10 Weeks to Wellbeing: Week 2 – Self
[This article first appeared in my wellbeing column in the Irish edition of the Sunday Mirror, 21st September 2014.]
Human beings are storytellers. We’ve been describing our experiences and passing on tales of others’ for as long as we’ve existed, using words, images, music and movement. We make sense of the world by telling stories about it – and every day we consciously or subconsciously make our decisions based on stories, along the lines of:
What kind of person am I?
What kind of situation is this?
What does a person like me do in a situation like this?
So our beliefs about ourself– the stories we tell ourself about ourself – determine our experience of life. When did you last examine these stories? In this, Week 2 of our 10-week programme, I’m going to ask you to reflect on your stories about yourself and how those support you or hold you back in your life.
Who Am I?
When you ask yourself this question, what comes to mind? Is it a role – parent, teacher, leader, profession – or a personality trait– outgoing, shy, clever, funny? Is your perception of yourself based more on your relationship to other people, or your relationship with yourself? Get a sheet of paper and complete the following sentences:
- I’m the kind of person who….
- In my family, I’m the … one.
- In my social groups, I’m the … one.
- At work, I’m the … one.
- It is important to me to be …
- My strengths are …
- My weaknesses are …
- My values are …
- My hobbies are …
- I’m passionate about …
- The different roles I play in life are …
- The most important of these are …
- I want to be remembered as someone who …
As you read back over what you’ve written, are you happy with the roles you’ve chosen (because even maintaining a role you’ve been given is a choice) in your life? Are you happy with the person you’ve described?
Do you value yourself as a worthy human being, with equal rights to the people in your life? Do you assert yourself, make requests of people confidently and allow people to make their choices as you are free to make yours? If not, it’s time to look at your self-worth. Our upbringings and the messages we get from parents, teachers and other key figures play a massive role in shaping our self-worth. Some people were lucky to be raised with a healthy sense of self and confidence in their ability to handle challenges. Others weren’t so lucky, growing up with over-criticism and messages of ‘you’re not good enough’. The good news is that we can improve our confidence and self-esteem. Commit to the following:
- Pay attention to how you talk to/about yourself.
- Be kind to yourself.
- Be objective about your strengths and weaknesses.
- Be clear about your values – strength, honesty, compassion, learning, etc. Know which are the really important ones for you and make your decisions in life according to those values.
- Separate behaviour from person. ‘Failing at’ something does not mean ‘being a failure’. ‘Doing something bad’ does not mean ‘being a bad person’. Internally, it’s the difference between guilt – ‘I’m sorry, I made a mistake’ – and shame – ‘I’m sorry, I am a mistake’, to quote researcher Brené Brown. Externally, it’s the difference between being able to hear negative feedback and evaluating it objectively, and crumbling, or getting (passive-)aggressive, in reaction to it.
- Refuse to live your life based on other people’s opinions – they come with the other person’s baggage, beliefs and back story.
- All of us have been the victim of certain circumstances in life, but getting stuck in a victim role robs you of your power to improve your life.
No person or situation can make you feel anything; your feelings are caused by your stories about that person or situation. Change your stories, change your world.
Next week: Health.
One significant practice we can all build into our daily lives to improve wellbeing is mindfulness meditation. I’ll explain it in more detail in Week 3 – for now, you might like to watch mindfulness master, Jon Kabat-Zinn, giving a masterclass on YouTube.
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