Witnessing Personal Change

Change comes from within – if we are going to change something – a behavior, a mindset, a way of being we must spend some time getting to understand our foundation first.

So often when people want to change something; to become more effective, insightful, less conflict adverse, they reach out for tools and advice that will lead to quick fixes. The thing is there are no quick fixes and you can’t change what you don’t know. It would be like asking you to re-program a computer without the technological understanding. First you need to get to know what is there before you try to change it. Get to know how the computer works.

This is where witnessing is powerful; watching, observing and listening to what goes on inside us. Our biases, histories, defenses and values operate like a maze, filtering how we hear and experience things and consequently how we choose to respond.

So, real change comes from getting to know that maze and its pathways so we are aware of our biases and what forms them. We can then consciously choose new ways of being and doing things.

It is so simple and yet takes a great deal of commitment to engage in this kind of personal growth and awareness. What is required is the simple part. The commitment to do it and stay with it is the hard part.

Doug Silsbee describes the process as a self-observation practice “Practice, as a scientist/observer might practice, bringing attention to your actions. This observer watches, with no judgment, as you do whatever you are doing. Think of it as split attention… one part of you is acting in the world (eating the fruit;) the other is witnessing (sitting and watching.) ”

Here is how it works in practice.

You recognize (or have been told) that you need to become more comfortable with handling a behavior/issue i.e. conflict. Before you go out to buy books on conflict or download techniques for managing difficult conversations, you need to get to know how your very personal and subjective operating system works. What are the inner workings of the computer that you are now wanting to tweak.

Start by committing to 1-2 weeks of journaling (jot notes are fine) around your reactions to the issue as it comes up in your life. Each day jot down what your thoughts are around it, what you liked/didn’t like, what triggered your reaction, what was your reaction, what it reminded you of etc. The point is not to edit anything out. If you do this, you will start to witness how you are programmed. Those patterns and the beliefs that sustain them are the keys to what constitutes real and meaningful change. With that knowledge comes the privilege of navigating the path differently, changing limiting beliefs and as a result behaviors.