Back in 2005, I was living in London and my career took an exciting turn—I joined the leadership team to mobilise Wembley National Stadium. I was in my late twenties and was extremely resilient. Or so I thought …
At work, I was performing at an optimum level, and I was also adjusting to an independent home life, stimulated by living in a new city. However, on the inside, I was suffering. It was a slow burn. More about that in a moment.
It was a real turning point in my life. Turning points, as you may know, are either the result of a realisation (a breakthrough) or a breakdown, where you eventually head towards a new, and hopefully better, path.
The decision to walk into a Yoga class at my local gym on Finchley Road set me on a course that formed a steady committed practice that has, so far, lasted thirteen years. That journey has allowed me the space to get to know myself (self-awareness) and to learn life tactics for greater effectiveness (managing self).
Getting to know yourself can be pretty confronting. It is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence and sets the foundation before you consider tactics for managing self. (We will dive into managing self in Part 2 of this blog).
Truth be told, I don’t think I had paid attention to myself up until my ‘turning point’. I was caught up in my thoughts and emotions and, boy oh boy, did I externalise everything. Only when I paused and paid attention to how much suffering I was creating for myself, did I have the awareness to want to make a change. After all, awareness is an agent for change.
My suffering became obvious, and I developed forms of anxiety.
- I was feeling imbalanced in my work, health and family life.
- My body was continually battling with aches and pains that I put down to ‘other things’.
- My heart raced at odd times; these were later described as ‘panic attacks’.
- On a few occasions, the walls in the room felt like they were closing in, and I needed to get out so I could just breathe.
- And yes … my mind was racing a million miles per hour. I just could not quieten that monkey mind down—it was so loud.
Being away from home, living on my own in a studio apartment, feeling the pressure of performing in a leadership team and the pressure of delivering world class hospitality to high flying millionaires and global celebrities, was taking a toll on my joy. Blah, blah, blah …. It feels heavy just typing that.
So, one yoga class turned into two, two into three, and then I developed a weekly habit. The effects were transformational. I was learning to listen to myself, pay attention to my feelings, tune in to me and tune out from the external stuff. I learned what it felt like to watch a movie of my own life. I was motivated to make change.
The godfather of emotional intelligence, Daniel Goleman, says that when you demonstrate emotional self-awareness you:
- Are aware of your own feelings.
- Know why these feelings occur.
- Understand the implications of your emotions.
- Are aware of your strengths and limits.
- Are open to feedback.
As I was slowly developing the ability to notice my thoughts (without getting caught up in them), I was able to understand my own emotions and their effects, and recognise how I reacted to cues from the outside world.
It was hard. It was transformative.
But it’s still hard, and it’s still is work.
‘There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know oneself.’
The good news is that self-awareness can be developed without going to yoga. Treadmills, supermarket aisles, long showers, driving … you can find moments of developing self-awareness anywhere you have some space to pay attention to you. Yet, we all tend to focus on others and what everyone else is doing, don’t we?
One of the first exercises to learn when developing self-awareness is being more mindful and understanding what is going on for you below the surface. Mindfulness is when we’re concerned with noticing what’s going on right now. As I have been getting to know myself, I have developed three tools to deal with my thoughts, feelings and reactions to the world.
For my thoughts: I imagine that my thoughts are totally transparent. This quickly straightens me out! It helps me to get real about how helpful the thoughts are, and if others could see those thoughts, would I continue with that thought? Bloody great mind muscle training that one.
For my feelings: I breathe. Yoga has certainly taught me how to breathe properly. There are countless breathing techniques you can learn (just google them) for times when emotions bubble up at the least convenient and unexpectant moments. Even a short pause (one breath of four seconds) is all you need to help see where you are going wrong and make a shift.
For my ‘in the moment’ reactions: I tune into my five senses. Using all the clues available to us when we are interacting with the outside world teaches us to pay attention to what we are seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling and smelling. Before we start judging, interpreting, and making assumptions and conclusions, practise being aware. Once you truly tune in to your five senses, you are equipped to pay attention to how to respond.
Self-awareness is a daily practice, and it won’t happen from a one-day workshop.
Thank you, universe, for guiding me ‘accidentally’ into that yoga class. It’s thirteen years later, and I am still learning about myself. Hmmmm … Ahhhh … Breathe. Smile.
‘Love Being in Service’