Smoke and Mirrors

How is your self-image today? Perhaps you see yourself as confident, well-groomed and with a spring in your step? Or maybe your self-image is tired and hesitant with messy hair?

It may be a relief to know that almost everything you think about yourself is wrong! This is because you are always so much more than your self-image. Let me show you.

We are brought up to apply labels to ourselves and others, labels such as ‘I am a shy person’ or ‘she has a caring personality’. We use labels as shorthand for longer and fuller descriptions.

But labels can never be fully accurate. They are often misleading because they become out-dated and they are always limiting because they tell half-truths. Like a magician’s illusion, they are believable misrepresentations.

When we can see past our labels, a wealth of new possibilities opens up in front of us. We become free of self-imposed limitations. 

But we have to recognise the labels in the first place. They come in many forms such as: personality traits, types of behavior, habits, roles, CVs, qualifications, prejudices, beliefs.

We like the good labels, the ones that reflect status and achievement. But even so, these labels can be limiting if you don’t look beyond them. They don’t define you – there is always more.

This is why psychometric test results can backfire. They can be helpful when seen as a single perspective on your behaviour and preferences. But they become a handicap if you adopt them as a personal definition and then curtail your future options in order to be consistent with this adopted definition.

Labels that we categorise as bad bring us down. They bring unwelcome feelings. And if you don’t see past the label, you are stuck with it.

So how do you see past a label?

Simply be seeing it for what it is – a way of thinking about yourself. A label is a bunch of thoughts that shape your self-image. And as a bunch of thoughts, you get to choose how seriously you take them.

If you focus a lot of attention on them, they get bigger and blot out the view beyond. Withdraw your attention from the labels and they shrink so you can see past them and into the infinity of possibilities beyond.

The nice thing is that spotting labels can be fun. You lighten up when you see a label that you have been taking really seriously for a long time is actually just a way of thinking. And you can withdraw your support and allow it to be replaced by new thinking.

Instead of the rigidity of labels, you may notice a pleasant feeling of fluidity encompassing your experience, rather like the distant days of childhood. As the hard-edges of your self-image dissolve, your sense of self comes from a deeper place. It is from this deeper place that you see past the illusion to the truth of who you really are.

How To Get The Most From Your Effort

It’s a common and potentially dangerous myth that the more effort you put into something, the more successful you will be. Of course, some effort is usually required but there is the question of efficiency. Without efficiency a lot of effort is wasted.

Swimming is an excellent analogy. Because of a connection with the local swimming club, I’ve spent countless hours watching swimmers. The best ones are the most elegant and graceful as they glide through the water. They have learned how to be streamlined in the water to minimize resistance and they have tuned their technique for maximum efficiency.

Contrast this to the average member of the public who thrashes and splashes with great effort from one end of the pool to the other yet goes twice as slowly. They soon wear themselves out while the club swimmer can keep going for another hour or two!

The efficiency effect applies to all walks of life yet we are all prone to forget it.This week I’ve been busy developing new aspects to my business. It’s been an exciting time but I found a certain diminishing of returns because I kept adding effort, forgetting that the project will go much further and with less wear and tear, just like a car does, if I back-off the throttle a bit.

More broadly, if we adopt the press-on-at-all-costs mentality, we are courting stress and health issues. By contrast, personal efficiency feeds our powers of resilience because it conserves energy.

So if it is so desirable, how can we maximise our efficiency?

The key is self-awareness because if we are able to notice when our efficiency is falling off, we can do something different. If we remain oblivious, we have no choice.

Become aware of your feelings – efficient action feels good. Then your mental load is high enough for the task in hand but no higher.

On the other hand, inefficient action feels draining. Then your mental load is far higher than is helpful as you worry about outcomes, struggle with confusion and puzzle over problems.

Yet when you realize what is going on and you back off the throttle, your mental load reduces, clarity begins to appear and your feelings move to the better end of the spectrum.

There you are much more resourceful. Fresh thinking can flow into your mind from the greater intelligence that is behind all life, bringing you new perspectives and options to draw on. You will be able to see what really matters and avoid wasting effort elsewhere.

Whatever is going on around you, you will have a centre of energised calmness. You are no longer thrashing around in the water but gliding purposefully towards your goal.

But don’t just take my word for it – watch for what happens when you feel the presence of inefficient action and back off that throttle…

Personal Refreshment

Water FountainIf you are feeling stuck or jaded, here’s how you can become refreshed.

Just recently I spent a week in the Swiss Alps. Each morning on my travels, I took a bottle of water in my rucksack. The weather was warm and, because I did a lot of walking, the water didn’t last all day.

But you don’t need to go far before you see a water fountain. It seems that in every village square and railway station there is a fountain flowing continuously.

One afternoon when I was buying a cup of tea from a café, I asked about the fountain outside – was it safe to drink the water?

The proud reply was that the water from every fountain in Switzerland is drinking quality.

From then on I was able to refill my water bottle wherever I went. And I must say that cold, direct from the mountains, it tastes delicious!

It reminds me of how we get refreshed in life; there is always a fountain on hand. The energy of life that is continuously flowing through us is the fount of fresh perspectives.

A new perspective brings a refreshing experience. New options become visible and new choices are possible. Like sunlight breaking through, everything looks different even though nothing has changed.

There is an infinite supply of new perspectives because there are always thoughts that we have not yet thought.

But you can’t refill a bottle that is already full. If you want to be refreshed, then don’t take your current thoughts as inevitably true. Spend less time with them; leave room for new thoughts.

Just like I did, you can rely on the fountain. There’s nothing special you need to do – knowing that the flow is always there is enough.

No Qualifications Necessary

If you want to be more creative or confident, this is for you. If you would like more self-esteem or well-being, please read on.

It’s dawned on me recently why we have a lack of lasting success in our search for these qualities – we are looking in the wrong place!

Let’s use an analogy. You know how it is when you apply for a job. You get to that stage where you have to list your qualifications. There are the academic ones, the professional ones and the incidental ones.

Because you know there is competition for the job and a standard you need to reach, you work hard to make your qualifications look as impressive as possible. You probably wish you had more. The strength of your application depends on it.

The trouble happens when we take the same mentality into other areas of life. Take self-esteem for example – we think we have to qualify for it. We think we have to earn it by what we’ve achieved, who we know and what we own.

We also think we need extra qualifications in order to be confident. So we aim for new skills in voice projection, body language and repartee.

It’s the same with creativity. We ‘know’ we are not creative enough and seek to repair the omission. Therefore we consume books and videos, and go on brainstorming workshops.

The biggest issue we have is well-being. We believe we need to complete a never-ending list of things to do or to acquire before we can feel happy and fulfilled. The motto we use is ‘I’ll feel happy when …’

The common problem is that we think we have to qualify to get the qualities we want. Yet the truth is that we already have them. It might not seem like it but bear with me a moment.

Small children are naturally confident. They are instinctively creative. They don’t have problems with self-esteem. They spend most of the time in their well-being and, when they come out of it, they are quick to return.

In other words, the qualities we search for as adults are actually those we were born with. So how is it possible to lose them?

Well, we didn’t lose these qualities; they got hidden and then forgotten. Over the years, a complex web of thinking hid them from view. Call it conditioning, call it limiting beliefs, call it the illusion of the ego, it doesn’t matter. It is just a load of thinking.

This thinking creates our experience and that experience seems very real. People make statements like ‘I’m really not a creative person’ or ‘I can’t be confident’. But it’s just thinking that’s talking; it is not you.

When you see the difference, you don’t have to keep giving those thoughts your energy and attention. Simply by recognizing them for what they are – thoughts – your relationship to them changes.

Even if the thoughts hang around for a while, you know they no longer identify you. You don’t have to take them seriously. And without the energy of attention they will fade. With less on your mind there becomes room for new, inspiring thinking.

The brilliant thing is that it works like this for everyone; we are truly equal. No qualifications are necessary. You already have what you are looking for. When you see this, the natural qualities you never lost will reappear.

Your Natural Resilence

SprayI guess, like me, you enjoy a good holiday – time to rest and recharge, time to recover your balance and revitalize for what comes next.

My seaside holiday this year had a dramatic start. When I arrived, waves were crashing against the sea wall, throwing spray high into the air. The rebound often collided with the next in-coming wave to hurl more spray skywards.

The sea surface was broken in confusion, dancing in heaps and hollows, floating with froth. When the heaving water disgorged a particularly big wave, the thump made the whole house shake.

Yet by the next tide, the wind had dropped. There was just the lightest of breezes. Little wavelets rippled gently onto the beach, twinkling in the sun. This was when the swimmers appeared and people started to launch boats and canoes.

It seems to me that this is what happens to each of us sometimes. We go through ‘thought storms’ when our mind is a confusion of wind and waves. We try to follow one track to make some sense but then it collides with other thoughts and we are thrown off course.

Our efforts to make order get nowhere; in fact they add to the wind that is fueling the storm, making it worse. This is the paradox. When things are tough because our mind is stormy, we choose that very time to try and fix things. We try to launch our boat in the worst conditions.

But remember that the sea returns to calm when the wind drops. This is your natural resilience – your mind will automatically settle into calm when you are not whipping up the wind by thinking a lot about your thinking.

Nature provides an obvious clue – your calm, quiet mind feels really good! This good feeling is the signal you are in touch with your natural resilience. It’s restful and revitalizing; it automatically puts you back into balance; it’s the source of creativity and inspiration for what comes next.

Now you know where your natural resilience really comes from, it means that you can enjoy the recharging effects of a holiday wherever you are.