Our Thoughts: 5 tips for approaching self-awareness
We spend a great deal of time in life preparing ourselves for how we look before we head out into the world every day. Managing one's self-image is often confused with self-awareness however. Self-awareness begins from the inside out, here are a few helpful tips to get you started at taking a closer look at how you could raise your own self-awareness. This is by no means an exhaustive list and raising self-awareness can be part of a positive experience of self-development, a larger enterprise that would take more time that the suggested exercises below. These are some easy places from which to start thinking however, and working to see the positives, is nearly always a great state to be in.
1. Identifying Values:
We do not often think about what principles guide our actions but taking a moment to do a simple ‘Values’ exercise, such as the “Value Card Sort” from Miller and Rollnick’s (1998) Motivational Interviewing (MI) support materials, or similar can help to ensure you are living every day as meaningfully as you want to. Aligning our actions with our moral compass can be very empowering and ensuring each decision we make in life will fulfill something deeper in us can be a very grounding experience. We do not need to have lofty goals, we merely need to embrace the values that drive us, honestly, an engage more authentically in life according to these values. It is also key to be able to identify the ‘aspirational’ values from the ‘actual’ values. Some you will already be living, some you wish you were doing. Celebrate what you already have and inspect the aspirationals a little more closely. If they belong to someone else, it may be time to think about letting some go, especially if they are holding you back from achieving those you really care about or are causing you distress. If they are causing you distress, it never hurts to have a little mental hygiene session or two with a mental health professional.
2. Identifying Strengths:
It is often noted that when people are asked to list what is good about themselves, many can be stumped, but when asked about faults and or what’s not working, the list seems to flow and, in some cases, can be endless. This can get us stuck in a rut if we spend most days ruminating about what we cannot do instead of what we can do. The Values in Action (VIA) survey, offered free and online through the PennState University website for VIA research, asks a great many questions and offers up a list of strengths for you. All of the 24 strengths are valid, valuable and real. A little of all of them is in you, just in varying degrees. The results from your answers puts your strengths in a ranked order for how they are most likely to be showing up for you. Maybe you have never considered you had any of these 24 strengths, but you can bank on them being real as the ongoing research from this project collects data from every participant (who gives their permission) and provides a number of activities and opportunities to better realise and develop your particular strengths as well as your particular mix. If nothing else, your list of good things about yourself can be increased to 24 items, all you need to do is give it a go.
3. To-Do Lists and Covey’s Cross:
Whilst this is not new, it is a very simple and effective way to put one’s seemingly or actually hectic schedule into order, but in a meaningful way that removes an element of stress and the sometime confusion that can ensue when we put everything we can think of that we need to do on level and equal pegging with everything else life demands of us. A simple example is the humble, simple and yet potentially unsettling “To-Do” list. We have probably all done this at some point whether it was for the weekly shopping, organizing children’s schedules or planning business strategies.
The first step is to list out everything that could be done. Often these lists start out concrete, such as buy toothpaste, arrange dentist appointment and can end up with life wishes such as get my piloting license. All of these are equally valid things to put on a to-do list but not all are immediate. Again, we need to separate out aspirational from actual, those that are time bound within a day and those that are more of a must-get-done before the end of the month sort of task. How does this tap into self-awareness you might wonder? Well, how we choose to spend and/or clutter our lives says a great deal about who we are, what we want to do, who we are trying to please and even about the responsibilities we feel we have to do versus want to do.
A first easy way to gain control of your schedule, lower the stress that is often associated with feeling overwhelmed by a never-ending list of equally demanding and important tasks swirling in our head AND take a peek at who we are trying to be is as simple as two lines that cross to form a big plus sign on a blank sheet of paper. Label the upper left quadrant “TODAY”, label the upper right quadrant “THIS WEEK”, label the lower left quadrant “THIS MONTH” and the lower right quadrant, you guessed it, “THIS QUARTER” or even “THIS YEAR”, depending on how far out you think about your future.
Make your to-do list, if you haven’t already got one lurking in your back pocket or on your phone, and plug and play. The quadrant titles can of course be adjusted to suit your own timing (hour, half-day, day, week, etc) but the main point is being able to see that not everything is immediate or urgent. If you have more than five things in your immediate quadrant, unless they are micro-tasks, such as shopping and daily family or similar routines, or more than five in your far-future quadrant, you may well have too much for you or anyone.
Still, consider how much you are trying to pack in, or not, (and why), and think about how you can adjust this if you really are not satisfied with what you see. Check if all of the tasks really are living up to your values and are they employing all of your best strengths. Realistically, there is no perfect list, we are humans. There is a balance that ensures you keep your sense of you though, or at least helps you become more aware of it, if you were not previously.
4. Mindful Awareness:
OK, everyone says this and it has data to support alleviating a whole host of difficulties and cultivating a more enriched experience of life and of other people’s experience of you as a knock-on bonus effect. How on earth does this cultivate self-awareness you may wonder? Well, the practice of slowing down and gaining any kind of awareness of our experiences in life is going to, per force, make you self-aware, whether it is at a the physiological, meta-physical or other astral-plane level. This of course, depends on what you wanted to get out of it, but don’t expect to go into deep meditative practices on your first stab, you will most likely be disappointed and give up.
Instead, just try simple daily awareness exercises to start you off. The easiest is brushing your teeth. Of course, you do this every day because you have good hygiene as one of your core values, you want to take care of your choppers because we are going to live for much longer that we used to and we want to look good, or at least not knock them over with halitosis.
Now, being ‘mindful’, has perhaps developed a bigger mantle than most are willing to tackle, but it really is in every simple act that we have to be aware in order to truly be mindful. The sitting around for hours on end, hands resting on crossed-knees, eyes closed, is an advanced state and maybe one you are not even thinking you want to try or aim for. But brushing your teeth, you (hopefully) already do, so let’s give it a go.
We do not realise how much information we take in with our eyes these days and how little we take in through our other senses in order to allow these organs to inform our experiences and therefore our awareness of our environs.
Just closing your eyes, whilst doing a normal everyday task, such as brushing your teeth, and paying attention to the sensations, saying them in our head (cumbersome to speak with a toothbrush rolling around in your mouth) is mindfulness at a simple, easy to approach level.
Letting all the other thoughts that would normally come into your head whilst brushing teeth and losing focus on yourself in the mirror, just stop for a moment, as you call out to yourself, ’minty smell’, ‘gritty texture’, ‘hard bristles’, talking yourself through each tooth, maybe for up to a minute. Viola, you have been mindful, congratulations!
The other thoughts aren’t going anywhere, don’t worry, if they are really important they will revisit your mind. If you don’t list them out, they will keep coming back! Again, self-awareness can start on the micro-level of just what is going on in your body, no judgement, no expectations, just calling it like it is, and you are well on your way.
5. Thought Logs and the Attitude of Gratitude:
The Positive Psychology movement has moved forwards in leaps and bounds since its first and clearest enunciation at the start of the current century. Many have contributed to the burgeoning movement away from the deficit’s model of human behaviour and functioning and towards a possibility for appreciation of the old philosophical questions such as ‘what is the good life’ or ‘what is the right thing to do’. Not everyone is into diaries but there is something to be said for committing our thoughts at any given moment to paper or bytes.
Firstly, memory is never whole, it is only ever reconstructed from our perspective of our experience in any given moment. Yes, this implies that we can never be fully aware, which is why it takes so much work and can put some people off trying altogether. Another important factor to consider is that anthropologically speaking we are somewhat primed with ancient structures deep in the brain, to scan the horizon for danger or threat in order to protect the main being, a primary directive. This is why sensory issues can be such a bugbear for some.
Back to the point, we only lock in salient material that confirms the absence of threat or at least a plan for responding to it should it arise. When our systems are not occupied by this, which is really most of the time anymore since it is not often that we are being chased by lions and tigers and bears (ok, some of us choose this, not speaking of this group), we are free to feel ‘good’. Once we have our basic needs of water, food and safety satisfied, now what. Well, we could go for procreation, paying it forward on the species front. If we are really lucky, we can also focus on the affiliation with other humans angle too, but you have to feel really safe to do this, really good early childhood-parent bonding experiences set us up with the ability to do this.
So, if we are safe, stable, well-fed and watered, and manage to get through childhood relatively intact, wow, that is already a lot to be grateful for in and of itself, but we are primed to be able to clock what is good in life. And yet we don’t, why?
Well, perhaps because we just haven’t had as much history doing so yet as we have had in sorting through all the things that aren’t fulfilling some impossible criteria and looking instead at what works and going with that. This is not to say that we want to expunge doubters, nitpickers and the like, hey, we need lawyers, actuaries, architects, etc, society is good with people who help us to interpret the law, understand trends in order to think about the future and build safe building to house us all in.
But, and this is a big but, we also need to be able to just taste a strawberry, and appreciate it for what it is. We need to be able to look at our children and see the good that they were born with, not just the potential that can be developed before they are 10 years old if you get them in all the right tutoring. We need to be able to be grateful for each little thing. Ok not each little thing, that would take way too long, but choose some during the day, 5-6 and write them down and repeat them before you go to bed, remind yourself that there was something that worked, primes the other partsof your brain to kick in and potentially change your perspective. Your mind will sort out the other things while you sleep, that is what it was designed to do, you do not need to mull over stuff during the day as much as you think you do or you allow yourself to do. Even sharing the few good things you have and getting each family member to do so at dinner or in the morning if your schedules are truly disparate, can fill up the ‘good’ meter fairly quickly.
Really, leaving it to philosophers to figure out what is good may take too long, removes your autonomy and leaves you with options you may not like or want to adopt. Go ahead and give that attitude of gratitude a try for yourself and find your own good, but write it down somehow, remind yourself and share with others often. You might just be surprised what you become aware of about yourself!
So, hopefully you can grab onto any one or all of these at some level. Hopefully, you have a little more insight into the idea that self-awareness can run a little deeper than having one’s hair be in place, if you want it to. Give any or all of these suggestions a try and see what comes up for you. Regardless of what you try, enjoy being at whatever levels self-aware you want to be.
Supervision - what is it for?
Professionals from many walks of life have learned over time that in order to be the best, one must learn from at least the pretty good. Ideally we have all come through any post graduate studies with extra support and guidance on academic issues that may have included a tutor, academic supervisor and even a mentor if you are lucky, although the latter is more often an industry based extra bonus.
Supervision in professional practice however, is something different and more substantial than just getting support to pass a course with high marks or ensure your dissertation is as tidy as possible.
Supervision for a professional practitioner is for growing beyond the basics and is something one cannot really do without and here are a few reasons why.
1. It is required by a growing number of professional membership organisations. As a part of maintaining membership in helping professions societies and in other fields, a certain number of hours are required to be demonstrated every year with a qualified supervisor.
2. Reflective practice is the true mark of a professional whether in banking, baking or candle-stick making. Being able to set aside time and reflect on the work you have done, the interactions you have had, the growth you have achieved as well as the lessons learned, is a common feature of the top professionals world-wide, regardless of industry. Supervision provides the crucible for this reflection in a supportive and empathic manner that one cannot achieve on with a boss, collague, partner, best mate oe even on one's own.
3. Learning from your own lessons can help to make money and can also fend off losses due to poor strategies, being unaware of one's weaker areas and just not taking advantage enough of one's strengths. Supervision gives this learning space credence and confirmation with another, non-jugmental, professional and the money spent on supervision can often lead to gains and stemmed losses in the long-run. Money well spent really.
4. Release! Yes, Supervision provides a freedom that no other space provides as you are always held in positive regard and there is no judgement. This is not a mentoring relationship or a teaching space - it is pure and simple, the space where you can let go of your ideas and explore your professional horizon with complete openess. It is best that way.
5. Last but not least, you will grow. There are no two ways about it. When you take the time to invest in yourself, your future and your professional being, you are growing, maturing and turning into the true professional your deserve to be. After all, you spent all that time studying to get where you are, would you really throw it all away by getting stuck in that time? How awful, to remain at your post undergrad self forever - move with the times and become your best you can be.
Try some Supervision today!
Our Thoughts...To Bully, be Bullied, Bystand or Be the solution.
Bullying is a phenomenon that exists in nature and has been observed in animal and human models. It is a phenomenon that happens worldwide and causes untold angst and stress and yet there is often very little that is done until someone is unable to cope and takes desperate measures to remedy their feelings.
Bullying can take many forms and can sometimes be indistinguishable from teasing, hazing and other practices that are considered ‘normal’ and something to just be taken on the chin. It can happen at school, in the home, in the workplace, socially, in the community, in cyberspace and pretty much anywhere that one human perceives an opportunity to exert themselves in some way over another human and seeks to carry out that act, often repeatedly with increasing intensity and frequency.
Whilst not an exhaustive list, bullying can take any of these forms and can exist anywhere there is a power differential to be had; Physical/Verbal/Cultural taunts and teasing, Stealing money or belongings, glaring/staring/not sharing, breaking in line, poking/touching inappropriately, damaging other’s belongings, ignoring, selective inclusion/exclusion, coercive demands, withholding something until receipt or something else, sexual reprisals/demands, demanding performance of some act without rational reason that is humiliating or degrading to another, requiring acts of an individual who is incapable of carrying them out for the purposes of segregation and acts that amount to exploitation.
This can come from friends, colleagues, peers, parents, siblings, community leaders and similar such figures. Bullies are not necessarily those who are physically stronger than others, they also come in the guises of more socially adept or connected, with more money, more powerful position, smarter or more skilful in some way or just plain better looking than anyone else.
This list may be longer than what you had in mind and include a wider variety of actions than you thought would come under the heading of bullying but this is only a small representation of what actually goes on in many people’s lives on a daily basis, in some routine or another that they feel unable to break free of, feel unsupported for and feel powerless to change.
According to recent research in the US, over 20% of Elementary/Primary aged school students experience some form of bullying. While this number drops of as Middle/High/Secondary school years approach, there is still a considerable amount of bullying behaviour reported and at an escalated level. If unstopped and unsupported, these bullies may well go in into adulthood carrying on with these maladaptive behaviours unchecked, in a mistaken effort to control situations where they themselves lack confidence, and meet out even more punitive and/or more damaging forms of these behaviours such as office bullies, stalkers, sexual predators, social exclusionaries, cyber-terrorists and worse.
There are multiple parts to any bullying situation and we may have all played one of these roles at some point in our lives; bully, victim, bystander/watcher, whistle-blower or dare-er. At any point in the development of these relationships, many people have had the opportunity to intervene but often most do not, preferring instead to hope it will stop, go away, disappear, redirect interest or just plain not have happened. The truth is that once a bully and victim realises that no one is going to help the victim, it is too late.
Bullies are often bullied themselves and actually are in need of support for their own inabilities to cope but this is rarely recognised in time. Most recognition goes to victims, who may have physical signs of being hurt, may have sullen and frightened behaviours, may have inexplicable loss of money and/or property or damage to belongings as well as low mood, anxiety, depression and loss of interest in activities, school work, peers or interests that once gave them enjoyment.
Bullies themselves may have some of these signs early on but may also often cover up pain and hurt by carrying out behaviours that deflect, such as being nice to a teacher, giving gifts to people or other more socially acceptable or laudable behaviours in order to distract them from action going on elsewhere that may be less than sparkling behaviour. Some of the most effective measures for supporting both parties is to give everyone the chance to describe what feels like being bullied, as one person’s line is drawn in a different place from another.
For example, when one comes from a home where parents insist on particular behaviours around cleanliness or orderliness, when the child has the opportunity to make choices for themselves, they may decide to either have no rules for cleaning or to go to the opposite extreme and persecute themselves and others with their own rigid interpretation of the rules. Thus, when asked to be responsible for such a situation in a social arena, they may not be able to have the same boundaries as others who may have come from homes that were more relaxed about cleanliness and thus display intolerant and/or demanding behaviours towards others, assuming a ‘leader’ role or similar in an effort to exert order in an otherwise seemingly unruly group.
This can be most readily witnessed in adult social bullies who ‘collect’ weaker adherents who ‘follow’ their lead. Often these individuals will offer gifts and rewards to those who will spend time with them and choose a select few who will form part of their core co-bullies, unwittingly or otherwise joining in. Then, these individuals will utilise the core group to entice others to join in on events that help the initial bully to appear more powerful and confirms this sense in them so that by choosing who will be included and/or excluded they exert the control over others that they refuse to have levelled upon themselves, such as judgment or having to deal with one’s own painful emotions as one is surrounded by other’s who confirm the power and thus the bully is perpetuated, constantly replacing lost individuals, with new core loyals, who may well feel rewarded for finally being allowed in and therefore become all the more loyal, reconfirming the bully’s power, goals and self. Where this line can be drawn can be difficult to tell however.
For example, if we are teased by a good friend for a habit, such as always splitting the lunch bill exactly in the number of people or according to what each had precisely, it is up to the individual to decide what level of comfort they have with teasing and also to say with which level they are uncomfortable. As an adult, one usually develops self-respect to the measure to be able to say such things in defense of one’s self. Children however, are still developing such sense and may not yet be resilient enough to recover from a blow that was too strong, to recognise that it was too much, to have the wherewithal to enunciate it to someone who can do something about it or to anyone at all and to tell the difference when everyone else seems alright with but it really doesn’t feel good and so to say something immediately so that it does not build up.
Once this is set in motion and no one questions the balance, it can be very difficult for young persons to develop the discrepancy to defend themselves and to be able to seek out help when they are unable to or no longer able to cope with what is happening to them. Often, because of this and due to pride or other such concepts, many students do not seek help, because it is not cool or they would lose face, and let it go until the bullying situation escalates beyond what is reasonable and sometimes ends up in damage to property, other people’s welfare and even the loss of human life.
With the advent of social media, it has become even easier for faceless perfectionism to taunt anyone who wishes to seek it out and for those who are still learning to flex their social-emotional learning boundaries to go too far without having to have to respond to the consequences that would have once been instituted on the school ground or in the home or community.
Many schools and organisations have instituted policies and essential agreements around expected behaviours from verbal, physical, mental and cyber with clear consequences for transgressions. Homes have become less clear territory as more children have free access to electronics and less chaperoned time on them.
Whilst physical, verbal and direct emotional bullying have perhaps reduced in numbers as the migration to cyberspace ensues, this form of bullying will probably go on for some time, numbers will most likely pale in comparison to what can be exacted through social media however. It is an important time to be aware of our children, our colleagues and our own behaviours. It takes only a moment to stop and educate if we can recognise the opportunity and/or encourage others to do so on their own behalf, but the consequences are now more dire and more and more isolation leads to potentially greater numbers of reported fatalities, whether there is an actual increase in numbers or not.
Take a moment to check with your children, friends and family – does anyone feel under duress or stress for something they are unable to control or feel they have no ability to change? Then it may just be time to encourage them to talk and for you to listen and to find out where their boundaries are. Help someone else recognise this today, Don’t be a bystander, be a supporter of learning, whether on behalf of the bully, the victim or the bystander – everyone has a role to play in development and in diffusing.
Which role could you take today?
Taking Stock of Your Values, by Emma Wienker
The start of a new year is often a time when people make new year’s resolutions and set goals for what they want to accomplish in the coming year. From extensive research we know that well-defined goals increase the likelihood that we will achieve the things we want.
Goals are future oriented, something that we are striving to achieve, change or obtain at a later time. Interestingly, people who become overly goal-focused may also experience frustration and a lack of fulfilment. Their focus on the future and achieving the next milestone may mean they put off experiencing joy or success until the goal has been achieved. Often I hear statements such as “once I lose that five kilograms (goal) then I will feel much happier”, or “when I get that promotion (goal) work will be so much more satisfying”. In both scenarios, happiness and satisfaction is tied to achieving a goal.
However, what if the goal is not achieved or it takes considerable time to accomplish? How can we experience meaning and purpose every day? One answer to those questions is to take stock of, clarify and make a conscious choice to act on our values.
What are values?
Values are what we want to stand for in life, how we want to behave and the global qualities of our actions – Russ Harris, MD The Happiness Trap. Values are something that you can do on an ongoing basis, for example, being loving, accepting, curious, assertive, fair, or nurturing. In contrast, being happy, confident or content are not values, these are feelings or emotional outcomes. Being respected, valued or loved are also not values, as these relate to how others behave towards you.
What is so special about values?
Values are an expression of what really matters to us. Acting on our values brings meaning, purpose and fulfilment that comes from being true to ourselves. Values can be used in every facet of our life, our relationships, our work, our health and our leisure time. Knowing our values can help us make choices about how we might act in response to stressful or challenging situations. Despite how we are feeling, we can still take actions that are in line with our values. For example, in the midst of discussing a sensitive issue with your partner, how do you want to behave? Is it with hostility or avoidance? Is this in line with your values as a partner? Or do you want to engage with honesty and compassion? Being in touch with your values can help you to respond more effectively, engage fully in your life, even when faced with emotionally difficult situations.
Unlike goals, values are ongoing, they aren’t completed and can’t be crossed off your bucket list as “achieved”. Values are not future focused, they are accessible here and now, we can choose to behave in ways aligned to them in each moment. Values aren’t dependent on whether or not we achieve a goal. They are flexible; there are multiple ways in which you can act on your values at any given time. When our behaviours don’t align to our values, people may feel lost, our achievements may feel empty and our experiences may lack a sense of meaning.
How can I use values in my life?
In relationships, being clear on our values helps us to define the qualities of our own behaviour and the sort of partner we want to be (for example, supportive, caring, affectionate). Acting on our values in a relationship can be very empowering. Even though we can’t control how our partner behaves, we do have control over how we act and respond, which can help pave the way for constructive communication and meaningful engagement with our partner.
As a parent, acting in ways that align to the sort of parent we want to be (which might include values such as being nurturing, patient, curious, as examples), can help us derive meaning, especially on days we feel like we are down in the trenches, sleep-deprived, and when pursuing any goal may seem impossible. Knowing our values can also be helpful in guiding how we behave when we are dealing with difficult parenting situations (e.g., toddler tantrums, rebellious teenage behaviour).
Workplaces are often goal-driven environments, but they can also be complex and fluid. Acting on our values allow us to be purposeful in our actions even if there is ambiguity. As a leader, behaving in line with our values (which might include authenticity, encouragement, fairness) also provides consistency for our direct reports, providing them with a sense of stability and certainty about the future.
If values are so important, should I forget about my goals?
Values and goals serve different purposes. Goals help to keep us moving while values are like a compass, providing direction and a link between our goals, giving them meaning. To help live a values-based life, use your values as a starting point when setting goals and taking action towards your goals. If values underpin your actions, then the outcome of your goals becomes less important in leading a rich and meaningful life.
So before the year marches on, consider making time re-visit or discover your values. What do you want to stand for and how do you want to behave? If you are working towards a goal, ask yourself if it is aligned with what truly matters to you? Think about the little things you could do to take values-guided action in different areas of your life each day.
Emma Wienker is a Psychologist and works with people experiencing various life transitions and challenges. Helping clients identify their values is a central part in supporting clients on their journey to make meaningful changes, find alternative ways to reduce their struggle with painful thoughts and feelings, and engage fully in a purposeful life.
For more reading on values see Russ Harris, MD: ACT With Love and The Happiness Trap.
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