I’m so tired. I’m so busy. This is so unfair. I hate it here. It’s so hard. Why do I have to work so much? Why can’t I just sleep all day? It’s not as nice as I expected. This sucks.
We seem to be surrounded by people who flourish on complaining. It’s almost romanticized in a way, given how common it is on social media. In today’s post, I’d like to emphasize the difference between letting out things that are bothering you (venting) and focusing on the negative aspects of your life (complaining).
There’s a very interesting thing that happens to our mindset when we stop focusing on what’s going well in our lives. We become complacent and accustomed to a certain level on ingratitude. Let’s unpack how to properly vent, what to do when you feel like complaining, the power of gratitude and how to help other people.
How to properly vent
It’s often incredibly helpful for us to let out our thoughts and troubles. When we engage in dialogue, it allows us to make sense of the chaos in our minds, in order for us to structure it for other people to understand.
Venting is a common way for us to do just that. To comprehend our own problems and articulate it well enough for others to give valuable input. It does however, require a few criteria to be in place. This includes trust, psychological safety and a willingness for us to be vulnerable.
When we start talking to other people about our issues, we need to make sure we’re not just playing victim and complaining about everything. This might make us feel better temporarily, but it can also burden the other party by making them deal with the consequence of our negative energy.
What we should do instead is clearly express how the situation made us feel, instead of bashing the situation itself. Being objective here can be quite useful, to specify the aspects that are actually bothering us. When we’re with people we trust and have a sense of psychological safety around, it typically induces us to be vulnerable.
That’s the main difference between venting and complaining; our willingness to be vulnerable and express our emotions, compared to just focusing on the negative aspects of the situation.
What to do when you feel like complaining
For many of us, it becomes a habit to just start complaining. It’s the first thing we do when things don’t go according to plan (which happens more often than we’d like). So what can we do when we have the urge to start complaining?
The answer lies in a bit of self-awareness. We need to first start understanding the underlying emotions that we’re feeling. This could be feeling frustrated, upset, annoyed, angry, fed up, lonely or just stressed. Once you’re able to identify the feeling itself, learn to accept it.
Acceptance is a key ingredient here yet again. Understand that first and foremost, the feeling is temporary. It will pass. You will get through it. Maybe not immediately, but eventually. We tend to overlook that fact when we’re in the crux of things.
Just try and take a step back and look at things from the bigger picture. You’re learning. You’re growing. The experience will help you evolve. What you should do instead, is find actionable steps to overcome the issue.
Complaining doesn’t bring you any closer to the solution. Focus on finding ways to deal with the problem or to even just understanding it better, you’ll be amazed by how much easier life can be.
The power of gratitude
Remember, energy follows focus. Which means that our power lies in our ability to focus. When we’re able to channel our focus onto our blessings and what’s working well in our lives, we start directing energy into our potential and abundance.
Instead of complaining (or focusing on what isn’t going well), try and re-direct your thoughts into what is going well. This will have a profound impact on your mood, energy levels, motivation and ability to get things done.
Gratitude is the appreciation we experience in the present moment for something we’re blessed with. We’re all blessed immeasurably. You can never count all your blessings, but I suggest you try it out and write down a few things. Do this every morning before you start your day and you’ll immediately start experiencing life a little differently.
After a while, you’ll start appreciating the struggle. You’ll be able to handle the challenges life throws out you more readily. More than just that, you’ll be a lot more joyful and full of energy.
Helping other people
If all else fails when you’re trying to resist complaining, try helping out other people instead. More often than not, this will give you perspective into the problems other people are dealing with, which could help you empathise with them and see your own issues in a new light.
I don’t like to say ‘look at how much better off you are than other people’, because the point isn’t to undermine your own issues. The point is to understand that everyone has issues. Everyone is dealing with certain struggles.
If you can make life easier for just 1 other person, you’ve contributed significantly. This will build momentum and you might even try and make your own life easier (we tend to complicate things for ourselves a lot more than we need to).
What I want to leave you with is this: Focus more on solutions, what you can control, understanding the problem itself, being grateful for what you have and helping out other people as often as possible. Complaining is not the same thing as venting. Be very cautious of that. You don’t want to unnecessarily burden other people, and you don’t want to waste your own energy either. We need all the energy that we can get.
Stop complaining and start focusing on what truly matters.
What’s the first thing that came to your mind when you read out the title? Do you feel like there are certain behaviours that you just can’t do without?
I was thinking about how the human experience is essentially about continuously overcoming different forms of addiction. We tend to find something that stimulates us enough and hold onto it.
Whether it’s food, social media, attention, video games, watching series, smoking, coffee or even exercise. There seems to be an underlying psychological aspect to that distraction, despite the harm it has on us or those around us. I thought it would be interesting to have a Thinking Out Loud post to share my thoughts on this.
If there’s anything we’re undoubtedly addicted to, it’s being distracted. Our attention is data, which is essentially a modern day currency. This doesn’t just speak to ads and social media, but every aspect of our life. The more we let our attention loose, the more likely we are to get distracted.
Here’s the interesting thing though, distraction is addictive because it means we don’t have to think about things that really matter. Notice the way you constantly have the urge to keep yourself busy, whenever you have a second to think for yourself. It’s during that period of stillness that we’re able to harness our full potential.
So if we’re addicted to being distracted, then how exactly do we deal with those obtrusive thoughts? The answer is to simply give our minds a safe space to let those thoughts out. The next time you notice that you’re trying to keep unnecessarily busy, ask yourself how you’re feeling at that given point.
Journalling tends to work wonders here. You essentially have to find a way to structure the chaos that’s going on in your mind. The more clearly you’re able to articulate your thoughts to yourself, the better you’ll be able to do the same thing with other people. Additionally, you would also free up bandwidth, which may help you focus on your specific tasks.
“You can’t remove habits, you can only replace them.”
I think that quote speaks incredibly well to the point I’m trying to make, especially in relation to the habits you’ve formed around being distracted.
Replace the numbing with vulnerability and allow yourself to feel. This will not only benefit you, but everyone around you too.
Short-term vs long-term
If you think about any addiction, there are typically consequences in the short-run and the long-run. The difficult thing is that it’s both pleasurable and painful (no such thing as good or bad, just our perception of things).
In the short-run, our addictions seem to give us a little dopamine boost. We hyper-stimulate our senses in some way. This feels great for a specific moment in time. However, the dependency we form becomes imbedded in us. We continuously re-wire the neurons in our brain for that fix. That makes it harder for us to find alternatives, to deal with our thoughts and emotions in the long-run.
“Live for the present like you’ll die tomorrow, plan for the future like you’ll live forever.”
In the long-run, we need to think about the cumulative effect of repeatedly pursuing that addiction. It’s essentially like thinking about the results we want to achieve from being consistent – similar to the way habits work.
It’s also convenient to ignore the fact that we do end up being addicted to certain things. We tend to keep ourselves in a mode of denial.
What’s always easier than doing the hard work? Ignoring the fact that there is work to do in the first place.
The diagram above displays the concept of The Johari Window. It speaks to the fact that there are four possible quadrants within our self-awareness. The shared self, hidden self, blind self and unknown self. We should strive towards being known to ourselves, on the left two quadrants; the shared and hidden self.
Being in denial is like forcing yourself to be in the right two quadrants; trying to make things unknown to yourself. The blind and unknown selves are where we need to put in the most work. This is because we want unveil what we’re blind to but others can see, and want to figure out as best as we can what we’re unknown to.
The points I’m trying to make here is that we’re always fending off different types of addiction. It seems an evitable aspect of life. We just need to keep our awareness up and constantly work on ourselves, to avoid falling into the unknown.
Actionable advice: Start with acceptance. Don’t deny the fact that are certain behaviours that you’d like to replace. After that, write down the reason why it’s important for you to do that and the impact it would have in the long-run. Note a plan of action and try your best to stay consistent with it.
Share your struggle with others and embrace being vulnerable. We’re all trying out best.
We hear it over and over again, how important it is to work in a team. Sometimes it can be frustrating, sometimes annoying, sometimes incredibly rewarding. So what differentiates a team that produces outstanding work, compared to those who just wish it was all over?
Let’s dive a little more into effective communication, empathy, trust and feedback. I’ve touched on these topics before, but it’s important to see how they connect to each other.
Why is this so critical? Because being able to clearly articulate your thoughts, feelings and expectations is paramount to successfully working in a team. Here are a few tips to practice when working in a team:
Start with why – have a set intention for the project.
Have consistent meetings and keep each other updated.
Make sure the goals are clear for each responsible party.
Have metrics in place to ensure that people are held accountable.
Be honest when you’re stuck or confused.
Give constructive feedback regularly.
It’s always valuable to have your intentions aligned at the very beginning of a project. This ensures that all members understand the purpose of working together and have a common objective.
The second point talks about having consistent meetings. This has been tremendously beneficial for me, especially working from home. Having a set routine for meetings, where the minutes are being taken, allows people to constantly stay up to date with what’s going on. It also means you can regularly discuss any ideas or setbacks that you’re facing.
Ensure that once you’ve delegated certain roles, the goals for each member are accurate. They know exactly what to prepare before the internal deadline. This doesn’t necessarily mean they know what to do from the get-go, but they need to know what they’re working towards.
Have metrics in place to ensure that those goals are being met. Whether it’s a page of the report, a programming code, a section of the simulation, anything really. When the metrics are known, they can be held accountable.
Getting frustrated or stuck is an evitable aspect of project work. What’s important here is to make sure you’re speaking to other people about what’s going on. Perhaps they could help you or refer you to someone who could. When all group members understand where the other person is (in terms of progress), it makes it easier for them to feel comfortable and confident in the work being done (or not). This requires a great deal of trust and empathy.
I’ll discuss feedback in a little more detail further below, but it’s an important part of communication too. You need to criticize well on a regular basis, to improve the quality of the overall work.
Empathy and listening
Ahh, emotional intelligence strikes again. Being empathetic is crucial to any important relationship you have in your life. When you can make the other person feel heard and understood, it opens up the door to vulnerability and honesty.
When you see that people aren’t delivering or struggling to meet internal deadlines, try and understand things from their perspective. Are there any problems going on behind the scenes? Are they feeling unusually stressed or anxious? Maybe they’re having issues at home?
Being a good listener plays a critical role here. You need to remain mindful, curious and nonjudgmental when holding the space for other people. I think this is a great leadership quality; allowing people to ask silly questions and truly speak to you about what’s on their mind.
This essentially builds on the previous topic. Trust is formed through active listening and being reliable. You need to commit to your word and show up when you promise to. Things are never going to be perfect, but you need to show other people that you are capable of delivering up to the expected quality.
Trust also involves a certain level of integrity. When you respect the team boundaries, when you don’t unnecessarily expose other people’s flaws, when people feel comfortable being vulnerable.
I need to trust you to deliver. I need to trust you not to share everything I bring up to you. I need to trust you to be there for me when I’m struggling. I need to trust you to give this your very best.
I’ve also spoken about this before on my post ‘The Psychology of Motivation‘. Delivering feedback and constructive criticism is an extremely important part of the development loop. You have to show people what’s working and what isn’t. You need to constantly update the expectations and ensure everyone is learning from their mistakes.
This is a really difficult process. For both, the person giving the feedback and for the person receiving it. However, if you’ve managed to successfully build trust, empathy and effective communication, it makes it a little more bearable.
Remember why feedback is important. It’s to help the other person develop and improve the quality of their work. When giving feedback, always bring up what’s working well first. Remind them of their strong points. Make the other person understand that you’re doing this to help them. Be as objective as possible. Offer support where you can to help them out too.
When you’re on the receiving end, keep an open mind. Watch out for your ego. Don’t see it as an attack or a source of demotivation. You can’t expect to be perfect every time. Absorb the wisdom given by your peers, they see things that might be in your blind spot.
Don’t take things personally.
To put it all together, you’re going to work in a team whether you like it or not. No one can do it on their own. Despite how independent or solo your work may seem, there are always people you will need help from. Integrating certain tools can help you work more effectively with people, especially if you’re striving to be a great leader.
Ensure that constant communication is in place. Hold the space for people to speak to you about what’s truly bothering them. Build the relationships on a foundation of trust and integrity. Give constant feedback so that everyone can improve.
“Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right”
Keep trying your best. If it’s challenging and difficult, it means you’re on the path to growth. You got this.
I’ve recently come across a very interesting term called ‘toxic positivity’. This is very similar to the concept of toxic productivity that I’ve discussed before, whereby we push certain mindsets past a healthy threshold.
Today, I’ll speak about what I think toxic positivity is, how positivity can become toxic, why we experience it, emotional intelligence and vulnerability.
I enjoy discussing things that I often find myself guilty of following, because it’s how I grow and learn. The IG post below is where I found out about the concept and is a great place to learn more about it.
What is toxic positivity?
It is essentially portraying yourself as being happy all the time, regardless of what life throws at you. It’s rejecting the negative emotions that come up and living in an illusion that everything is perfectly okay. This meme perfectly sums it up for me:
How can positivity be toxic?
The term toxic refers to something being affected by poison. This is often the case when you’re obsessed to the degree that it no longer serves its original intent.
Positivity in and of itself is wonderful. It’s what keeps people going. It helps you see the best in situations. But don’t confuse positivity with optimism and don’t let positivity hinder your ability to feel negative emotions.
Our ability to feel a wide range of emotions is what inherently makes us human beings. Take a look at the diagram below. Can you imagine denying yourself more than 2/3 of that range? It’s all there for a reason, we’re meant to feel things.
When your sole focus becomes trying to always be ‘happy’, you’re falling into the toxic trap.
Why do we do it?
Because feeling sad sucks. It’s that simple really. We don’t enjoy the feelings of frustration, anger, disappointment, embarrassment or fear etc. However, that doesn’t mean that we should try and escape from experiencing them.
Always being cheerful is something embedded deep into our psyche from a very young age. Whereas being upset or frustrated is something frowned upon / ‘annoying’. This is why I believe that emotional intelligence is so important, because it allows us to understand that there’s a plethora of emotions that we need to understand and appreciate.
Just to be clear here, I’m in no way trying to tell you not to feel ecstatic, hopeful or optimistic. I’m merely trying to get you to understand how complicated we are as beings. Allow your self to experience the full range of emotions more regularly and accept them.
Self-awareness and acceptance
Self-awareness is arguably the most important skill to learn for emotional intelligence. This should definitely be followed by acceptance. When we’re able to identify and become aware of specific emotions, it enables us to accept them.
This process is extremely liberating because it teaches us not to hold onto or force away any feelings. When we’re able to be deeply present with ourselves, we are no longer slaves to our impulses.
Learning how to be appropriately vulnerable will catalyze meaningful connections in your life. You’ll not only amplify your ability to be kind to yourself, but you’ll be able to do the same for others.
This involves being open and honest about how you feel. Talking about what’s bothering you or what’s not going well for you. It’s about being realistic and showing that. Being empathetic will also play an important role in vulnerability, because you would need to relate to how other people are feeling by reflecting on similar experiences.
Toxic positivity encourages the suppression of emotions and faking the fact that things are okay. Being vulnerable encourages you to accept it and then allow it to pass.
It’s okay to not be okay.
Next time you do feel a storm whirring up inside of you, take a deep breath. Allow yourself to sit through the motion and gain an understanding of how your body reacts.
Things will be really shitty at times, but things will also be really great at times and that’s part of the journey. Understand that failure is part of growth and that it’s okay to want to give up. You’re exactly where you’re meant to be. Just keep trying your best to learn.
Have you ever wondered why people cheat in relationships? Why do so many marriages tend to fail? I’ve been asked this question recently and it gave me a lot to think about.
I want you to explore these questions with me, to help us unfold one of the most critical aspects of being in a relationship; loyalty. There are 2 ways to that I’ll tack this: Discussing short-term relationships and long-term relationships.
I’m not an expert in this field at all, but I’ve done my fair share of research (This is my way of theorizing). I’ve also got experience from observing the dynamics within my friends and family. Of course, the movies and series we’ve watched also play a role in our (flawed) understanding of loyalty & love.
I’ll consider this to be relationships that last for less than 5 years.
This to me, is the most significant contributor to cheating within short-term relationships. People who don’t fully commit themselves in a relationship, especially at a young age, tend to be emotionally immature. It’s part of the learning process; making stupid mistakes.
There’s also no specific reason to be in a relationship. When you ask people why they’re in a relationship, they often don’t give you a valid enough reason. “I’m in love with that person”
When your understanding of love comes from media or movies, you tend to confuse the intention behind being in a relationship. Always start with why.
“Love is a skill, not an enthusiasm.”
This can definitely be sub-categorized under immaturity. Distinguishing between love and lust isn’t an innate ability. We’re not born with that kind of awareness. It requires experience, conscious effort and self-reflection.
Confusing physical attraction with an emotional attraction can definitely lead to problems. When you’re not emotionally committed, all you tend to care about is the physical pleasure or constant attention.
This makes it rather difficult to stay loyal to a single person, as your intentions are misaligned from the get-go.
When you get hurt or betrayed from a relationship, it can often lead to a shift in mindset. This occurs when you don’t allow the wound to heal, or when you’re unable to effectively deal with the pain.
You no longer see the other person as potential for emotional connection, but rather as a means to an end. The mindset switches from caring to playing. This is definitely a common reason people end up being disloyal; when they haven’t adequately dealt with their own trauma.
When someone has broken your trust, you generally find it difficult to trust again. You need an honest confession and clear progress to start re-building that trust.
Side thought: When you apply that logic to other people, it should allow you to embrace rejection with open arms. Sometimes the fault isn’t in you, it’s in the person rejecting you. Maybe they’re still healing and developing self-love.
This is a much more difficult aspect to speak about. I have no experience being in a relationship for over 5 years. But I’m here to think out loud. Feel free to comment your own thoughts or to disagree with me.
It can sometimes be a scary thought. Are we inevitably going to get bored of someone we’re with for a very long time? How do we stay excited in a long-term relationship?
I genuinely don’t have the answer to those questions, but I’m just curious as to the way people deal with these thoughts. Questions are a vital tool for self-awareness, so you need to constantly ask yourself the right ones.
I suppose disloyalty forms when we haven’t adequately dealt with boredom. When we don’t remember our intention behind being in the relationship, we can get lost in our temptations.
Start with why!
When we’re in a relationship for a prolonged period of time, a sense of comfort forms. We tend to ignore our hidden desires and feel like it’s no big deal.
The type of fear I’m talking about is rather an insecurity. We’re afraid to be vulnerable and talk about what’s really on our minds, especially when it’s petty. This is dangerous because we end up seeking strangers to whom we can confide in.
Disloyalty or cheating isn’t only the act of being with another person. It’s the intention that has formed long before any action has taken place.
In essence, lack of vulnerability starts becoming a problem. Something that was pivotal to starting the relationship in the first place. When we take things for granted, we create space for scarcity. We should learn to discuss honestly, the little issues that bother us. Especially the annoyances that we consider petty.
3-The danger of a single story
This YouTube video will perfectly summarize what I mean by this, albeit in a different context. There’s more than a single side to the story. That shouldn’t be a surprise to you, just don’t forget about it.
Empathy being the key ingredient here, but more importantly just an open mind. When you stick to your narrow point of view for years on end, it’ll definitely hinder your relationship’s ability to grow.
We’re very eager to show others how their actions affect us. Sometimes we have to think about how our actions affect them.
How do we overcome these issues?
Okay this got a little nerve wrecking, even for me. But I’m a glass half-full kinda guy, so let’s try and figure out how to deal with all this drama.
The one skill that immediately comes to my mind is communication. (You can click on that link to read my old blog post, where I speak about it in much more detail).
How can be become better communicators? Here are a few points that I think we should work on:
Don’t be afraid of rumbling with vulnerability.
Be your authentic self.
Watch your ego.
Make appointments in real life.
Become an active listener.
The most important aspect in my opinion is learning to be vulnerably honest. Can the 2 actually exist without each other? Can any healthy relationship exist at all without vulnerability and honesty?
We need to stop being afraid. We need to open up. We need to live through love. We need to stop judging. We need to pay more attention to the condition of our souls. We need to learn how to listen. We have to be patient and willing to both teach AND learn.
Some things are inevitable. We don’t always get to choose the situations we’re put in. But we always get to choose our reaction. Don’t victimize yourself, it’s part of your journey! It’s ultimately about trying your best.
The pain that people experience from being cheated on is traumatic. We need to pay attention to the way our decisions affect the people around us. Trust isn’t something that can be easily restored.
I’ve been choosing topics from my Instagram followers and I think this one is super interesting. I’ll be speaking from my own understanding of what self-actualization is; finding a fulfilling way to live life.
The aspects that I’ll be considering are: Going inwards, understanding your environment and asking questions. I’d also like to emphasize how important contentment is (again), especially with regards to having a healthier outlook on life.
The reason I repeat topics are for it to serve as a reminder.
Being non-judgmental towards yourself and others. This is something we don’t pay enough attention to. We’re constantly in a state of judging. Whether we choose to be conscious of it or not. Our minds are quick at naming, blaming, comparing, and judging. Ourselves first and foremost.
Going inwards constitutes that we notice the thoughts that arise. No attachment, just awareness. Treat thoughts like clouds in the sky. They’re always different, always changing, and usually unpredictable. When we attach ourselves to thoughts or judge ourselves for the thoughts that we do have, we act as if the sky is in a permanent state.
But how untrue is that? Considering that change is inevitable, we should be kinder in dealing with our thoughts. Let’s look at a few ways to do just that.
-Meditating. The reason we should sit down and give ourselves space to let thoughts come and go, is to truly realize how impermanent they are. This would constitute setting a specific time every day (preferably early in the morning or just before you go to bed), to just let your mind wander. No attachment, just observation.
I like to think of it as going to the gym for your brain. You’re training your mind to be more present & to detach yourself from distractions.
–Journalling. Oh hey, it’s this again! I honestly keep bringing this up because it has proven to be paramount in developing self-awareness. When you journal consistently, you gain insight on thought and behavioural patterns that you would otherwise just ignore.
Journalling provides a space for you to unwrap thoughts and ideas that are just floating around in your mind. It allows you to dump out unnecessary thoughts too, and clears up your mind. You also become very aware of trends in your life, that you can improve on or correct. I’d also recommend doing this either in the morning or before bed.
Consistency is the key to mastery. So make sure you try and implement both these habits on a regular basis, to truly reap their benefits.
Understanding your environment (Parents, friends, school)
Are we shaped by our circumstances? Are we able to change those circumstances? How much are we affected by our peers? How do we try to live up-to other people’s expectations of us?
Reasons reap benefits. Remember to keep asking your self important questions. This allows you to reflect quite easily on the person you’ve become. So let’s try and answer some of these questions, then dive into deeper ones.
A huge part of our psyche has been shaped in our childhood. This always fascinates me because that’s where we usually have the least control. Our parents, peers and environment largely shape the type of people we end up becoming.
We definitely do have inherent and innate talents, as well as some control in the way we deal with our circumstances. But they’re still influenced by the way we were brought up. Understanding yourself therefore requires unwrapping the parts of you that you never think of. The younger versions of yourself. The parts that you’ve evolved to ignore.
When we’re able to be vulnerable with ourselves, there’s no limit to how much we can learn. Just look at the past year. You’re nowhere near the same person you were at the end of 2018 (hopefully). Indulge in the lessons.
Constantly think back on what has worked for you. What hasn’t worked for you. Areas of your life that you want to improve. Areas of your life that have already improved.
Why am I here?
What is my purpose?
How can I contribute?
How long will I be here for?
What happens next?
Start your day by refreshing your intentions. Ask yourself important questions. Think clearly of your vision. If you don’t have one yet, work towards it.
Now (Is all there is)
How can we use the present moment to extract valuable lessons from the past, to make wiser decisions in the future?
By being conscious of where you are now. By realizing that there is no way back, time only moves forward. By understanding that there is no such thing as failure or defeat, only lessons to be learnt.
By being vulnerable. Stop holding yourself back based on what other people are going to think. Have the courage to be yourself. Fully immerse yourself in the present moment by being vulnerable with those you love.
I spoke about how being vulnerable with yourself opens up doorways to learning. Being vulnerable with others opens up doorways for teaching.
Don’t fear failure. Don’t fear rejection. Don’t fear being laughed at. You are meant to live your best life, and achieve your full potential. Whatever that means to you. Take the leap of faith. Chase your dreams. Follow what ignites the flame within.
It must be acknowledged that self-actualization is something achieved through privilege. Only once your physiological and safety needs are met, can you truly start to climb the ladder. It’s crucial therefore, to be grateful if you’re able to start developing a feeling of belonging and high self-esteem.
To wrap things up, I just want to talk a little about gratitude. If you’re reading this, it means you’re probably high up in the hierarchy of needs. This is something to be extremely grateful for. There are so many other people who can’t achieve their dreams or pursue their passions, purely because of their socio-economic status.
Being thankful is the least we can do, alongside helping other people, to truly find contentment in life. I’m going to end by bringing up this wonderful quote again, because it’s imperative to this topic.
“You find yourself, when you lose yourself in the service of others.”
Just want to start by reminding myself and those of you who don’t know, why I started this blog. My aim with these posts is ‘Aspire to Inspire’. To gain a better understanding of the knowledge I’ve acquired, put it into use, and share it with as many people as possible.
If you find this useful, please subscribe using your email to get the posts regularly, like and share it with those who may also find it helpful.
The philosophy I’m trying to adhere to is that ‘The teacher learns the most’. So even if you just try and explain what you learn to other people, you’ll make so much more sense of it. I appreciate each and every one of you who have read and supported me through this; thank you for your time.
I was thinking of the best way to describe this topic, especially since it’s a domain I’m trying to work on quite rigorously. I’ll be going through quite a few aspects of leadership, the most important factor here being communication.
As usual, I’ll be reminding you of things I’ve mentioned in a previous post, namely the one about communication (I recommend you go over it considering how relevant it is to this topic, if you have the time to). The source of inspiration for this topic is from: Dare to lead, by Brene Brown.
We’ll start with why, and unravel the various reasons behind leadership, and how you first need to take ownership of yourself. We can then start seeing how communication plays a role in being an effective leader, through vulnerability, courage & empathy. Finally, we’ll dive into some tips on being a more effective leader and how the best way to lead, is by example.
“Daring leadership is ultimately about serving others, not ourselves. That’s why we choose courage.”
Start with why
Let’s start with a little curiosity, why should we even try to become better leaders? A lot of us (myself included) tend to have a misconception regarding who leaders are. We see leaders as those who take responsibility, run projects, captain sport teams, lead organizations or rule countries. But the truth is, we’re all leaders in some way, each and everyday. To our families, friends, colleagues, roommates and community. Whether or not we take ownership of it is up to us.
Being a better leader is therefore beneficial for every day interactions, forming more meaningful relationships, and serving those around you to your best ability.
When it comes to taking ownership, the first person we should think about is ourselves. Once we’re able to lead ourselves; by allowing ourselves to feel, make nonjudgmental decisions, and strive towards our goals in the face of hardship, can we then consider being leaders to others. That’s not to say that we always need to have our shit together to be great leaders. But better awareness, leads to better choices, which leads to better results.
So another pivotal point here, is having some sort of self-awareness. By forming a healthier relationship with yourself, you can ultimately form a healthier relationship with other people (I’ve emphasized that quite a lot by now). So first understand your own goals, reasons, values, and emotions. Understand what works best for you and what doesn’t, then build up your emotional confidence.
Once that’s established, ensure that you surround yourself with people who share your values, visions, and goals. I’m not saying that we should stick to our comfort zone and those we’ve always been acquainted with, but rather find those who are ambitious, hard working, and determined in the same direction. Once we have a solid reason, a why, we can move onto communicating that with other people.
Okay this is something I purposely chose to speak about again, because it serves as a reminder to myself and those of you who are reading. The biggest problem I notice whenever people are in a disagreement or have issues between each other, is lack of open communication. In the words of Brene Brown: Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.
Being clear is something that sounds so simple, yet we struggle so much with it. The issue with being clear, is that we need to lead into our vulnerability and courage. It’s so much easier to beat around the bush and just kind expect the other person to understand what we’re trying to say. But that’s why being vulnerable is so vital, it allows you to dive into how you truly feel and discuss that with another person.
Also important to note: You can’t give what you don’t have. So you can’t give other people love and compassion, if you don’t have it for yourself first (without it taking a toll on you).
I’m trying to bridge the understanding gap between myself and other people, through uncovering uncertainties and assumptions that I make with them. This can be done by figuring out where I leave others in a blind spot by assuming they know specific things about how I feel, what I’m going through or even about them.
Also, looking into where I lack clarity in truly conveying my feelings and how those affect my relationship with them. A critical aspect of communication therefore, requires more than just speaking; it requires us to be open listeners.
Listen! This is probably something we struggle even more with, if speaking wasn’t so hard already. But just listening to what people have to say will go such a long way in fostering a healthier relationship with them. Don’t formulate your response while they’re speaking.
Immerse yourself in the experience and fully understand where the other person is coming from. Stay present. This leads to the next point that I absolutely love speaking about; empathy.
Empathy is more than just connecting to an experience (putting yourself in another person’s shoes), it’s about connecting to the emotions underlying that experience. This means that it requires vulnerability, because you have to be willing to tap into your emotional reservoir and think about how you would feel in that particular situation.
Although certain people have challenges or experiences that we’ll never face, we can still find a situation that we’ve been through, that allowed us to feel a similar emotion. Herein are a few ways to help develop your empathy skills:
To be nonjudgmental
To understand other people’s feelings
To communicate your understanding of their feelings (and your own)
The most common skill that people understand when talking about empathy is the perspective taking. This requires us to be the learner, not the knower. Curiosity is a key factor here, and if you don’t understand where someone is coming from, be brave enough to ask.
“Only when diverse perspectives are included, respected and valued can we start to get a full picture of the world.”
To be nonjudgmental is absolutely critical when trying to deal with other people. This means that we need to be aware of where we are most vulnerable to our own struggles. We judge the most, when people are susceptible to shame and when they’re doing worse than us.
Emotional literacy or intelligence is necessary when trying to understand and communicate other people’s feelings, as well as your own. It’s an uncomfortable process that most of us seem to struggle with, and proves to be damaging in the majority of relationships. If we can’t articulate the emotion, we won’t be able to move through it. That’s why I think we need to actually spend time trying to learn the different emotions that we do experience, so that we can communicate it better with other people.
We also need to be able to show people that we do understand what they’re feeling, as that forms the basis of a connection. Albeit risky, we need to have the courage to ask them about their feelings if we don’t properly understand it.
To be mindful with emotions means that we don’t attach ourselves to them. As with life, everything we feel is temporary. This too shall pass. By paying attention to what’s happening in the conversation, what you and the other person are feeling, as well as the body language, we’ll be able to formulate a more empathetic approach to our responses.
Just a quick reminder that there’s a critical difference between empathy and sympathy. Empathy drives connection. Sympathy fuels disconnection.
I just wanted to discuss a few skills that I’m trying to implement, in being a better leader, through the form of questions and phrases that I can keep in mind. When dealing with issues within a group, bringing up and discussing the issue may sometimes be a roadblock. Here are a few points to follow to help overcome that:
Name the issue.
Prioritize being a curious leader.
Acknowledge and reward great questions.
Don’t be afraid to bring up the issue and talk about the problem. Remember: better awareness leads to better choices, which leads to better results. Stay curious and try to understand the source of the problem and how it can be overcome, together.
Use your empathy skills to further connect with the other group members and gain an understanding of why this might be an issue for them. The aim is to ‘get it right’, not ‘be right’. Another factor can be to encourage questions, which are sometimes even more important than just searching for answers. Don’t let your ego get in the way of asking for help, or admitting your faults. Being nonjudgmental with yourself is critical to being the same way with other people.
Reasons reap results, so don’t shy from asking.
A concept that I found incredibly helpful was to ask the question: “What does done look like?” This allows the person in charge to identify and clearly paint an image of what they expect to be done, and the objectives required to get there. Clear communication allows for more effective management. Here are a few more questions to ask as some rumble starters:
What problem are we trying to solve?
What are the assumptions you’ve made to get to your understanding?
What do you see as the goal of this meeting?
Engage in tough conversations, it’s the only way you and your team will grow.
Be motivated. Observe mindfully. Stay present.
Another important tip is to maintain boundaries. Show your level of self-respect through abiding with your values and don’t just let other people step over you. The same works for you, understand people’s boundaries better and learn to respect them. This works wonder for building up better trust and connecting more healthily.
The best way to lead?
By example. Practice what you preach. Walk the talk. I can’t emphasize this enough, people learn exceptionally through observation. I’ll use the example of parenting to further clarify this point.
When parents are found speaking contradictory to their actions, they wonder why their kids don’t listen to them. It’s simple, children learn the most through observational learning. The psychology behind that is absolutely phenomenal (to me at least), but that learning ranges from emotional reactivity, behavioral responses and habits. Not everyone follows that trend, but it’s a general concept we can mostly agree on.
You can’t just tell someone not to do something, when you’ve been doing it the whole time. I know we want the best for others, and for them to learn from our mistakes. But proving that requires action, determination, vulnerability and courage in the face of our short-comings.
When we can lead through vulnerability and being receptive to having braver conversations, we’ll find it a lot easier to create more meaningful interactions in our lives. It’ll open room for more honesty, creativity, productivity and even love.
So next time you ask someone: “How’s it going”? Don’t just wait for them to say: ‘good and you’?, with your response being “I’m good thanks.” Let’s leave the robotic cycle and aim to have deeper interactions on a more regular basis. Next time someone asks you how you’re doing, give yourself a second to actually think: “How am I actually feelings right now?” and then respond within the relevant boundaries. And when you’re asking them that question, listen attentively, notice their tone and the words their using. Show them that you care, and your relationships should start to flourish.
I’ve hopefully inspired you to take more initiative in your daily interactions and to strive to become a better leader, in whatever way you need to be. We should always start with why and have a clear sense of our objectives, as well as intentions and assumptions.
When we’re able to clearly communicate that with others, it’ll be easier for us to form a structured team. Being empathetic is a no-brainer for forming healthier and more trustworthy relationships, so it’s important to keep the different skills in mind: Perspective taking, being nonjudgmental, understanding and communicating people’s feelings, and being mindful. Some of the leadership tools include naming the issue, staying curious and rewarding good questions. Finally, leading by example through your actions, will always prove to be the most effective way to get those around you to improve.
Let’s face it, this is something we’ve proven to be terrible at as humans. From saying what’s on your mind or how you’re feeling, to spamming emojis and swiping right. There’s just something about being truthful and vulnerable that we tend to struggle with, and it’s damaging not only to us, but everyone we interact with.
I’m speaking from experience here and I’m still working on this, so let’s dive in and see what we can unfold about the power of vulnerability and honest communication.
What is vulnerability?
“The ability to be susceptible to physical or emotional attack / harm.” So how could that possibly be good for us? One of the essential tools when forming deep/meaningful relationships is having the courage to be vulnerable.
When we’re willing to risk being hurt, or to speak about difficult topics, we find much more value in the relationship.
The point is, when other people see that we’re comfortable enough to share things with them, it opens up a pathway for them to open up to us. Courage is an important word here because you need to be aware of your imperfections and be willing to share your authentic self with others.
Personally, I’ve formed the best and healthiest relationships through being vulnerable and talking about difficult issues. It’s not to say that everyone is going to be respectful and engaging, but when you do find someone who’s willing to be there for you or you want to strengthen your relationship with, just be more honest about how you feel and what’s going on with you.
This ted talk explains it perfectly:
Be your authentic self.
We often find ourselves trying to “fit” in, constantly trying to meet the expectations of our peers or family members. This is where I think problems start to arise, within yourself more than anything. The identity dilemma of who you are vs who you’re supposed to be.
When you can’t be your true self, you tend to communicate based on what will please the other person. This creates a barrier, which airs the gap for miscommunication. Constantly trying to satisfy the other person or just agreeing with them won’t create a meaningful relationship, it will just create a decent friendship.
It’s through being honest and authentic about our desires and interests, that creates respect and willingness to cooperate.
There’s a saying in Arabic that goes “Respect yourself”, which is often meant in a derogatory manner. But I think it’s a beautiful reminder to people to genuinely respect themselves, because that’s what will help others respect them and in turn form better connections. If you haven’t thought about it already, self-love comes into play here too. When you learn to love yourself, it allows other people to love you even more.
Watch your ego.
Our good ol’ arch enemy, the ego. Learning to deal with this and humble yourself is another crucial aspect in effective communication. When you’re able to put your pride aside and actually listen, it goes a long way.
Our ego tends to block up our minds, when people who are younger or “less” knowledgeable than us give us advice. We claim to already know what they’re going to say, since we have more experience than them.
However truthful that may be, it still adds to the communication barrier and makes it more difficult for us to connect with each other. So just notice when you find yourself trying to end or move on from a conversation, which could actually benefit you, because of your pride.
Real life > Texting
Sliding into the DM’s, sharing memes, commenting on stories, sending emails, group chats. It’s the new age of staying in touch and communicating. I suppose what we don’t realize is that we miss out on an important humane aspect, emotions.
We just can’t properly express ourselves through emojis; laughing faces and broken hearts don’t cut it. It’s not to say that there are no benefits to digital communication, it just makes it a lot easier to misinterpret and jump to conclusions.
I’m basically emphasizing the importance of effective communication, and that even voice noting or phone calls would be a better alternative. Of course nothing will be more pertinent than real life social encounters. Make time for the people who matter in your life, and engage as much as you can with them in the present moment. Don’t allow your digital life and character to ruin your real life.
Something I think many of us struggle with, is to just listen. Our minds jump to responses as soon as people speak to us, but it’s important to first understand what they’re truly trying to say. Part of communicating therefore, is cultivating the skill of listening and deeply engaging, without cutting the other person off.
A lot can be communicated through silence too, for connections are made with the heart, not just the tongue.
To put it all in a bundle, there are many degrees to effective communication. Most importantly, allowing yourself to be vulnerable to connect with people. This will have a ripple effect, allowing you to be your more authentic self, and hopefully more honest with what you say.
Don’t let your ego get in the way of your relationships, and always make time for those who matter to you. I’ll end this post with a common quote that we should really try to grasp:
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” ― Stephen R. Covey