Your great feedback from the last post really means so much. Post the blogpost, I had a lot of questions regarding how you sustain self-care/not burn out again.
Now this, might sound weird, but one of the main ways was after an ah-ha moment about how the ‘self’ works. Bare with me on this, cause it can sound a wee bit funky.
We all have 4 dominant ‘voices’ that keep us functioning as people: body, mind, soul and spirit. When I reflect on what led me to burn out, it was a result of mind and soul (feelings, gut, intuition) being the driving forces behind who I am. If I wasn’t analysing something, or feeling emotion, I was simply existing (something my mind would constantly remind me), and there is nothing more hopeless than the sensation that comes from feeling like you have no sense of purpose (especially to an ambitious filly like myself!)
As a natural by-product of prioritising these two voices above the others, my body and spirit were left in the dark, reaping the consequences of my strong performance driven mentality. Hence the coffee drinking, shortness with people and lack of compassion towards those I loved dearly.
So what are these four different ‘voices’ and how do they communicate to us:
Body – your body tells you when you need to use the bathroom, to eat, and to wake up. These tend to be the loudest ‘messages’ our body communicates, and habitually we respond to them. Yet there are other areas and subtle signs that our body is communicating to us. Take for example, sharp pain under your left rib, that can be the body communicating that the liver needs a rest and not too consume substances (food, alcohol etc.) that will burden it further. Or feeling weight in your shoulders, from poor posture and not getting enough air into your body. One of the main ones I noticed last year, was how agitated I would get and an inability to sit still when iron levels are low or I’ve done minimal exercise that day. If you’re keen to read up a bit more about the body and the way it works, I highly recommend reading Dr Libby’s What Am I Supposed To Eat (don’t worry, that’s not some funky sponsorship thing, I bought the book and genuinely loved it to understand how my body works best.)
Mind – your mind is in control of the systematic processes, habits, routines and the cognitive choices we make. We use it to analyse situations, to connect two unrelated things and find the connection. Our mind is a truly remarkable thing. I think it’s important to mention that emotions (soul) and the rational (mind) are two different things. In fact, in the brain itself, they are fairly separate (you can read more about the brain here). So the ‘mind’ does not automatically refer to the whole brain. The mind is incredibly strong, in that through justification and rational thinking it can make a lot of things seem truthful. The mind is what drives our performance based culture, “that’s only a small task, I can do that easily, I won’t burn out etc.” As we see in countless stories of people overcoming hardships that have come their way (physical loss, severe injuries, or even trained athletes), without a doubt, we sit back in awe at the resilience it took and the will power of the mind is remarkable. Like all things, however, if we rely solely on our mind it can lead into some unhealthy places. The mind may over-rationalise a traumatic circumstance and suppress the need for true grief, or the loss of empathy and compassion for others. Here’s where we begin to see the dominant performance based culture in the workplace come through. Traditionally emotion wasn’t as widely tolerated in the workplace as it is today. If you ‘play out the movie’, the ramifications of this, is you begin to see how the loss of compassion and empathy has become normalised. This results in office fights, passive aggressive gestures become the norm, and despite promotional marketing that states “we value people” the inside of an organisation does not reflect this. In the same way a mind-orientated workplace seems contradictory, so too do our lives appear when we live with the driving force of our decisions being solely mind-orientated.
Soul – the soul is easier to describe based on how/what it communicates about: feelings. It can also be known as our ‘gut/intuition’, and is something we tend to strongly rely on. In many chances the soul can be the place where passion can stem from, and gives us the initial rush to get something started. The only downside to the soul is that not everything it communicates is ‘true’. It can feel very truthful, but as we’ve learnt through looking at how the brain works, emotion doesn’t always link up directly to the rational parts of our brains. When the soul, gut and intuition become the only thing we rely on it can cause hurt and lack of consistency. This can affect how we perceive ourselves (relative to how we’re feeling and depending on the day) and others. The soul is a beautiful, raw and vulnerable space that when viewed with the respect it deserves as the valuable asset it is. Our soul is what provides our lives with a vibrance and light-heartedness that the mundane and methodical mind can not.
Spirit – this can be a touchy word and one easily dismissed. Yet, regardless of whatever your religious/spiritual beliefs are, I believe each one of us have a spiritual component, and this has only been strengthened, in researching more into neuroscience and the way the human body works. For me, the spirit is a grounded moral compass that governs the other voices. It has the ability to remind the soul that feelings are not the be-all-and-end-all, reminds the mind that all life is valued and having compassion and seeing the flaws in humanity is okay and not something to constantly be under the microscope of change. Finally the spirit, is what provides hope and reminds the body that it is significant, despite the loud messages of the soul and mind at times. When you look at it that way, you begin to see just how it works as a governing part. It is not so much diplomatic, as it is the source of deep gratitude, joy, compassion and rest. When the soul, mind and body get hung up on the detail, the spirit shifts the perspective.
Take this image for example, the response we have can help to put into context the different voices that make us who we are.
The body – you may feel a weird sensation run through your body. If you’re scared of heights you could imagine yourself standing on the moon looking back. If you’re frightened of the dark (I sure am), the thought of darkness surrounding could be mildly daunting.
The mind – methodically you’re probably trying to calculate something (the distance it would take to reach here, what lens was used on the camera, what life would be like out in space etc.)
The soul – you may feel a variety of things: overwhelmed, in awe, wonder, speculation, uncertainty. How do you feel when you realise everything and everyone you know is living on this small little dot.
The spirit – you may yourself looking at this small dot and sitting in deep awe, wonder and gratitude. This tiny blue dot in the middle of a vast universe contains life, humans, and creatures with the most remarkable ideas. It is a self-sustaining planet; a home for these creatures to develop revolutionary ideas, evolve and grow and shift, a place to understand and seek new opportunities. Above all, it is a humble reminder that no matter how big everything seems there is something beautiful and more grand to be found.
It’s one thing to know these 4 ‘voices’ it’s another to get them to work for you. Fortunately, we’ve got you covered. In this blogpost, there’s two practical tools to get you started in practising self-care right now.