Since I’ve been posting articles and videos more about my experience with personal development and “The Work”, I’ve had people asking me: what the heck do I even mean when I say “The Work” anyway??
Fair question. I have to admit I hadn’t really put too fine a point on it. “You know… The Work! Right?”
I really had to pause and think about it. What does it mean to do personal development and healing work? What does it actually take to heal and transform the world?!
Serendipitously (say that 5 times fast) the universe had my back. I was chatting with Christine Corcoran (an amazing coach and coach of coaches and host of the LWYD Collective events) about The Work and the Heal and Transform Movement, and she was talking about this exact issue: The work coaches, therapists and healers do is so many and various, so it’s challenging to really say what it is we actually do. rattled off 4 main types of work that practitioners do, just off the top of her head!
I thought about all the experiences, conversations and sessions I’d had with psychologists, counsellors, trainers, coaches, mentors, naturopaths, homeopaths, chiropractors, kinesiologists, psychics, body workers, breath workers, energy healers (and others), to see if it all broadly fell into these overarching categories. And yes! With a little massaging, there does seem to be a pattern!
I’ve ended up 6 levels:
- Accountability and planning (focus is WHEN)
- Skills and knowledge (focus is HOW)
- Strategy and insight (focus is WHAT)
- Mindset and intention (focus is WHY)
- Physical and emotional healing (focus is WHO)
- Energy and presence (focus is BEING)
What do I mean by these? Let’s run through how I’m defining them…
ACCOUNTABILITY AND PLANNING
Did you do what you said you would do, by when you said you would do it?
That’s basically accountability in a nutshell. Someone asks you what target you want to hit, then regularly checks in to ensure you hit it.
The focus here is WHEN. As in WHEN will it be done?
Why is this important? Because as humans we are incredibly good at justifying just about any behaviour or lack of behaviour to ourselves if left to our own devices. And yet, with a little bit of social visibility, we will go out of our way to make good on any promise we’ve made in front of others. Especially for those whom integrity is a high value—integrity is often translated as “doing what you say you’ll do”. I see it as much more than that, but that’s a tangent and a longer conversation for another day.
Having someone to witness our commitments and check in to see how we are tracking can be incredibly powerful. And when facilitated by a professional. It’s an incredibly valuable tool because they will be able to help you unpack why you’re not achieving your goals if they slip.
But if we only focus on accountability, and the targets continue to slip, then we do need to ask why? And then step outside the realms of accountability alone.
Often times we fail because we just don’t understand the domain we’re working in well enough, or just aren’t capable of the tasks we need to master in order to succeed.
In which case, we need to look to…
SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE
This is one of the most common types of personal and professional development available. It’s essentially training. It’s the HOW of getting things done.
If you want to be able to do a thing. You need the skill to do a thing.
Now these days, there is so much freely available information online we can be tempted to think you don’t really need a professional for this layer.
However again, the value comes in how the professional can combine this layer with others.
The personal touch also means they can help you accelerate your skills acquisition by focusing on the areas that you need the most help with and repeating concepts that they identify you may have missed.
The other challenge with focussing on skills is we can become very good at doing a range of things. But are we doing the right things? Did we even learn the right skills?
We need more direction and clarity. We need…
STRATEGY AND INSIGHT
Strategy starts with insight and clarity of where you are at, where you’re headed (at a high level), and what the future likely holds for you (known as strategic foresight). It also factors in your strengths and weaknesses to help determine:
- WHAT to do
- WHAT not to do
When to do things and why are also important factors in strategy but as Harvard Business Review puts it: “Strategy is the art of knowing when to say no” https://hbr.org/2018/01/the-art-of-strategy-is-about-knowing-when-to-say-no
Because once you have clarity of WHAT to say no to, you leave space to say yes to the WHATs that really matter.
This is a space coaches and consultants commonly play in. But clairvoyants, psychics, numerologists, metasymbologists and human design practitioners can play a role here too by helping to clarify what the future might hold as well as your strengths and weaknesses now.
The biggest challenge of strategy is many of us find it difficult to say no to any opportunity. Because when viewed from a scarcity mindset we believe we might miss out if we say no. Good old FOMO!
Not a problem, we’re in luck, enter…
MINDSET AND INTENTION
This is the realm of insightful and inspirational quotes, fresh perspectives, optimistic missives, and positive reframes.
It includes awareness of problematic behaviours, noticing them, interrupting them, reframing them. Attempting to shift beliefs and behaviours at the conscious level, then over time with enough repetition, they start to shift in the unconscious also.
Mindset reprogramming can be achieved through a range of tools, from CBT to NLP, affirmations to visualisations and some forms of hypnosis.
And staying ever-vigilant as to what your true intentions in any given situation or interaction is a tool in my toolkit I prize above most.
Mindset and intention speaks to WHY we think, speak and behave the way we do. Change your mindset and intentions and you’re actually giving yourself a better purpose (or WHY) behind your actions.
So these are incredibly powerful techniques. But alone, they are not enough.
For every positive reframe, for every better way of looking at a situation or a challenge, for every affirmation or time you tell yourself to pick a more altruistic intention, there is a little voice in your head that has its own perspective and a comeback for every situation.
This little voice is known as your ‘critical faculty’.
It’s an unstoppable little fact-checker. It’s obsessed with what it knows to be right, true and correct. You may be aware that there are many perspectives and no such thing as ‘objective truth’ and yet your critical faculty will be checking in on everything you say or think and every thing others communicate.
In fact, it’s doing it right now inside your head TRUE.
At the end of every sentence, it pauses for a nanosecond of reflection TRUE.
And then it passes judgement TRUE.
And then it visualises a blue camel FALSE.
It’s this little voice that resists any work that you do at the mindset level. For every positive statement you make about yourself or your situation, your critical faculty has the opportunity to call “FALSE”. Or worse, whisper “bullshit”.
That’s why these techniques either require daily doses over extended periods, where you just will your neural pathways to change through sheer force of repetition. Or they can sometimes be more immediately effective, but often then only a temporary fix. Where you feel immediately better, but gradually slip back into old mindsets and habits over time.
Why? Because the unconscious has been holding on for a reason. Often times there’s something that happened (usually during your childhood) that formed that critical belief in the first place.
Never fear, there is a complementary treatment that takes mindset work and underpins it beautifully…
PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL HEALING
This is the most confronting layer of personal development. In which you shift energy and (usually negative) emotions around in your body. Where they were stuck, now they will flow. You express them, get catharsis, release the energy and then have a more positive resourcing and integration process.
Tools in this layer are the likes of transformational coaching and hypnosis, core energetics, body-psychotherapy and body work.
This gets to the heart of WHO you really are physically, emotionally and psychologically. As things shift in this layer you will start to question your identity and WHO you really are. WHO is the authentic me? And you start to get an appreciation of the remnants and fragments of WHO you are within (e.g. your higher self, your lower self, and your inner children).
What about physical healing? Well yes that’s good too. And some practitioners (like chiropractors and TCM practitioners for example) can manipulate and address physical discomfort directly.
But it’s where this is coupled with emotional healing that things really start to get impactful.
In some circles this next idea is still controversial, but I’ve seen enough examples (including my own first-hand experience) that I believe many (if not most) cases of chronic illness can actually be traced back to emotional wounds sustained during the (usually quite natural) process of early childhood. By which I mean, even if you didn’t suffer significant trauma as a child, it’s very common for children to formulate beliefs about how the world works and strategies for dealing with challenges that worked ok at the time, but don’t serve us particularly well as adults.
And yet these old neural pathways remain strong into adulthood and even get stronger as the trials and tribulations of life keep triggering the same responses over and over, strengthening those pathways. In psychology this is known as Gestalt Theory.
This was certainly true for me. I didn’t suffer adrenal insufficiency just because I was a workaholic (I was). I was a workaholic because of emotional wounds. But many people work a lot and don’t burn out, right? Was I just weak? I don’t think so. Again, as far as I can tell it was emotional wounds from childhood that meant I was a major people-pleaser and stress-pot (clinical terms ha). And not only did I work a lot, but I was stressed and anxious the entire time. Which I believe is a recipe for chronic illness of one sort or another, and frankly it could have been much worse.
ENERGY FLOW AND PRESENCE
The most difficult part for me in my healing and transformation journey was at the beginning.
Why? Because I was stuck in my head!
I had forgotten how to connect with my body. In fact I had become incredibly good at unconsciously disconnecting and blocking the flow of my energy because it meant I didn’t have to feel my feelings. It was an unconscious defence, a protection, an escape.
This layer is about BEING. Being present. Being grounded. Being in your body. Being in flow.
Without these, every other attempt at healing and transformation becomes much harder. If not impossible.
We can’t even connect with others effectively if we’re not present for the conversation.
This is why mindfulness, meditation, grounding, energy work, mbit, breath work, body work, spending time in nature. These are all incredibly valuable activities, because they put us back in our bodies, and allow our energy to flow top to bottom.
*Ahhhhhh* I feel better just thinking about it. I clearly still have work to do in staying in my body and keeping my parasympathetic nervous system engaged throughout the day.
For our energy to flow we must also make sure our body is our temple. So we need to look after ourselves and all the fundamentals: sleep, nutrition, exercise. So this is also where yoga, naturopathy, nutritionists, personal trainers and physiotherapists all make a huge impact.
It’s not enough to just ‘be healthy’, we need all the other layers, but this stuff is just so fundamental as it supports everything we’re trying to do and achieve.
ROW YOUR BOAT
Interestingly, the mainstream (western) and corporate understanding of performance and success still focus almost exclusively on the top 3 layers (accountability, skills and strategy). Although these days mindset and intention also gets sideways glance from time to time—without much deep understanding of what that’s really about, i.e. mostly just affirmations and reframing, positive psychology etc.
The majority of the bottom two layers, especially emotional healing and energy work are still considered by the mainstream to be remedial (ie about repairing damage, not about optimising human performance), and also, quite frankly… woo.
But this is shifting, and has already shifted such a long way even in the past decade. More and more people are starting to understand the value in all aspects of The Work, even if they don’t fully understand it, or can explain it rationally (hint, it can’t be explained rationally, much of it is transrational).
WHICH IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
So how then do I know which level I need?
Trick question! Ha. Bet you saw that coming 🙂
Of course we need all of the levels. The levels actually reinforce and accelerate each other. And if you employ all the levels, wow! It’s powerful!
A better question might be: How do I know which level I need for a particular problem that I’m facing right now?
Well it’s not always easy to tell for yourself. We’re usually just too close to it to see our own situation clearly.
A good practitioner will be able to guide you through it. And expertly diagnose where you’re at and which layer is the priority for you right now.
A cautionary note here: Some practitioners only deal with some of the layers. And unfortunately, when you’ve got a hammer, every problem tends to look like a nail.
So those practitioners will tend to want to sell you on having all of your nails hammered down. By which I mean, they will be pushing their layer of choice. Sometimes as a be-all-and-end-all silver bullet solution.
The right practitioner however will be able to identify the layers that will make the most powerful shifts for you right now.
BUT IN GENERAL…
So we need all the layers of healing and transformation, but one or two layers might be the priority for you right now. So it’s not easy to say where you should jump in on your journey today.
However in general, I believe starting with layer 6 and working your way up is the most efficient and powerful approach. Because if you aren’t in your body, you can’t heal. And if you can then heal your physical and emotional wounds, then everything else gets a lot easier!
Without clearing that traumatic event from childhood or that negative belief mum or dad passed down about being a show off or that time you got in serious trouble for speaking your truth etc, it doesn’t matter how much other work you do consciously, your unconscious will still feel shut down and resist further transformation.
The good news is, after deep healing work, mindset reprogramming then becomes so much easier! Sometimes your limiting beliefs and critical self-talk will then just shift by themselves. Or you find you can now speak affirmations to yourself without the little voice of your critical faculty whispering “bullshit”. So the layer 4 work accelerates.
Which in turn means it’s easier to make the hard decisions strategically. Why? Because you’re no longer split internally between how your conscious mind now wants to look at the world VS what your unconscious still innately believes. Which means you’re no longer stuck in fear, uncertainty and doubt and you can actually commit to a course of action! In particular, it becomes much easier to focus and say no to things strategically to make space to be able say yes to the most important priorities and really do them justice.
Which then in turn makes it easier to determine which skills you actually need to acquire and which you can delegate or outsource.
And finally, then and only then, you’ll know with clarity what you actually need to be held accountable for!
The layers of healing and transformation flow like a river. It makes a lot of sense to go with the flow.
All of that said, there’s not actually a prescriptive order for The Work. And many different processes and treatments can be beneficial in any given situation.
That’s one of the things I love about this community. Every practitioner has their own unique recipes for which combination of tools and methods they use.
The really good ones are like a master chef. They take their recipe and intuitively know which combination of ingredients to personalise for you based on where you’re at, so every dish they serve is unique and exactly what you need.
A master chef practitioner is one who:
- Understands and appreciates the value of all the layers of The Work.
- They have experience delivering all the layers, or will actively refer you to other practitioners to address Their gaps.
- They have classic recipes that they know work time and time again and then intuitively adjust them for your palette.
Keep an eye out for these master chefs and look for evidence of these layers being addressed in any programs you’re signing up for. These are the practitioners you want to work with!
And if you’re a practitioner yourself, reflect on the layers and where you tend to focus most. Are there other layers you’re not focussing on that would add value for your clients? Do your transformative programs address all the layers? Have a think about how you can become an even more masterful chef.
And let me know, which layers have been the most powerful for you in your healing and transformation journey?