How’s That Like Your Life? A Gestalt Self-Awareness Prompt

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Morsels of Change question to ponder:

How’s That Like Your Life?

Last night the Transpersonal Therapy Centre (TTC), of which I am a graduate, held an open house for new students. It seemed timely for me to honour some of what I learned in that program by referencing it in this newsletter.

Sometime during my first year at the TTC, when we were up to our necks in Gestalt psychology, “How’s that like your life?” became a catch-phrase for my cohort. (I’m sure it does every year, for every cohort.)

It went something like this:

Someone would start a piece of therapy by talking about something that had been capturing their attention, and sooner or later one of us would interrupt with, “How’s that like your life?”

“I decided to wear this necklace; it’s shiny but understated–”
—> “How’s that like your life?”

“In my dream I was running away, and I couldn’t catch my breath–”
—> “How’s that like your life?”

“I got really frustrated in the group because I couldn’t get my point across–”
—> “How’s that like your life?”

“So I did all the cleaning and the dishes and got angry about it–”
—> “How’s that like your life?”

“I felt guilty because I didn’t even tell her that I wasn’t going to show up–”
—> “How’s that like your life?”

The theory that we were drawing on, Gestalt-wise, is that everything that we notice out in the universe is a projection of our own making. What we see around us is what is inside us. The good I see in you is my projection of my own goodness onto you. The bad I see in you is a projection of my own badness onto you. The perspective I have on what happened is a projection of my internal perspective. The way I behaved is a projection of my internal interpretation.

The gift is that everything you see around you is fodder for your own growth, because it illuminates your projections. The world around you points you to what you need to pay attention to within yourself.

What’s been capturing your attention this week? Take a few moments and think about it. Jot down some of the characteristics about this thing or event that’s been capturing your attention. And then look at those characteristics and inquire of yourself: “How’s that like my life?”

Morsels of Change question to ponder:

How’s that like your life?

Self-Awareness Exercise: Beginnings, Endings, Guidance, and Creativity

The last self-awareness exercise I posted, the Four-Point Check-In, invites you to check in on yourself mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Today’s exercise uses the four cardinal directions to symbolically access what is arising, what is ending, what is guiding you, and what invites your creativity.

The exercise comes from the fantastic book How to Be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving, by David Richo. I’ve provided the exercise below not quite word-for-word, but pretty close. I highly recommend his book — from start to finish, and with every reread, I’m learning from it.

Sketch a square that represents a room, as if you are looking down at the room from above. On each side of the room, there is a window — so one window faces each of the four cardinal directions.

Imagine yourself standing in the centre of the room, and turning one by one to face each different direction.

As you turn to face the east, reflect on what is arising in your life. What are three things that are arising? Make a note of them in the east.

As you turn to face the west, write down three things that are now ending.

As you turn to face the north, write three things in your life that stabilize and guide you, as does the North Star.

As you turn to face the south, write three things in your life that evoke your spontaneity and creativity.

Picture yourself in the centre of the room, mindfully turning to each direction: looking to the east with a willingness to take hold, to face the west with a willingness to let go, to face north by staying with your spiritual/grounding practice, and to face south with enthusiasm and creativity in the invention of your life.

You may want to notice who (or what situations/contexts) helps you open those windows. Who/what shuts them?

You may want to reflect on what your stance is as you face each of these directions — how do you face each of these areas? What’s your default approach to each?

Wishing you peace with all of your endings and beginnings.


Laura McGrath is an Ottawa-based life coach and therapist who views her clients holistically, with attention to the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Would you like to explore in conversation your beginnings, endings, inner guidance, and creativity? Laura is more than happy to pick up the phone and talk it over. Get in touch.


Self-Awareness Exercise: The Four Point Check-In

The Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Check-in

There are so many wonderful versions of this simple exercise to develop self-awareness.

At its most basic, all you have to do is take a moment to check in with yourself in each of four areas:

  • Physical
  • Mental
  • Emotional
  • Spiritual

At the moment I’m writing this, my check-in looks like this:

Physical: It’s early in the morning and I haven’t been outside or active yet today, but my energy feels pretty good and I’m looking forward to a quick walk. I’ve been noticing tension in my arms and wrists lately; I make a mental note to keep an eye on that.

Mental: I’m noticing that I’m sighing a lot, probably because I’m feeling some stress about our upcoming move to a new home. My mind feels calm right now.

Emotional: I feel a bit of tension anticipating a conversation I’ll be having today. I feel a lot of warmth and love when I glance over at the man I love. I’m relieved that even though it’s dark and rainy and autumn, I don’t – today, at least – feel any onset of seasonal affective disorder.

Spiritual: I’m full of gratitude for my practice of spending at least half an hour each morning engaging in some sort of spiritual activity — often reading, sometimes meditation. Even as I recognize some mental anxiety, spiritually I feel grounded and centered.

It’s as easy as that! Took me all of two minutes.

Variations on the Four Point Check-In:

  • A few years ago I participated in a First Nations workshop where we created our own medicine wheel. As I wound the buckskin in each quadrant, I reflected on the areas each quadrant represented. Thanks to Sue Freeman for leading this exercise.
  • Ask a loved one to let you know what they’re observing in you in each of the four areas.
  • Create a space for each of the four areas on the floor. Ask a partner to step, one at a time, into each of them, and spend a minute noticing what arises in him/her as he/she steps into the representation of this aspect of you.
  • Talk to Cynthia Gunsinger about how art journalling can help you explore the four points.
  • Take four photographs, each one representing one of the four aspects of you.
  • Sketch an image that represents to you your current state in each of these areas.
  • Draw a card from a symbolic deck (I like the OSHO Zen cards) for each area. Let the symbols illuminate the area for you.

Do you have your own variation on this exercise? I’d love to have you share it.

Wishing you physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.


Laura McGrath is an Ottawa-based life coach and therapist who views her clients holistically, with attention to the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Would you like to do your four-point check-in in conversation? Laura is more than happy to pick up the phone and talk it over. Get in touch.

Exercises for Self-Awareness (part 2) – the “should” exercise

Last week, I talked about self-awareness tools such as the MBTI, the Enneagram, and the Via survey of signature strengths. This week, I’d like to offer you a description of another self-awareness exercise that I’ve found powerful and illuminating. And more exercises will come in future blog posts!

The Should Exercise

I learned this one in Gestalt training at the Transpersonal Therapy Centre.


We all have internalized rules and messages that we carry around inside us. In Gestalt, these messages are known as introjections — something we swallowed whole and haven’t “chewed on” enough to see if it’s truly our own desire/rule, or if we’ve just absorbed it from the outside world.

Every time you hear “I should” in your head/voice, it’s a sign that you might be dealing with an introjection — and thus it’s an invitation for you to take a closer look.

Step one: “I should”

Spend ten minutes or so writing down all the “I should”s or “I shouldn’t”s that regularly come into your mind.

Here’s what my list looked like the first time I did this exercise (November 2008 – I still have the piece of paper!):

  • I should pay off debt.
  • I should have more money.
  • I should be on time.
  • I should do something for my sister.
  • I should get more done in less time.
  • I should have fun.
  • I should have passion.
  • I should be loving and accepting and spiritual.
  • I should organize my time better.
  • I should chill out.
  • I should practice the piano more.
  • I should get a real job.
  • I should make some friends.
  • I should meditate.
  • I should stop worrying.

Step two: “You should”

One statement at a time, ask someone you trust to read your list back to you, reading it as “You should…”.

So, my partner would say, “You should pay off debt.”

After each statement my partner reads to me, I take a moment to:

  • notice any internal feelings or emotions that come up in me as I hear the statement.
  • notice whether it feels like my own voice, something I truly want to do, or whether it’s someone else’s voice (e.g. often someone has a “should” statement that really belongs to a parent, and as soon as they hear someone else say “You should…” they recognize that this statement is their parent’s voice, not their own inner guide).

Step three: Decide and Take Ownership

After each statement my partner reads to me, I decide if “I will” or “I won’t”, and then I report the new statement back to them.


My partner: “You should pay off debt.”

Me: “I will pay off debt.”

(Or, “I won’t pay off debt.”)

(Or, “I will pay off debt within five years.”)

(Or, “I will not focus on paying off debt until I finish school.”)

Whatever you choose — whether you will, or won’t, or under which conditions — is fine. The key part is that instead of carrying around an unexamined “I should”, a statement weighing you down with judgment, you are now carrying around a decision that you have made and owned yourself.

It can be incredibly liberating to move from, “I should practice the piano more,” to “You know what? I don’t want to. I won’t.”

It can be empowering to move from, “I should organize my time better,” to “I will be highly organized from 8am-12pm everyday, and after that will work in an unstructured way.”

Whether you’re already smitten with this exercise or not, I invite you to give it a try and see what you discover.


Laura McGrath is an Ottawa-based life coach and therapist who works with clients all over the world. She and the love of her life do a kick-ass job keeping “shoulds” out of the house.

If you’d like to talk more about self-awareness exercises designed just for you, Laura is more than happy to pick up the phone and have a conversation. Get in touch.


Three Exercises for Self-Awareness (part 1)

People who choose to work with a coach are yearning for more self-awareness. One of my favourite things about working with these clients is being able to design individual, customized exercises for self-awareness for each client.

Although the exercises/quizzes below aren’t individualized, here are some of my favourite self-awareness exercises or quizzes around the internet.

The Enneagram

The Enneagram is a psychological-spiritual personality system. What I like most about it is that it doesn’t just describe your personality, but also gives you clues about where your type often gets tripped up, what your areas of growth are, and tips for growing in that direction. I’ll often ask my clients to complete the Enneagram test and then we’ll use the description of their type to help understand how they are reacting to what’s going on in their life, and how they can choose a direction of growth.

Here’s a link where you can complete a few sampler Enneagram quizzes, and learn so much more about your Enneagram type.

Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

I use the MBTI less often — my sense is that it provides a helpful description of one’s personality preferences, but provides less in the way of understanding how to grow. Still, it’s a neat introduction to thinking about how you might show up in the world, and what that might mean for how you interact with others.

A quick MBTI google will turn up a number of free versions of the MBTI assessment, although – as always – those freebies come with the caveat that the most accurate results will come from taking the official MBTI assessment and reviewing the results with a certified MBTI practitioner.

(And if you’d like to go the official route, I know a most talented woman, Sandy McMullen, who literally “painted the book” on the MBTI, and who offers MBTI assessments and coaching).

The Via Survey of Signature Strengths

Particularly when I’m working with a client who struggles to see his or her own strengths, and who is blinded by, perhaps, an overly acute awareness of his/her weaknesses, I like to invite the client to complete the Via Survey of signature strengths. The survey helps you identify your strongest character strengths, building an appreciation for what you bring, rather than a focus on what you may believe you lack.

In a future post, I’ll describe a few other self-awareness exercises that I believe are particularly helpful. Enjoy exploring what you discover!


Laura McGrath is an Ottawa-based life coach and therapist who works with clients all over the world. She’s an Enneagram Type 5 (with a 4 wing), has trouble deciding if she’s an INTJ or an INFJ, and her top five signature strengths are judgment/critical thinking/open-mindedness, caution/prudence/discretion, honesty/authenticity/genuineness, leadership, and modesty/humility.

If you’d like to talk more about self-awareness exercises designed just for you, Laura is more than happy to pick up the phone and have a conversation. Get in touch.