The Journey to the Interior
Love & Compassion

So Valentine’s day has come and gone and perhaps you find that glow of love you were experiencing up to, and including the 14th February, has started to wane. Perhaps it’s come and gone, almost as quickly as your motivation for your new year’s resolutions…! If however, you felt love came and went a little too quickly, know that from a brain and body point of view, it did. In fact, according to Dr Jill Bolte Taylor, Harvard-trained neuroanatomist and author of ‘Whole Brain Living’ and ‘My Stoke of Insight’, most emotions that we experience in response to something in our environment, last only 90 seconds. This is the amount of time needed for our brains to start a chemical process in response to whatever we have noticed and to prepare our bodies for action, and then to return to a state of homeostasis, or neutrality, before the next emotion arises. That 90 seconds however, is long enough for us to start thinking about what we’re feeling, and to start adding our ‘story’ to that emotion and in doing so, we can stimulate the chemical process again and again. Replaying that chemical process and the associated feelings when it comes to love is definitely not a bad thing and most of us do this regularly when we think on our nearest and dearest.

Quick question here… when you just read those words ‘nearest and dearest’, who did you think about? Did you immediately bring to mind your wife, husband, partner, child, parent, friend or even an animal? Did you smile and feel that familiar flood of warmth through you body? I’m so glad if you did as you just experienced a micro-moment of emotional regulation [more about that in future blogs]. So here’s another question for you – how many of you thought of yourselves when you thought about ‘your nearest and dearest’? How many of you felt a rush of warmth and affection for yourself? After all, who is nearer and dearer to you than yourself? You may be shaking your head now and thinking, that’s crazy, but here’s the final question. ‘Why didn’t you think of yourself, with love and tenderness, as one of your nearest and dearest?’

This year at Factor10 Consulting, our theme is ‘The Journey to the Interior’ as we believe that in order to grow, change and thrive, we need to start within. Who are we? What do we think? What do we feel? A journey to the interior however, is useless if we don’t understand how our internal landscape of thoughts and feelings impacts our behaviour. Each month, we would like to invite you to join us as we journey inwards, explore various destinations within and then travel outwards to see how we can more positively impact others, within our personal and professional spaces. And this February, we would love [sorry, had to!] for you to travel with us as we set off to discover the necessity of love and compassion.

The interior journey to love is all about cultivating a strong sense of self-compassion. Self-love, self-compassion, self-kindness, self-care – are all terms that have been popping up more frequently, brought to our awareness by people like Kristen Neff and Brené Brown, researchers, academics and professors. Self-love is often defined as a ‘state of appreciation for oneself that grows from actions that support our physical, psychological and spiritual growth’ [Brain & Behaviour Research Foundation], whereas self-compassion can be defined as having the same compassion that you would have for others, for yourself. In their research, both Neff and Brown have discovered the absolute necessity of self-love and self-compassion in building robust mental health, resilience, emotional agility and motivation. But if self-love does all this, why are we not all taking a daily dose? Over many years, self-love has been associated with vanity, narcissism, egotism and conceitedness and in many cases, it is believed to be a moral flaw. However, science is now showing us that self-love and self-compassion are the very foundations upon which we can reach out and care for others and do we not have a moral duty to ensure that those foundations are as strong as possible?

You may be familiar with Gary Chapman’s work in ‘The Five Love Languages’ where he posits that we all have our own language, which is our own particular way of communicating our love for someone and we also need to receive love from others in that same language, in order to really feel it. The love languages he refers to are; Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Gifts, Physical Touch and Acts of Service. After asking my Acts of Service husband to tell me he loved me, after making me a delicious dinner [guess what I am?!], I started to think about how we could use the five languages to build our foundations of self-love and self-care. Regardless of our own personal love language, perhaps we could leverage all five, by asking ourselves the following questions:

  • Am I taking enough time to spend on the things that bring me joy and happiness?
  • Do I use gentle and uplifting words, say kind things to myself and speak to myself like I would to a loved one?
  • Do I give myself meaningful and heart-warming gifts? These gifts may be tangible, like a good book or intangible, like the gift of time or the gift of a retreat.
  • Am I physically kind to myself and do I treat my body with respect and care?
  • Do I do things for others, without wanting anything in return, simply to feed my soul?

Moving from the Interior to the Exterior:

You have probably heard that you can only care of others as much as you care for yourselves – or put another way, borrowing from the aeroplane analogy – put on your own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs. All of this is true, and it is absolutely critical to show colleagues, peers and subordinates care and compassion. After all, that person you are leading is a human being too.

Showing care and compassion to colleagues doesn’t make you a weak leader. In fact, the research has shown, particularly over the last two years, that the strongest leaders are the ones who model vulnerability, compassion and care. This doesn’t mean condoning poor performance or allowing bad behaviour, but what it does mean is trying to understand the root cause of that poor performance or bad behaviour before acting on it. Given the pandemic of the last two years and the disruption and anxiety it has caused so many, it is hardly surprising that we may not be performing at our best anymore.

We can also use Chapman’s work to develop our capacity to care externally. We can find out what people’s love language is – just ask if you need to – and we can then tailor our conversations and actions to fulfilling that love language. For example, a words of affirmation person may benefit hugely from having you, their leader, verbally acknowledge them for something very specific. This doesn’t have to happen every day and it doesn’t even have to happen in public – this is not to be confused with feedback. Rather this is a way to help people feel heard and valued, to felt cared for and honoured. After all, don’t we all want to feel this way, not just at work, but in every interaction we have? When we feel heard and recognised, we are so much more willing to engage and participate.

To help people survive and then thrive, takes emotional care and mental compassion and if as we mentioned above, care and compassion lead to better resilience, a stronger sense of psychological safety, more engagement and increased performance, is it not our responsibility to love and care for not only ourselves, but our fellow humans?

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