What is a Self Study Practice and Why Should I Have One if I'm a Parent or Caregiver?Dec 13, 2022
Every day you make choices for yourself - the choice to get out of bed or not. The choice to brush your teeth or not. The choice to do it the way your parents or caregivers did it or to do it differently. The choice to do it the same way you've done it every day in the past or to do something differently.
A lot of the way that you move throughout the world is automatic and may not really seem like a choice. It's important to get clear on this before we start: just because you have choices doesn't mean you're completely in control of everything in your life. You have a choice on which route you'll take to work tomorrow, but you don't have any control over whether or not that choice will get you there faster, be more pleasurable, or will for sure not cause a wreck.
You also make choices in the words that you use, in the way you treat people in the world, and even in what motivates you to make choices.
Your Self Study Practice gives you more awareness to the innate 'why' behind everything that you do, and therefore, more access to informed choices. Again, not that you'll have control over the outcome, but you will have clarity on your intention and be more capable of communicating that to others.
A main need that we have as humans is connection. You've heard the phrase "we're wired for connection," right? That phrase literally means that our brains and our bodies are connected, and we respond accordingly - when someone smiles at us, the mirror neurons in our brains are more likely to have us react by smiling back, to mirror them. Same thing when someone shows up blaming or raging, we too put our own walls up to keep us safe just like they're doing.
These mirror neurons are part of our survival and safety mechanisms as humans. It's a built in system of both protection AND belonging. Connection is inherently vulnerable and scary because shit happens. People die, things happen that sever trust bonds, love is conditional to how we treat and support each other. So inherently, connection is part of our safety AND it's part of our instability. Your Self Study Practice is a practice of paying attention to your safety AND your connection and caring boldly for both.
What is a Self Study Practice?
A Self Study Practice is an ongoing practice of relationship development. Relationship with yourself, relationship with others, and relationship with the world around you. It's the practice of paying attention to yourself - studying yourself, understanding yourself, learning about who you are and why you do what you do.
There's no right or wrong way to do a Self Study Practice, but there are some ways that have a negative impact and other ways that have a positive impact.
How do I start a Self Study Practice?
One of the most important parts in beginning a Self Study Program is to understand what your personal values are - what's important to you in this life and how is that showing up? Do you say you value authenticity but simultaneously don't know what you like or what's important to you? Do you value honesty but also find yourself defending yourself every time someone is honest with you therefore pushing the honesty away when it's challenging to hear or process?
Start by getting a journal - The Duality Project has created a journal called My Self Study Practice and this is a great place to start. Through guided inquiry, themes, writings, and journal prompts, you're guaranteed to have a better understanding of who you are as a person, why you do the things you do, and you'll even develop some next steps for yourself that support you in aligning your values with the way you life your life.
There are three key parts of a Self Study Practice. They are asking questions, getting really curious, and being really honest about what you find.
Your Self Study Practice includes your mind, your body, and your spirit - it includes every part of YOU. What you think, what you feel, what you believe, how you react, who you choose to have around, how you nurture, how you provide, how you support, how you survive...
Because we're inherently connected, it can also be really helpful to hear other people share their experiences because sometimes that sparks a revolutionary "me too I'm not alone!" feeling inside you. This sense of belonging in these moments remind us that we're connected - this helps us be more resilient in the face of adversity. Resilience helps us feel more brave, and courageousness helps us feel self-led, grounded, and authentic. Like, anything is possible.
A really key part about your Self Study Practice is knowing that yes, it will impact every single part of your life. Your Self Study Practice is like an invisible string that connects every aspect of your life to YOU. You'll start to notice how you're impacted by others, yourself, your environment, and this noticing starts to impact your decision making and helps you discern what you need.
So if you start a Self Study Practice because your partner or crush told you that you need to, yeah, we'd agree with them. We all need a Self Study Practice. But if you start a Self Study Practice with a goal of getting the crush to like you back then all you're really doing is seeking their approval. That won't work. A Self Study Practice takes you inward. Welcome home.
Good news: it's way more rewarding to feel at home in yourself than to feel like someone else approves of you - again, it's a safety thing, a survival thing, a human thing.
Other people will always come and go, but you'll always have yourself. It's the longest relationship you'll ever be in! You'll hit some rocky patches for sure, just like any relationship, but wouldn't you rather have one that's honest, nurturing, and kind instead of judgmental, mean, and suffocating?
What are the potential positive impacts of a Self Study Practice?
A consistent Self Study Practice can significantly support you in growing up, maturing, becoming the adult in the room.
If you've ever met a toddler, you understand why it's important to have an adult in the room. If you're less familiar, I'll explain: toddlers have huge feelings and they have zero experience dealing with them except for what they are witnessing and experiencing from the adults in the room. So for a toddler, the upsetting nature of spilling a drink can go in multiple directions. When an adult is able to support the child in understanding that mistakes happen- ie, it's ok that the drink spilled, we need to clean it up, and there are some tips and tricks we can practice so that we'll spill things less often- the child is able to process their emotions and deal with the issue at hand. On the other hand, when the so-called adult in the room explodes at the child about how messy and stupid they are for making a mistake, the child will likely have a big reaction to the initial upset caused by the spill in the first place. These reactions then become automatic and are different depending on the child. Some will shut down completely, others will experience rage or a tantrum, others will become afraid of the adult, others will experience shame for years around "being a messy person"...
Your Self Study Practice will start giving you insight into how you react to your own behaviors and those around you. It starts with the practice of paying attention to what they are, then you begin exploring the why behind them with questions like, "What could I have done differently? "What was I believing in that moment that motivated my behavior?" "What was my intention in that moment and what actually happened?"
For example, a hetero-couple gets in a fight; You're Self Study Practice can help you ask these questions:
What happened? - state the facts: "I got really mad today when my girlfriend told me that I hurt her feelings, we both yelled, and now she doesn't want to talk to me until we both "cool off"."
What am I telling myself in this moment? I don't think her feelings should be hurt because that's not what I meant and it makes me feel like a bad boyfriend and I'm afraid she's going to break up with me because she feels that way.
Is the story that's in my brain helping me? "Yes, because it makes me feel right and one of us has to be right and one of us has to be wrong"
Is the story true, kind, and necessary? I guess neither one of us has to be "right" or "wrong." Maybe it's ok if she feels how she feels and I feel how I feel. Also, I guess it doesn't feel kind to always have to be "right."
What do I want in this situation? I don't want to have hurt her feelings. I don't want to hurt them again in this same way. I also feel misunderstood in what I was trying to say. Maybe we can try again?
What's necessary to make that happen? We can talk about it again. I can apologize for hurting her feelings and I can tell her that I care about how she feels. I can even thank her for sharing her feelings with me because I know that sharing feelings is a necessary part of being close to someone and I want to feel close to her.
What else? I'm feeling a little bit stuck on the idea that she thinks I'm a "bad guy."
How does that part of me need to be taken care of or nurtured? I can ask her to remind me that she loves me and I can straight up ask her if she thinks I'm a bad guy.
How would I like to re-enter this conversation? I'd like to feel more calm and regulated.
What do I need to do to make that happen? I need a 10 minute walk and need to growl so that my voice and breath feel less stuck and less energized.
What are the potential negative impacts of a Self Study Practice?
One negative impact of a Self Study Practice is if/when the practice is led by shame. When your values start with "I should be like this" this sets your Self Study Practice up for failure because instead of ever getting honest about who you are, what your values are, what you want, what you believe... you're holding yourself up to unchecked expectations that have generally been prescribed to you by society instead of it being something that you know is specific to you.
When your Self Study Practice is spearheaded by shame, your behaviors are also spearheaded by shame. Which means that what's true to YOU is usually blocked and your behavior is rooted in shame, instead of clarity, cooperation, empowerment, and autonomy.
In the example above with the hetero-couple, if the boyfriend gets stuck on the part that believes, "I'm a bad guy" it's can be really hard to move forward from that because all of his behavior will be trying to protect himself from being perceived as a bad guy. He'd be unable to get honest about the fact that he hurt her feelings because the shame story says, "good guys don't hurt other people."
When your Self Study Practice is spearheaded by shame in a parenting/caregiver/teacher situation, there's generally a misalignment and here's a secret: the child can feel that. When an adult says with their words, "it's ok to make mistakes sometimes" but the child ALSO witnesses the adult beat themselves up in guilt and shame every time they do something wrong, the child learns that the words don't really mean anything and the appropriate response is to feel guilty and move from a space of "I'm a bad person because I made a mistake." Because that's what they're witnessing.
Shame sets us up for failure because it's setting a bar that's unreachable. And when we're always failing ourselves or even the people around us (hello, like, your parents?!), we become discouraged. This sense of discouragement can feel debilitating. It can keep us from being responsible for our behaviors, and we cause harm to others by shaming them in the same way we shame ourselves.
Another negative potential of a Self Study Practice is when it's centered around a binary. The idea that certain feelings are right and others are wrong. Or that some are positive and others are negative. This sets us up to judge ourselves and others, and judgments act as a barrier to the truth. Because if you're operating from a place of "I'm right and they're wrong" it creates a separation between you and the other person. And in that separation, there's information that isn't able to come to the surface as truth, as duality. Duality tells us that *this* can be true, and so can *that*.
Is a Self Study Practice yoga?
It can be! Part of a traditional yoga practice is called Svadhyaya - it's the practice of studying one's self. Did you know that most of a traditional yoga practice happens off-the-mat and not even in yoga pants?! Wild! And, a svadhyaya (sv-ahd-yah-yah) practice is part of yoga and should be present at your yoga studio if you go to one. If you don't go to a studio but you practice at home instead, this intentional practice of paying attention to your self throughout your physical practice should be present, as it's an integral part of yoga. This definition of a Self Study Practice takes into account the teachings of yoga. So not only is it a practice of understanding your self, it also takes into consideration how you implement the teachings of yoga in your life. Part of a svadhyaya practice also includes studying the texts and the teachings of yoga. A great place to start is by learning about the yamas (yah-mas) and niyamas (nee-yah-mas).
Is a Self Study Practice spiritual or religious?
The answer to this question depends on how you define spiritual. The Duality Project defines spiritual as the understanding that we're all interconnected. What I do impacts you, and what you do impacts me. It means that we all have an impact on the world in ways that we'll never know. Part of what that leads to is the inherent responsibility that we all have to be creating a world that is sustainable, just, and loving.
The Duality Project offers a spiritual Self Study Practice, however, that doesn't make it exclusionary of your personal religious practice, nor is it specific to yoga or Buddhism. For a lot of people, a religious study practice, from an early age, informs our values and ethics. At the same time, many religions discourage practitioners from being honest about their humanness.
For instance, many Christian people hold themselves and others to the standards of being Jesus or God by using phrases like What Would Jesus Do? Or the idea of turning the other cheek. But when we move through the world believing that we are capable of equality with God, Jesus, or any sort of deity, it automatically creates a hierarchy between people that says, "I'm better than you are because..." This belief disconnects us from our self, our responsibility to others, and from each other.
What we mean by humanness is the nature of being human. In the same way that all other parts of nature are designed to function in a specific way, so are humans. The nature of humans is extremely nuanced, and so is the nature of trees, fungi, ants, bees, and the ocean. You'll likely never understand the COMPLETE nature of your humanness, but the more you pay attention via your Self Study Practice, the more you'll understand.
How Is a Self Study Practice Beneficial for Parents and Caregivers?
The journey into parenthood and even caregiving can be the most rewarding journey that some of you will ever go through, and it also might prove to be one of the most difficult transitions full of ups and downs, mistakes, miscommunications, and barriers.
Parenting is a huge responsibility that we take on as humans. Parenting means taking responsibility for nurturing a baby into a full-fledged human being. As you already know human beings are wildly nuanced, and your baby will come into this world with the history of your ancestors already in their body, into a specific time and place in history that they (and you) have no control over, a personality that you might really resonate with or not, with physical, emotional, or neurological differences that you maybe have never had any experience with. Your child will likely grow to have a difference in perspective than you. Each day they develop their own understanding of the world and their place in it and this will shape their behavior, their choices, and their experience of life.
And, no matter how your child is becoming, your job as their parent is to nurture them.
Nurture means to care for and encourage the growth and development of. Nurture does not mean lack of boundaries, challenges, or hardships. In fact, true nurture helps us THROUGH the hard times and challenges. And boundaries, which include enthusiastic "yeses!" as well as firm "nos."
Some of the ways that children need to be nurtured are through:
Their emotional development so they can express themselves in healthy and connected ways.
Their relationship skills so that they are able to be connected to others throughout their lifetime.
Their physical bodies so that they feel nourished, empowered with experience and knowledge to take care of themselves through food and movement once they are old enough, and as physically healthy as they can be for as long as they are able.
Their education so that they can be critical members of society and move into work that they feel excited, energized, and purposeful in.
What children do best is mimic what they see around them. So that means that YOU need to be actively nourishing yourself and your relationships so that your child can watch and learn. Children have a beautiful way of acting as mirrors for us. And if you've ever spent any time with children, then you know that they can be simultaneously hilarious and embarrassing and affronting.
A Self Study Practice includes the life-long process of reparenting yourself. It's the active practice of nurturing (caring for and encouraging the growth and development of) your continued emotional development, your social and relationship skills, your physical body, your knowledge. It's a process of unlearning the things that aren't actually caring for and encouraging your growth (like, judgment, shame, and trauma) and relearning helpful and empowering ways of doing that.
Your Self Study Practice won't make you a perfect parent. It won't keep you from making mistakes or yelling when you're over-tired, overwhelmed, or furious. It will, however, help you come back from those times quicker and with more grace. It will help you have compassion and understanding for yourself (something that your child will witness you do and learn as a skill themselves) and it will help you do what's necessary for repair. Maybe that means apologizing to your partner or family in front of your child and asking for forgiveness. Maybe it means apologizing to your child for how you acted, but not apologizing to them for how you felt in the moment, and to creatively come up with some ways for the same thing to not happen again. Maybe it means learning how to set really powerful boundaries with someone who's harming you or your family.
And instead of lashing out or shutting down when you're feeling over-tired, overwhelmed, or furious, your Self Study Practice will support you in responding in a healthier way over-time. It will take intentional practice and support. Your Self Study Practice will help you in knowing who to go to for support. It will also show you that you're inherently worthy of support and care just like your child is.
Raising a child who knows how to ask for help, make mistakes and amends, and set appropriate boundaries are things that they will learn from watching you.
If you're in a partnered relationship, your Self Study Practice will also help you stay connected to and supported by your partner. Parenting is not easy and most of us have not been raised to know how to have an equally supportive partnership when it comes to parenting. Your Self Study Practice will show you your strengths in a relationship and where you really shine. It will also show you what you need and want from your partner, and it will give you the space to be able to communicate those things, to support and be supported.
So Now What?! How Do I Get Help with My Self Study Practice if I'm Feeling Stuck, or If I Want to Start and Want Some Guidance?
The Duality Projects makes getting help easy. So you're really in the right place! Also, shout out to you for wanting support. You deserve to be supported, so you're already doing a great job of nurturing yourself. Not only are humans wired for connection, but what connection offers us is help and support. Which means you're wired to ask for help. Isn't that cool?!
- Listen to Podcasts: there are some great podcasts out there where people are sharing their stories, what they know, and how they feel. Check out the Self Study Podcast by the Duality Project for stories and themes from Kate and Ruby. We love talking about how we feel and what we're working through.
- Hire a Self Study Coach: the Duality Project offers one-on-one Self Study coaching where we help you figure out how you're stuck and what to do about it. We start by meeting you where you're at, and we keep meeting you there as you evolve and grow and learn more about yourself. There's never an end to your Self Study Practice, it only evolves. Hiring a one-on-one coach is a great way to get the support you need through a sticky part of life or a transition. A good coach will help you recognize just how good and valuable you truly are.
- Join the Self Study Program: every March, the Duality Project starts a new cycle of the Self Study Program. The Self Study Program is a 9-month, comprehensive growth and empowerment curriculum to guide you into self-discovery, authentic connection, and personal integrity. A group coaching program is great because when we practice this with other people, it reminds us of the nuance of experience that exists between all of us, and it reminds us that we're not alone.
- Get a Guided Workbook or Journal: The Duality Project has created one called My Self Study Practice with 200 pages of questions and exercises to help you dig deeper into yourself and uncover whatever you sense might be missing.
The Self Study Program is the first-of-it's-kind 9-month, comprehensive growth and empowerment curriculum to guide you into self-discovery, authentic connection, and personal integrity.
Take a deep dive into your Self through guided personal development, accountability, and care.
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