I am sure I am not the only one who has been taking this time to learn more. Whether it is on online learning platforms like Udemy or Skillshare, or through blogs, or learning from the Edu-TikToks that are making their way to many of our "For You" pages on the popular app.
My personal favourite way to learn is through consumption of multi-media. I typically start with podcasts. I take a lot of walks, and spend a lot of time driving kids around, so the podcasts are easy for me to consume even on the busiest of days.
From podcasts I will typically dive deeper into the subject matter by finding the expert authors, searching through relevant apps, and sometimes even finding courses on one of the online learning platforms available to me.
What I want to focus on for today's blog is the idea of psychological safety. I heard about this on a podcast last week, and it actually perfectly aligns with something that I have been practicing myself, and that is absolute honesty - with a few "rules", or guidelines, if you prefer.
What is Absolute Honesty
There are a lot of ways to interpret this. I think there was a TV show where one of the characters was honest all the time, but the name escapes me. In my case, absolute honesty is a practice.
I have spent much of my life being afraid of sharing too much. Before anyone starts worry about whether or not I am an "over-sharer", there's no need to worry. That's because of this new absolute honesty thing I am working on.
When I was in grade 10 and was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, my life turned into a game of who should I tell? Who needs to know, and what happens if I share?
What I realize now is that this actually closed me off completely. I had this big thing that was now a very real part of my everyday life, and at the time I was told that people would treat me differently if I told them about it, so I just didn't tell them. I started to only share the highlight reel.
At the same time I was also seen as "Smiley Riley", which created this expectation of myself that I needed to bring "Smiley Riley" to every social situation. Although this gave me a really wonderful reputation and made me a confidant for many people to share their troubles, it left me without an outlet to share my honest feelings when they were not so smiley.
Fast forward a few years and a few major life events and I found myself craving moments with the people who made me feel psychologically safe. It was a very small group of people - basically just my sisters, my roommate, and my best friend. I avoided most other friendships because I felt like I couldn't be as honest with them as I sometimes needed to.
Now that I have taken some time away from the life I had in Ottawa, and therefore some of the bad social and psychological habits I had, I have found space and reason in my life to be absolutely honest about my mental and emotional well-being.
How to Be Absolutely Honest
Being absolutely honest means that when you are not having a great day, you tell people who could be directly affected by it. An example that I am learning to be more comfortable with is with my colleagues. This is a very important example as well because people seem to always separate work and life and draw a hard line. The thing is, sometimes life cannot be kept separate from work.
Now obviously there is a line here. You do not need to share every little detail, but informing your team, or your direct report that you might be off the next few days due to a personal event is perfectly okay.
I remember when my aunt was going through cancer treatment, as she neared her end, life got really emotional. At this time I was so worried about bringing emotional stuff into my personal training job and being a "debby-downer" with my clients, that I just didn't share anything. So when it came time to take a few days off to go to the funeral, no one was aware that I had lost a family member, nor that I was struggling emotionally with the loss. A simple "a family member of mine has cancer and it is getting really tough. I just want to let you know in case I ever seem distracted, although I am confident I will keep my focus entirely on you while we are together" - that would have sufficed. Then the clients know why I seem "off", but also know that I won't let it affect my level of service if I can help it.
The other important piece to this is that by sharing that truth - sharing that level of honesty - creates a new relationship between myself and the client, the coworker, and anyone else I decide to "let in". What I didn't realize is that my clients were constantly letting me in, but I never let them in, so our client-trainer relationship never reached a full level of trust. Because of that, although I do believe I was successful with most of my clients, I think I could have had a much deeper level of trust with many more clients.
But I digress. There is a point to this and I will circle back to coronavirus (lol).
Why Is This So Important Now?
Chances are many of you have had more quiet moments to yourself in the last month than you have had in the last year. These moments are forcing us to face our deepest thoughts and emotions. I know that I have had to face a few really serious thoughts and feelings about myself lately.
In the beginning, it was tough to know that every day when I woke up would be another day where new emotions could surface and I'd have to wrestle with them internally. Now that I have been exploring this idea of absolute honesty and letting people in, I get to feel the feelings and know that I had safe spaces to share that information.
The most recent example has been a call with my youngest sister. This is someone who I have always trusted, but lately I felt like I was being surface with her. Either getting angry in a "relatable" way, or just trying to make light of situations. Today, however, I decided to share with her that I have been practicing mindfulness to try and ease some of the extreme anxiety I have been feeling about my body, food, and exercise.
This then prompted her to share some of her own struggles, and also gave her a chance to show her support for me. So now I feel like I am not alone in the process of healing my mind.
I would challenge anyone who reads this to try absolute honesty with those they come in contact with. If it is professional relationships, be absolutely honest about if it has been a mentally tough day/week for you, and then let them know if there's any way they can support you better, or let them know that you'll carry on as best you can.
Share with family and friends what you are going through, or if you are trying new techniques to help you cope with this new level of self-awareness and individual emotional vulnerability.
The final piece has to do with if you come up against someone who is resistant to your honesty.
What To Do If Someone Is Not Ready For Your Absolute Honesty
In this case, and it may happen to you, there are a few steps that I have found helpful.
1. Don't take it personally. Sometimes people just are not ready to hear people's absolute honesty because they struggle with their own emotional availability. This makes your absolute honesty something intimidating or uncomfortable for them.
2. Keep being honest. Let them know that you're sorry if what you said was "too much", but that you're just trying to allow for more honesty in your life.
3. Then make a mental note to check in on that person. They may not have been ready for your absolute honesty then, but maybe your honesty will trigger some honesty within themselves.
Lastly, there are some people who you will discover are actually just toxic to your process. So if you find yourself being honest with them and they answer with hurtful or degrading words/behaviours, then it may be time to re-evaluate that relationships value in your life.
Are these hard and fast rules? No. But I am finding it really helpful. When I see any of my friends here I make sure I spend some time (not the whole time, obviously), sharing how I'm doing - good and bad. It means that whenever I see those friends I know that I can feel absolutely safe with them and I will never leave feeling like I wasn't fully, authentically myself.
Try out absolute honesty for yourself. See how it makes you feel and if it changes your own comfort-levels with your new-found emotions.
Riri's Discoveries blog documents Riri's discoveries as she develops her skills as a marketer, and finds new and sustainable ways to stay healthy.