who you are matters so much

If you are a leader, a manager, a business owner, a teacher, a parent, a doctor, someone in a position where people look up to you, it can be so easy to be so hard on yourself.

They see your strength, you know your weaknesses.
They see how calm you are, you know how much you are panicking underneath.
They see your energy and vitality, they don’t know how much what you do takes out of you…. 

And on top of that, if you serve and lead from a place of love, you may be so focused on where you are going and how you are trying to improve and help your people, that you only briefly catch sight of yourself in the mirror, and may not even like what you see.

The above are all observations that I have gathered from working with hundreds of people over the past year or so, they are their words, and if any of them resonates with you, I want you to know four things:
1. You are not alone, unusual or a freak

2. It is not a sign that you are doing anything wrong

3. Who you are is even more important than what you do

4. You can always change for the better if you’d like to

This blog is to help guide your thinking in these four areas and offer you a practical exercise which you can try if you are open to change, as well as some deeper reflections for you to take to heart.

Step 1 – How are you now?

So how are you now? Really? Has this last year taken it out of you? Have you been thriving? Is it a mixture of both?

Here are some common recent expressions I have heard from clients:

I’m not allowing myself to look forward to things in case they don’t happen…
We have been able to leverage technology and grow so much!…
I’ve enjoyed so much quality time with my family…
I just can’t do three jobs at once, it’s just too much…

There’s quite a mixture there isn’t there? I wanted to show you that there has been no one size fits all reaction and way of life to what has been going on in the world recently. Many of us have swung from despair to joy, to boredom and frustration and back round.

But I’d like to go deeper than your recent emotions and what you have been telling people when they ask, “so how are you coping?” Let’s use some self reflective questions to probe some deeper thinking:

What have you learned about yourself recently?
What changes have you embraced that you didn’t think you could?
How are your relationships at the moment with the people closest to you?
What reactions, habits and routines are you currently doing that are not going well?

These deeper self reflection questions may bring answers quickly, from the quicker part of your brain. Or nothing may come initially and if you leave yourself some time to ponder and think, some realisations may come later from the slower part of your brain. Both are good and useful, so take your time.

Step 2 – Your Good and Bad Characteristics

Now I’d like you to try out this highly useful exercise, which focuses on your character, the foundations, the building blocks of who you are.

Binary distinctions have their limitations, but they can be incredibly useful: hot and cold, hungry and full, happy and sad. And although we are all highly complex, nuanced people, it can be very useful to sometimes use simple distinctions when we want to improve- such as good and bad, high quality and poor quality, high value and low value and good and bad.

So I would like you to create two columns on a piece of paper and label one Good characteristics and one Bad characteristics. Now spend 20 minutes or so writing all of your good and bad characteristics. Be totally honest with yourself, aim to fill both columns and if you struggle with either one, think of your relationships with your closest loved ones and how they see you.

Here are some examples to help you.

Good Characteristics

• Grateful
• Calm

Bad Characteristics

• Impatient
• Angry often
Easily offended
• Very shy
Too hard on myself
Too hard on others 

There are two ways of thinking about your characteristics, your personality, your mind- either you think they are fixed as they are, or that you can improve and grow.

Dr Carol Dweck in her work for over 20 years at Harvard University has popularised the terms fixed mindset and growth mindset to explain this. If you think you cannot change, you won’t. If you think you can, you will. And she has seen huge positive results in experiments with both children and adults to support this hypothesis. Equally, neuro scientists like Dr Caroline Leaf have helped us to understand that our neurons (brain cells) can grow, connect and rewire with others in a healthy brain as an ongoing process throughout life.

So both psychology and neuroscience are currently helping us to understand that we can consistently improve and grow, if we want to.

So let’s look back at your list. Look at all the good characteristics and take a moment to be really proud of them. Those, amongst others that you may not even realise, are why your loved ones and your people care about you so much. Feel proud of them, even if there is only one word on that list. Those positive characteristics can be the results of years of your efforts.

Now have a look at your bad list, remembering what we have learned from Drs Dweck and Leaf and pick just one that you would not like to be a part of your character from this day forward. Perhaps you no longer what to be impatient or easy to anger. Perhaps you are quite submissive and would like to be more assertive. This is a great realisation! Do not feel bad at any point or sorry for yourself, just pick one to improve.

Step 3 – How would you like to be?

I would like you to look again at all the good characteristics on your list and commit to putting them somewhere where you can see them often.

Take a picture of them on your phone or put them on your office wall. And make a commitment to continually keep demonstrating these characteristics to your yourself and others. Remember, you are more than just what you do. But what you repeatedly do every day gives you a strong indication of who you are, to both yourself and the world. So keep showing those good characteristics- our world needs them!

Now look at your one negative characteristic and get curious. HOW are you going to improve this? Here is a suggested example:

I am impatient

I am going to say to myself each day,

“My patience is unlimited”
“My patience is growing”
“I will look for opportunities in my day to practice my patience”
“I will no longer see myself as impatient- that is in my past”
“I will help others to be patient too”

This whole exercise of improving character is inspired by a lovely expression I heard from the wonderful Louise Hay about changing and working on yourself.

She said

You don’t need to be awful and need to change. You can be ok, and want to change too.

And I love that. I do not, for one minute, think that you are awful and need to change. What I do think, is that by consistently working on and improving our character, we can improve and raise ourselves to previously unheard of levels of patience, kindness, love, knowledge, wisdom and happiness. I know this, because for over 11 years now I have been doing this with people, and seen them contumely achieve this and astonish themselves. Not just with the results that they achieve, but with how good they feel both in themselves and with others.

So if the thought of this excites you, here is a reminder of what to do:

1. Know that you are loved and wonderful just as you are – you are not broken
2. Write a list of your current good and bad characteristics
3. Put the good ones somewhere where you can see them often
4. Pick one bad one and commit to improving and working on it every day for a month

I was also inspired by a myth about the American politician Abraham Lincoln who apparently wrote down a list of 15 bad characteristics which he did not like about himself. He then systematically took action to eliminate them, one at a time.

This year I personally have been working on being more cheerful, and it is working! It is an ongoing process, but I am miles ahead of where I would have been if I didn’t try.

Motivational wizard Tony Robbins says:

There’s a science to success, but there’s an art to fulfilment

And that’s what this blog and the characteristics exercise have been designed to help you with. 

I want you to both achieve what you want and enjoy the journey. More than just success in life, I want you to to feel the lovely satisfaction and the joy of knowing that someone loves you just as you are.

Because remember, wherever you are planning on going, you will take yourself with you. So build who you want to be into your vision and begin living it today.

I have learned from neuroscience and psychology about the brain and habits and routines, that the more you do-and more importantly BE something on a daily basis-the faster you will get to where you want to go.

• If you do something today, you are more likely to do it tomorrow.
• If you ARE something today, you are more likely to BE it tomorrow.

So remember this:

Final thoughts – why you matter

• Who you are as a person matters, it really does.
More than your accomplishments and failures.
• More than how people see you or what you do each day.
• You have been given a body, a mind, a personality and unique gifts and circumstances.

Use them! Embrace them, enjoy them, be with them and the people around you. Really be with them. Not just through screens. In person, from the heart. Listen deeply first and then talk, hug loved ones when they don’t expect it. The next time you look in the mirror, try and see what others see in you first – it can totally revolutionise the way you look at yourself and how you feel about yourself.

Those who love you see you with such joy and wonder, never forget that, in their eyes you are a walking sunbeam: you light up the room and warm those around you.

And if you ever doubt that, just think about how you feel about your close loved ones, does it fit that description? That’s the true value of who you are.

Even if you do not try out any of the exercises in this blog, and choose to just read and take it in, know that you are a very special person, simply because you exist; and you are worthy of love and great things.

You are a walking miracle, an example of life playing out in wonderful and often exciting and unusual ways, never forget that.

Best wishes

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