Step Into Your Power
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Have you ever done something and then later thought “what on earth was I thinking?” Do you sometimes wonder why you continue to do some things that you really don’t want to be doing? Do you often feel unhappy or unfulfilled? Or even more drastically, do wish you had another life than the one you’re living?
If your answer to any of the above questions is yes, then I recommend you invest some effort towards getting to know yourself better.
For the past few weeks, I have been making the argument that if you want to live a life of power, then you must start with learning to appreciate yourself. I have sent out a series of lessons on simple ideas for self-appreciation that you could practice daily. The next step for achieving fulfillment and living powerfully is to start understanding yourself, your needs and wants, and the reasons behind why you do the things you do.
People who are genuinely confident and content do not hold any secret powers. All they have is a good understanding of themselves. When you understand yourself, you know what is important to you. Moreover, you will make the effort to attain what you want, and you will enjoy the journey as much as the destination. You also won’t waste your time and energy on things that are distractions or unimportant.
The key to understanding yourself is to observe your thoughts and feelings without judgement. Let me give you three techniques for achieving this.
- When you are having an intense ‘negative’ feeling, pay it close attention. Anger and fear are great signals that a core need of yours is not being met or something you hold dear is feeling threatened. This is an excellent time to find out what that core need is. Every time I find myself angry or scared, I consider it a great opportunity to stop and examine what’s going on in my head. This takes a lot of practice, so don’t give up if you find it difficult at first. For example, when you find yourself getting heated in a conversation you are having, do the following. First, acknowledge to yourself that you are getting angry. It’s so important to validate your feelings. Then, ask yourself what it is in you that is feeling threatened. Avoid blaming yourself or the other person. Remember, we’re not passing judgement here, we are just trying to understand ourselves better. You can ask specific questions, such as “am I feeling misunderstood, disrespected, dismissed, patronized, or something else?” This tells you a lot about yourself. You will understand from this exercise that you wish for more respect, or more validation, or more love, etc.
- When you are having an intense ‘positive’ feeling, pay it close attention too. The things that bring you happiness also say a lot about your needs and wants. For example, if you felt super happy after going to a movie with friends, then you may want to examine what it was that brought you so much joy. Was it watching the art style of the movie? Was it the popcorn and soda? Or was it spending time with people you love? Was it something someone said that made your day? If yes, what did they say? Again, this exercise teaches you what your heart enjoys, be it intimate friendships, time to yourself, validation from others, a sense of mutual respect and understanding, etc. Avoid assigning judgement to this, even if it’s a positive thought such as “I’m such a social butterfly.” The minute you judge, you become invested in holding on to that judgement (ex: I’m a social butterfly) or getting rid of it (ex: I’m such a needy person). Remember to just observe.
- Catch yourself when you are having repetitive thoughts. We often spend a lot of mental energy thinking the same thing over and over again. We go over an interaction we had with someone and imagine doing or saying something different. We imagine future scenarios which we dread or hope for, over and over in our heads. Everytime we engage in these forms of repetitive thinking, we are really trying to work out an emotion that is brewing underneath the thinking. Catch yourself in these thoughts, and try to get to what’s underneath them. Let’s say you had a disagreement with a colleague. You spend the rest of the week going over the conversation in your head and working yourself up into a rage, or worry. When you notice yourself thinking the same thing – or a variation of it – for the umpteenth time, stop and ask yourself what is really going on. Instead of judging yourself or the other person, ask “what button is it in me that is being pressed over and over?” “What is my fear or anxiety underneath all these thoughts?” Is it that you are worried about losing your job? Are you feeling discouraged because your ideas are dismissed? Are you feeling small, insignificant, insecure, threatened? Once you get to the feeling underneath it, then you can look at that feeling to get to the core need.
The above techniques are very effective, and with more exercise, become automatic. They are hard to do, however, without passing judgement on yourself or others. Spend some time practicing these. The idea here is to start understanding what your core needs and desires are. We can talk later about what to do with that information. When you catch yourself judging or dismissing your needs and desires, gently remind yourself that you are just an observer and it is not your place to judge. Leave it at that for now. With time, the practice of self-observation becomes both automatic and very rewarding.
As always, if you try any of these practices and learn something new about yourself, drop me a line by commenting on my post or sending me an email, and let me know how it went.
During one of my in-patient internal medicine rotations in residency, I had a patient who had had a massive stroke, was completely paralyzed, and was only able to communicate by blinking his eyes. His mother was his primary caretaker and very invested in keeping him alive. She communicated on his behalf and was my main point of contact and communication. Needless to say, she was very distraught as her son was rapidly deteriorating.
These are ethical dilemmas that rarely have a clear solution. Some of the doctors argued that further attempts to keep the patient alive would only prolong his suffering. The patient’s mother, however, was demanding all possible treatments no matter how invasive they were. I was not in a position to offer an opinion one way or another, so I focused on giving as much attention, care, and compassion as I could to the patient and his mother.
In one rather difficult conversation that I was having with the patient’s mother, she became more and more angry and started yelling at me. She was not happy with the facts I was giving her and wanted more to be done for her son. Fortunately for me, I had been quite practiced in the art of checking in with myself by then. As she continued to yell, I noticed a heat rising up in my face and head and slowly spreading down my neck and throughout my body all the way into my toes. I felt as if I was on fire. “I am getting very angry,” I said to myself, “what is this about?” I didn’t judge the woman as right or wrong, or myself as weak. I simply paid attention to the feeling.
The answer came very quickly: I was feeling a primal instinct to defend myself against what I perceived as her attacks. Instead of yelling back at the poor grieving mother, I told her about it. “I’m feeling very defensive right now,” I explained, “and I am not hearing any of the words you are saying. I don’t think I can be helpful to you or your son if I get this defensive.” She stopped yelling and was very surprised. She explained to me that she was just frustrated and scared and didn’t mean to take it out on me. I believe she said something like “don’t worry, my bark is worse than my bite.” We both laughed about it, the situation was diffused, and we resumed the conversation. The next day when I went to see her son, she told me she thought her son had a crush on me. I took that as meaning that she herself appreciated the care I provided to both of them.
The practice of paying attention to myself, my feelings, and my underlying needs allowed me to stand up for myself effectively without hurting anyone. More importantly, it made it possible for me to make a meaningful contribution to easing the suffering of someone in pain. How could there be anything more powerful?
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