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Climbing Mountains – Personal Learning & Growth

As some of you might know, my ‘other job’ is as a British Sign Language / English interpreter.  It’s an amazing role and often teaches me so much that benefits me in my role as a holistic wellbeing coach.

One recent example of a crossover learning came from reading the interpreting journal that I subscribe to: Newlsi.  A woman called Christina Healy was commenting on growth and learning within the interpreting profession, but it struck me that it could be about so many things, including personal growth.

She wrote:

“[It’s] a bit like we’re climbing an enormous, multifaceted mountain.  We reach summits, gratified to see the distance we’ve come, we traverse plateaus, relaxing into needed rest and rejuvenation and we climb ascents that challenge our perseverance and commitment to growth.”

To me, this describes perfectly the journey of personal discovery, leaning and growth.  Sometimes it does, indeed, feel like a steep climb with lots of rocks and challenges along the path.  At other times we might find the going easier, allowing us to rest and build our strength for the next uphill section.

Another valuable analogy was that we can think the summit is in view only to find, when we reach that point, that there is another, higher peak ahead:

“It can feel like we’ve climbed miles up the mountain, finally breaking through the cloudbank in exultation, only to see [others] ahead who have climbed higher than we imagined possible.  We’ve opened a new Zone of Proximal Development.  We can see the next summit above the clouds, but we don’t yet know how to get there.”

I hadn’t come across the term Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) before so I looked it up:

The zone of proximal development refers to the difference between what a learner can do without help and what he or she can achieve with guidance and encouragement from a skilled partner.

It’s similar to the concept of the Conscious Competence ladder:

Ms Healy also explained why we can feel competent one day, and the next, feel that we have lost all our skills – and possibly that we never really had them in the first place…

“… the ground that seemed far below has vanished beneath the clouds.  The lowest spot we can see is only inches beneath our feet.  It feels like incompetence has appeared from nowhere!  But perhaps it’s just that we’ve been Unconsciously Incompetent in some aspects of the work, and our new Conscious Incompetence indicates advancement despite the sense of regression.”

I think it is so important to be aware of this!

Often, we are our own worst critic and when we feel moments of doubt our inner voice compounds our discomfort by beating us up about our perceived shortcomings.

I’ve often heard people say that they thought they’d ‘dealt with this issue already’, feeling that they must have failed in some way because it has suddenly ‘reappeared’ in their life.  To me, it can be a positive indication that the person has actually moved to a point where they’re now ready to address a new aspect of the issue – a further peak (challenge) that they now have the strength and skill to climb.

I also regularly encourage clients to pay attention to their self-talk and to catch it when it is being critical.  The first step in making a change is awareness but then we also need to take action.  Knowing that this sense of self-doubt and feeling de-skilled is normal, and that it doesn’t actually mean that we’ve become incompetent, can be so helpful in redirecting our thoughts towards being more self-supportive again.  We can use this information to talk to ourselves as we would to a good friend, reassuring ourselves that this is just a part of the process, and in reality probably means that we’ve moved further along the path than we were yesterday.

As Ms Healy goes on to say, this is uncomfortable and yet valuable, in that it can prompt reflection on our motivations, values and beliefs.  This in itself can be of great assistance in our personal growth, allowing us to reassess Who We Really Are and how we can step more fully into this essence of our deepest Being.

The concept of our ZPD also shows that there will be times along our journey when we can benefit from support and help from others who have more experience.  They can help us to develop the knowledge, skills and resources we need to reach our next peak.

So if you find yourself feeling that you’re stuck, or even going backwards; or that you’ve lost your way and you’re not sure on what your next step should be; or that you just don’t have the strength to move forward, don’t be afraid to reach out for help!  Remember that it’s perfectly ok to feel like this.  It doesn’t mean that you’re weak in any way.  Probably all those ‘successful’ people that you see around you have been right where you are now!  In fact, without these ‘dips’ we wouldn’t feel the challenge that motivates us to change and grow!  Remember that ‘you got this’ – you have the resources within you – and it’s great to ask someone to give you a bit of guidance.  After all, this could be just what they need too, since we really do learn and grow from helping others to find their way:

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