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  • Writer's pictureSamir Dhond

Sculpting Self

Updated: May 15

How many of us have truly worked on improving self with an unwavering focus? I am sure, the answer to this question would a majority “Never.” However, we do hear and read about the need to improve one’s self-awareness. We read about managing perceptions with people. Essentially, we say first look within self before you venture out to accomplish something. Many believe, looking inward facilitates the process of building one’s skills and capabilities.

Obviously, self-development can take place only when one is self-aware. In the external world, many are unaware of their own habits, strengths and weaknesses. With our busy schedules it might be difficult to find time to think about who we are, our strengths and weaknesses, our personalities, our habits and values. Besides, many of us just aren't inclined to spend much time on self-reflection. Even when personal feedback is presented to us, we're not always open to it, because honest feedback isn't always flattering.

Self-awareness is an essential first step toward maximizing management skills. Self-awareness can improve our judgment and help us identify opportunities for professional development and personal growth. Human beings are complex and diverse. Key areas for self-awareness include our personality traits, personal values, habits, emotions, and the psychological needs that drive our behaviors.

Personality: We don't normally change our personalities, values and needs based on what we learn about ourselves. But, an understanding of our personalities can help us find situations in which we would thrive, and help us avoid situations in which we would experience much stress. For instance, if you are a highly introverted person, you are likely to experience more stress in a front office, guest relations position than a highly extroverted person would. So, if you are highly introverted, you should either learn skills to cope with the demands of such a job that requires extrovert-type behavior patterns, or you should find a position that is more compatible with your personality. Awareness of your personality would help you make such decisions.

Values: It's important that we each know and focus on our personal values. For instance, if your first priority is "being there for your children" or "your relationship with God," it's very easy to lose sight of those priorities on a day-to-day, moment-by-moment basis. During the workday, so many problems and opportunities arise that our list of "things to do" can easily exceed the time we have to do them. When we focus on our values, we are more likely to accomplish what we consider most important.

Habits: Our habits are the behaviors that we repeat routinely and often automatically. Although we would like to possess the habits that help us interact effectively with and manage others, we can probably all identify at least one of our habits that diminishes our effectiveness. For example, if you are a manager who never consults your staff before making decisions, that habit may interfere with your ability to build your staff members' commitment to the decisions and their decision-making skills as well.

Needs: Maslow has identified a variety of psychological needs that drive our behaviors such as needs for esteem, affection, belongingness, achievement, self-actualization, power and control. One of the advantages of knowing which needs exert the strongest influence on our own behaviors is the ability to understand how they affect our interpersonal relationships. For instance, most of us have probably known people who have a high need for status. They're attracted to high status occupations, and they seek high status positions within their organizations. Such people also want things that symbolize their status.

Emotions: Emotional self-awareness has become a hot topic of discussion recently because it's one of the five facets of emotional intelligence. Understanding your own feelings, what causes them, and how they impact your thoughts and actions is emotional self-awareness. If you were once excited about your job but not excited now, can you get excited again? To answer that question, it helps to understand the internal processes associated with getting excited.

Having understood the key areas of self-awareness, let us now begin the process of building self-awareness in our lives. Let us take baby steps but know that unless we work on being more aware, we cannot work on developing self. In the process of self-development one definitely needs to know that whether we like it or not, others around us, as we move around, keep observing us.

If one thinks that one can behave any which way and others would not notice it, then one is being ignorant. I repeat, people observe others all the time. Managing perceptions and to project the right image is vital in today’s world. Is perception management nothing but public diplomacy of sorts? Let’s explore.

All of us perceive things and that too differently. We all have our own ways in which we look at the world and form our opinions and conclusions. People around us and that too, in our eco-system keep observing others all the time. What one actually does may be important but projecting the right image and managing the perceptions of the concerned parties is vital in today’s world.

Communication is the primary tool for managing perceptions. Communication can also induce the desired behavior in others. In a field like Marketing, this is of prime importance because one’s marketing efforts can influence the audience to buy a product. It is important for a marketing professional to create a need and then manage the customers’ perceptions so that there is a perceived sense of satisfaction if one chooses to use that product.

Many regard perception management as manipulation (creating something that people really don't need and creating an impression in their minds that they need it). Many believe that it is about giving people both the opportunity to express a need and an avenue to fulfill that need through products, services. While there is a thin line between the two, many a times even an ordinary thing is packaged as extraordinary. In political scenarios, politicians tend to influence people by getting someone to do something that satisfies a common citizen, especially because one is interested in his/her vote.

Communication is the means to manage perceptions, to create behaviors and to create business success. These days, it would not be an exaggeration if companies have a specific role for perception management. If companies can focus on roles that require specialization in the areas such as managing finances, people, and technology by using systems and precision, why can’t organizations have people to manage perceptions? Managing perceptions can be just as important as maintaining a certain infrastructure, first class product, and glossy advertising, if a company is expected to succeed in today's marketplace.

Changing perceptions require powerful combination of messages, messengers and media. One must alter the media used to reach key audiences. Tunes and symbols can be more important than substance. A school of thought says that reasoning can persuade someone but one’s emotions triggers an action. In today's world, one must create motivating communications, which have emotional relevance to the listeners.

Perception is reality in someone else’s mind. Perceptions are neither right nor are they wrong. The very fact that one person perceives something to be a particular way is a reality sitting in that person’s mind.

If one were to look at perception management (PM) then it would include questions such as who is the audience. What is the current mind-set? What do they think now about a company or a product? Who has the greatest influence over these people and what is the best-selling proposition? What is the best message that can be offered to help them understand the company point of view? Finally, how can one reach them with the power and the impact that gets them to want to buy or to recommend buying a product?

In this day and age, people cannot afford not to manage perceptions of their critical audience. It should be part of one’s strategy. Perceptions and style can never be a substitute for lack of substance but go a long way in sustaining one’s progress.

Having understood these two aspects, how does one grow? There are several simple and easy to implement techniques that are available for helping one grow. Today’s youth need to focus on some of them so that their future is bright. Looking within was used in ancient meditation practices as well. It’s a sure way to avoid haunting actions from the past.

Several years ago while facilitating a workshop, I once asked the participants if they ever took a pause and looked at themselves. I asked them if they ever looked within themselves. There was a heavy silence in the room. I further asked them if they ever stepped back and thought about their behavior in the immediate past. Yet, there existed a heavy silence.

Finally, I simply asked them if they ever introspected. One of the students asked me what that meant. I do remember giving that person an explanation of what I meant but demanded an answer from the rest of the class. Much later two hands were raised. Aghast with the response, I decided to spend some solid time with the participants on a topic that is extremely crucial for anyone who might be even remotely interested in helping develop self.

If you looked up the Dictionary, the word Introspection would be defined as “the examination of one’s own thoughts and feelings.” Having understood the meaning, I am sure many of us would wonder why that would be necessary. Let me explain. All of us continue to behave and operate based on our painted pictures of the world. Mostly, our behavior is influenced by the way we think and act. Our immediate mood also affects our behavior. Intermittently, we also look outside our immediate circle of influence for some advice. However, self-assessment is a powerful tool. One has to look within to recognize the power of what one can do if one thinks through issues, problems and situations.

My friend, Dr. Aniruddha Joshi (Bapu) has said in one of his books that all of us need to learn the art of “Simhavalokan.” The word Simhavalokan means intermittently looking back at the course of one’s journey through life. If you recollect a Lion walking in a forest, you would know that he walks up few steps, then looks back, pauses and then walks further. A powerful beast like a Lion does that as a matter of practice. Bapu says that it is something one can learn from the majestic Lion. If a ferocious beast like a Lion can do it, why can’t humans do it?

I am sure you would wonder what that would entail. It means all of us need to do a timely assessment of the situation we are faced with. Look within and think about ways in which we might have behaved in the past. Ponder over our behavior, actions, and thoughts. Make an assessment of how they appear to self. After a certain passage of time, do they look different than they looked when one encountered those things? If yes, can we course correct those in any way? It is important to think about the implications, ramifications and effects of our actions, thoughts and feelings on ourselves as well as on others.

I always tell young professionals and students that it is a good habit to sit back at the beginning of a week or a month and take stock of the week or the month gone by. It is prudent to look at aspects of one’s life such as one’s learning, thoughts, actions, relationships, growth, and unlearning that might have taken place. It is best to make an assessment of incidents that take place around us and check if we are learning from all of that. Understanding one’s own actions, thoughts and feelings can make one more aware of how one might be thinking. It would expose to self-one’s own thinking patterns. One can draw conclusions and make course corrections in the process.

One of the other questions that is frequently asked to me is about benefits of Introspection. I have personally found Introspection to be a very powerful self-help tool. I have learnt a lot about myself because when one steps back and looks at our behavior from the immediate past, one is exposed to underlying behavioral traits. These may not be apparent to an individual when one is in the thick of activities. Let us now examine some of the benefits of Introspection.

Courage and Fearlessness: If one is habituated to introspection, on a regular basis one would have tried, and tested several options or alternatives. Needless to say, if one is able to look at the situation from a 360 degree perspective, one would obviously be better prepared. He would not only be able to handle the situation at hand but also several other situations in future. Any form of preparation is bound to make an individual ready thereby, reducing all the possible anxieties. One would be prepared to face the situation. Therefore, Introspection builds fearlessness and also makes an individual courageous.

Maturity: Introspection by the shear nature of the activity involves mulling over facts, data, situations, and incidents. It facilitates a well-rounded perspective on things. It helps an individual look at various aspects critically. It pushes an individual to empathize, at times criticize and at other times, just look at the whole point in question dispassionately. When one practices introspection, a certain level of maturity naturally comes in. The person learns to look at self-much critically and that maturity also gets reflected in the way a person thinks through problem statements.

Avoiding Side Effects: If one were to make decisions impulsively or if one were not to introspect, one would be faced with many disadvantages. A hurried decision, an emotional decision is bound to go wrong somewhere. It is necessary to remember that Introspection tends to delay our impulsive reactions. Should you learn the art of introspection, you would refrain from jumping to conclusions. One would refrain from taking impulsive or emotional decisions and when one’s decisions are well thought out, they naturally evade the side effects that one would face otherwise.

Saving Energy: When one practices introspection for taking actions and making decisions, as I said earlier, the decisions tend to be well thought out. All the side effects of impulsive and spontaneous decisions can land us up in soup. It is highly likely that we would spend enormous energy trying to salvage the situation or trying to reverse the decisions. However, a well thought out decision may not require us to waste our energy that way. Introspection, especially, in testing times would land up saving huge amount of energy for each one involved in that decision.

There is no fixed periodicity to introspection. One can introspect on a regular basis. I know of people who do it daily at the end of each day and there also are people who do it on a weekly, monthly basis. While I reiterate that the periodicity of introspection really does not matter, what matters the most is the fact that one is engaged in introspection. It is important for us to look within and evaluate our own behavior, actions, and responses to environment, situations that surround us.

Regular introspection would bring the much needed and liked emotional and intellectual security to a person. If all our decisions are well thought out, there would be no reason for us to fear the consequences of such decisions. One would be naturally prepared to take these decisions and experience the impact of these decisions. Introspection is a sure way of ensuring that your past actions, behavior, and responses do not come back to haunt you.

As I conclude, I urge each one of us to work on these three important aspects as one begins to sculpt one’s life. It’s hard work but to know that there is no replacement for hard work is the cardinal truth.

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