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Someone asked me during an interview – how do you handle stress? …..I told them two ways – self care and self awareness. And I continued on to relay to them that the self awareness drives the self care. Meaning the more I am aware of what it is that is stressing me out the more effective I can be with self-caring my way through and out the stress. For example, I may be stressed about a tough conversation I had with a co-worker. If I find out what exactly in that conversation bothered me then I am able to make the choice of how to care myself towards wholeness. This will require a bit of work firstly in the self-discovery phase for which I will need to do some self-examination to find out what exactly has triggered me and why. Once I go down the bunny trail of discovery to find out what the trigger is then I can determine the validity of the emotion in its present state. Maybe I’m putting too much weight on that conversation and I’m displacing my anger/disgust on that person. Maybe I’m not and the current emotions are not tied to anything in particular that’s related to my own insecurities; but that I need to do business with that person and espouse to them ways to engage in more edifying conversation.
There’s a popular book called Emotinal Intelligence, that details this exact approach of becoming more aware of our emotions. So often we focus in on our mental intelligence (gaining more external information) that we largely neglect the understanding and comprehension of our emotive nature. The more apt we become in this area of emotional awareness or intelligence the better our interpersonal skills and behavioral patterns become. We then begin to form and shape habits that accentuate our true selves and our true personality traits become better understood by others. Thus we begin to thrive in our truest form of authentic self.
I cannot tell you how many times in my conversations with people, especially working as a chaplain, that people have told me that they have not spent time “on themselves.” They have put everything else before learning themselves. They often tell me this in the latter years of life, having spent their entire lives just running on the fumes of the external interactions. Allowing those experiences to shape their responses, thought patterns, decisions and habits. When I would ask them certain questions about why they did this or that and why feel this way most often the reply is “well, I don’t know….I guess I haven’t really stopped to think about it.” These are people in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. They suddenly wake up for a moment and realize oh wow I guess I should look into that. I guess maybe I should try and think about what in my past has shaped my emotions and the way I view things now. Maybe I need to do business with myself before I form a solid answer on how I move forward (and how I view the past). Maybe I should work on my emotional intelligence.
Folks there are layers to this thing. We cannot simply be satisfied with living on the surface of life and just passively expecting ourselves to participate in life. This approach will almost assuredly leave you with the stance of allowing life to happen to you; most often taking “the victim” mantle. Oh how I hate a victim-based mentality. I don’t know which one is worse the lack of self-discovery or the victim mentality. I’d say they are equal opponents that play on each other’s courts. Full disclaimer here, there are some events that happen to us in our lives that do in fact at that time put us in the seat of a victim. But these events should not be our ultimate defining identity or driving force for the way we view everything else in life.
By taking the time to understand why we do the things we do and why we react the way we do is highly important. I dare say that it has been and is supremely underrated at best and largely brushed to the side as “I’ll get to it” at worst. Now is the time of self-awareness. Not tomorrow. Not ten years from now but today. Today you can do something to check yourself on a actionable behavior or response to find out why you just did that or why you feel a certain way about something.
You can use the tell me more approach if you are unsure as to how to do this. When you ask yourself – “self why are you feeling upset about not being praised for your contribution to a certain project or job?” You can say well tell me more? Meaning, well why? What’s the reason for you feeling that way? Then when you answer that first question keep going! Odds are that first layer isn’t the ultimate reason but there are more layers in the onion to peel. Only the brave will survive this approach because journeying deeper into the center of the onion requires a level of courageous honesty and vulnerability; quite possibly to finally admit to yourself the real reason behind the emotion. Maybe the final layer to why not being praised bothered you because you seek validation of your self-identity in human beings and that’s where you find your self-worth. When you finally admit that it is now up to you of whether or not this is a trait, belief, or practice you want to continue to ascribe to.
The best way to answer that question is to see where your previous belief has landed you. Previously you have allowed it to get you and your emotions all out of whack. Causing all kinds of emotional roller coasters and instability. The inner turmoil you have suffered has been crippling and it certainly has stressed you out to the max! So hmmm, now being emotionally intelligent/self-aware why would you continue to cling to this? You now have the keys to a new life of wholeness and victorious living. While you may not get a new automatic behavioral response right away (as these patterns certainly were not created overnight) you now can begin spotting out the the emotion that has taken you captive all these years and work towards no longer allowing it to drive your life and your negative responses.
Again only the brave dare enter into this quest of self-awareness. But for those who enter the reward is truly great.