TL;DR : (Self-compassionate) Critical Self-Reflection is the key to personal and planetary transformation.
I have been MIA on social media lately because I have been -- like so many of us (especially Highly Sensitive People!) -- soaking up the current world-dynamic and LISTENING -- truly listening -- to what people are saying, feeling, and needing during this collective transformation.
If you needed any more evidence that we are at a collective tipping point in our human existence, this month would be it. Our global population has decided it is time for change, and we are waking up to the injustices and oppression worldwide. 2019 was riddled with protests that shouted against growing imbalances of power. Living in Hong Kong myself, I have first-hand witnessed impressively large, (mostly) peaceful, and organized year-long protests against Beijing’s pending control.
And now, 2020 has proven itself as the most collectively transformative year in memory with first a global pandemic and a follow-up economic fallout, and now a global “wake-up call” about race relations that may have begun in the USA, but has spread worldwide.
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is not new, but has increasingly gained momentum with each violent and lethal injustice toward unarmed Black people. The most recent deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd (and many others) have brought the ethos of BLM to the streets of nearly all major cities worldwide.
And now we as a collective world must address MANY collective issues: race relations, an ongoing virus, economic crisis, social-class inequalities, political oppression, increasing government control...and so much more.
So if you haven’t picked up on it yet, the key word of 2020 is definitely: COLLECTIVE.
This is not a “them” issue anymore.
Our personal consciousness can and IS affecting the planet. So, it is time to start transforming ourselves personally so ultimately - we can transform the world (and yes, you guessed it, collectively).
So before you become absolutely overwhelmed by it all (and it’s OK if you are), I want to offer you the single most important action you can do to begin:
(Self-Compassionate) Critical Self-Reflection.
Yes, it starts with YOU.
Now more than ever we must recognize how our personal consciousness is also planetary. How our internal thoughts, emotions, and beliefs not only ripple through our immediate circles, but influence the whole damn world.
The most vital phase of Transformation that I feel many of us are missing right now:
(Self-Compassionate) Critical Self-Reflection.
I have added the (Self-Compassionate) prefix because the key word in this phase is CRITICAL. This means questioning ALL of your beliefs, assumptions, and perceptions, so it WILL drudge up A LOT of shame, doubt, and pain.
But “Doing this Work” self-compassionately will encourage you to continue on the path to personal -- and planetary --- Transformation, rather than shutting down completely.
So, what is Critical Self-Reflection? (and a little background info)
In order to understand Critical Self-Reflection, it is important to know Mezirow’s 10 phases of transformative learning (only 4 of which I will describe more in detail here… give me a call if you want to understand how the other phases unfold because that’s what GrowthQuests is all about!)
A disorienting dilemma occurs. (This is an experience that doesn’t fit into your “normal” understanding/perceptions of yourself and/or the world-- causing a disorienting, confusing, stressful situation).
2. A self examination with feelings of guilt, shame, anger and/or pain). (A nagging feeling that draws attention to what is “not right” about your disorientation)
Critical Self-Reflection. (Critically reviewing the assumptions and beliefs you’ve formed as a result of sociocultural and personal experiences)
Recognition the process of transformation is shared. (Realizing and communicating with others before you who have transformed through self-reflection and making changes in their perceptions).
Is the suspense killing you for the other phases? Check it out here.
So, all of us are now collectively in a phase where we have all experienced a “disorienting dilemma”-- something has changed in our “normal” lives and we do not feel comfortable with it. This can be nearly any (or all) of the above current issues that the world is facing right now.
Many of us have reached phase 2 as well: feeling negative, dark feelings (guilt, shame, pain, or anger) about the disorienting event. We know that something doesn’t “fit” within our current way of perceiving the world, but we are not quite sure why.
Phase 2 is important for transformative momentum, but it is an easy one to get stuck in a negative feedback loop of fiery emotions fueling more fire. (Hence why sometimes Social media helps you recognize “Oh wow, lots of people feel this way!” but also becomes an addicting pile-on of outrage that you will get stuck in if you can’t move to Phase 3.
Get to Phase 3 Dammit! Do NOT Skip to Phase 4!
Phase 3 in my opinion is the single most important action you can do right now: Get out of the negative feedback loop and Critically Self Reflect about which of your perceptions are contributing to your personal and the collective discontent.
It will be tempting, but DO NOT SKIP AHEAD TO PHASE 4 -- which is reading about/talking to OTHERS about THEIR transformations (read: NOT YOURS) without doing Critical Reflection First! (Phase 3 could be nicknamed: “DO THE WORK”)
It’s OK to interweave Phase 3 (The Work) and Phase 4 (the sharing of YOUR work with others), but if you don’t actually DO THE WORK, and just read books, join book clubs, watch documentaries (the safe “work”), you WILL NOT transform.
SO, how do I (Self-Compassionately) Critically Self-reflect?
First know that like a lot of work-- it’s hard.
This is why many people skip ahead to the 4th phase: educating themselves about other people’s transformations … Because it’s both more entertaining and doesn’t require that much more work than imagination…
But to actually “Do the Work”, the first thing I recommend is to create a safety-net of self-compassion for all of the pain or hurt that may be dug up. This is important because you must be able to meet anything you uncover with love. True, forgiving, unconditional, compassionate self-love that understands your journey may not have always led you toward your ‘best self’.
My tip for this? Besides educating yourself on what self-compassion is (I like this TEDx talk and website’s exercises), create a safety net of unconditional love for yourself through using kind, caring, compassionate language for yourself that would be similar to how you would speak to a child or a best friend.
Also recognize any challenges or difficulties that you have had and give yourself honest, authentic credit for surviving them. Then, allow yourself to recognize your ability to change, grow, and evolve before you dig into areas that you would like to improve. (You can watch more about self-compassion here).
Then, when you are ready to meet everything you uncover in Critical Self-Reflection with self-compassion and self-kindness, you must begin to question your assumptions by asking yourself:
How do I know what I know?
Which aspects of my beliefs come from someone telling me versus my own experiences?
How have my experiences influenced my way of interacting with others?
How do my thoughts/beliefs/assumptions help me? Help others? Harm me? Harm others?
When are my perceptions not aligned with the “collective narrative” and why?
Which of my beliefs are based in fear? Love?
When are my actions hurting someone--either purposefully or accidentally?
How would I know if some of my beliefs/perceptions are inaccurate?
Whose agendas have I been supporting knowingly/unknowingly?
What kinds of insights am I missing?
And then organize your thoughts into either journals, art, poetry, or other creative outlets to fully understand how you are the way you are...and then begin the process of transforming into a more holistically healthy and helpful version of yourself.
FYI: What Critical Self-Reflection IS NOT.
Before you go waltzing down memory lane, know that critical self-reflection is a unique. Knowing what it is NOT can help you feel a difference when you are doing it.
The key word here is CRITICAL and not REFLECT, so remember to put emphasis on examining yourself from an unbiased, unattached, analytical perspective more so than just recalling past events.
For example this is NOT:
-Thinking about your past in a reminiscent way
- Remembering key life events for memory’s sake
-Simply realizing how you got to where you are now
Instead it is about recognizing how your specific life’s circumstances, interests, and choices have influenced who you are and how you are acting.
What to do if you get into a negative feedback loop
This is normal and definitely can occur in this phase
This is why the “self-compassionate safety net” is so important
Sometimes the negative feedback loop is the reason people skip this stage. And you will know when people skip this stage if they are unable to see how their personal behaviour is contributing to the collective.
“Gosh, if only people would just do x”, or “These other people obviously aren’t doing y” are comments that someone who hasn’t “Done the Work” may make. This is because a souvenir you get after the journey of Critical Self-Reflection is an abundance of empathy for others. It is no longer possible to overlook the difficulties of other people to make changes once you have recognized your own.
A negative feedback loop tends to start when you uncover how you have knowingly or unknowingly contributed to the pain of others.
For example, many White people at this moment are discovering that they have (often unwittingly) benefited immensely due to their inborn skin-color privilege.
Some negative feedback loops that can happen once this realization occurs, is someone may either feel guilty that they have received this privilege and then continuously mentally punish themselves as a false attempt to bring justice OR they will feel anger for being accused of having privilege and continuously look for examples of when they have actually not been privileged to refute this claim.
But neither of these negative feedback loops are helpful because they do not allow for a positive personal or collective transformation.
Both mentally shaming yourself as punishment for a privilege will bring more pain to the collective and refusing to acknowledge racial inequality can cause even more SEPARATION from the collective. Neither of these outcomes will contribute to the transformation we must all make.
A more helpful approach is to allow yourself a moment to acknowledge what factors may have contributed toward this self-realization, reflect on supporting evidence for and against it, FEEL into your body how accurate each feels, and embrace the fact you can have paradoxical evidence and that is OK.
Recognize when you have not done the best you can.
Recognize when you have thought you were doing the best you can, but maybe weren’t. Then, recognize when you can DO BETTER.
Maya Angelou used to say, ““Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
So try it! (And if you need help...)
The best thing about Critical Self-Reflection is that it is a tool that will forever serve you.
It is a slower, more thoughtful way of supporting the collective because it allows you to stop, pause, assess the situation, and be mindful of how your actions are influencing the whole.
It will also lead toward phase 4 (of 10!) of transformation because you will be able to recognize how your own critical-reflection can be shared with others-- allowing a tipping point of transformation to occur.
If you need help with (Self-compassionate) Critical Self-Reflection, as a Growth and Transformation specialist, this is my forte!
I can give you specific exercises that allow you:
Build your self-compassion safety net
Recognize how you got to be who you are
See how you have been unknowingly (and knowingly) causing more collective pain as a result of your actions
How to recognize the feedback loops you are in (and how to get out!)
Reach out for a Growth-Quest and learn more about how your personal transformation can make a planetary difference.
Read more about how my own experience with Critical Self-Reflection on racial matters HERE.