I think personal development means this: discovering behaviors and habits that are no longer working for us. Behaviors and habits that were in our blind spot can now be a source of energy that can inspire us into action. This generates a warm feeling of recognition, because now we know what action we can take. An action from a place of love rather than fear.
Imagine yourself going to a new workplace for the first time. You are excited, inspired, curious or anxious, apprehensive or even outright scared. In that case our body might be shaking with tension, and you think “I might break down crying or sweating in front of my new colleagues and what will they think of me?” As all these thoughts are going through your mind, your automatic coping strategy kicks in.
You either shrink and have a body posture that says “please don’t mind me I am just a small person, I will be here but you do not have to notice me.”
Or you want to appear strong, powerful and worthy of their respect, so you might walk in with no awareness at all of what is going on, looking arrogant and pretending that you have everything under control.
Or you might also be aware of how you feel, knowing that there is no actual threat and that you are only going to meet friendly people who are as curious and anxious as you are. You are aware that you have the same responsibility as they do, to make your first appearance as authentic as possible. You take a deep breath and know that your nervousness, your fear or excitement are a part of who you are in that moment, which are after all temporary like the thoughts you are having now and will come to pass. You see this fleeting condition in yourself and others and instead of your fearful feelings holding you hostage, they rather increase your capacity for compassion as you recognize them in yourself and those around you.
This last response of an increased self-awareness comes from personal development practices like mindfulness, contemplative practices, reflection, team- and trust building exercises, that are usually part of leadership development programmes.
What is the practice of self-awareness then?
It is practicing feeling and seeing yourself as whole and complete. The first step is presence; a body scan and some form of meditation or mindfulness are usually a key part of this practice. The invitation is that you become present to your emotions, sensations or whatever is going on in your body and mind in a certain moment without any judgement.
Now that you are aware of what is going on for you, a second step is to practice communicating your emotions and needs to others – again without judgement.
To practice being present with others, a very useful tool in the workplace is a check-in.
A check-in is, as the word implies, a moment in which you share how you are arriving at a meeting, so that others know and can take care of you if necessary. A check-in might sound like this: “I left my son at the day care for the first time today and he was crying so much that I feel anxious about how he is doing, and I need to keep my phone on in case they need to get hold of me” or “I am so excited by the fact that we got our project approval and I want to share this moment with you”.
Covid-19 has increased awareness of our physical wellbeing. What we are yet to develop is awareness of our psychological wellbeing. People are fearful about whether their jobs are going to be on the line or whether their loved ones would survive if they contracted Covid. Understanding what occupies the minds of your colleagues builds trust and a sense of community and also allows you to be more present with them.
A third step is asking your colleagues about your blind spots. One way of doing this is to have reflective moments after meetings. The extent to which you open up and share authentically how you feel will affect the extent to which your colleagues will do the same. As you build trust, you can go a step further and ask people what they see as your blind spots.
This is the step that I am usually struggling with most. I remember realizing how painful it was for me to be told that I had done “something wrong”. I went into a defensive mode by getting very intellectual about whatever it was that had gone wrong. Through a personal development program I discovered that I sometimes went into overdrive with my righteousness and that I had a physical pain that I was not even aware of. Now I am conscious of this response, and, on good days, this gives me the courage to listen to whatever it is that is not working for the other person.
Get in touch if you need help with building a trusting environment where people show up fully and are more productive as a team!