Monday was a snow day here, and 10” of snow in this part of Virginia will largely shut things down, at least for the day. No school meant that the boys were home.
The little guy is eight, very bright and very active. He’s been part of my life for five years, and while he is too young to really “type” his personality, I often see many of the hallmarks of ESFP preferences in his behavior. That puts him on the other end of each MBTI dichotomy as my preferences for INTJ. You can imagine, that there are times we stress each other out.
We decided to take advantage of the snow and our long, steep driveway and do a little sledding. We had big fun riding down the hill, joking each other, throwing snowballs - you get the picture. After an hour or so, he told me he was ready to go in. I had some outdoor chores to take care of, and knew that I wouldn’t be there to supervise removal of the snow clothes.
He tends to put things “down” when he is done with them, as opposed to putting them “away”, My best guess is that this is not just related to his preferences, but also to his age. However, experience had taught me that if I didn’t want to walk in and find a pile of wet clothes that I needed to say something. I squatted down and got eye-to-eye with him, then said “when you get to the basement door, kick the snow off your boots before you go in, and neatly put your snow clothes in the basement.” He said “ok” and for good measure, I said “neatly” once more. And with that he traipsed off toward the house.
About 30 minutes later, I came in half snow-blind to see what looked like snow clothes strewn across the basement floor. As my eyes adjusted and I flipped on the light, this is what I saw…
I laughed and thought to myself - that is not what I would have done, but it was in fact, very “neat”. I thought about the lessons here for me; a lesson about expectations and a lesson about perspective.
As leaders, we often allow biases to form based on our interactions with those we lead. Those biases definitely affect our expectations. My bias was clear, it is what made me emphasize “neatly” and to say it more than once. When I stepped into the basement, on some level, I was expecting a pile of wet clothes. So I have to ask myself, how did that expectation shape my thinking before I stepped in? And the immediate follow up, how does it affect my expectations for the other times and ways we interact?
The next thing that came to mind was perspective. I said “neatly” and I knew exactly what I meant. A word like neatly leaves a lot of room for interpretation, and interpretation is based on perspective. When leading others, do we communicate clearly? Are we shaping our message to our audience? Are we telling them what we need to tell them in a way they will understand it? Are we empowering them to succeed?
One of the funniest parts is that even though he didn’t do it like I would have done it, his way was probably "neater". As I said, he is a very bright kid.
When asked about the most effective way to work on self-awareness, my answer is always “time & truth”. Really, “truth & time” would be more accurate, but it doesn't roll off the tongue quite so well.
And, what I mean is that we need the strength and safe space to be honest with ourselves, as well as, the distance and perspective to be analytical about it. I usually advocate journaling as the practical way to achieve this “time & truth” approach.
Journaling gives you a safe place to be honest about what’s going on - physically, mentally, emotionally - in your life. You can capture the facts, those specific events or challenges that you are experiencing. Add to that your current interpretation of those facts, how you perceive them, what you make of them. Then, you can detail how you’re feeling about them. This is the “truth” part, and it only works if you’re being as honest as you can be in that moment.
I started journaling toward the end of my first marriage, in 2006, and I’m still at it. I never approached journaling with a lot of structure, I wrote when I felt like it. Dollar store composition books and ballpoint pens were my tools. I captured the events that felt important, I noted my thoughts about those events, I recorded my feelings, my reactions. To me, the specifics (frequency, format, medium) feel less important than dedication and commitment.
For some people, the act of journaling provides the necessary insight to objectively look at the situation, their feelings, their reactions. My personal experience shows limits to this insight. You’re still very close to whatever happened, and often that closeness obscures your view. Imagine standing on a mountain top, while you may have a wonderful view looking out, it's really hard to get a good look at the very mountain you’re on.
This is where the “time” component comes in, time yields that better perspective. Just like that mountain you stood on and couldn’t clearly see, distance yields a better view. Weeks, months, even years will all provide differing views of that “truth”. The clarity and insight can be amazing.
About two years after my first marriage ended, my coach encouraged me to pull out those notebooks and read through those pages. It was hard, much harder than I anticipated. There were painful memories and painful feelings. In addition to the sting of remembrance, there was the added bite of my own skewed perspective. Interpretations I was so certain of then, seemed much more questionable now. I more clearly saw my own participation. I also recognized my growth.
Journaling isn’t a quick, easy fix, it’s not magic. There is no shortcut to better self-awareness. When partnered with the want to grow, the want to develop your emotional intelligence; journaling provides some of the highest ROI you’ll find.
Do you journal? How has it helped build your self-awareness? Your EQ?