A friend asked me once, “Why is it that now we have more information than ever on self-improvement, more seminars, self-help books, etc., but people seem to be more unhappy than ever?”
I had to agree…at least partly. It is true we have more resources for bettering ourselves than ever before, but what we don’t have is a way to sort through the resources and select a solution to fill our unique need or desire. Becoming whole and happy is a common human desire, but at times can seem impossible. Why?
Each of us seems to sense we could improve ourselves in some way. Maybe we have even been ostracized or criticized for our shortcomings. In short, many of us secretly think there is something wrong with us, but we don’t have a prescription on how to fix it. So we try to fix ourselves. Results of these efforts are haphazard at best, and at worst, do more harm than good.
To this point, imagine you are in a pharmacy full of all kinds of drugs, serums, balms and bandages. How would you know what cure you need unless you have a prescription from a trusted and well-versed doctor?
A client told me a funny story recently. Her 4 and 1/2 year-old son woke up in the middle of the night with a sore neck. Instead of waking her up to help him, he took it upon himself to open the medicine cabinet and select a remedy for himself. After sorting through all the medicines he decided on 3 pills….fiber pills! Well, he didn’t cure his sore neck, but he had a heck of a BM!
It’s easy to make a similar mistake with our ‘self-help’ efforts. We can’t make an accurate assessment of what we lack, because we don’t see ourselves accurately enough to make a diagnosis. We must guess what we need to fill the gap in order to achieve wholeness.
What we first must see however, is the mindset of ‘needing to fix’ ourselves sets us on the wrong path. Fixing our brokenness is a common theme in self-help literature, but not necessarily the best direction if your goal is becoming whole. Wholeness requires acceptance of yourself, fixing requires rejecting parts of yourself.
Virginia Satir says that from the time we are young, we are criticized and feel shame about anything that makes us stand out. This includes our positive as well as negative traits.
In an effort to avoid this uncomfortable shame feeling, we try to erase these parts of ourselves. Unfortunately, we get so good at erasing parts of ourselves that by the time we are grown up, we have no idea who we are! It’s impossible to fill a gap if you can only guess at what the gap is. And it’s hard to appreciate your talent if you have spent your life trying to hide it. Those are hard habits to break!
Take for example the saying ‘let it go’. Not only is that a famous song from a Disney movie, it’s also common advice given in support groups, therapy sessions and water cooler conversations. Loosely translated, it means, “stop being affected by that.” In some cases that is really useful advice and even better if someone gives you tangible steps on how exactly one does this.
But often, this is the absolute wrong prescription. If you are upset about something, that thing, whatever it is, has a hold of you. Letting it go is not an option. Sometimes, as Sheryl Sandberg, author of “Lean In” says, the time may be for you to lean in…to do the work, explore, take responsibility, and be proactive, rather than to become passive and ‘lean back’.
After the women’s equal rights movement some of the things women demanded was for men to be more sensitive and help with the housework. Some men took this on, even if they already were very sensitive. Some men have a highly active feminine brain already and actually would be better served by advice to the contrary!
To the opposite effect, some women could benefit from the advice to become more sensitive and allow their feminine brains to take the lead once in awhile.
So many choices! How to know when it’s time to ‘let it go’, ‘man-up’, ‘soften up’, or ‘lean in’??!! Often, we can find the answer in science.
Researchers have developed different tools for finding gaps. For example, if you are not sure if you are more active in the feminine side of your brain or your masculine brain, there is a book written by Allan and Barbara Pease called “Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps” with a self-test. Depending on your results you can tell whether your feminine or masculine side of your brain is most active. From this point, it’s easier to see whether you need to develop the ability to be goal oriented and focused, or whether to work on your communication and connecting skills.
If you are not sure if you need to work on your speaking or your listening skills, take the Meyers-Briggs test. It measures (among other things) where you fall on the introvert/extrovert spectrum.
You may not know if you are overweight or underweight. Before you undergo a new eating plan, have the visual/spatial relations part of your brain assessed. Recent research says people with eating disorders have a deficit in activity in this part of the brain. Suggesting that our body image determines food choices, but in these cases, our view of our body image is not accurate!
In addition to science and testing, for your own self-discovery how about asking for feedback? Ask your friends and co-workers to assess you on your talents. Pass around this worksheet (below) to kind and clear-thinking individuals. With loving and accurate feedback you begin to see yourself more accurately and almost automatically start to self-correct your shortcomings. You will start to see more clearly where your real gaps are once you begin to familiarize and accept your positive traits. Loving and accepting all parts of yourself is a crucial part of becoming whole. Ironically, acknowledging your strengths and accepting your flaws is the only way I know of to begin to change yourself.
List ten gifts and talents you possess. Now give your talent list to several people who know you in different ways. Ask them to read your list and give you feedback on how well you have measured your gifts. Ask them to make clear, honest observations. What do they see? What have they noticed in your behavior. No advice or criticism — just what they see. Did you leave out anything? Write down what you learn from the feedback:
Many individuals have, like uncut diamonds, shining qualities beneath a rough exterior. – Juvenal
*Excerpt from ‘The Soul of Entrepreneurship Field Guide’ by Martin Sage