Integral Life Coaching

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Our Immunity to Change: My interpretation of this adult development model

How many times have we wanted to change a behavior, mindset, or habit, and we weren’t able to do it? We had the motivation for the change. We even started it but have yet to actualize the change we wanted.

Our immunity to change is as physiological as psychological. Our reptilian part of the brain – the brain stem – is designed to see change as a threat. We are instinctively wired to survive; therefore, our body – below our awareness – constantly searches for danger but desires safety.

Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey gathered their many years of research on adult human development in a book titled “Immunity to Change.” 

They explain how the desire to change or having insight into our behavior that needs change is not enough. 

I translate that to knowing my need to change intellectually is the first step. It’s when I read and listen and recognize my limitations. Then there is a path to the embodiment of the change to make it second nature. 

It is a learning process. It’s different from learning mathematics or a new SW application. This is learning our transformational skills, as Kegan and Lahey put it. 

The learning process can be viewed this way:


   Photo surce:

It is an iterative process that takes a while. It is also easier to do it with outside support to see the achievements in the process and receive feedback. This is where a support group or a life coach can help. 

I recently finished “Immunity to Change.” It is a comprehensive model that could help various personality types. There are many models that we coaches apply to empower our clients to make the change they want. The goal in coaching is to select a suitable model for the combination of personality and circumstances to allow the learning process to take place and unlock the client’s potential.

This is how this model works; By filling out the chart below, we can create a picture and a plan for our path to change.

  From the book Immunity to Change by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey

Column 1- Commitment (improvement goals): Think about the most challenging part of your life and ask yourself, what would be the most critical change in me that can improve my contribution to this challenge? What behavior is limiting you from being yourself in this challenge? If you feel comfortable, ask for feedback from those involved or who know about your life challenge. 

Column 2 – Doing/not Doing: These are our behaviors. What am I doing against this goal? If you’d like, make this column private. The more honest you are with yourself, the better results you will gain. But the goal is not to shame yourself. For example, I fall into people-pleaser mode under the fear of conflict. I agree even if I don’t like a situation, then I feel resentment. I listen to learn what people want to do and forget my own wants and needs. I don’t want to upset people by pushing them out of their comfort zone. I compromise my desires and sometimes my needs. 

Column 3 – Hidden competing commitments and the worry box: Hidden commitments are part of our psychological immune system to keep us safe. These are our rescuers from old dangers. We needed to adopt these worries as our defense mechanism, especially when we were young. They can be based on old threats. 

What we write here can be unexpected for us. We need to stay non-judgmental about what comes out and practice self-acceptance. These are our self-doubts, criticizing inner voice, and worries that have become so natural in our mind that recognizing them may take a while. 

The first three columns show us our immunities to change. Take time to fill out the first three columns. Returning to each one and modifying it as you learn more about yourself. After filling out the first 3 columns, we begin to see the contradictions between our improvement goal and the hidden commitments. One sign of having a clear picture from these columns is when we feel uncomfortable by learning about some of our behavior that contradicts our improvement goal. 

Column 4 – Big assumption: These are our mindsets and beliefs. Here we learn that reducing or eliminating our behavior, hidden commitments, or mindset abruptly will not work. They are our defense mechanism and have served a purpose in the old days, but they have become a pattern in our subconscious and stayed there with us even when there is no longer any danger. Are those old threats and dangers still relevant? Danger could be feeling ashamed, belittled, bullied, unloved, ostracized, etc. 

First SMART Experiment: Designing a relatively safe experiment on our big assumption is essential. This is only research about our assumption and not a self-development step yet. This is only a test. Its result is only for learning purposes. Design it for a safe yet challenging environment to see whether your assumptions are correct. A good test conforms to the S-M-A-R-T criteria where S is for safe, M is for modest, A is for actionable, R is for research stand (the test’s purpose), and T is for the test. 

Running the test: After we run the test, we need some reflection. Taking notes on what I did, what happened, whether there was any feedback, did I gather quality data (not based on my own assumption from other people’s heads), and what does the data say about my big assumption? 

Designing a New Test & Hooks and Release: Here, the iterative process allows us safely and step by step to move towards a new pattern of beliefs and behavior. We are firing neurons in a safe way to allow them to wire together and become our new neural paths for our new behavior. There is a saying that neurons that fire together wire together. 

This blog is a simplified version of the model. It also focuses on an individual’s development. However, practicing this way of learning, especially as an iterative process, can bring a new opening to our lives and allow us to confidently approach growth. The model also offers group development, especially for leadership and organizations. In that version, the authors provide insight into how different personalities can work together with curiosity and non-judgmental behavior. 

If you’d like to learn more about adult vertical development and self-growth, please visit my website and blogs at 

Schedule a complimentary conversation here to allow me to bring you more light on effective self-growth models.

Everyone is searching for more connections to life. Everyone has a different path. Be you and keep going. 

Shabnam Curtis

Here is a great video that explains Immunity to Change Model by the author.

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A Little About Conversation Skills

Conversations are daily practices that we do, and many of them can change the course of our lives.

We use different skills and our entire body to communicate in each conversation. We communicate verbally and non-verbally. Many research studies suggest that non-verbal communication has more power than words.

Our bodies absorb the messages from the environment through an introspection system below our awareness. The body decodes these messages based on our previous experiences. This process is how each person understands the message from their own point of view, unique and different from others. Here is when our nervous system decides how to respond to the message.

The more we know ourselves and recognize our bodily sensations, the less we react and the more we respond in a conversation. The more we observe our conversation partners, the less we judge them. Self-awareness and observation with curiosity create more clarity. Clarity causes deeper communication. Deep and meaningful communications are vital for humans to make a purposeful life.

Here I break down a few key points that can add mindfulness and clarity to a conversation.


  • Practicing attentive listening
    • Only interrupting if we need to focus on something and the other person is off-topic. Most of the time, letting the other person talk helps a lot.
    • Being curious to learn more from what we hear
    • Asking for expansion of what they mean
    • Being caring rather than judging
    • Having and respecting a short pause, a deep breath.
  • Having awareness of whether we are speaking our stream of consciousness or some well-thought-through concepts. When we announce we are thinking aloud, help the other party see our position in the conversation.
  • Offering insight or asking powerful questions rather than giving advice.
  • If we are asked for advice, indicating the source of our guidance will help, whether it is based on our knowledge or personal experience.
  • Using our own words and repeat what we heard to ensure we are on the same page with the person we are conversing with. What I am hearing is [fill in the blank].
  • Being mindful of the role of our inner critic and try to put them aside for the moment.
    • Feeling I know better to give advice.
    • Taking things personally (doubting our self-worth) and stopping attentive listening.
  • Adding new empathizing words to our vocabulary
  • Stopping when anger shows up in an unhealthy way, and a break is needed.
  • Creating a balance between listening, sharing, and asking. This way, both sides feel better unless we are there to only listen.
  • Focusing on the subject of the conversation.
  • Avoiding using self-destructive phrases.
  • Avoiding being flattering. Silence, a meaningful look, or a quick acknowledgment is much more helpful than empty words.
  • Trying to empower ourselves and the other person.


  • When it is time to communicate through talking, it’s always easier if we are approachable. We show that in our faces, eyes, and body posture.
  • Body posture
    • What is my body posture? How about the other person? Sitting straight? Or hunching down?
    • When we use our hands in a fast manner, we usually convey a complex message. Being patient when the other person is trying hard brings closeness and trust.
    • We mainly look up when we are thinking, using our cognitive intelligence and might forget our bodily sensations.
    • A lot of the time, we avoid looking when we are uncomfortable or thinking hard.
    • Do we know unique body gesture of our company? When anxious? When thinking? When relaxed?
  • Emotions
    • What emotions are rising in my body? Where do I send them? Can I change my posture?
    • Can I ask what emotions the other person is feeling?
    • When we are not confident, we send a subconscious message to the other person, changing the dynamics negatively. We might be able to remind ourselves to be optimistic.
  • Tone of voice
    • Our tone of voice can convey a different message when our words are not aligned with it. In having a request, confidence in our voice helps, or humbleness in our voice can bring out authenticity when apologizing.
  • Environmental effects, including distractions or the environment’s mood, could make a conversation go south.
  • Walking/ moving releases endorphins and can help the mood of the conversation.

A couple of tips:

  • In many conversations for many people, having a request or expressing an opinion creates natural anxiety. We can practice grounding and self-soothing before and during the conversation. We can become stronger than our anxiety.
  • Shaming someone for any reason creates a negative dynamic. It makes the other person either passive or impulsive. It impacts emotional regulation and becomes destructive.


Practice mindful conversation for four weeks and journal what you did and what you could do better (with no judgment, only accepted as a learning curve). Many things will come naturally after this practice.

Keep going. Keep pursuing your potential.

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How Much Do We Want from Life; Choosing from Our Wants and Desires When the Sky’s The Limit

Many of us live in an era with an abundance of opportunities. We want to experience so many things that a lifetime doesn’t seem long enough. We search for satisfaction, pleasure, happiness, and fulfillment. Instead, we feel overwhelmed and fear missing out at times.

For example, my never-ending list includes several books to read, many places to travel to, various courses to take, new people to meet, and experiences I have yet to imagine. It is never enough.

Novelty is what we crave. It is natural and makes us human. But how do we plan around it to avoid getting lost in our long lists of wants and desires? 

Being human contains several types of intelligence, including relational, cognitive, artistic, social, somatic, & spiritual. While feeding curiosity on one of them is enjoyable, there is a desire to have a balance on other dimensions of life. 

But how does that work for each unique personality? How much do I know about myself? What’s important to me?

What has been helping me is clarifying my values and virtues. Identifying which ones need more attention. How I can develop more depth on those virtues through my daily life has provided me more clarity on my growth path. I ask myself questions like: at this stage of life, what’s the next step in my vertical development? What types of horizontal developments (skills) can support that? What makes me more curious and more compassionate?

Thinking about my values and pattern of my passion over the past few years, I learned that my focus needs to be on more reflective education on my life coaching journey. Gaining a sense of self-mastery in this area has become my top priority value. Digging deeper into adult development science has brought fulfillment and satisfaction in many areas of my life. I feel relieved when I clarify my top priority and can plan for other areas of development around it. The overwhelming feeling subsides and becomes more under control. 

Here is what has continued to help me see and appreciate my growth. I create a one-year plan on who I want to be in a year, considering values that need more attention. I envision the more developed “me” in each dimension of my life using cognitive, relational, artistic, social, somatic, & spiritual intelligence? The plan doesn’t have to start in January.

The detailed plan needs to include these points:

  • Alignment with my values and virtues. Values can evolve and become more complex based on the evolution of our worldview. This is where we can reflect on our current values and behavioral patterns and see what we can change to expand our worldview. I really like this list of virtues.
  • Expanding knowledge of values can help us learn more about our desires. Once we learn more about our true desires, we can choose goals and disciplines to go after them with focus and attention.
  • Practice focusing. Learning it from a good meditation teacher makes a huge difference. This is by far the most critical part of the plan considering the excess stimulus in our environment. At the same time, while we need to set a limit on distractions, paradoxically, we need to come to peace with the distractors in society. 
  • Accepting we can’t always have pleasant emotions. Plan to learn self-soothing and self-care practices when life throws triggers our way. You can watch my workshop on emotional regulation here.
  • Identify a safety net of a trusted circle of people who can be there for us when we experience unpleasant emotions, especially powerful ones. 
  • Being realistic about our time and capabilities rather than planning to only satisfy what society asks for. Get to know your body budgeting system. 
  • Include plenty of regular and daily rest and relaxation for recharging. Depending on our state of being, each practice may work or not. Trying different approaches and having the right ones in our toolbox can be helpful. 

Now, where would you like to feel a sense of self-mastery? Education, career, parenthood, relationship, finance, self-awareness, spirituality, health, environmental crisis, consumerism, capitalism, becoming an intentional yes or no sayer? What other values would you like to pay attention to?

Working on this process is precisely where a life coach can help. Changing our old habits and behavioral patterns is changing and creating new neural paths all over our bodies by staying focused and practicing regularly. A life coach with nonjudgmental support can help make this happen. 

And meanwhile, please be patient with yourself. This is a process, and we learn step by step. Let’s stay realistic about the progress and celebrate every step’s victories on our development path.

I’d like to recommend this course in Coursera: Know Thyself – The Value and Limits of Self-Knowledge: The Examined Life.

Let’s grow together and make earth a better place to live for everyone.

Photo by Hubble Sees a Slashing Smudge Across the Sky by NASA Goddard Photo and Video is licensed under CC-BY 2.0

Editing credit: Mike Curtis & Parnian Emami


Emotional Regulation via Grounding and Self-Soothing

Environmental triggers stimulate our nervous system. These triggers, known as stressors, initiate the fight, flight, or freeze response in our body which is mainly controlled by our Vagus nerve as part of our autonomic system. Suppose our nervous system receives a message from environmental triggers through our Neuroception system. In that case, we can partially lose the ability to use our analytical skills and rationality typically supported by our prefrontal cortex

In many instances, the process of receiving these environmental messages is below our awareness. If we don’t have the training to recognize these triggers in real time, we only feel the symptoms they cause. These symptoms are emotions like anger, anxiety, fear, or a mix of many emotions.

Our Neuroception system decodes the message from the triggers based on our previous experiences shaping our perception. For example, if a dog bit a person as a child, they might be reluctant to be near dogs as an adult. 

Our body navigates through different stages to transition from a state of safety to fight or flight mode. We might feel a range of emotions, such as anxiety and fear, in a particular situation. Or suppose our brain doesn’t have the capacity to deal with this stage. In that case, our body can immediately transition to the state of Freeze or appeasement. Freeze or appeasement can form deep sadness, depression, people pleasing, or desperation to fit in. This is when we may feel emotions such as self-doubts, sadness, helplessness, and depression. 

Through mindfulness practices, you can begin recognizing when you are in a state of fight, flight, or Freeze. Follow these steps to help objectify the experience:

First, acknowledge the existence of the experience. Accept that this is your current state of being by naming the emotions and checking your bodily sensations

Naming emotions can feel confusing at first. You can find great help on Karla McLaren’s website and Brené Brown’s recent book, Atlas of the heart. Make sure you don’t get hung up with someone’s definition of emotion, and use these resources as inspiration to define the emotion for yourself. Researchers explain universal patterns, but your emotional subtlety is unique to you based on your collective life experiences. 

Then, ask yourself, from 0 to 10, how powerful my current state of mind is. Observe to learn whether this is a healthy amount of emotional response to a trigger or excess amount of emotional reaction that could take control of our behavior.

The next step is inquiring about the best tool to ground and self-soothe ourselves. Grounding or self-soothing re-establishes the connection between our nervous system and our prefrontal cortex’s access to rationality and analytical thinking.

When we’re back in the state of harmony, we will be able to contemplate a mature response to the trigger that comes from our wisdom instead of our perceived triggers.

Here is a list of grounding and self-soothing tools. I use a few of them and have shared my personal experience here. Practice a few of these suggestions to see what works for you, and add any of your existing methods to create a running list. Make sure the tools you’re currently using are healthy soothing mechanisms (hint: for example, binge eating or doom scrolling are not healthy soothing mechanisms). Keep this as a living document, update it regularly and use it as needed. Lastly, planning a daily grounding practice is critical to prepare us for more powerful events. These practices help us decrease the power of an unpleasant mood and help guide us slowly back to the state of connection, inner peace, and safety. Don’t we all want to have wise and mature responds to what life brings to us?

Deep and slow breathing: I practice this twice daily and when I feel overwhelmed by stress, anxiety, and sadness. I also close my eyes and take a few deep and slow breaths when I have a moment of awe, happiness, or fulfillment. I inhale the presence of the moment and allow my body to absorb it. 

Meditation: This is my daily practice; however, there are days that I am powerfully distracted by the events of the day. These days I practice alternatives such as anchoring to allow myself to emerge in a pleasant memory for a few minutes and feel safe in my body. Depending on my mood, I use guided meditations by teachers like Tara Brach, Kristine Neff, or Jack Cornfield.

Body scan: I close my eyes, relax my body, and check every piece of my body to see if any parts are triggered. I try to comfort those parts by touching, stroking, or resting the muscles. It can take less than 5 minutes. This practice usually lessens the power of my sad mood.

Singing: I have never had a chance to develop my singing voice. I sing along when I am in the car alone. 🙂 To begin this practice, I need to be in a lesser-powered fight, flight mode. If that state is powerful, I can’t even begin to sing. 

Relaxing: I love laying down and aiming to relax my muscles by letting them drop towards gravity as much as possible. I can review all my muscles and relax them through a body scan. This practice helps me when I feel numb or tense due to excess fear, anxiety, shame, or sadness.

Moving/Walking: Even a short walk with my dogs changes my mood and calms me down. This activity helps when I feel frustrated or angry.  

Being in nature: I have experienced that being in nature for at least half an hour brings me a couple of happy days. Walking in the woods, kayaking, and skiing are my go-to adventures. Being in nature is a grounding practice that calms me and makes me more resilient overall. 

Talking to someone safe: I’d like to speak to a safe person to self-reflect when I am unsettled, frustrated, or angry. I feel lucky I have people in my life who listen to me attentively, don’t give me advice if I don’t ask for it, understand me, and love me or accept me for who I am. 

Crafting: I lean into diamond stitches or color mandalas to focus. Whether I am listening to something or need to focus on a thought, these practices help me stay grounded, and the regularity of these activities allows me to concentrate. 

Dancing:  Dancing With closed eyes to West African Drumming; this practice a few times per week keeps me going. The movements release the tension from my body and allow more space in my lungs for deeper inhales. If I am in fight or flight mode, I need to push myself; in the Freeze, I usually need no movement practices.

Here are a few more suggestions that work for others:


Working out


Playing music





Listening to music

Taking a bath

Playing with a pet

Sitting in silence

Learning something

Watching soothing imageries

Splash cold water on your face

painting/playing with colors



Watch something that makes you laugh

Do a puzzle or a jigsaw puzzle

No doom scrolling – DO NOT get drawn into your social media

Your choice of tool

Let’s practice emotional regulation together!

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Editing credit: Parnian Emami

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A Short Story on Feeling my emotions

(948 words) Environmental Triggers and Our Subtle Emotional Reactions

I was air-traveling after a long time. I usually take books to read, notebooks to write, or audiobooks to listen to. And I usually end up watching people, movies that I don’t even like, or doing nothing. Of course, in the end, I’d judge myself for being unproductive and wasting many hours in the airport and during the flight. Killing time is no fun! 

It wasn’t that I wasn’t aware of my anxiety causing the restless feelings. I didn’t even acknowledge it and simply brushed it away.

Obviously, I wasn’t distressed or panicked but the low amount of anxiety usually gone unnoticed made me feel not enjoying my flight and feeling restless during my time in the airport or airplane and exhausted after my arrival.

This time, I decided to be more mindful as soon as I got to the airport. I was lucky, the airport and security line were not crowded on a Thursday mid-morning. However, I noticed my shoulders began stiffening and even hurting. In my head, I was clear and had no signs of anxiety. But my body was alarming me. Stress usually impacts my muscles, especially my right shoulder and stiffens my jaw. I began searching more in my body. I noticed the shallow breathing. Yup, my nervous system was aroused. I was in fight/flight mode, very alert.

So, I accepted it. Cognitively I began searching for reasons for the anxiety. I noticed that the airport has been a place that separated me from my child for 6 years. Also, the word security brings an alert to me. Even though I have personally worked on the projects related to the security machines in the airports, to me, their protection means there are possibilities of danger. And last but not least, being born in Iran and having it noted in my passport, I have gotten the big red ❌ on my boarding pass many times, singled out, being body and bag searched. Evidently, my body remembers all of that and probably more which alarms me of the possibility of repeating any of those events. Based on my personal experiences, that’s my body perception. 

I tried to remember good memories of traveling around the world through different airports and securely back to my sweet home too. It was nice to remember good memories, but it didn’t balance the unsettling memories in my body. 

So, I decided to let my anxiety be there. Since I had enough time, I allowed myself a leisure walk towards my gate. And told my anxiety, “It’s okay. We are together in this and at the moment we are safe.”

When I sat in the airplane, I closed my eyes and allowed myself to be anxious. I noticed, I wasn’t worried or scared. I was just unsettled due to my personal perception of the airport and air-traveling, and of course being out of my routine. My body needed to be more alert to protect me. Sounds simple but our bodies have to work hard to manage all of that. 

I’m glad I tried to understand my situation allowing myself to feel the anxiety. To my surprise, I read my book more than any other time with good focus and I wasn’t trying to use reading as a distraction. I wrote the draft of this blog post, massaged my neck and shoulders, closed my eyes every now and then, stayed friends with my anxiety, looked outside, and had a good time on the air. The unsettling feeling wasn’t as powerful and distracting anymore. 

On Airbnb, I relaxed without rushing to sightseeing. My body was grateful, shallow breathing was gone, and my shoulders relaxed, the pain was gone by the end of the day. It became more manageable than before. I was certainly more present enjoying my time.

The neuromuscular neurons in our body like the neuroreceptors in our brain have stored all the memories. They send messages to our brain to take survival actions for our safety based on those understandings of the past. All the stress from each event, weak or powerful, remains in our muscle memory. 

There are now many practices to release the stress from our body that could be different for each person. We can learn what actions work for us. Someone can run or do yoga to release the stress. I need to lay down and relax sometimes along with doing yoga and stretches, dancing, and shaking my body. 

The more we become in tune with our bodies, the better we can ground ourselves and get through what life brings to us with more resilience. Research shows that overall, we are more resilient if we feel our emotions, name them, listen to their messages of safety and survival, and avoid brushing them away or distracting ourselves from it. 

Little improvements count and sum up to create a calmer experience. I was able to begin re-teaching my body to remember that it was okay to feel unsettled, to remind myself that I was safe and could enjoy the moment and be present. 

If there was chaos and I was distressed, I’d choose a more powerful tool to authentically feel my emotions (such as deep breathing, closing my eyes for a few seconds, or body centering) to quickly remind myself to be resilient and then later after the storm would do longer grounding practices.

What I was experiencing was allowing myself to feel my emotions and accepting them. I practiced bringing more clarity that perhaps freed my cognitive abilities to perform with more presence.

How do you listen to your body? Do you accept your emotions allowing them to hang out? What tools do you use to ground yourself?

Let’s create a safe space for our emptions!

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A slice of My Self-acceptance Journey

It was a wakeup call when Joseph said, “Shabnam, you are reliving your childhood traumas of war.” It had been a few months into my new job that I noticed I was crying every day. 

I knew I feared war and its disturbing news; I had grown up with them. It makes sense that I am against war but to be realistic, if the last resort is fighting to defend or protect ourselves, I accept that as a distressing event. So, my self-reflection on everyday crying was that I was assigned to the wrong projects at work. Defense projects on weapons are necessary (perhaps) but I am not the right person to work on them. I thought I was fighting with my moral values and guilty feelings.

That day in June 2021, I was sobbing in the therapy session. Joseph waited for me for a few seconds and then calmly said, “Shabnam, you are reliving your childhood traumas of war.”

I brought my head up and unhide it from my hands. Tears streaming, I started listening to him carefully. Joseph continued, “The powerful emotions you are feeling at the moment, are all the emotions you felt during childhood but little of them had come out. This strong reaction you have to your job now is to release the suppressed emotions. You are experiencing a trauma reaction.” 

There were a few moments of silence. My mind felt blank, overloaded by the awareness. I had thought it was an inner conflict between my job and my values. Little did I know, the powerful trigger of working on a bomber project caused reliving the trauma of being bombed. I had worked on a similar project before, and my strong guilty feelings pushed me to change that job within a few months. It was my ignorance on not re-thinking the path I had chosen in my career. Or better yet, I had blindly jumped to the next job opportunity that was in front of me, allowing the randomness of the opportunities to build a career path for me. I wish I had a mentor or a career coach back then who had asked me about my values and ethics of working. I was a naive, young, immigrant woman. 

Joseph asked me if I could talk to my manager and ask to be transferred. I talked to the management. Accepting my situation with empathy, they promised to move me as soon as they hire a replacement for me. 

On top of my problem with the nature of the products I was working on, the team who I was working with was matter of fact and serious and worked under the threat of losing their jobs that rippled from the top management. So, the strict hierarchy, demanding for work to be done in a strong authoritarian style with no mercy took me back to the dictator government I had lived under in Iran. That was the right recipe for disaster for a person with such childhood experience.

Earlier in September we hired a young professional who needed training. I was in charge of his training but already slipping on the path of depression yet accepting the management decision. I blamed myself for not being strong enough. I told myself that I needed to wait and cooperate with the team. It was only fair that way. I could do it. I needed to be stronger. 

Mid-September, on a Friday afternoon, I felt so much anger and fear at work that I emailed a co-worker and said I needed to turn off my laptop before I sent a disrespectful email to the project manager I worked with due to her uncooperative behavior. I was shaking and needed to lay down. I crumpled in my bed under my blanket and began sobbing. I was sick over the weekend. It was a powerful anxiety attack and a new experience to me. I had experienced feeling depressed before, but I had denied the power of anxiety and depression and got through it without stopping. This time, I wasn’t able to function, and I asked for a week of sick leave. I received a warm email from my manager accepting that but on Wednesday he called me and asked me to get involved with the new hire and get back to work and I did it. I was stoic fighting to overcome my guilty feelings of the anxiety attack.

It took another month and half until I was completely removed from those projects but by then I was feeling sick and had to call out many days due to the weakness I felt in my body. It was perhaps difficult for my manager to understand the power of my trauma reaction. He never directly talked to me about the matter in our calls, we only talked about the logistics of the programs. I had talked to our Human Resources about my emotions and never to my manager directly. On one of my sick days, he sent me a text, “Are you working today, Shabnam?” I answered that I had emailed him for the day, and I wasn’t feeling well. He texted me back, “Can you send me the x document?” 

I knew that document was not due for another two months. I had been slowly working on it but not much. I wasn’t able to perform well. I thought he wanted to see the progress of my work and fire me for low performance. I was so tired of the situation that I sent him the document and my resignation letter in one email. 

I resigned that November feeling ashamed of not being able to get through the stressful time and depression. I was in a dark place not even mentioning my concerns for my financial commitments. I had started my anti-depression medication a couple of months before, but the depth of the sadness needed more help than medication. I needed self-acceptance. A type of self-acceptance that was a product of self-compassion. But all I could hear in my head was criticism for not being good enough, not being strong enough. Although, physically I could do nothing but lay down most of the hours, I felt guilty for not doing anything. 

I didn’t think about my capacity, my emotional arousal, my constant dark mood, my lack of motivation to do my job, the morning gagging, and tears as soon as I woke up, and the weakness in my body, feeling constantly nauseous. My body was telling me to stop but I had no self-acceptance of my capacity. I wanted to be strong, to be grateful of the opportunities of upcoming changes, and to be accepted by the management team. My body finally collapsed.

Despite all the support and hugs I received from my husband, my daughter, my close friends, and my counselor thoughts were ruminating in my head, 

• Am I really this weak or am I being lazy? 

• Am I so sensitive that I wasn’t able to have adult communication with my manager on how I felt? But he never allowed me to talk about anything other than the work projects. 

• What if I can never go back to work, who will pay my bills? 

• I hate corporate culture. It is very limiting. It is all wrong.

• Am I really depressed? Am I exaggerating my feelings?

• I notice shallow breathing all the time, like I can’t fill up my lungs. Am I dying maybe? That’s not a bad thing. It is liberating. Life is so difficult.

• Am I worthy of all this support I am receiving from family and friends? They will get tired of me. 

• I don’t want to talk to anyone, and I don’t need any advice. I want everyone to leave me alone. But without my friend S and my therapist support, I would not start the medication. 

At the same time, I was going through a one-year program to become a certified life coach, my dream job. It started in April of 2021. In December, I had a four-day session with my coaching school. The philosophy of my coaching school, New Ventures West, is to promote self-development for us as coach students in order to be equipped and educated to be able to help others in an authentic way. It was great to be held in that container with my classmates and teachers for four days. I felt loved, calmer, safer, and a little less depressed. I had the opportunity to contemplate on the concept of self-acceptance.

After the session was over, I started listening to Tara Brach’s book, The Radical Acceptance. As weakness took over and I laid down many hours per day, I listened to each chapter of this book over and over. I self-reflected and listened to it again. 

Another couple of weeks needed to pass for me to feel better about my mornings when I woke up. We were approaching the end of the year Holiday time. I felt the urge to contact friends and have zoom calls with a few. The connections felt great and energized me. From once a week, I increased my connections to a couple of even three per week and started to go out with friends who felt comfortable with the pandemic situation.

Week by week I felt better and by March I started a new job. I accepted a part-time job to make sure I have time to rest and focus on my coaching projects and clients. I had cultivated a great sense of self-acceptance including my imperfections and weaknesses. Through self-compassion, I learned I should be careful about triggers and early signs of depression in my daily activities to be able to regulate my emotions before they go crazy. I began daily check ins, practices to ground myself, and studying more on self-compassion. The ruminating thoughts and doubts had lost their power and I was in a fairly stable emotional state, grateful for all the support in my life to getting out of the depression episode I experienced. My thoughts had transformed to

• Oh, how depressed I was. That was too much emotional pain.

• I am grateful to wake up and have the capability to like my life.

• Silence is great.

• Nature is beautiful and calming.

• I need to rest now.

• How do I feel now? How can I bring harmony to my emotions?

• I need a massage.

• I enjoy my conversations with my loved ones.

• Life is much bigger than my problems. I need to look at my challenges objectively. How can I do that?

• How do I solve this hiccup today?

• What can I offer to life?

The last session of coaching training was at the end of April of 2022. The cohort gathered for another four days over the zoom. I was the second one in the line to receive my final words on my development and whether I would be certified or not. I didn’t feel anxious before the class started. I thought I was a good student. I enjoyed my projects and assignments throughout the year. They kept me going despite the depression and work pressure. They were my refuge. I loved my coaching clients and to be a coach. There was no reason for anxiety.

To my surprise, receiving my development feedback for the one year of my hard work, every question from my teacher felt like an attack and I became more and more defensive in explaining, clarifying, and defending my projects. Her serious face (was concentrating only) became scary to me. She noticed I was nervous. I agreed with her. I was panicking. She tried to sooth me. When the half an hour discussion was over, I was confident I wasn’t receiving my certification and I started hysterically crying. 

Well, that was authentically me. The Shabnam who in her head turned a developmental conversation with her teacher to an exam and freaked out. With the first question on a mistake I had made, my empire crashed. In my head I was supposed to be the good student in this class and with one mistake, my thoughts turned catastrophically towards becoming the bad student I always was in my youth. 

The reaction was so fast in my body that I slipped down in trance instantly. I was not able to do anything except reacting dramatically. However, it took me a few minutes to realize that I was trauma-responding. Through talking to my classmates, deep breathing, and applying the awareness of my recent trauma reaction experience at work, I was able to ground myself and become present quickly.  When I went to the faculty breakout room to hear about the results, I explained that I was aware of my trauma-reaction, and I was grateful to realize it quickly. 

Although the panic had already taken away the joy out of me, I felt grateful when they announced that I was certified. They reminded me that their evaluation was from over one year of my work and not about one mistake. They read beautiful feedback from my clients and reminded me of their observations of my deep connections with my clients. 

I accepted myself with my trauma reactions and felt deep self-compassion. I felt grateful to have developed the skill to catch my trauma-response and to accept it. It took another two days to be completely out of the pain of the trauma reaction, but I was able to function and be present during those days. I was aware of the emotional pain and allowed it to be there hanging out with me. It was part of the process of integrating an unaccepted piece of me – the bad student – and accepting my past. And, to realize there is no good and bad. It is all about our perception!

I am positive the more I integrate different versions of myself, the more acceptance and trust I build towards life including myself. It is a life-long process.

On the last day, the faculty’s last advice to us was “Be you and become more you”. 

Let’s practice self-acceptance together!

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Edited by Mike Curtis

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Self-Deception: Do We All Do It? Is It Good, Bad, or Both?

(1526 words)

Self-deception has been a recent mind-provoking concept to me. I needed to read and write about it. How we lie to ourselves and accept the lies and overtime we believe they are the truth and not the root of our sufferings. 

With self-deception, we try to hide our flaws and make a good self-image that makes us feel like a better person.

But don’t we often say, “Fake it to make it”? Are there occasions that self-deception can play a positive role? When old beliefs create a barrier and try to convince me that I am not good enough and I believe it because I don’t know better, maybe fake confidence can help me to break through the barriers! 

Self-deception like any other phenomena in life has both sides of the coin. It’s that how we draw the truth from either side.

Bringing a systematic and integral approach to self-deception, we want to be able to recognize the act of self-deception and bring a perspective to it to see the bigger picture. The bigger the perspective becomes, the better it shows us that we don’t have to be fake, and our real self is as accepted as possible. We will be able to see that everyone has flaws and that is just simply being human or any creature. Do we question a tree’s appearance because of a few dried branches? 

In an integral approach, we see ourselves as part of a bigger system and try to remind ourselves of the interconnection between us and the system we live in, the impacts of the system on us and the impacts we create on the system.

If I lie and pretend to myself and others that I am wealthy, then others’ expectations will be different, and I have to lie more every day. If I pretend that I am physically strong while really feeling weak and tired, others count on me as strong and when I break, it impacts others’ lives who counted on my support. If I pretend that I am always right and never make a mistake, after a while other people don’t trust me and my relationships become shallow, and I feel lonely. If I deny any tension in a relationship and pretend everything is smooth, would the tension go away? How about the wrong relationship I stayed in longer that I should have? We know the true answer to most of these questions but there are many times we prefer to be self-deceiver and choose a shortcut to avoid being distracted from our distractions in life; especially when we think we know everything!

And not only that, despite the quick gratification we gain, constant lying to ourselves could create anxiety and release excess cortisol and adrenaline that impact the health of our nerve system and physical being. It takes away the energy that we could spend on actualizing more of our potential. 

In dealing with self-deception, we could live with outdated beliefs and values. So, we may force our environment to follow us or at least we make it uncomfortable for others who have other beliefs and values. Our outdated beliefs create habits that are mostly disturbing, and we think our beliefs are the truth.

In the 70s and 80s working long hours and being busy on a job was established as a value to be a great employee. Today newer generations value work-life balance and would like to get more out of their potential in different ways other than focusing only on their jobs. How many of us deal with this conflict of value in our work environment? 

Self-deception has so many layers of complexity especially when it reaches some life routines. I know my cell phone that I touch every minute of my life is made of material that is mined by child-labor, I look for opportunities to raise voice and support organizations against child-labor. And yet, I need a newer phone because I live in a society that is filled with status-oriented advertisements that falsely convince me a happy life full of merchandize is what I need! Is it? You see the paradox? 

How about voting for a political figure who could create more harm for the society as a whole but do one good thing in the small community I live in?

You see how complicated it could be especially under the current economic system we live in!?

Anyway, self-deception is a self-defense mechanism that is supposedly to make us feel better about our life. But it doesn’t work, it back lashes, and eventually makes us feel dissatisfied, uncomfortable, and even unsafe.

Here are examples of self-deception mechanisms that we subconsciously and habitually use in our everyday life. This is extracted from Self Deception – Part 2 – 60+ Self-Deception Mechanisms by

  • I think I got reality figured out
  • I think my mind never lies to me
  • Underestimating the power of self-deception in my everyday life
  • Current science is all the fact and if I don’t understand something scientifically it doesn’t exist
  • Or I believe in all of thoughts my mind creates.

In his book Thinking, Fast & Slow, Daniel Kahneman says, “The confidence that individuals have in their beliefs depends mostly on the quality of the story they can tell about what they see, even if they see little.” In simpler words it means we assume our perception of the world is the ultimate reality and there is no other reality other than what we see. Where, in fact, there are countless realities or aspects of a reality based on people’s perception.

Our perception – explained in How Emotions Are Made book review – is constructed based on our survival beliefs – many of them have been shaped as our cognitive biases, life experiences, distorted memories, cultural norms, and social realities, which are usually very subjective and narrow. Kendra Cherry explains the cognitive biases and how to deal with them in this article very well. It is up to us to take responsibility and bring those unconscious biases to the consciousness of our lives.

The more we can clean our lenses to reality and practice self-awareness, the better we can work on the self-deception beliefs in our life. We can enhance our perceptions. It is a lifelong practice that we need to commit to with self-compassion. The gentler we are with ourselves, the better we see the beliefs that lead us to lying to ourselves. Then with more self-kindness and self-acceptance, we can try to gradually change those beliefs and their related habits. Small

steps are always more doable and eventually will make a long path. The more we bring our subconscious to the light of consciousness, the freer we live. 

And why self-compassion? Because research studies show that self-deception could be mostly based on subconscious beliefs and even part of our biological evolution to survive that is witnessed in other mammals too. So, let’s be kind to ourselves and find how we can contribute to the rest of the evolutionary process since in so many cases, self-deception no longer serves us. It probably did as a survival mechanism many thousand years ago, but it is time to begin the change to survive in the new era. It is beyond me and you and belongs to all of us. Let’s all try to do our best. Evolution continues… 

We just have to make sure we don’t mistake self-compassion with justifying our deceiving behavior. 

Here is my suggestion to deal with this phenomenon. Next time we hear the soft voice coming from our hearts on any of our actions, let’s pay attention to it rather than silencing it. Look at the questions below. Allow the voice to get louder by contemplating on these questions.

Repeating this cycle and answering these questions can widen our perspective to help changing our old habits and obsolete beliefs over time. Using our analytical skills and critical thinking will help us to make a better world for ourselves. Don’t worry about doing it perfectly the first time. Just try your best and repeat it every time you hear the inner voice. Listen to it. Awareness is the first step. We can do it! 

Awareness part:

  • Am I experiencing a powerful unpleasant feeling? Am I uncomfortable?
  • Am I feeling like a victim?
  • Am I feeling guilty?
  • Am I feeling powerless?
  • Am I feeling too anxious about the matter?
  • Am I trying to change someone else?
  • Am I responsible for any part of this problem?
  • Am I justifying my action feeling a short-lived pleasure or confidence?
  • Am I self-deceiving?

Analysis part:

  • What does my reaction say about me? 
  • How can I see other aspects of this event? From others’ point of view? Imagining different outcomes?
  • How much do I know about other characters in this story? (If there are any)
  • Is my action along with my values? My morality?
  • What habits are behind it?
  • What beliefs support those habits?
  • Do I agree with those beliefs?
  • Where do I sense it in my body?
  • What can I do? What skills do I need to develop to change those beliefs? What’s the next first small step for me?

I will be honored, if I can be a help as a coach to company you through this journey.

Including a few good links to read and watch on the concept of self-deception:

The Psychology of Self-Deception

Self-Deception 23/30 The Problem of Not Knowing You Have a Problem

To get more to the philosophical side of it, read Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – Self Deception

Seeing it from Jungian analyst point of view as the Trickster archetype 

Let’s create more clarity on our reality,


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Our Nonverbal Communication

What I learned from Leadership Embodiment Book By Wendy Palmer and Janet Crawford (954 words)

“The nonverbal is a huge part of the communication for us human beings.” Wendy Palmer starts one of her speaking events.

In Leadership Embodiment we learn that the awareness of the vibe and body language is important. By standing straight, shoulders relaxed, and body at ease, our body releases oxytocin and testosterone. Janet Crawford backs up this concept in the second section of the book. She explains “What’s clear is that there is an intimate interplay between gesture and neurotransmitters, the chemicals that determine our emotional states. It is not an accident that we feel more powerful when we stand tall. In very short order, that stance increases our testosterone levels, equating with higher confidence.”

Leadership Embodiment (LE) introduces an essential concept on mind-body connection, the important role of our body in our communications. Palmer suggests the connection between LE and the Mirror Neurons theory. Mirror Neuron theory indicates that bodies mirror each other subconsciously when they are communicating, and it impacts the posture of the body and consequently the emotions aroused in the person. In short people pick up each other’s moods from body language. LE brings awareness to this phenomenon and suggests practices that could help deeper connections with others and with life.

LE teaches us about personal space and expanding it to include others and to switch from personality dominated body pose to centered body pose. The simple practice of noticing, standing, or sitting up right where your head, heart and core are aligned and relaxed can go a long way. It doesn’t mean that always sit up or stand straight because we get distracted or stressed during the day, but the trick is not to remain stressed. We need tools to use stress as a source of strength. The sooner we notice the easier we can transform it to strength. However, we don’t want to wait until we are stressed and do the practice. We need to practice centering all the time. The more we practice the deeper the body remembers it.

Centering practice as mentioned in the book could be as simple as 5 to 20 seconds of 4 steps each time.

  1. Inhale and uplift the posture
  2. Exhale slowly and relax shoulders
  3. Balance in according to gravity
  4. Expand personal space to feel the room

You can feel an ease immediately and the more you practice the deeper you sense the ease in your body that results more confidence and broader perspective.

Palmer also offers a practice in communication when a person being pushy towards the other. You can watch this video and practice it with friends. When someone begin to put pressure in us in any type of communication, we tend to have a posture that is either collapsed to make us feel smaller or chest extended that could make us feel defensive. In this practice, she teaches us to bring awareness to our posture, switch to a straight posture, and look further than the person to make our perspective bigger.

She even goes as far as when we don’t have the energy to expand ourselves. She explains, “I’ll invite someone with great wisdom, kindness, and strength to come through me with their energy. I use that person’s energy for my inspiration.”

Palmer emphasizes that repetition is the key to create a new habit. She suggests setting regular short practices to make the new habit by checking our muscles tension at least 10 times per day to notice which muscle groups are tense, and to notice when our head, heart, and core are not aligned, and we are in personality dominated posture. Then we can shift to center.

Centering practice is a small practice that can bring big results into our lives. In the second section of the book Crawford stands, “Leadership Embodiment practices help us develop a fine level of somatic awareness with regard to our emotional state. We can name the emotion we are experiencing and reshape our bodies to transform our emotional expression.” And then she clears that with saying, “Leadership Embodiment practices give us repeated somatic experience of navigating formerly overwhelming neural triggers in a more resourceful way, allowing the brain to record previous triggers as less dangerous than they were once experienced. As we practice with Leadership Embodiment tools, we are training our nervous system that we can withstand the input.”

The more we practice centering and expanding our personal space, the more we include others in our space with confidence and respect that doesn’t cross our boundaries. When we allow bigger space, then we could even put people’s aggression in that space rather than directly in our body. Then we can look at it objectively. And others also mirror our body posture and communicate through connectedness. There will be more response than reaction and the ripple effect of it could make a better environment. Palmer mentions that best leaders lead with warmth of oxytocin, confidence of testosterone, and the strength on their back. Doesn’t every one of us need to cultivate self-leadership?

I have benefited of doing this practice feeling the change in my body. I encourage friends, family members and clients to practice it. Throughout the session with a client, I remember this a few times and switch to centered posture. It is interesting to see the subtle effect of it on the other person. I think this book could be a great starting point for somatic awareness especially for people who are not familiar with it at all.

As my mentor coach shared this video with me, I encourage others to watch it as well. Watching Wendy Palmer and her beautiful body language gives the book a deeper effect.

Let’s celebrate life!

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What Is Personal Growth? Horizontal & Vertical Human Development

While writing my memoir a few years back, my writing coach and editor, Mathina, asked hard questions in every chapter of my life and wanted me to convince her as a reader why I did what I did. To answer her questions and write a compelling story of my life, I needed to learn the psychology behind my behavior and others in my life. I also needed to be vulnerable and bring out authenticity through my words. The vulnerability was so strong that I needed the help of a psychotherapist to help me process the past traumas.

By sharing my story, I felt more seen and heard and that brought me a deeper connection to life. I learned and grew. I developed more self-awareness. I had many meaningful moments of feeling worthy and good about myself, stronger than my unpleasant feelings, and of course I had many moments of disconnection that needed self-care. I got to a point where I had learned too many different self-development tools that were missing the coherence.

While I was holding memoir writing workshops, I got encouraged to learn to help myself and others on our growth journeys whether it’s about writing a memoir or wanting to share their stories in a safe and private environment. I signed up for a coaching course, a one-year program that would help me to become a certified integral coach. At the coaching institute, New Ventures West, I learned about a coherent way, a path that could be built individually for every person’s self-growth and to integrate all aspects of life.

Based on Integral Theory the overall approach to self-growth happens both horizontally and vertically.

In horizontal growth, we evaluate our different types of intelligences (cognitive, emotional, somatic, & more) and try to learn new skills for better performance and efficiency. That is an important part of self-growth towards self-actualization introduced by Abraham Maslow. The horizontal skills could be better time management, obtaining a degree, getting more efficient at work out, driving, winning more advanced levels in our video games, becoming successful as a businessman/woman or an achieved entrepreneur, being an engaging public speaker, and you name it. These are great skills but if they are all to boost our ego or make us look better in the society, they soon lose their meaning. When we want to get better at our skills in order to add meaning to life and create new concepts to enhance others’ lives rather than conforming to the cultural demands and competition of feeling superior, then we can enjoy our skills and even walk in the path of mastery for a chosen skill.

And yet, self-growth is even more than this. We need to align our mind (thoughts), heart (emotions), and body (intuition) in order to live fully. We need to grow in other dimensions too.

The vertical development helps us to make a deeper connection with life and live with more fulfillment. It has several steps that go deeper and deeper. What I mean by that is the deeper we grow vertically the less self-absorbed we become. We see ourselves as part of a bigger system that holds our worth as well as other beings. These steps don’t happen unless we develop regular practices of self-care, self-awareness, and self-compassion.

There are several models and studies that show and explain how a person can make a deeper connection with life. I will introduce these models in future blogs and for the sake of keeping each post short, I chose to provide an outline of The Ego Development Theory enhanced and popularized by Susanne Cook-Greuter.

Here are a few stages of human/ego development that many people are traversing in the current societies in the world. 

Conventional state ( almost 80% of the world population – searching for knowledge)

  • Stage 3: Group Centric/ conformist
  • Stage 3/4: Self-Centric/expert
  • Stage 4: Self-determining/achiever

Post-conventional State (almost 20% of the world population – searching for wisdom)

  • Stage 4/5:  Self-questioning/individualist
  • Stage 5: Self-actualizing/strategist
  • Stage 5/6: Ego aware/Alchemist

And as evolution is happening these stages advance deeper and deeper….

As we achieve deeper stages we create a bigger perspective towards the world, ourselves, and others. We become more tolerant at listening to other viewpoints and communicate with more compassion. We enable stronger self-reflection and even self-observation skills as we go deeper. We develop more trust and acceptance in life.

The bottom line is we all want to live fully in a relatively safe world that we can flourish and bloom. Every one of us has a responsibility for self-growth and there are no two similar paths for individuals’ self-growth. Every person needs to build her/his own path. The new Personal Coaching methods provided by a professional could be a help to those who like to choose a method and brainstorm their self growth design using the ability of our analytical skills from the newer part of the brain that makes humans different from other species.

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