A powerful self-discovery exercise: how to avoid doing things you will regret

Self-awareness is arguably the holy grail of inner peace, especially when you’re under pressure. But what is it? How do you get there?

As a teacher of self-knowledge, I am the first to admit that it is not always easy. Given our human instinct to resist anything that challenges us to grow and change, the road to self-knowledge often involves a struggle. I know mine does sometimes.

In order to be more confident, I had to develop a willingness to admit that I haven’t figured everything out and that I might not always be right, especially when I feel like I really am. I needed to make a point to look at my reality more objectively and admit when the way I’m doing something just isn’t working for me anymore.

These admissions never come easy. But I will say that addressing my emotional reactivity was essential in bringing me to a place of greater self-discovery.

For years as a young mother, I have tried to protect my children from the effects of the dysfunctions around them. On the outside we looked like the perfect family that had everything. My husband and I were quite adept at managing the family’s image, but the real story, unfolding within the four walls of our home, was a marriage that was crumbling under the weight of spurious emotional responses of shame, guilt, and guilt.

We lived like this for decades. If you could call it living.

For the longest time, I let my emotions take the lead and relied on what felt like a satisfying response rather than thinking about what actually worked or didn’t work.

Firing a sarcastic remark felt like I was being heard.

Putting the blame on others felt like a solution.

Taking impulsive action seemed like the safest and quickest way to get past the problem!

In the heat of the moment, a full blown emotional response felt like protecting me. Ironically, it only protected me from self-knowledge and the change and personal growth that depends on it!

Because I wasn’t aware that I was making the choice to act out my reactions, I couldn’t see the lack of wisdom in it. After the dust settled and the smoke cleared, the end result was almost always the same: a truckload of pain, confusion, and even greater confusion.

When I worked up the courage to divorce, my children were already grown. I knew it was time for a massive shift, and I thought my new found courage would empower me to shut the door on the powerful and damaging reactive emotions I had been walking on for so long.

But it wasn’t easy.

As I became more and more lucid, I realized that the reactivity I had acted out during my marriage was still there after my divorce. As Jon Kabat-Zinn said, “Wherever you go, there you are!” Needless to say, that was a hard fact to face.

By breaking away from an untenable situation, I thought my shame and guilt would go away. Boy was I wrong!

I still had a crippling fear of the unknown and faced tremendous self-doubt about going out into the world alone. I struggled with guilt and shame over my past life choices.

I had been playing some very specific patterns for decades, and over that long period of time those patterns had become habitual. So whenever I faced a stressful situation, I immediately reverted to the same old patterns.

The harsh truth was that, like the deep and gnarled roots of an old tree, these emotional response patterns did not emerge without genuine effort and determination.

A new approach: the practice

Eventually, I realized that if I wanted real change in my life, I needed a fresh approach. And this new approach became the foundational practice of my program, the Inner Peace Blueprint, backed by an important Harvard study on the benefits of mindfulness.

Researchers found that when mindfulness practitioners focused their attention on their physiological state, it led to improved emotional regulation, leading to an enhanced sense of self.

So here’s what I did:

Whenever I felt myself being overwhelmed by shame, guilt, self-pity, insecurity, or fear, I would interrupt these reactions by relaxing my physical tension and focusing on my breathing. This is the most basic technique I have used – practicing posture and breathing.

When I felt like I couldn’t trust myself (or others), I would do the exercises.

Whenever I felt insecure as I imagined being single after thirty-six years of marriage, I did the practice.

When I felt anxiety and guilt as I listened to my children talk about their own reactions to the divorce, I did the practice.

Remembering to do the practice required a lot of discipline, which really wasn’t that surprising given that I’d been emotionally reacting all my life, stuck in my head and not getting anywhere quickly. My reactions were so familiar that they felt like me. They had become an ingrained habit and really hard to break.

Not challenging that habit, however, just wasn’t an option anymore. And practicing was the best way I could see to get the job done, so I stuck with it. Each time I paused to relax my body and breathe, I calmed down, if just a little. Over time, I began to see all the small bits of calm add up to much more calm.

What I learned about self-confidence

With greater calm came fairly naturally greater confidence (which I define as “being able to see what I’m really up to”).

I paid close attention to what I said when I was under pressure and asked myself: Was it constructive or not?

Anytime I did something to get the pressure off and “make it stop!” I paused to see if what I was doing was actually helping. Or did it just dig the hole I was in that much deeper?

The practice gave me the self-awareness to stop and reflect on my emotional state before opening my mouth. It also gave me the confidence to make sure I waited until I was calm and clear about what I should (or shouldn’t) do before proceeding.

Today, practice is still my most important tool for self-discovery because it always brings me back to the now moment. When I can focus my attention on my physical tension and release it through the breath, I become more aware of my emotional state and can better regulate what I do and say. For me, that is the definition of self-empowerment.

Even when I lose sight of how my reaction is affecting and distorting my perceptions, behavior, and decisions, I can be fairly certain that it is, and that focusing on myself is always my best bet to calm down before I react.

This new way of responding to my reactions with practice helped me break the habit of acting out my reactivity and thereby making things worse. And that keeps me on the path to a sustainable, lasting transformation.

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A powerful self-discovery exercise: how to avoid doing things you will regret

About Meg Coyle

Meg Coyle is a pioneer in the field of body-centered mindfulness, offering wisdom, tools and practices to help midlife women regain their confidence and restore inner peace. Her signature system, the Inner Peace Blueprint, transforms the way the mind and emotions work, offering women a new set of responses to stress that truly support mental clarity and emotional calm, no matter what’s happening in their lives. Access her free stress management course here.

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