Today is November 29, 2020. As I write this, the holidays are upon us, the number of new daily COVID-19 cases in the United States is soaring to levels higher than we saw at the beginning of the pandemic, and the world is still feeling the stress of a difficult American Presidential election.
So, it seems like a funny time to be writing about self-improvement. Don’t we have enough on our plates already? How much bandwidth can we really dedicate to bettering ourselves? Can’t we just wait until all this is over?
We could, but then we’d be missing the amazing opportunity for development that our subconscious presents us every day, since it’s working on our growth state all the time, in spite of (and sometimes because of) the external world.
Our subconscious is always speaking to us, and most times, we’re the topic of conversation. The trouble is, sometimes the conversation isn’t all that pleasant, especially when our subconscious voice takes the form of an inner critic. Think about the last time you made a mistake. Maybe you pulled out in front of someone while driving or said something in a meeting that turned out to be incorrect. Take a moment and recall how that conversation went. What did your inner voice tell you?
If you’re cringing a little right now, good! The first step in understanding how our inner dialogue works is to notice it and pay attention to it. So many times, we go about our day with our inner critic hammering away at us, and the conversation never rises to the point where we’re consciously aware of it. Awareness of our internal conversation can take us to a place where we can consciously control the dialogue, rather than letting our subconscious lead us.
This is where the idea of a debrief comes in. Here I’ll take a page directly from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s Team Strategies and Tools to Enhance Performance and Patient Safety (TeamSTEPPS) program, which was designed to help health care organizations develop a culture of psychological safety and empower staff to speak up about patient safety concerns. The debrief is a powerful tool because it emphasizes growth and quality improvement rather than disparagement.
The first step of a debrief is to ask, “What went well?” Think back to the mistake you recalled earlier. Consider the entire situation. What went well? If you made a mistake while driving, maybe you came away with a renewed sense of the importance of situational awareness. If you misspoke during a meeting, maybe one of your coworkers backed you up and clarified your thoughts for you. It doesn’t have to be huge, but certainly, something about the situation went well. Think of at least two things and hold them in your mind. Really consider them. Maybe even make them the subject of a short meditation.
The next question is just as important. Ask yourself, “If the situation were to happen again, what might I do differently?” Notice the positive tone of those words. What might I do differently? Not, “How badly did I botch that?” The phrasing is crucial, because it takes us from a place of subjectivity and self-flagellation to objectivity and self-coaching.
It almost seems too simple – our choice of words can influence how we respond to mistakes, big and small. Using these tools with intention while staying fully present with them can lead us toward spacious awareness; that is, an understanding and compassionate acceptance of ourselves as an inseparable part of the universe.