Change and new responsibilities can put a surprising drain on your energy. How can you make progress in new areas without feeling like you’re at the end of your rope?
Back in college I learned about something called a “Johari Window.” It’s a four-quadrant diagram in which the left two quadrants represent what we know about ourselves and the righthand quadrants represent what we don’t know (and yet is still true) about ourselves. The top two quadrants represent what others know about us and the bottom two are the information others don’t know about us.
Each of us has characteristics that (were they all known) would fill out the four boxes of a Johari window. There are things (information) you know about yourself, and some things you don’t know very well (or at all). There are things others know about you, and things they don’t know.
For an example, let’s take 11-year-old Harry Potter before his adventures begin:
(The bottom lefthand box is a bit of a stretch. The Dursleys know this, although it is a family secret.)
As you’ll note in the Johari window pictured at the very top of this post, the boxes can have varying sizes. Celebrities with a reality show about their lives tend to have their largest boxes on the top (possibly just the top right). People with a rich practice of reflection but who do not share much may have their largest boxes on the bottom left.
With tremendous benefits on the other side of the mountain, some brave folks do decide to embark on the adventure of learning about themselves, uncovering their blind spots, and practicing appropriate self-disclosure. This is a big part of what transformational coaching is about.
If you are in a self-discovery or self-expansion process, you can anticipate that eventually you will come up against heavy resistance. This resistance comes from deeply embedded and reinforced patterns of thinking and behavior that have served you for years. Trying to change these patterns requires a great deal of energy because your brain is rewiring itself–actually forming new connections that are initially weak. Each time you practice the new pattern of behavior, you are exercising those new connections very similarly to exercising muscles, and when they are in their initial weak stage, you will reach a point of exhaustion quickly. Over time you will develop the ability to exercise those connections without reaching exhaustion so quickly.
Move forward with caution and courage
The process of self-discovery can be tremendously challenging. A person has hidden sides to themselves for a reason. For instance, most of us have learned to judge ourselves harshly for weakness, and so we have learned not to pay attention to our weaknesses because the feeling of judgment is too harsh. It makes sense that most people never choose to follow this path.
When you feel the sense of challenge, treat yourself gently. If you push into the ‘unknown’ too far and too fast, you can wind up causing a strong sense of dissatisfaction or distaste, which makes it harder for you to make progress again in the future.
But making the effort to expand the top-left quadrant benefits us in so many ways. It helps us connect with others more easily. Communication becomes easier. Self-management becomes easier and more effective. The process of self-discovery and soliciting feedback can also help us develop areas of weakness so we won’t get in our own way quite so often. While caution and treating yourself gently in the face of resistance makes sense, do not just give up and walk away when it becomes challenging. There are too many benefits on the other side, and it is possible for you to develop your capacity.
Manage your energy
When you follow an exercise routine, you only get stronger by following a regimen of:
- pushing yourself to the point of failure or fatigue, and then
- resting (actively) to recover, before
- doing it all over again.
Therefore, you can make your heart stronger* by engaging in high-cardio activity (dance or run or jump) until you just can’t go any more, and then the next day you walk for 30 minutes at a steady pace without trying to reach exhaustion. When you return to your high-cardio activity on the third day, you’ll be just a little bit stronger than you were on day one. If you repeat this pattern for the whole week, then on the second week you’ll be able to push yourself farther than you could on day one.
By that same token, you can make your brain stronger with a similar exercise routine, even when the “muscle group” you are exercising is your emotional self-understanding or your ability to focus on an unpleasant task.
Each time you push into the newness and discovery, push only until you feel you’ve hit your limit and then stop. Really stop. There’s no value in carrying on past your capacity. But then go into ‘active recovery’– walking, swimming, meditation, deep breathing, yoga–whatever works for you. These breaks keep us engaged and capable of functioning while our brains recover.
What are you discovering about yourself these days? What have you felt yourself reluctant to acknowledge? Lean into that discovery process. Practice accepting what is revealing itself to you. Push yourself gently and take those active-recovery breaks.
Does this resonate with your experience? Let me know in the comments section below.
*Hey, I’m not a doctor. Talk to one before you interpret anything here as advice!
Career Leadership Alignment offers coaching for how to be rather than what to do–supporting you in change from the inside out. Ignite the passions and unleash the natural powers that drive high performance in your team!
Amy Kay Watson is a specialist in leadership development as well as cultural and personal transformation. Working with thousands of professionals across North America, Amy has helped individuals and companies re-think organizational culture while implementing effective change. She focuses on leadership, culture, and employee engagement.
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