You are your own narrator

 

What new stories will you be creating for yourself?

Narrative tool

Writers do it all the time, use narrative as a tool to guide interpretation, to construct meaning, and ultimately to persuade and influence. So do teachers, as narrative is also a powerful tool for instruction and learning.

Why? Narrative creates meaning, invokes emotions, it makes things “real”.

And it is also through narratives that we view and experience our lives, both personal and professional. This is how we learn who we are – from the narratives told of our lives from when we were too young to create our own.

We initially used (very large) computers as a tool for calculations, its size and cost restricted our access. Now, it is ingrained in our daily life, using it so often such that many of us would feel rather lost without our devices. Our sense of self is very much tied to this small device.

The same applies to narratives. One story does not a man or woman made. But many similar stories and repeated create a wealth of meaning and gradually forges an identity.

A narrated life

One instance of timidity, and a story being told over and over again, which in turn compels attention to other incidents of “lack of bravery”… until one day, that girl can only ever remember stories of her timidity. Along the way, she has also picked up stories of “shy” and “unsociable” which fit with “timid”. These were noted and recorded by those around her, who saw only these because the narrative is indeed persuasive.

And what does it mean for this young girl, to be known as “timid”, shy” and “unsociable”? She now makes sense of the world through these limiting lens.

Little attention was given to, nor stories told of, the times when she courageously stepped into a new world, or when she stood up for herself when accused of a wrongdoing, or defended her brother to her friends. They went unnoticed perhaps because everyone loves a good story, and a good story is one that is coherent and familiar, like a fairy tale. Except for the girl, it is unlikely to end with ‘happily ever after” unless something changes. Until she takes up the challenge of authoring her life, to learn to make a different sense of her self and her world.

This now young woman is stepping out into the world. Her unease of who she is may lead her to question and become aware of how those stories that have shaped her life emerged… grew.

Will she step out of the limiting narrative that has governed much of her life? What can she do to re-story her life?

You as narrator

Humans are meaning-making creatures after all. When there are enough “aberrant” stories, we will be compelled to ask “why”, to see new patterns, to create new meanings.

So if you are in this exciting space of exploring stories that have shaped your life,

  1. Identify witnesses to your life who will share alternate stories,
  2. Seek out alternate stories,
  3. Consciously create new stories,
  4. Choose a professional who will facilitate this important exploration.

To paraphrase a popular saying, if you want a different result, do something different.

Begin with determination and committed action.

 

~ FlorenceT

 

References:

Barker, S. (2016) Paul Ricoeur and Narrative Identity: Why we are our story. Psychology Today Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/post-clinical/201604/paul-ricoeur-and-narrative-identity

Foresight Future Identities (2013) Executive Summary. The Government Office for Science, London. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/273968/13-524-future-identities-changing-identities-summary.pdf

Gottschall, J. (2013) The Story-telling Animal. Mariner Books,

Szurmak, J., & Thuna, M. (2013). Tell me a story: The use of narrative as a tool for instruction. Conference of the Association of College and Research Libraries, April 10–13, 2013, Indianapolis, IN. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/acrl/acrl/conferences/2013/papers

 

© Transfigure Therapy 2017

Experiencing our strengths…

In my work, words are privileged. They can communicate and persuade. They speak to the reason within us, the cognitive rational part of us. Most importantly, as we utter words and then narratives of who we are and how we are, these stories become part of us, they begin to form a part of our identity.

Words can prompt actions in, and change how we perceive, the world we inhabit, whether professional or personal.

Yet true transformation comes from our experience of ourselves in relation to another.

Peter [a pseudonym, of course] consulted me as he could not see a way forward in his career. It seemed to him that every step he took in his professional life was fraught with challenges and less than satisfactory resolutions. He was wondering if he was indeed in the right career and if he ought to move on. Peter also adopted some maladaptive habits to bolster his sense of loss of control.

One aspect of Peter’s problem was a lack of confidence. His success was “just good luck”, his failures were his fault. Our initial conversations revolved around the rational sensible steps to be taken in the face of challenges in his work – some of which resulted in his commitment to take certain steps – the notion of “feel the fear and do it anyway”. Peter would bring the outcomes back into our conversations, most of which were positive and he patted himself on the back, though not entirely convinced. Peter’s resistance to “stepping up” remains, the fear still takes hold at “crunch time”, as he called it, immobilizing him.

Ironic though it may seem, that at times of real conflict, we choose to trust a (professional) stranger than close ones no matter how supportive they can be. A stranger has no preconception or expectations of us as individuals. This gives us a level of freedom to experiment with being “different” to our “usual” self. It allows us to see ourselves through fresh eyes. This was how, I as psychotherapist/coach stepped into a relationship of trust with Peter, and established a foundation of safety upon which he could explore his “stuff” without fear or favour.

So what to do with Peter’s continued hesitance? It was not the ‘do’ but rather the being in our connection that provided rich evidence of his capabilities. It was not my job to tell him what to do with his work; each time there was a challenge, he was the one with the courage to face it with varying degrees of success. So it was that I bore witness to his courage, his analytical and critical mind, his creativity and his tenacity.

And it was through fresh eyes that he began to experience a different version of himself.  As Peter cautiously put on this new cloak, a new story of himself emerges – a self-assured man.

And the journey of self-discovery continues.

 

Writing and talk do not prove me,
I carry the plenum of proof and every thing else in my face,
With the hush of my lips I wholly confound the skeptic.

~ Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

 

 

© Transfigure Therapy 2017

Relationship in leadership

To be recognize as a true leader, one has To Be, To Do and To Relate.

This is the final of a 3-part series on leadership.

The value of experience is not in seeing much, but in seeing wisely. ~ William Osler

 

Experience is a great teacher. Yet we couldn’t possibly experience all that we need to lead wisely. We stumble and we make mistakes, and we look with wise eyes at the mishaps.

How do we learn? To what do we reference our words and deeds? We look to other lives lived in effective leadership, and considering what went wrong, what could be improved and how. In this process, we do not so much follow but reflect and analyse.

To lead wisely, we do not look at mere strategies and techniques, following blindly. We find what works with heart, we approach with the spirit of integrity and authenticity.

With empathy, integrity and authenticity – this is how leaders relate.

Authenticity

Know your self. What do you stand for? What is your vision for your organization, your team, your group, yourself in relation to each and every member? How will you motivate, encourage or lift another?

Be an observer of yourself. Watch your words and actions, are they congruent? Do they reflect your values?

Integrity

Be real. Are you consistent, in thought, word and deed? Do you walk the talk? Are you accountable? Do others trust you to hold firm to your beliefs? Are you worthy of trust?

Have courage. To be integritas (Latin origin, meaning “the whole”), often we have to be steadfast, to stand tall in the face of challenges and temptations to be otherwise.

Empathy

Seek to understand. Listen with your heart. Open your mind and be curious. There is much to learn and we may not know what would come our way at any moment, or from whomever.

Be in communication. Be with the people whom you work with and rely upon to get the job done. We cannot lead in isolation. Do you have the skills to convey your message? Are you approachable and supportive?

 

Before we lead, we must first be in genuine relationship and to engage our colleagues’ minds and hearts. Before we do, we are.

 

© Transfigure Therapy 2017

Solitude – the key to self awareness and success

Resilience and adaptability – key to success

The NSW Law Society Journal reported in October 2016 that the Future of Law and Innovation in the Profession (FLIP) Commission of Inquiry had been told by heads of law school that resilience and adaptability are important in order for lawyers to have a sustainable career in the profession.

Self-awareness is paramount to success

Whether in Law or other professions, to be resilient and adaptable necessitate identifying the existing state of which we operate and the places to which we aspire, and the ease we experience through that process of change and often stress. The recognition must therefore be underpinned by self-awareness.

Self- awareness is an accurate understanding of our personality traits, personal values, habits, emotions, and psychological needs, and their implications for ourselves or impact on others.

Through self-awareness,

  • we begin to realise what triggers negative stress within us,
  • we discern methods of coping and ways of being appropriate for us, and
  • we have better response-ability to the demands and changes we encounter daily in our professional work.

Self-awareness comes from being alone.

Solitude, a prerequisite to self-awareness, creativity and innovation

A study undertaken through a collaboration between BBC Radio 4 and the Wellcome Collection’s researchers in residence, Hubbub, showed that the best outcome of ‘rest’ derives from activities undertaken alone. Solitude is a prerequisite to getting real rest.

And it is rest that gives respite to a busy mind and brings clarity and releases creativity. It opens space for introspection and reflection which leads to self-awareness.

Solitude is about being or doing for yourself, alone. Solitude is not being inactive.

Here are some ways in which you can practise solitude:

1.      Have a cup of coffee, alone.

The in-between time when you have finished one job, and about to begin the other. Take a coffee or tea break to put aside what’s gone before, to gather your thoughts and emotions, and to re-balance your sense of identity and purpose. Do this alone. Have a beverage break.

2.      Take a walk, alone.

Beverage doesn’t appeal? Have more time? Take a walk. It need not be in nature. A walk in the bustle of the city is fine. The criteria are be alone and to notice your surroundings. Let your mind wonder about the man in the grey suit, the woman with red umbrella, the children, the cars, the architecture, even the noise. This can be a fabulous time for reflection. Go with it.

3.      Have a meal, alone

Take yourself to a restaurant with an ambience you’ll enjoy. How often do you merely eat and not pay attention to the process of eating? Well, alone in a restaurant, savour the sight and sound, taste the food … let your mind wonder and wander. Enjoy!

4.      Read, alone

Most of us do read on our own, hard not to. This time however, find a spot that you can claim for yourself, away from a communal space. There, read and let yourself journey into the book. Fiction or non-fiction, they are stories to take you into yourself, your reaction or response to the stories. Ask yourself why and lightly explore these reasons. Revel in a different life.

5.      Train or exercise, alone

Heading to the gym with a buddy or two is fun. Doing it alone gives you time to notice and sense your body in action without distraction. It is time to review your routine, and to feel its capabilities. Notice the energy surging within you. Feel alright for yourself.

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do and liking how you do it.” ~ Maya Angelou

Check out the meaning of solitude, in my personal blog here.

Many things that you do, you can do alone. Try it some time, and solitude – that space for introspection, will relieve the busy mind, recharge the tired body, and boost the creativity we so need in our work as lawyers.

 

What activity do you do in solitude which contributes to your success?    How do you occupy the space of solitude?

 

[An earlier version of this article was published on LinkedIn.]

 

© Transfigure Therapy 2017

Masculine traits contribute to mental health problems

 

Recent research from Indiana University Bloomington shows traditional stereotypes of masculinity are linked to mental health challenges. The greater the conformity to these masculine “traits” of “a desire to win, need for emotional control, and risk-taking” and “playboy behaviour or sexual promiscuity”, the higher the risk of mental health issues.

In 2015, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, film-maker, was inspired to direct “The Mask You Live In” to bring to light the narrow definition of masculinity in US society, and and its negative impact on men’s mental health and social dysfunction.

We can choose re-write the story of who we are and who we want to be, to be rid of the bonds of these unhelpful “traits” and “stereotypes”.

To read about men’s experiences of this, go to this article from the Guardian.