Paul McAleer: Hello.
Whitney Hess: Hi there.
Paul: Hi. You are listening to Designing Yourself, and my name is Paul McAleer.
Whitney: And this is Whitney Hess. Thank you for listening.
Paul: So, this week we’re going to talk about awareness.
Whitney: Awareness, one of my favorite topics. And I was very glad that we decided to talk about this today. Awareness brings up a lot of things in my head. At first it makes me think of self-awareness. But then it makes me think of awareness of your surroundings. And of course I can’t think of that without thinking of empathy, my favorite topic. So there’s a lot of meaty stuff to delve into today.
Paul: So, you like to talk about empathy. Is that right?
Whitney: You hadn’t heard?
Paul: No, I haven’t heard. Is this something that you’re interested in?
Whitney: Yes, it is.
Whitney: And I’ll start off by telling you a little story of something that I’ve been spending some time on lately that I don’t think I’ve told you about.
Paul: Oh, great. I’d love to hear it.
Whitney: So, I’ve been on this exploration of empathy for about a year and a half, I’d say. And one of the things that I was finding very little information on in my research was how to measure and how to build empathy. And I was wondering, is it even possible?
And I eventually made my way to the topic of emotional intelligence. I’m assuming that you have heard of emotional intelligence, the catch phrase.
Paul: Yes, I have.
Whitney: Well, I had heard of it, too. And I suppose that at the time that it was getting a lot of media play in the late 90s I was aware of it and I got a sense what it was about, this notion that we’ve spent so much time focused on IQ, that we have really only looked at cognitive intelligence and we’ve neglected to look at a whole other type of intelligence, which is emotional intelligence.
But somehow in my explorations on empathy it took me a while to get to emotional intelligence. But once I got there I was like, whoa. Wait a minute. It turns out that empathy is one of many, a couple dozen, different characteristics or capacities that fall under the realm of emotional intelligence.
And it’s in - the model that is most commonly used are these four quadrants. And this was - I don’t know if it was developed by Daniel Goldman who wrote the book on emotional intelligence that most people reference, or if he just wrote about it. I honestly don’t know. But there are these four quadrants.
And they are self-awareness, self-management, other awareness and other management. And empathy fits in the other awareness quadrant. And I find it really fascinating that I’ve spent all this time thinking about empathy, researching empathy, writing about empathy, this idea that you can create a sensation within yourself that is a vicarious experience of someone else’s sensations or feelings or experiences.
And I had - it took a while before I was able to come to this, wait a minute, it has to do with awareness. It has to do with awareness of someone else. And the teachings on emotional intelligence say that you have to develop self-awareness before you’re capable of developing your awareness of others.
Paul: Well, that makes sense to me. And logically that makes sense to me. But the idea of empathy just being one of many parts of emotional intelligence, that is a new idea to me for sure, because when I think about it and when I really process what empathy means to me, I really do see it as something that’s other awareness as well. Now that it’s articulated that way I’m totally going to use it.
I see it as that as well, but I’ve also seen it kind of as this big blanket thing that covers a lot of things. I’ve almost been using it as a synonym for awareness, I think, because it just seems to me to be really all-encompassing, in a way. If you are really going to understand and truly empathize with other people, then you really have to know those other people.
But again it’s other people, right? But there’s the whole angle, and this is why we’re here, right? The other angle of empathizing with yourself. So, is there another term for that, or is it also considered empathy? Is this a bigger blanket or smaller blanket than I think it is?
Whitney: I think that a lot of people have been turning this on its head saying we have to have empathy for ourselves or we have to have compassion for ourselves. And it makes great sense, and I believe that wholeheartedly. It’s just funny that we’re using that terminology, because I believe that empathy for yourself is self-awareness.
Paul: Yeah, I agree with that as well. And so, it’s really - boy, that’s interesting. And I feel that it’s kind of a starting point, and it’s not the end-all, be-all, right, necessarily. It’s really just kind of getting this sense of who you are, the sense of yourself in two-word mode, what you are and who you are at any one time.
And really when I’m thinking about this and talking about it, it really does sound like the same practice we would apply to others, just to ourselves. Is that too simplistic? Is there more to it?
Whitney: I don’t think that’s too simplistic at all. In fact, I think that that’s kind of the point, and it also in many ways relates to what we’re talking about with designing yourself. I feel as though it makes sense to try these exercises, try these practices, on yourself before you attempt to try these with others because you’re going to hone your skills.
You’re going to be able to focus on what works. And you have the immediate feedback of your own self-reflection, which has, I believe, less of a communication breakdown than could occur when you’re interacting with somebody else. So there’s a lot of communication that needs to take place in both directions and interpretation of what’s said in order to determine if you’re truly reaching an understanding of another person.
But it seems to me that it’s very similar goals, very similar intentions and similar practices that can be put into place when it comes to understanding yourself. But you have the benefit of that line of communication being wholly within you, and therefore you can resolve a lot of those miscommunications more easily.
Now, that’s the theory. I find it far easier to relate to other people than I do to relate to myself because I don’t know who I am a lot of times. And I have always - really, my whole life was considered a very precocious kid. I considered myself really worldly at a young age, very well-read, well-educated.
And I would claim - and I think others would say this about me as well - that I was very self-aware. And I was very proud of that. I’m very self-aware. I can explain my intentions. I could explain my behaviors to others, my attitudes. And I’ve noticed this even when I’m doing user interviews and I’m asking someone to explain why they did something.
And they may take a moment to really think through it. And at the end of the session I’ve often found that the participants that I’ve interviewed have said thanks so much for asking those questions because I never really considered that before.
And as much as I appreciate that, I usually leave thinking why haven’t they thought about that? I think about those things. I articulate that stuff to myself all the time. And when the reverse has been the case where I’m being interviewed, I find the answers so easy to come by. It’s rare that someone asks me something that I don’t have an answer to immediately.
And so I’ve always thought I was this super-self-aware person. But as I’m going through this process more recently, this designing yourself process, if we want to call it that, where I’m really taking a hard look at my intentions, at some longer-term goals, and I’m teasing out who I am from the person that I think I’m supposed to be, I’m coming to learn that I’m not actually as self-aware as I thought I was.
I just constructed a really good story, a really clear narrative that I repeated to myself enough times that I came to believe it and I could call upon it any time I wanted. But I don’t know if I’m really that self-aware. And as I dig deeper it’s becoming harder and harder for me to discern what’s the real me.
Paul: Well, it’s becoming really meta, right? It’s just kind of piling on itself. And, gosh, I love the meta stuff. But so the point that you made, though, that really stuck with me was that it may be easier for us to do that with other people than with ourselves.
And while you were saying that I was wondering a little why that is. And I can say that for me I think what it is is similar to this. Like, when you’re doing - oh boy, I’m totally tying into UX tonight. When you are doing a usability test with someone, you’re watching them do something and you’re observing. You’re making notes, possibly, but you’re working with them. And you’re seeing what they do.
You have - well, you may have knowledge of that thing that’s being tested. They do not. So your perspective is entirely different, and it’s entirely based in a different reality than theirs. They come into it fresh, and they have - well, not really fresh. They have their own experiences, but that’s why they’re there.
But they come from a very different angle with it than you do. And when you’re thinking about yourself, well, you’ve known this person. And known can be in the very vague, not self-aware sense. But more so maybe than know you’ve lived with this person all your life.
And for better or for worse, all that good stuff, but you’ve gotten to a point potentially where you are comfortable with yourself and you know your patterns, or maybe you don’t but you have these patterns and you have these behaviors that may repeat or may not repeat.
But you start to have expectations within yourself of who you are, and you may stick to that. And that ties into the whole sticking to the script type of mentality. So, I think it’s easier with external folks because they’re not physically us. I mean, there is a literal separation between people, but when it’s us we may be working with facets of ourselves that we don’t know.
There are facets that we do know and are totally comfortable with. There may be ones that are scary or really exciting or all of these things, right? And it’s kind of this ability or this potential ability to talk with a bunch of people in a user interview type of format and just have them there all the time. Does that make sense?
Whitney: Of course. I feel as though we have the benefit of distance with other people. It’s not a job that we have 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I find that the people that we’re closest to, sometimes we lose awareness of them as much as we lose awareness of ourselves.
It’s when we’re in this situation where we have a finite period of time that we really need to pay close attention to this person. We need to concentrate. We need to focus. And we need to go into it with the intent of gaining understanding, of challenging our assumptions, of teasing out the problems and needs and better understanding them and defining them in a way that will be actionable for our work, for our teams.
We go in with this openness and this presence, which we were talking about last week, that I don’t know that we possess a lot of the other time. And I don’t think a lot of us possess that for ourselves, that level of patience, that level of acceptance.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into a user interview or a usability test and in my mind, just before it starts, I’m telling myself whatever this person has to say, it’s valid. Whatever their challenges are with what I’ve designed or with what one of my team members have designed, it’s valid.
I accept them wholly. I trust that what they’re telling me is true. And I am there to serve them. That is my role. And so much of myself fades away. And I’ve written about this before when I give my tips on conducting user interviews. I’ve said many times I’ll forget that I have to take a sip of water. I’ll forget that I had to go to the bathroom before this started. I’ll forget about this nagging thing that’s going on in my life that’s consuming me at all other times.
When I’m in the room with that person, I am so focused on them, and it’s all with the intent of building the awareness that I have of them and the empathy that I can build within myself and help other team members of mine build as well.
And it seems as though we should probably spend more time trying to cultivate that acceptance, that attention, that concentration for ourselves. But how do we get the space from ourselves to do that? That’s what’s so hard. It’s like we can’t get away from ourselves. We can’t escape.
And so to get that perspective, as one author that I love to read says, go to the balcony. I talked about the power of now last week. This week, another power book, The Power of a Positive No, by William Ury, U-R-Y, one of my favoritest books.
And in that book he talks about when you’re saying no to someone, when you’re prepping yourself to say no to someone, essentially, you have to go to the balcony. And it’s a whole negotiation book. But this idea that we can separate from ourselves for a moment to gain perspective, when we’re dealing with ourselves it’s so hard to do. We’re just really not nice to ourselves.
So, how do we gain that self-awareness then if we’re not able to concentrate, if we’re not able to really accept whatever answers we may come up with about ourselves?
Paul: Well, that’s an awesome question. And interestingly it’s hard for me to articulate how I’ve started to become more self-aware. And I can’t help but chuckle when I say self-awareness. I almost always think of AI and intelligent machines and stuff like that. But it’s kind of like a similar thing in a way, right?
For me, it’s the - what I’m saying is humans are just like machines. But the deal is that in this instance with just being aware of my emotions, my feelings. That’s just a part of it, right? And it’s being able to be - and the way I see it is, being in that moment, whatever moment it is, and being able to recognize your patterns, your emotions, what you’re feeling, which goes on beyond just the mind and what you tell yourself and what the narrator in your head says and all that stuff, it goes into what you’re feeling. And it kind of goes into checking in with your body.
It’s something also that I think about with this. And I’m going to try to make this relevant. I think it is. So, Charlie Kaufman, you're familiar with his work?
Whitney: Obsessed. He’s my number one favorite screenwriter.
Paul: OK. Now let’s try this. What movie am I about to reference and try to make relevant to our conversation?
Whitney: Being John Malkovich?
Paul: Oh, no, but good guess. OK, Synecdoche, New York.
Whitney: Oh my gosh, I haven’t seen it yet, if you can believe it.
Paul: OK. Boy, do I spoil it? No, I’m not going to spoil it. I can give you kind of the basic plot, I think, off the top of my head without an assist from Wikipedia without really blowing it. But so, there’s a director named Caden Cotard who ultimately wins the MacArthur Fellowship. And he decides to create a production of the basic everyday life.
I want to kind of - because you haven’t seen it, I’m so sorry. I’m going to leave it at that. But there is something, and anybody listening who has seen it, there is something very relevant of that because there is kind of the meta stuff and being able to step out of yourself kind of, in a Kaufman-esque style, kind of literally stepping out of yourself and being able to see what’s going on.
And then also the lack of control, and when you can engage and when you can’t, I mean, that’s what I take away from it. So, because you haven’t seen it I’m not going to spoil it for you. And we should probably talk about that another time.
Whitney: Because I’m such a big fan of his, but for some reason this one slipped through my fingers.
Paul: That one I’ve watched, I think, two or three times total. And the first - it’s almost like any - for me it’s almost like any good movie. The first time you watch it you’re kind of like, huh. The second time you watch it you see all the things you didn’t see the first time. And the third time you start to really - I wouldn’t say get it, but you start to get a sense of it and become more familiar with it.
So, yeah, can’t talk about it anymore, sorry. Totally relevant, can’t talk about it.
Whitney: Now it’s on my agenda for this weekend.
Paul: Excellent. I hope you like it.
Whitney: But I want to go back to something that you said. I want to interrupt you because -
Paul: Please do.
Whitney: I’ve noticed this about you, and I’ve wanted to ask you this before. There are times when we’re talking about something and you bring up a realization or I suggest something to you, and you’ll say I know that as being true in my mind, but I don’t feel that in my body.
Or I’ve heard you say my body is at peace with that but not yet in my mind. And I love that you interpret things that way and that you experience in that way. And I’ve been really curious. Where does that come from, and how have you cultivated that?
Paul: Well, the way I kind of notice it manifest itself, and I’ve already said this in this discussion, is I say - oh gosh, I forgot what I say. Nice job. But I usually say something along the lines of, oh, that makes sense. Yes, that’s what I say, that makes sense.
That, to me, is a total mind response. That is my logical mind speaking saying, yes, I understand that. I comprehend that at that level. But what I’m getting at with even something like that is to say that I understand it. I’m not self-aware enough to be able to say that I feel that, too.
And feel, for me, when I say that I’m also thinking quite literally. Like, if I say something and I can feel my body react to it in some way, so that may be - I know last week when we were talking about fear there was - like, I noted the tingling sensation that I had before that one conversation.
And I noticed that - and I’m doing it this week, too. I’m really talking a lot with my hands while I’m talking right now. Like, that’s me feeling that a little more because I am - it ties back to presence. I am present. I am here. I’m having this conversation. It’s not just my mind that’s being engaged, right?
And that is simply me expressing myself in that way. And that is me, the deeper me, and not just Paul podcast me, as far as I know, although maybe it is. Who knows? But the delineation for me is really the logic and everything else, right? The logic is really my mind stepping in and saying this is - yes, this makes cognitive sense. I understand these steps. I understand these tasks I have to do, what have you.
But then the feeling it part is, that is much harder, and I’m not fully there yet. So cultivating it for me really means, first of all, acknowledging that separation. There is a separation. It’s all still me. I get that. But it is that my mind is saying this and my body is feeling this. And that body part really means everything but the logic. So that is the emotion. That is any physical reaction. That is any unexplained part of my body as a construct reaction, all that stuff.
Whitney: And where did you learn all this?
Paul: The internet. No, therapy, honestly, like starting, like that idea. Learning to discern that, kind of there. But this made me think of your post about living in one’s head and living from neck up. And to me that resonated because that was something I was working on anyway. And then you talking about it was extremely relevant because that’s how I felt.
I felt that way as well. I felt and thought that way because I was acting just in my head with so many things in my life pretty much my whole life. And I realize that was not representative of me as a person, a full person with a body and a physical presence.
There are times when I will do something or say something that will stimulate my mind. There are times when it will not stimulate my body in any way. But sometimes it does both. Sometimes it doesn’t. but just being able to kind of sense that means that I have to not turn off my mind but recognize when my mind is doing the talking and the driving.
And getting to that point really is tied into body awareness for me, like physical body awareness. That’s where it starts for me is looking in the mirror and not denying that that’s my body and saying, yes, that is mine. That is me. That is a representation of me. That’s kind of where it starts for me.
Whitney: I love that. I mean, this is so resonant for me right now because of all the work that I’m doing with the coaching program that I’m in, this is very much in line with their philosophy. So, I find it really interesting that through your own journey you’ve come to this stuff as well.
One of the things that is, I think, not unique to the program that I’m in, which is called New Ventures West, and it’s out in San Francisco, I don’t know that it’s unique to them, but it is unusual for these coaching programs in general, is the belief that we are not executive coaches or life coaches or business coaches or leadership coaches or any qualifier kind of coach.
The belief is that what we’re trying to cultivate, what we’re trying to learn, is how to be a whole person that is coaching a whole person regardless of their context. And what the entails is integrating the mind, the heart and the body.
And this, when I first read about it on their website, I thought was a bunch of New Age mumbo-jumbo. A lot of the other coaching programs are really tactical. It’s like this is how you develop a leader. These are the skills that they need. This is how you help them advance in their job. This is how you get them to motivate their team. It’s all really tactical kind of stuff.
This program is very different than that in that they believe that the way to coach someone towards developing their full potential, to recognizing their blind spots and creating greater self-awareness and awareness of others in order to achieve their long-term goals is to develop yourself as a coach.
They say you don’t do coaching. You are a coach. So it’s something that you have to be. And the way in which they believe that that’s achieved is by integrating those three aspects of yourself - mind, heart and body. And this has raised my awareness of what awareness really means because that post that you’re referring to, I think, was the one on connecting and disconnecting. Everyone’s on their phones. Am I right? Is that the one you’re referring to?
Paul: Yes, I think so.
Whitney: Yeah. So, this idea that we’re in the physical space with people but we’re looking at a screen and our whole consciousness is living inside the screen as though there is a universe on the other side of it - it’s like a pool that we just jump into, and our eyes are focused on this three-inch-wide piece of glass or whatever it is, depending upon your phone.
And you’re experiencing the whole world in that little area. And your body gets ignored. I can go a whole day of working and forget to eat or forget to go to the bathroom because I’m living in this world inside my mind. And that’s where my self-awareness was.
What I was describing earlier of my ability to just say anything about myself and have that answer at my fingertips is because I live in my mind almost 100% of the time. What the coaching program is teaching us to cultivate and what I’m also finding in the meditation, the yoga, as I’m starting to explore Buddhism, these themes are prevalent across many different types of teachings and in spirituality as a whole, I feel.
This idea that we spend so much time living in our minds that we’re just constructing a bunch of stories, that isn’t really us. And it’s certainly not the whole picture. And I think meditation on the whole, regardless of where its teachings are stemming from, is about developing mindfulness, which - I feel like I said this before, and if I did I apologize.
But just that word seems like it’s a misnomer because it’s actually to develop mindlessness, to have as less activity in the mind as you can possibly develop so that you can start to hear other things. You can start to be aware of what’s going on in your heart and aware of what’s going on in your body.
And the things that you were describing of, like being able to feel this sensation when you say this or you’re in another type of experience and you can feel that your body is doing this, I have really good body awareness, too. It’s something I have developed I think because when I was a kid I had a bad accident where I really hurt my back, and so I’ve had a chronic back problem for the last 20 years.
And, I’ve had to deal with it in a variety of ways. I tried chiropractic. I tried physical therapy. I’ve tried regular massage. I’ve tried a lot of things. And it’s rarely under control. And I try not to pay attention to it, but I’m just keenly aware of the little aches and pains in my body all the time.
But what I’m not great at doing is acknowledging that those sensations are connected to what's happening with me in the moment and using those as cues to better understand how I’m experiencing something or how I’m experiencing another person. And the same goes for my emotions.
I have also been in therapy, and when I first started out and the therapist would ask me how I was feeling about something, I would start to rattle off all these things. And it was just a rationale. It was just logic. And it wasn’t what I felt at all. It was what I thought.
And it has taken me years to differentiate between a thought and a feeling. And it’s so strange because I considered myself to be a very knowledgeable, intelligent and kind of enlightened human being. But yet I really wasn’t capable of differentiating between my thoughts and my feelings.
And what my biggest issue is right now with this coaching program is attempting to bring all three - the thoughts, the feelings in my heart, the feelings in my body - into alignment. And it is tough stuff because I’m so used to rationalizing everything. I’m so used to intellectualizing and feeling as though my body is this foreign object.
I have a connection to it. I can feel it. But it’s not as though it’s telling me anything. I just ignore it. It kind of has a life of its own that doesn’t really have anything to do with me. It’s not a part of my identity.
And as I’m telling you all this I’m reminded of times in my life that have been a struggle that I’ve gone to my mom for guidance. And many times over the course of my life she’s said to me, Whitney, when you’re feeling that, when you’re experiencing that, when that happens, you need to go straight to the mirror and you need to stand there and you need to look at yourself. And you just need to look at yourself in the mirror.
And I always just ignored it because it made me really uncomfortable to ever do that. But I’m realizing now what she was getting at is, go take a look at who you are because you’re that whole thing. You’re the mind, you’re the heart, and you’re the body, all of it. And quite frankly that’s how other people are experiencing me.
They’re experiencing me as more that whole person than I experience myself. And that goes back to what we were saying earlier about awareness of others almost being a lot easier and more natural than awareness of ourselves.
Paul: Totally. I was going to draw the parallel when you said you kind of saw your body as this foreign object to just working with other people. So, it’s weird, but I feel that I’ve felt that same way because it’s been a matter of, yeah, I’m this mind walking around here. There’s a body, and I’m not connected with it ironically.
I’m with my body every day, and it is a part of me right now. And I have found it a lot easier to just deny that for a very long time than actually embrace that. I mean, embracing it - well, let me step back there. Embracing it is a whole other ballgame. Getting to a point of acceptance is kind of the very first thing. And then it’s working on that embracing, right?
And, goodness knows it is not simple. But I absolutely connect with you on that because I have absolutely felt the same way. I’m curious, though. With the mirror stuff, when you did that, too, what did that do for you? Did that do anything for you? I’m drawing on my own experience with similar stuff here where I would look in the mirror and acknowledge that it’s me, but it was mostly my brain doing that responding.
Whitney: It has been beneficial when I’ve actually allowed myself to do it. So, it’s better for me if I sit. And if it’s a full-length mirror and I’m able to sit in front of it and just stare at myself and be relentless as though I were looking at someone else - we observe people for a living.
What we were describing with user research, usability tests, user interviews, we are so attuned to other people’s tells. And so, I just attempt to do that with myself. And it’s very hard, very uncomfortable. And I don’t particularly like looking at myself for that long.
I’m not like some women that spend half an hour in the bathroom in the morning getting ready and putting on their makeup, doing their hair and all that. That has never been me. I am super-low-maintenance. I just see the bathroom as like taking care of hygiene and that’s it.
So, I just don’t even - I never really go out of my way to spend time looking in the mirror. And so when I do make the concerted effort to do that, I see things that are very unfamiliar to me. Oh, that’s the curve of my nose? I didn’t remember that it curved down like that. Or, oh, I’ve been feeling insecure about my belly, but in the mirror here it actually doesn’t look that bad if I’m looking at it with a different perspective.
If I’m a dispassionate or kind of just accepting view of this person that I’m looking at in the mirror, objectively speaking, that’s not such a bad belly after all. And I’ve been feeling on the inside insecure about it. Or, look at that shimmer in my eyes. I’m really connecting. And then I find myself smiling back at that person the way I would smile at anyone that I made eye contact with.
And it’s a really profound experience. It’s not something that I give myself very often. And even with all the meditation that I’ve been doing lately, even though that does help bring mind, heart and body into alignment through cultivating that presence through the meditation, it’s not nearly the same as looking at yourself for 10 minutes.
And 10 minutes can feel like an eternity when you’re staring at the mirror, not plucking the eyebrows or brushing your teeth but actually just looking and not judging anything and just being present with yourself, but with yourself as though it’s another person and really giving yourself the attention that you would be giving if another person was in your presence.
It’s just sad, almost, how little we give ourselves that and how often we don’t consider the reflection on who we are and the time that we spend with ourselves as an equivalent to spending time with another person. Even the phrase that we use, spending time with ourselves, we think - I mean, at least for me, when I say it now it conjures up this idea of there being two people, like me the observer and me the person that I’m observing, the observer and the participant as two people.
It’s rare that I give that gift to myself. Instead, my spending time with myself is watching Law and Order: SVU or, like I admitted last week, checking up on TMZ to see what the latest celebrity gossip is or reading something on empathy or writing something on my blog or chatting with friends on Twitter or all of these things that really just distract me and that don’t allow me to spend time with myself getting to know myself in a real way.
It’s just not something that I allow. And I think probably most of us don’t do that.
Paul: I agree. And, gosh, there’s so much I want to tackle there. First, SVU, somehow that’s easy to watch and fall into those 15 seasons or whatever it is on Netflix. I don’t know why that is. I don’t know why, but I absolutely can relate on that.
Whitney: It’s my favorite show. I’m crazy about it.
Paul: Nice. But a lot of the stuff that we’re talking about with bodies is known in some circles as body work where it’s really paying attention to your body and getting out of the construct of your body that you have in your head which may be none, which is the kind of - to me, that’s kind of the interesting part.
When you were talking about the way your body looks and how you’re reacting to it, we are - on top of all this, I think, we are quick to label bodies as good or bad. And they simply are, no matter what they are. But there’s so much labeling around it that it is - and that to me is generally outside voices and influences and all that stuff.
And we start to internalize those messages, and we start to believe them. And that leads to - I feel it leads to a lot less of the self-awareness, definitely pulls far back from self-care and selfishness in the good sense of that word. But that is vital stuff because loving your body is not easy at all.
But you have to kind of acknowledge it first. You can’t be in denial of it. And then and only then can you kind of progress to that point of awareness and then perhaps acceptance and celebration. And, you know, when you were talking about also spending 10 minutes with yourself and just looking in the mirror at yourself, my gut reaction was, wow, 10 minutes is a long time.
And I don’t know if I can do that. I haven’t done that. I haven’t done it for that long a time. But that’s not - much to your point about SVU, it’s not necessarily giving yourself the compassion and attention that you deserve. It’s like, 10 minutes is not very much time. And it’s trivial.
It’s one-fifth of a Law and Order. But that’s - and maybe 10 minutes is a lot, maybe five minutes, what have you. But even five fricking minutes, I mean, that is not much time at all. And for, I think, as you say, a lot of us, we simply don’t see - maybe we don’t see the value in it.
Like, we could find the time maybe. We could put it - well, this is how I would operate. I’d put it on my calendar. But we don’t necessarily see it as a thing that really benefits us until we continue to do it and make it something that we practice and continue to do.
And one part of this, too, is that when we start to choose to do things to increase our self-awareness, we also need to go easy on ourselves because - and this is me talking. And I’m throwing a “we” in there, but it’s really me.
I need to go easy on myself because this is new stuff for me. This isn’t stuff that I just magically have learned and I’m perfect at. It’s stuff I’m practicing. And there are times when I’m not going to do it, and there are times when it’s going to be easier to, as you say, write a post or Tweet or make a snarky comment on Twitter, which I like to do a lot.
But even acknowledging that I’m doing that instead of something else isn’t a judgment. It’s simply an acknowledgement and saying, yeah, I’m choosing to not do that right now. And then I can start to question, well, why is that? What is this feeding for me? Is this comfort? What do I get out of this? Is it connection I’m craving? Is this the best way to get a connection?
All that stuff, and again not from a judgmental standpoint but just from an observation standpoint and really kind of understanding - well, observing first and then understanding what it is that I’m doing.
Whitney: Well, I think for some people it’s not understanding the benefit of it. And I think for others it is very much the fear, like we were talking about last week, of what they’re going to find out. And it’s the latter for me.
So, with people that I’m getting to know, whether it be a new friend, a long-time friend, a user interview participant, a team member, what have you, regardless of the context, when I’m getting to know someone, as I said before, I approach the situation filled with acceptance for that other person, for whatever that person has to say.
And over the course of my life, I’ve been known to collect a motley crew of friends, to put it kindly. I have friends from all walks of life. Some of my friends I think other friends of mine would be surprised to learn I’m as close friends with as I am. And that’s because I’ve always been fascinated by other people.
I’ve been fascinated by what drives them, what motivates them, their backgrounds. Anyone who’s different than me I just love immediately. I want to get to know them. I want to understand how they see the world. And I value friendships with people who are different than me for a lot of different reasons.
And as a result I approach it with a loving kindness whenever I’m in someone else’s presence and they’re sharing something about themselves. And typically in social situations I take on a similar role that I do when I’m in a business context where I often ask other people about themselves. And so, a lot of the time at the bar, at the restaurant and things that I do at parties, is other people answering my questions about themselves.
Typically, I’ll meet someone. I’ll know their life story by the time we part ways because I asked. That’s just how I am. And I have endless energy for that and total acceptance and loving kindness for whatever they share. But I do not have any of that for myself at all.
So, the same reason why I don’t make the time to stand in front of the mirror and really look at who I am and what feelings it brings up and get to know me mind, heart and body all aligned as one whole human being, I avoid the meditation at times because I don’t want to sit and be with myself.
I do a lot of things that prevent me from really digging deep and going a layer or two or three below that self-constructed narrative, that very safe story that I like to repeat to myself that I choose to identify with rather than getting to know the real me, because it scares the shit out of me what I may find.
And I think that that’s probably the case for a lot of people. I think - yes, I agree with you. For some, they may just not realize how much more knowledge there is about the world truly living inside of them that would benefit their interactions with others if they came to better understand themselves.
But I think there are probably more folks like me who are just damn scared of it. And so, I can appreciate so much what you say about being gentle with yourself, recognizing this is a process. We’re at the very beginning of it. And let’s hope we feel as though we’re at the very beginning of it for as long as we live, because I don’t think this is something that can ever end, should ever end or should feel as though it is.
But this notion that we’re going to judge what we find out about ourselves is, I think, what keeps a lot of us away from it.
Paul: I totally agree. And, you're right in that this isn’t something that ends. It really doesn’t, which is - frankly, that’s a little scary for me because it means that it just continues. And there’s a part of me that really doesn’t want to let go of the idea that, yes, there is a point where it’s all solved, right? There’s absolutely a part of me that wants that.
But, you know, there was something that you had said and I want to ask you about, too, is that you said you’ve always been fascinated with other people. And I’d like to know why you are or are not fascinated with yourself. Easy question.
Whitney: You know, when I was talking just a moment ago I was thinking to myself, you know, what’s easy about being fascinated with other people, what’s easy about being willing to accept people for exactly who they are regardless of where they’re from, what they’ve done, what they think and feel, is that quite frankly at the end of the day you can walk away.
Whether it’s your partner that you sleep beside in bed or someone that you bumped into on the street that’s a stranger, either way at the end of the day you can walk away. It is physically possible to separate yourself from that person. So even if they may fascinate you and you’ve been able to cultivate compassion for this other person, you have the free will to separate yourself. And you do not have that with yourself.
So, why have I not been as fascinated with myself? Why have I not given myself that compassion and had the same desire to cultivate self-awareness as I have had to cultivate empathy? Well, because if I end up not liking what I find, there is no way out. And I don’t mean for it to sound morbid, and I know that’s how it ends up sounding. But I think this was something that I realized as a very young kid because I spent so much time alone.
I’m an only child. My parents are entrepreneurs. They run a business together, and they have for the last 36, 37 years. They were often out of the house or they came home late or they were on business trips or whatever. I in no way had absentee parents, and I don’t want to make it sound that way.
But there also weren’t other kids in the house. It wasn’t a very active house. In the evenings when they would come home from work we either watched TV or everyone was in their separate rooms doing their own thing. And so, I spent a lot of time alone, and I still spend a lot of time alone.
And I think I’m just so sick of myself. It’s like, oh, another moment to pick through this brain or to analyze these emotions or to sit with this body? It’s like, I’ve had to sit with this body for the last 31 years. I don’t want to get to know this any better.
That’s been my attitude for a really long time. That’s changing dramatically only within the past year because - not prompted by self-love. I wish I could say that it was. And I do love myself deeply. But this was not the prompting of why suddenly I became determined to understand myself better.
It was through my research on empathy when I came to learn that the only true way of developing greater empathy and greater compassion for others is through compassion for oneself, through self-love and self-care. And so, it’s really strategic, and I’m being perfectly blunt, why I’ve been on this journey.
I’m hoping that through this process I’m able to recognize this is not a means to an end. This is the end itself. This is enlightenment, understanding of oneself and the journey into oneself that can be a lifelong endeavor. And I intellectually know that. But emotionally do I believe that? Do I want that to be the case?
And do I want that to be the purpose of my life? I’m not there yet. That gets back to what we were talking about before, integrating mind, heart and body. I know that intellectually that’s a pretty good life purpose, to truly understand yourself in the search for enlightenment.
But in my heart, it’s not something that I feel I’m allowed to do or that I’m supposed to do or that is the right thing to do. I feel as though my life should be dedicated to helping others. My tag line or whatever, I say that I’m striving to put humanity back into business.
It’s about other people. It’s about fixing broken companies. It’s about advocating for customers. It’s about making technology more accessible for real human beings. That’s what I’ve always focused on, not the purpose of my life is to understand me. It feels selfish. It feels wrong, not allowed. And I’m not there yet.
But maybe that’s the case. Maybe that really is what it’s all about.
Paul: I think it might be. And one way I think about it, too, is that if you had a client or anyone had a client who you really need to understand and get to know behaviorally and get to know their hopes and dreams and wishes and fears and all of these needs and wants, I think any of us would leap at that chance as someone working in UX and product and all that good stuff.
But we’re our own clients in this. And you’re right in that we’re unable to physically separate ourselves from ourselves. We come part and parcel and that’s it. But the other thing is that we have the ability to change ourselves. You mentioned there’s the free will and being able to leave somebody and physically not be near somebody.
You can never get physically away from yourself, although you can create the illusion of that by denying your body, to some degree, which may be comforting. It was for me, still kind of is. But the thing that I feel, and I feel this, is that when we get to explore ourselves, yes, there is going to be scary stuff.
To me, that is a given. And this part of it is only in my head. I don’t feel this part yet. But beyond that, though, it’s having that knowledge and that expertise in yourself, because without that how can you - without knowledge on yourself, how can you know yourself?
I mean, I know it’s a circular argument, but if you don’t have that, then how can you make these assumptions about yourself and kind of put yourself down and say I’m going to do this or I would behave this way or this is what I should do or would do or could do? Some of that’s external, probably. Maybe a lot of it’s external. But we can’t know that if we don’t start opening up and asking ourselves these questions and start really wondering, why is that and why do I react this way and am I reacting and having that awareness?
And to me it all starts with those questions and kind of throwing the book out with these assumptions about yourself, because you can change that. It’s not like you can turn it right away. But you can get to a point where you can change that. And if there are things that you don’t like about yourself, well, then you’d have to ask yourself, well, why don’t I like this?
Because it is you. It is still a representation of you. But it also doesn’t have to be you forever, and it may only be you in that moment or it may be you in a previous moment that you might be reliving. But it’s not you now, right? You’re reflecting on yourself. You’re trying to understand yourself. You can change yourself.
I mean, that sounds like something that needs to go on the flap of a book, for sure. That is total book flap material right there. But I mean that. I do feel that. I’m not denying that the exploration stuff is scary because I am scared of it, too, and I am scared of what I will find, too. So I absolutely feel that.
But I also want to do it. I want to push myself through that fear and do it because I want to know myself better.
Whitney: It’s the same set of principles that we apply to our work, which is challenging our assumptions of how people use things, why they’re using things, what their context is, what they need, what’s valuable to them, what’s easy to understand, what’s easy to learn, what isn’t.
All of those things that we do is all for the purpose of ensuring that we’re designing towards the accurate understanding of the people that we serve. How is that any different than what you’re describing, which is challenging your assumptions about yourself? And by doing that you can realize that your attitudes, your behaviors, are actually not in line with your true self.
And you can adapt. And you can make yourself happier and more effect and more successful and all of the things that we promised to our clients and to our companies that are the benefits of doing the work that we do. I don’t think it’s any different.
And what I just find so amazing about all of it, what you’re saying, is that we have the ability to change ourselves. One of the things that I learned in my exploration on emotional intelligence, and I didn’t mention earlier but when I came to realize that empathy was a small piece of this puzzle and there were in fact researched and highly accurate ways of assessing emotional intelligence and developing emotional intelligence, I decided to get myself certified in one of these programs.
And so, I now have a certification and social and emotional intelligence. And that allows me to use a proprietary set of tools with my clients. But one of the really interesting things that I learned is that temperament and genetics are pretty much fixed. So, you come out and you have no control over your genetics.
And temperament is kind of - comes along with it. It’s not necessarily determined by genetics, but you just have a certain way about you. And people will say, oh, you were such a smiley baby or your eyes were always closed or whatever, you cried a lot, whatever. Temperament is kind of innate.
And then personality, they find - researchers have found that personality is pretty much determined by the age of 7 or 8. There’s very little that you can do to change your personality as an adult. But if you come to a greater understanding of your personality, if you come to a greater understanding of your motivations, of your background, of your goals, of your blind spots, what that will allow you to do is change your behavior. And behavior can always be changed.
It’s in no way saying you should be a different person, you should have a different personality. It’s in no way saying, well, you have these genetics so you’re not really capable of X, Y or Z, so let’s compensate for that. That’s not the intent.
The intent is, this is who I am. It’s not good or bad. It’s just who I am. Let me challenge my assumptions about myself and really know me, really know the true me. And with that understanding, I can now change my behaviors. I can adapt the way that I am in the world to better me and to better others.
And that’s achievable. And I think a lot of people feel as though it’s too much of an undertaking or they are misled to believe that they can’t change. And people just say, but this is who I am. This is how I am. And they just seem resolved to stay the same. But they’re not happy about it.
So, that whole pursuit of happiness thing, it might be tied up in this ability to change our behavior. And it’s achievable. It’s obviously a big undertaking, but it involves the same principles that we apply to others and in many ways the same skill sets that we use to understand other people, just applied to ourselves.
Paul: Yes. I absolutely agree. And the one thing I want to throw in, too, is that no matter what we’re doing, if we’re doing the self-exploration, if we’re trying new things, if we’re not trying new things, if we’re in our existing patterns trying new ones, we’re still our full selves. Our self is there with us always.
So, no matter what situation you’re heading into, it’s still you there, right? And that touches a little on the personality and temperament, to a degree, stuff that you had mentioned. It’s still you. And the beauty of that, though, is that no matter what you do you’re going to put your own unique spin on things.
So, the way you approach it, the way you experience life, the way you design your life, is going to be yours and yours alone, which is pretty great when you think about it. That is pretty great. It’s also scary, but it’s also really great, too.
Whitney: It’s wonderful. We’re each a unique snowflake. But meanwhile we have something at the core which is universal. And it goes to show that you and I can have these conversations and feel as though so much of what the other person is saying resonates with us because we’ve experienced that. We’ve wondered that. We’ve questioned that about ourselves.
And then we can share these conversations with others. And that’s what’s being reflected back to us. These are the things I think about, and these are the things I’ve wondered. And despite how unique we each are, we have that universal core. And I find that to be so beautiful and so incredible. And wow, what a wonderful world it is.
Paul: Yes, it is. I absolutely agree. Awesome. So, I feel like I’m fully aware now. How about you?
Whitney: Oh, I am.
Paul: That’s it.
Whitney: I don’t know that I’m more aware, but I’m certainly feeling more willing and more excited to explore new areas of myself and not do it with so much fear.
Paul: And you’re never doing it alone. You’ve always got you there.
Whitney: Exactly. And I’ve got you.
Paul: Nice. I agree.
Whitney: Well, thank you for another wonderful conversation, Paul.
Paul: This is great, Whitney. Thank you so much. And thanks, everybody, for listening. And also keep the feedback coming. I love it, and I’m sure you do, too, right?
Whitney: Please, please, please, if you are listening still, it would be so fantastic to hear that you listened to the full hour of this episode. And if you have any recommendations for topics or feedback on the format or anything at all, we want to connect with you. So please, please reach out.
Paul: Yes. Please do. And thank you so much for listening, folks. We’ll talk to you soon.