Over the past few months I have been speaking to a lot of people across healthcare, individually and in teams. Sometimes reflecting on their experiences and other times looking forward to what is next for them. I have asked them a lot questions about what has been challenging, what has been helpful, what they want to happen next and what challenges they may face. The answers to these questions have been varied depending on their role and what they were facing. There were 2 questions I asked however that universally generated very similar responses. What would you ask of others? What would you offer others?
Think about those 2 questions for a moment. How would you answer them?
When asked what would you ask of others, people overwhelmingly wanted them to be kind, to be supportive and to be open to asking for help if they need it. When they were asked what they would offer the vast majority said they would offer themselves, their time to listen and be compassionate.
Most of us want people to be kind, but also to recognise when they need help and ask for it, and the majority of us are willing to offer that support. We are all willing to offer compassion but I would suggest from this that most of us are reluctant to ask for it, until things get really bad.
To be honest this came as no surprise to me, and I doubt it is a surprise to you either? We are all wonderful at transmitting kindness and compassion, but a little reluctant to receive it, until we really need it.
What would be great is if we could all switch our aerials from transmit mode only to receive and transmit. If only it was as easy as just flicking a switch. I don’t know about you but I have been telling people for years to be kinder to themselves, social media is full of memes telling us to be kind to ourselves. Many people have told me. It makes no difference; we all just carry on putting others before ourselves. Because that is the virtuous story that we tell ourselves and is told to us, so it is the right thing to do. Being self-compassionate is indulgent and selfish. To open ourselves up to willingly be on the receiving end of compassion, not just when we have reached crisis point, but whenever we get a bit of a knock, we are going to have to create the right conditions. We are going to have to do a bit of work on ourselves to become more emotionally flexible.
Below is an approach that may help you become more self-aware and more emotionally flexible to allow you to be open to receiving compassion and in the long run make you more compassionate.
Be Here Now
Practice spending more time in the moment. There are times everyday when we feel consumed by our thoughts (for me it is usually first thing in the morning and last thing at night). Bring yourself in to the present by either using mindfulness techniques or by doing an engaging activity that takes your attention that you enjoy. It is important to be able to set yourself free from your thoughts and spend a moment noticing what is happening right now, not in the future or the past but right now. Practice stepping back from your thoughts and watch them come and go rather than getting caught up in them and letting them push you around.
Make room for painful feelings, sensations, urges and emotions. Don’t struggle with them, run from them or get overwhelmed by them. You don’t have to like them, but it is important to recognise that they are there for a reason. It is better to be curious and understand what message they are sending rather than push them away. Painful emotions are often connected to what is truly important to you, therefore that needs acknowledging.
Know What Matters
When we have a clear understanding of what we value, we are in a better position to acknowledge and create space for our painful emotions. We are less inclined to push them away as that would diminish what matters to us. When we are clear what our core values are we have a greater knowledge of what lies behind our emotions and we are better placed to address what needs to be addressed. To help you identify your own values try and answer the following questions as honestly as you can (after all you are the only one that will see the answers);
- What motivates you?
- What is important to you?
- What moves you into action?
- What gives you a sense of identity?
- What scares you to death when you imagine losing it?
- What do you depend on to influence others?
Commit to Action
Now you are practicing stepping back from your thoughts, giving space to your painful emotions, and are now clear on what you value, you can now start to make choices and take action to improve your well-being or to maintain your balanced outlook on life. You don’t have to make big changes, what is important is that you take action that is congruent with your values. You are able to decide on the best action for you based on what you value and what will attend to your emotions. So you are able to recognise and act when you need help, and therefore be in a better position to recognise and act when those around you need help.
Emotional flexibility in such an uncertain world is vital and some might suggest a professional requirement.
Is it time you switched the mode on your aerial to receive and transmit?