The year to change your life! New year, new you! The great new you! And so on crow the magazine covers for January 2016 enthusiastically, albeit somewhat maniacally. I'm resolutely not a resolutions person but I don't want to put a damper on the excitement the prospect of a new slate brings. After all, I do believe in setting goals (macro and micro) and using various action steps to work towards them. It is that I also have found that annual goal setting is demonstrably different than changing my fundamental self. So much of our DNA and our identity cannot be erased or rewired; so much of our personhood is formed well before the moment that we realize we need new resolutions.
As a leadership coach I work with clients to dig deeper into understanding their core strengths, as well as the contra-positives of those strengths. These contra-positives tend to express our weaknesses, particularly how we can act, behave and react in times of anxiety, stress or pressure. In my case, for instance, I have a natural strength of gathering information, a love of ideas, and a sense of endless possibility (those who know the StrengthsFinder assessment will recognizes this strength as "Input"). The contra-positive of that strength, however, can be an endless accumulation of information without the ability to make decisions quickly or with conviction. Thus, I could resolve this year to make decisions more quickly or with more conviction, but, in the end, I would likely find these resolutions not effective in changing my basic self.
The question, then, is not what new sets of resolutions and disciplines I need, but rather how aware I can be of my whole self, complete with strengths and weaknesses. We all have foibles and failures; we all have incomplete aspects to our personalities; we all are broken in certain ways or through certain experiences. To resolve our way out of our basic humanity is an invitation is further frustration or even madness. No, we don't need new resolutions. We need better awareness.
Much has been said about mindfulness the past few years, and so I do not intend to restate it all here or pretend to invent new depths of understanding around mindfulness. But it is in fact this attention to mindfulness that I wish to turn in this series of being mindful of oneself. Being aware, or mindful, of our own limitations and areas of strength is an important way to creating intrapersonal integrity, mental and relational health, and being our best selves at work, in our communities and within our homes. This "pause," this mindfulness, is the place where we meet ourselves again and can understand how to begin lasting change, not just wishful or superficial change.
How does this relate to me regarding personal, tangible goals? And is there really a downside to essentially being an information sponge? For starters, for someone with Input as strength as there is always more information, more content, more knowledge that can be consumed. Knowing this at times can be maddening and can often lead to the feeling that there is always more to know, and conversely, a sense of inadequacy that I don't, I can't, and I won't, be able to consume all that information and apply it, use it. Digging deeper, this is hitting a 'control' button, my tendency to want to be in the know, and hence, in control of my environment and my interactions. I am very aware of my Input strength but also am mindful of the limitations of it; I literally cannot read every article or book that piques my interest, nor do I have the time to listen to every Podcast, nor attend every lecture or conference (having lived in two amazing university towns this is actually more challenging than it seems!).
Mindfulness in this arena for me looks like letting go of this notion and focusing in on how my Input strength can integrate with the personal and professional goals I've set for myself at any given time. For example, in the micro, this means limiting myself to 20 minutes of online research for a product I'm considering purchasing. In the macro, it means challenging myself to embrace the unknown in decision-making. I'm equally discerning now about the source of the information as well as the information itself. I'm careful to carve out space to nourish the part of myself that thrives on Input, but also be mindful each year about what can I do to limit distractions and leverage my Input self best for my family, my business and my community. It is by no means a 'new me' but hopefully, moving towards a better one.
This is the first in a 3 part series on mindfulness entitled Mindful of Myself.