October 9, 2018 Carole Levy

The longing for holistic growth



Resistance to change is a natural human reaction. However, I haven’t met any leaders who weren’t also genuinely motivated to change in order to reach their next level of evolution and growth.

Leaders’ aspirations to grow comes with a longing to address the four dimensions of their whole being: physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual.

Like a four-leaf clover, we rarely find the four parts equally developed, but each dimension is connected to the other ones in important and workable ways.

So, to pursue pro-actively and proficiently a holistic approach to growth, here are some thoughts (subjective and non-exhaustive) and evocative questions for you to do a self-assessment for each dimension.

As you do, pay attention to your feelings of longing since they are key indicators of what is missing on your journey towards holistic growth. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it!

  • The physical dimension

I recently heard the historian Yuhav Noah Harari* say that the chief problem in our society is that people are disembodied. We are disconnected from our body and our senses. In consequence, we are also disconnected from Nature. This disconnection fuels a feeling of alienation. To feel more at home with the world, we have to “incarnate our body” – barely a pleonasm.

Check-list: Am I connected to my body? Do I know it? Do I regularly pause and pay attention to my sensations via my five senses? Do I breath consciously via my nose and belly? Do I eat consciously? Do I move enough? Exercise? Walk? Dance? How am I doing with the practical world (logistics and finances)? Does the culture around me encourage me to take care of my physical health?

*I recommend all his books!

  • The emotional dimension

Only by being literally incarnated, can I feel my emotions, and more importantly, can I successfully manage them. Emotional agility* in the work place is now as important as emotional intelligence**. Emotional agility refers to our ability to rapidly step out of our emotional reactivity, get “unhooked” and re-center. In leadership positions, it is especially important to have control of our emotions. I heard once that it takes only 20 minutes for great leaders to re-center after a triggering incident! To learn more about your ego’s hot buttons and emotional type, you can revisit my “old” series about the subject – still relevant!

Check-list:Do I feel, recognize and understand my emotions? Am I an over-reactive type? Am I an under-reactive type? How long does it take me to re-center after being triggered? Do I know my trigger points enough that they make me smile? How do I manage my stress? Do I speak about my feelings with others? Does the culture around me foster an environment for vulnerable conversations?

*About emotional agility, you can refer to the book of Susan David, PhD: “Emotional Agility”. For my readers familiar with Learning as Leadership, it is another way to speak about the Pinch!

**Emotional Intelligence: my capacity to be aware of, control, and express my emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.

  • The intellectual/strategic dimension

My emotional reactivity is generated by my negative thoughts – and usually my negative thoughts are the same as “tapes”. When I’m not derailed by my tapes, there is an opening for valuable creative thinking. Everyone (whose basic needs have been met and is privileged enough to be called a leader in an organization) can upgrade their intellectual power and learn to think at a more complex and strategic level. Part of my personal journey has been to re-learn how to think in a deeper and more complex manner, and through this process, question and develop my own points of view. I’m not saying that I became smarter. I’m saying that today, instead of dreading it, I enjoy sitting in front of an empty white page and brainstorming new ideas.

Check-list: Do I value and practice curiosity? Do I keep myself informed about my field? Other fields? The world? Do I carve out time for preparation and reflection? Do I feel intellectually challenged?  Do I have good thinking partners? Does the culture around me encourage outside of the box ideas, different points of view and disagreement?

  • The spiritual dimension

Here, I pause.  I haven’t yet found my own unified definition of spirituality but I have discovered two approaches that inspire me. The first is from the writer and neuroscientist Sam Harris*: “A true spiritual practitioner is someone who has discovered that it is possible to be at ease in the world for no reason, if only for a few moments at a time, and that such ease is synonymous with transcending the apparent boundaries of the self”.  The second is from Dr. Brené Brown** who always has a knack for defining complex concepts. For her, spirituality is “recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.” For a long time, I thought this dimension was absent from my life until I realized that it was actually the foundation of my calling.

Check-list: Do I ponder existential questions? Do I feel inspired by the mystery of life – or scared and overwhelmed? Do I have a longing to help others? Does it happen that I feel deeply connected to strangers for no reason? Does it happen that I feel waves of compassion or gratitude for life itself? Have I experienced a sense of bliss or wholeness in my life?  Do I feel connected to a deeper and profound calling? Is the culture around me guided by its mission and a deep sense of purpose?

* Sam Harris: “Waking Up”

** Brené Brown: “Braving The Wilderness”


Comments (4)

  1. Bill

    Carole, these are a great set of questions that everyone would benefit on asking from time to time. It brings awareness to areas that might be my blind spots or that I am unconsciously ignoring. I will add parts of your lists to my daily reflections!

    • Carole Levy

      I’m impressed Bill, that you have daily reflections part of your routine! Warm thoughts to you and your family.

  2. Deborah

    Great reminders of what we need to focus on every day. The questions are very helpful in moving from the abstract to concrete modes of thinking about these four dimensions. Thanks.

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