The space from which we learn - needs our attention.

Have you ever been to a workshop with an optimistic title, promising you skills in conversation, which if you use, you envision a better, more capable you? 

You go along, are inspired, and make resolutions to use them. You come back to work or home, and try. Maybe it felt awkward, maybe the other people didn’t respond as they should, or when you tried to say what was on your mind, you found it hard to believe yourself. You just didn’t sound like you. You felt false or silly and you gave up on the skill, and slid back into your habitual pattern.  You either blew up, retreated or froze. The way of being that you envisioned, seemed to belong to the workshop and not your real life.

We come to personal or leadership development workshops to learn new skills, new strategies, and yet often it is the place that we use them from, that needs attention. The place we use them from, is the place from which we view the world and ourselves. If this place that we look from, this way of being, doesn’t have a healthy sense of self-worth, then our attention will be off what is important, and on self-protection. We will see challenges as attacks, which we need to fend off or run from.  Our new skills will operate from a place of self-doubt. Learning is very hard here.

To learn, to develop some thing new, to be creative and generous when your new skills are still awkward, requires you to have kindness and compassion towards yourself.

Like many people, I have a fear of public speaking, and can become quite anxious prior to a presentation. I routinely anticipate facilitation events with a small degree of fear, and wakeful nights. On one occasion this was accentuated because I had agreed to run an event, normally facilitated by two, solo.  

The night before the workshop, I woke up, after two hours sleep, heart thumping, having had a vivid dream.

In the dream, I’d become aware that some bees or wasps have nested in something of mine. I was very fearful and was madly spraying them, and I was running out of spray. I had to get more. I discovered there were many more potentially stinging bees than I had initially thought.  

This was not what I needed. I needed sleep, and the dream was very disturbing. It also seemed to confirm my anxieties.

But then I paused and looked deeper. I see dreams as metaphors to increase self-knowledge. It’s as if the unconscious creates a story to shed a different light on a way of thinking that you take for granted.  It occurred to me then that I actually valued bees.  They might sting but they were essential to life. I let go the agonising self-doubt, and opened my mind to the value of my work. It was a complete mind-shift… I felt peaceful. I went back to sleep.

The next day was my solo day. I kept my attention on the needs of the participants, for me the most important thing. I held my self strong and flexible. It went well.

Research tells us that when we have higher scores on self-compassion, we have less fear of failure and are also more likely to try again if we do fail. We also know that when we believe in ourselves and have self-worth, we enable our creativity, our connection with others and our courage.  We can focus on what is important.

Our ability to be kind to ourselves creates the safe place from which we can try something new, something challenging, something that truly matters. We can access our internal resources to be courageous, compassionate and skillful in life, and in conversations that are important.