The Johari Window is an ideal model to walk through to reveal what is holding you back from happiness and fulfillment.
When you feel you don’t have the power to fix a personal problem or face up to a challenge that feels too big, you are powerlyzed. You feel stuck. Your inability to move forward can drop you into a victim mentality in which you think you will fail at anything you try, or you fear others will judge you when they know who you really are.
The inability to see a way forward is often caused by blind spots created by limiting beliefs, assumptions about the future you make with no real evidence, fears of other people’s judgments, and self-doubt. Or you might hide your thoughts because you don’t want to feel embarrassed, vulnerable, or wrong. Blind spots indicate a lack of awareness; hidden facts indicate a lack of trust in self, others, or life in general.
It is possible to reveal your blind spots and courageously look behind the mask(s) you wear. I recommend working with a coach or therapist to reveal the thinking patterns you embrace that are holding you back, but I will give you suggestions to consider here to start the process of broadening your self-awareness and regaining your power. Using the Johari Window can help with your self-exploration.
Let’s go through the model to better clarify how you can use it to overcome feeling powerlyzed. The Johari Window is a rectangle divided into four equal quadrants.
Box 1 (top left — the “open/known” area). This quadrant represents what you know and what you openly let others know about you, too.
If you were to answer the question, “How are you?” what would you say other than “Fine”? How would you describe how you feel about your day ahead when you wake up? What do you think about and feel at the end of the day? What does a typical day look like for you? Based on your reflection, choose one thing you would like to have or modify that is different from what is occurring now.
With this one situation in mind, what do you know to be true about the difficulties and realities around what you want, and how do you define who you are in this situation? What strengths and values relate to what you want to create?
Explore what is good as well as what is challenging about the dilemma you face. What are you learning? What is your opportunity for growth?
Box 2 (top right — “blind spots”). This quadrant reveals what you are not aware of in yourself but that might be apparent to others (aka your blind spots).
Hiring a coach or therapist to reveal your blind spots is wise because it can be difficult accessing this window on your own. Blind means blind—not seen or known—and entry is often barred by the brain. To have the ability to make routine choices and feel good about the decisions you make, your brain protects how you define and present yourself.
You then rationalize your decisions instead of questioning them, even when you have a deeper sense that your choices no longer serve you. Albert Einstein said, “Reality is an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”
When someone asks you why you did something, you instantly concoct an answer. You come up with a reason for procrastinating on a task, for prioritizing reading your email over a project deadline, or for making life decisions based on how you will feel in the future when, in truth, you can never be sure how you will feel.
Seeing into the blind window: To open the window to blind spots, there must be someone outside of yourself to summarize your thoughts so you can objectively “see” them and then ask questions you can’t comfortably ask yourself. When you hear the words you speak and are asked about the emotions you express, your automatic processing is disrupted. If you are willing, you can question your beliefs and perspective as you begin to see into this window. This use of reflective inquiry—summarizing and questioning—can help you see the holes in your logic, how your fears are limiting your choices, and how the shoulds you are obeying are controlling your actions.
When someone helps you hear what you are thinking and then asks you questions about how your thoughts affect what you want to achieve, they facilitate your mental exploration and transform strongly held beliefs, leading to a new awareness and positive change.
Box 3 (bottom left — the “hidden facts” or mask(s)). This quadrant signifies what you know about yourself that others don’t know.
When you don’t trust others because you think they will judge you, or you don’t trust yourself to do something because you doubt your abilities, you hide what you are thinking or desire. Examples: “I’m afraid people won’t like me if they find out about my past failures,” or “I feel like a fraud—they will discover I don’t know as much as they expect me to,” or “I can’t say what is on my mind because my boss will retaliate later or my teammates will sabotage my efforts.”
Opening the hidden window: Sometimes, you need to fit in and not reveal aspects of yourself. Other times, you unreasonably hide what you think and who you want to be for fear you will be judged, ostracized, and abandoned. The more you try to fit in, the more alone you feel. You may even lose your capacity to feel joy.
When you know you are not being true to your beliefs and values, ask yourself what you fear is the worst-case scenario. Then ask what else could occur. And if the worst-case scenario happened, what would you do next? Is it possible people will appreciate your honesty instead of judging you? Courage is the will to act even when fear exists, and fear is a normal response when moving toward an unknown outcome. At the end of the day, what will you most appreciate about yourself when you bring hidden aspects of yourself to light?
Box 4 (bottom right — the “unknown” area or potential). This quadrant indicates what’s unknown about you, both by yourself and by others.
Most of the time, you can’t see beyond the fog created by your fear, anger, doubt, or confusion. You might know something is holding you back but are not sure what it is. You don’t know what you fear, need, or even desire. You need clarity before you can create a vision for your future.
Shrinking the unknown window: When you work with a professional to reveal your blind spots and open up what you thought you needed to hide, you will start to notice repetitive behaviors, recurring patterns, and limiting beliefs that are holding you back. Working with windows number two and three will bring more awareness to window number one—what is known—and shrink the unknown. You will be transforming from victim to creator.
Thanks to the wisdom of Joe Luft and Harry Ingham, you now have a map that can help you become more self-aware and empowered, decreasing moments of being powerlyzed by your fears and limiting beliefs.
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