A Magical Dragon Tail May Be The Key ...

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The Magic of the Dragon Tail

A wonderful coaching client once shared with me his experiences of being in Hong Kong.  He'd been on a work visit and being new to the region and culture, he experienced a very quick immersion into business practices.  

Aside from some of the insights he shared about doing business there, he was particularly struck by the holes in tall skyscrapers.   Purposely built this way, he discovered that they are called Dragon Gates and are designed so that the dragons can fly through as they pass from the mountains to the sea.   I love this idea.  A blend of mythology and reality.    

And especially relevant because a key feature of something I work with is a Dragon Tail.   Everyone is invited to grow one.   We all have imaginations and so we can usually find some way of feeling, seeing, hearing, perhaps even smelling a heavy stabilising, grounding Dragon Tail that extends from somewhere along our back line way behind us, much like the train of a wedding dress or long cape.   

Clients choose whatever type of Dragon Tail they like.  Tails can be any shape, size, colour, texture, weight.  They can be knarled, spiky bumpy, scaly, smooth, decorated.  It really does not matter.  What matters is why.    For the sake of what would I ask perfectly 'responsible, sensible adults' to engage in imaginary fun like this.  

Here's why.   

Clients most frequently report using their tails when they need additional felt strength, courage and support.  They use it to consciously hold their life's experience, good and not so good, their support network, their skills, competencies, gifts, achievements.  Anything and everything that helps them experience more gravitas and a greater, purposeful sense of 'I can do this'.   With a Dragon Tail we can move forwards into whatever challenges lie ahead with greater ease and support.   The tail helps us to slow down for a moment, to breathe more deeply and to feel more grounded.  We can occasionally use the tail to figuratively flick or swipe an obstacle out of the way and we can use it to provide us with a momentary rest when we just need to press pause before opening our mouths or moving to action again.  

The Dragon Tail is the place where our history resides.  Behind us, to the sides of us, not in front of us.  Our history, our life’s experiences, the good, the bad and the ugly is everything that supports us as we move from the here and now, the present moment, into the future, moment by moment with anything from big bold steps to tiny small, tentative yet courageous movements.  

The tail connects us to our courage and competence.   It helps us to feel calmer and more confident.   And yes it might be imaginary but who cares.  If Dragon Tunnels can be built in buildings surely we can grow them?   

Feeling Your Sense of Self-Worth

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Education is a given, but maintaining her self-worth is the priority’.    

A few months ago, one of my pre-teen daughters was having a tough time with friendships.   And I felt helpless.   I came to realise that underneath all the frustration and annoyance at our joint inability to communicate properly as she tried to navigate her way through this,  was my own angst at not being able to ‘solve it for her’.  Not being able to find the words that would help her, my much loved daughter, settle.  

In the end I realised this one truth.  She has one major priority as she navigates her education.   Education is a given,  but maintaining her self-worth is the priority, 

Studies show that girls will reach their highest level of felt self-esteem by the age of 8 (https://bit.ly/2Sf1YNb) and thereafter it’s all down hill.  What a damning and depressing piece of information.    I’m beginning sadly to see why this can happen as girls are thrown into the minefield (and sometimes it feels like a battlefield) of navigating forming relationships whilst jostling for position in a pubescent state.  

This week I read a quote which said “your opinion of me is none of my business”.  I shared it with my daughter who has been using it as and when she needs to, most often in her own head; why fan the flames when they appear?     And if it helps, it’s worth it.  

Aside from using affirmations such as these, how does she maintain her sense of self-worth?   She likes herself and the way she is - which I am grateful for, and long may it continue.   And what else - when it gets really tough?  

I describe self-worth to my clients as the felt sense that exists when they can hold a space for themselves that says “yep, that didn’t go well, or that feedback hurt and regardless, despite all that, I am still OK, I am still a worthy human being”. They are not thrown into a sense of not good enough, less than, or worse, shame.  

My experience is that this felt sense is to be found in the body.  It’s not something that we can just think ourselves into.  Of course, it goes without saying that self-talk focused on positive and supportive messages are really helpful.   Better than verbally berating ourselves with nothing but negativity.  

It’s even more useful however if we also know how to organise our physical selves to being able to feel worthy.    

To do this we first have to be mindful of how it is to feel less than worthy.  Usually there will be some sort of contraction and tightness, some sort of collapse and it’s worth knowing where/how this occurs.  If we stay present and curious to the sensations that may also be present we may also learn other pieces of information about the internal landscape of who we are.  If we become a student of the felt and physical experience we can learn a lot about our stories, our triggers, what we care about and what we desire.  

Developing, through practice, this level of awareness, offers us the possibility of developing the the skill of letting go of the feelings and sensations, or perhaps, letting them be there and re-organising the internal state to be more calm, relaxed and ‘full’.    Each mistake we make, or each cruel word aimed at us can easily take something away, chip, chip chipping away at our often fragile self.  

Perhaps, we might become more courageous, try out something new, take a risk, be vulnerable from a place of loving kindness towards ourselves.  It’s the being in the ring that counts rather than being there ‘perfectly’.  Getting it wrong, making a mistake, not being liked by everyone is OK.  We are each, still OK and worthy.   

By learning to welcome our body as the very ‘self’ that we are (and if it’s less of a mind loop for you, think body/brain as the self),  then we have something to work with.  Rather than ‘allowing’ the impact of another person(s) hurtful commentary or our own mistakes and shortcomings to minimise our ‘self’ we can focus on holding onto its wholeness and its full expansiveness, rather than allowing it to contract, collapse, diminish.   We can learn to fully inhabit our skin, feel our sides and our edges - literally, and especially our back sides, feel the full length of our spines, and breathe calmly and slowly.    By inhabiting and loving our own body as the self that we are, we can truly embody our own self worth and no-body or anything can take that away.    

On Letting Go Of The Stories That Drive Us

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Julio Olalla, Founder of Newfield Network says that we coach from our wounds.   It’s not an original  dictum, many others say the same.  

My interpretation of what is meant by this is that our wounds tell us what we care about, what hurts we want to see righted in the world.  And of course, for us to do this effectively we have to do our own work first, before we get anywhere near our clients.   To fail to do so will see those of us who coach not being able to support our clients effectively, falling into the client story at best, and at worst, working out our own stuff through the client.  Ethically and morally this is an absolute no no.  

And so in doing our work we have to know our patterns, our history and the stories that we make up and hold onto about them.  We have to be able to discern what is ‘fact’, and what is the perceived reality that we put around it.  Much, we come to discover is our interpretation of the events that we experience.

In doing my own work I realised that a story I was living in was in fact not true.  It was a memory from childhood and I in that fuzzy space of recollection had recalled an event that didn’t actually transpire as I’d remembered.    The realisation that I’d been holding onto an emotion - that of indignance as a consequence of something that didn’t actually transpire left me feeling, not quite bereft but with a real sense of ‘huh, what now then.  If I have to let go of the indignance, what then will take its place?’     Digging in I found that ‘nothing’ took it’s place.  I couldn’t feel quite joy at the fact that the wrong I had perceived hadn’t in fact happened - not yet anyway.  Instead I reflected in a different way.  

The importance we attach to our stories and how we use them either consciously or unconsciously to drive us onwards, to fire and fuel us towards some greater purpose.   What happens when that driving force, the emotion and story we are attached to falls away?

I often ask my clients what they need to let go of, and what they need to invite in.   This is a big question.  As human beings we are conditioned towards stories.   Some share their stories with others.   Some keep their stories inside.   Wherever we fall on this spectrum, I’m discovering what happens when we have no story, or we have to let go of the story.   My experience is that it can be both liberating and anchorless.  

What story do you live in?  What are story are you still fighting for in your life.  If you let that go, what is there then.  How much deeper do you have to dig?  

The Case for Emotional Health

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Like many people I have been encouraged by the candour demonstrated by Prince Harry regarding the death of his mother.  

Naturally this has given rise to discussion in some parts of the media on the state of mental health, and particularly amongst young people.   Good news.  And yet …. 

I want to take a stand for something.  Sometimes coaching conversations with clients reflect and focus upon what they are willing to take a stand for.  So I’m going to walk my talk here.  I’m taking a stand for adding to our language in this domain.  I’d like to see us talking about emotional health and well being and not just mental health.    We insist upon living in a world that separates and delineates mind and body into separate entities and so it seems emotional health from mental health.    Where exactly is the line - and no doubt there are qualified mental health professionals out there who can spell this out for me more fully?  

Why does this matter?  

There are two reasons why I am taking a stand here.  One is simple ‘marketing’.  In a world where ‘mental health’ is still stigmatised and one in which ‘emotional intelligence/empathy/compassion are becoming more widely accepted, surely it would help to talk in terms of emotional health rather than mental health.     I do not seek to further stigmatise mental illnesses, but rather to recognise that we would all do well to pay attention to our emotional well being.  Talking about our emotional health, framing it as such might just make it that bit easier.  Acknowledging that we have emotions and that these come to work with us every day, that they shape our response to events would be a start.     If I showed up to work one the next few weeks/months feeling grief at the loss of someone important to me would I really be declared as having a ‘mental health issue’.  If I am upset by the images of the ravages of war appearing on my TV screen nightly - am I experiencing mental health issues?  No I’m not, I’m simply in touch with and feeling my emotions.    Is grief really a mental health issue?  It’s a human emotion issue, it’s an every day issue, although hopefully not an every day occurrence!  

The second reason I’m taking a stand is to do my bit to move the discussion into recognising our more holistic humaness.    I think it is really important to recognise that we are a whole ‘system’ shaped by our genetics, our nurturing and our life experience.    Our life experience influences how our nurturing and potentially to some degree our genetic heritage plays out.   When we are impacted by events - whether that is Trauma with a capital T (for example the loss of a parent) or whether it’s trauma with a small ’t’ (perhaps being embarrassed or belittled in front of colleagues) - there is a sensational response in the body, in the system which in turn is interpreted as an emotion.   If we are to heal, it is this which we need need to pay attention to.   Emotions give rise to thoughts and actions.  We act as a consequence of emotion, even when they are hidden from us.   The very word emotion originates from the latin word movere meaning to move.   The work of Antonio Damasio et al provides further evidence that it’s the bodily response rather than cognitive interpretations which produce emotions.  

Taking a ‘whole system approach’  is relevant for leadership too.  Recently I worked with someone not dissimilar to Harry.  He’d lost a parent and chose to bury his emotions and feelings associated with his loss.    A survival strategy - because the body is excellent at working to ensure that we survive!   Moving away from his feelings rather than feeling them was his way of not being overwhelmed by them.    It was his valid coping strategy.  

What happens though when this response becomes his natural way of being in the world?   When this response - blocking, denying the sensations and feelings becomes normal when stuff gets awkward or sticky or uncomfortable.  How does this strategy prevent him from connecting with others?  We understand that Harry said that his long-term approach led to two years of chaos, near break down and being very close to punching someone.   The short term response of blocking feelings to deal with the immediate situation is helpful to a point, but not when it becomes a long term way of being.  

The consequence of shutting down our emotions and feelings is that it limits our ability to connect with people from a place of genuine authenticity.  If we cannot feel ourselves and our own emotions because we have learned to anaesthetise ourselves then we cannot feel others.  This means that we cannot connect with genuine presence to our team mates, our colleagues and those we seek to lead.   Not because we don’t want to but because we have wired ourselves not to.   

In days gone by, that might have been OK.  Stiff upper lip and all that.  Stoicism rules OK.  But not today.  In a world in which, particularly younger generations want to be led by real humans, by authentic people who care, who have a passion and a commitment, the ostrich survival technique will no longer cut it.    So let’s start recognising that we are emotional beings andgive proper account toit.  


How to get the development you need

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You know the quote, the one where the CFO asks the CEO what happens if after investing in their people they then leave the business and the CEO replies, what happens if we don’t.

This isn’t a blog post about the stereotypical perception of CFO’s and CEO’s but rather how to go about making sure that you get the investment you need in your career - and specifically coaching investment. 

These days there is much more awareness about what Executive coaching can deliver when offered by a professionally trained and experienced coach.   Coaching is used by organisations in a host of different ways, not always for the positive but increasingly it’s being seen as a vital development intervention to help already successful C suite Execs broaden the impact they can have across their business.  

What happens however if you are not a C suite Exec but you think you’d like some coaching this year?  How do you go about persuading your employer that you should be considered for such an investment?  

Firstly check out company policy - written and unwritten.   Is there a policy?  Has coaching been used before and if so for whom - are you likely to be breaking new ground with your request or has the ground already been cracked? 

Then Build your Business Case.  

  • Know why you want to engage with a coach. Be clear on your desired outcomes. What do you need to grow for yourself in relation to your current and future contribution in the business? What will you be able to do with more confidence and/or competence at the end of the coaching engagement?

  • Consider a possible ROI for coaching. This is a tough one especially when the coaching is in the domain of vital soft skills for getting things done with and through others. It can be hard to quantify the exact financial impact off coaching on the business. Look at the metrics used to measure your performance anyway including those that are employee related such as engagement and retention.

  • Provide examples of how previous investment in you has paid off. How did you put the investment to good use in your direct role and perhaps more widely across the business?

  • Link coaching to your career progression - vertically or horizontally - within the business. How will it help you?

  • Compare coaching with other investment alternatives. Coaching is unique in that it provides provides personalised support, tailored just for you and the outcomes you seek. It’s impossible to compare it with an MBA for example, but consider what the coaching investment might equate to in terms of other types of development opportunities.

  • Anticipate possible objections and how you might respond. An objection that often comes up is that coaching, because it can be a significant investment, is often only offered to very senior employees. The wider the scope for impact in the business, the easier it is to justify the higher level of investment. I know of businesses that are worried about opening the flood gates if they include a wider population. Think about how you might respond to that, perhaps relying on the uniqueness of your case, the business case that you have put together for why your employer should invest in you. Each case on its merits perhaps.

  • Talk with your boss. A key feature of successful coaching assignments is line manager sponsorship and support. This is clearly vital if you need HR approval, and also because your line manager will have a view on the necessary outcomes, as well as being able to offer you support when you need it. Be ready to talk through you business case with your boss, and if HR does need to sign off, get him or her actively engaged in building the case for WHY and YES.

Prepare Yourself     The can often the big one:  you may need to do some work around mindset here.  Asking for financial investment in your future with the organisation can be a bit like asking for a salary increase or discussing a promotion.  Some people will find this easier than others.  Remember this;  you bring value to your business already and will continue to do so.  You are inviting your organisation to invest in you for the future.  It’s a simple invitation posed as a request.  No more than that.    Let me know if you need help with making requests and or accepting a ‘no’.  

Personal Growth and Brexit Collide

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The ongoing turbulence of the last few weeks both here in the UK and further afield is for many perturbing.  Although the initial hiatus of Brexit seems to be settling we will undoubtedly be ’in it’ for quite some time to come.   Everywhere you look, the political landscape appears to be changing.  I find myself asking whether what we are going through will be valuable enough.   My purpose in what follows is not to enter a political debate about what has happened, but rather to look at change through the lens of transformation and ask what it might evolve if we were to take a different and deeper approach.  

We are moving through something that is referred to by the Strozzi Institute as ‘The Arc of Transformation’.  

We are in a process of transforming from an old relationship to a new relationship with Europe and the rest of the world, we don’t know how and what that new relationship will be.  We are, in Strozzi terms, in an ‘unbounded shape’.  That is to say much of what we know is shifting and moving to a new ‘shape’ or a new form.  We are, to some degree in that place we British refer to as ‘no-mans land’.   Although we now have a new Prime Minister, somebody ‘in charge’, no-mans land naturally produces huge uncertainty as we set out to determine the best way forward, the best way to put one foot in front of the other, and in what direction.    

Brexit offers us a large scale metaphor through which to consider what takes place in a journey of personal transformation.  It’s rarely a linear process, rarely is it sequential even though for ease of understanding we present it as such.   

We begin with what we call our current or ‘old shape’.  By shape we can literally think of how we are each physically shaped to move and act, as well as cognitively, emotionally and spiritually shaped.   We are shaped each by our own molecular environment right through to the universal forces that we experience.  Much of our shaping is oblivious to us, unless we make the effort to explore and understand, and even then we don’t see it all.  

The old shape comes to recognise that something is not working, that there is a breakdown or a yearning that wants to come to form.  This we call Somatic Awareness.  We begin to become aware of the possibility of something new.  We may move to a space where we make a commitment to the ‘new’, the evolution that is to come.   Whilst on our journey we are invited to become aware of how we are, what patterns we produce in ourselves, and how these help and hinder us.  We look for sensations to accompany the verbal descriptors that often come before.  By dropping into our world of sensation, and increasing our ability to notice how we are, we begin to improve our Somatic Awareness, vital if we are to change how we are.    

Awareness is but one element.   Our development journey also has to include Somatic Opening.   That is to create a body that is open to the new, open to letting go and to healing.  This can be achieved through regular bodily practices and enquiry.   We say that to work on the ‘self’, the most effective way is on, with and through the body.  The body is much more than a vessel for transformation.  The body is the ‘self’.   The body transforms.     As we engage with the body, we both increase our awareness as well as create new opening.

We are what we practice.   Somatic practices, those purposeful activities that we engage in regularly in the service of the new commitments we make and our personal transformation are the key to embodying a new way of being - however we choose that to be.   Somatic practices, when we pay attention, also create somatic awareness and  somatic opening.  It depends on how much we pay attention, how much we listen to our inner landscape.  

Here however is the rub.   We can be aware that we want or need to move through a period of transformation.  We are dedicated to practice, but unless we have been through the phase of opening, moving into what we call the unbounded stage (think conscious incompetence), all we do is put new practices on top of old patterns.    

Imagine, I can skilfully learn to be a centred and grounded presence.  Imagine also however, that I have done little to understand why and in what way I am vulnerably triggered.    Imagine I fly off the handle, or shrink and collapse when someone directly or indirectly questions my self-worth, but I know little of how I learned this, just that it happens. 

I can put centering on top of my fear/anger/frustration each time it occurs.    Despite the skilful centering practice, by not understanding my ‘trigger points’ well enough, I remain vulnerable to being easily knocked off centre whenever I feel my self-worth is questioned.  My personal survival pattern (aka fight, flight, freeze response) rears its head in an instant.  I haven’t deepened my Awareness and am caught.    

The Arc of Transformation asks us to recognise in our old shape how we are triggered - where we naturally go under threat and how this shows up somatically.   We are invited to consider what new shape we might like to have - what qualities for example might we like more or less of?  We are invited to make a commitment to that, which we eventually come to embody through practice.  

The challenge for me in Brexit is that we will move from ‘In Europe’ to ‘Out of Europe’ without deeply considering how we got here in the first place.  We will not spend enough time understanding how the vote to leave was ‘triggered’ in the deeper sense, how the greatest fear underneath it came about and how else it shows up in the British psyche.  

One hypotheses is that the vote to leave was a protest vote because the populous is not being listened to.  If we give proper credence to that, take time to understand what is really underneath that and its evolution, then what might emerge?  

Instead, referring back to SI model of Transformation we will begin our negotiations to leave Europe, we will move from ‘old shape’ (A) to ‘new shape’ (C) without actually going through ‘B’.  We will not that is, take the time to really explore why the leave vote and what is being called for.    Without listening deeply, we will be out of Europe with a new ‘shape’, and most likely not the one that was really being asked for. 

For a video explanation of The Arc of Transformation given by Staci Haines of The Strozzi Institute go to http://bit.ly/29VMJHW


Time to Believe in Yourself?

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This weekend I attended Workfest, a day long event organised by mumsnet.  It was a day packed with inspiring round table discussions, workshops and coaching focusing on work and careers.  

I'm grateful to all those I talked with on Saturday and post this beautiful poem in the hope that it inspires them and any others who read it.  

The Invitation by 'Oriah Mountain Dreamer'  

It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.

It doesn't interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn't interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life's betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own; if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn't interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, 'Yes.'

It doesn't interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn't interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.


Emotions: are we really still leaving them at the door?

Photo by  Toa Heftiba  on  Unsplash

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Last week a client told me that he believed he had to leave his emotions at the door when going to work.  Surprising because the guy was young, and worked for a cool, forward thinking company - who I thought would allow people to be themselves, and express their emotions whilst at work. But obviously, this is not the case. So, I was compelled to ask how it is that we still haven’t quite grasped the fact that our emotions are important.

Humans are Emotional Beings

When Daniel Goleman talked about emotional intelligence he highlighted the fact that humans are emotional beings, and that we cannot part with them. He insisted that we had better learn to work with our emotions if we want to be successful - and so surely we should not feel that we have to leave our emotions at the door when going to work. 

Emotional Intelligence

Have you ever been told directly that you need to improve your emotional intelligence in order to improve your performance at work?  Probably not.  Instead we are told that we need to improve our presence, stature, confidence, the ability to engage more effectively with others, to influence more widely, to be tolerate ambiguity and conflict more resiliently. However, it is important to realize that in order to improve any of these things; we must first work on our emotional intelligence.  

Emotions and the Body

Emotions are a bodily phenomena.  We know that they are expressed through the body.   They are not purely a ‘cerebral activity’.  Stanley Keleman highlighted the relationship between the emotions and the human body by arguing that our emotional life experience changes our physical form throughout our lifetime.  For example, a chest that has learned to collapse inwards and away perhaps through fear, shyness, timidity, will continue to do so and perpetuate those same feelings unless the 'owner' moves to ‘re-shape’.   

Daniel Goleman suggests that one of the fundamentals of emotional intelligence is self-awareness, paying attention to moods, emotions and their effect on others.   Often ignored, the body, offers us a fast insight into noticing how we and others are doing.   To develop our self-awareness we would do well to pay attention to how we are feeling, and where in the body we are feeling it.    The body in the end, can become our early warning system. 

Regulating our Emotions

We regulate our emotions through the body as well as feel them through the body.  Self-regulation is a major component to developing emotional and social intelligence.  Being able to self-regulate puts us in a much better position to co-ordinate and blend more effectively with others.  These are key skills to success in the work place, lost without emotional awareness and the early warnings the body shares with us. 

Blending with Others    

Another client needed to persuade and lead a cross cultural team with more finesse and greater intra-personal acuity.  The client needed to develop an awareness of the deeper social and cultural influences that shape us, as well as learning about her own patterns of influencing and persuasion. 

Goleman and Boyatzis refer to a social guidance system, described by scientists as the ultra rapid connection of emotions, beliefs and judgements, tied together in less than one-twentieth of a second by spindle cells.   Our spindle cells working so fast, tell us what we feel about someone, as well as how to respond to situations - what decisions to make, what priorities to set.  

In order therefore, to be able to influence and blend more effectively with her team, my client developed the skill of observing her own felt sense of her emotions and reactions.  This gave rise to her noticing more of how she felt about her team, the assessments she held about them and the reactions that these generated within her.   She entered a much more powerful place from which to self-regulate. 


Our bodily experience serves us well in developing our emotional range.  The body is omnipresent and therefore what we experience internally is reflected externally. It is important to know that we are in part the sum of our emotions because our emotional states affect the chemical cocktail being released into our bodies, and thereby affects, and shapes our physical form - something that we absolutely cannot leave at the door.   

If we seek to lead others, to influence, to be authentic and trustworthy then we need to befriend our internal landscape (i.e. be in touch with our emotions) in order that it can inform us and show us the way.  Finally, we must acknowledge that it is our relationship with others that determines our success in and out of the workplace, and therefore as this success ultimately comes down to the degree of emotional and social intelligence that we possess, surely our emotions need to be welcome at work. 

Journey Through Transition

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Last summer my family and I bade farewell to the leafy suburbs of North London, a place that had been home for more than a decade.  

Our departure from this place that we loved was brought about for very practical reasons appertaining to what we needed and believed was best for our family over the next decade or so.  

The adjustment over the last 8 months, along with some changes in my family has me reflecting on what it means to be in transition and how we human beings adjust - or not.  

I don't promise that what follows will shine a light on previously dark hidden corners for every reader, but maybe one or two of my observations from personal experience will have resonance for some.  

I’ve found myself at various periods of my life applying rational logic to situations, understanding the need or the reasoning behind a particular course of action.  I get it.  I might even decide it.  But I’m coming to recognise that my body and my rational self work at different paces.    What do I mean by this?  

When we left London I was sad at leaving friends, our children's school, the place I’d called home for a while.   As we are settling into our new ‘home’ my body begins to notice the changes, the differences.  It starts to notice things that I need to adjust to, what it misses about London.   This starts to show up in how I feel emotionally and even physically.  My rational brain however is taking longer to work out what is going on and why, what’s at issue.   My rational brain is taking longer to come up with the reasons why my body is experiencing xyz.  

I'm slightly surprised by this.  I'd thought that maybe the rational brain was faster then my limbic brain (the seat of my emotions)   But no.  As I reflect on my life to date I can see many occasions when my body has been responding to a change before my brain has realised what is actually going on - what, in some cases, is bothering me.   The process seems to be - understand the change cognitively - body notices the impact sensationally - cognitive brain rationalises and understands what's going on with the body.

I’ve also come to understand that transition is never ending.  It is a constant.  I could be very literal and talk bout how often our cells renew themselves, the body itself changes daily (at least).   I could be ‘Zen’ like and say that no moment is the same as the previous one , there is transition moment to moment.  Some transitions are major life changes, others happen day by day, week to week.  

Given this constant state of change, flux, transition, the question arises - how am I with this?  How am I with the change?  What else is there beyond ‘Oh, it’s fine we are adjusting’?  What, might I be reacting to more deeply within me that I haven't yet seen? 

Often it’s easier to know what we think about something than what we feel, and even if we get a handle on what we feel, this may only be at surface level.  Our real feelings maybe buried three layers down.  It’s vitally important that we keep questioning, exploring, and noticing what is happening in our body.  What changes are afoot within the body?  The odd new twinge today, sudden onset of a skin rash, a change to dietary habits, all of these changes can signify that the body is adjusting to something, and maybe isn’t adjusting so well.  It’s called psychosomatic.   I think of the body as an early warning system.  

I remember hearing an old boss use the word psychosomatic to refer to someone he thought was making up their illness, that it was all in the mind.   It was used in a derogatory way despite the definition of psychosomatic being 'a physical illness or condition caused or aggravated by internal conflict or stress'.   The body and mind are totally connected.   

Psychosomatic or not, pedant or not, there are ways of holding situations that can help us through transition.  

  • Ask ‘what am I being invited to step into here?’. Change and transition bring new opportunities. These maybe new experiences, new ways to be with situations. Even a redundancy situation, or a death can be an invitation to practice something new. It could be to practice being with grief, painful as it is but we can learn along the way. Such drastic life changes are often an invitation to step into resilience with softness and self-care.

  • Ask ‘What is there that I can be grateful for here?’ The practice of gratitude changes one’s physiology. Try it for a moment. Notice what you are truly grateful for and feel how your internal system changes. Gratitude is the anti-dote to bitterness and resentment.

  • Practice curiosity. Be curious about your reactions. Don’t pass judgement. Curiosity produces freedom within us, it can be invigorating. We are curious beings. And be curious with lightness. Don’t go beating the hell out of curiosity to ‘emphatically know the answer’. Explore with wonder.

  • Notice where you are getting stuck. A change or threat to identity, the creation of a void, a change to social relationships. Dig into why the stuckness, what’s the root fear. Where does that show up in your life and, can you notice it in your body? Is there gripping, tightness, fizzing, temperature? Ease it with breath, movement, stretching.

  • Ask what might be available to you on ‘the other side’, once through the transition. How and where might balance be found? What is the yin and yang of the situation?

  • If you can think beyond the transition, as far ahead, as large as you can, what do you dream might come from now. Can you make a commitment to focus on the dream, the bigger picture? The transition becomes part of a bigger plan, a small roadblock rather than a major structural change to the highway.

  • And perhaps the most powerful questions of all.... ‘What would it take to be comfortable with this transition’? What might you need to let go of?

Whatever transition you find yourself in, with a good dose of grounded, pragmatic optimism and wisdom, you can find the internal resources to journey your way through your path.