Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Strengths-based Self-Growth

You can accelerate and enhance your personal development and self-growth by actively using a Strengths-based approach.

Many of us have an intimate awareness of our weaknesses but we are barely even familiar with our strengths. We can provide a highly detailed map of our failings and failures, shortcomings and shortfalls, inadequacies and insufficiencies. But we are a lot less articulate when it comes to recognising our skills and successes, talents and virtues, competencies and capabilities.

What underlies this is an assumption that we might make our greatest strides at self-development by knowing and mitigating our weaknesses. There’s a growing realisation that this is not true. A deficit-based approach to development and improvement actually results in little progress at the expense of a lot of time and effort. What we focus on is what manifests and grows in our lives. So, not surprisingly, when we operate out of a paradigm focused on “What’s wrong/What’s missing”, we end up with something different or less than what we actually want.

A Strengths-based approach has a lot more depth than adjusting your viewpoint from negative to positive. It is an empowerment strategy that involves recognising and putting to good use your genuine strengths. It builds on existing competencies and develops new capacities for problem-solving, addressing concerns, for learning and coping with challenges. It is an increasingly widely-used approach in many fields – education, corporate human resource management, coaching. Research has shown that people engaged in even ‘light’ Strengths-based interventions report that focusing on their strengths resulted in:
- making better choices in their lives
- increased productivity
- and, improved self-confidence

But you don’t need to sign up for an intervention or employ an expert – this is something you can do for yourself.

There are 3 main phases of individual Strengths-based development:
Self-Awareness: An inventory of strengths
Self-Definition: Integrating knowledge of strengths into one’s view of self
Self-Empowerment: Doing things differently

An Inventory of Strengths
Make this a ‘living’ document that you can add to on your journey of self-discovery. Taking on an ‘observer” role - look at every aspect of your being and identify your strengths and particularly focus on your natural talents.
Some prompts are:
What are your best qualities and offerings in your life roles – as friend/ partner/ parent/ relative/ colleague/ employee/ employer/ supplier/ customer/ community member/ volunteer/ mentor/ student?
What are the best qualities about the way you see and think about the world?
What talents or strengths are suggested by your dreams, longings, passions and urges?
Think of an event or events in your life that you really enjoyed – what strengths or talents underpinned your delight?
Make a list of things that you have learnt rapidly and easily in your life – what strengths or talents underpinned that learning?
Can you identify any themes in your list of talents?

Integrating Your Strengths
Now, imagine you have been employed to write a truthful, positive biography of a person – yourself. You have been given an inventory of their strengths and some suggested themes of talent. Write this biography and focus on providing this person with a new language of success. Read this biography often and tell others about it.

Doing Things Differently
Review your personal development and self-growth goals and intentions. If you haven’t articulated this well, take some time to think and write about where you want to be in three years time. Consider your loves, friendships, family, work, prosperity, leisure, learning, environment, physical health, your contribution to the greater good…
Where do you want to be?
Review your biography and your list of strengths and talents. Identify the personal resources you most need to bridge the gap between now and where you want to be. Draw on the strengths and talents you already have. Commit to being in service to yourself. Act, apply your own strengths.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sending Your Inner Critic to the Beach

An Inner Critic is often an active, vocal member of the community of characters that exists inside each of us. Despite the Inner Critic’s starring role, it can still take some time and practice to distinguish its voice. This aspect of our selves has been providing such a continuous running commentary for so long that it has become an entrenched part of our mental clutter. Once we do start to stand apart from the Inner Critic; to recognize its voice, to focus on its tone and hear its messages, we may well find that the Inner Critic can be a formidable adversary to our personal growth. Very few of us, are blessed to have naturally constructive, compassionate Inner Critics. Mostly, they are tough, opinionated, self-righteous, unforgiving, harsh and meddlesome judges with an acute attention on everything that we do or don’t do; everything we say or don’t say. They are often unkind, disrespectful and insulting. In some cases, they are downright abusive.

A lack of self-awareness can lead to the Inner Critic hijacking our mental space, crippling self-esteem and actively hindering progress towards realizing our full potential. While the Inner Critic has a role to play in our Community Inside, it is not its job to take over the running of our show – our life. Psychologists believe that the Inner Critic is so powerful because it arises unconsciously in childhood in response to the constant shepherding, directing, restricting, commanding and correcting from parents, teachers and other caregivers. We absorb this all in order to become self-regulating, which is a desirable goal. However, the extent, intensity and quality of regulation can suggest to us early on that we are innately “wrong”, and that we need constant policing in order to avoid shame, rejection and disapproval. So instead of growing into adulthood with a wise, watchful, confident Self-Regulator in the background, we find we have at the forefront of our psyches, a zealous, hyper-vigilant Inner Critic nagging at us incessantly, putting us down and preventing us from being the most we can be.

Although, we may experience our Inner Critic as troublesome, even damaging, it is important not to make an enemy of it. After all, it is an aspect of our self that arose in service, and making war on it will seriously disrupt inner peace. Even the abusive Inner Critic started out with the aim of being helpful – Inner Critics are resolute about protecting us from experiences of shame, rejection and disapproval. It is important too, to recognize and acknowledge the strengths of our Inner Critics – qualities such as the capacity to focus, to speak out fearlessly, to be heedful, to protect, to pay attention to detail, to be steadfast, purposeful and persevering.

A constructive way of dealing with and peacefully disengaging the Inner Critic is to creatively visualize a meeting and a conversation. You can allow your Inner Critic to take on a form – don’t direct this or impose any image – let it present itself. You may have a sense of a presence; see a light, colour or symbol – or your Inner Critic may take on the appearance of someone or some character you recognize. Accept this. Start the conversation by acknowledging that you know your Inner Critic has been trying to help you and protect you. Thank your Inner Critic for all its service to you. Explain that you are in a new place of consciousness and you have become more aware of all its efforts on your behalf. Say to it that to move forward constructively and productively in your life, you now need a different kind of service. Request that your critic consider a transformation into a wise, watchful and confident Self-Regulator who only speaks, with great respect, when it is absolutely necessary. Tell your Inner Critic, that as of now, you are sending it to the beach to take a well-deserved break, to relax and ponder its transformation, and that you look forward to its greater contribution in time to come. Then really send your Inner Critic to the beach. See it go there. Leave it be.

From time to time, events may arise which prompt the Inner Critic back into its old service. As soon as you encounter it again on your centre-stage, remind it that it is off-duty until further notice - its critical service has genuinely come to an end; firmly and kindly send it back to the beach to have a fine time.

You may find that with the Inner Critic on the beach, you feel a strange gap. If the gap feels yawning and a little disturbing rather than peaceful, it could mean that you need a supportive character from your Community Inside to step forward. This might be an aspect of your self that can encourage and sustain; it may be an aspect that can coach and guide; or it may be a warrior aspect that can perform temporary peace-keeping duties… Ask yourself what it is you need, and let the answer come to you without forcing it. When you know, ask a character from the Community Inside with those capacities to step forward. Hold a meeting, state your needs and engage. All potential exists in you already. It’s a matter of conscious engagement with your greater self that brings what you need into service.

When it comes to personal growth, raising consciousness and realizing your potential what you need in service are the best friend, champion, fan, mentor, coach, guide and warrior aspects of your self. You do not need criticism. No one ever truly improved because they were criticized – but many have achieved the spectacular because they were encouraged.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Overcoming Barriers to Self-Love

If you’re on a path of personal development and spiritual growth, it’s near impossible to bypass the many signposts pointing in the direction of self-love. For many of us, these messages come up again and again as we grapple with the challenges of what it is to truly love oneself.

Some of the biggest obstacles we face are the negative assumptions attached to the concept of self-love. We fear that if we follow the signs we might end up in the depths of the narcissist’s pool instead of scaling the heights of the Masters. We fear being regarded by others as arrogant, vain or selfish. Instead of enthusiastically embracing the wisdom and practice of self-love, we are wary. As if we are facing the crossing of a precarious, swaying rope-bridge where we might easily trip ourselves up and be cast down.

We often dabble around the edges of self-love by taking candle-lit baths or treating ourselves to the fantastic boots we long for. We hope this is enough, but deep down we know it is not.

What is important is to free self-love from limiting beliefs, and to set it in its most fruitful context. This means:

1. Realising that self-love is akin to self-respect and self-esteem and as such, is opposite to arrogance and vanity which are underpinned by insecurities;
2. Realising that self-love is a healthy spiritual and psychological imperative as opposed to a pathology such as narcissism;
3. Realising that attaining self-love is a safe process in the development of our consciousness – it emerges out of honest self-reflection and accountable choices;
4. Realising that self-love involves engaging with the boundlessness of our love, and therefore cannot be selfish. (Selfishness occurs in a context of scarcity.)
5. Realising that self-love is a dynamic, life-long journey, not a destination.

Self-love works best as a mindful, daily practice to nourish body, mind and soul. Like meditation, its benefits are cumulative, and we become masters at it through patient and dedicated practice.

Self-love is completely embedded in our relationship with ourselves, and so the crux of its practice is actually in being rather than doing.

The "Big Five" of Self-Love:

  • Be available - We need to make special, one-on-one, quality time for our relationship with ourselves, as we would make time to relate to our other loved ones
  • Be loving - We need to draw on the same qualities we afford to those we love – kindness, thoughtfulness, care, appreciation and a willingness to forgive
  • Be helpful - We need to pay attention and listen to ourselves with an empathetic ear. We need to be available to help – to encourage and soothe ourselves
  • Be respectful - Critical to the loving relationship with self is the way we speak. There is no place for a harsh critic, a bully or an emotional abuser in a constructive inner dialogue
  • Be grateful – Practice feeling gratitude for your being – for your precious life and unique existence; for your gains and losses; for your triumphs and lessons; for the joys and the pains that infuse us with aliveness


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