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Toolkit for Change: 6 Essential Tools

6 essential tools for transformational change

These six tools consist of concepts, techniques and practices for knowing yourself, all of the wonderful and the not-so-wonderful parts of yourself, validating and accepting them—just as they are. This might sound a bit scary or even terrifying if there are parts of yourself you’ve been avoiding your whole life, but every denied part makes you less whole and every accepted one gives you more freedom, more lightness, and more trust in yourself. However, as with all tools, you need to pick them up and use them—over and over again.

Tool for Change #1– Observing Without Judgment, aka Mindfulness

Self-observation is the first step toward inner growth, but only if it’s done without judgment. Why? How would you like someone following you around 24/7 and pointing out all the things you do “wrong”? You would probably tell that person to get lost and if that person were you, you’d stop observing so you wouldn’t be criticized.

Yet, you need to observe yourself—your thoughts, feelings, behavior, fears, desires—to learn what’s going on. Are you living your professed values or do you “cut corners”? Do you learn from your experiences or fall into the same pit over and over again? Are you a victim of others? Of life circumstances? Of your own choices? Do your emotional reactions lead you to make unwise decisions?

When you observe yourself objectively—without judging and without justifying—you can see, feel, and hear things you haven’t been aware of, things that can help you make wise decisions. How to do that in a society that looks for what’s wrong more than what’s right is the real key.

Bottom Line: Observing without judgment is like turning all the pieces of your jigsaw puzzle right side up so you can see what’s what. Then, instead of deriding or throwing away the ones you think are not good enough, you can use them all to complete your picture. In addition, becoming an objective observer is an important part of mindfulness, in general, a practice that works hand-in-hand with all of life’s keys.

Tool for Change #2 – Unconditional Compassion and Respect, aka self-acceptance

When people do not judge us, we usually feel safe with them, but that’s not enough for a healthy relationship. We also want them to treat us with compassion and respect—not just when we’re doing or being what they want, but unconditionally, exactly as we are.

Is that how you treat yourself? For instance, when you find yourself procrastinating with a project, do you gently ask yourself what’s going on or does your inner taskmaster try to force you to get to work and then you feel lazy when you don’t? And when you feel angry or envious, do you allow yourself to feel the feeling until it dissipates (usually a short time) or do you feed the feeling — causing it to escalate and hang around — by replaying the precipitating event in your mind or telling yourself you shouldn't feel that way?

One reason we sometimes don’t accept and embrace ourselves unconditionally is that we think we need to keep reminding ourselves about what we don’t like in order to change and improve. Really? Are you really going to forget that you want to be more effective or more kind or more happy? Much to the contrary, consistent compassion and respect—especially when it comes from you—improves your sense of worthiness and motivates you to do what is in your best interest.

Bottom Line: We cannot expect others to do for us what we are not willing todo for ourselves.If you are nice to others while ignoring your own needs, others are likely to ignore them, too. Then we might get angry at them for not treating us well (see Tool#5). But no matter how lovingly others treat us, it is consistent self-compassion and self-respect that creates healthy self-esteem.

Tool for Change #3 – Playing on the Same Team

When I was growing up, communication mainly consisted of telling someone what they should or shouldn’t do, blaming or complaining about what we didn’t like, and arguing or coercing someone to agree that my way was the right way. In other words, it was all about me or them—either they “won” the argument and got what they wanted or I did. Except, with hindsight, it seems that nobody actually won an argument because the “loser” would hold it against the “winner” and wait for a chance to get even.

What was missing—which was a concept I’d never understood until adulthood—was “we” thinking. In fact, the first time I ever witnessed two people calmly discussing a difference of opinion, where one actually listened open-mindedly to the other and vice versa, then looked at how both (“we”) could get their concerns met, I was flabbergasted. Were they pretending?Putting on an act to impress me? “Nobody actually talks like that!” was my initial reaction. The discussion (not an argument) was over in a few minutes and both parties looked happy with the outcome. It seemed like magic to me. How did they do that?

Many years later I began to understand that although “we” language is part of the process, what made it work was a complete shift in perspective from my childhood view of me vs. them to “Hey, we’re all on the same team.”This means that not just my ideas, wants, and concerns are important but those of everyone involved. Without that mindset, there continues to be bickering and backbiting. It might not be apparent, but this is also extremely important with the various“voices” in your head(aspects of your personality). You will continue to feel stuck, fragmented, or inwardly conflicted as long as each voice insists that its views are right or more important than the others’ views.

Bottom Line: Whether or not you believe the philosophy that we are all one, how many sports teams have you ever heard of that were successful when their players had more “me spirit” than team spirit? When you start with personal team spirit, with all the aspects of yourself—the ones you like and the ones that sometimes make you cringe—learning to work as a team, you will not only feel much more at home and empowered within yourself, you will also be well on your way to knowing how to work effectively and in harmony with others.

Tool for Change #4 – Impermanence & the Art of Letting Go

In the wisdom of the Buddha, all things are impermanent. Right? Nothing and no one lasts forever. And, logically, we need to let go of things to make room for new things. But what if we want to hold onto something we truly care for, perhaps a person or a career, that is no longer available to us?

Our disappointment at losing something we want can overshadow the possibility of something different (maybe an even better fit) coming into our life. You might have heard of people who lost a job they really needed and were in desperate financial straits, then a new opportunity opened up for them. Last you heard, they were happier than ever. Same thing with relationships. It’s hard to think there’s a better fit when we are in love with (or dependent on) the person who is leaving, but that person probably wouldn’t be leaving if it were a really good fit. Often the “new” relationship that we now have time and space for is the one with our selves.

Another difficulty in letting go is that so many of us don’t know how to grieve the loss of what we must let go of. How many times have you seen people deeply grieving?How long does grieving take? What is the process? Have you ever seen Grieving 101 listed among course offerings? Do you know that an emotion is energy and if it is not released, that energy stays in your body, causing tightness, pain, sometimes even illness?

Bottom Line: The process of letting go is very simple: You open up your hand and what you were holding falls away. But when it’s an emotion you’re holding onto and your self-protecting heart is shut so tightly not even a speck of energy can go inside or out, opening your heart can seem all but impossible to do. The art of letting go utilizes the nonjudgmental mind and unconditional compassion developed with the first two tools, combined with knowing (truly knowing) that all things are impermanent and must fall away to make room for something new.

Tool for Change #5 – Working with Projections

What are projections? Literally, they are objects that project outward like a flag pole on a building or that door jamb you’re always tripping over. Metaphorically, our emotional projections become our “buttons” that others seem to love to push.

An example of a projection is when you accuse someone of trying to sabotage you or make you look bad and the other person says, with all candor, “What are you talking about?” What actually happened: You were afraid of tripping up and looking bad and(without realizing it)projected those intentions onto someone else. Even if the other person is trying to sabotage you, your fear of failure trips you up much more than anyone else does. But please don’t despair. Projections are invaluable sources of information that can help you see what you haven’t been seeing and overcome whatever inner roadblocks have been in your way.

How can you know what you’re projecting onto others so you will be able to work with whatever issues are involved? A trusty indicator of projections is your emotional reaction to what others say or do. Do you merely shrug when they do something that is different from how you would like it to be or do you feel hurt or angry? Another way of recognizing projections is to pay attention to your judgments (shoulds/shouldn’ts, criticisms). Often our condemnation or advice to others are words meant for us.

Bottom Line: If you’ve been criticizing yourself about something and then someone else judges you in a similar way, that can become the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back and you blame the other person for your discomfort. When you start to recognize your projections, you will also start recognizing areas of your life that need attention. That is the purpose of projections—they show us our tender places that need care and understanding. And when you learn to recognize your projections, you also learn to recognize others’ and no longer need to buy into them.

Tool for Change #6 – Committing to Your Most Important Thing(MIT)

What is your MIT? I don’t suppose you’ve been asked that very often. But if you don’t know what is most important to you, how do you know what to do in life and how best to do it?MITs are the values that motivate and guide us through life, without which we can feel lost and alone. Often religions or philosophies tell us what we should value. Often they’re right on, too, because most of them have some version of the Golden Rule: Treat others as we want to be treated.

So, what is your MIT? Perhaps you haven’t thought about it recently, or ever. It’s like the first time I coached a couple who said they were in a committed relationship and I asked them what they were committed to. They stumbled a bit, then said, you know, not cheating. When I asked if fidelity was the only thing they needed for a happy relationship, they said no, not really.“ What else, do you want in your relationship?” I gently prodded. Both of them listed important values like appreciation, honesty, and love, but from the perspective of how the other one should treat them. When I asked if that is how they currently treated their partner—and themselves—they began to understand the importance of committing to their MITs.

Bottom Line: Whether we have choices that need to be made or are deciding how to be with what we have chosen, our most important values(e.g., love, peace, freedom, unity, joy)can inspire and guide us and make life much easier. But we must be committed to living our MIT rather than wanting it from others. When our thoughts, feelings, and actions are in alignment with our highest values, we have integrity and self-respect, and our lives become meaningful.

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