The Journey to Self-Discovery
I've been driving around in my car, ignoring the twanging, rattly noise emanating from the back of my car. I kept telling myself that the noise was part of owning a 7-year-old car with over a hundred thousand miles. When I took it to the shop to take off my winter tires, the mechanic noticed that the springs were broken. Oh F*&#!!! I got nailed with something I didn't want to face; I would have to shell out more money to get my car fixed.
As I mulled over my predicament, I realized this is an excellent metaphor for self-discovery. Many of us ignore those small signs that life sends us to get us to make changes or look deeper into the way we are living life. What happens when we do that? The signs get bigger until we pay attention and learn the lesson we need to integrate into our life. Sometimes life has to take a metaphorical 4x4 upside our heads to get us to pay attention. There has got to be an easier way, right?
Let's take a peek at some ideas about making self-discovery a more comfortable journey instead of a series of situations that punch you in the face and knock you on your ass.
Let's take the self-discovery process (process A) that so many people go through; big problem --> ignore it --> get knocked on ass --> discover issues that need to be dealt with --> work on issues --> become a better version of yourself. How can we make this a bit less traumatic?
How about we change the process to this, let's call it process B: uncomfortable emotion--> get curious about it --> ask powerful questions --> learn lesson --> integrate it into our life. Hmm, that sounds a lot less painful. I will take an uncomfortable feeling over a punch in the face any day!
Getting curious about what is going on in your life and taking a deeper look at the things that trip you up is key to helping to smooth the journey of self-discovery.
How do you get curious about what's going on in your life? A great place to start is to check in with those uncomfortable emotions you are having. Use your negative emotions as a navigational system. Your emotions communicate with you, sending you messages. When you get curious about the emotion you are experiencing, you begin to ask questions to learn more about what is going on. (Check out the work of Karla McLaren, www.karlamclaren.com)
Imagine that your emotion is a fascinating person you have met for the first time. What might you say to them? What questions would you ask to get to know them better? Take that same attitude and apply it to getting to know what the emotion has to say to you.
Ask your emotion what message it has for you. Ask the problematic situation what lesson it is there to teach you? At first, you may feel ridiculous asking yourself this type of question, but you will get answers if you become still and quiet, which is the hardest part. Your subconscious mind, that soft internal voice, is where our wisdom lies. When we listen to our inner wisdom, we can learn life's lessons easier than having life punch us in the face.
Coaches use a tool called powerful questions when working with their clients. By asking these powerful questions, the coach invites the client to see more clearly, discover actions to take and dive into new ways of looking at things.
How can you use powerful questions for yourself? By asking yourself what and how questions. Ask questions to get clarification of the problem or that assess the situation. Also, asking questions that evaluate, elaborate, and lead to taking action can give insight into the issue and help with some self-discovery.
These questions might be something like these: what is behind these feelings? How do I feel about this? What is the lesson to be learned here? What opportunity is there in this situation? At first, it may seem awkward to ask powerful questions to yourself, but it will become easier once you get the hang of it.
By utilizing powerful questions for yourself, you can begin to look at issues when they are small, thus avoiding the 4x4 to the head situation that comes with ignoring a problem for far too long.
Let me give you an example. It might roll out something like this. You have been having a problem at work. There is a colleague that you have a difficult time with, and every time you walk away from an interaction with them, you feel angry. As soon as you notice that this person made you angry, you allow yourself some time to quiet down, take some deep breaths, and ask yourself, what is underneath this anger? Keep breathing slow deep breaths, and wait for an answer. Perhaps you realize they keep delegating their work to you and then take credit for it.
Learning the Life Lesson
Next, you might ask, What is the lesson I need to learn from this? After you ask this question, it dawns on you that you often get angry at work, and as you look deeper into it, you come to see that you are frequently asked to do other people's work. You have just gotten to the core of the lesson. You know that you need to begin to work on saying no, setting clear boundaries, and sticking to them.
You identified the uncomfortable emotion, got curious about it, asked some powerful questions to gain clarity, and learned your lesson. Now you have to integrate the learning into your life. The integration may be the most challenging part of the process.
Integrating the Life Lesson
You've come this far, so don't give up. What might integration look like? Let's go back to our example. You have realized that you have to learn to say no and work on setting boundaries and sticking to them. You decide to start with learning to say no. You know this is something you have struggled with for a long time, so you make a plan.
You put PostIts around your office with a big NO printed on them. This way, you have a visual reminder about what you need to do. You enlist your best friend to help you practice saying no to unreasonable requests. You practice saying no to family members. With practice, it gets easier. It's ok to start practicing in places where you feel safe, and then when you get confident, move into the more difficult situations like saying no to pushy colleagues.
As you are working on becoming better at saying no, you can start to work out a plan on how to set clear boundaries. You may come up with a stellar plan on your own or realize that you need additional support. This situation could be the ideal time to hire a coach to work through this issue and help make this significant change.
While this process B requires a bit of work and can be difficult at times, it is less painful than process A. There isn't the trauma and the drama. You can get to the same place (positive growth) without all the fuss. The critical thing to remember is that when you do the work and learn the lesson, you have to integrate the changes into your life, or you will have to go through the process, either process A or process B, all over again.
Life is all about growing and becoming a better version of ourselves. I realize that change can be challenging, and leaving our comfort zone is uncomfortable; however, the payoff for going through the process of self-discovery and personal growth is magical.