personal growth

Strategic Stops

Strategic Stops

We live in a caffeinated culture, and I'm not referring to people drinking coffee.

We exist smack dab in the middle of a 24/7, nonstop culture where people are always plugged in and tuned out. We feel constant pressure that with so much going on in the world we need to stay engaged all the time. So many demands on our lives, so little time to fulfill them all. We live with guilt if we don't.

And we're paying the price for this!

Be A Rebel!

Be A Rebel!

The older I get the more I realize how significant it is to learn how to say No to some things in order to say Yes to others. And especially to learn which are the more important things to push back against and push forward toward. Here are two strategies for doing this well.

Are You Experiencing Identity Drift and What Can You Do About It?

One of my clients came to me dealing with deep uncertainty about himself.  His lack of confidence was at an all-time low.  He was de-energized at work and that was bleeding into the rest of his life.  He was having a difficult time making proactive decisions.  He felt stuck, almost paralyzed in his creative work.  And the more stuck he felt, the more he withdrew and didn't give his best contributions. "How do I find my place of confidence and self esteem again?"  he asked me with deep sincerity.

He was experiencing what I call Identity Drift.

What Is Identity Drift?

Identity Drift is when

  • you begin to lose your sense of self;
  • you're not sure who you really are anymore;
  • you're feeling uncertain about yourself, little by little unable to recognize what makes you You;
  • you find yourself trying to take on qualities and attributes that are no longer yours but are someone else's (you're trying to be something other than what you really are);
  • you've lost confidence in yourself;
  • you're becoming more and more satisfied with status quo (not rocking the boat wherever you are for fear that you'll get judged, criticized, or devalued, which is more blows to your sense of self worth--so you prefer to simply go with the flow and not creates waves)--you begin to simply drift along with whatever current you're in;
  • You've lost your center and place of most authentic power.

Have you ever felt some of those things?  If so, you're not alone.  Many of us are caught up in Identity Drift.

What Are Consequences of Identity Drift?

The consequences are painful:

  • living in a state of high stress and anxiety
  • losing your confidence
  • lowering your sense of worth / value
  • feeling lack of energy
  • feeling depressed about yourself, your future, and everything else in your life
  • comparing yourself to others and always coming up short
  • wishing to disengage and withdraw either emotionally or physically
  • experiencing the onset of physiological symptoms and health problems

So what can you do if you find yourself caught in Identity Drift?  How do you stop the drift?  Here are several suggestions.

5 Ways to Stop Identity Drift

Know your strengths

Because your strengths are based on your natural preferences (specific wiring in your brain), when you discover them, embrace them, and pay attention to them, you are placing yourself right in the middle of your true Self.  They are accurate descriptions of who you are and how you best live your life.  Leaning into your strengths places you in alignment with authenticity.

Identify how you're currently using your strengths in your every day life

The more aware you become of how you're using your strengths, the more competent and confident you become.  Paying attention and developing awareness are key.

Keep a diary in which you record evidences of strengths-based behaviors you engage in during the day

Increasing awareness and consciousness of your strengths increases exponentially when you keep a record of you behaviors and actions that manifest your strengths.  And every time you write a note describing an action, you're increasing your sense of self and your confidence in your abilities to live well.

Stop comparing yourself to others

Reducing Identity Drift comes about by focusing on yourself not on others.  When we're drifting, we tend to compare and think that we should be more like others (since we're not very clear on who we are).  But we need to stop confusing ourselves.  We need to pay more attention to how we're strong and how we use those strengths.

Intentionalize ways to step into your strengths more frequently

Start identifying specific actions you can take that are genuine expressions of all your strengths.  Write them down.  Look at them every day.  Set one behavior goal each day based upon one of your strengths.  Why?  When you're using your strengths in authentic ways you increase your sense of self, confidence, and personal energy.  You're aligning more deeply with the way your brain is wired.  You're rediscovering some very core pieces of what makes you uniquely You.

When you choose to become the expert of your strengths, you are making the decision to step more fully into who You are.  I have yet to see someone who makes this a priority not recover their personal confidence and core power again.  The drift lessens little by little until it finally stops.

So go ahead, leverage the real You by embracing what makes you unique and intentionally choosing to live that out, expressing it more fully!

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Upcoming Work About How to Build Your Strongest Marriage or Committed Relationship

There is such a thing as Marriage Identity Drift--when two people lose their sense of couple identity--they simply float along without any energy or confidence in their couple presence.  If you want to experience my strengths process in your marriage or committed relationship, check out the upcoming workshop I'm giving on this.  Go to Events for more information and registration details.  Registration deadline is this coming Monday, March 17.  Space is limited to 10 couples.

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Looking for a Speaker or Coach?

If you or someone you know in your organization is looking for a keynote speaker or workshop teacher for events in your company, congregation, or association gatherings, I would be happy to come speak on this theme or others like it.  And interested in strengths coaching?  Feel free to email me at greg@gregorypnelson.com or look at the Speaking or Coaching pages of this site.

The Laws of Subtraction--Inserting Space Between the Notes of Your Life

This is what I see when I walk into any clothing store! When I went shopping last week for my wife's Christmas gift, I realized something important about me (and, it turns out, about a lot of us).  I walked into one clothing store and was immediately assaulted by the endless racks of clothes--they're hanging on the walls, standing on the floors, piles everywhere.  The picture on the right is what I see when I walk into any clothing store!

The way clothing stores are being set up these days, it reminds me of airplanes--more and more seats with less and less leg room and aisle width.  I stood there for a few moments glancing around the massive store with its seemingly infinite variety--and to be honest, I got overwhelmed.  Too many choices.  I just didn't have enough head space and bandwidth, not to mention patience, to start rummaging through every rack.  I didn't even know exactly what I was looking for, which made the variety of choices even more paralyzing.

So as a shopper in those moments, I always resort to the easy way:  looking for the mannequins--I have to see complete outfits.  As a visual person, mannequins are my best friends in navigating so many choices.  So I walked around surveying all of the mannequins and never saw anything I liked.  I left.

I went into a smaller store in the mall, and in a few minutes, I saw a complete outfit hanging out in plain view, and I liked it.  Very much.  And 40% off helped make the decision easier.  In a matter of minutes I was standing in the check out line, excited with my purchase and hardly able to wait Christmas Eve for my wife to try it all on.

We live in an age of excess and choice--an overabundance of both.  And spirituality isn't immune from this challenge.  There are so many options available to explore.  We're inundated with books, DVDs, CDs, seminars and workshops, religious organizations trumpeting their truths, nonprofits vying for our attention to support their good causes, all describing different ways of believing, thinking, and acting.  Our temptation is to either ignore all of these options (we're too overwhelmed, not enough bandwidth to consider everything) or to simply keep adding to our lives--after all, it's all good, right?  We can never have too much good in our lives, can we?

But the truth is, we cannot live our lives based only on the law of addition.  Effective spirituality is as much about subtraction as it is about addition.

In his book The Laws of Subtraction, author Matthew E. May makes the observation that "at the heart of every difficult decision lie three tough choices:  What to purse versus what to ignore.  What to leave in versus what to leave out.  What to do versus what to don't.  I have discovered that if you focus on the second half of each choice--what to ignore, what to leave out, what to don't--the decision becomes exponentially easier and simpler...This is the art of subtraction:  when you remove just the right thing in just the right way, something good usually happens."  (p. xii)

I think he's dead on!  All spiritual traditions consequently emphasize this significant principle and provide practices and ways to learn this art of subtraction.  The season of winter is often used as a time to reflect on this second half of the equation:  What do I need to let go of in my life?  What isn't serving me any more that I should release?  What do I need to de-clutter in order to make room for the new?  What am I holding on to too tightly that might be keeping me from spiritual growth and renewal?

We were not created with infinite head space or bandwidth.  We cannot be healthy spiritually or otherwise if we only live by the laws of addition or even attraction.  We are called to take the counter-intuitive approach from time to time to learn the art of subtraction.

So what space are you creating in your life to have this intentional reflection and self-evaluation?  The new year is a perfect time for this experience.

For these reasons, I have developed a cycle of three weekend retreats for 2013, starting January 25-26, to carve out this significant personal space for these reflections.  This first of the three weekends will be stepping into the law of subtraction.  Winter.  Letting go.  De-cluttering.  Making room for the new.  Healthy spirituality necessitates spiritual subtraction.

I invite you to consider participating in these retreats starting next month.  Here is the link for the details.  Feel free to pass it along to friends and family.  https://www.gregorypnelson.com/Retreats.php.  The deadline for the early bird discount is in 48 hours, and it's limited to just 20 people, so check it out soon.  I would love to have you experience this transformational journey.

Claude Debussy

One of my favorite classical composers is Claude Debussy.  I still enjoy playing "Claire de Lune" on the piano.  Debussy once wrote, "Music is the space between the notes."

If you know his music, you know that he is a master at spacing--intervals--when no sound exists--even if only briefly.  That silence and space between the notes serve to enhance the musicality and power of the notes.  Imagine listening to a pianist or vocalist (or even speaker, for that matter--I've endured too many of them) who never stops--they play/sing/speak incessantly--with no breaks--no silence--no pause.  How do you feel or react?  It's simply exhausting, isn't it?  Overwhelming.  Easy to ignore and tune out.  Our bandwidth gets used up before they're even done so we check out.  Effective composing is not just adding more notes to be played without rest or pause.  It's learning how to subtract strategically, thoughtfully, emotionally.

I encourage you as you face a new year to give yourself the profound and transforming gift of subtraction.  Carve out sacred space to reflect on what needs to be let go of, ignored, left out in your life.  Create more space between the notes of your life.  Engage in this difficult, counter-intuitive, but I guarantee you, rewarding work of making room for what is yet to come.

Dr. May has it right:  When you remove just the right things in just the right way, something good always happens."

Fear Comes From a Place of Inadequacy

I just recorded this video clip today to talk a bit about where our sense of fear and worry tend to come from.  The reality is, you and I can't control what happens externally in all the circumstances of our lives.  But what we can affect is our internal responses to what life dishes to us.  And therein lies one of the secrets to developing inner peace in an age of anxiety.  Here's a piece of this perspective: [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSFDALeWeN8]

Here's the way this reality is stated in one of the lessons from A Course in Miracles:  "It is obvious that any situation that causes you concern is associated with feelings of inadequacy, for otherwise you would believe that you could deal with the situation successfully.  But it is not by trusting yourself that you will gain confidence.  It is the strength of God in you that is successful in all things."  (p. 75)

The Point of Spiritual Practices

As all spiritual wisdom traditions emphasize, spiritual practices are designed to focus our attention on our true identity as children of God.  The chaos, busyness, and ear-spitting volume of the world around us tend to divert out attention from who we are.  We are tempted to buy in to the subtle and not so subtle message that our value comes from an identity as producers, consumers, and all the various roles we play in our lives.  And if we play those roles well, we can feel good about ourselves.  But if we fail or are inadequate in any way, we cannot give ourselves permission to feel good.  And this battle is endless, isn't it.

So our intentional choice to regularly engage in practices, activities, and experiences where we are reminded of who we really are irrespective of our roles and what the world says about us is absolutely crucial to being able to maintain a place of calm, centeredness, and internal peace in the midst of life's anxious chaos.  I must come to the place where I put more stock in what God says about me than in what others or even I say about me.  I must choose to believe God's word, "I am enough."

Upcoming 3 Night Series

That's one of the reasons why I'm doing a 3 night speaking series on this topic beginning a week from tonight (Oct. 19, 26, Nov. 2).  The event will take place at Fort Mason Center, the Bayfront Theatre (BATS Improv) in San Francisco.  It will be 90 minutes of teaching, inspiration, centering experiences, even a little music--all designed to reinforce our sense of who we are, that we are enough, and that we have divine resources to ground us in confidence to face our everyday lives.  Check out this INVITE for more information.  If you register, feel free to use the special discount code GregVIP for 50% off.

If you can't be here for these 3 nights, there will be recordings made available.  So leave me a note in the comment section below if you're interested in the recordings so you can get in on these hugely significant spiritual reminders.

We are enough!

One of the important spiritual teachers of our generation made this statement:  “Our whole spiritual transformation brings us to the point where we realize that in our own being, we are enough.”

You and I need this reminder often!  And I can say from personal experience, when I'm living out of that deeply sacred and divine center, my life takes on a profound sense of both calm and confidence as I show up in the world.  There's no better place from which to live.

Click here for more information about this upcoming series and to RSVP.  Only 1 week left.

Why Take the Time For Self Development

46th Session This week I had the 46th session with a coaching client.  We started our journey together a year ago.  This is the longest I've coached a client - 46 sessions!  What has impressed me with this client's experience has been that it's only been in the last month that more visible break-throughs have been taking place.  I have seen profound transformation in his way of thinking about himself and life and how he's showing up in the world.  He has much more clarity as well as fulfillment these days.

My typical coaching approach has involved working with clients sometimes for a month, most often for 3 months, sometimes for 6 months (all involving weekly sessions).  I've helped people through life transitions, establishing personal dreams, developing strategic plans for business or personal issues, helping them achieve clarity about their strengths and life purpose, defining a new personal faith.  All very helpful journeys, according to their personal testimonies.

But in this case, we've continued for 46 sessions - mostly at his request - and certainly I've agreed with the value.  But significant change has happened lately that has caused me to realize some very significant realities about life growth as it relates to this lengthier journey.  Thought I'd share three of them with you in this week's blog post.

One, personal growth takes time. 

Regardless of your view of God and how God operates in the messy human process of growth, God rarely seems to simply "snap his finger" to transform people.  Pray as hard as you might, growth isn't based upon a magical formula that occurs in the "twinkling of an eye."  Genuine change takes time - it doesn't matter what the personal or relational issue, meaningful transformation simply takes time.

There's a reason why so many spiritual wisdom traditions call spirituality a "journey."  Personal growth is a process, a path.  Even Jesus called himself "the way."  Notice he didn't say "the point" or "the moment."  He's the way.  He's describing the process of spiritual growth - becoming a follower on a path which involves a journey that takes place over time, in fact over one's entire lifetime.  It's as though he's saying, "Follow me.  Watch me.  Consider me, what I do and how I do it.  Walk with me and observe, reflect upon, question, weigh, and wrestle with it all.  Practice what you observe with me.  Learn how to lean into it.  Be a follower on the journey."  Those kinds of experiences don't happen over night.  There's no simple formula.  Personal growth takes time.

Two, personal growth involves developing new ways of thinking.

No wonder it takes time.  Our thoughts create our realities.  In fact, some experts say there is no difference between cause and effect - our thoughts produce our experiences (and vice versa) simultaneously.  What we think, is.  So if we want to change our experiences, we have to change our thoughts.  Our thoughts are the fabric of all the stories we tell ourselves and others about ourselves, about others, about all of life, even about God.  Our stories (what we think and say about all of this) are the sum total of the thoughts we string together to describe what we think we're seeing and observing.  Our thoughts create the lens through which we see life. So if something isn't working well or serving us well in our lives, we have to evaluate carefully and honestly our lens (what thoughts we're stringing together to describe what we think is reality).

And if that lens is hazy or dirty or smudged or cracked, that impacts what we see.  This is why spiritual traditions describe the journey of spirituality as the process of cleaning the lens or even changing the lens through which we look.

St. Paul described this process:  "11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 12 Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.  All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely."  (1 Corinthians 13)

He likens seeing through a cloudy lens as being a child.  When we're kids, our ability to see and understand the realities of life are limited.  Kids have nightmares or bad dreams about things that aren't real.  And many of us adults still have that limitation. :)

I remember having nightmares as a kid about gorillas.  I would wake up scared to death that the gorilla was in my room ready to eat me up.  My mom says she would often awaken in the middle of the night feeling this "presence" beside the bed and when she opened her eyes she would see me standing there (still asleep) but white as a ghost.  Rather unnerving for a parent (not to mention this little child).  A child's ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy is not well developed.  Kids are seeing imperfectly through "a cloudy mirror," as St. Paul put it.

As I've grown up, I don't have nightmares about gorillas anymore (thank goodness!).  But I do have more sophisticated fears that can equally incapacitate me at times and which sometimes prove to be equally fantastical (not based on reality, not true).  My gorillas have turned into fears about my worthiness, my ability to succeed, whether people will accept me or admire me, etc., etc.  I've at times gone into situations with other people completely sure that they would judge me or criticize me because of my past, only to end up experiencing just the opposite from them.  I almost allowed my "seeing through the cloudy mirror" to keep me from showing up in that group which would have caused me to miss out on a wonderful experience.

Kids don't understand the nuances in human relationships - life tends to be more black and white.  Maturation, human development and growth, is about learning the process of seeing more clearly, and sometimes of even having to change the lens because the lens is simply not true.

Notice that St. Paul describes his current knowing as "impartial and incomplete."  But he looks to that time when he will know everything "completely" (fully, accurately, wisely, without limitations that are self-imposed or otherwise), which he describes as the way God sees us.  The point he's making is that that path between those two times (from unknowing to knowing) isn't bridged instantaneously.  Personal growth takes time because it involves learning how to think more maturely and wisely, more divinely.  We have to grow up, to develop.  "By beholding, we become changed."  Are we beholding truth and reality or old "truth" and unreality?  Change the lens to behold clearly.

Three, personal growth necessitates personal patience and profound acceptance.  I'm getting better at giving myself some slack for the lack of perfection in my life.  That doesn't mean I'm choosing not to take self responsibility.  In fact, I'm taking more ownership for my life with all its foibles and dirty lens and my determined responsibility to make necessary changes then ever before.  But I'm learning to give myself more patience and self-acceptance along the way.

One author I was reading this week said that the most important gift we can give ourselves and others is acceptance.  It's a counter-intuitive choice.  Contrary to popular opinion, accepting doesn't prohibit or stifle growth, it actually fosters it.  "Accepting people as they are has the miraculous affect of helping them improve" (Marianne Williamson, Return To Love, p. 162).  In fact, this kind of acceptance is the most divine act we can engage in.  That's what Paul was saying earlier - God knows us completely - and as the next verse says, God loves us just as completely.  "13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love."  (1 Corinthians 13)

The power of divine grace is that God considers us perfectly acceptable every step along the way of our journey into greater wholeness and maturity and development (take a look at one of my favorite bible texts, Hebrews 10:14):  Perfectly acceptable to God while we're in the process of becoming more and more whole.

That attitude of profound acceptance toward us is what empowers us with the courage to continue the journey of growth, to keep learning and struggling and becoming, to changing the lens so that we see ourselves-others-and God more clearly and perfectly, to being courageous enough to let go of the old stories we almost immediately tell ourselves when something negative happens to us, to changing our "childish" thoughts into more mature and loving ones.   We end up showing up with way more love in all our relationships and life experiences.

Personal growth necessitates personal patience and profound acceptance.

My forty-six client sessions have been such an amazing learning experience for me.  My client is not at the same place where he was a year ago.  His old paralyzing stories - his cloudy mirror - are changing and being replaced with the truth about himself and the promise of his profound potential.  There is tremendous value in allowing someone else into your life for such a long, specifically directed period of time.  That's the power of having a coach or other trusted person to help guide the journey.

And the journey has helped to change me, too.  Forty-six sessions!

Self Care Isn't Selfish

"Self care is never a selfish act - it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch."  -  Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

It’s interesting how often people feel tinges of guilt when they take time for themselves away from what they feel are their “more important” life responsibilities like family, work, church, civic duties.  It’s interesting how some people think that devoting time to understanding themselves more deeply, processing their internal issues and responses to various life situations, evaluating themselves is a waste of time or at best “naval gazing” which implies that it’s an activity that produces nothing of value other than a narcissistic endeavor.

Do you ever struggle with those paradigms?

I am by nature a self-reflective person (an NF in the Myers Briggs sorter, a Type 4 in the Enneagram).  I get energized by going through the process of understanding my self with increasing clarity.  I could be considered by some a self-assessment and personal growth junky.  Well, maybe that’s overstating it a bit.  But I do put a premium on this process and journey.  Does that make me or others like me narcissistic?  Hmmm.  Depends.

Our use of the word narcissism comes from the Greek mythological figure Narcissus.  As the legend goes, Narcissus was a rugged hunter renowned for his beauty.  He was exceptionally proud, in that he disdained those who loved him.  As a divine punishment, he fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water, not realizing it was merely his own image.  And he wasted away to death, not being able to leave the beauty of his own reflection.

This Greek myth has been immortalized in literature, poetry, art, music, and even psychology.  It tends to refer to the negative human obsession with self, to get caught up in self-absorption, to be filled with vanity and pride at the expense of others.  Narcissus is never a hero, always a warning.

Psychology has labeled narcissism as one of the personality disorders that some people suffer from.  French writer Marie-Henri Beyle (who used the pen name Stendhal), in his novel Le Rouge et le Noir (1830), described the classic narcissist in the character of Mathilde:

“She looks at herself instead of looking at you, and so doesn't know you. During the two or three little outbursts of passion she has allowed herself in your favor, she has, by a great effort of imagination, seen in you the hero of her dreams, and not yourself as you really are.”

Many of us know people like Mathilde.  When we’re around them we never feel truly “seen” or “known” because life is always about them.  They seem incapable of moving past themselves to paying attention to others.  Narcissism.

But gazing into the pool of your personal reflection (looking into the mirror) is by itself not narcissism.  We need to have those authentic, honest times of healthy self reflection.  Dr. Parker Palmer refers to this important aspect of self care as “good stewardship of the only gift I have,” the gift of my self to the world.  If I’m not willing to spend time caring for my self, understanding my self, helping to bring more wholeness to my self, working to remove negative obstacles to my true self, than I won’t be able to give my best gift of self to the world.  I will wound others rather than lift them up.  I won’t be able to truly “see” them (like Mathilde) because I’ll be caught up in my own ego with all its insecurities (I admittedly have a lot to work on here).  The touch I bring to others will be hurtful rather than helpful.  And the world loses out.  And so do I.

So what are you doing for your self care?  Do you ever feel guilty when you take time for your self? How would you rate your stewardship of self?  Do you have an intentional self care plan you’re working this year? How are you showing up in the world these days?  Giving your best self?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.