“How are you?” is such an open-ended question. Technically it invites all manner of responses. Yet we so often come back with habitual (some may say glib) responses such as “fine” or “ok” or that old chestnut “not bad”… so my point is this: why do we give such short and non-descriptive answers to a question that offers an open invitation for so much more? Is it because we’re unaware it’s ok not to feel ok?
Some may say it’s because it’s just habit. It’s what we do. It’s what’s expected. Others may say that it’s just not the done thing. Other people aren’t really interested in how we are, it’s just a polite greeting, nothing more.
There’s also the more sinister notion that if for any reason we’re not smiling and shining brightly, then somehow, we’re failing. We may be judged. People may decide that because we’re not coping, then clearly we’re not up to the job. So saying “fine thanks” keeps us safe and hidden away, even if ‘fine’ is far from what we’re feeling.
Are we keeping our feelings under control?
The heavyweight of responsibility demands that we demonstrate consistent positivity and resilience. So much so that the pressure can become overwhelming in our bid to perform and prove. And yet, on the other end of the scale, the conversation around mental health and well-being is growing in pace and volume. We’re being invited to talk about our issues and to seek help wherever possible.
So here’s the paradox. With fewer jobs, more insecurity and rising pressure to deal with uncertainty, coupled with the sad fact that support systems are often over-stretched or under-resourced, is it any wonder that so many of us are simply doing our best to keep our feelings under control and carry on regardless? More than that, despite the invitation for us to be more authentic with our feelings, can it really be safe to offload and ask for support?
Well, my answer is yes it can. It can absolutely be safe to acknowledge how we’re feeling and to share with others in a way that fosters support and connection. Actually, I’d go so far as to argue that it’s critical for both individual and corporate health and success. I’m even prepared to put my neck on the line and suggest that even with just a few simple shifts to the way we’re used to doing things, we can start to make a healthy difference to the way we connect, perform and grow together.
The gift of intuition
Talk of ‘intuition’ among professionals is on the rise. It’s now being discussed and recognised as a super-power in business – you can Google for yourself to see how many people are talking about it. Essentially, this means we’re moving away from thinking (IQ) through to feeling (EQ) and into knowing (SQ). With all our senses aligned, it gives people a whole-being experience of the world, and the ability to tap into a much greater set of resources within us.
I’m glad it’s finally coming to light because this is the very practical work I have been developing and delivering over the past 10 years. It is through experience that I can categorically confirm it’s absolutely OK not to feel OK. I can also say, with hand on heart, that the outmoded advice to push down fear, think positive, armour up and fight through, has inadvertently caused stress and anxiety levels to increase. The ‘fake it til you make it’ mantras have fostered an insidious sense of imposter-syndrome and inadequacy.
All this can be realigned, rebooted and resolved.
The gift of connection
Look at it this way. If a small child comes to you feeling sad or upset, how do you respond? Do you tell him to ‘think positive’ to ‘put on a brave face’…. Do you admonish him for letting the side down because he’s upset? No. No, of course, you don’t. You go-to comfort, support, reassure and find out what’s happening.
So how is it then, that as adults, we are encouraged to put on a mask and keep smiling instead of genuinely enquiring what is going on?
Perhaps we’ve forgotten the absolute joy we feel in being able to brighten someone’s day. We’ve been flooded with wonderful stories this year about small acts of kindness that people have done for each other. Shopping for an elderly neighbour, baking a cake for a friend, communities coming together to support and care for each other – and 100-year old Captain Tom Moore, who cared so much he walked up and down his garden, raising over £30million in the process!
We love to help. We love to support, and we love to do our bit. And by sharing how we feel with others (in a way that feels real and safe) is not a burden. Quite the contrary. By sharing what’s happening, we give the gift of connection to those around us.
A different response
There’s a simple technique we at DNA Light Up have been sharing and playing with for a few years now to achieve exactly that result. It goes like this. Instead of answering ‘how are you’ with just a few words (which may or may not mean anything to you) start off by answering with a number. Yep, a number. Give yourself some kind of gauge to feel where you’re at in the moment – 1 being ‘on the floor’, and 10 being ‘top of the world’. Once you’ve got a number, then notice what word pops up for you. It may be a complete surprise. Or it may not. It may be a word you expect, or it may give you a new perspective. Get curious.
The point to remember here is that noticing you’re “2 and teary” is no better or worse than being “eight and shiny” – there’s no good or bad, positive or negative, right or wrong. This is all about noticing. From that point, the magic of acceptance and movement kick in – whether you’re enquiring of yourself, or other people. Once you’ve met yourself where you are (as opposed to where you think you ought to be) you have a true assessment, and can then start to ask yourself (and others) a whole set of other questions to take the next steps.
It’s Ok not to feel OK
It’s OK not to feel OK – in actual fact, it’s perfect! Feel what we feel. Notice what we notice. And from that noticing comes a knowing of connection, validation and self-worth.
Have you seen the film Avatar? If you have, you’ll probably remember them greeting each other with the words “I see you”… this comes from the African spirit of Ubuntu, it’s the acknowledgement people give each other when they meet.
The salutation Sawubona means “I see you” inviting the deeper meaning of I see all of you, exactly as you are.
The response Sikhona means “I am here” which means through you seeing all of me, you have brought me into existence through your eyes – until you saw me I didn’t exist.
So, allowing others to see us is a gift so many of us have learned to shy away from, which surely makes no sense whatsoever! So yes, it’s ok not to be ok – and by sharing what’s really going on, we are not only giving ourselves the greatest level of self-care, we’re also giving others the gift of being able to help.
I’ve made a short video explaining more about this technique, and I truly hope it inspires you to bring it into play for yourself. I’d love to hear how you get on!
To find out more about Melanie’s brilliant methodology and DNA Light Up – Watch the video below
Leadership coach, author, speaker and Founder of DNA Light Up – the ultimate inside job. Together we are reconnecting individuals, groups and companies to who they really are, way before the B.O.L.L.O.C.K.S (TM) took over. Reigniting our world, one person at a time.