Give Yourself an “A” – Revisited

This week, join Andrea as she revisits Give Yourself an “A”, originally posted in September 2013.

Give Yourself an "A"

by Andrea Chilcote

Do you have the capacity to fully accept yourself, even in the face of criticism?

What a great lesson I learned from a talk by Brene Brown, bestselling author of Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.

With vulnerability comes inevitable criticism. Brown spoke of how she manages the disparaging remarks that come with a public life, and shared a personal technique she has for managing them. She keeps a slip of paper in her purse with the names of three people – the only people – whose opinions of her matter. These three love her despite her flaws, she says. They accept her as is.

I thought about that list all afternoon, and set out to make my own. I tried on so many, yet ended up with only two. While I’m blessed to have many loving friends, I know for sure that these two people love me about as unconditionally as a human being can. In turn, they’re the ones whose opinions of me matter. Isn’t that a funny paradox? The people who accept me regardless of what imperfections I might reveal, are the ones with whom I strive to be my very best.

By the way, my list only contains two humans, but it also contains my three dogs. Don’t roll your eyes – adding them revealed the meaning of my paradox. A human’s unconditional love is limited by his or her own ego and it’s rarely perfect. In my experience, a canine’s love is pure. The very fact that they never judge or criticize me is what makes me want to live up to their expectations, to be the person they believe I am. An inappropriately raised voice is enough to trigger a look from these sensitive ones, and that look stops me in my tracks. It isn’t a look of judgment – far from it.  Rather it’s a look that conveys compassion for whatever feeling triggered the tone. It’s the most pure and loving feedback one can get.

The Chilcote Pack

My three dogs: Whisper, Kairos and Heather. Photo by David Culp Photography.

Of course, the humans on my list are a close second when it comes to feedback. I can hear it because of the love that accompanies it. And because they accept my so-called flaws as simply a part of me, “feedback” is almost always reserved for instances in which I lose myself, and I am grateful to be brought back to my senses. It’s clean, simple and authentic. They just don’t seem to have a need to assess and judge indiscriminately, and this makes for a very freeing relationship.

So there. We are at our best when we are free of the opinions of others. Days later, this revelation hit me like another blinding insight into the obvious, and of course there is a mountain of research and evidence to support my observations.

People rise to the positive expectations others have of them.  In his beautiful book, The Art of Possibility, Benjamin Zander tells the story of an experiment he conducted as a teacher. At the start of the semester, he declared that each student had received an A.  He only asked that they write a letter a few months later stating why they got an A grade. His project led him to the conclusion that a grade was a possibility to live into, rather than an evaluative measure.

Like Zander’s students, the two people whose opinions matter to me always give me an “A” to start. And that leads to revelation number two, and why I believe Brown’s choice to dismiss the opinions of those other than her three designees has freed her to make enormous contributions to human awareness and understanding: We can contribute only when we accept that we each have something profound to give.

So many of us are searching for our purpose, our path and our voice. And our voice will never fully reveal itself until we can leave criticisms behind, because in considering them, we hold back.

For some time now, I’ve been thinking about the importance of self-acceptance as a prerequisite for most of the things we say we want in this life. But it’s a daunting, seemingly intangible concept. How does one find the capacity for it if it’s weakened? One small step just might be to dismiss the opinions of others who do not have our highest and best interest in mind.

Try Brown’s exercise. Identify the short list of people whose opinions really matter, then feel how free it can be.

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Compassion for Yourself

by Andrea Chilcote

I love it when this happens: someone very wise states a basic truth in a simple and elegant way and I hear it anew.

Andrea Chilcote; Brene Brown

That’s what happened when I read scholar Brene Brown’s advice to examine my judgments, to see if they’re really self-criticisms that compare something I feel is inadequate in me to someone who I view as “worse.”

I’ve known about this mirror thing for many years. The things we like or dislike about others serve as a mirror for those things we like or dislike about ourselves. The judgments we have of others are really self-criticisms. It all make sense, yet Brown’s message gave me a tool to go beyond self-awareness – to transformation. And, it’s important because without the process she outlines, looking in the mirror just produces more self-criticism.

Like every great tool, her process lends itself to interpretation. I’ll share mine here, in the hope it will be practical and useful to you too, spirited women.

  • Examine the judgment. Ask yourself: “In what way does this behavior I’m judging in someone else remind me of something I don’t like about myself?” This step requires introspection. Don’t rationalize it – seek the insight, even if it seems illogical.
  • Give yourself a break. Practice self-compassion. Forgive yourself. This is the most important step, and it’s easier because you have company.
  • Then, (are you ready for this?) – feel empathy for the person you were judging. That’s easy too, if you acknowledge the ways in which you thought or acted in similarly. Compassion for the other person becomes automatic because – and perhaps only because – you just felt genuine compassion for yourself.

This new insight doesn’t change the inevitable fact that judgments will arise in me. It doesn’t change the need to practice self-acceptance. But in the week or so I’ve been focusing on this, I’ve transformed quite a few criticisms of myself and others – things that were sitting below the surface affecting my quality of life in some small way.

Brown says the practice will bring more joy. I welcome that. How about you?

“It starts with showing compassion for ourselves. Only when we feel comfortable with our own choices—and embrace our own imperfections—will we stop feeling the driving need to criticize others.” —Brene Brown

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Mirror Mirror (2014)

Andrea ChilcoteEven though I’ve written of this “mirror” concept many times, Brene Brown helped me finally “get” it.

by Andrea Chilcote

What if many of the things we hear, see and experience, outside of ourselves, are just reflections of our own inner state? In each of our lives there exist other people and situations acting as mirrors for the aspects of ourselves that we either dislike or admire. If you believe, as I do, that all living things are part of a mass consciousness, separate in personality and possessing free will but connected energetically ‒ spiritually in fact, then this “mirror” principle makes sense. And, as is the case with many of my life lessons, a dog is teaching me just how closely connected we all are.

WhisperThis past year, I have learned that I have a four-legged mirror living in our home, sharing my life. Her name is Whisper. She’s a Malamute ‒ my husband’s Malamute to be precise, and she’s been our companion for eight years. I can hear her comment now, if only she could read a blog: “Yes, it’s taken Andrea eight years to get the message. Pitiful humans!”

The truth is, I’ve always been aware that Whisper reflects my feelings and fears. Whisper shows her sweet and loving demeanor to every human she meets. Other dogs? Not so much. So when we hike in the desert and inevitably run into other dogs, she often takes an aggressive stance, testing my physical strength (a Malamute is a strong creature) and frustrating me as a supposed leader. It would be easy to write her off as impossibly dog-aggressive or rationalize her behavior as protective of me or her handler, but there’s more at play here. Whisper mirrors my feelings. If I can remain present, calm and objective, there is usually no trouble. If I feel the fear of a potential fight, or, as is more likely the case, judgment of people who can’t or won’t control their own dogs, Whisper acts out my emotions. Knowing this, the solution seems simple ‒ yet managing feelings is far from easy. Dog Whisperer, Cesar Milan, advocates calling up a calm-assertive state of being, using an inside-out approach of managing one’s thoughts and feelings before taking outward action. I challenge you to try it now.

Imagine some person or group for whom you feel judgment ‒ from mild superiority to true disdain or contempt ‒ the degree does not matter. We all have these feelings at times. Okay, now that you’ve got it, try to release it. Stop feeling judgment, quickly. Tough, yes? For me, it can be very difficult and at the same time, a very worthwhile pursuit. If I can manage my thoughts and feelings, then I can manage my actions ‒ and this, in my opinion, is the key to the universe.

Go back to the judgmental state you just identified. What is this person or situation reflecting that is true for you? Do you feel a fear that was previously unrecognized? Is there some aspect of the other person’s behavior that triggers a memory of your own shortcomings, a mistake you made, a lesson you learned? Identify it, feel it, and ‒ here’s the magic ‒ it will be transformed.

Once a previously unconscious emotion is brought to the surface, your logical mind can make sense of it, and you can act appropriately. Take the feeling of fear, for example. If the fear represents a real threat, you can act on that. If the fear is based on history or a habit of thought, you can let it go. The truth will indeed set us free.

There’s a bonus to this process, given that we are all connected. When we transform our inner state, others respond in new ways. It makes for a more peaceful hike, as well as a better world.

Give Yourself An “A”

by Andrea Chilcote

The following post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a weekly blogger. 

Do you have the capacity to fully accept yourself, even in the face of criticism?

What a great lesson I learned from a talk by Brene Brown, bestselling author of Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.

With vulnerability comes inevitable criticism. Brown spoke of how she manages the disparaging remarks that come with a public life, and shared a personal technique she has for managing them. She keeps a slip of paper in her purse with the names of three people – the only people – whose opinions of her matter. These three love her despite her flaws, she says. They accept her as is.

I thought about that list all afternoon, and set out to make my own. I tried on so many, yet ended up with only two. While I’m blessed to have many loving friends, I know for sure that these two people love me about as unconditionally as a human being can. In turn, they’re the ones whose opinions of me matter. Isn’t that a funny paradox? The people who accept me regardless of what imperfections I might reveal, are the ones with whom I strive to be my very best.

By the way, my list only contains two humans, but it also contains my three dogs. Don’t roll your eyes – adding them revealed the meaning of my paradox. A human’s unconditional love is limited by his or her own ego and it’s rarely perfect. In my experience, a canine’s love is pure. The very fact that they never judge or criticize me is what makes me want to live up to their expectations, to be the person they believe I am. An inappropriately raised voice is enough to trigger a look from these sensitive ones, and that look stops me in my tracks. It isn’t a look of judgment – far from it.  Rather it’s a look that conveys compassion for whatever feeling triggered the tone. It’s the most pure and loving feedback one can get.

Of course, the humans on my list are a close second when it comes to feedback. I can hear it because of the love that accompanies it. And because they accept my so-called flaws as simply a part of me, “feedback” is almost always reserved for instances in which I lose myself, and I am grateful to be brought back to my senses. It’s clean, simple and authentic. They just don’t seem to have a need to assess and judge indiscriminately, and this makes for a very freeing relationship.

So there. We are at our best when we are free of the opinions of others. Days later, this revelation hit me like another blinding insight into the obvious, and of course there is a mountain of research and evidence to support my observations.

People rise to the positive expectations others have of them.  In his beautiful book, The Art of Possibility, Benjamin Zander tells the story of an experiment he conducted as a teacher. At the start of the semester, he declared that each student had received an A.  He only asked that they write a letter a few months later stating why they got an A grade. His project led him to the conclusion that a grade was a possibility to live into, rather than an evaluative measure.

Like Zander’s students, the two people whose opinions matter to me always give me an “A” to start. And that leads to revelation number two, and why I believe Brown’s choice to dismiss the opinions of those other than her three designees has freed her to make enormous contributions to human awareness and understanding: We can contribute only when we accept that we each have something profound to give.

So many of us are searching for our purpose, our path and our voice. And our voice will never fully reveal itself until we can leave criticisms behind, because in considering them, we hold back.

For some time now, I’ve been thinking about the importance of self-acceptance as a prerequisite for most of the things we say we want in this life. But it’s a daunting, seemingly intangible concept. How does one find the capacity for it if it’s weakened? One small step just might be to dismiss the opinions of others who do not have our highest and best interest in mind.

Try Brown’s exercise. Identify the short list of people whose opinions really matter, then feel how free it can be.

Closer to Fine

by Andrea Chilcote

An emerging theme this past week could be summed up in this sentence: “Show up and let yourself be seen and heard. There’s work to do.” So it seems fitting to share this post that appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where I’m a weekly blogger. 

For most of this year, I’ve been feeling like an Indigo Girl — closer to fine.

 And I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains

I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains

There’s more than one answer to these questions… and the less I seek my source for some definitive…

Closer I am to fine

Seriously, while I will seek to learn and thus grow until the day I die, my fifties (early fifties mind you), have freed me to admit I have gained some wisdom from the journey and am more or less comfortable with who I am.

And this is why I was stunned when I discovered Brene Brown. A research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, she has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Her 2010 TEDx Houston talk on the power of vulnerability is one of the most watched talks on TED.com, with over 6 million views.

I am no more than a third of the way through Brown’s current book, New York Times bestseller, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Yet  a few key sound bites have haunted me in the week since I downloaded the book to my Kindle.

Damn vulnerability. Is it not enough that I bare my heart and soul here? Not quite, I realize as I type the words. Brown writes: “Rather than sitting on the sidelines and hurling judgment and advice, we must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen.”

I’m not just “closer to fine.” I am fine, today. And tomorrow I have an opportunity to show up with even more courage and authenticity. Right now I am weary although joyful about the opportunity. Stay tuned for the stories.