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

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

Emotional intelligence for lawyers & corporate executive leaders

(M)en decide far more problems by hate, or love, or lust, or rage, or sorrow, or joy, or hope, or fear, or illusion, or some other inward emotion, than by reality or authority or any legal standard, or judicial precedent, or statute.

If you are curious whose quote that is, it’s Cicero – the Roman philosopher, politician, lawyer, orator, political theorist, consul, and constitutionalist. As it turns out, human nature hasn’t changed much in two thousand years.

We’re Emotional Beings

We’re still profoundly emotional beings. EI (emotional intelligence) has come a long way since Yale research (1990) and popular books by Goleman (1995). Like the study of “mindfulness”, EI has more mainstream recognition and a greater amount of professional “success” attributed to it than IQ and technical skills.

Mindfulness Training is Gaining Professional Recognition

Gone are the days where law firms and the corporate world recruits by academic achievements and IQ alone. So what in brief, is emotional intelligence good for in the professional workplace, business and law?

  • Better judgement
  • Higher productivity
  • More team cohesion and client relationships
  • Higher sales and conversion percentages
  • Great work satisfaction in teams, leading to higher retention rates.
  • Improved customer or client service (due to improved listening and empathy skills)
  • Better organizational communication
  • More effective leadership (leading to a competitive edge).

Specifically for law firms and the daily lives of lawyers, EI can have a significant impact. Historically, the legal profession has been heavily influenced by the Stoic/Puritan frame of reference and an emphasis on ‘reason’, this is changing towards a more holistic model of human behavior.

The “Nimble Heart” in the Workplace

How might emotional intelligence help those in the Legal Profession?

  1. The ability to correctly identify client values and motivations
  2. The ability to suppress emotions that might cloud objectivity
  3. Psycho-social identification & sensitivity, namely: active listening, empathy and compassion
  4. Reading body language, non-verbal cues and facial micro emotions
  5. Correctly matching persuasion strategies with the target audience
  6. Manage stress and self-regulate effectively in high-pressured environments and long work-weeks
  7. Conflict resolution, halting escalations and defusing negative emotions
  8. Establishing rapport, trust and warmth
  9. Facilitating easy exchanges of information
  10. Adapting not just to frames of reference, but to people more effectively
  11. Influencing the emotions of others through effective communication, feedback and motivational impact.

Clearly EI embodies a broad spectrum of rather holistic “soft skills” that are essential to all professional industry for leaders, managers, consultants and employees.

Can Emotional Intelligence be Taught?

In the “real world” of corporate hierarchies and law firm politics, given that candidates have comparable IQ, experience and technical skills, EQ then becomes the unique qualifying differentiator (UQD).

There’s a significant moment now for MBA programs among others, to actively integrate EI and soft skills training in their curriculum, sometimes called applied human science.

  • Graduate leadership programs continue to integrate EI training into their programs
  • Corporate training programs now specialize in EI training
  • Emotional intelligence has been correlated with leadership qualities

 

Professional efficacy is no longer solely correlated with IQ, so what then can it be attributed to?

A Most Vital Trait in a Top CEO

For CEOs and top executives, EI has a lot to offer in terms of global corporate identity.

EI underpins the ability to inspire discretionary effort—the extent to which employees and team members go above and beyond the call of duty.

This is an “intangible” of the charismatic CEO, who champions the corporate entity internally, much as some CEOs harness their personal brand for effective PR external to the organization and corporate brand.

To earn the respect and fidelity, and to motivate and mobilize talent, are what true visionaries do.

Many HR recruiters and analytics talk about a “skills gap”, EI could well be this “gap”. What we might be seeing as well is a “leadership shortage”.

Never in human history has Emotional Intelligence been at such a higher premium. Never has leadership been such a corporate differentiator in its ability to drive ROI.

 

[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.