What if you were really (really) honest with yourself?

west-wales-coast

The beautiful spot where I’m currently living.

Honesty time: I intended to pen this article (any article) yesterday. I had a whole thing in my brain about the nicey-nice-neatness of writing here every 1st of the month in 2018. But I didn’t. Why? Simple: I was paralyzed by that ‘not good enough’ feeling. I’m sure you know of it. It tends to rear its head when we want to share something, be wildly optimistic, or take a creative leap of faith.

Today I’ve managed to wrestle myself free from the clutches of not-good-enough by pondering what was at the heart of my paralysis. And I think it was… honesty. More specifically, the fear that comes with being honest. Sometimes it is so terrifying to be really, starkly, vulnerably truthful, not only with others, but with ourselves.

Some people can spend many years hiding from themselves in certain ways – often not even realising that is what they are doing. Some hide for a lifetime. I hope that most of us, though, find some way to resonate with these words from Anaïs Nin.

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

 

If we are interested in unravelling our own layers of hidden truths and honesty, in order to find that buried treasure within ourselves (which hides so well sometimes), then here is one potent journal writing exercise that we can use.

Try it: “If I were to be really honest with myself…”

Turn to a blank sheet of paper or page in your journal, take a few slow, deep breaths to become fully present in this moment, and to gratefully prepare to encounter yourself on the page. Then, begin writing at the top of the page with the following prompt:

“If I were to be really honest with myself, I would say…”

Next, allow yourself to write, uncensored, in response. Do not worry about structure or grammar, just write whatever comes to you until your thoughts come to a natural close.

But wait, there’s more…

If at any point in this writing exercise you sense you aren’t being truly honest, or that something is not ringing quite true, or if intuitively you feel you have yet to get to the root of your feelings, pause. Begin again. This time, start with the following.

“I wasn’t truly being honest there. If I were to be even more honest with myself, I would say…”

This is one of those ‘rinse and repeat’ journal writing exercises. Keep going until what you write sparks off of the page like lightning – with that zing that only Your Real Truth has.

This probably isn’t an exercise you’ll want to write with all the time, but trust me when I stress how deeply powerful this way of writing can be. Use it next time you wish to get to the heart of your feelings around a particular topic or issue. Or, you know, just to get a blog post written…

Getting to know ourselves… honestly? It is a life’s work. Let writing be your sidekick.

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On noise & how we find ourselves in silence

finding-yourself

Between the ages of seven and eleven, every school day for thirty minutes after lunch break, came my favourite time of day: silent reading. The aim of this, I suppose, was to help us coast into an afternoon of sober studiousness after our raging exertions on the playground. The real delight was: we got to read whatever we wanted. Even books from home were allowed (my heart would soar at the thought of thirty engrossing minutes of Jacqueline Wilson.)

I adored this time, and of course I still do adore reading. Yet, I see now that reading is not real silence. Ultimately, we were being encouraged to fill this silent time with another kind of noise—the very special noise (but noise nonetheless) of books.

And I wonder now: where was the silent time for our own young voices to emerge, unsullied, and announce themselves to the world?

We live on a very noisy planet (literally, we are sending out ever-expanding radio waves into space.) German philosopher, Heidegger, would call the totality of this noise “idle talk” or “chatter”—and it defines much of our existence. This noise is not just radio. It’s opinions, facts, Facebook, the Sunday paper, Netflix… It’s our culture—that messy, raucous thing we are all deeply entrenched in—telling us what to do, what to think, what to be.

What happens to us in silence—real silence?

Some of us get anxious—it can be nice being told what to do, think, and be. Why? Because it lets us off the hook. It lessens the burden of responsibility for ‘Making It’ or for getting life right. Even though—and I know you’ve heard this before—there is no right.

In silence, some of us feel regret, fear, hopelessness…

…and all those other sensations where we remain trapped in the past or recoil from a potential future.

Yet, what we can also find in silence is possibility. Possibility for authenticity—even if it might need a little excavating. Chinks of light where you might catch a glimpse, sometimes a very profound glimpse, of yourself at your essence.

We find ourselves in silence. [Tweet it!]

I encourage you to find some silence. Real silence. I encourage you to feel those uncomfortable feelings that come with the territory; to face them, even momentarily. Then, fill this silence with noise of your own making (words, wisdom, aspirations.) I do this by writing.

And, finally, be open to finding yourself, over and over—there, on the blank canvas of silence.

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Create Your World With Questions

create-your-world

Given that, in a growing area of psychology, the self is a story, and therefore that we can think of our happiness as a kind of story, it seems logical that we ask how we are telling these stories. The truth is, we craft who we are with thoughts and tiny daily actions & interactions. Yet I believe that, most of all:

We craft who we are with the questions we ask. [Tweet it!]

What do I mean by that? I mean that each day we ask things of ourselves and our worlds that direct where we go and what we become (as individuals and as a collective.) Everything from what should I wear, to what am I doing with my life, to why am I so stuck? In psychology, there is a practice called Appreciative Inquiry or AI, and it’s when we ask: what is going really well?

How many times have you, in whatever words, asked yourself to be better? Focussed on what’s going wrong? Asked yourself to be different somehow? To change? And did that help – or has it left you feeling lacking? Left behind? Under-valued?

Although AI is primarily used today in organisations, it was actually originally developed  as a tool for use on an individual level. And that’s exactly what this article is for: to ask that you begin to appreciatively inquire into yourself.

Takeaway Truth:

“We live in the world our questions create.” – David Cooperrider

 

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, you’re not alone. Perhaps it’s time we asked better questions: kinder questions, more beautiful questions, more appreciative questions.

In addition, a great deal of psychological research suggests that we’re usually more successful in endeavours that we approach with intrinsic motivation. When we feel autonomous, we thrive. Therefore, instead of my offering up some go-to questions, why not create your own?

Try it: Create Your Own Questions

I want to help you begin your own appreciative inquiry; to ask the questions that matter, because you make them matter. Questions that get to the heart of what’s already going right in your world – and how to get more of it, rather than questions that sink you into the swampy depths of what’s gone wrong.

Below I’ve given you some structures and some mix & match beginning middle and ends. Have fun with them. Craft as many questions as you like. One. Five. Fifteen. Let your imagination run as wild (or as tamely) as you see fit.

Writing Exercise:

I am _______ [possible fillers: happiest, grateful, fulfilling my potential, at my best, at my most ambitious/hopeful/curious/relaxed/blissed out] when I am _______ [possible fillers: with friends, with animals, outdoors, travelling, writing, creating.] How can I get more of that in my life?

What’s going really well in my_______ [possible fillers: work, love life, friendships, writing, health] that I can _______ [possible fillers: focus on, expand on, replicate elsewhere, be grateful for?]

How can I _______ [possible fillers: create, reach, approach, attain, attract] more of this, in order to move closer to my dream _______ [possible fillers: self, gap year, job, daily schedule, lover] [+ time reference: this week, this month, this year, in the next five years?]

Who or what can help me _______ [possible fillers: uncover, build, change, plan, learn about] that thing I most want to _______ [possible fillers: create, see, visit, achieve, make] in my life [+ time reference: this week, this month, this year, in the next five years?]

 

These are just a few ideas to get you started, but there are limitless possibilities to the questions we ask in our lives. Try a few of your own from scratch. Zone in on those that feel most poignant. You might want to pick one question – or even a couple of questions – to guide you into the coming year. You might even want to make this a regular part of a writing for happiness practice.

Create beautiful questions & craft a more beautiful story.

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