Why You Should Question Your Motives Often

I’ve never agreed with the answer “I don’t know” to explain our own actions. Maybe it’s my drive to try and figure the world out or maybe it’s because I was brought up to think about what I had done if I had misbehaved and then was expected to reflect and fully apologise for it. I remember that my Dad would emphasise that there was a lesson in everything. Like the time I was 15 and wrote “Mr Brown is Gay” in the middle of my exercise book. And Mr Brown found it. He spent the whole lesson giving us a shouty lecture on the three meanings of ‘gay’ (homosexual, happy and the plain old offensive use of the word) then demanded from me which one I meant. “Happy gay, Sir” I replied with a smirk. At which he barked for me to get out of his class. I was a fairly rebellious teenager and usually spoke my mind which got me into trouble often, especially with Mr Brown. The offensive pages from my exercise book were ripped out and given to my father at the next parents evening. and I remember it like it was yesterday. The heavy lump drop from my throat into my stomach as I felt so ashamed that my proud Dad had to hear about how much of a little brat his princess daughter was. He took the paper and later on when we stopped at a pub for dinner he took it out of his pocket, unfolded it and put it on the table in between us.

“Why did you write this Shereen?” He asked me

“I don’t know” I said with a ‘please don’t hate me, I’m so sorry, I love you look on my face

“You must know” He said “You wrote it”. “Do you think he is gay?”

“I don’t think so. I think he’s got a wife” I replied in my ‘I don’t’ know what you want me to say’ voice

“And if he was, why do you need to write it on paper?” He challenged me

“I didn’t think he was going to see it. I wrote it when I was with my friends at the back” I confessed

“So you were showing off?” My dad asked, looking at me with a half but sympathetic smile

“Yeah.  I’m sorry I forgot to rip it out of my book” I pleaded

“Ok”. He said, taking the paper and folding it back up to put back in his pocket. “And what’s the lesson here Shereen?” He asked as he leant forward and stared into my adolescent eyes

“Next time rip it out of my book?” I questioned, again trying to say the right thing and not really knowing what that was

“Don’t write down bad things about people” He said “When you say something in the moment, you can apologise and take it back, but writing it on black and white is more permanent. And showing off is not a good characteristic to have Shereen”

I went silent at that point and then the memory fades. I know that what he said was so poignant that it made me think about my behaviour and why I’d decided to act that way.  I wasn’t homophobic, in fact my best friend at the time was homosexual but I hadn’t thought about the words I was using in the moment. I was just trying to be the funny kid who was showing off to impress my friends.

From an early age my parents started to get me thinking about my behaviour and expected me to self-police. When I messed up they would give me the time to think about why I did what I did and then evaluate whether or not I was proud of those values I was living by. Not only did this strengthen the moral compass of myself and my brother but it made me realise that if we question ourselves then we can find out why we behave the way we do, leaving “I don’t know” as an unacceptable answer. I realise that this is not a common parenting method these days and sometimes I wonder if my parents would find it amusing to play little experiments on my brother and I, in order to enforce critical thinking. We’re both well behaved citizens so it can’t have gone too wrong.

I used this skill when I had post traumatic stress and my hyperviligant ego would cause me to react in all sorts of crazy ways. Sometimes I couldn’t reflect and question straight away but over time I started to do this quicker and when I acted in a way which may have accidentally hurt someone I would dig deep to find out why. When we act upon our fears we can attack people, often blaming them for the way we feel when really that feeling is our own to be responsible for. The more we reflect and question our behaviour, the sooner we can get to the route of it, take responsibility for it and learn the lesson from the event. The final step is the apology. Not some half-arsed ‘I’m sorry’ in a whatsapp message after you’ve cheated on someone but a real apology that adds up to the weight of the action. One that expresses remorse and is honest. One that isn’t scared to feel the shame which identifies that our behaviour conflicted with our morals. One that acknowledges the action fully and accepts all the pain caused by it.

I’m 31 now but I recently got the chance to apologise to Mr Brown. It turns out that he owns the allotment across from my Mum’s and one day last summer we bumped into him. He didn’t remember my name but recognised me face and knew that he’d taught me somewhere in his 40 year career.

“I’m sorry for being a little shit and causing you so much grief in science class” I said

“I don’t really remember that” He said back with a bemused look on his face

“Well in case it comes back to you, I’m really sorry in advance” I told him

It goes to show that no-one’s perfect and as humans we’ve always got the potential to mess up in the moment. We also always have the potential to reflect, learn and apologise too.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Simcoe

Originally posted on www.shereensoliman.com

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What Is Integrity And Why Should We Care?

The word integrity gets flashed around a lot these days, but I wonder how many of us understand what it means and really know what it means to practice it?
To me, it’s like a constant questioning of my intention. A questioning that gets increasingly harder to answer as I delve into the various layers of emotional depth. The stronger my fear is, the more it’s running the show and often it’s only after that I can reflect and say ‘that wasn’t the best version of myself and it’s not who I want to be’. That necessary reflection is usually kicked in by a feeling of shame. A necessary feeling. If you read my word often you’ll know that I’m a huge admirer of Brene Brown and her work on shame, vulnerability and emotions in general and something that I think that is often overlooked in her work is the necessity of shame and how important it is that we feel it. It’s literally our signpost to align us back with our moral, our integrity.
I feel like there’s a convoluted message in society these days, as though we’re all striving for perfection to be the best human that we ‘should’ be. Appear to have integrity. Look good. Make money. Say the right things to please people. But along the way have we forgotten that we’re human? That the trick isn’t to act how we ‘should’ constantly, and thus avoid ever feeling shame. But instead, to look out for that feeling of shame (or guilt which it sometimes can be), acknowledge what it that’s triggered that emotion and reconcile what wasn’t aligned with our values.
The thing is that this constant awareness is actually a daily struggle and it takes a whole lot of self policing to stay on top of it. Was that me or my ego? Am I sabotaging or acting intentionally? Am I happy with the person I am right now?
It’s difficult for me. I’m still very much run by fear somedays. The fear that I’ll get hurt emotionally or physically and the stronger the fear, the more conflicted my emotions. At least with the questioning and reflecting I can look back and decide which version of Shereen I like best and make reconsiliations if necessary. To me that’s the real meaning of integrity. But as always I’m open to comment, call outs and debate. After all, I’m still only learning.
Photo Credit: Massimo Mancini
Originally posted on www.shereensoliman.com

A PTSD Recover’s Guide To Dating Online

Online dating is high on my vulnerability list. I haven’t dated in just over a year and the last time I did it was with a guy who was passive aggressive and scared me enough to recluse back into the hole I’d crawled out of. Now I’m venturing out into the new territory of online dating, and my my, what a minefield it is.

From a woman’s point of view we get inundated with messages, some creepy, some lovely but lots of them, often. From a guys point of view I’ve heard they get ghosted, preyed upon (hello cougars) and viscously demonised from women who’ve been hurt in the past (ouch, sorry dudes). Some of the online dating world seems to be a full on fight until the death. But some of us are ducking the bullets and waving the white flag as we search for authentic beings who are acting from their heart and not their ego.

Once out of the battle, things get even more confusing as we move into whirlwind of what seems like a dating world on speed. As one of my friends explains she’d gone from being in a relationship, to being dumped, to having a date, breaking up and then having a tentative date cancel and spring her back into the heartache of singledom all over again. And this was just one week. I don’t know what this is doing to our dopamine and cortisol levels but I can imagine that such fast paced highs and lows are unhealthy. Surely there has to be a better way to find love in these technological times? After much discussion and trying out various tactics we’ve come up with some guidelines to help create authentic dating experiences in what seems like an incredibly falsified arena.

  1. Slow things down

In the world of instant gratification that we now live in, it can be difficult to take things slow. Especially when we have that buzz of excitement when we find out someone who we like, is also interested in us. Suddenly we can race away with thoughts of our first date, and what they’re like and before we know it we’ve created a whole world based on a few pictures and some black and white text. An imaginary illusion created by our own expectations of someone who we’ve never even met before. Even when we do meet them, we can continue to race into the fantasy of what we’ve created without even knowing whether they’re on board. When we find out they’re not, our hopes crash and burn leaving us feeling dropped from heaven in a sad little mess. And over what? Someone who don’t actually know that well, but who we heavily invested in the illusion of. To escape the rollercoaster of these intense ups and downs the trick is to slow things down. This allows us to see the reality and take every message and meeting for what it is – an opportunity to get to know someone. It takes quite a while to get to know who someone really is and when it comes to dating it more important than ever to take the time to get to know a person, especially if we are looking for someone to share marriage and having children with. These big life decisions take a lot of time and energy investment so doesn’t it make sense to spend time collecting the knowledge to make an educated decision? Keep checking in with your feelings regularly to figure out if you genuinely like the person or if you genuinely like the idea of them.

You will only truly know someone if you take the time to get to know them truly.

  1. Don’t present an image of yourself, let them find out who you are

This is a tricky one because all the dating sites have an ‘about me’ section and this can leave a lot of temptation to describe who we think we are. Try to avoid presenting an image of who you think you are and instead let that person find out who you are. You know, like back in the day when we all used to meet up a few times over a long period and let each other’s personality unravel naturally. There was none of this ‘I’m this kind of person, and I do x, y and z’. Instead we just used to have conversations about stuff and hope that we had something common to chat about (given that we’d probably like the look of each other if we’d already been drawn to conversing). Stick to talking about the things you do in your life and what you like. The person on the other end will start to figure out who you are based on your attitude and your actions. If they like what they hear/see they’ll stay, if not let them go and move on to the next. If anything that’s the beauty of online dating – lots of variety right at your finger tips.

  1. Focus on the experience, not the results

Online dating is not a transaction. It’s not like we’re at a cattle market measuring up the animals against our never ending check list of what we’re looking for. As a western society we need to step away from this idea that there is this perfect result at the end of the game for us, whether that is the house, car and 2.4 children or any result in fact. Online dating, like all of life’s lessons is about enjoying the experience regardless of the result. Have a laugh with it and take it for what it is – a place to meet, converse and potentially find a person to enjoy new experiences with. If someone doesn’t message you back, try not to get upset over it. If someone messages you who you’re not into, tell them ‘thanks but I’m not interested’. Yes it’s a shame when we hope to find love instantaneously and it seems like we’re not getting anywhere fast but focus on enjoying the experience and the journey will seem shorter.

  1. Have fun and show your playful side

Imagine this, you’re in a bar and there are some sexy people who you like the look of at the opposite end of the room. Some have stern faces and seem to make snide comments at people who approach them. Some are smiling and laughing, generally having fun and looking approachable. Some are staring right at you with needy looks on their faces, longing for you to approach them. Who would you go and speak to first?

Personally I’m going to approach the smiling, laughing fun group, because they look like fun to hangout with. Well, online dating works on the same principles – people will approach you based on how approachable you seem to be. Obviously this is subjective to each person but for me this starts with a smile, because to me that shows that the person is enjoying life, because if I’m going to spend my time with someone then I want to do it with someone who would add to my life not take away from it. I also like messages from people who sound fun and approachable too because it makes me want to converse with them, rather than questions that make me feel like I’m being measured up against a check list. I think like this with my own profile too, fun pics of me doing things I enjoy and light hearted conversations that are usually full of banter. You’ll always attract what you put out, so if you’re not getting the type of responses you want, start with looking at what you’re sending.

  1. Don’t take things personally

People will always bring their own shit and most of the time they won’t be aware of it. We all have our own shit. Them, you and me too. The trick is to try and be aware of it so we don’t bring it to the dating table and to also not take it personally when it heads our way. That’s not to say that we should accept maltreatment or not call people out when they treat us bad (if you’ve read any of my other blogs you’ll know that I’m the first to call out low moral standards). What I’m saying is that it doesn’t do us justice to attach our own self worth on the opinion of others, especially someone who we barely know. We live in a culture that judges quickly based on little information and on the battlefield of online dating there are some twisty daggers at play. Negativity and resentment can build up pretty quickly if we take every little thing personally, so don’t take it on board and move on to someone who sends you the kind of messages you do want. Eventually you’ll attract the person you want with the positivity you shine out.

To really step into authentic online dating, it helps to take it out of online realm as soon as possible because you will only start to really know someone when you know how you feel about them. You know when you get that subconscious inkling of ‘it just feels right’ or ‘something is a bit off here’. This doesn’t mean violating rule number one and running into a dating scenario fast. It means gathering more information in a face to face situation so that your subconscious can pick up on things that your conscious might not, then you can be more true to yourself.

This isn’t the easiest guide to follow in the world, and as with all my blogs it requires a great deal of self awareness and mindfulness. It is achievable though and there are authentic and conscious people using online dating platforms,with this guide I hope you find them. Happy searching.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Originally posted on www.shereensoliman.com

 

3 Habits To Drop In The Quest For More Meaningful Relationships

I often get funny looks when I talk about personal development, human behaviour or emotional intelligence. As though these subjects are some kind of taboo, when really it’s the study of what we’re doing, how we’re doing it and most importantly, how we can do better. In fact, it boggles my mind that so many people go about their lives with a lack of awareness of their behaviour and how they can improve it. I mean discussing these are the things actually help us engage in more authentic and meaningful relationships. Why wouldn’t we discuss them? Craziness. Well, it’s probably because acknowledging these subjects would highlight the amount of work each of us needs to do on ourselves, which in an instant gratification society isn’t the most pleasing scenario. In fact, we’ve run away from it for so long that now that there are some common bad habits that stop us engaging in meaningful relationships all together. Here are 3 habits to become aware of (and limit) if you want to move towards engaging with more meaningful relationships.

  1. Watching TV for the sake of watching TV

Personally I’m not much of a TV watcher, in fact it’s very rare for me to sit in front of the TV unless I intentionally want to watch something. I mean, of course I get watching TV for inspirational films, or documentaries, or even just to chill out for an evening every once in a while. But to watch it unnecessary every evening, just to flick through the channels rather than engage in conversation or go out and do something meaningful is eventually destructive to our social skills. TV itself isn’t bad, but the overuse of it has lead to a lack of engagement between people to the point where we are losing the skills to communication. Skills that are necessary for us to successfully progress in our personal and professional life. Aside from that, I think the whole concept of mindlessly watching TV is kind of bizarre. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me. But I can’t help wonder why would I pay to sit inside and watch people pretend to be other people in fictional situations when I can go into a crowded place and watch real life unfold for free? Or when I can talk at length and in depth to people and reflect with them about our own crazy-ass situations. Analysing, debriefing and picking up the lessons we learn from our own lives. Mind-boggling.

  1. Getting drunk into the abyss, frequently.

I realise that this is predominantly an English, American and Australian trait as I’ve found that many European and Asian cultures drink for taste rather than effect. It may be relevant to other cultures too – I haven’t travelled everywhere so I wouldn’t know. My question is – why do we do this? Could it be to escape the mind? To numb the mind from particular thoughts? Negative thoughts, inquisitive thoughts or just an overload of pecking thoughts. I think drinking is often used as a subconscious coping strategy to escape ourselves, under the rouse of excuses such as ‘I just drink to have fun’ or ‘but everyone else does’. When people tell me that they don’t drink to escape themselves and that they could stop at any moment, I ask them to challenge themselves to stop drinking for a month, cold-turkey. I mean stopping anything for a month is surely a personal challenge worth taking to watch our progress in life isn’t it? At least to make sure that we’re not being controlled by the mental addiction to a substance that’s messing up the body in the meantime. The thing is that the thoughts we avoid talking about are the thoughts that many of us have, and admitting them is what can help create the connections between us. These thoughts can be what bridge together our vulnerabilities which is where deep and meaningful relationships are connected. Avoiding them literally builds barriers between us, but you don’t have to take this from me Brené Brown did 13 years of PhD research on this very subject which is pretty credible evidence in my opinion.

  1. Not saying exactly what we mean.

What is this about? When did talking so honestly become so offensive? I get told all the time that I’m too direct – really? Or is it that I’m just pointing out the obvious which no one else wants to because they’re cloaked in subconscious fear of not getting validation from the people they’re talking to? I find it really strange that people are so scared of speaking the truth, their truth. Sometimes it even gets to the point where families, friendships and whole organisations can swim around in so much bullsh*t that everyone sees yet no one points out. Then when an honest person does come about everyone gets offended when they’re told the truth. This is a hilarious observation that I make often and it makes me feel like I’m watching a sitcom from the 80’s – with the overacting facial expressions from the audience because it seems that obscene to me. The thing is that when the truth is spoken, it provides feedback. This feedback causes a reflection on the current situation, the opportunity to view problems, talk about solutions and allows for a discussion of how things can be done better. It’s necessary for our human progression and, yes, you guessed it, meaningful relationships because the truth often lies within our vulnerabilities. Or we can keep swimming in the bullsh*t, never actually saying anything meaningful and looking clueless when something goes wrong. Strange human behaviour if you ask me.

Personally I believe that something deeper lies beneath these actions and the clues are in our subconscious emotions. We need to ask why are we escaping through the TV rather than engaging with each other? Why are we choosing to drink ourselves into the abyss so regularly? And why do we avoid speaking the truth, even when we know it’s right? The sooner we start finding out the better, because in the meantime our meaningful relationships are at stake.

The real knack is being able to catch out your own behaviour in your emotion and have the awareness to choose your reaction in a mindful way.  Kind of sounds like something out of the matrix right? Apart from it’s not, it’s just awareness and emotional intelligence. The very tools that help us take control of the steering wheel of our life, surely isn’t that motivation enough to at least question our habits?

Photo Credit Michael Ramey

Originally posted on www.shereensoliman.com

A Call To Re-Brand ‘Mental Health’

I’m all up for ‘frazzled cafes’, talking openly about our emotions and any intervention available to help people process their emotions in an open, authentic and non-judgemental fashion. However, this is when the marketing personality inside me intervenes and points out an obvious flaw that a lot of support groups (with great intentions) seems to overlook: the words ‘mental health’ are so shameful in our western society that many of these support services don’t reach the people who need their services the most.

To talk openly about mental health means first acknowledging that we need help and in our society this is one of the most shameful things you can admit.

The term ‘mental health’ holds a strong association with being weak, broken or out right crazy. So with all that predetermined stigma are you really going to admit that you have a ‘mental health’ issue? I mean, are you freaking crazy?!??!? Of course you’re not.

The most common belief is that asking for help means admitting failure or a weakness – because through mass marketing we’ve been sold the idea that in order to be a ‘successful’ member of society we should be able to deal with everything life throws at us independently. Also, for any little problem we have, we are told we can buy a solution for it.

Thanks consumerism, big Pharma, and all the top dogs in corporations who are creaming the profits off this dysfunctional belief. I hope the Superyachts and sports cars fill the gaping void of thriving emotional connections. 

However, we’re starting to realise that this idea we were sold was an illusion. In fact, there isn’t a quick fix for emotional situations. We can take a pill to lessen the blow temporarily. We can avoid through substance abuse, temporarily. We can even project our pain out in ways to deflect attention from ourselves, until we are eventually held responsible for this. But the truth is that to resolve these emotional whirlwinds and be authentically happy we must validate, own and process our emotions. And guess what the real beauty in all this is – it’s a fundamental part of the beautiful human experience that we are all living. If this kind of personal development and emotional intelligence was marketed this way then we might not have the mental health, depression and suicide rates that we do.

If I’ve not yet won you over with my argument then let me give you some examples. Any one who is familiar with the work of Brene Brown, her TED talks and audio book will understand the concepts I’ve explained above but I wonder if you know why this knowledge reached you?

Brene Brown’s TED talk exploded over the internet (currently more than 6.5 million you tube hits). While her research is ground breaking, I believe much of the success was the way it was branded – authentically, vulnerable and in a way that aspires people to jump on board. Brene Brown’s work is all about emotions, specifically the emotion of shame, how we avoid it and that by doing so stifles our abilities to connect as humans. Brene Brown didn’t call her first talk ‘Shame – the emotion stifling our wholeheartedness’, instead she framed it in a way us marketeers are told to market: Sell the benefits, not the features. Instead her flagship talk was titled ‘The Power of Vulnerability’, and her whole approach draws you in and inspires you to live more openly and vulnerably, like she does.

Another brand that does this very well is motivational life coach Tony Robbins.

‘Want to be more successful in your personal and business life?‘ -Tony Robbins.

Well, yeah of course. Who doesn’t want that?

‘Want to come on a 5 day immersive course and face the demons you hide inside and expose them in a safe and none judgemental environment to overcome and develop as a fully authentic human being?’ – My interpretation of what happens from watching the Netflix documentary and lots of his YouTube videos (I haven’t yet gone to one of his workshops but will soon, I hope).

Urgh, no thank you. I’ll stay put pretending like I’m fine and everything in my life is as perfect as I’m led to believe it should be while I slowly crack under the pressure of this illusion.

The difference between this marketing and that of mental health awareness charities is that one lifts it’s market out of the shame and fear cloud without them realising, while the other one points it out for all to see. Not cool if you’re the person underneath it. This is why I believe so many mental health charities fall short of reaching their audience. I mean, they’re literally selling the opportunity to admit failure and weakness openly in a society which will judge and shame a person for ‘coming out’ and admitting that they have these normal human emotions. Or at least that’s how many of the market might see it. (If you don’t believe me, try suggesting counselling or therapy to any British person and see how you offering fairs – I’ve heard it’s different in the States but I’m writing from and for the UK so my observation is from here).

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be talking openly about difficult life situations or that help shouldn’t be advertised. I am however saying that there is a call for marketing these services in the language of the market listens to, and that is one of aspiration. The marketing these services needs to be done with the same psychological marketing approaches that many corporate companies have been using for years. In fact, it’s about time that we used these tools for good intentions, rather than solely that of quick fix consumerism. Maybe it’s time to start selling the authentic human experience rather than an illusion which only a few people benefit from. I don’t know, they’re my thoughts. I’ll leave the the conclusion for you to decide.

If you like it, please share it. Share the emotional intelligence!

Photo Credit Edu Lauton

Originally posted on www.shereensoliman.com