Working your stuff aka The Man in the Mirror

In order for any change to be truly transformational there needs to be a process of letting go of the old in order to allow the new to come.

In order for any change to be truly transformational there needs to be a process of letting go of the old in order to allow the new to come.

What your best life looks like

As I stepped off the ‘plane at King Shaka International Airport and saw the wind, I took a breath, gripped my jacket closer to my body.  Then with palpable relief, I breathed out, let go of my jacket. Aaah, it’s warm here.

We have just come back from the warmer climes of Durban where we conducted another Shape of Emotion Foundation Workshop. We were invited by the Democracy Development Programme to pilot the one day foundation workshop in the Durban area. Participants, mostly  young, black and female, came from a variety of NPOs working with youth, women and children and the poor.

We start by asking what their best life looks like. It’s a way to set the coordinates for the day. The room went quiet, heads dipped over paper. John Lennon’s Imagine started playing from the audio visual presentation we had put together for inspiration and guidance. No-one seemed to notice it. They did not need it. Everyone was furiously drawing, writing, mind mapping and musing.

When they came up for breath and described how it felt to consider what their best life looked like, there was an energy of hope in the room.

“Who has their best life now?” I asked.

No-one answered. They looked at me wide-eyed and wistful.

“What is it going to take to get to your best life?” I wondered aloud to the group. There was some murmuring and shuffling.

“Where do you start?”

Matthew chipped in, “I have a question to ask you. And I usually ask about Durban when I ask it, but seeing as I am in Durban, let me ask about Joburg. If you want to go to Joburg, what is the first thing you need to know?”

“What transport I need to take.”

“What the weather is like in Joburg.”

“How far away it is.”

“What date I am going.”

“All great answers but no….”

“Where I am.”

“Yes! Well done. You need to know where you are because it will be a very different trip if you are in Cape Town, or Durban or Pretoria or London.”

Ooh’s and aah’s and nods met Matthew’s words.

“Now feel under your chairs”, I told the group. “If you reach under your chairs you will feel something stuck there.”

Reaching under their chairs, tearing sounds revealed packets with colourful disk shaped items in them.

“What is inside?” I urged them on.

Some looked at each other in confusion. Then ripped open the packets and one by one pried opened the disks.

“What do you see?” I asked.

“Myself!” laughed the person to my right. They were all looking into small mirrors.

“Yes, yourself. You are looking at the person that will make the difference. The person that needs to take the first step to your best life. You.”

It all starts with me

This is primary principle underpinning the work of Shape of Emotion. It all starts with you (or me, as the case may be). At 5th Place we believe that in order for any change to be truly transformational there needs to be a process of letting go of the old in order to allow the new to come.

Clearing it all away

In our individual personal capacities this means clearing away the dust, the dirt, the difficulties that weigh us down. The heavy, hard, tough feelings and emotions that keep us stuck, keep us immobile and more than uncomfortable. Those feelings that, left unattended, hidden, avoided or numbed, can eventually result in dis-ease, physical and psychological ill health.

By clearing our own stuff by doing Shape of Emotion, and keeping on the path to inner well-being we open the way for hope and possibility. This means regularly doing the inner work. On our emotions and feelings. Deliberately. Consciously. With practice. Every day. This is life long work. There is no magic wand that will take away all the bad and only leave the good. It does not work that way. Happiness is a choice that involves facing and dealing with the difficult almost every day.

It strikes me that for all the good we wish to do in the world we resist doing our own work. In the coaching profession, like many other helping professions, supervision is the go-to place to do this work. It offers a place to off load, check in and check up. The numbers of coaches who actually attend regular supervision are miniscule. Unless this practice is mandated by a professional body it seems unlikely that those who offer their professional services attend.

What does this say about those wanting to help others, who will not help themselves first? How can anyone believe that they can do good work if they are not willing to care for themselves first? It’s the “put the oxygen mask over your own mouth first” principle. At 5th Place we drive the requirement that you have to work on yourself first, before you can be let loose on anyone else. That mirror is a reminder of that, too.

The workshop continued and we put the participants through the discomfort of uncoupling from their minds, disengaging from analysing every thought. I wondered, as I often do, whether the mirror exercise was a shallow trick. Did we make it clear enough how important doing the work on yourself is?

What do you take away, today

The sun dipped behind us as the workshop drew to an end. We closed out the day with the question: What do you take away with you after today? While we waited, one of the participants leaned under her chair and ripped the remaining mirror from beneath it. She tore the plastic from it and opened it up looking at herself in the mirror.

She said, “I arrived here today feeling like I was finished. I was giving and giving and giving. And then I looked into this mirror and was reminded that it all starts with me. I must look after myself. After today, I will keep on looking in this mirror to remind myself to do the work. It starts with me.”

About the author

5th Place

5th Place is a dynamic organization that's passionate about emotional fitness. We're the creators of Shape of Emotion, a revolutionary tool that's changing the way we understand and manage our emotions. But we're not just about theory - we're about practical, tangible change.

We offer Emotional Fitness Classes and courses that help individuals, from children to adults, build emotional resilience and well-being. For our younger audience, we've created the Vibarealm, a vibrant universe that encourages a healthier interaction with emotions.

Join us on this journey to emotional fitness and let's make the world a better place together.

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