Updated: Jun 19, 2019
Guest Blog Contribution in May 2019 by Nina Wohlleben
This time a year ago, I was on the road to the Bavarian Forest in Southern Germany with one of my besties. We were on our way to a 4 day Digital Detox Retreat with yoga, meditation, hiking and mind coaching.
We were both in desperate need of a break. Upon arrival we were super excited to see the beautiful location and setting in the midst of Bavarian nature.
We where then, however, much less excited about handing in our phones for four days of digital detox. What if something important came up at work and no one could reach me?
I was very reluctant to go through with it and basically panicked. My host and retreat leader Katrin calmly reassured me that all would be fine and that some days “off” would do me the world of good.
It turned out she was absolutely right and that this was the first encounter with a reflection of the boundaries I was setting in my life. The first of many more to come..
After the retreat, Katrin become my coach and I have worked with her on a one-on-one basis since. I can safely say that our ongoing work has changed and improved my life in so many ways since we kicked off this coaching relationship together. I look back to that phone-panic moment as kind of a turning point in my life.
We have not only worked on my boundaries but on many, many other things and I am experiencing personal development and growth on so many levels. Not only as a person, but also as a leader.
"Our ongoing work has changed and improved my life in so many ways"
Looking back on the last year, the following 6 things have been the biggest learnings for me:
In order to know where you want to go, you first need to understand who you are.
Becoming aware of my values was the first major step of development during the last year.
When my coach initially asked me to list my values, it was quite hard for me to come up with any. I knew a lot about what others valued in or expected from me, but naming my own ones, left me initially speechless (which was of course an important finding in itself).
After lots of “umming” and “aahhing”, the realisations slowly started coming through. Self-determination, learning and growth, flexible life structure, the bigger good, helping others, protection of nature, belonging, harmony, time for the people and things that are important to me - surfaced among my most important values.
Once these were established and I had them visualised in front of me on paper, the next step was to match them with the different areas in my life. By means of this exercise it quickly became apparent why certain things often caused frustration in my life.
This exercise and the resulting awareness has been invaluable to me. The more aware I become of my values, the more they serve me as a compass in all situations. They support me in making the right decisions and doing a value-check has become an automatic inner process in many situations.
The difficulties I had in defining my own values while listing external expectations came so easily, also told a story about the boundaries I was setting in my life (or the lack thereof).
My wish for harmony further enforced this. Boundaries were the first topic my coach led me to reflect on (the famous phone-panic) and has challenged me on continuously since.
Initially I was not even willing to contemplate that setting boundaries, i.e. related to work, was an option. Too big was the fear of “failure” and rejection, too enticing the option to simply consent and please others.
My coach provided a hugely valuable insight to me:
"Each time you say 'yes' to something that you are not fully aligned with, you are saying 'no' to yourself'
That was such an eye-opener for me.Continuously working through this topic, I have come to learn that setting clear boundaries is hugely important for myself and others. Setting boundaries involves truly knowing myself (hello values!) and knowing why I am doing the things I do.
I now know that setting boundaries successfully is not just saying “no” to certain things, but also involves taking on responsibility (more on that later) and fully committing to my life goals.
In fact, setting boundaries also helps others understand were I’m coming from and provides clarity to all concerned.
It’s still a big effort to stand by my boundaries at all times, but it’s the only way to intentionally create the life I want to live versus it being passively created for me.
Finally I’ve also realised, that learning to set boundaries is like training a muscle - at the beginning it's tough, but the more the habit is exercised, the stronger it gets and the better it feels.
The next big driver of insight, was to better understand my personality and the things that motivate or demotivate me in life.
After working through different exercises on these topics, we did a personality test that summarised the prior findings extremely well.
Descriptions such as “a true free spirit”, “enjoys social and emotional connections with others”, “intuitive”, “growth orientated”, “loathes being micromanaged and restrained by heavy-handed rules”, “analyses and understands others perspectives effortlessly”, “strong people skills”, “excited by new findings and driven to share them” totally hit home.
As with the values, understanding myself and the things that rock my boat made it further obvious where things were or weren’t bringing me closer to my purpose in life.
The development of my vision was partly challenging. As soon as I thought about the things I would like to do with my life, the niggling fear of (financial) insecurity reared up its head.
Through coaching, I learned that this is a part of me trying to make sure I’m safe and it therefore has its importance, but it should not stop me from moving towards the things I truly want in life.
During one coaching session we did the exercise “imagine your perfect day”, which was a breakthrough for me. The exercise gave me the possibility to freely envision what kind of a life I want to live, while letting go of the blocking security-need for a minute.
Daring to dream big and actually feeling the joy of that life vision was so valuable in seeing the direction of meaning and purpose. It showed me that I want to continuously learn, create, help others and by doing so provide positive impact on a bigger scale.
I believe that the more people get to live their best lives, the more this will help heal our world, because we will start making better decisions for ourselves, others and the environment.
Once this vision became clear, we started working on a step by step action plan to take me there. The action plan showed me the path to make the vision reality black on white, which gave me confidence and a better understanding of the timing involved. It also helped me address my need for security and include this in the plan.
Understanding that I am driven to support others in fulfilling their potential and purpose, the first step for me has been a university course in positive psychology. Next I will be starting a course to become a certified coach myself.
5. COMFORT ZONE
This one was huge for me. Throughout our coaching sessions it became increasingly clear that I am wayyy to comfy in my comfort zone, which is limiting significant growth.
I have created a life that is comfortable and safe, which is per se nothing bad but the fear of moving out of this save haven is blocking me from moving towards new experiences, experiences that will lead to growth.
My coach painted a picture in which I totally recognised myself - a little bird sitting in a nest, feeling comfy and snug, not daring to move towards the edge to take a peep at the big surroundings, let alone to take the leap of faith and learn to fly.
At first I thought of this primarily related to work. But then I realised that this resembles my attitude towards many things. It’s pleasant being in a sphere of knowledge and ability, were I am good at things and know what I’m doing. Praise and “success” (if one so defines it), are sure commodities in this zone.
But at the same time, there is little excitement, learning and growth. Recognising the grip of safety as deeply engrained, my coach and I started setting challenges, to help me move out of the comfort zone. “Feel the fear and do it anyway” is a phrase I often think of lately.
And each time I go through with a challenge, it feels exciting and so good. I have become very aware of situations when I feel reluctant or fearful of doing something, while knowing deep down that it is the right thing even though it doesn’t come easy.
So where in the past I almost certainly would have walked away from the situation or action, I now know immediately that this is the comfort zone beckoning and that means there is no way of not doing it (at times, I have the most hilarious inner negotiation with myself that actually make me laugh).
Again, exercising this habit feels like flexing a muscle, the more I do it the more I can feel an internal shift.
And while the challenges are often seemingly small things (i.e. going climbing even though it makes me nervous and I still need to build up strength, or going 30 days without sugar because I feel addicted to it), I know that this attitude shift will enable me to start taking bigger and bigger leaps of faith towards meaning and fulfilment.
Closely related to the comfort zone is also the topic of taking on responsibility for myself and my life. It may sound like an obvious thing, but to me it has not always been obvious at all.
During coaching I realised that I often turn to others for their approval and consent to validate my actions. In fact in the past I often felt resentful of expectations from others, that sometimes lead me to do things I was not fully aligned with.
So I was pretty gob-smacked when I recently understood that it’s not actually the outside expectations causing frustration, it’s me passing responsibility to others for things in my life instead of taking it on myself and (self-responsibly) taking the path I long for.
Boooom, deep stuff. It’s easier to push the “fault” to external factors, than taking myself by the hand and moving forward. When doing that, there isn’t the fall back option of turning to someone else and saying “but you said so…!”. It means that I will do things and fail and will have only myself to account to.
That’s not always easy, but so important and full of learning. To me this realisation is exciting, empowering, invigorating and feels so truthful all at once.
All to come
Looking back I can’t believe it’s only been a year since I started working with Katrin as my coach. I have learned so much about myself and have gained so many new perspectives on the things in life. It seems crazy this all happened and developed in a single year.
Looking forward, there is so much to achieve, so much to learn. I am super excited about all there is to come and know for sure that working with my coach is an invaluable resource that will guide me along the way.
And now it's time to pack my bags. I am off to the Bavarian Forest for a 4 Day Digital Detox Retreat again and I am actually looking forward to handing in my phone this time...