For most of my adult life, the first seven days after every New Year are spent looking back in order to look forward. Less resolution, more reflection, less goal setting and more sense-making, for me it’s usually the best time to join the dots so I can fully comprehend the story of where I’ve been, where I’m going and what dragons I want to slay next in my professional or personal life.
It’s not always a comfortable process … Having a good hard look. Sifting through stuff. Examining oneself. Taking personal responsibility. Nowhere to hide. Truth be told, laying it all bare can lead to feelings of defeat, defensiveness and vulnerability. Which means it’s often emotional. Vulnerable. Messy. Non-Linear. A slow uncoupling from the relentless ‘doing’ mindset, and a move toward more of a ‘being’ state of mind.
But it’s worth it. Research shows that for even those at the top of their game, the most difficult CEO’s, sports stars and leaders to coach are those who simply don’t – or won’t – take time to reflect on themselves.
Self-reflection helps you defrag your brain
Reflection gives your brain a chance to consciously push pause on the noise and velocity of everyday life and work and reduce cognitive overload. It also forces a defrag of your mental tangle to better synthesise your learning, observations and experiences, and helps you then interpret these to create new meaning. This ‘meaning making’ then becomes powerful learning, which powerfully dictates your future mindset, actions and personal growth.
But you don’t have to be a superstar to benefit from self-reflection. As we live through the dystopia of the COVID-19 pandemic and a global epidemic of stress, evidence also shows that getting off the treadmill to take time, take stock and face up to the real story you’re telling yourself are all critical to developing deeper self-awareness, greater self-acceptance and ultimately, will contribute to increased happiness, confidence and success.
Despite its known benefits, it turns out that most of us actually don’t make anywhere near enough space or time to tap into the self narrative that inadvertently determines our self-worth, ability to lead, communicate, connect, problem solve and achieve in pretty much every interaction of every day. For something so fundamental to our well-being and personal or professional self-actualisation, you’d think we’d be constantly – and consciously – catapulting it up the Maslow hierarchy to the very top. So why don’t we?
A storied mindset is the secret to success
Recently, Cohost and psychologist Sabina Read and I had the chance to sit down with renowned global mindset coach Ben Crowe on the Human Cogs podcast to talk about the criticality of self-examination of one’s story for success.
From world leaders to Olympic gold medallists, top global CEO’s to AFL Premiership and Grand Slam champions, Ben has become one of the sports industry’s most “in-demand” professional mentors and mindset gurus.
Over the past two decades Ben has worked intensively with tennis great Andre Agassi, Olympian Cathy Freeman, champion surfer Stephanie Gilmore, and both the Australian Men’s and Women’s Cricket Teams. He’s also credited with taking tennis player Ash Barty to world number 1, Dylan Alcott to Australian Open success, and has personally coached Richmond premiership captain Trent Cotchin and AFL coaches Alastair Clarkson and Damien Hardwick.
So what’s Ben’s secret sauce?
It sounds pretty simple. Ben helps people slay personal dragons and overcome modern-day Hero’s Journey ‘hazards’ including imposter syndrome, glory seeking and shooting star disorder.
For context, The Hero’s Journey is a narrative storytelling structure identified by Joseph Campbell, and outlined in his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces. Since its release in 1949, the book has influenced millions of readers by combining the insights of modern psychology with Campbell’s ground-breaking understanding of comparative mythology, which revealed a universal pattern of adventure and transformation that is shared by scores of cross-cultural mythic traditions across the world. Campbell’s ‘monomyth‘ model has also been applied to everything from the lives of great artists to pop-culture classics like Star Wars. It’s well worth checking out if you’re unfamiliar with the framework.
Ben uses this famed Hero’s Journey storytelling scaffolding, principles of Connection, Purpose and Performance and his decades of expertise working with elite athletes to take people back to basics and help them locate where their pain, shame, fears – and deeper personal stories – reside.
He then applies a process of ‘unstorying’ – a sort of shedding of skins and sense-making of chapters – to unlock and unblock people, so they can purposively write another story that more authentically defines who they are and what intrinsically motivates them, so they can build new harbours for their self-worth to safely anchor. (Spoiler: That’s the hard part!)
The stories we tell ourselves make us who we are
In our conversation, Ben explains how for most of us, entrenched habits, patterns of behaviour and default mindsets are buried deep in our subconscious and were laid down in the sediment of our families of origin when we were children. So without even knowing it, these legacy and calcified patterns can dangerously dictate how we think, feel, act and show up in our everyday life and work as adults.
Ben’s job is to hold a mirror to the human inside, to help us see how we are each complicit in the choices, behaviours and stories we tell ourselves, and why we should lean into the darkness of life’s crucible moments in order to unshackle ourselves from the these long-held fears, dysfunctions and patterns that will continue to hold us back from success for as long as we let them. It is pretty fascinating stuff, but it is not new.
According to the ancient Greeks and as described in Plato’s apology, it was Socrates who said: “The unexamined life is not worth living”. Aristotle also believed that contemplation was of the highest human order, leading to direct knowledge of the divine and the path to radical self-realisation. To him, contemplation meant committing to periodical and intensive bouts of dedicated self-reflection over the course of one’s lifetime in pursuit of wisdom.
So tomorrow is the seventh day of the brand new year.
And the question I’m asking is: Is 2021 the year to commit to the full call to action so I make regular time and space to self-reflect and own my inner narrative? Well – I’m giving it a good crack. And am ready to join the dots, defrag, adopt a hero mindset – and rewrite the story. Dragons and all.