It’s now the Year of the Sheep (Yáng) in the Chinese Zodiac. Since my mother is Taiwanese, and a sheep, I consider it a good idea to make this my first ever Chinese New Year’s Resolution. I’m also doing this because it’s near-perfect timing for where I am in life right now.
Resolution: Embracing my inner “sheep,” a.k.a. fears/vulnerability/shyness, and self-empathy.
The empathy is closely related.
Actually, I spent a lot of the past year focusing on this, but primarily in a social sense. I want to continue focusing on it in a social sense, and seeing myself blossom in this way, but I want to also focus on my fears that are blocking me from general task-centered activities, such as those related to career, finance, and personal organization. Many of these fears (most?) are also social. But instead of being about intimate relationships/friendships, they might be like the fear of asking for a raise or the fear of applying for a job or writing an important email.
This is going to be a project, including elements that I’ve used in a previous project on self-coaching. I’m definitely going to use self-coaching. Unfortunately, that project didn’t seem to stick with me, in that I didn’t continue self-coaching at all afterward. However, I’m glad I did that project, and I’m going to consider this one as building upon that one (as well as a lot of other things). I want this one to stick. A major goal of this project is to figure out how to develop a system for facing my fears that will last me far beyond this project.
In my last post, I said I would continue to focus on nonviolent communication (NVC), and I have. It hasn’t been in as structured of a way as I would like, but I have definitely continued to focus on it and reap the benefits of doing so. I also just gained so much from that one month of focusing intensively on it that has stuck with me, and the benefits are continuous.
Some examples of how learning NVC has benefitted me since my last post:
1. I’ve had an ongoing, profound boost in confidence in my ability to deal with conflicts and therefore to maintain healthy relationships. Which has spread to confidence in other areas, such as my job.
2. I’ve been able to maintain a good relationship with my boss, and feel like I’m actively maintaining it rather than him just being in a different mood about me. Once he said to me, “You don’t care, and it shows.” In the past, I would have just heard this as a judgmental criticism, as him not caring about me. And I kind of did at first. But then I decided it would be more beneficial to both of us if I simply listened for his need here. Why was he saying this? Not because of me—he was saying it because he was needing something. Although I did not go as far as asking him what he was needing, I did listen for it and make a guess and change my behavior to try to meet the need I guessed.
A few days later, I asked for a raise, and got it. This was the first time I had asked him for a raise, and I was quite pleased with the result. I’m even more pleased because I’m pretty sure that when I told my coworker, this gave her the confidence to ask for a raise for herself and another coworker, which they also got. All three of us had been discussing this for a while.
My commitment to 30 days of focusing on nonviolent communication was satisfied as of September 28. It was a resounding success. Here is an overview of how it went, as well as some thoughts for the future.
The Social Media Element
In order to keep myself focused, I committed to practicing NVC at least once a day on social media (mostly Twitter). I missed only one day, and that was just because I was busy that day and forgot. I made up for it the next day with multiple posts.
This was indeed helpful in keeping me focused. Otherwise I may have spent my days thinking about NVC without ever concretely practicing it. Although I did practice it in other ways, I think I spent a far greater time thinking about it than practicing. I think that it is also helpful just to think about it, because our thoughts can be violent or nonviolent, but NVC is often work. Particularly, it is work to learn to communicate nonviolently when we’re so used to communicating and thinking violently.
I did see some major effects on my relationships from practicing NVC during this month.
First and foremost, I had one of the most important conversations I’ve ever had in my life. A long-term sexual relationship I was in was up in the air – we had been struggling for months and didn’t know where things stood with each other. We had both been procrastinating on having this conversation with each other.
Perfectionism in our society is tied to consumerism. If you don’t DO anything but consume perfect images of others, of course you’ll be perfectionistic. I’m talking about the combination of consuming many things without ever doing them. Without exercising our own creativity, our own abilities.
Oh look! Let’s watch these privileged wealthy people judge a bunch of young dancers and tell them whether they can dance or not!
I remember in high school watching So You Think You Can Dance? and always wishing I could be a talented dancer like on that show. Being frustrated that I didn’t have that opportunity, but was just sitting there watching a show and accomplishing nothing. That’s why I came to hate TV. I didn’t get to do much as a youngster other than watch TV.
And I was a major perfectionist. My first week of college, I auditioned for a dance performance group at my university (experience not required). I quit in the middle of the pirouettes because I felt too embarrassed that I couldn’t do them at all – everyone else was able to at least get through them, even the ones who told me they’d never had any dance lessons in their lives.
Now that I do social dancing, I don’t consider myself a talented dancer, but I don’t care that I’m not a talented dancer. Because that’s not what dancing is about. To me, dancing is about physical activity, creativity, feeling the music, physical intimacy, human connection, having fun, community, relaxation, learning, self-expression, inspiration, beauty. Perfectionism doesn’t fulfill any of these universal human needs, but comes from a misguided attempt to fulfill them. Dancing, however, does.
I just wrote the following letter to Brené Brown (technically just a message through the form on her website). She’s a shame and vulnerability researcher who became famous when her TED talk on vulnerability went viral a few years ago.
Dear Dr. Brené Brown,
I watched your famous TEDx talk a few years ago and just finished reading your book, “The Gifts of Imperfection.” First of all, thank you for your excellent research and thoughts on vulnerability. There is no work that is more important in this world, and you’re clearly doing a good job of it. After reading your book, I have some suggestions for what you could explore that I think would help round out your thoughts on vulnerability.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with the framework of nonviolent communication, as laid out by Marshall Rosenberg, and I know you wrote the book a while ago, but I got the impression that you were not particularly familiar with it as of the writing of this book. I think it is right up your alley, and it’s thoroughly and clearly explained in Rosenberg’s book, “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life.” This is a form of communication based on empathy, and “vulnerability” is a word Rosenberg uses a few times in this book. It’s also extremely practical, involving four simple steps: observation separate from judgment, expression of related feelings, expression of needs/desires causing these feelings, and concrete request to help us satisfy our needs/desires.
I am now more than halfway through my 30-day project to focus on nonviolent communication (NVC) and practice it via social media. Want to give a quick update just to make sure I share something before it ends. This has been enormously helpful to me so far.
The commitment I made via this blog was to practice NVC via social media at least once a day for 30 days. The social media aspect is primarily just to keep me focused on the bigger project of focusing on developing my nonviolent communication skills. I’ve actually been getting tired of Twitter as a result of this, but I do have trouble concentrating, so it’s been helpful to the end of NVC. I’m impatient to be done with Twitter for a while, but it’s the easiest way for me to stand by my commitment.
A Month+ of NVC
I made a much bigger commitment to myself: to really spend 30 days focusing on nonviolent communication, in order to build a strong foundation of NVC skills. I plan on continuing to focus on it after 30 days, but haven’t yet laid out (much) how I will ensure that I continue to work on it.
I won’t try to say what the future holds, where this will take me in the long run or even where I’ll be tomorrow. I don’t want to force things with predictions, as I think I did that a bit too much with my last major self-confidence project. But I am sure, after more than two weeks of this, that I cannot live anymore without a continuous effort to improve my nonviolent communication skills.
Yesterday I decided to start a new project: for 30 days, I will practice nonviolent communication (NVC) on social media. NVC is based on the framework presented by Marshall Rosenberg in his book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. I’ll explain below how this is related to self-confidence, but first a brief summary of NVC.
This practice can involve any aspect of the NVC framework. It is essentially a way of practicing empathy through language, and it consists of four components:
- Observation without evaluations.
- Expression of feelings related to observation.
- Expression of met or unmet needs and desires that lead to these feelings.
- Concrete request for action that will help meet these needs/desires.
There are two parts to this, and one needs to participate in at least one of these parts to participate in NVC:
- Expression of our own observations, feelings, needs/desires, and requests.
- Listening for the observations, feelings, needs/desires, and requests of others without evaluating them.
So what does this have to do with self-confidence? A lot. NVC can be practiced with oneself as with another, because we can speak violently to ourselves as well. Of course, how NVC impacts our relationships with others also greatly affects our self-confidence. For this is a language of affirmation: of affirming our reality, our experiences, our existence, and of working to fulfill all our needs. What can be more confidence-inspiring than that?