Taking back your personal power!

Taking back your personal power!

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” 

 

– Marianne Williamson.

This article is all about helping you to take back your power by living in a more conscious, connected and creative way. By using our 4A’s method- awareness, acceptance, accountability, action- we help you to start to become aware of feelings of disempowerment; recognise language and actions that imply that you might be stepping into a victim role; take charge of your reactions; and consciously respond to situations in a way that best serves you. We don’t exaggerate when we say it can completely transform your experience of life. There are many things in life we can’t control: notably other people’s responses and behaviours. So, let’s start taking charge of what we can control: our response to the world. Take back your personal power and start playing the game of life…. your way.

 

 

Let’s imagine you just broke the record for highest sales targets in a year. Not only that, you’ve made more money in a month than the entire team made last year. Your boss calls you into his office. You presume it’s got something to do with a promotion or pay rise so you smile to yourself as you enter the room. As you sit down, your boss briefly congratulates you on your incredible sales results. He then segues on to your pay package going forward. Your base rate will stay the same and your commission will be cut by half. “What? … I made more money in a month than our sector made in a year?” “Yes” your boss replies, “and you’re also taking home more money than anyone else on the team. The commission structure is simply not serving the needs of the company.” You feel like you’ve been punched in the gut. In spite of all of your hard work and success you’re going to be the one that loses out. And you feel completely powerless in the situation. Or are you…?

This is a true example that comes from a long-term coaching client, who we’ll call ‘Sally’ for the purposes of this article. Upon leaving the office Sally felt completely powerless to change her situation. As we like to say at 4D, it felt like the world was “happening” to her.

Think of a situation in your own life, work or personal, in which you feel like you are a victim of someone or something. Join us as we walk through the 4A’s for taking back your personal power, so that you can “happen” to the world, in whatever situation the world throws at you.

 

1. Awareness

 

“I also came to realise that if people could make me angry they could control me. Why should I give someone else such power over my life?”

 

– Ben Carson.

For the first few days Sally spiralled through many emotions varying from anger to grief, ruminating over unhelpful thoughts that caused her distress. This emotional rollercoaster and feeling of “stuckness” left her feeing exhausted and sick. Becoming curious about your responses during challenging situations can help you to reduce suffering, sickness and stress. In Buddhism this is called the ‘second arrow’. The first arrow that hits you is the situation outside of yourself and is something that often you can’t control. The second arrow that follows is the turmoil you create for yourself, and is a direct result of your response to the situation. Take Sally’s situation for example: the first arrow comes when she realises her hard work is being rewarded with a pay cut. The second arrow- the suffering- comes when she tortures herself by asking “why me?” and staying stuck in a loop of “it’s not fair.” It’s so tempting and human to respond like this, however it also prevents us from moving forward.

 

We’d encourage you to give yourself time to feel and be with the pain and disappointment of the first arrow as grieving and feeling the feels is part of the process. At the same time, stay curious to the second arrow ‘stories’ of suffering that you might be adding on top of the situation.

Think back to the situation you picked for yourself. What stories are you telling yourself about what happened, how you were treated and what it says about you? These automatic thoughts give us insight into our default modes of operating. If we become more conscious of these default responses, by getting curious about our own experience, we can start to see how these patterns show up in our lives. Becoming aware of these deeply ingrained patterns gives us the power to shift away from second arrow behaviour, and enables us to re-shape them into a different, more constructive response.

Here are 2 ways of becoming more aware of unconscious stories and thought patterns:

 

 

1. Journaling

Journal what’s going on in the mind. Journaling is an excellent outlet for processing emotions and helps to increase self-awareness. University of Texas psychologist James Pennebaker believes that writing about stressful events helps you come to terms with them, acting as a stress management tool, thus reducing the impact of these stressors on your physical health. His research also suggests that regular journaling strengthens immune cells, called T-lymphocytes. If journaling doesn’t appeal why not dictate into your phone when on a walk or do a mind map on a flip-chart. There are loads of ways of doing this, so get creative! One way could be to divide a piece of paper into six sections… Life, love, money, work, family and hobbies or passions and journal or draw in each box.

 

2. Automatic Writing

Access your unconscious thoughts by allowing your pen to lead the way. The rules are as follows: pick a topic, set a timer for one minute and then keep your pen moving across the page (or your hands typing) until the time runs out. Try to write as quickly as possible! To quote Deborah Frances-White, author of The Guilty Feminist: “This method is a great way to establish your fears and low self-esteem points […] The scary thing about using this approach is that it may uncover your secret fears and insecurities. But while they stay hidden, you can never really confront them.” This exercise will make you aware of the automatic thoughts that are controlling you, and only then will you be able to take conscious control and focus on shifting them.

 

2. Acceptance

 

“Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation; It means understanding something is what it is, and that there’s got to be a way through it.”

 

– Michael J Fox

An important step in taking back your power is accepting what you can’t change. An expression that really resonates for us is “Resistance to what is, is the cause of all of our suffering.” Initially, Sally felt powerless to change her situation. She couldn’t force her boss to change his decision (legally or otherwise) because of several factors including the fact that it was his company and she’d been hired as an independent contractor. If she could go back in time she’d be sure to get the proper paperwork in place, as opposed to relying on word-of-mouth agreements and good old-fashioned ‘trust.’ But she couldn’t go back in time and she couldn’t move forward if she didn’t accept what is. Railing against the unfairness of the decision, keeps Sally stuck in her role of victim.

In your situation, is there some reality that you are pushing against that it’s time to accept? Consider the concept of radical acceptance, defined as “completely and totally accepting something from the depths of your soul, with your heart and with your mind.” This idea of accepting an unchangeable reality, brings to mind the Serenity prayer: “God grant me the wisdom to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” What can you accept in your situation that helps move you forward in your journey from victim to creator?

 

3. Accountability

 

Accountability adds momentum and drive to stages 1 and 2. This third step keeps us moving forward and enables us to keep learning and developing as human beings. We do this through curiosity and inquiry, in order to challenge limiting beliefs and unhelpful stories. A key question to ask yourself when you reach this stage is: What is my responsibility in bringing this situation to life? Stay self-reflective and curious about your own experience. What can you take from this experience that may help you in the future?

When Sally took ownership of her own mistakes, she was able let go, learn from and build on the situation. After reflecting on the situation, she was able to recognise the value in being upfront and clear around issues involving money.  As opposed to continually blaming herself about the issue, she accepted ‘what is’, held herself accountable and built on the situation by creating new behaviours. The key difference between self-blame and accountability is that the former keeps you fixed, and the latter invites forward movement.

Next time you catch yourself in what Mark Manson, author of “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***”, describes as a ‘thought tornado” try to notice when you use words like “ever” “always” “never”. In Sally’s case this might look like “I never get what I deserve” or “No matter what I do, I always end up the loser.” These words are often signs that we are in a cycle of self-blame. Once you become aware of this negative self-talk, you can start to challenge these thoughts. One way of doing this is by using Byron Katie’s 4 questions: 1. Is it true? 2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? 3. What happens when you believe that thought? 4. (And our favourite!) Who would you be without that thought? Katie encourages students to view this work as “a meditation practice. It’s like diving into yourself. Contemplate the questions, one at a time. Drop down into the depths of yourself, listen, and wait. The answer will meet your question.”

Victim status can be seductive and keeps us from taking responsibility for our own blocks. Often a victim story garners support and care-taking from others. Taking accountability for your part in bringing the situation to life, moves you away from victim status. “This unfairly happened to me, caused me a lot of pain and I’m powerless over it” becomes “what can I learn from this, how can I grow from this, and what can I do going forward to create a situation that better meets my needs.”

 

4. Action

 

“People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.”

 

– George Bernard Shaw

What are you going to do? What are your action steps and when are you going to do them by? It doesn’t matter if these are tiny changes or big transformations: this step is about becoming the creator of your own life. However big or small the step forward, letting go of your focus on someone else and focusing on yourself and your own path forward promotes a sense of well-being.

Sally now describes the event as “the making of her” and considers it an unexpected silver lining. By using the 4A’s Sally was able to create a better situation for herself at work by taking responsibility for her part and convincing her boss going forward to put her compensation plan in writing. Interestingly, over time, Sally took even more control of her life and ultimately left that position to start her own business. We are pleased to say she is thriving!

Often when things don’t go our way, it can be an opportunity to make important changes in our lives. We’ve all had that experience in which we realise we never would have become the person we are if the event that seemed so painful at the time hadn’t happened. In your situation, what action steps can you take now that will start you on the path of becoming the creator of your life? 

At 4D we’re passionate about firing up the intentional dimension, what we call the 4th  dimension. In our 4D model, which is the underpinning of all of our work at 4D, we talk about human beings as often operating in 3 dimensions, our physical dimension, emotional dimension and intellectual dimension. When the 4th  dimension comes online, we start to ask “is this actually my intention,” “Is this the impact I want to have” “what do I really want to do?” You start to make choices that drive your 3 dimensions as opposed to your 3 dimensions driving you. After the meeting with her boss, Sally’s three-dimensional autopilot reaction was feeling physically anxious, emotionally angry and disappointed, and thinking that she was a victim who had been treated unfairly and had no power to change it. The 4A’s process we’ve offered you, brings your 4th dimension, that intentional dimension, online so that you can take control back around how you respond to life events. It’s the difference between the world happening to you and you happening to the world. We often use a quote attributed to Viktor Frankl, a Psychiatrist who lived through the Holocaust: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

 

The Freedom to Choose

 

“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”

 

– Buddha

Next time you feel powerless, stop for a moment and take yourself through the 4A’s of taking back personal power: 1. Become aware of the stories playing out. 2. Ask yourself, is there a reality here I must accept in order to integrate and transcend? 3. Hold yourself accountable for your part in bringing the situation to life. Be conscious of the stories and language you’ve been using so that you can move from victim to creator. 4. Finally, ask what’s possible? What can I do to help the situation? Create an action point for taking back your personal power in any situation. What is in your control? And how can you change it? The choice is yours.

An Easter Ego…

An Easter Ego…

Learning to live, lead and love with a healthy ego

 

Ego gets a bad rap. We are told to transcend the ego, release from ego, fight the ego. And it has been singled out as one of the biggest hurdles in the discovery of the ‘true self.’  Yet, the majority of us don’t live on a mountain in the middle of the Himalayas where it might seem feasible to ‘starve the ego and feed the soul.’ We live in a world that incessantly provokes the ego. An ego that can protect and motivate us. As well as enrage and hijack us.

Developing and nurturing a robust and healthy ego is key to personal development and professional growth as it helps you to: lead from a place of vulnerability and courage; create a culture of openness and honesty; learn from mistakes; embrace failure; accept praise; become a systems thinker. We’re not interested in the size of your ego: this is about the state of your ego and how it can help you to live, lead and love with intentionality.

Ego triggers and traps

I’m in the midst of an ego-fuelled email exchange, and every line- no every punctuation mark- is pushing my buttons. I feel like I’m being baited to fight back, with provoking and petty messages reminiscent of a primary school playground. I’m trying my utmost to ‘consciously communicate my impact’ and yet I can’t seem to get through to this other human being. I’ve tried using all of my 4D tools and tricks to somehow connect and collaborate but every reply I receive back is like a concrete brick wall. Now a few years ago, I would have probably joined in with the same spiteful email exchange, adding even more fuel to the fire. However, thanks to a recent ego ‘health-kick’, I’ve been able to stop myself from ‘cutting off my nose to spite my face’. But what even is a healthy ego? And how can you get one too?

The Healthy Ego

 

Your EGO can be a wonderful thing. It is our developed sense of self in the world. And yes, an unhealthy defensive or fragile ego can be troublesome. It can lead to victim mode, contempt, scorn, defensiveness, undermining others, passive aggression, or straight up aggression. It is often coming from a place of fear. The ego believes others have the power to diminish it so either crumbles, self-punishes before someone else does or try to diminish someone else’s state to protect itself. The goal, however, is to use your intentionality to develop your HEALTHY EGO. A healthy ego isn’t dependent on other people to be whole and safe. It might enjoy praise or winning but it will not be devastated if these things don’t always happen. With a healthy ego you will be strong, resilient, confident in your abilities and honest about your amazing talents – as well as available to growth, happy to receive constructive feedback, curious in the face of conflict and able to acknowledge mistakes with a clear mind and open heart.


Here are 5 ways of developing and nurturing a healthy ego:

 
1. Co-create Conversation

 

Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, Dr. Daniel Siegel describes the brain as a ‘relationship organ.’ He’s spent over twenty years researching the profound influence of those around us, or what he calls “the neurobiology of ‘we’” and has discovered that emotions are what fire and wire neural interaction patterns in the brain and enable us to learn. Therefore the core drivers for human beings throughout life are relational and thus inseparably emotional in nature.

But what does this have to do with the ego?

What Siegel’s research shows us is that in order to nurture healthy, happy egos we need to make sure that our ego drives are linked to relationship goals. One simple way of doing this is by actively listening. Take the time to listen to others by being present as opposed to predicting what they are going to say. It’s simple yes, but not easy, particularly when we consider the fast paced, distraction-heavy, instant gratification culture that pervades our lives. Even if we’re not speaking over another person we may find ourselves thinking over them, by planning what we’re going to say next or thinking about how their story relates to us.

Someone with a healthy ego gives others the space to speak. And they don’t need to say what’s already been said. Instead, they build on ideas and co-create conversations as opposed to dictating and directing them. To quote Carlo Rovelli, author of ‘Seven Brief Lessons on Physics’ (which is as scientific as it is philosophical and political): “To better understand the world, I think, we shouldn’t reduce it to things. We should reduce it to happenings; and the happenings are always between different systems, always relations, or always like a kiss, which is something that happens between two persons.”

A great place to co-create conversations is during Q&As. In fact, I tend to love this part of a workshop as long as I lean in, stay curious and really listen to what is being said. This simple shift takes away the pressure to know all the answers and transforms questions and answers into collaborative conversations.


2. Accept praise

 

When I was around 12 years old I really struggled with my self-esteem. I’d recently started secondary school and anything that sounded remotely like a compliment had me turning bright red and feeling a deep sense of shame.  During this time, I remember my grandma telling me: “it’s rude to reject a compliment. Accept it properly, let it reach you and then say thank you.” Wise and wonderful advice that continues to help me develop a greater sense of self-worth to this day.

I’m sure many of you have had some experience with the embarrassment that so often surrounds praise. One of the more obvious ways we express this embarrassment is by batting away compliments. Perhaps a colleague praises you on your presentation and you find yourself saying: “oh it was nothing really. I had loads of help!” This is example of what I like to call a ‘compliment cringe’: you’re refusing to take in the praise (and are also unintentionally telling the person they are wrong!) Christopher Littlefield, recognition expert and founder of international consulting firm Acknowledgment Works, has uncovered a scientific explanation to why we find receiving compliments so hard. His research revealed that 88 percent of people associate recognition with a feeling of being valued, yet 70 percent also associate it with embarrassment. As he says in his Ted Talk: “We love recognition, but we suck at it.”

One study showed that people with low self-esteem “have difficulty accepting and capitalising on compliments.” This was primarily due to the fact that they doubted the compliments’ sincerity and believed that they were- on some level- being patronised. Interestingly, when the people were not thinking about a compliment in relation to their relatively negative self-theories or stories of themselves, they were able to accept and capitalise on compliments. In addition, there is now scientific validity showing that people perform better after receiving a compliment.

Learning to accept compliments helps to boost your performance and also helps to build healthy relationships, as it opens up the ground conditions upon which relationships can develop and grow. Lean in, stay curious and see what you can learn from another person’s compliment. Maybe you find it hard to comprehend why someone would like your crazy curls, or your energised hand gestures! But your story of yourself is just one story in 7 billion. One perspective. So why not use the next compliment you receive as an opportunity to explore the other positive narratives of You that are out there.


3. Make friends with failure

 

I’m so thankful for many of my so-called ‘failures’. Like not getting into drama school (three times!) At the time this felt like the biggest failure imaginable, personally, professionally and socially. Personally, because I wanted to prove to myself that I was good enough. Professionally because I was working in the industry and believed training was a right of pass; and socially because so many of my friends, family members and worst of all- fellow actors- knew I was auditioning. However, with hindsight I can see that this ‘failure’ wasn’t an end point, but a wonderful new beginning. It fired up another, totally unexpected adventure. To use the words of monk and author Robin Sharma: “the most successful people on the planet have failed more than the ordinary ones.” So, if you want to be successful you might as well start making friends with failure!

Failure is a big threat to the unhealthy ego. It undermines self-worth and can produce feelings of fear and powerlessness. Research has shown that we are more likely to blame failure on external factors like luck or the difficulty of the task. Yet, someone with a healthy ego sees failure as an inevitable part of life and as a unique opportunity to learn and grow. In his book ‘Black Box Thinking’ Matthew Syed states that: When failure is most threatening to our ego is when we need to learn most of all!” Someone with a healthy ego seizes these moments and sees them not as failure in the traditional sense, but as fuel for a greater fire because “a progressive attitude to failure turns out to be a cornerstone of success for any institution.”

In an interview for the Wall Street Journal, cartoonist Scott Adam’s, shared his wonderfully playful approach to failure: “If I find a cow turd on my front steps, I’m not satisfied knowing that I’ll be mentally prepared to find some future cow turd. I want to shovel that turd onto my garden and hope the cow returns every week so I never have to buy fertiliser again. Failure is a resource that can be managed.” Teacher and writer Jessica Lahey goes further, seeing failure as a gift. In her aptly titled parenting book, ‘The gift of failure’ she writes: “Out of love, and desire to protect our children’s self-esteem, we have bulldozed every uncomfortable bump and obstacle out of their way, clearing the manicured path we hoped would lead to success and happiness. Unfortunately, in doing so we have deprived our children of the important lessons of childhood. The setbacks, the mistakes, miscalculations, and failures we have shoves out of our children’s way are the very experiences that teach them how to be resourceful, persistent, innovative, and resilient citizens of this world.”

For the healthy ego, failure is a gift, for themselves and others. So, join us in reimagining ‘F.A.I.L.’ as an acronym for: Forever. Acquiring Important Lessons.

 

 4. Embrace vulnerability

 

Stand-up comedy has taught me a lot about the power of vulnerability. On one occasion I tried my hand at musical comedy, attempting to sing, play guitar and be funny… all at the same time! A triple threat that had me feeling much more nervous than usual. So, I decided to own my nerves, by singing all about the things that were wrong with my performance (like the fact that my guitar playing is pretty sub-par in spite of 10 years of lessons!) And I’m proud to say that my openness and honesty- presented in musical form- had the audience in stitches!

The unhealthy ego often self-identifies as a perfectionist. To use the words of Brené Brown Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: if I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimise the painful feelings of shame, judgment and blame.” Perfectionism acts as a great big wall that stops you from being seen and is in many ways the antithesis of vulnerability. The healthy ego encourages vulnerability and sees it as a strength and a powerful tool for connecting people. Because as some wise person once said: ‘love is giving someone the power to destroy you but trusting them not to.’ In order to create a culture of trust within our families, teams and organisations we must embrace the power of vulnerability.

Research by Paula Niedenthal, which tested the authenticity of a person’s smile, revealed how deeply we resonate with each other. This is why we are able to tell when someone is ‘putting on a show’ because we are able to register their surface level inauthenticity at a much deeper level. This is particularly true for leaders, as research has revealed that we are sensitive to trustworthiness and authenticity in our leaders.

Furthermore, vulnerability also positively affects how we see ourselves. Studies revealed that a state of authenticity “centres on contentment and social ease; or, in the case of inauthenticity, a lack thereof plus anxiety.” Tara Brach talks to this ‘social ease’ that comes with vulnerability in her latest podcast- ‘Releasing Ourselves and Others from Aversive Blame’: “We know that a lot of the humour in our society actually focuses on people’s mistakes because it relieves us when other people make mistakes.” So, reject perfection in favour of connection by embracing your human side- warts and all! It will help you develop a healthier ego, build deep bonds of trust and – as I discovered- might even provide you with some funny material for a stand-up set!


5. Look through a systems lens

 

A system is a group of interdependent entities aligned around a common purpose or identity (CRR Global). And systems are everywhere. There are more obvious systems like families, teams, a cast of actors. And less obvious systems in places such as:

  • The cinema: here we find lots of individual systems until the movie starts. Suddenly everyone stops talking and switches off their phone. It’s an unspoken code of conduct.
  • Up in the air: everyone on a plane is going in the same direction. This is their common purpose. But they are also all interdependent. Everyone has an individual purpose and also a shared

As the 4D model shows, we don’t exist in a vacuum: we are always being affected by cultural and environmental contexts. Another way to put this would be to say that we are always operating within systems. We are simultaneously interdependent and co-dependent. The unhealthy ego celebrates individualism, often at the expense of community and co-dependence. Take for example the air travel example above. As soon as the plane lands, everyone jumps out their seats, pushes to get into the aisle so that they can get their bag and claim their place in the queue to disembark the plane. However, everyone is wanting to disembark the plane. Everyone is heading in the same direction. But unfortunately, the passengers’ heavy focus on their individual goals quite often slows down the system and undermines its shared purpose. 

Someone with a healthy ego thinks about our relationships like a 3-legged stool.  

  • 1st Leg- I, Emotional Intelligence (EQ)
  • 2nd Leg- YOU, Social Intelligence (SI)
  • 3rd Leg- WE, Relationship Systems Intelligence (RSI)

The stool will lose its stability if one of its legs is wobbly. Or it will become unbalanced if one leg is longer than another. We need to nurture all 3 legs: our relationship with our self, our relationship with others and our relationships with our wider communities. The healthy ego recognises that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and sees themselves as a part of whole network of systems. This is what is known as systems thinking, as it offers us a wider lens and a helicopter view of the ‘systems’ within which we exist. 


Have a healthy happy ego!

 

Ego health is the difference between the world happening to you and you happening to the world.  When we have a healthy ego, we are driving the show. And whilst there are many things out of our control- like other people’s responses on email- we can control our response, if we develop a robust and healthy ego. I can promise you that if you keep stepping in and ‘living in the arena’ (as Brené Brown likes to call it), your ego will be threatened time and time again. However, if you’ve developed a healthy ego, it will withstand these triggers and traps. If you don’t like the game that someone else is playing with your ego then you can change the game. Which is exactly what I did with my angry e-mail exchange. I ‘killed them with kindness’ so to speak, responding with relatively pleasant and proactive emails. And eventually, they started to do the same.

Be a game changer by developing a healthy ego for a happier world. Let’s make a positive impact, by changing the planet…one ego at a time!

Naughty but Nice…

Naughty but Nice…

There was a little girl, Who had a little curl,

Right in the middle of her forehead.

When she was good,

She was very good indeed,

But when she was bad she was horrid. 


– Henry Wandsworth

 

We can become conditioned into ‘being good’ from a very young age. And our experience of ‘goodness’ may often be subjective and gender-specific. One may be called a “good girl” for being ‘sugar, spice and all things nice’ and a “good boy” for being bold and brave. As adults, our understanding of what it means to ‘be good’ is likely to depend on the messages from childhood that we have internalised. And this definition of ‘good’ influences much more than our moral compass: it affects our day-to-day interactions with our co-workers, family and friends and also, with ourselves. So, what does ‘good’ mean? Compliant? Well-behaved? Talented? Successful? Top of class? Kind? Avoiding eating the donuts?! The list goes on….

For some of us, ‘being good’ means being obedient and following the rules (something that is conditioned into us throughout our education.) Yet, in Silicon Valley I’m sure ’being good’ is also much more about ‘disruptive innovation’, thinking out of the box and breaking conventional norms. Which makes me wonder whether our ideas about ‘goodness’ are somewhat archaic and misaligned with the fast-paced and ever-changing landscapes of our lives. One article encouraging parents to embrace the rebel child, asks if childhood obedience is “a cause for concern or celebration?” And another, commending rule breakers in the workplace, goes so far as to say that “What is really dangerous these days is safe thinking.” So, could it be that our rigid, outdated understandings of goodness are holding us back?

In this article we’re looking at how conditioning around ‘being good’ might be limiting us at work, in our relationships and with ourselves and exploring ways we can accept and embrace our own unique inner ‘goodness’. Let’s take charge of our own definitions of goodness, instead of allowing society’s multiple (and often contradictory) definitions to direct our lives. We can be the author of our own life narratives, and whilst being good for some might mean going for an 8-mile run, for me, ‘being good’ this year, is simply about being true to me.

New Year, Same Me

I typically start January with a New Year, New Me resolution, in the hope of being ‘more good’ in a certain area of my life (last year it was to run twice a week.) But like 91% of all New Year’s resolutions- I didn’t even make it to February. And so, I find myself feeling ‘bad’ for failing to stick to my challenge. But, who is defining this idea of ‘goodness’? My colleague Katie spent several years running and ended up having 4 knee operations. So, in this instance running was not so ‘good’ after all. This is why it’s important to take charge of our own understanding of ‘good’, instead of being influenced by everything and everyone around us.

Be Good to Yourself

As with my 2018 resolution, a lot of our ‘being good’ revolves around not being good enough. So, this year, why not focus your ‘goodness’ efforts internally? Instead of trying so hard to live up to someone else’s’ vision of good, why not focus on being good to yourself?

“If I am not good to myself how can I expect anyone else to be good to be?”


 -Maya Angelou

Self-compassion has been shown to help promote healthy behaviours and positive thoughts. In one study, an increase in self-compassion correlated with an increase in health-promoting behaviours, such as eating habits, exercise, sleep behaviours, and stress management. Another study, looking at the effect of self-compassion on ‘restrictive and guilty eaters’, showed that self-compassion helped to reduce distress and helped people to adopt healthier eating patterns. So being good to yourself can actually lead you to being ‘good’ in more conventional ways, like diet, exercise and sleep. In fact, scientists are now arguing that “self-compassion attenuates people’s reactions to negative events in ways that are distinct from and, in some cases, more beneficial than self-esteem.” We live in a world obsessed with the idea of being self-confident and having positive self-esteem but perhaps it’s much more important to cultivate self-kindness. Which brings to mind a quote from author and Buddhist practitioner Jack Kornfield: “If your compassion does not include you, it’s incomplete.”

Inside Out

Instead of defining goodness from the outside in, we’re flipping the formula and starting from the inside out. To quote the wise words of the 19th century monk Swami Vivekananda: “You have to grow from the inside out. None can teach you, none can make you spiritual. There is no other teacher but your own soul.” If we don’t define our own values and understandings of what it means to be good then they may become ungrounded, disconnected and vulnerable to negative, outside influences.

“You have to grow from the inside out. None can teach you, none can make you spiritual. There is no other teacher but your own soul”

 
– Swami Vivekananda

So, using the 4D2C model (see below) let’s take a look at how we can take charge of our own definitions of goodness. First, let’s look at the two contexts in which we live – our culture (people) and environment. As we’ve mentioned above, the world around us can affect our ideas of goodness in numerous ways and this starts from a very young age. So, we’ve got the outside pushing in, often influencing our internal dimensions. For example, we may create an autopilot of goodness within our physical dimension, with ideas of goodness being linked to ‘going to the gym’ and ‘eating healthy.’ In the emotional dimension goodness might be linked with ‘being kind.’ And in our intellectual dimension being good might be connected to ‘getting top grades’ or ‘being top of the class.’ The autopilot goodness narrative will depend on multiple cultural and social circumstances. But sometimes these autopilot narratives don’t serve us. As we develop and grow, these ‘goodness’ narratives may become outdated, limiting and stop us living from our true values. So, this is when we have to fire up our intentional self and look inward for answers. Asking ourselves questions like: what does goodness really mean to me? What elements of good will be useful to live by to be my best self? And how does being ‘bad sometimes serve me? As Michelle Obama said: “I have learned that as long as I hold fast to my beliefs and values — and follow my own moral compass — then the only expectations I need to live up to are my own.”

 

When we live with intention we can push back from the inside out and learn to love all of our parts. Intentional living isn’t about being perfect: it’s about being integrated and connected to your whole self. To use the words of Swiss psychiatrist Karl Jung: “I’d rather be whole than good.”

For Goodness Sake

Once we’ve begun to take ownership of our own values of goodness, the real challenge is acting on them. Why for many of us is it so hard to invoke our inner rule breaker when we are faced with opposing forces in the real-world? Because of a deep-set desire to people please.

 

American Psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory around the stages of moral development can help us to understand why we can struggle to embrace the rebel inside, particularly when faced with a moral dilemma. Kohlberg theory suggests that the majority of us remain in level two, Conventional Morality, so called because it is where we conform to conventions and rules of society: “Good behaviour is that which pleases or helps others and is approved by them. There is much conformity to stereotypical images of what is majority or ‘natural’ behaviour. Behaviour is frequently judged by intention. ‘He means well’ becomes important for the first time. One earns approval by being ‘nice.’” What Kohlberg is saying is that at this level we are more concerned with group approval than we are with taking charge of our own moral compass. We self-sacrifice our own values in order to please the group.

So, how can we begin to step out of this conventional level and into what Kohlberg calls ‘post-conventional morality’? We can look to our inner creative or our inner child. The free spirit who wants to push boundaries in a playful, curious and flexible way. This doesn’t mean throwing around chairs in your next boardroom meeting. But it could mean, putting the desks to the side and setting up your meeting in the circle. Small changes that can create huge waves in organisations. One only has to consider the theory of ‘disruptive innovation’ to see this in action. And thanks to companies such as Uber, Airbnb and WeWork, the way we travel, work and play has completely changed. These companies have not only changed the game. They’ve rewritten the very language of the game. (I wonder how long the word ‘taxi’ will remain in circulation given that we now are all ‘Ubering’ everywhere!) Yet, this didn’t happen by following the rules. In fact, they ‘did good’ by redefining what it means to ‘be good.’

So, like these disruptive innovators you too can relax your boundaries around what it means to be good, in order to give yourself the space to be curious, creative and think out of the box. Instead of living by the hard lines of right and wrong, learn to love the space in between. Because it is in these unknown, grey spaces where we find inspiration, innovation and unbounded potential…and perhaps your next big adventure!

Good Enough

Atelophobia is the fear of imperfection. The fear of never being good enough. Something that I’m sure touches many of us on some level on a daily basis. However, if you practice being good to yourself, connect to what goodness means to you and allow it to be an open, unbounded concept…then you no longer need to fear being good enough because good is no longer in the equation. You are quite simply enough.

The next time you find yourself feeling bad for not doing something, seeing someone or being something check-in with your own goodness barometer. Does this definition of ‘being good’ really sit with you? And, how might your ‘being bad’ actually be really useful? Last week I cancelled dinner plans with a friend and I felt really bad as it’s something I rarely do. But this was also an example of ‘being good’ as I was – for the first time in a long time- prioritising self-care and sleep after a very hectic week. It really is all about perspective. Flip the story, fire up your intentional self and start writing a goodness narrative that works for you and your life.

Let’s get dreaming of Christmas connection. Not Christmas perfection.

Let’s get dreaming of Christmas connection. Not Christmas perfection.

Is striving for the ‘perfect’ Christmas leaving you feeling stressed?

If you answered ‘yes’ then you’re not alone. Research from the charity Mind revealed that one in ten people feel unable to cope at this time of year, a figure that increases to a third when we focus on people with ongoing mental health problems. Surprising given that this is supposed to be ‘the season to be jolly.’ But perhaps that’s exactly the problem. Are the social and cultural pressures to create a ‘Happy Christmas’ having the opposite affect? And is our well-intentioned desire to create a perfect Christmas causing us a whole lot of festive stress? In this article we’re exploring how we can create a truly ’perfect’ Christmas for ourselves. One that isn’t aiming for perfection at all but is instead, focused on Christmas connection.

I have a Christmas confession. This article kept me awake at night. I was trying to craft and create the perfect Christmas article, the best possible gift that I could offer to all of our fabulous readers and 4d friends. But by 3 AM I realised that I had fallen into the very trap I was trying to write about! So many of us want to create the perfect Christmas. We want to surprise and excite our family and friends, through gifts, food, gatherings and games. However, as I learnt in the writing of this article, the pursuit of a ‘perfect’ Christmas can cause us a whole lot of stress and even sleepless nights! So, in this article we’re moving away from Christmas perfection and into a narrative of Christmas connection. Join us as we focus on five themes that will help you to have a happier, healthier and much more connected Christmas. Let go of control, manage your expectations, stop comparing yourself to others, prioritise self-care and step-in to the moment. As I learnt recently from the animated film Kung Fu Panda: “The Past is history, the Future is a mystery and today is a gift. That’s why it’s called Present.”

1. Control

My anxiety around creating the perfect Christmas article showed up during a work trip to Amsterdam. My mind kept going around in circles, desperately trying to make sure that everyone would enjoy the article. But I was trying to manage the reader’s experience of this article, which is ultimately beyond my control. Thankfully, I managed to step out of this control cycle in the early hours and was at least able to get a few hours sleep!

If you truly want to enjoy Christmas, then stop trying to control every last detail. Of course, this is much easier said than done, because being in control makes us feel safe. We preempt our lives and predict how things should be and as a result, set ourselves up for disappointment when they don’t turn out as planned.

However, if we can stay open to the spontaneity and surprises that Christmas will inevitably bring, we may discover an even better version of events. An unplanned Christmas story, that is in fact, far better than the one you had in mind. Maybe you end up burning the roast potatoes but perhaps this has you all laughing like children and letting go of expectations? Who knows where unexpected joy and delight will show up. Stay open and curious and you’ll start to find so much joy in the small, simple details that define one moment from the next. As we asked in a previous 4D article ‘Micro Experiences, Macro Effects’: “are you conscious of the micro experiences you are creating in the everyday? And can you appreciate the micro experiences that other people are creating for you? Don’t underestimate their power. These seemingly small and simple moments create a ripple effect that can impact the dynamic of a whole relationship.” We can’t control so many things in life- notably other people and how they feel about us (and our work). So trade in micro-managing for micro experiences and take charge of the one thing that you can control: your response to the Christmas around you.

2. Expectations

I wanted to send out an article that would help the World to step-into a simpler kind of Christmas. One that isn’t overwhelmed by consumerism, consumption and keeping up with the Jones’ but is instead, focused around the presents we can’t see, like love, laughter and presence. Yet, it’s quite a big ask to expect one article to end the commercialism of Christmas. I had placed an impossible set of expectations on this Christmas ‘gift’ and had therefore, set myself up to fail.

If you also have high expectations, then you may find yourself stepping into Christmas feeling stressed and with a foreboding sense of ‘never enough.’ The human-tendency to always predict the best is known in psychology as ‘the optimism bias’, which is defined as, “the difference between a person’s expectation and the outcome that follows.” Put simply, if we set our expectations too high we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.

So, let’s flip the story. What if we accepted where we are? And who we are? Perhaps it’s not the Christmas we expected but what ever happened to ‘good enough?’ To quote the wonderful words of Osho: “There is no need to be more- you are enough. Everybody is enough.”  

3. Comparisons

Another way I created unrealistic expectations was by comparing this article to other articles. I wanted this one to be bigger and better than any other 4D article (and maybe even better than those other Christmas articles out there…ones that gets thousands of hits and clicks!!) However, comparisons- with both our past selves and other people- cloud our judgement and stop us from seeing our current success. A study in Science reported that activation in brain areas related to reward, respond to relative differences in wealth even more than absolute amounts. Which is why some Silicon Valley billionaires feel disadvantaged because they can’t keep up with their wealthy neighbours.

The rise of social media has increased our ability to compare our Christmases, and offers us instant access into the lives of other people- people that we might not even know. (For example, you might be one of Selena Gomez’s 144.5 million followers or Cristiano Ronaldo’s 148.3!) Yet, this constant scrolling and swiping might be detrimental to your mental health. One study found that Facebook use was linked to both less moment-to-moment happiness and less life satisfaction. Rather than enhancing well-being, the findings suggested that Facebook may be undermining it.

Comparisons are merely oversimplifications of the unique gifts we all possess as human beings. So instead of heading into the holiday season like a headless chicken, why not take a moment to consider your top Christmas priorities and the things that make your celebrations special? This will give you a road map through the endless to-do list and help you to recognise what is most important to you. Perhaps you’ll discover that seeing your Great Aunty is more important than driving two hours to pick up an out-of-stock Christmas toy for your kids. When you work out the things that matter to you, you’ll start to ‘play’ Christmas your way. One of my friends is avoiding Christmas presents this year in favour of donating money to the person’s chosen charity. And my colleague Katie is gifting time by booking experiences and days out to spend with loved ones. Find out what sits with you and your values and create a Christmas that reflects where you are: not your neighbour!

“The Past is history, the Future is a mystery and today is a gift. That’s why it’s called Present.” 

 
– Kung Fu Panda, 2008

4. Self-Care

In my efforts to please the 4D community I overlooked caring for myself. I ended up stressed, tired and found that the writing process was feeling like hard work. I normally lovethe creative process that comes from creating this content each month, so this was a real red flag.

I’m sure we’ve said this before but self-care isn’t selfish; it’s not an indulgence. But it is a discipline, as making time for no.1 in a season focused on ‘giving’ is much easier said than done. However, as we discussed in our Thanksgiving special last month, giving also includes the gifts that you give to yourself. You might find yourself trying to please everyone on your Christmas list, but don’t forget that YOU should also be on that list.

In fact, we’d go so far as to say that you should be at the very top of your Christmas list. We often talk to clients about embracing ‘selfishness’ because until you are in a good place yourself, you can’t be what you want to be for others. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. A short bath, a 10-minute meditation or a walk around the block can all help to relieve you from stress. But if you feel that you really can’t escape physically, then treat yourself to three, deep and mindful breaths. Deep breathing has been scientifically proven to reduce stress whilst also positively affecting your heart, brain, digestion and immune system. A 2013 study examining the ‘relaxation response’ discovered that breathing exercises, “enhanced expression of genes associated with energy metabolism, mitochondrial function, insulin secretion and telomere maintenance, and reduced expression of genes linked to inflammatory response and stress-related pathways.” Other powerful ways of evoking this same ‘relaxation response’ include meditation, yoga, tai chi and chanting.

5. Connection

It’s ironic that my article for 4D Human Being involved so much doing. And like my experience with writing, the real ‘gifts’ can so easily get lost in the performance of Christmas: the gift buying, card writing, food prepping. John Lennon’s lyric from the song Beautiful Boy ring true, “Life is what happens when we are busy making other plans.” We can become so focused on all the things we should be doing, that we forget about the being.

So, this year, reconnect with what’s really going on this Christmas. Stop living through the lens of Christmases past, or ones from an imagined future and be with the one that’s happening now. Can we stay present and connected to the Christmas that is playing out all around us? Perhaps you’re feeling a little disappointed because it isn’t quite as you expected. But maybe this year, your Christmas can be much more connected, conscious and current. To use Einstein’s version of the Kung Fu Panda quote I mentioned at the start: “Yesterday is relative, tomorrow is speculative, but today is electric. That’s why it’s called current.”

Good enough!

I like old Christmas movies. I love seeing my friends. I love walking to the pub with my dog. Laughing a lot. Being with family. Having time off. And from my heart to yours, I genuinely wish each and every one of you a Christmas filled with self-care, connection and a whole lot of love. This may not be the most perfect article I was dreaming of and it may not have gone out as early as I was hoping for but maybe that’s a good reflection on Christmas. We can’t always get it done on time and it won’t necessarily be perfect. But if it’s done with honesty, heart, genuineness and love, then it, I, you and we will all be more than good enough.

Happy Christmas from the heart, with love from Philippa and the 4D team x

Thanksgiving and Receiving

Thanksgiving and Receiving

If everyone is busy ‘giving thanks’, then who is going to be available to receive all of our ‘gifts’? 

I recently emigrated to the United States and in ‘honor’ of my first ever Thanksgiving, I’m going to be exploring the gracious gift of ‘giving thanks’ and the underappreciated art of receiving…

Many of us grew up being told that it’s more noble to give than it is to receive. But if everyone is busy giving, then who is going to be available to receive all of that good stuff? We need a receiver in order to give. And in order to properly ‘give thanks’- as the holiday’s namesake suggests- we must first open ourselves up to the vulnerable art of receiving.

Why you ask? Because receiving opens us up and enables us to connect to others in deep and meaningful ways; it emotionally benefits the way we see ourselves; it brings more compassion into our lives; it gives others the opportunity to give; and if we model the ability to receive, we make it okay for others to receive too. Amidst all of the gift giving that the holiday season brings, can we also make space to humbly receive? To open ourselves up to the gifts that have already been given? This isn’t just about being grateful, it’s about acknowledging the beauty in giving and receiving and embracing this continuous state of flow. Giving and receiving are two sides of the same, intimate coin and we need balance. Join me as I step into the Thanksgiving celebrations as an open-hearted giver and humble hearted receiver…

Finding Flow 

“For it is in giving that we receive”


– Francis of Assisi.

The world is in a continuous state of circulation and flow. Our breathing, the seasons and giving and receiving are different aspects of the flow of the universe. Everything is in constant motion and this is why we need a balance of giving and receiving, or else we block- or stop- the flow.

Can you identify a moment in your life when you blocked someone’s giving? I was recently shopping at our local ‘mall’ when a friendly shop assistant asked if I needed any help. I’m not a lover of shopping on the best of days and I really didn’t want to get roped into trying on- and then buying- half the shop. So I smiled and told her, “I’m just browsing thanks.”But that wasn’t enough to deter her helpfulness. “Are you browsing for anything in particularly ma’am?” Unable to resist her kind-hearted smile I let her in on my shopping secret: “Well I’m actually on the hunt for a jumper…but I’m not into stripes or anything fluffy.” Before I could say anything further she grabbed my hand and took me to another part of the shop, where I found a whole collection of what I was looking for. “Okay let me know which colours you like and I can get multiple sizes of each for you to try.” When I finally let down my guard and accepted the lady’s help, I saw how happy her helping made her. And I ended up leaving the shop with two jumpers and a big smile on myface. A smile that I’m sure was soon ’gifted’ to someone else. So, by opening myself up to receiving the shop assistant’s ‘gift’ I was able to create more flow in my life… from an exchange with a complete stranger! If you- like me- find yourself in a situation where you are annoyed with someone’s unwanted assistance or attention, see if you can look behind the ‘gift’ in order to connect with their true intention…

Illusions and Intentions

“It’s not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving”


– Mother Teresa.

There are usually multiple motives for giving and sometimes, giving can be a selfish and not a selfless act, as the very act of giving makes the giver feel good. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: I for one love to see how happy my husband gets from finding a surprise bar of chocolate in the fridge. I also receive a gift when I give. A beautiful ‘secondary’ that gives both sides a hearty dose of joy.

Issues only arise when the ‘giving’ and the ‘getting’ become imbalanced. Are you simply giving so that you can feel good about yourself? Or to look better than someone else? A friend back in the UK recently had a birthday and I decided to ‘be kind’ and send her a book I knew she’d like. Note that I decided to ‘do’ kindness: I wasn’t embodying it. A few weeks went by and I hadn’t received the thank you I was hoping for. My friend hadn’t validated my kindness and so my kindness quickly dissolved into bitterness: ‘some people are just so ungrateful.’ Suddenly I realised what was wrong. I was the one looking for love, attention and validation as opposed to giving it. The ‘gift’ I’d sent my friend was in reality, a vicarious gift meant for me.

If you notice an unhealthy need to ‘give’ or find yourself unsatisfied with a receiver’s response then see if you can get behind the initial desire and uncover the intention behind it. What may have seemed- on the surface- to have been an unconditional outpouring of love might have, in fact, been a self-involved contract of love, bound by multiple T&Cs. If the receiver doesn’t oblige to the ‘terms’ of this type of giving, then you may end up feeling like a victim of your own gift.

The Gift of Receiving

“When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed”


– Maya Angelou.

When we are good receivers we give others the opportunity to give. So why then, do we find receiving so hard? Because receiving puts us in a position where we are vulnerable, indebted and with less power. But receiving also keeps us balanced and nourished: to humbly receive a gift is a gift in itself.

As a Brit in North Carolina, I receive a lot of compliments about my accent. Initially I found the attention quite surprising- even embarrassing- as I’ve never before considered myself to have an accent. However, in my new home town of Charlotte (otherwise known as ‘the Queen City’) the ’Queen’s English’ – as they like to call it- is incredibly well-loved and lots of people have told me to “keep talking, I could listen to your accent all day!” Learning to accept these compliments has not only made me feel proud of my differences, history and heritage but it’s also opened doors to lots of interesting conversations and even some on-going friendships.

Receiving a well-intentioned compliment can help us to connect more deeply with other people and with ourselves. How often do you find yourself batting away kind words from a colleague or praise from your boss? “Oh, I’m not that good” “It wasn’t that hard” “I had loads of help.” Not only are you blocking the givers ability to ‘gift’ you a compliment (and essentially telling them that they are wrong), you are also blocking the compliment from reaching you and informing your sense of self. So next time someone offers you a compliment, see if you can pause to thank the person and allow their words to properly sink in…

The Art of Giving

“No one has ever become poor by giving”


– Anne Frank.

If you’re reading this article and starting to feel bad about the mountains of presents you’ve got stashed away for Christmas- don’t. Giving is a wonderful thing and a fundamental part of the human experience. We are wired to give to others because we are wired to connect. And when our gifts are pure and simple, we can create deep and meaningful connections with our loved ones, but also with the wider world.

Share your gifts with a stranger by opening up to your humanity- perhaps in the form of smile, a newspaper you’ve finished reading or a seat on the train. Simple, everyday gifts that greatly impact the lives of others and create ripples in the world around you. Because your gift won’t only affect the receiver: it will also positively affect anyone witnessing the act. This is all thanks to oxytocin- a neurochemical associated with boosting empathy, bonding and trust. Sometimes referred to as ‘the love hormone’, Oxytocin also increases our self-esteem and optimism, which is really helpful if we are feeling anxious or shy in a social situation.

A few weeks ago, I experienced a shot of this happiness hormone, after witnessing a young man holding an umbrella for an elderly lady. A simple gift to someone else, but one that put a smile on my face and completely changed my day! Even the smallest of gestures can create waves in the world around you because the gift you give can also indirectly impact the emotions of others.

Little and Often

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”

 

– Mahatma Gandhi

The emotional benefits of giving are highest when we spread giving out into lots of separate experiences. The sum of each positive experience is far greater that the one gift. Michal Ann Strahilevitz, professor at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, California and a researcher on the topic of charitable giving, discovered that those who gave less but on a more regular basis reported higher levels of ongoing happiness. This is why charities often encourage people to sign up for an ongoing monthly donation, as opposed to giving the whole amount at once. Whilst the latter is often more beneficial to the organisation, the former is much more likely to improve the emotional wellbeing of the giver. As Strahilevitz says: “We can say that people’s motivation for good deeds should be pure altruism, but research shows that often there is more than one motive for giving. There is a warm glow we get from helping others. There is also the fact that it improves our self-concept and potentially our self-esteem. Finally, there is improving our image to others, if others learn of our efforts for charity. All of this is the truth about giving– we don’t just give to help the cause, we also give for the good feelings it gives us.” To put it simply: if we want to feel good, we should increase the amount we ‘give’ as opposed the amount we donate. Less- on a regular basis- quite often gives us so much more!

 

So this Thanksgiving, see if you can stay open and connected to all of the ‘gifts’ in your life. Do you tend to give or receive? Can you get curious about your patterns of giving and receiving? Start this digging and you will soon break through any blocks and allow the art of thanks and giving to flow. And consequently, you’ll bring more of what you want into your life. To quote American author Zig Ziglar: “you will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.” So, if you want joy, give joy. If you want appreciation, give appreciation. Keep the cycle flowing- from both sides- and you’ll start to see how quickly you can consciously create the experience of life that you truly want.

Just make sure that when it comes along you are ready to receive!

We’d love to give thanks to you for reading our article and being part of the work that we are so passionate about. If you, your colleagues or your friends would like to receive more of our work then do subscribe to our monthly newsletter ‘Conscious Conversation’ and have a very Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you are in the world!