01 what's so great about self knowledge?
Socrates declared that the unexamined life is not worth living. It is true that if we remain in the dark about our natural preferences, our core strengths and weaknesses, our values and our hopes for the future, we will find it very hard to live coherent and fulfilling lives.
Only when we know our patterns, and where they come from, can we manage them effectively. Understanding our histories keeps us from blindly repeating unproductive behaviours that no longer serve us. Self-knowledge also leads to a kinder and more compassionate view of what we may regard as our shortcomings.
Without self-knowledge we will not be able to make wise choices. If we do not understand our basic motivations and fears, we will be tossed around by our emotions like small vessels helplessly adrift on a choppy sea. Ruled by forces that remain incomprehensible to us, we will not be able to control where we are going.
True self-knowledge, however, requires dialogue. It is one of the only forms of knowledge that you cannot just obtain on your own. I’ll be your mirror, illuminate your blindspots and ask you questions that will help you see yourself in a different light. Together, we will create a powerful new self-story.
02 why radical acceptance?
Here is the great paradox of self-improvement: in order to grow, we first need to accept what is there. Warts and all, and especially our shadows. Only then can we change in a meaningful way.
At moments of crisis, the first step is to accept that we can’t keep on doing what has brought us to this point. The Buddhist nun Pema Chödron writes: “Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.” What is your crisis trying to tell you?
We also need to learn to differentiate between what we can and what we cannot control, and then focus our energy on what we can control. The Stoic philosopher Epictetus writes: “Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing.” In other words, what tends to be within our control is our inner life, our judgements, reactions and how we treat others, whilst most other things, including what people think of us, are beyond our control.
But practising radical acceptance of what we can’t change is not akin to defeatism. Instead, it is a form of wise discernment that allows us to direct our energy towards what is in our control, rather than pointlessly wasting it on what we can’t change. It is, in other words, an energy-saving technique. Energy is in short supply when we are exhausted, burnt-out or feeling low, so questions of energy conservation are not a trivial matter. In addition, acceptance will allow us to feel more at peace with ourselves and our circumstances.
03 blog and podcast
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04 why work with me?
I am not just a coach but also a writer and a researcher. I am the author of Exhaustion: A History (Columbia University Press, 2016) and The Art of Self-Improvement: Ten Timeless Truths (Yale University Press, 2021). I have also written a novel, academic works and journalism. Until Spring 2023, I used to be a Professor of Cultural History at the University of Kent but I am feeling much better now.
My writing has appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, the Guardian, Psychology Today, PositivePsychology, AEON and PSYCHE. My research has been discussed in national and international media, including on BBC Radio 4 and WBUR, as well as in Vogue, the Atlantic, National Geographic, Philosophie Magazine, the TLS and New Republic.
I have always been interested in psychology and the art of self-improvement. I have coaching qualifications in Co-Active Coaching, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and mBIT. In my coaching practice, I combine state-of-the-art and science-based coaching techniques with tried-and-tested ancient wisdom. For new is not always better. Sometimes, it is the ancient models that hold the key to our most urgent present-day problems. I am especially fond of Stoic thought. While I always adapt my tools and methods to your unique needs, my general focus is the importance of deepening self-knowledge, practising radical acceptance and developing your courage to act.
I also believe in the power of inner critic work. Too often, we are the tigers to our own gazelles. Many of us grapple with unkind voices in our heads, questioning everything we do and achieve, dragging our accomplishments into the mud. The bully in our inland empires has many names – cruel superego, internal demon, saboteur, gremlin, negative self-talk, mind-chatter… Whatever we may prefer to call it, the good news is that there are powerful strategies for dramatically reducing our inner critic's impact, and for developing more compassionate and productive self-talk.
05 the courage to act
If you work with me we will also develop your courage to act. This means allowing your cognitive insights to transform the structure of your feelings – to morph into a kind of knowledge that changes how you see yourself, the world and how you behave. For knowledge that lives just in your head and that never reaches your heart is quite useless. The German writer Goethe observed that “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.”This bit is of course the hardest part.
I offer weekly, bi-weekly and fortnightly 1-hour coaching sessions via Zoom. You can see my session fees here.
Please get in touch to book a 20-minute free exploration call with me. Just email: firstname.lastname@example.org or book your slot here.