truth: “No fundamental change has ever come from problem fixing.” If our focus is solely on what we don’t want, we only turn our attention to eliminating. By reframing “problem fixing” to “possibility creating”, we shift our focus (and our thinking) to imagining and articulating what would feel really good, supportive and meaningful to us.

Here again, Brene Brown’s teachings and Dr. Ginwright’s work intersect: Language matters! Dr. Ginwright states that we should be mindful and avoid defining the world we want by articulating what we don’t want. BrenĂ© Brown teaches us that “clear is kind” — it is far better to state calmly and clearly what our boundaries are and what are needs are than to hope that other’s will be mind-readers.

When our focus is on eliminating what we don’t want, we tend to lean heavily on negative words and terms: Things never work out. It’s a constant struggle. It’s an uphill battle. Why so confrontational?

If we reframe our situation and come at it with imagination and creativity, we not only paint a different picture for possibility creating, we more naturally use language that supports this more affirmative approach: What can we invent to make this easier? Can we turn this job into a playful game? What big idea can you contribute? What if we discover something better? We are open to possibility! What does support look like for you? How can I best help you?

I could not help but think about incredible difference this profound shift could make in family dynamics and in personal relationships. Leaning into a pivotal change — infused with imagination rather than resistance would become a pathway for cooperation, encouragement and teamwork.

The reality is that possibilities are limited when we aren’t receptive to trying new things, exploring a different approach, setting priorities and owning our go-to patterns. People are reluctant to invest their time and energy in us if we stay stuck in our status quo of problem loving.

What is so revelational about this reframing approach is that it quickly gets us to answer the all important question — what is the endgame? If we are just hitting the repeat button on the same pattern, is it working for us? Are we moving forward and making progress toward a goal, just treading water, or losing traction?

Rather than complaining about what is not working and turning our focus on eliminating problems, we can try this new approach. Re-imagine, re-frame and get creative. Positive affirmation along with a genuine commitment to meeting change with enthusiasm and ingenuity will also foster more cooperation, teamwork and support. People are more inclined to invest their time and energy into us and our relationships with this transformational approach.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Listen to this remarkable podcast conversation with Dr. Rick Hanson, Forrest Hanson and Terry Real, family therapist and best selling author, to learn how quickly Terry gets his clients to shift their relationship dynamic and embrace change in a positive light:

Intimacy, Individually & Breaking the Trauma Cycle with Terry Real
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEtkkCRwTRo

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This game-changing book makes the case for doing our own personal growth work in tandem with the activism work needed for transformational changes for humanity.