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  • Louise Oliver

How post-traumatic growth can help us to unlock our potential

In the of realms of personal development and coaching, there's often a lot of talk about 'unlocking potential', to the extent that's a become a bit clichéd. But clichés exist for a reason and often there is some truth in them. What I'm most interested in are ways that we can tune into our untapped potential from our unique life experiences (good, bad and indifferent).

Most of us have the potential and desire to evolve and grow in our own personal ways. This is self-actualisation (defined by Maslow as part of his hierarchy of needs as: "Achieving one’s full potential, personal growth and self fulfilment"). But we constantly face obstacles from both forces in the world at large and our inner worlds which include fear, distraction and resistance. These are unique to each of us and it’s not a level playing field, it’s easier (and more possible) for some than others to evolve. We all encounter different obstacles depending on our unique circumstances and positions within society. Evolving is part of our DNA as humans, like an acorn has the potential to transform into an oak tree or a caterpillar’s metamorphosis into a butterfly.

When it comes to unlocking our potential and fulfilment, I believe there are three areas to explore and unlock:

• Our sense of purpose.

• How we cultivate connection with our self, others and the world.

• Where and how we find meaning in our experiences and lives as whole.

Over the last 14 months or so of the pandemic many of us have spent the majority of our time within the cocoon of our homes or at least being more insular due to the restrictions during the multiple lockdowns. We had to work on our adaptability and resilience and it’s been a challenging time for most people. But this situation has arguably been creating conditions for us to transform – collectively and individually. Whilst this is by no means universal, it has been written about quite extensively and is described as an phenomenon called ‘post-traumatic growth’.

When I asked people in a quick Instagram poll how they were feeling about coming out of lockdown, 74% of my followers said they had “mixed feelings.”

One sentiment that resonated strongly with many was “being worried that we’ll forget about the positive things we’ve learnt and not grow.” Other things people shared when I asked about any positives/things they’d learnt from Lockdown included:

“Getting a better understanding of myself and my needs.”

“Understanding that it’s simple things that make me happy - I need fresh air, quiet, movement etc.”

“Quiet time for reflection and deeper interactions with family and friends.”

“Being more aware of people’s mental health.”

“Time with my family, time for myself, time to focus on what I want and not running like crazy.”

“We are very adaptable and agile to challenges.”

“We need to find better balance – work is not life!”

Whether the experience has had positives or not, it’s also important to recognise that not everyone has been in the same position. There have been global conversations about how we are living our modern lives, the impact of the pandemic and how it connects with the socioeconomic and political landscape. It’s shone a much needed light on discussions about marginalised groups in society, and how they have and will continue to be disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Alongside the very necessary increased volume on the presence of systematic racism and inequalities driven by the Black Lives Matter uprising. So no matter where you are in these groups and the many more that I can’t possibly do justice to here, as the world got turned upside down and went on pause multiple times, it’s been a significant opportunity for reflection and maybe a bit of 'wake-up call'.

Whatever our situation whether we were working from home, unable to work/on furlough or working on the frontline, it provoked many to consider their purpose or possibly lack of it. For those who weren’t able to work, it forced us to think about what was meaningful to us when we weren’t being defined by our jobs and centring our lives around them. It's encouraged some people to contemplate alternative career paths or other life changes. For some there was a void that needed to be filled. For others there were questions about all the energy ploughed in work and whether it is meaningful. This led to considering the values that are most important to us. As well as the precious value of our time and being more aware of where we put our energy.

Whatever we learn from this significant experience collectively or as individuals, the processes of evolution are rarely painless. In fact from all formations of evolution pressure usually exists. Tara Brach, renowned psychologist and mindfulness teacher described this really well in one of her latest talks. She explained that there is often suffering when we first realise that we are in some way blocked from who we actually are or our potential to grow. In her example she described how “We can sense this process when we think about a chick breaking the egg, a foetus coming out of the womb or a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. There is pressure and pain of too tighter container. We need to respond to that pressure, tightness and tension with awareness in order to grow.” In other words, the catalyst for evolution is often pain, discomfort and dis-ease.

If you’re curious to begin to explore the process of unlocking your potential and fulfilment post-lockdown or at any time here are some questions to reflect on:

• What do I (want to) stand for?

• When in my life do I feel I can show up fully? / What stops me?

• When and how do I feel most able to connect with myself?

• What are the conditions that allow me to connect with others?

• What are the experiences in my life that I value/ find most meaningful?

These are BIG questions to dwell on, you’re unlikely to have immediate answers and probably will find one or all of them quite challenging but I encourage you to continue to explore, journal and revisit over days or weeks.

We’ll be exploring this these areas of unlocking more in our online workshop on18th May with the support of other therapeutic and coaching activities to aid this reflection. If any of this resonated or peaked your interest, we’d love to see you there. This is also a theme I explore in my one to one coaching, so please don’t hesitate to reach out for a free Discovery Call if you’d like to explore more how we might work together.

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