Asking for Help

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For people who find it hard to ask for help:
Self-awareness and relationship awareness are two key components of emotional intelligence. Awareness is a fundamental life skill because you can only change what you are aware of. Being aware of your thoughts and feelings creates the possibility for new action. If I have a good relationship with myself but I cannot translate that when I am relating to others then my growth area is in relationship awareness. This requires being aware of myself and the other person I am in conversation with. Alternately some people are more skilled at building relationships with others than they are with themselves. This means their growth is in self-awareness. Strong relationships and emotional maturity requires self-awareness and relationship-awareness to be present.

Asking for help is a relational skill. I am one of those people who find it hard to ask for help. It feels like risky behaviour to me. The first risk I am aware of is that my request might cause the recipient some irritation. The second risk is hearing ‘No’ which I tend to take personally. When I became aware of my issue I began to observe this phenomenon more closely.

When we are not aware of something we act automatically in circumstances. In my journey of discovery I became aware of two beliefs I held; Firstly, that it is not okay to ask for help. Secondly, when someone asks you to do something you have to say, “Yes.” These revealed my complicated view of asking for help. If I ask someone for help then I automatically feel bad about myself, as if I have done something wrong. If I am asked for help, and I say, “Yes” to the request when I would rather say “No”, I set myself up for feeling some form of resentment. This is clearly not an ideal state of affairs when wanting to show emotional maturity and build authentic relationships.

While I was in my own struggle to ask for help, I heard a quote by Brene Brown: “When you cannot accept and ask for help without self-judgment, then when you offer other people help, you are always doing so with judgment.”
We know that giving help, if done for the right reasons, makes us feel good. So if you are happy to help others but can’t ask for help then some alarm bells should be ringing loudly inside of you. If you can’t ask for help then an unconscious thought of judgment will be present when you are doing the helping. This sets up an obvious relational issue.

So now what? Awareness allows us to recognise where the problem lies. Action is what shifts our way of being. Being able to ask for help, without emotional angst, is a necessary skill if you want to build authentic relationships. The way to build skill is practice. When asking for help there are three possible responses to a request: Yes, No and Maybe. Each response is valid. We must be consciously available to the possibility of each one: a ‘Yes’ is easy to work with; a ‘maybe’ sets up a negotiation, another relating skill; and a “no” can be the hardest to hear. However, when we are able to pause and look at it from both perspectives, a true ‘No’ is as healthy a boundary as a true ‘Yes.’ Where there is total honesty, there is the foundation for authentic relating.

Identify opportunities to ask for help and then practice. Any new behaviour will feel uncomfortable to begin with; it’s like putting on new shoes. I would recommend low risk requests to start. Notice how you feel when you get the response, journal about it. Be curious if your discomfort continues. Celebrate when it works for you, because you are building the skill of asking for help, and being able to give help authentically.

Working from our Centre

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The concept of working from our centre means we are able to respond to events and people from our true self. When we make decisions or communicate from our centre there is a quality to our words and deeds that is different from when we don’t. The word ‘centre’ describes the alignment between head, heart and body. When the answers to “what am I thinking”; “what am I feeling”; and “what am I sensing in my body” feel coherent and aligned then we are coming from our centre. It is a place of knowing rather than thinking. It is self-management and personal mastery in action.

Our centre is not dominated by our ego. The ego is entirely head based. Traditionally we have been taught to think through things and be rational. This is useful for managing our mental processes. However, it doesn’t include the emotional or sensory input that accompanies everything we do. This preference for using our cognitive capability over the other two is probably the single biggest cause of conflict in our lives.

Our thoughts are products of our interpretations and opinions. They can be very useful, and they can be the exact opposite. A thought like “I am capable” supports my action choices positively. A thought like “I’m better than you” distracts me from personal mastery and can trip me up when I am communicating or taking action. The issue is that we create a thought unconsciously and then act on it as if it were true, when there is no evidence to support that. The key to managing our thoughts and using them as a support to our personal mastery is awareness because we cannot change what we are not aware of.

If I believe “I am better than you” it will influence my behaviour towards you. I will show up as superior, patronising or even arrogant. This is egotistic behaviour. When I display these attributes, it will not motivate inspired action or spontaneous admiration from others. If I am aware of my need to position myself as better that you I immediately create a space for change. We expand our awareness in two key ways: through reflection and seeking feedback. These activities give us perspectives that were not previously available to us. New perspectives create the potential for new thoughts.

Let’s look at the thought “I’m better than you” from an emotional perspective. This thought expresses superiority however the emotional basis of it points to a low self-worth. If I believe the thought that ‘I am better than you’ it becomes apparent that my emotional system is not in agreement. In fact the opposite is possibly true; my emotional centre is confronted by feeling less worthy than you and my thinking system is trying to act against this emotional signal. This is a misalignment. Any communication or action made from this perspective will not be experienced as authentic.

If we look at these two states: the thinking state that says “I’m better than you”; and the emotional state that holds “I am not feeling worthy,” it becomes clear that neither is likely to be entirely true. “I’m better than you” as a non-specific generalisation is a defence mechanism generated by the ego and feeling unworthy is an emotional interpretation that has no real evidence to support it. And I have often encountered people acting out these two states and wondering why the outcome they seek from their actions is not the one they get.
Now add to this, the sensing capability within our body. Our body filters our experiences continuously. If we are not aware, this misalignment shows up as various body postures and actions. If I think ‘I am better than you,’ I am likely to take up physical space: I may stand when I speak so that I can be seen; I will probably speak loudly and more than anyone else in the room. The emotional context of low self worth means I will be checking how everyone is receiving my contribution; I need to be sure they can see me, hear me, and agree with me. If they do not agree with me, I also have a thinking tactic of managing that discomfort which further reinforces the view that ‘I am better than you.’ Our body is effectively a mirror to the world. It reveals our coherence or our misalignment.

We come back to our centre by re-aligning these three important areas. Theoretically, you can implement a change in the thoughts, emotions, or the body. In my experience as a coach it is not as easy as it sounds. We often hold thoughts and emotions very tightly so it is more difficult to shift them. I find the best results come from working through our body, to find a more light-hearted way to create awareness.
In our example we used the ‘I’m better than you’ thought, which is expressed as the emotion of feeling less worthy and the body posture that shows up as arrogant. There is alignment between the body and the thought; however the original thought is not true. ‘I’m better than you’ is too general and non-specific to ever be true. Feeling less worthy is fundamental to the problem, because the thought and the body alignment act to hide this emotional state. And ‘I’m less worthy’ is also too general and non-specific to be true in the emotional context.

A simple way to create alignment would be to find the place you would like to be. Pick a more resourceful emotional state like ‘I feel worthy’. Now ask yourself the question, ‘How would a worthy person enter the room or begin the conversation?’ Their body posture would not appear arrogant, or loud, or needing attention. It would express being present, confident and open. Explore what this body posture looks and feels like for you. Practice it in the mirror. Once your body moves into the posture, the emotional position of worthiness will begin to feel real. Now notice what you are thinking. Your thoughts begin to shift as well. Your need to feel ‘better than’ begins to shift and you will be able to see the other person’s value as well as your own. Now you are in your centre because your head, heart and body are communicating coherently. This coherence creates the foundation for effective self-management and personal mastery.

The Value of Boundaries

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‘It’s important to have boundaries’ is one of those sentences that trips off my tongue. I understand exactly what the words mean cognitively and, to really act on what I think or say continues to be a challenge to me.
Brene Brown defines boundaries as ‘what is okay for me and what is not okay for me.’ This in itself is not hard to establish, what makes it an issue is when I know what is okay or not okay and I don’t communicate that. I end up justifying my actions as ‘keeping others happy’ and then comes the emotional impact. If I don’t hold a boundary that is important to me I know immediately. I end up feeling angry, hurt or resentful. I also believe that I am able to hide that feeling from others and my experience has shown me that is rarely true. If the words I speak are not the words that declare my boundary then what I said and what I mean are inconsistent. This will be a felt by both parties in an interaction even if though it may be hard to articulate. This is important because it impacts the quality of our relationships.
Everyone has his or her own experience of a boundary being crossed. When someone steps over one of my boundaries I get angry, my chest contracts and I have the feeling of being taken advantage or disrespected. I struggle to say what I need to say and most often I will withdraw and disengage. Others may be more aggressive in their response directing their anger at the person who has overstepped the boundary. Both reactions are inappropriate because the person who has invaded the boundary is unaware of what they have done. In both cases conflict is the immediate result, be it inner or outer. The point is not to judge the reaction. The point is to be curious about what has happened. Our emotional reactions are flags telling us that we have a concern that needs to be attended to.
Coaching offers us tools and practices to help us recognise when we have not been clear about a boundary and what to do about that. The action required to put clear boundaries in place may not endear us to everyone; it may even alienate us from certain people. If someone wants us to do something they will not appreciate it when we are not able to meet their need. This can feel very uncomfortable at first. It takes practice to become skilled. Our default settings, like ‘keeping everyone happy’ or ‘needing to be in charge’ are automatic until we start to notice them. When we practice something new like ‘keeping myself happy’ or ‘allowing others to take the lead’ it will not feel natural or normal. The one way to know if it is an effective new strategy is to observe the quality of your relationships. If you feel more connected to yourself and to others you are putting boundaries in place that serve you.

What really hurts us

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What hurts us is believing things that aren’t true and acting as if they were.

We exist in a culture that sends us myriad messages that we may not be conscious of receiving. Messages like ‘being emotional is bad’, ‘riches and power make you successful’, ‘what work you do is who you are’ to highlight a few. When we don’t question these ideas they become an invisible backdrop to all the decisions we make and the opinions we hold. For example: if you think that being emotional is bad then you will judge people as bad whenever you feel or see an emotional response. This becomes instinctual over time. You will see the emotional response and, before you know it, you will be standing in ‘righteous’ judgment. Righteous because you believe what you see is bad. The path to transformation lies in being able to look more deeply at the situation. The problem is not being emotional. The problem is believing that it is bad. This is an important distinction for emotional intelligence. Here’s what is more true:

1. We are all emotional.
2. To be authentic as individuals we need to fully embrace this idea.
3. To be effective in our lives we need to be clear about our emotion state constantly.
4. To make a difference we need to understand and master the expression of our emotions skilfully.

This work is not just important for emotional intelligence. It is at the heart of being human. When we reject an integral part of our nature we reject ourselves. When we reject ourselves it shows up in the world as rejection from others. Others sense our own judgment and follow the lead we have given them. This is when the hurt begins. When we feel it from outside of ourselves it is easy to assign it as an external force. They are rejecting me. Many people get stuck here and because they are unable to accept their response as something inherently personal. If you want to heal the place to start is with yourself. Preventing the hurt in the first place begins with the ability to be with our emotions as they arise. Our emotions are spontaneous and they are catalysed by our experiences. So initially you cannot stop them occurring. The best tool you have to work with is your curiousity. Be interested in what causes a certain response within you. When you reflect on your reactions you will begin to see that your responses follow patterns. For example when someone says something to me in certain way I always react in the same way. Your reaction will be caused by a thought that you believe is true. When you become curious about the cause of your reaction you will begin to see that you believe something that might not be true for the other person. For example a habitual angry reaction towards perceived rudeness can become an inquiry into behaviour that you perceive as rude. A simple and brave conversation about what you perceive and feel has the power to shift a strong emotional reaction instantly. This is the start of self-awareness. You can only change things that you are aware of so once you see a pattern of reaction you can explore what that means for you. You may be comfortable with it or you may wish you could direct your emotional energy in a different way. The path to shifting habitual patterns is generally not a smooth or easy one however it is an inspiring one. Open communication is a powerful tool for change. This is emotional intelligence in action. Developing emotional intelligence changes our lives. When we are able to respond in a way that feels skilful we hurt less and we are able to connect more authentically with others.

Right Action

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I am very familiar with the feeling of indecision. It has plagued me for as long as I remember. The way it plays out for me is that I get paralysed and sit in a place of no action. It is not a peaceful place to be. Because I am a keen observer of human behaviour, my curiosity leads me to wonder and notice what happens for others. Using two distinct polarities, there are people for whom action is immediate and there are people, like me, for whom caution before action is the habitual response. It is easy to judge both these states.

What is apparent as I deepen my investigation is the fact that it is not the action or inaction that matters, but the intention behind it. It appears that wisdom lies very close to discomfort. When the opportunity to act arises there will be a moment of choice. In choice there is always discomfort because we are giving up one thing in favour of another. There is a necessary letting go. Sometimes the choice may feel obvious and easy, at other times, less so. When it is less clear, it may mean that we need to spend a little longer in the space of discomfort before ‘right action’ emerges. It is easy to judge discomfort as bad and make a decision too quickly.

The idea of right action is one that captures my attention. It is easy to be busy in activity. It is less easy to be in the discomfort of waiting for the ‘right action’ to emerge. I am not talking about big decisions although these can be felt in exactly the same way. I am talking about simple everyday things. For example, if someone requests something of me that I am not willing to do I will feel a ‘no’ arise in my gut. However my personality has a very strong ‘keep the peace’ focus so I can almost as quickly override the initial ‘no’ and watch myself saying “yes”. My self-coaching practice has taught me to stop at this point and notice what is going on inside of me. What happens as a result of that curious pause is that I can start to acknowledge and anticipate the possibility of ‘No’. My responses take all kinds of shape. Initially I would find myself explaining the whole story of ‘No’. This still reflects my ‘keep the peace’ state; ‘if I tell you the whole story you can’t be cross with me’ type thinking.

These days I am able to sit even longer in the discomfort of feeling a ‘no’ while waiting for the way to communicate emerges. What I have found is that waiting in discomfort allows a clearer response. When I can get beneath my defences I find the truth, and my experience is, that when I am able to communicate the truth in me it lands so gently and easily that my original discomfort is gone. And most often it is well received by the listener.

The key to staying in discomfort is breathing; deep, long breaths that keep the shoulders down and the chest expanding. Discomfort tells us something needs to be different and breathing opens us up to new possibilities.

The words of Lao-Tzu in 500BC are still relevant today and summarise this idea beautifully:
“Do you have the patience to wait, till your mud settles and the water is clear
Can you remain unmoving until right action arises by itself?”

Staying with Change

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It is easy to begin something new, especially when it is self-motivated. What is less easy is keeping at it when challenges come up that make keeping to our new resolution hard.

In truth, starting something new and bumping along the road a little to start is completely normal. Trying to instil a new habit takes time, focus and effort whereas reverting to old habits is easy. The thing that makes a new habit an old habit is practice. What I have noticed, with adults particularly, is that we often expect ourselves to know how to do something, even if we haven’t actually done it before. And when we can’t do it as easily as we expected a negative and critical inner voice tends to emerge. It will look and sound different depending on your interior state. It comes in the forms of excuses, blame or self-criticism. Our levels of personal responsibility affect how we react to ourselves in these circumstances. Some will blame the external environment for their inability to make a new habit stick and some turn their blame inwards. Their inner conversation is critical and judgmental of themselves. What is interesting about this behaviour is that is distracts us from what we are actually trying to do, learn and keep a new habit.

When we fall, and we will, the key is to work out how to get back up. We know that blaming the environment and criticizing others or ourselves is not the real truth or particularly helpful.

When putting new behaviour into action you will get feedback from yourself. You will be able to tell if you are getting closer to your goal or not because you will feel different. You might be thinking more creatively, feeling healthier in your body or happier in your relationships. When you slip back into an old pattern you will also get feedback from that behaviour. Slipping is not the place to get stuck. We are human and we all have days and moments when it is hard to keep the promises we make to ourselves. The skill that matters here is getting back on the track of building a new habit.

How do you bring yourself back to where you would like to be? Pema Chodron recommends the combination of honesty and kindness. She says that, ‘unconditional joy comes about when we allow ourselves to see clearly what we do with great honesty, combined with a tremendous kindness and gentleness.’ So when you slip, be honest with yourself about what caused you to slip, and with tremendous kindness to your struggling self get back on your new track.

Dying to be me

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This book is a real gem. It details the personal account of Anita Moorjani’s experience of having cancer, having a near death experience, returning to her body, miraculously healing and sharing what she learnt as a result of it all.

The book is divided into three sections: Her life as it lead up to her death process, the death process and the understanding she uses to live now.

For me the book offers two major insights: firstly, how to die well and, secondly, how to live well.

When I say ‘die well’, the book reveals Anita’s experience of dying. Her description repositions the negativity of death. The experience sounds like a gentle and beautiful transition despite the process of illness that got her to that moment. It does not come across as something to be dreaded. It is a transition from one state to another. It is not an ending; in fact it is an expanding. So my take on her description is that that death does not need to be feared or resisted, when it is time.

When Anita moved into the next realm she had access to a clarity about how had been living her life and the effects of those choices. While there she held no judgment on her insights. She articulates an experience of unconditional love and compassion. On returning from this place Anita held these insights as new truths for living well.

In living well Anita offers five key actions: Firstly, to love. She stresses that self-love is the foundation stone of this journey. We cannot offer what we don’t have, meaning we cannot love others more than we love ourselves. It is an impossibility. When we love ourselves we teach others how to love us, so we cannot be taken advantage of or bullied. Secondly she says, “live life fearlessly”. Her experience showed her that her fear had limited her and had not kept her safe from harm. The third action she offers is critical role of daily humour, laughter and joy in life. The fourth insight she offers is that ‘life as a gift’, not a chore. She says that everything that happens is a gift even when it doesn’t look like it. She refers to her cancer as her gift. Lastly she urges you to be yourself completely, trusting your own wisdom and discernment. There is futility in striving to be something or someone else.

If you are on a spiritual path and seek to understand life and death more fully this book serves as a wise guide. However the spiritual truths that Anita shares are radical and can feel challenging to a naïve reader. She is describing the non-dual world and if we can only hear her through the veil of duality her words could be hard to digest. From my perspective this book came to me exactly when I needed it and I am grateful to Anita for sharing her story and spirit so generously.

Moorjani, Anita. 2012. Dying to be me. United States: Hay House

Focus

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The topic of focus came up today and it fits into the theme of change from my previous posts this month. When we are trying to break a habit or create a new one the skill of focus is required. When we have developed a habit we act without thinking. In order to change that habitual action we have to be aware of what needs to change and have the focus to keep us on the new path. It reminds me of a saying I heard once that ‘energy flows where your focus goes’. Read more

Acceptance

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Last week the focus was on resolutions and the role that change plays in our lives. This week I am going to focus on another aspect of working with change; the concept of acceptance. The reason I think it is necessary to bring acceptance into the conversation is because it is a highly resourceful place from which to begin a process of change.

It is easy to look for things that aren’t right or need changing. While this in itself is not wrong; stepping towards change from a position of acceptance is a far stronger basis from which to begin a journey of change.

The research is very clear, we are wired to notice fault and negativity. If someone praises you for what you did well five times and tells you what you did badly once, you will hear it in a ratio of 1:1. If we are not aware of this, we can fall into the habit of criticism towards others and ourselves. Criticism seems to be under pinned by the idea that there is some perfect ideal that we are striving towards, and to get there, it is necessary to have the imperfections pointed out to us. Criticism is very different from feedback. Feedback is a perspective that is requested or offered from the outside world that broadens our view of how things are. It can be extremely helpful if requested and received from an appropriate source. The way to tell the difference is that, unlike criticism, feedback does not leave you feeling diminished or bad about yourself. Feedback can help us build our ability to practice acceptance.

It is not impossible to implement change from a place of discontent and criticism. The main issue is that discontent and criticism come with strong emotional content that can be distracting and detrimental to our efforts for true change. If we start by feeling bad about ourselves it can make us defensive which closes us down and isolates us from others when we most need their support in our quest for change.

Acceptance is entirely different. It is the ability to identify and be with what is actually happening without assessing it as right or wrong. It does not insist that we like what we see or feel. It simply asks us to see it as it is. There is something grace–filled about achieving this state. It is not judgmental. It requires observation and awareness. This creates curiosity and when we are curious it is much easier to see what else is possible. Criticism holds judgment as the antidote to change; acceptance holds awareness as this driver.

So as you move into the second week of implementing your resolutions spend a few minutes assessing where your desire for change is coming from. Are you standing in criticism of yourself, which holds that where you are is bad and you need to be somewhere else to be a better person. Or are you coming from the position of acceptance? Are you able to observe what your current reality is and be curious about how it could be different? If the basis of your resolutions were negative, I would encourage you to give the practice of acceptance a go and see what happens in your quest for change.

Resolutions

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There is a love hate relationship with people and resolutions at this time of year. A year ending and a new year beginning always sparks a time of deeper reflection for me. The outcome of reflection is insight and insight brings awareness and the seeds for resolution. The fun for me is working out how to bring a resolution to life. A resolution, at its heart, is a wish for change.

How we perceive change influences our ability to engage with it. What I know is that having skills to manage change makes me more resourceful in a world that is constantly changing and being able to engage with change in an accepting way increases my sense of inner peace and personal power. The word acceptance is not suggesting you have to like the change. Sometimes we have to adapt to horrible things. To resist what changes is to reject what is. This keeps us trapped in a place that is not here, now; and when we are not present, we cannot change anything. That means that we set ourselves up to the experience of being constantly in something what we don’t want. The practice of resistance keeps the negative cycle going. The practice of acceptance allows for something new to emerge. The resolutions born out of acceptance are more likely to become real and lasting.

I see resolutions as ideas about how to change my experience of life for the better so I don’t restrict them to once a year. When I recognize something has changed in the world that I would like to adapt to better or when I want to change something specifically to improve my personal experience that’s the time for resolutions.

The way resolutions come to me is through observation. If my observation leads to an “aha” I start to think about what my world would look or feel like if I was able to change. If that new world is compelling to me then I start exploring the steps I think would get me to there. Then I begin. It is always an experiment and unexpected results occur which makes the journey interesting. And if it stops being interesting you can change direction exactly the same way.

I believe that good resolutions come from good observations. To be an observer of life requires the spirit of curiosity and to be a successful resolver requires the spirit of adventure. Change is constant so being able to manage it in a proactive way gives us the opportunity to enjoy life more or to accept what is with the knowledge that things will change.

Some useful things to remember when making resolutions:

1. You can only change yourself
2. Don’t change for anyone except yourself
3. Change requires action and the first step will always be uncomfortable because it’s new
4. Resolutions are personal, what you find difficult someone else might find easy, don’t compare yourself to others
5. When you fall, don’t give up, get back on track

May you be present, curious and courageous in the quest for fulfilling your personal resolutions.