Let me take you on a journey…
Initially, I wanted to create a blog post about how writing improves your self expression skills. The reason? Well, since the launch of my writing business and since I’ve started writing more, my speaking has improved. That’s not to say it was bad before, but writing has helped me speak with greater clarity.
So, I started researching to see if other people experienced this and whether there was scientific evidence to back it up.
I came across a question posed on Quora that asked the following: “How do I Improve My Communication Skills/Self Expression Skills”. The answers varied from reading more to writing more. Someone even suggested taking the opportunity to engage in public speaking. Then Baohan Tran Le said the following: “I am not sure whether you mean expression in terms of writing/arts or expression in term of vocalizing your thoughts/feelings.”
This steered me in another direction. I was going to explore self expression and how you can improve it.
It also made me think. What does self expression actually mean? Here’s one definition according to Merriam-Webster: “the expression of your thoughts or feelings especially through artistic activities (such as painting, writing, dancing, etc.).” It’s the way we display our individuality.
My thought process was then engaged in how people can better express themselves. But in my mind, I thought, “This is too broad. Who’s actually going to read this? This sucks.” Still, I dug further as this broad concept of self expression interested me.
I then found two articles. The first – by the Attraction Institute – mentions that self expression isn’t achieved by learning a new skill, but rather by removing old ones. The article went on to say that we’re all born self-expressive. I started thinking. The second, by VirtuesforLife, touched on the fact that children are more self-expressive than adults. I started thinking even more and an article started taking shape in my head. I was ready to write a post on how to improve self expression.
And no, I’m not going to tell you to practice your writing, read a book, paint, or engage in a hobby. I’m going to break the shackles and get to the core. And to do this I need to paint a picture. I need to start at the beginning.
We’re all born with self expression
We’re all born with something that makes us unique. As children, we’re fully expressive. There’s nothing holding us back, we’re free, and we have no responsibilities. Mark Manson says it rather aptly in his article “Screw Finding Your Passion”:
Remember back when you were a kid? You would just do things. You never thought to yourself, “What are the relative merits of learning baseball versus football?” You just ran around the playground and played baseball and football. You built sand castles and played tag and asked silly questions and looked for bugs and dug up grass and pretended you were a sewer monster. Nobody told you to do it, you just did it. You were led merely by your curiosity and excitement.
But somewhere along the way we became domesticated; we became primed for adulthood.
The good and the bad of domestication
With domestication, I refer to all the rules, regulations, institutions, and mannerisms that have been thrust on us, causing us to act a certain way. We’re taught to think a certain way. We’re taught how to act in public. We’re taught manners. We’re taught wrong and right. We’re taught what’s acceptable and what’s not.
All these things shape us in some way or the other, for better, or for worse. For better, because they teach us how to live among our fellow man or women. For worse, because in many ways, we’re taught a linear way of thinking – go to school, get a job, build a career, and save for retirement. All of which imply: grow up and become an adult!
Through domestication, the process of self expression doesn’t come naturally anymore. Either we’ve lost our innate ability or we hold back on expressing ourselves more. We say and do certain things because we care what people think or because of our conditioning.
I’m not advocating doing what we want with total disregard for our fellow humans. I’m just painting a picture of how domestication can cause us to lose ourselves along the way. We’re told we need to act like adults, and so, that inner child remains hidden. Part of who we are then remains hidden, only showing itself every once in a while through the clothes we wear, decisions we make, and actions we take. Although, rather rarely and not as often as it should.
This begs the question. How do we rekindle what makes us, us? How do we get in touch with our inner child?
Living with limiting beliefs
During this time we also develop limiting beliefs that hold us back. Limiting beliefs are often about our self-image and what we believe is possible in our own lives.
For example, we might believe we cannot write, sing, or learn a new language. And so we will never try. The problem with this is that we see our abilities as fixed and so they remain exactly that, fixed!
In the words of Henry Ford: “Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right.”
Here’s another example. Many of us believe we have to pick one career. One thing. We have to specialize. We have to find our niche. There’s this myth about the “one true calling”. You only have to watch the Ted Talk by Emilie Wapnick – “Why Some of Us Don’t have One True Calling” – to know this is bullshit.
There are many of us who are polymaths or multipotentialites – people who have many interests, passions, and creative pursuits. We are the opposite of specialists. I am one of those people and specializing is not for me. At all! For those of us multipotentialites, how can we hope to express ourselves with such a limiting belief? We’ll forever be chasing that one thing, to no avail, always feeling unfulfilled. And the truth is, we’re not wired like that.
These beliefs stop us from realizing our full potential in life. And we cannot hope to achieve higher levels of self expression if we’re constrained by these beliefs.
Expressing ourselves better then involves recognizing that we’re all born free and self-expressive, but through domestication, we’ve lost touch with our self expression. We’ve formed limiting beliefs of what we believe is possible in our own lives. This recognition is the starting point to get us back on track.
Once we’re here, it’s time to start taking back who we are. And this isn’t easy. Because when we’ve been taught something for so long, it becomes so ingrained in us, it becomes who we are.
But taking back who we are is possible. We just need to rekindle that flame.
Getting Ourselves Back On Track
1. Defining Ourselves in the Broadest Possible Sense
Because of limiting beliefs, we often define ourselves in a narrow way. We think we only have a certain set of skills and strengths. We base our lives on a limited way of thinking, and this, in turn, limits our experiences. The reality though is we can re-define ourselves, and this often starts with exploring new ideas, new ways of thinking, and new experiences.
For example, I cannot tell you how often I get into a conversation revolving around creativity. It usually starts with something along these lines: “But I’m not creative”. I had one with a stranger I met at a pub. And needless to say, I disagreed with her because I believe we’re all creative. Every. Single. One. Of. Us.
The problem is that we associate creativity with artists, musicians, songwriters etc. But the reality is: if we’re able to find solutions to unique problems, we’re being creative. Tyler Tervooren, creator of Riskology opened my eyes to this in his article “Practical Ways to Find Creativity When You’re Feeling Uncreative”. In it, he says the following:
Creativity is all around us but, for so many, it remains invisible—hidden in plain sight—because we’ve conditioned ourselves to look for it in only a few places. There are so many places you can draw new ideas from to improve your work if you look just a little harder.
So let’s look at a few examples of people being creative:
- The account who manages to streamline the payroll process by cutting out unnecessary steps.
- A driver for a courier company who finds a shorter route to speed up delivery time.
- The business owner who finds an app to automate their social media marketing.
Over to you
Start defining yourself more broadly. A great place to start is by watching Ted Talks. They will change the way you think and see the world. And maybe even give you a kickstart to forge a new path in your life.
2. Trying something new
People often talk about getting out of their comfort zones because that’s where the magic is. And as cliché, as it is, there’s much truth in that. For example, I quit my job to backpack around the world for over a year. It opened my eyes to a new way of living and made me realize that I don’t want to work for someone. I want to create a life on my terms, one where I am location independent and my own boss.
I’m not saying traveling is the answer for all of us – we are all different – but it’s just what I did because that’s where my heart took me. But what I do advocate is that we try new things, whatever they may be.
Over to you
Consider what you want to try or do? What are the new things you want to explore? What is stopping you from doing them? What can you do right now to realize them? What small changes can you make in your life?
Maybe it’s greeting a stranger, chatting to a waitress about their lives, climbing a mountain, swimming naked in the ocean, waking up to experience the sunset or even trying a new food.
3. Develop Self-Knowledge
Sometimes we need to stop, pause, and reflect on our own lives. We need to look inward and explore ourselves. By understanding ourselves better we’ll be better poised to explore what it is we want out of life. It will give us a greater sense of direction in life and we’ll move and act with purpose. And perhaps, nothing contributes more to improved self expression than a sense of purpose.
Over to you
Here are a few things you can explore:
What are your core strengths?
Sometimes there are things that we’re so naturally good at, we aren’t even aware of it. Maybe it’s our communication skills. Maybe it’s our problem-solving ability. Start exploring those things you’re inherently good at. List 20. And if you need help, ask family and friends, but be wary of their bias.
What are your passions?
I’m a believer that we can find passion in anything we do. It’s just a matter of how we approach that thing. If we approach it with a negative attitude, chances are, we won’t enjoy it. A great way to start exploring your passions to try and remember moments when you felt alive. For me, it’s when I’m talking about business ideas with friends or brainstorming. And sometimes they’re starting us in the face, we’re just blind to seeing them. Have a look at your Facebook feed. What content are you sharing? What are common themes?
What words describe your personality?
Write words down, words that describe you. Perhaps you’re caring? Diligent? Resourceful? This is another technique to delve deeper into how you tick. Again, ask family and friends.
What are your values?
Values are important. We feel happier and more content when we make decisions guided by our values. Make a list of 7 values. Using this list will help you.
4. Practice Speaking the Truth
So often we walk away from situations feeling that we should’ve been more open. We should’ve told people exactly how we felt. This may be due to not wanting to hurt the person, fear of conflict, or due to a lack of self-confidence. Regardless as to the reason, we often beat ourselves up afterward.
Over to you
Challenge yourself to speak freely without fear. This will take practice. But the more you do it, the easier it will get. Do it once, twice, then three times, and eventually it becomes second nature. It becomes a way of life.
5. Letting go of what people think
As with speaking the truth, this takes practice. Again, I’m not advocating not giving a shit and hurting people’s feelings. What I’m talking about is how we often don’t do certain things – things that are important to us – because we care about what other people think. Public speaking is culprit number one. I still care way too much, although I have worked on this to the point that I’m a lot more content.
Over to you
Start putting yourself out there. Let me explain. In 2015 I launched a blog. I made a 90s video about it and put it up for everyone to see (by everyone I mean a few hundred people). Nevertheless, I was scared and nervous. What if people thought it sucked? What if they laughed at me or shamed me?
Well, guess what happened? Nothing. People actually liked it. In the end caring what people think is a projection of our own insecurities and we only overcome these fears by taking action.
So take action. Action displaces fear.
6. Engage in creative exercises
Okay, fine! I’m going to suggest this even though I said I wouldn’t because I’ve seen the value in my own life. For example, through writing, I’ve seen a marked improvement in my communication with people, and that’s not to mention my actual writing. And the spin-off? Improved confidence!
In the end, writing is a fantastic way to unravel how we feel, express our emotions, and learn things about ourselves. And it could even turn into a passion or a business, as was the case with me.
Over to you
So why not write for yourself? Other creative exercises I recommend is: keep a notebook, draw mind maps, and create dream sanctuaries (pictures and quotes) relating to all that you want to achieve in your life.
7. Start Pursuing The Life You Want
It’s been four years since I’ve had an office job. Since then I’ve traveled, launched a blog, worked part time at a winery, launched a writing business and I’m now launching an app. It all sounds glamorous. But among that, it’s been 4 years of ups and down, with feelings of unhappiness. Why? Because I knew that I wasn’t living the life I wanted. So that happiness stemmed from a disconnect between what I wanted and where I was in life. Still, I continued and things started to take shape, and are still taking shape.
I didn’t follow an exact template to get to where I am. I did a bit of this and a bit of that. I tried new things, gained self-knowledge (and continue to), started caring less (it took practice), tried to remain authentic at all times and I engaged in creative techniques. I did this all rather haphazardly, some by chance, and others through asserted action.
But there was one constant: I kept moving.
I’d like to tell you that there’s a template to express yourself more fully, but there isn’t, there’s only advice people can give. Everyone’s journey will be different. But what I can tell you is that the above has worked for me. And in the process, I have come full circle.
I have rekindled that energy I was born with. And that’s it really.
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