The more I look around the world as I see it, the more I am struck by the urgency that exists for a new way to communicate. This does not mean a new language or a new platform – we are inundated with ‘communication’ platforms from phones, watches, social media and more. What is desperately needed is for us, as human kind, to start communicating in a whole new way.
The overwhelming experience of our interactions in our modern world appears to be ‘speaking at’ each other. From the meetings we attend at work, the conversations with our spouses and children, to the catch-ups we have with our friends; there is so often only an information download that is taking place. We are busy. We have lots to say and lots to ask. And we want the answers to reflect this reality. There just isn’t time to get into anything more than the surface details and the more we can remain on the surface and not get into any depth – or even real truth – there remains a perception that we will be more effective and productive.
But living this way comes at a great cost and I was reminded of this on a conversation with a client recently. In a bid to find the top talent with the greatest work output for a vacant position, his HR team had designed an interview series that focused on work experience activities for candidates to complete in order for a comprehensive perspective of their capabilities to be portrayed. Interviews with the MD were kept to short 15 minute chats in order to save him time. What happened in reality was that those conversations that really matter when going through the hiring process were eliminated. Although the person that was eventually hired was very capable of the outputs (as demonstrated in the interview activities), what emerged was that expectations between the employee and organisation were misunderstood and it soon became clear that the person was not the right culture fit for the organisation. The result is that they are looking again for a person for this role, 6 months down the line, at huge financial and emotional cost to all. No value can be afforded to the benefits of true conversation of the type that allows intuition, deep listening, questioning and wider probing and meaning to occur. When we look at the challenges we experience in all our relationships from organisational, to family, to friends, to self; it becomes clear that we need to do this differently.
I am currently involved an assignment-marking project for the powerful Nexus Leadership Programme at GIBS (Gordon Institute of Business Science). It has been such a gift to read of the experiences of these young professional candidates as they engage in a year-long opportunity to significantly shift their way of conversing, using an exploration of the tools of Dialogue. Based on the work of William Isaacs (who himself used the work of physicist David Bohm) Dialogue is reflected as four co-supporting principles: Listening, Suspending, Respecting and Voicing.
Listening: This principle looks at what it takes to be truly engaged and active when we listen. How are we listening with our body, mind and soul? Listening of this deep kind entails letting go of what it is we want or expect to hear and listening instead with a curiosity and interest that allows the other person to feel safe enough to open up.
Suspending: Inevitably, as humans, we are continually hooked and triggered and start formulating opinions and ideas while the other person is talking. Very often we experience an emotional reaction which in turn takes us off into creating our own story about the speaker and what is being said. Suspending then, involves developing the awareness of these thoughts and feelings – and then letting them go without becoming attached to them.
Respecting: This principle involves the attitude that we bring to the dialogue. We need to enter into the interaction with humility, curiosity – knowing there is more for us to learn-, and openness. It is about the awareness that everyone, including ourselves, will have their own perspective which is completely valid and everyone has the right to share this. Respecting, too, involves the reality that we should not always be trying to get others to change to our point of view, merely to listen and understand it.
Voicing: This is a principle that is often misunderstood. It does not simply mean ‘speaking’. (If that were true, many people would be able to claim to be experts when in fact they have not even come close to engaging in dialogue). Voicing is about being aware of what you want to share and what its possible impact on the conversation will be. Am I wanting to voice my perspective out of ego, love of hearing myself, competition or such? Or is what I want to offer going to add a new dimension to what is being said here?
Difficult though these capacities may be to practice, becoming aware of how we show up in our conversations and attempting to incorporate these dialogue principles can have a profound effect on the creativity, trust, and understanding that becomes prevalent in the relationship. And those are capacities we are in desperate need of in our society.
One of the most wonderful gifts of a human being to this world is the creativity that is possible when we are able to truly let go of our external concerns and open up to what is deep in our soul. Being able to play with the possibilities of our imagination and actively coax them into fruition is what has created our most inspirational offerings. Creativity is what allows us to envision businesses and enhance relationships. Ultimately, it is what allows us to hope.
Creativity is also the one thing that allows us to pull through some of the great challenges we face and to come out better on the other side. Where would we be without creativity in trying to get sullen teenagers to engage with the family; to lead our team through a company merger; or to encourage social change in the midst of extreme hardship. It is creativity that stimulates a different thinking and gets us out of stuck places. It releases a generative energy that feeds the growth and joy inside us as it brings forth new possibilities. It is truly a wonderful and magical force.
For me, creativity is what feeds me, fills me, pulls me, energises, exhausts and empties me. Creativity is what keeps me up at night. But, most of the time it happens in my head alone. It remains a bud in my imagination and never gets the chance to grow into what it needs to. (Hence the sleepless nights – that energy has to go somewhere!).
What keeps it there in my head is a little box that I’ll call the WWPT Box. Most of my creative ideas end up here and never make it out. This box stands for the ‘What Will People Think?’ Box. The moment creativity starts flowing towards the action, the actual birthing process where the world will experience it, that box snaps up those ideas for scrutiny and they struggle to see the light of day.
At the seat of this, lies a self-consciousness that reigns me in and keeps me living on the surface of my life. My frustration with this awareness over the last few weeks is that I really do believe that you can never please everyone, and I am okay with that. In so many instances I am able to let others think what they will, without letting it bother me. Why, then is it so difficult when it comes to truthfully revealing the heart of who I am, my creative ideas?
The answer that has come to me is that it is because my creativity needs others. It is completely reliant on participation with others. As a learning designer, my particular creative outlet involves the generation of something through the collective.
And that has brought the awareness that what I need in order to douse the flames of the WWPT self- consciousness is a good old dose of Vulnerability. That opening, emptying, filling quality that will teach me the hard way how to get my ideas out of the WWPT Box and into the ‘HIA Box’: ‘Here I am…’
And Vulnerablility is a whole other can of worms. Or should I say, ‘Box of Tricks”?!
In the first two blogs of this series we looked at Creating Your Dream Life and The Art of Reflection. In this final one, we will consider the second of the two competencies I believe are essential to develop in order to create your dream life: Imagination.
Blog Three: Imagining Your Way Forward
The art of imagination is a favourite pastime of mine. So much so that I have to work on getting out of my fantasy world and putting things into action in order to avoid the resentment that builds when watching others moving forward and staying stuck in the same place myself! This is where imagining needs to be balanced with its sister competency – reflecting – on the way to creating your dream life. Reflection will show you the stuck-ness that inaction and hiding in imagination will create.
Since this is a strength of mine, I find it hard to understand that there are people out there who find it a challenge to imagine a life they would like. But experience with my coaching and workshop clients has shown this to be true. Many people are at a complete loss for an answer when asked what they would like out of their lives. And they find it so difficult to access their imagination to create anything other than the soul-sucking mundane or toxic existence that they are currently mired in.
Working on your skills of imagination takes creativity, bravery and the willingness to say ‘yes’ to many things that may at first surprise you and make you feel uncomfortable. Like an executive who is courageous enough to stay with his imagination to consider a dream life that may not involve the dizzying forays up the corporate ladder, and may instead involve growing herbs in a tiny village in the Karoo. This is terrifying as it very likely will rock his entire perception of himself and call his very identity and life into question.
Or what about the PhD student who, with a little bit of imagination, comes to the realisation that although she is an outstanding researcher and a top expert in her field, it is music that makes her soul sing and, when she is deeply honest with herself, this is the journey she would rather pursue, even after the fortune of money, time and effort spent on her degrees.
The truth is that, like the process of reflection, imagination can give you access to many emotions and thoughts that paint a picture of who you really are – or at least show a better direction to take in this search than the path you are currently on. This often causes an incredibly uncomfortable, rocky lead into the unknown that most people would rather avoid. Change is unpredictable and messy so why would we want to bring it upon ourselves unnecessarily? The honest truth to this is that without working on your capacity to imagine your dream life – your true dream life unfettered by the consumerist, egoist trappings of society – you will never experience what it is like to feel truly free. You will never know the exhilarating rush of realising that you are doing what you love and that you wouldn’t want to be anywhere other than where you are now. And, importantly, you will never be able to live out of the gratitude that comes from going deep inside you, facing some of the toughest times and knowing that you did it anyway.
Quite simply, without the capacity to imagine, and to imagine grand things, you will never have a direction to move towards. To many people, this rudderless, safe existence is what sucks enjoyment from their existence in a more profound way than any other thing could do, and they are very often completely unaware of it.
Using your imagination to envision something so exciting and full of hope that it leaves you tingly and breathless is what will propel you forward to reach it. And the amazing thing is, you will probably far exceed what you imagined. The momentum of going in your right direction, doing what you were created for, will bring so much more that you could ever have imagined.
Do you have the courage to do this? Are you ready to open your eyes to what you really want – and start to take some steps towards it? You never know, you just might find your dream life after all – and it won’t just be in your imagination.
If you take this journey, surround yourself with encouraging people who only want the best for you. And, if you can, invest in a life coach to help you create your dream and achieve it.
In the previous blog in this series, we looked at Creating Your Dream Life.
Blog Two - The Art of Reflection
There are people that are good at reflecting on their path, circumstances and reality. And there are many that are not. Those of us that find it difficult to do so very often avoid reflecting and thinking about the situations we are in and the choices we have made because it is difficult, uncomfortable and sometimes unpleasant to see the truth. Far easier to keep pushing forward and let things happen as they may. The reality of this, however, is that it makes personal mastery – the ability to grow and achieve our potential – far more elusive. And it often results in lack of responsibility or initiative within us. When we fail to reflect in life, we are living in a rather haphazard and directionless manner and are less able to make choices that we feel we can engage with. So we live with a mentality of life happening at us, instead of with us.
The capacity to reflect requires great discipline, courage and honesty. It asks us to stop what we are doing and to think and feel deeply about what is happening, what we are doing, and our impact on the situation. We reflect on conversations we have had with our partners, colleagues, family or bosses, and become deeply aware of the emotions we experienced. Was the conversation fueled by anger, fear, pride, shame, ease or manipulation? What was our part in this reality? What is driving our behaviour here? What are we truly trying to get out of the situation? The truth is often very different from what we first think!
We reflect on choices we have made and the results and outcomes. What had we correctly assumed, and what not? What worked well and what would we like to do differently next time? What do we need to change and seek forgiveness for? What do we really believe and want?
The art of reflection engages us deeply with our inner being. As we get to know ourselves better, our self awareness leads us into a more considered and effective way of showing up in the world. Crucially, reflecting is the capacity that will allow us to connect to our true self. We will be able to see those instances where we are following the plans of someone else or where we are striving to fulfill a false sense of self that has always led us to misery. We will start to see the patterns in the relationships we choose, the roles we end up with at work and the self-talk we use during our waking hours. And it is only once we start to see these patterns and understand the assumptions, beliefs and perceptions we carry that fuel them, that we can finally start letting go of what is holding us back from creating our dream life.
The reality is that it is impossible to ever truly know what our dream life is unless we master the art of reflecting.
A final powerful dimension to the capacity of reflecting comes with the image of a physical reflection. In looking at a tree reflected in the perfectly still water of a lake, we see what looks like a perfect representation in the reflection. But the longer we stay with the image, the more we begin to see the differences. The minuscule ripples become obvious, the minor distortions in shape, and – importantly – the truth that the entire reflection is upside down! We literally see the image from a different perspective. This then is the gift of the capacity to reflect. We are able to see things from a different perspective and notice subtle changes that wouldn’t be available if we had never paused to observe.
So finally, what can we do to develop our skill in reflecting?
The final blog in this series will look at the importance of imagination on creating your dream life.
Blog One - Creating your Dream Life
There is something so liberating about finally realising that you are, in fact, your own worst enemy when it comes to living the life you dream of. This is because of the existence of the reciprocal principle: You are also your greatest advocate when it comes to living the life you dream about.
The reality is that, because it is ultimately up to you to make the choices that lead you toward your dreams, you are the one with the power and so you don’t need to rely on anyone else.
But equally, because it is up to you, this also means that you are the one that needs to go through the pain, challenge and difficulty to make it happen. This is unavoidable.
When we wait for someone else to do it for us, it will never be what we want. And the reality is that we very often won’t even recognise it as being our dream because we haven’t personally done the hard slog to get there.
All that said, the question becomes: How do I do the work of creating my dream life?
Many of us are very aware of what is not our dream life, but feel completely out of our depths in knowing what it is we really want our lives to look and feel like. We know what shuts our soul down, what we vehemently dislike and what drives our intense anxiety, anger or boredom. However, we struggle to identify what will set our souls alive and allows each day to be faced with joy and excitement. While we may look to others and envy the lives they lead – the online programmer who works every few months in a new city of her choice, or the dolphin trainer spending his time in the water – this doesn’t necessarily mean that we would love to do what they do. Very often it is something else entirely, something far more elusive, that creates the feeling of envy and interest within us. Perhaps it is the feeling of freedom and adventure within the life of the travelling programmer that we aspire to, or the connection with an animal spirit instead of an ego-maniacal boss that appeals to us in the life of the dolphin trainer. Unless we realise this we may find that when we look at any path we‘ve taken in life, we experience discouragement with what appear to be dead-ends that never seem right for us.
My experience and research has led me to the following beliefs:
How do we create our dream life then?
My thoughts are that it takes two competencies: the capacity to reflect and the capacity to imagine. Each of these takes on a particular flavour depending on the individual and circumstances involved, but essentially it is these capacities that form the fertile ground for our journey towards our dream life. Ultimately, it is our ability to reflect on the perceptions, assumptions and beliefs that are driving our behaviours and choices. This allows us increasing self awareness. And it is our ability to imagine that allows the creation and desire for movement towards a particular direction…and takes us toward our dream life.
Watch out for the next two blogs in this series that will deal with each of these independently.
When did you last write an exam or test? Many parents will tell you that their last time was as recently as the last exam written by their child or teenager! Truly the stress, planning and focus that are required to assist your children to get through their exams is often equivalent to that which you would experience were you to sit the exam yourself – and sometimes even higher.
Crucial to assisting families to weather the exam storm and come out smiling at the other end, are some practices that parents can put into place at exam time, and all through the year, to develop good skills that will assist their children into their work future.
The following are some of the things parents can do to make exam time easier and more successful for their children:
Make home life as calm and pleasant as possible. The period leading up to, and during, exams is not the time to institute great change or excitement into the family. Keep distractions to a minimum in order to allow a restful and focused environment.
Develop a balanced routine. This is essential to the effectiveness and happiness of all of us, and the best time to instil this is during childhood. If you are able to cultivate balance into the lives of your family all through the year, it will be far easier for them to follow this during exam time. Assisting your child to live a balanced life, leads to better stress relief, concentration, memory retention, clarity of thought and will provide some enjoyment and fun which will alleviate some pressure. Make sure that time is built into their routine for exercise, healthy eating, sleep and time with friends and family.
Create a suitable environment for studying and working. Although this is an important consideration to assist your child with homework all through the year, not every family has the luxury of being able to provide the ideal space for each child to work in isolation and peace. During exam time, each family may need to make a few sacrifices to the set-up of space in order to assist exam-writers in the best way. This may include sharing rooms, moving the kitchen table or removing the television from shared spaces. The best environments are quiet with limited distractions; a desk or table that is big enough for books and writing utensils and is not crowded with other objects to create clutter; and a comfortable chair that limits backache. If possible, purchase new stationery – and include coloured pens and highlighters that will assist them to include colour in their timetable and study notes which assists memory recall.
Help your child to look after themselves well during exams. Taking care of their minds requires taking care of their bodies. Help your children to eat healthily and regularly (and provide nuts, fruit and protein for snacks). Make sure they get some exercise – even if it is a walk around the block. Assist them to remember to drink water throughout the day as a lack of water creates fatigue and limits their ability to focus and concentrate. Encourage them to take short breaks during their study time and get them to move, drink water and have a snack in this time. Make sure they are sleeping enough! The recommended amount of sleeping time for optimal functioning is 9-11 hours for children of 6-13 years, and 8-10 hours for teenagers of 14-17 years old. Remove televisions, tablets and phones from their rooms if necessary, as exposure to technology drastically limits the ability to fall asleep and reduces the quality of sleep that does occur.
Assist your child to create a study plan. Well before exams are due to start, sit down with your child and talk through their exam timetable and what they need to do to prepare. Help them to create a study plan in which they break down the work in each subject into manageable chunks, and also factor in adequate sleep, rest, enjoyment and include existing commitments they have. Working on a plan with your child will be instrumental in setting them up to develop essential planning and project managing skills that they will require throughout their lives as adults.
Show interest and encouragement. Let them know you believe in them and are there to assist. Time them as they write mock papers, test them orally where appropriate, ask them how they are feeling and what they need from you. Where they are battling – e.g. they have fallen behind on their study plan - don’t berate, rather think through solutions with them and let them know you are there to assist with whatever they decide to do to remedy the situation.
Your attitude to exams is crucial! Be as calm and supportive as possible. Don’t transfer additional anxiety and pressure of marks onto your child. Support, but don’t police them. Observe how they deal with stress and listen actively to them. Keep perspective – exams aren’t the be all and end all.
Bribes, treats or rewards? Bribing your child does far more harm than good in the long run. Offering a bribe implies that it is only extrinsic things that matter (usually money) and demonstrates that you don’t trust your child to work hard or make good choices. Negative messages like these destroy self-worth in a child. Rather offer small treats or rewards – and encourage them to reward themselves. Opportunities to choose what is for dinner, the option to watch 15 extra minutes of TV or to have a family games night if all studying is done, are options that create something to look forward to without linking achievement to monetary rewards. It is also important to celebrate after the completion of exams – regardless of how well the child did. Celebrate what they did do and what they did try, instead of focusing on the negative aspects.
Helping with homework? The approach you take to homework throughout the year will be mirrored in their approach to exams! Don’t do their homework for them. It teaches them to cheat; limits their opportunity to practise and develop skills; and implies that they are not good enough to do the work themselves. Talk through the importance of homework and let them understand the need for it. Teach them the habit of getting their homework done first, before playing or seeing friends… These are the habits and approaches they will need when preparing for exams.
Remember that it’s not about you! Exam time is about letting your child learn to live with the consequences of their choices – not yours. Talk to them lots. Help them understand their stress and nervousness, and support where you can. Be positive and assist them to be pro-active and to start studying as soon as they can. Where failure or difficulties occur, see this as a great opportunity to assist them to take responsibility and problem solve.
Leigh Johnson is a Parenting Coach who supports people to develop their purpose and effectiveness as parents.
This month - finally - I am allowing a dream of mine to take root, and I'm hopeful that you would be courageous enough to share it with me! The seed of this dream, which has been germinating for some time and has finally taken root, is that my ‘Story Circles’.
My favourite quote, attributed widely to Anais Ninn, is:
"And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom."
So the Story Circle bud is finally blooming...!
There is something incredibly powerful about the process of human connection. The growth and opening up within us that occurs when we find the space to listen, with the sole purpose of listening, is infinite. As soon as we are able to strip away our need for gain, judgement, interpretation, action; we allow something far greater and more whole to occur within us.
Story is what makes us human. Story – sharing and listening to – is what we remember about each other. Whether we share an experience – a story - with someone, or truly connect to a story they share with us, we will never be able to remain untouched and unchanged.
This is the inspiration behind the ‘Story Circles’. To create a space for listening and telling stories, with the sole purpose of connecting to others and taking away a gift of learning. Story Circles are open to absolutely everyone, as long as they are willing to uphold the principles of respect and honouring of each other.
The Imbokodo Story Circle however, is intended specifically as an honouring and celebration of the journey’s of women in particular – taking its name from the Imbokodo grinding stone which symbolises the strength, resilience and courage of women. (Men are welcome though – you don’t need to be a women to celebrate the strength of women!)
If you would like to spend a morning participating in some of these inspirational stories, as we come out of women’s month, please join us at the inaugural Imbokodo Story Circle on the morning of 16th September in Rondebosch, Cape Town.
Diversity is key to our circles – the richer the diversity of cultures, ages, experiences of each of us, the richer will be our learning. So please invite other women from within, and without your circles of comfort. You’ll be surprised at how similar – and different – we each are, and never in the ways that we think!
Women’s month, August, always gets me thinking about family. I find myself contemplating the many women who have gone before me in my family, most of whom I’ve never met and some of whom I knew only briefly - like my great grand-ma who I remember as a little old lady who gave me sweets when we visited. Some of those women are known to me only through stories from my parents and other family members.
Womens Day in South Africa, on the 9th August, marked the day that 20 000 women marched on the Union Buildings against the Pass Laws in the then-Apartheid government. The choice taken by these women to act against something they knew to be unjust, and to take ownership for getting involved, made a huge impact on our country and the changes that were slowly put into place. The day is now celebrated as a day of honouring the strength, resilience, courage and value of women. For me, it is also the day that marks the birthday of my dear late aunt, Maureen. Perhaps that is why I always find myself thinking about family and the line of women I come from around this time? There is a sense of missing and remembering. And an awareness of the fact that, though she is gone, she is still a part of who I am, and who my family are, through the impact she had on us and those that knew her.
And then I wonder what part I am playing in my family’s lives? What is my impact? I wonder what my daughter is taking into herself from me? And my husband? My mother and father, siblings, cousins…. What do I add, or take away from, their lives? Sometimes the magnitude of my affect on others can seem crushing and wholly intimidating. But I am also aware of the resilience and compassion inherent in all those people. I remind myself that it is not up to me to be everything to everybody or to be ‘perfect’– just to be the best me I can be.
But that takes a choice! And that is one of the hardest choices to make because it involves taking a hard look at ourselves, reflecting on what we do and say and taking responsibility for how others experience us. And it means acting in order to grow and change in order to enhance the gifts we have.
So, in the interest of providing the best legacy for my family, and in honour of the 20000 women who did their best on 9 August 1956, here are some steps I am going to try in order to be most aware of myself and mindful of the affect I have on others:
I hope some of these thoughts may be useful to you in creating your best impact on your family and friends? Whatever your roles – mother, father, friend, colleague, child, sibling, employer, neighbour – you matter and you have an impact. It is up to you to choose and put in the work to being the best you can be at those roles.
There so often seems to be a disconnect between the way we want to be in the various spheres of our lives and how we actually are. We want to be confident and assured in a board meeting, but actually appear domineering or dogmatic. We want to be calm and engaged when interacting with our children, but come across as impatient and frustrated. We would like to offer a space of care and understanding in our friendships but instead are seen to be distant and distracted.
The truth is that life gets in the way of our being the type of person we really are deep down. And this leads to increasing instances of stress, anxiety, broken relationships, disillusionment, and sometimes depression. So how do we change this? How can we begin really integrating the characteristics we would like to embody – which often reflect our core values – with how we are actually experienced? The reality is that getting this right has the potential to transform our lives in so many positive ways. But it’s a notoriously difficult thing to do.
A great part of the answer lies in taking space. Space which involves the time to think, reflect and observe without judgement. Space to start to understand ourselves, what we want, think, and truly believe. And to observe how we are engaging in our world. Out of this space, we can then start to make small, achievable changes that will gradually align who we want to be and who we are at our core, with how we show up in the world. Yet this space appears incredibly scarce in our modern lives. I say appears because in many ways this is a false perception that we have created to prevent ourselves from taking this space, as it is sometimes hard to engage in having a close look at ourselves… (We often substitute the word time for space - and we know how little of that there is going around!)
Finding this space is my biggest challenge at the moment. And yet it is also one of my deepest core beliefs that it is essential to my well-being and to empowering me to fulfill my purpose in life. So, why this disconnect? Well, I need to take the space to understand it…
This is a list of space-creating activities that I’m generating for myself to assist me to fulfill my purpose and live my best life. They may be helpful to you too:
This useful article from Harvard Business Review provides further tips to journaling.
An interesting article on retreats for leaders by Helen Attridge can be found on LinkedIn.
Some further ideas on the benefits of gratitude can be found here.
One of my favourite quotes is by Victor E. Frankl:
“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.”
May we all take the challenge to live in that space more often, in order that we can start living from our truth and bringing more hope, vitality and purpose into the world around us.
For a great opportunity for women to take some of this time and space, enquire about the next
'Embrace Your Promise' workshop for women held in Cape Town and Somerset West. Click here.
Boxes are built to contain, to give form and order to their contents . Depending on the need we have for a box, they can be useful and necessary. But – as with everything in life – when used in the wrong way and for the incorrect means, they can be damaging and limiting in the purpose they serve.
This goes for the literal boxes we use as well as for the virtual ones - those identity ‘boxes’ we put ourselves into.
Let’s start with the literal ones. Consider a box that you have stored a collection of reports into before having them filed. Here the box is useful in bringing order to an office – but only to the effect that we use it properly. If the box is clearly labelled and the reports are eventually taken out and filed, then the box has served its purpose as a temporary storage point for its contents. But if the reports are never taken out and looked at again, the box becomes a useless piece of clutter housing obsolete material. Or, if the reports are taken out, and the box is then left empty while other clutter builds up around it, because of the mistaken belief that the box is only useful for what it has been labelled for – those particular reports from that particular time – then it is wasteful and unnecessary.
So how does this translate to the virtual identity ‘boxes’ we put ourselves into? We are often told not to ‘box’, or stereotype, ourselves and each other. But this outlook is not entirely useful - and certainly impossible to do. Humans naturally look for similarities and patterns in order to make sense of our world around us and develop a sense of belonging. Indeed – this is how we use the ‘boxing’ metaphor to our advantage. We are able to predict how others may behave, how we may be received, how we may be useful, by seeing similarities and differences between ourselves and others. And it would be very difficult to craft a path in our lives if we did not have some sort of awareness of the particular traits we and others portray – in other words, the boxes we often inhabit. Emotional and social intelligence demands a high degree of self- and other- awareness…which is really about putting ourselves into boxes.
However the damage of misusing these virtual boxes is important to note, and we see the impact of this damage all around us through the false perceptions and assumptions we are laden with. As with the literal box example, when we become stuck in the one box - like the reports that remained in the box - then we never allow ourselves to experience the other facets of ourselves that may offer us new experiences and opportunities. This could be the rigid belief that ‘I am efficient/ creative/ a numbers person’… Let’s look at the Efficiency’ box. Having self awareness, and being able to utilise the trait of efficiency as a strength, is incredibly useful. It can encourage you to take on projects at work that have a tight deadline and that require productive efficiency in order to be completed. It can also allow you to analyse exactly what it is that you do that makes you so efficient and useful to your team, with the intent of sharing this learning with others. In this instance, playing in the Efficiency box is productive and helpful.
But consider what it would be like if you were unable to remove yourself from that box. What might happen if you were only ever able to be efficient and could never access the freedom and messiness that it sometimes takes when you need to innovate and try a new approach? Would the desire to do things perfectly and efficiently restrict you from trying a new way? Would you be able to access the creativity and lateral thinking necessary to find a new way forward? And what about relationships with your colleagues? If you are only ever able to stand in the Efficiency box, there would most likely be little room for the relationship building and interaction that occurs in the workplace that is most valuable in connecting with others and developing a communal culture. The image of the highly efficient work-horse plugging away at his desk doesn’t engender an ease for colleagues to approach you for assistance or even to offer you new opportunities…
As well as this, holding onto just this box can then result in us holding on even when it no longer serves us well, or when we need to change something about ourselves - as with the empty box waiting to be use in exactly the same way as before.
Boxing ourselves restrictively results in an inability to innovate, create and question. We lose the ability to be curious about ourselves, experiment and explore alternatives to our view of ourselves. The result of this can be catastrophic. We can end up bitter and disillusioned with the way we feel life is treating us, and unable to see that it is our own boxes that we refuse to step out of!
Inherent in all of this is the fundamental truth that very often the boxes we are doggedly holding onto were actually boxes given to us in childhood by someone else, perceptions others mistakenly held long ago and with which we have somehow identified in order to try to understand ourselves. How many people can say they have avidly pursued law as a career because they were told they were very rules-based and good at arguing a point… only to discover that this box doesn’t fit them at all and what they really identify with is a life making hand crafted surf-boards? Or how many have been told that they are a people’s person and must work with people – only to discover that they are in fact introverted and find being continually around people exhausts and depletes them and what they really want is to become an academic and immerse themselves in research?
The upshot of all of this is not that we must avoid putting ourselves and others in boxes, but rather that we must be very aware of when we are doing it and for which reason. Important too is to keep the lids off these boxes and allow ourselves to step in and out of them as we explore what and who we really are and want to do in this world. So don’t think out the box or in the box – but about the box! It’s all about awareness after all.
Looking to develop your self-awareness to help you make positive changes? Coaching can be a powerful opportunity to do this! Contact me today to arrange a free consultation to decide if business or life coaching is the option for you: firstname.lastname@example.org
On a personal note...
I am curious, creative, determined, committed and (a bit too much of) a perfectionist.