17 Nov Hold Up the Mirror to Yourself!
Self-reflection is not something we do easily or often, because we are so caught up with the hurly-burly of our everyday lives, chasing success, status, material happiness and the ever-elusive nirvana of ‘having it all’. Welsh poet W.H. Davies famously wrote: “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare…” And this starts to become apparent only when a major part of our life has rushed past us and we have moved ahead on pathways we may have chosen differently, had we had access to inner wisdom in our early years.
Self-reflection and self-awareness entails making space in our lives to pause, take a step back, and examine some of the beliefs and assumptions we hold about ourselves and others, that shape our life stories, our version of reality, as it were! These stories are formed from some key events in our lives, and they greatly influence who we are as people, how we interact with others, and how they interact with us. They also determine how we feel about ourselves and what we think we are capable of.
Having grown up in a strict Army environment, my own story was always about hard work, discipline, perfection and striving to be the best, which shaped my expectations from myself as well as others. The positive outcome of my story was that I aspired to, and became a successful and admired professional with abundant self-belief. On the flip side, however, many people found it difficult to get close to me and feel comfortable in my presence, because they sensed non-verbal messages of being constantly judged as ‘not like me’ or ‘not good enough!’. Only those who ventured beyond the signals I was inadvertently sending, got to see the ‘real’ me.
The great thing about stories is, that by shifting our perspective, we can tell a different one, and gradually change our perception of reality. This requires a great deal of self-awareness and courage to examine our beliefs and assumptions, and has the power to shake the very foundations of our self-identity! But it can also empower magical outcomes, making us feel more in synch with our ‘real’ selves and redefining our relationships with others. Learning to modify my story to one of unconditional acceptance, and letting go of the need for perfection has made me a happier person by far, and won me many heart-warming friendships, both professional and personal.
Dr Marshall Goldsmith, the world’s No 1 coach to successful global CEOs, advocates that in order to continue being successful, CEOs need to shift their perspective from the stories that made them successful and brought them thus far. In his book ‘What Got You Here Won’t Get You There’, he identifies some self-limiting beliefs and behaviors of successful people, and proposes new stories they can embrace, that focus on others rather than themselves. Dr Goldsmith says that behaviors like acknowledging the team’s role in their success, asking for feedback, listening without judgement, apologising for mistakes and thanking their teams often, have the potential to take CEOs to the next level of greatness!
Through my coaching experience, I have come across many stories, of hidden strengths as well as self-defined limitations, that people have not been consciously aware of. It has been extremely rewarding for me, to help people unravel their stories, and let go of whatever is holding them back from their true potential.
Oftentimes, an early lack of success in some sphere of life can lead to a belief that ‘we are not good at it’, whether it is to do with a specific domain, or soft skills like relating to family, friends or teams. At the workplace, if a leader is overly demanding and controlling, he may be living a story of mistrust, because he was let down by people close to him at some point in his life. In contrast, ‘popular and nice’ bosses, who hesitate to push back firmly and are always willing to give another chance, could struggle with control issues, as their teams may end up taking advantage of their leader’s self-image! Through a process of self-reflection, it is possible for people to become aware of their stories and shift their perspective, to move into a truer version of who they are, as genuinely resourceful, creative and capable human beings.
So how does one enter the reflective mode and what happens to our brain when we do that? Reflection can be triggered by events that have a deep emotional impact on our psyche, or even in moments of deep solitude. In many self-development approaches, meditation is one of the advocated practices, because it helps the mind to develop stillness, leading to greater focus, clarity, emotional awareness and calmness. A coach can also help you be reflective by creating a safe and trusting space, where you can uncover your stories without fear of being judged, and think creatively about new and changed perspectives.
The process of slowing down the activity in the mind is explained in Neuroscience through the concept of brain waves and their frequency. Our mind produces brain waves when masses of neurons in our brain communicate with each other, and this forms the foundation of all our thoughts, emotions and behaviors. We have five kinds of brain waves of varied frequencies, each of which serves a purpose to help us cope with different situations like managing stress, focusing on tasks, and even getting a good night’s sleep. The higher frequency waves are engaged in learning, logical thinking, memory and other cognitive functions, while the lower frequency waves help us in experiencing emotions, relaxation and restorative sleep.
At very high frequencies our brain seems to be working overtime and the ego mind and anxiety feed into our brain to generate unnecessary activity, thereby reducing our self-awareness and intuition. As we step back and calm our minds during reflection, the frequency of our brain waves reduces, bringing down the activity level in our brain. And as the mind becomes more relaxed, it allows the inner voice within us to rise into conscious awareness, and enhances our ability to be more intuitive and creative, awakening a more ‘true’ version of ourselves. Therefore, it seems logical to conclude, that we need to lower the frequency level and activity in our brain for real change to happen!
Our journey through life is a fascinating one, and with heightened self-awareness and knowledge of our true selves, we can find more happiness, success and fulfillment. As I close, the words of Herman Hesse echo in my heart, and I quote:
“Each man had only one genuine vocation – to find the way to himself….His task was to discover his own destiny – not an arbitrary one – and to live it out wholly and resolutely within himself. Everything else was only a would-be existence, an attempt at evasion, a flight back to the ideals of the masses, conformity and fear of one’s own inwardness.”