The Fundamentals of Personal Growth: Awareness

Through the past year of blogging and journeying through my own personal development, I’ve collected ten fundamentals for personal growth, which I’m going to explore in the last ten weeks of the year. I’m going to take a different approach, and use the you pronoun,

I’m tired of being inside my head. I want to live out here, with you.

– Colleen McCarty

I’ve mostly forbidden myself from you in this space, but I want to start getting out of my head with so much – I I I – I’m crowding myself out.

This week, the fundamental is self-awareness.

1.Self-awareness is more than knowing who you are.

When you ask yourself “Who am I?” you also likely come to the question “Who do I want to be?”

Self-awareness is being able to determine the gap between who you are and who you want to be.

Knowing that you might want to be a better version of who you are isn’t to say that you need to go changing the core of your being, but rather, it’s about aligning your attitude and presentation to the world with what you want, what you believe, and what you value.

2.Self-awareness is knowing what you value.

Ask yourself “What matters to me?” Pull the corners of yourself into those values like you’re folding a sheet.

When you know what you value, it’s easier to be true to yourself.

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Hermann Hesse

3.Self-awareness is about asking how and what.

Not why, why, why. 

Psychologist and researcher Tasha Eurich writes:

Asking what could keep us open to discovering new information about ourselves, even if that information is negative or in conflict with our existing beliefs. Asking why might have the opposite effect.

Asking why about ourselves is a big introspective trap, but asking what or how are questions which can lead to answers that facilitate action toward personal growth.

For example, instead of asking “why do I feel out of sorts,” ask, “what can I do to obtain alignment?” or as writer and style coach Stasia Savasuk puts it “inside-out congruency.”

Although Stasia means the term “inside-out congruency” specifically in regards to fashion, I included it because I think it is a much more visual term to define what I mean by alignment, which can sound a little airy and unattainable. Alignment brings the whole stage of self-awareness full-circle because it requires you to know who you want to be and what your values are. Alignment and inside-out congruency are really just terms to say that your behaviors and the ways you present yourself to the world are authentic to who you are on the inside; and that harmony is at the core of what it means to be self-aware.

 

Thinking about yourself is not akin to knowing yourself. As someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety, I have thought about myself a lot, and all that thinking never got me half as far as doing. While I can think that I value my relationships, for example, that value never feels like a truer part of my being until I show the people in my life that I love them with my actions.

While it’s important to start with self-knowledge, you will not have full self-awareness until you can point to how your behaviors and actions support your beliefs.

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What are some of the values you try to live by? How does aligning your behaviors with those values change your perception of yourself?

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This is Not a Regularly Scheduled Post

I am only writing because 2 weeks ago I posted “How to Recover from Disappointment” and in my calligraphy image accompaniment, I spelled disappointment with only 1 p.

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I doubt anyone even noticed, but now you all know my egregious error. So bad. Such evil. Many unethics.

 

Being Sick is Like Hitting the Reset Button

Last week, my husband and I both got sick. It was one of those yucky head colds that verge on feeling just bad enough to maybe be the flu, but then also we were well enough to get out of bed, but also we could hardly breath through our noses and our heads felt like balloons.

I hate being sick, not just because it sucks, but because whenever I’m sick, I always struggle with guilt and doubt.

If I have to call into work or cancel plans, I feel like I’m lying about how sick I am just to get out of my commitments. While getting to stay home and watch TV or sleep is a benefit to being sick, the novelty of doing nothing wears off fast, and then I begin to realize that the worst part about being sick isn’t so much being sick, but that my routine has to bend so that I can rest.

I struggle between the knowledge that I’ll recover quicker if I rest, and the guilt of putting things or people on hold; the fear of losing momentum toward my goals.

I recently read an excerpt from Matthew Sweet’s blog post “The tyranny of the perfect day” that mirrored these frustrations I have with my routine being disrupted quite perfectly. It’s a little long, but it says more than I can figure out how to say about this topic:

A while ago I discovered my “perfect morning”. I liked to rise before the sun, meditate for a while, read whilst drinking a few cups of coffee, then write for a few hours. After that, I’d squeeze in whatever else my relationships, commitments and ambitions demanded of me. So, I thought, why not try to make every morning like that? I tried and it was surprisingly successful. But it also made me fragile. If I didn’t get up early enough then I felt the morning was lost. If my meditation session went terribly then it threw me out of rhythm. If I couldn’t focus whilst reading I felt annoyed. If I sat at the keyboard and nothing came to me, I’d wind myself up into a hybrid state of anxiety and fear. I was seeking uniformity in my mornings and Life was giving me the middle finger, thwarting my quest in mostly consistent, but sometimes unexpected, ways.

By Wednesday of last week, I had reached maximum grumpiness and laziness from being sick, but I could not convince myself that it was okay to rest because I wanted, so desperately, to get back to that perfect routine.

I know that it’s normal to be grumpy when you’re sick, but having to deviate from my routine made me feel like I was crawling my way back to dark places of self-loathing.

I could hardly let myself off the hook for a week of being sick.

Even writing it now, a week seems like way too long a time.

Eventually, through desperate journal writing to try and get myself out of a dangerous thought spiral, I came to these questions:

Have I really learned to accept myself, or have I just built up a routine that keeps me from feeling like a loser?

Have I just structured my life in such a way that there’s no room for me to be mean to myself because I never let myself falter or fail?

I think that maybe I have.

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I feel a little confused because I had been singing the praises of routines and structure, but now I’m seriously questioning routines for their fragile inflexibility.

At the end of Matthew Sweet’s post he says this:

I don’t fall into the trap of thinking that my perfect days should be uniform and repeatable. Instead, I labour under the assumption that perfect days can only be revealed in hindsight, not planned or prepared for in advance.

I think that I have reached the limit on introspection with this subject. Nothing will change if all I do is think about it. I have to make some tangible efforts to free myself from my own routine, and show myself that I am worthy every day, not just the perfect ones.border

Do you feel like your routine is too rigid? Do you feel as though all your progress or motivation to move forward gets reset when you’re sick?

How to Recover from Disappointment

One of my biggest fears is being disappointed.

I hardly even let myself get excited about things, because I’m afraid of being let down.

In my experience, disappointment is the most painful emotion. I think this is because, when I do get excited about things, I create vivid, realistic pictures in my mind about how amazing something is going to be.

For example, I recently applied for a job I really wanted. I stepped outside of my comfort zone and hand-delivered my resume to the office, which was in a great part of town. I saw myself working there, walking down to the nearby coffee shop at lunch, or stopping by the cookie store after work to get me and my husband something delicious before I came home. I saw myself feeling confident and proud in a position where my work aligned with my values. I saw myself expressing my creativity, sense of curiosity, and adventure. I saw it so well that it felt like the job had to be mine. I imagined talking to the hiring manager on the phone the following week and setting up an interview. I played through the kinds of questions I might have to answer at that interview.

I had built a future in my imagination.

Then several weeks went by, and I didn’t hear anything.

I was so disappointed, and I chastised myself for ever getting excited in the first place. I told myself I should have known better than to think I could have gotten that job.

I told myself that my disappointment was unjustified because if I hadn’t gotten so excited in the first place, then I wouldn’t have felt so let down.

Disappointment really hurts.

There’s no way of getting around it, but there are ways of getting through it, and maybe even growing through it.

I used to let disappointment completely wreck me, but, even though I was disappointed about that job, I noticed that I bounced back from it a lot quicker than I used to bounce back from being let down, and I think that’s because I have made use of these strategies:

1.Accept

This has been a recurring lesson in my life lately; that it’s better to accept negative emotions and situations rather than constantly try to fight them. I accept that I’m disappointed that I didn’t get the job I really wanted. I accept that it sucks because I worked really hard and went outside of my comfort zone to deliver my resume in person. I accept that I wish it could have turned out different.

living is strife and torment

2.Mourn

It feels a little elementary to say this, but I think we can probably all do with the constant reminder that it’s okay to feel sad. I don’t have to bounce back to my baseline level of happiness and energy immediately after being disappointed. I can mourn what I feel I lost for a little bit. I can hate on the world for a while, and begrudge all the disadvantages of being a young, freshly graduated person in a competitive job market.

3.Acknowledge personal responsibility and power

Though it’s perfectly healthy to feel sad and frustrated for a while, If I continue to sulk and blame the world, then I’ll continue to be disappointed. After I indulge in my “angsty-everything-sucks-parade,” there comes a time to pick myself back up and keep going. I have the power to persist. I have responsibility over my choices and emotions.

4.Don’t compare

When I get really disappointed, I am quick to compare my life to others and decide that they all have it easier than me. I’ll think about my colleagues from college who got jobs without even having to apply because they had social connections, and then I’ll let myself get bitter because I’ve had to work really, really hard, and have had few results. This is still something I’m working on. I’m getting heated up just thinking about it, but I’ll never get over it if I don’t confront it. So, while this is a step I’m still working through, it’s an important one. Getting bitter over other people’s successes doesn’t do me any good, anyway. In fact, it sets me back. All I can do is focus on what I want and need, and how I’m going to get there.

5.Keep going

Persistence is the only way I have ever achieved anything, and it will continue to be the only way I’ll ever achieve anything. When I feel like giving up, it just means that it’s time to change my approach or my mindset.

I will persistently feel disappointed, but I can’t let disappointment keep me from feeling excited because excitement wards off the looming sense of dread that keeps me from trying.

I may continue to fear disappointment, but I can be more confident going to battle with it knowing that I have the tools to recover and persist.

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Fearing disappointment is such an integral part of my life, so I’m curious to know, are you afraid of disappointment, or are you unabashedly excited about things in life without even considering that you might feel disappointed?

How to Escape the Burden of Time

Throughout the course of my day, I find myself frequently looking at the clock and thinking about what’s next. With the exception of the morning, when time feels limitless, I’m stuck on the numbers on the clock.

Time begins to feel like a cage.

This is a little contradictory to my post last week, where I mentioned that I like structure and routines, but I think that, like all things in life, there is a balance.

While I find freedom in routine, I also have a tendency to create harsh, arbitrary rules for myself within that routine.

I’m able to find some balance, and escape from this self-made prison, when I allow myself to live in the moment.

One way I can cue into mindfulness is by asking myself sensory questions about my surroundings:

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This particular set of questions is best for when I’m taking a break from my routine so that I might recharge and find focus again.

It takes a little bit of effort to stall the racing thoughts in my mind, and redirect my attention to the world in front of me because my thoughts have become so routine and habitual that they feel familiar, even when they aren’t comforting. The effort to focus my thoughts is well worth it, though.

When I can bring myself to the present moment, time becomes less relevant.

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In the practice of mindfulness, my heart rate slows, I appreciate each sensation for what it brings me, and I gain energy.

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I find the eternity in the moment when I’m reading a good book, finding my flow in a creative project, cuddling my husband, snuggling the dog, watching the clouds, graciously sipping coffee, marveling at nature, or spending time with the people I love. Where do you find your eternity?

How to Spend Time Meaningfully

My husband likes to give me a hard time about supposedly not being able to relax. Whenever I fall a slight bit ill, he is quick to blame it on my stress.

The thing is, while I acknowledge that he is partially right, I also find it hard to totally agree because I have had a tendency to merely maintain an appearance of business by wasting time, rather than actually working to get anything meaningful done so that I can fully relax later.

I have to give myself credit, though, because I’ve been getting a whole lot better with time management as I’ve been seeking employment, as I’ve become more serious with my writing, and as I’ve gotten to know myself better, but wasting time is still something that plagues me. Now, though, it’s more because I have a broad definition of what it means to waste time, than because I’m actually still sitting around wasting a lot of time.

When I’m honest, wasted time is only time that’s spent on things that don’t bring me joy.

When I’m being a harsh self-critic, though, wasted time is anything that doesn’t produce some sort of quantifiable result.

This is where my husband likes to prod at me about relaxing, and this is where I can agree that he’s right.

I picked up this desire to remain ever busy, or appear to be ever busy, from my dad, who picked it up from his dad. I admire my dad and grandpa, and I want to make them proud, but they are a little too extreme in their efforts to spend their time purposefully.

My grandpa has been the property manager of a block of apartments for as long as I can remember, and he always has a project to do over there. When he’s not working hard on the apartments, he’s got a project at home. My dad has a long list of projects, too, lest he be caught idle for one second. I have a distinct memory of him, having just barely recovered from back surgery, hastily planting a tree in the backyard. He didn’t further injure himself, but if he had, then he really wouldn’t have saved any time by getting to work on the yard sooner than the doctor recommended.

When I was younger, if I didn’t have something that I had to do, I was constantly bored.

I even had a list of activities, much like my dad and grandpa have their lists of projects, so that I could stay busy when there wasn’t anything to do. But, I didn’t usually enjoy the way I spent my time. It always felt like I was doing things just to fill the hours until there was something I had to do, which is a habit that stretched long into my adulthood.

As I’ve discovered more about myself through writing and challenging myself to try new things, I’ve grown less anxious about wasting time.

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This is largely because I’ve developed hobbies that aren’t mindless scrolling or binge watching, and because I actually enjoy these hobbies, I’ve stopped seeing them as ways to waste time.

I can now sit down to read, more often, without thinking “I should be working harder on my own novel,” or I can sit down to write without thinking, “I should be doing the dishes,” or I can sit down to practice my calligraphy without getting antsy to clean the house, or do those chores that I used to feel were more important.

Plus, in getting to know myself better, I’ve learned that I thrive in a more structured, routine environment, and I can relax better at the end of a day if I’ve accomplished a few goals. Sometimes those goals do involve cleaning, but more often, now, they’re creative or personal goals.

I’ve been able to create an effective structure for myself with these four strategies:

1.Set Intentions

At night before I fall asleep, and/or in the morning while I journal, I make a plan for the day. It doesn’t have to be in-depth, and it’s usually nothing more than: “Today I will ___ and ____ and ____.” But, even having a few intentions for the day helps me to accomplish meaningful things, which helps me to relax easier when I’ve fulfilled those intentions.

2.Limit or eliminate multi-tasking

I’m terrible at multi-tasking, as I think we all are, but it’s always a good to have a reminder to stay present in the moment and focus on one task at a time. The more energy I put into the task-at-hand, the more I can get out of the process, and the sooner I can move on.

3.Experiment

I’ve tried different kinds of daily routines, different browser applications to block the Internet, and different timer techniques. Nothing has stuck, but I continue to experiment. Some days, I need to set a timer to get things done, and some days I don’t. I used to have email and other distracting sites consistently blocked for several hours during the week, but I would just find workarounds by going to different browsers, so now I only use the option where I can block the Internet for an hour or more at a time when I’m really struggling to stay focused, but, to be honest, since I took the daily block off the Internet, I haven’t needed to to block the Internet much. I guess it’s the whole, what is forbidden becomes more appealing concept.

I continue to experiment with ways to avoid distractions, and I have found so much freedom in allowing myself to try different techniques, rather than relying on one.

4.Stop to reflect instead of deflect

I mentioned something similar in my last posts about goals and procrastination, but I’ll mention it again because it has been working so well! When I start getting incredibly distracted, it’s most helpful when I shut things down or turn things off, and consider why I’m having so much trouble focusing, because when I deflect, I waste time.

It seems like reflecting would be the real time waster, but it’s not.

Maybe I’m working on the wrong thing that day. Maybe I need to take a prolonged break. Or maybe I just need that moment to reflect, and then get back to working on something meaningful (or those occasional obligatory tasks).

Having a structured routine in which I can accomplish some goals has, paradoxically, given me freedom.

When I went about my days without any intentions, I was much more rattled by anxiety about “getting things done,” and by the evenings, I would feel bad that I hadn’t accomplished more with my day. While I don’t think it’s wise to only permit myself to do things I enjoy after I’ve accomplished a certain amount of things, I do find so much more joy in relaxing and exploring my hobbies when I’ve worked at a few goals or fulfilled a few intentions. When my husband badgers me about relaxing, he’s not saying that I should sit around and do nothing, he’s saying that I should invest my time in things that bring me joy, and I can agree with that.

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I’m curious to know about your relationship with time and routines. Do you find yourself worrying over wasted time, or does it not phase you? Let me know in the comments!