One of our favorite TED talks is by Amy Cuddy because in it she talks about how taking a new posture – what she has called “power posing” – can bring us new energy and confidence. Cuddy and her colleagues’ research had a fascinating outcome. People who strike high-power poses (expansive, big postures) before a stressful experience like a mock job interview are rated as more confident by others than people asked to put themselves into less powerful poses (restrictive, small postures). This result occurred despite the fact that all the people involved were given the same challenging experience to complete after they adopted one of the two kinds of poses.
It seems that there is an internal register of how someone successful carries him or herself. For instance, blind athletes who have never been able to see the “success poses” done by other athletes – arms raised, chest out, head thrust back – have nonetheless been seen to make these same movements themselves. Wow! It seems crazy not to try to use what seems to be a universal built-in mechanism to increase our sense of success or power. This straightforward technique could very well improve our sense of agency, assertiveness, comfort with risks and perhaps even our degree of optimism – and it seems to make others see us in a better light too.
With that in mind how might we follow Cuddy’s advice and “fake it until we make it”? Try these three simple tips to get you started:
First, we can watch Amy Cuddy’s TED talk http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ks-_Mh1QhMc or others like it to get more specific information on how to adopt these physical poses.
Second, we can stop making ourselves small in order to fit in with the expectations of others, be they loved one’s opinions, cultural mores, or our own fear of standing out by being ourselves and then not being accepted.
Third, we can look to others we see as powerful for ideas and inspiration to guide us toward taking on more powerful stances, roles, and choices in our lives.
Before your important event – a big meeting, a job interview or first date – take a moment to reflect on the above techniques. Make the commitment to put yourself in the best “position” possible!
Self-Discovery Tool Number 67
Is how you are holding yourself enhancing your sense of self-efficacy or making you feel less in charge? Are you putting yourself in a power position or are you restricting yourself to accommodate others? Strike a pose of strength – who knows what gifts this simple technique could yield?!
Halloween prompted us to think about the masks we’ve worn in life as well as the idea of “being ourselves.” There are definitely times when it’s appropriate to wear a mask, a face that we present to the world that only partially shows who we are. There are even times when a “suit of armor” is required to protect ourselves from the blows of judgment inflicted upon us by others knowingly and unknowingly. As life unfolds, and as more of these experiences occur, most of us begin to question the price of wearing these protective devices. Are these masks are still serving us or have we become trapped behind them? Do these shields really keep us safe or have they become tools for self-injury – no outside judgment required?
Consider using Halloween as permission to try two things. First, discard any guise that has become limiting or painful. Let yourself transcend the caricatured get-ups that are more about “shoulds” and expectations than truth and self-respect. Conversely, consider trying on some new costumes. Put on and try out ways of being that highlight different, new, exciting, and/or fun aspects of yourself.
Costumes can be liberating and provide us a means to move into and act out new roles, exploring new sides to ourselves. And the “costume” need not be elaborate! Any change, small or large will suffice. The key is to “wear” something to help you feel free to be something that is not typical for you. Here are some methods to assist you in giving costumes a go:
Literally wear a traditional costume to a Halloween event, a party, or even around the house to experience yourself as a different “you.” If wearing the costume while with others, notice how they respond to you, notice how you act – what’s different, what’s surprising, etc.?
“Act as if.” Which means that you act as if a particular thing were true. For example, act as if you are happy with who you are, imperfections and all – what would you do, what would you say, how would you carry yourself if this was true for you?
Put on a hat, stylish or goofy; dress in a color or type of fabric that is unusual for you; accessorize with a scarf, bowtie, jewelry, etc., that someone you imagine to be playful or interesting would wear. Use these items to help you become this other person – how would you feel, what would adventures would you enjoy if you were able to explore reality from this more upbeat perspective?
Self-Discovery Tool Number 65
Remove the masks and armor holding you back. Release the need to style yourself on the outdated expectations of others. Dress up as your best self, choosing guises that reflect the true you. Experiment by trying on new “costumes” – use Halloween as an invitation to play and uncover more about who you are!
It used to be the case that behaviors that exemplified qualities like “compassion” and “cooperation” were labeled as soft skills. Although this term isn’t heard as much as it once was, the perception remains that the skills that fall under this heading are less important and easy to perform. In fact, the implication is that only those who aren’t tough enough to make it in the “big leagues” would concern themselves with soft skills. Pause and reflect with us for a moment – is being considerate really that easy or are soft skills actually pretty hard to practice at times?
If you stop to think about it, generally, it is easier to be selfish and self-focused than it is to be self-less. It’s quicker to do what you want to do than it is to take the time to learn about the needs of others and compromise. It’s simpler to judge or deny someone else’s experience than it is to keep an open mind and explore multiple interpretations of events.
Think of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Gandhi. Who could argue that they chose an easy path? Their work was some of the most demanding work ever accomplished and this work focused on soft skills.
In honor of the many service-oriented “soft-skills” champions – many of whom will never be famous or recognized for their work – let’s take on the very challenging practice of being “soft” whenever possible. Here are some simple ways to get started:
- Hold off on commenting even if you “know” you’re right; listen carefully and let others fully state their point of view before you consider “correcting” them
- Ask yourself if what you are about to say will make the other person feel criticized or affirmed; if it’s the former, try reframing your comments so that they’re about improving the ideas rather than evaluating the person
- Examine your motivations – reflect on whether what you are about to do is going to help others as well as help you; challenge yourself to do things that meet more than just your needs
- Get curious and strive to put yourself in others’ shoes; contemplate people’s environment, background, and unique circumstances to see how these factors might contribute to their beliefs and attitudes
Self-Discovery Tool Number 64
Soft-skills are hard to do. Looking out for number one is much easier. Challenge yourself to tackle the truly tough stuff such as kindness, understanding, and patience – we promise we won’t think you’re “soft”– instead you will be following in the footsteps of some of the strongest and bravest people to ever have lived!
Many of you will be familiar with Dale Carnegie’s book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” but have you ever thought that the most important person to befriend is yourself? Here we highlight a few of Carnegie’s principles in terms of how they might be applied to the person over whom you have the greatest influence – yourself!
Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain. How often are you your own harshest critic? When something goes wrong, how quick are you to begin to condemn yourself for having screwed up? How effective is this criticism or condemnation in convincing you to change your behavior? See the next point for an antidote to this form of self-sabotage.
Give honest and sincere appreciation. This is the flipside of point one. Take the time to give yourself a pat on the back when your plans succeed, when all that effort pays off and you accomplish more than you might have thought possible. Don’t take the good things for granted, savor and appreciate them as they happen and then reflect on them for inspiration when the going gets tough.
If you’re wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically. We all make mistakes, misjudge people or circumstances. When the inevitable happens, explore the messages in the missteps and then remind yourself to let go and move on. Learn from what’s happened and then do your best to let the wrong turn stay exactly where it belongs, in the past, as you’ve absorbed the lessons it had to offer.
Smile. Try it right now even if times are tough. Think of something that brings you joy and makes you laugh. Feels good, doesn’t it? Smiling makes happy times happier and sad times more bearable. A grim face can make for a grim outlook whatever you are facing so the next time you are in the midst of something tough, pause for a moment to smile.
Self-Discovery Tool Number 63
The most important person to influence for the better is you. Build on Carnegie’s ideas and befriend yourself. And although there are many more items on Carnegie’s list worth considering, we will close with a modified version of just one: Become genuinely interested in yourself. You won’t regret deepening this relationship!
Whether we call it the University of Life, the School of Hard Knocks, every one of us has experiences that have helped us to learn and grow. As June was the month of graduation ceremonies around the US, we suggest you take a moment to honor of the hard work you have put toward becoming who you are. Imagine you are assembling your “transcript of life” and awarding yourself a self-discovery diploma.
Sample Life Transcript
Street Smarts 101
Uncommon Common Sense
Communications: Intra- and Inter-personal
Contemporary Adult Civilization
Applied Mathematics: Making Things Add Up Even When They Don’t
Topics in Engineering: Pulling Yourself Up by Your Bootstraps
Creative Writing: Employment, Educational & Financial Applications
Modern Dance: Achieving Work-Life-Play Balance
Anthropology 101: Early Adulthood through Middle Age, Lessons in Exhaustion
Anthropology 201: Middle Age to the Golden Years, Lessons in Individuation
Advanced Physics: Things Are Not What They Seem
When looking back over all the ups & downs of your course load, can you see that the very act of getting through it all is an achievement worthy of celebration? Can you give yourself credit for the many triumphs in your transcript of life? Recognize the courage and commitment it has taken to persevere through life’s challenges. Feel your metaphorical graduation gown fluttering in the breeze as you take another brave step forward down the road of life. See your mentors smile and nod in congratulations as you cross the threshold to graduate. Watch them as they wave you on to pursue even greater adventures. As you toss your “hat” in the air, hear the cheers of friends and family in acknowledgment of a journey well travelled. Award yourself a self-discovery diploma such as the one below – you’ve earned it!
My ELS Diploma
In acknowledgement of my voyage of self-discovery, I hereby award myself the degree of Explorer of Life and Self – ELS. With this diploma I decree my Summa cum Laude status at journeying this far as well as recognizing with humility how much more there is to learn. By the powers vested in me by myself, I go forward into 2013 and beyond focused on becoming even more of who I am while sharing whatever wisdom I have to encourage others to do the same.
Self-Discovery Tool Number 61
How can you see yourself, no matter your age or position, as a “graduate of life”? How can you find ways to celebrate and honor all you have been through, thereby giving yourself the respect you deserve? What would it feel like to see yourself as a success; as having achieved something regardless of whether others would recognize it or not? Grant yourself an ELS degree today. Make an effort to love the unique transcript you’ve assembled – no one else has your experience!
Sometimes we find ourselves in a rut, feeling sluggish, bored and with too much time on our hands. Sometimes the opposite occurs and we feel like things are too busy, too rushed and too out of control. Yet what both these situations have in common is that change is needed. Even if we understand this intellectually, change can feel scary and intimidating. So how can we make change feel more comfortable and even fun? By starting small!
Here are a few simple ideas to get you going – the point is to step outside your usual patterns:
Spend a few minutes outside, even if the weather isn’t perfect, to refresh yourself and stimulate new thinking
If you always do the cooking, let a family member or a restaurant take over this duty; if you never cook, give it a try
Test out a new style that appeals to you but might be described as “too much” – too dressy, too attention-getting, too colorful, too young, etc. – release the judgment temporarily and give some aspect of it a try
Don’t say “yes” just because this is what you always do; say “no” when you can and want to say “no”
If you typically order a particular coffee, sandwich or entree, when you go out, pick something a little different
Give yourself permission to temporarily “unplug” as the messages will be there when you return
When you hear something that irritates you, remain quiet or change the subject instead of arguing; or, if you usually avoid sensitive topics, calmly share your point of view without, of course, expecting instant understanding or agreement
Ask a friend to think of something simple that she/he has always thought you should you try – a new walking trail, book, cuisine, etc. – and then help you get what you need to experience it
If you never listen to music, put the radio on, if you love TV, try a magazine, if you typically surround yourself with noise, try a little silence
Wear your hair differently; if it’s short, change where you part it, if it’s long, put it up or wear it down; see how it feels to do the opposite of what you typically do
Make someone’s day, pay a stranger a compliment instead of keeping your admiring thoughts to yourself
Request an opinion from someone who seems very different from you and see if you learn something unexpected
Take a break from needing to make your own or others’ actions “good” or “bad,” instead try to experience events without labeling them
Ask “why not?” instead of “why?”
Self-Discovery Tool Number 60
We tend to think that we need to do big things to bring about growth and yet growth comes from small steps as well as large ones. Get into the habit of making small changes, they are the foundation upon which big, long-lasting shifts can be built – give it a “small” try today!
When someone says, “I feel vulnerable” we typically assume that this is a negative state. We tend to associate vulnerability with weakness. A vulnerable person may come under attack – physically, emotionally, intellectually, or spiritually.
The paradox of vulnerability, though, is that unless we truly open ourselves to things that evoke fear – acknowledging areas of difficulty or ignorance – we may never be able to embrace fully our areas of strength and expertise. Power comes not from just seeing where we are gifted, but from also recognizing where we need to seek partnership, help, or advice from others. True authority comes from accepting ourselves as “learners” rather than trying to be all knowing or perfect.
When we can accept ourselves as vulnerable this can foster inner peace and greater self-confidence. We see that we don’t need to do it all on our own or have all the answers. Once we are freed from the shackles of perfectionism, we can focus our efforts on those areas where we can really make a difference. This is great for us, and the world, because we have more energy to invest in those areas where we can truly shine and develop. And perhaps just as critical, we feel empowered to take risks and build new talents because we are no longer burdened by the false belief that we have to do it “right” or not at all.
Here are a few thoughts on how you might begin to explore your vulnerability.
Take a class in something that takes you just a bit out of your comfort zone: square dancing, archery, foreign language, poetry, etc.
Volunteer for a group that will take you to a new neighborhood, environment or landscape
Ask someone with whom you share a significant age gap (older or younger) for their philosophy on trying new things
Share a problem with a friend who usually comes to you for advice
Answer the question “How are you?” with something more accurate and genuine than “Fine”
Self-Discovery Tool Number 59
How can we make a regular practice of exploring our vulnerability? How can having a deeper awareness of what we lack help us to take greater pride in our gifts and perhaps use them more wisely? Fear and vulnerability won’t go away, but seeing them as pathways to growth can help turn them from foes to friends!
It’s February again and with that comes Valentine’s Day and thoughts of finding that “special someone.” All of us want love, affection, and companionship and many of us hope that this will be the time when we find someone who can be “The One” for us. While this romantic notion is reinforced by our culture, it asks us to search outside ourselves for happiness. It limits our focus to an idealized future. We become preoccupied with how things could be when “Mr. or Ms. Right” arrives. We miss the potential for a variety of happy experiences in the present moment because we are too busy waiting for a specific sort of “romantic happiness” later.
How can you bring your awareness back to where you are today and therefore increase your opportunities for love and joy right now? As Deepak Chopra said to a woman who asked him how she could find her special someone, “Stop looking for the right one. Be the right one.”†
Here are some simple suggestions on how you might do just that:
Instead of searching for someone attractive, be attractive. Eat healthy food, exercise, get your hair cut or styled, try some new clothes, make your living and working spaces inviting, notice and appreciate the attractiveness of others.
Instead of searching for someone caring, be caring. Make the effort to reach out to people who might be lonely or are going through tough times, ask others how they are and then listen sincerely, do something simple that makes another person feel special.
Instead of searching for someone exciting, be exciting. Learn something new, try a new sport or activity, go somewhere you have never gone before, do something just for fun, question your patterned responses, challenge yourself to keep an open mind when experiencing unfamiliar ideas or people.
Instead of searching for someone successful, be successful. Do your job to the best of your ability, see your efforts as important regardless of whether your work is seen as glamorous, look for a new career if your job feels unfulfilling, don’t ever let your paycheck define your worth.
Bring power back to your present moment. Enjoy your life now. Be the attractive, caring, exciting, successful person you seek. Doing so will not only help you develop yourself, but it will also help you attract people with these same qualities.
Self-Discovery Tool Number 58
Stretch your concept of finding love. See that sincerely loving and enjoying yourself is the best way to find love with another. If you are looking for someone special, start by being that someone yourself!
†p. 69, The Shadow Effect: Illuminating the Power of Your True Self, by D. Chopra, D. Ford, and M. Williamson (HarperCollins, 2010). www.theshadoweffect.com
We all have superstitious beliefs and one that is quite common is avoiding things that are associated with the number 13 (e.g., some buildings skip the 13th floor, some people stay at home on Friday the 13th). As we go into a whole year with the label 13, how about we make the most of it and work on changing our mindset from one of hoping for luck to one of having faith in ourselves? Let’s examine what this might look like.
Avoiding things means shrinking your world
Think about the energy it takes to avoid or ignore something. It’s pretty difficult, isn’t it? In addition, it tends to mean missing out on things as well as living in a state of anxiety. To expand your world, you need to consider how you choose your activities: are your choices based on fear or enthusiasm? Having faith in yourself can be as simple as channeling the energy you would have used in worrying over or avoiding something into actively seeking out a happier alternative.
Uncover the message behind your reluctance
We may be avoiding something for a valid reason, however there are times when our avoidance is simply a habit. To open yourself to experiencing more of life, you need to discover what lies behind your apprehension and how facing its cause could enhance your life. Beginning to notice where and when you tend to limit yourself can offer important insights. A first step in reversing those patterns can be as straightforward as asking yourself “why?” when you find yourself doing so.
Luck is what you make it
What some people call luck, others call being prepared to seize opportunities as they arise. To make your own luck, it helps to be open, flexible, and willing to examine your attitude toward the unexpected. Feeling lucky can be as simple as reframing the hurdles in life as interesting surprises, challenges to be explored, or chances to grow in maturity and wisdom.
Self-Discovery Tool 57
In 2013 how can we learn to recognize our capacity for courage and start to see the events that come our way – good or bad – as ultimately lucky? How can self-discovery help us get to the root of our superstitions and fears and start to let them go? Let’s reclaim 13 as fortunate, knowing that no matter the number on the calendar or the circumstance facing us, we can choose to make our own luck!