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How Do You Feel in Your Skin?

By Nancy Burger, Workplace Communications Strategist, Executive Coach and Speaker -

The maintenance crew in my apartment building peeks into the gym before entering to clean it. If someone is working out, they’ll wait until it’s empty so as not to disturb or distract them.

When I order groceries for delivery, I don’t see the shopper carefully packing my eggs or choosing the perfect avocado, but I’m delighted when I open the bag and witness the care they took in doing both.

When I exit the building each morning to walk my dog, the stairs are clean and safe, free of any debris or garbage from the night before, thanks to a quiet worker who sweeps the stoop while I’m still sleeping.

The things that happen outside of our awareness can impact us. In fact, sometimes it’s the things we don’t see that impact us the most. And while the above examples are simple ones, they illustrate the power that silent gifts can have in lifting our days.

But the very same is true on the flip side.

How we were raised, spoken to, treated, and taught all imprint on us and create filters through which we interpret the world. Self-limiting beliefs, low self-esteem, lack of confidence, or struggles with communication, intimacy, and trust, all represent “programming” that has resulted from that early imprinting. And while we may be conscious of this to some degree, many triggers operate well under our radar, remaining deeply rooted in our nervous system until triggered.

For example… have you ever been in a situation that elicited an immediate, dramatic, and negative reaction that you didn’t expect and couldn’t really explain? These could be responses to triggers that you’re unaware of that are operating, like apps running in the background of your brain.

The message here is not that we should blame our parents (or anyone, for that matter) for our struggles. But rather that we have the power to better understand ourselves and how we show up by unpacking our responses and reactions. Because when we can get clarity about our own unique wiring, we can then start re-framing our thoughts and changing our experience.

Which can very often make a huge difference in how we feel in our skin.

It starts with noticing ourselves without judgment, with taking the time to observe our circumstances and our reactions to them. Certain triggers can be straightforward to identify. If, for example, you were raised in an extremely strict environment, you may bristle at and rebel against authority figures. That’s not a huge leap. But there are also plenty of triggers that are more nuanced, which makes it tricky to connect the dots around them. Even in a therapeutic setting, some can be so deeply rooted that cognitive behavioral therapy (“talk” therapy) won’t access them. In those cases, other forms of therapy may be more effective (i.e. EMDR, which stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing).

The brain, like the body, is a fantastic and complicated machine. But we’re a whole lot better at noticing things that are going wrong with our bodies than we are at noticing problematic, gnarly thought patterns. If you have pain in a joint or a neck pull, you can easily identify it to your healthcare provider so they can create a treatment plan. It’s a bit more complicated with thoughts; we are flooded with thousands of them a day and tend to believe most of them. It can be exceedingly difficult to know which ones are knotting us up and getting in the way of our progress, particularly if they are fueled by programming that chugs along unbeknownst to us.

But by spending the time to notice—and decode—the thoughts that feel icky and limiting, we can change the way we feel in our skin, change the way we show up for ourselves and others, change everything. It takes time, commitment, and resolve. It requires curiosity, openness, and a willingness to look beyond the obvious.

But the upside is real.

One of the activities I use to start this conversation with coaching clients and workshop audiences is my Inner Dialogue Mapping activity (you can download a free copy here), in which participants identify early life experiences that may be impacting the way they think about themselves and the way they operate in the world. The first step is to identify humiliating or unpleasant experiences from childhood or young adulthood that had a negative impact on their confidence or self-esteem (Note: This activity may be triggering for learners who have experienced trauma).

One client told me that, at first glance, she couldn’t think of a single thing to write. After about ten minutes, childhood memories started to bubble up and the exercise allowed her to better understand some of her tendencies, both at work and at home.

Meta-cognition, the awareness and understanding of one's thought processes, isn’t something humans are great at, but it can be a hugely informative exercise that can empower us to move through life in a more intentional (and fulfilling) way.

Not to bludgeon the app metaphor… but think of it this way: self-limiting or negative thought patterns can sap our life force in the same way that too many apps can drain our battery. Every now and then, it’s a good idea to take inventory of the thoughts we’re choosing (and believing) that are no longer serving us and start the practice of re-framing them.

Every thought is a possibility.

If you’d like to learn more about my workshops, book a free discovery call here.


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