The truth about choices

everythingisgoingtobejustfineI did a mini-series on decision making a while ago and came across varying opinions on what it takes to be a good decision maker. Except I’m not sure that I truly fully support the conclusions I came to at that time.

My main issue is the distinction between rational logic and ‘irrational’ emotions. Because all irrational means is without logic, yet it’s often construed as really negative. One definition of irrational is ‘Without normal mental clarity or sound judgement’, but where does authenticity fit in with this? Can you make an irrational choice that at the same time comes with emotional clarity and authentic judgement?

Health psychologist Kelly McGonigal did a TED talk titled How to make stress you friend, and right at the end she said:

Chasing meaning is better for your health than trying to avoid discomfort. That’s the best way to make decisions. Go after what it is that creates meaning in your life and then trust yourself to handle the stress that follows.

So maybe logic, aka stress avoidance in this context, isn’t always the answer. Because doesn’t chasing meaning mean being authentic and true to yourself and your deeper values and emotions?

And I guess this also comes back to the question of whether you can have both happiness and meaning. If striving for meaning creates stress, then maybe the choice we need to make is whether we allow this stress to make us unhappy.

If we choose meaning and authenticity and embrace the stress, the discomfort, the uncertainty, then surely this is the only way to find true fulfillment and happiness?

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Being vulnerable is hard

I recently read Daring Greatly, and it’s central message is so powerful: We all need to learn to be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable, and actually properly, openly talk about things. Effective and open communication is so important and something I value really highly. I’ve been in my job 6 months and still haven’t had any kind of progress meeting with my boss, who barely gives me any feedback on my work. No wonder I’m so disengaged and spend close to half my time surfing the web (this is definitely not something I’m proud of).

daringgreatlyDare to enter the arena

(Daring greatly, by Brené Brown)

There’s so much great stuff in this book so I’m just going to pick out a few of the many points that really stood out to me. Essentially it’s a study of shame and vulnerability, and well worth a read.

Vulnerability hangovers – oh how I can relate to these! When you have a really honest and open conversation with someone, then sometime later completely regret opening up. “What was I thinking?” “What will they think of me?” “I can’t ever take that back!”

The contradiction – As Brené says, we love seeing raw truth and openness in other people, but we’re afraid to let them see it in us. “Vulnerability is courage in you but inadequacy in me. I’m drawn to your vulnerability but repelled by mine.

Defining shame – Guilt = I did something bad. Humiliation = I didn’t deserve that. Embarrassment = collective emotion that will pass. Shame = I am bad/ I am unworthy. Shame’s the one we have to watch.

Brené’s prayer before anything important:

Give me the courage to show up and let myself be seen.

I haven’t been very good at vulnerability in the past, but I want to change that. Being vulnerable isn’t easy. It’s really difficult and not at all comfortable. But it’s worth it.

Personality patterns

I’ve just read a well-known book on a personality assessment closely associated with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and it’s made me realise just how important it is to accept people as they are without trying to change them to be like ourselves. It’s also made me realise how differently people think, and I hope will help me to understand and accept in future when I don’t get the responses or encouragement I’d like.

To me, understanding people seems so key to everything. And it’s just fascinating. Whether you agree with the Myers-Briggs typing and Keirsey’s Temperament Sorter (explained below) or not, recognising different attitudes and values is important in all areas of life, from career to relationships. I think everyone should read this book – though I do accept that my ‘type’ might make me more interested in this topic than others are!

PUM2I’ll just be me and you can be you

(Please understand me 2: temperament, character, intelligence – by David Keirsey)

So in parts the book is a little bit repetitive and a little bit stereotypical, but only because the author wants each chapter to be understandable when read in isolation and because stereotyping is the clearest way to make his points.

Rather than focussing specifically on each of the 16 Myers-Briggs personality types, the book focuses on the 4 main groups of types, which Keirsey came up with based on Myers-Briggs and earlier research (hope I don’t lose anyone here, if you’ve never read up on the Myers-Briggs personality types here’s a great place to start: Personality Page). The 4 groups are Artisan, Guardian, Idealist and Rationalist (described here: The Keirsey Temperament Sorter).

I’m an Idealist and can completely relate to this general description. I’m also almost certain I’d class as an introvert and perceiving rather than judging, however I can relate to parts of the descriptions for the other types of Idealist too. What’s most important to me is accepting myself as in the general category of Idealist and understanding myself in relation to those around me.

Career is a big issue for me right now, and this book has really helped to shed light on why I feel so unhappy and inauthentic in my current job and why this bothers me so much. It’s also given me some really interesting career ideas and taught me that I do have something unique to offer that many others don’t. I feel like I’m getting a clearer picture of who I am and who I want to be.

Of course personality types can’t explain everything, but the Myers-Briggs system and Keirsey’s Temperament Sorter do seem to be pretty accurate and well-respected. Even when simply used as an insight into preferences and relationships, they’re a great place to start in exploring and accepting differences.

What is authenticity? Who am I?!

These are the questions I’ve been thinking about recently, but where to even start?

what-if-and-why-notDara over at Good at Life has dedicated this month as Authenticity August and it’s great to read her insights and advice and be inspired (I’d really recommend you take a look if you haven’t come across her blog before). One of her first posts of the month talks about letting go of what people think, and until recently I didn’t realise quite how much I struggle with this.

Often if I have an idea I’ll test it out with others, mention it in conversation, looking for confirmation that it ‘fits’ with who other people think I am, that it’s something they encourage and could see me doing. I shouldn’t be doing this. I think we should listen to others, because it’s important to know how we come across to other people and there are often truths in how others see us. But I don’t think we should ever let this dictate our actions or hold us back. We shouldn’t be looking for approval, only insights to help us to come to our own conclusions and enable us to make our own decisions.

Following a job interview where I was asked “what 3 words would family and friends use to describe you?” I decided to actually ask 3 family members to answer this question. After getting pretty positive answers I also asked them for 3 ‘negative’ words to describe me. Sometimes our ‘weaknesses’ can actually reveal our biggest strengths. The answers provided an interesting insight into how I come across to others, and most of them I’d agree with, at least to a certain extent, though some I think only apply in certain contexts.

Authenticity is accepting the good and the bad, strengths and weaknesses, but it’s not about immediately accepting the opinions of others as facts about ourselves and our characteristics. I guess the opinions of others are actually a pretty good insight into how authentic we’re being – how much the way we act reflects our values and who we truly feel we are.

wavesofdoubtauthenticself

I recently attended a meet-up group to discuss personality types. I’ve always found this sort of thing interesting but meeting and learning about the different types was just fascinating.

I’d always thought my type was INFP but, never having done an official Myers-Briggs test, I spoke to some knowledgeable members of the group about this, and was surprised at the suggestion that I could possibly be an ENFP as these types are very close. I’ve always thought of myself as an introvert, and after some more thought I’m almost certain I am, but it’s surprising how much influence your environment can have on who you think you are.

Maybe we’re not necessarily who we’ve grown up to believe we are. We might have to dig a little deeper to find our true authentic selves.

For a more full and detailed explanation of authenticity have a look at what Kevin Rafferty has to say: What is authenticity? and Connecting to your authentic self

The 4 career-searching personalities

LongleatMaze_ROW2078107117_20100808

I’ve been thinking about different attitudes to building fulfilling career paths, and I’ve come up with these 4 categories:

Decided Undecided
Starter Know where they want to be and on the path to get there Don’t know but are exploring options proactively and linking interests
Settler Know but unsure how and/or unwilling to put the work in to get there Don’t know where they want to be and aren’t making an effort to work it out

The decided starter – you know the type, have known since childhood exactly what they want to be without even needing to consider other options out there, usually studying something vocational, e.g. medicine, teaching. These people can be pretty irritating. Who wants to hear from someone who has their whole life planned out and is completely content with their decision? Well actually it is kind of nice to know there are people in this world who know what they’re doing. Good for them.

The undecided starter – now you can’t be annoyed with this type, they don’t have a clue but they’re doing their best to work it out. I’d say these people are pretty inspiring, they admit they’re not perfect but they’re not just sitting back and hoping for the best, they’re out there trying things out and building a path for themselves. And this is one major way in which they differ from decided starters: they’re creating their own path, not following a predefined one.

The decided settler – this type is frustrating, they know what they want to be doing, you know they know what they want to be doing, but they’re not doing it. Why? Fear of failure, lack of encouragement, laziness? Whatever it is it’s not a good enough reason for them to settle for something that’s not on the path to what they really want. You want them to make the effort, to work at their dream, but it feels like they’ve just given up and are simply sitting back and waiting for something to fall into their lap.

The undecided settler – they don’t have a clue, and because of this you do feel for them, finding the right path for yourself isn’t easy. It’s discouraging to come across this type, they seem lost and unsure where to start. But it’s a small step to go from undecided settler to undecided starter.

I know which category I want to be in.

Like it vs Good at it

In the past I’ve written about the distinction between strengths – things you’re innately good at, and skills – things you learn to be good at. But recently I’ve got to thinking, why just stick with the things that come most naturally?

Now I’m naturally quite a quiet, introverted person. Because of this I doubt many people would describe me a ‘people person’, ‘charismatic’ , ‘outgoing’ or the like, but I really enjoy working with people. I guess in a way I’ve taught myself to do small talk and to be comfortable speaking to new people, and I now genuinely enjoy carrying out presentations, no matter what size the audience (a formal presentation is a great chance to speak without anyone else taking over the conversation!). I also really enjoy working in groups – sharing ideas and discussing things with others.

Maybe I have always been good at these things, just a lack of confidence held me back, but maybe some of them are skills that I’ve learnt, rather than strengths that I’ve always had. How do you tell the difference between what you’re naturally good at and what you’ve learnt to be good at? And if you enjoy it, does the distinction even matter?

bebestyouI guess what I’m really getting at here is should we be finding our authentic selves or working at becoming the people we want to be? Or is it possible to do both – are these actually the same things? According to Steve Peters in The Chimp Paradox, who you want to be who you really are, so is life an opportunity to discover yourself… or to create yourself?

I’d been planning on writing about this for a while but yesterday I found a post over at Career Avoidance 101 which is looking at a pretty similar question – Is the search for an authentic self worth the hassle?

And I think yes, it is worth the hassle. While you’re searching for this ‘authentic self’ you’re going to discover so much more – likes/dislikes/strengths/skills – so I’d say life is about discovering your authentic self AND creating the version of that self that you want to be.

Emotions are scarily powerful

base-jumping

They say we have nothing to fear but fear itself. This post is me admitting that up until now I’ve been making a huge mistake in the way I’ve been living my life: I’ve been letting negative emotions and fear dictate my choices.

I first started this blog in an effort to share my reading and learning on the process of decision-making, and a lot of what I’ve written about  is the question of whether to follow logic or intuition when making choices. I wanted the answer to be that it’s right to follow your intuition, to confirm that some of my past decisions were based on good solid intuition and not just fear and confusion – but it’s not, and they weren’t.

I’m not saying that these past choices were necessarily wrong, but I definitely let emotion get in the way of the decision-making process. I guess I dislike logic because sometimes it can go completely against feelings, and ultimately I want to feel happy. It’s scary how easy it is not to do something just because it feels uncomfortable in the moment – it’s surprisingly difficult to see past current emotions to a happier future.

There is something to be said for gut reactions (see my post ‘Logic versus intuition‘), but I’m starting to realise that my own gut feelings aren’t actually worth paying too much attention to! It’s all too easy to confuse discomfort and fear with a bad gut feeling.

I become irrational when I’m scared – I become defensive and make excuses, then later struggle to explain my actions. If you follow good old fashioned human logic then once negative emotions fade you’ve got something really solid to fall back on. Emotions aren’t permanent or fixed and, despite how strong they can be, they always fade.

A while ago I reviewed the book ‘The Chimp Paradox‘, and the more I think about it the more the model it teaches is perfect for learning how to get past fear and negative emotions. We need to remember that we can make a choice to act despite our emotions – fear truly is the only thing worth fearing because it stops us from making the most out of life.

courage1

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Rebecca Fraser of Career Avoidance 101 (a great blog – do check it out) recently wrote this post on fear, and I think there are more to come – I also love this quote on fear and courage.