#12: Getting Out of Your Own Way with Sunita Sehmi

Receive Our Free Quarterly Newsletter
Free podcast alerts + tips to optimize your well-being

I have read and agreed to your Privacy Policy.

Meet SUNITA SEHMI who, from a rich and diverse background, runs workshops on inclusivity and diversity. Working with organisations such as The Gavi Alliance, McKinsey and Facebook, Sunita supports senior executives to enhance their personal effectiveness enabling them to foster greater leadership and collaborative behaviours.  Sunita challenges people’s perception of what they and other people are capable of, and helps them ‘get out of their own way’ to unlock human potential.


  • Self-Awareness
  • Team Building
  • Coaching
  • Life Skills
  • Self Confidence
  • Creativity
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Personal Growth
  • Self-Development
  • Mental Health


The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Getting Out of Your Own Way by Sunita Sehmi


The Godfather directed by Francis Ford Coppola.


‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel’
~ Maya Angelou


Read Full Transcript

Tania Cotton: Welcome to the LifeWise show where we explore the things in life that can make you feel truly alive. Today, I have the enormous pleasure of speaking to Sunita Sami who, from a rich and diverse background, runs workshops on inclusivity and diversity. She is currently writing her next book on Belonging. Sunita was brought up believing that there are three keys to freedom in life: education, education and education. Studying developmental and organizational psychology did not disappoint her and combined with a masters in coaching and career management and qualifications in NLP and gender diversity, Sunita has worked with many high-profile clients such as the Gavi Alliance, Facebook, CERN, McKinsey, the Tata Group and Novates, to name but a few.
Sunita supports senior executives to enhance their personal effectiveness enabling them to foster greater leadership and collaborative behaviors. She changes the perception of what people believe they and others are capable of and helps them get out of their own way to unlock human potential. Throughout her life, helping and supporting people has been her ‘Raison D’Être’ - her purpose both personally and professionally.
Welcome Sunita and thank you for taking the time to come and talk to us today about how we can all get out of our own way.

Sunita Sehmi: Thank you, Tania. I'm so excited to be part of this.
Tania: Well, from my side of the fence as a movement analyst and physiotherapist, I get to see many people who are disabled or dis-abled - not able to do the things they really want to do in their lives. And what I often discover is that most of their limitations exist within their minds; their perception of what they are capable of. And it may start with a simple statement such as, ‘Well, you know, at my age what am I to expect?’
Are we all the victims of limiting beliefs?
Sunita: Good question. I think in some ways we are. We all have the limiting beliefs. It's how we deal with them. I think some people are able to overcome these limiting beliefs and able to challenge themselves and some people have been fed these limiting beliefs for such a long while that it takes a lot more work and reflection and maybe some more support.
Tania: When I first meet my patients, I like to find out the story that they hold in their bodies in terms of the physical activities they've done in their lives and also what life experiences have impacted them. Ultimately, I feel that we're all the embodiment of our thoughts, our feelings and emotions. Is body language something that's important to you and your work?
Sunita: Oh, I think so. So very, very well put the way you said about it's an embodiment of so many things. It's interesting from a leadership point of view. I'm thinking about some of the people who I see and who talk about what they want from life, from work and maybe from the session and yet the body is saying something different. So, you know, part of our work I think is to be great observers not just of the mind but of the body.
Tania: And have you noticed in yourself how your body language has changed throughout, throughout your life?
Sunita: I do. I’m thinking specifically about one huge shift that I noticed in myself. I remember I was never still in my body. So when I was sitting still watching TV or having a meal or on the train, I was not calm inside. I can really feel this peace and it feels like a wave now when I sit, and I'm still stunned and little bit sort of surprised every time with how my body is still, I'm still inside and on the outside. So yeah, I think that's biggest shift for me.
Tania: That’s something so beautiful. I think that anybody listening would think, ‘How can I do that?’ Is this what you help people do?
Sunita: Well, I think I try and guide people, you know, I think it's really interesting in some of the work in any type of work that we both do, and other people in this field. You can only help people who want to be helped. You have to know how to give help and you have to know how to ask the right questions. I have seen some changes in people and, I think also, sometimes people might say that they want to be helped and they want guidance and support but at the same time the message might not land when you hope it's going to land or when you think it's the right time to land. So, I think it is about meeting people where they are not where you'd like them to be.
Tania: Now, I think one of the most empowering beliefs is that change is possible, and I love the saying that, ‘If you hear hooves think horses not zebras’ because many people think that something in their life is so unusual and complex that there's no way out for them. In fact, there is a wonderful paragraph in your book where you say, ‘Without hope we would not brave the danger. Hope is what makes us go forward or to dream, live and believe again. Without hope no change can be made toward a better life. Hope makes us look towards a better tomorrow.’ This is actually why I began to make films because I wanted to show people what was possible. For you, do you think storytelling can give people the hope and the courage to do things differently?
Sunita: And yet it's something which maybe some of us take for granted and it seems so easy and but it's a very difficult thing. It's a very - it's not an easy thing. I think it a little bit like when we talk about resilience. What makes people resilient, what makes people overcome things and situations and very difficult situations and others are not able to? This is I think a very deep question.
Tania: You shared with me that one of the most pivotal moments to you in your life was when a psychology teacher said something that was really profound for you. Would you share that with us and why this was such a defining moment for you.
Sunita: I'd probably need to tell you a little background before that statement was made and why it was so profound for me. So, I was brought up in London. I was born in London in 1966 and my parents were one of the few Indians that came in the 50s. So, they came to London as immigrants from the Punjab the North of India. I would say that was about six—seven eight, seven eight years after the bloody partition of India and Pakistan. It was very interesting for them because they came to England specifically to better their lives and the lives of their children. Sometimes I actually feel now that I'm finishing that story. I'm able to pick up that story and move on, but that's something I'm actually just realising more and more as I’m getting older. And one of the things that unfortunately, I do feel was a shame is that family life was very unhappy. My parents had an arranged marriage. My mother was 17 when she came over here and my father was 27 and they were not compatible and life was just miserable. I don't remember it being happy. There are moments of happiness, but I do remember even as a child that laughing a lot would mean that it was going to rain the next day and what I mean by that there was going to be some sort of fall out. And I felt very hopeless and powerless growing up. I think as a child you, there’s so much direction from adults, you know, your parents are role models, you know, it's not, it's not - for parents, it's not about am I a role model, am I not a role model? You are a role model. So, which are you going to be? We said the choices are going to be a good role model or a negative role model or whatever it is and I suppose when I got to university, I studied psychology which was very unusual in my community. Everybody in my community were pushed and encouraged to do medicine, law or dentistry. These are the, the high-status professions and I chose psychology, I think very, very, unconsciously, not unconscious, very, very consciously actually. I wanted to understand what was going on in the family and the history because I couldn't make sense of it. And the first day we sat down, the university professor said, ‘You are in control’. And I had never ever felt that before. I always thought I was out of control because everything around me was out of control and it had such a profound effect on me. And I, and I still to this day when anything goes wrong or I feel I am losing control or overreacting, I remember that we have power, we have a choice, and we're in control.
Tania: That's incredible that when you heard those words, they were both profound for you but that just the words could have that impact. What made you suddenly see that there was real depth in those words and that they were saying something important? Was it, was it the professor? Did you have the trust and belief that they, they knew that this was possible?
Sunita: Yeah, I think that, I think there's a few reasons. I think one, I really thought I had arrived when I began my psychology course. I remember turning up and I had read most of the course books before I'd even started. There was a safety aspect to this whole group. I really enjoyed working with the professors. But also, I think if I'm honest, it's a little bit like my job. I've probably heard that I was in control but it landed - it seemed to land in 1980 and 1985 and I don't know why it landed but it did and sometimes this is what I'm saying, we hear so often people give advice or support or, or they read something a quote or they watch a film. It doesn't mean that it necessarily lands the first time. I think you have to be ready yourself and open, and I think I was. Because I think I was physically away from my family as well. I went to, I was in Manchester and my family were in London and I think that also helped a lot. I was becoming my own person.
Tania: That so resonates with me. In fact, I have patients who refer patients and something they say to me is, ‘Oh, I'd love you to see this friend or this colleague’ and they follow it on with, ‘…they’re ready’ and it's almost like they are ready to take ownership and responsibility, and also ready in their lives to embrace change and to open themselves up to new possibilities. I think this is so important.
Sunita: Very true. Very true. I like that ‘they're ready’. And, and I think that's the basis for everything.
Tania: So, what was it like for youbeing brought up in a traditional Indian family, where you are expected to embrace an arranged marriage? How did you manage to make that incredible shift from that expectation and to, to being able control of your own life?
Sunita: Well, give me a definition of arranged marriages? So arranged marriages, it was it was a semi-arranged marriage which means it's an introduction. I suppose it's the modern version is Tinder. It was an introduction by the family, and I actually see that, I can understand from a parent's point of view. You know, if you think about how many relationships fail? If you can get some help with regards to connecting with some of the community you know, you have more in common. If you come from – at that time they thought because you come from the same socio-economic background. The parents came from the same background as well. You had more chances of working together. It a little bit like, um, how teams used to work, you know. There were pale male and stale and now we know that diversity is, is, is important. So, with regards to my parents, I would actually think, looking back, that they’d not fit with other traditionally - you know, my parents would always say we're very open you can marry anybody just not white, not black, not yellow and not Muslims. And that was open, you know, because that meant I could choose anybody from India, whereas I had friends who, who are from the West, West part of India and they could only marry people from that area. I struggled, if I'm honest, I didn't have it easy because I was always rebelling. I was always calling things out. I was always this truth teller or a whistleblower let's say. Now, you know, and you know what it's like in organisations and in life when people are truth tellers - they cause a little bit of anxiety in the system, and I really caused a lot of anxiety. I'm sure for my parents, for my sister and my brother.
Tania: It's almost like you always, you were always in search of the truth and it's - we talk about people finding their truth. What does it mean, do you think for people to find their truth and to speak their truth?
Sunita: I think finding your truth is being your absolutely authentic self and not being humiliated or punished or rejected for that. And I see this in my life. I've seen this in my work that when you are in a context where you can be truthful, where you can be your true self. It's such a nice place to be, to start from. It's so healthy. It's so positive. If you want to talk business from a business point of view, I mean your performance goes up, you're more engaged, you’re more creative, you’re more innovative. But from a life point of view, you’re just happier.
Tania: That’s very, very beautifully puts Sunita, and something that has always fascinated me is, what is the ego and how does it get in our way of being our true authentic self?
Sunita: I think, you know, Elkhart Tole the spiritualist, he says something really interesting about ego and he talks about how the ego always needs to be right. So, what you do is, what the ego will then do is he'll look for evidence or she will look for evidence to prove that it is right. And I think it's such a huge life force when you can, when you are aware of your own ego. It's something so powerful. I think it's like a superpower. It's almost like super flying or being invisible because I just think managing your own ego and knowing, if you’re having an argument with somebody or discussing something, or you're trying to convince somebody…. So I’m thinking about if I could just give you an example. I'm thinking about some of the work I do. So, so one of the clients I work for, they are doing very, very deep leadership inclusion conversations, with their top leadership team. As a coach it is about talking to somebody who's maybe not in the minority and or has never faced any type of discrimination, and I'm not talking about gender or race, or ethnicity sorry, or disability. I'm just talking generally about somebody's who’s always heard yes, all their life. What I have learned is for my side, I would go often in as a coach before wanting to convince that person that my thinking was the right thinking when it came to inclusion and having empathy. But now what I do is I sit with that awareness. I'm aware of my thinking and I'm aware of where that person is. It's, it’s a lifelong battle and I really choose the word battle because I think it is a battle. I think it's something I find myself always being challenged with this, with my children, with my husband, with my friends. And the other question I ask myself is, ‘do I want to be right or do I want to get it, right?’
Tania: Yes, that self-awareness. I mean self-awareness is at the heart of everything and the body. Maybe you begin through the mind, but as we talked about embodiment, I mean self-awareness is key isn't it? We need to almost pause and take a breath and be inside ourselves to have that awareness in our subconscious mind that is 95%. It's something we have to work on every day. It's a daily practice.
Sunita: You know, it's interesting when you talk about self-awareness because I remember, almost as if it was yesterday, I went to go work for eight senior executive in a bank. This is when I first started coaching, so it’s 2008 and I remember saying to the senior executive, ‘You know, it's really important about connecting with your team because this is really the be all and end all. It really is about connection, and then really making that connection. It's not about hugging and holding hands and running, joining hands and dancing around the tree; but it's about connection.’ And I remember saying I actually think that is more important than technical competence because technical competence is a given. And I remember her saying, ‘I don't think so, I think you're wrong’. And now is 2020 and when I think about the, the amount of articles and research papers and how important the business rules are saying EQ is, more important than IQ. And I spend most of my time talking about emotional intelligence. So, there you go. It has become, it is the difference between being good and great.
Tania: I so believe this. In fact, we have Cindy Burwell, who's the founder of the Inside Game Coaching Network for sports coaches and it’s based on John Wooden’s saying ‘a good coach can change a game, a great coach can change a life’. At one of the conferences, one of the speakers asked us, ‘All of you who've had coaches that you feel have change your Life, what was it? Put all the things that made them a great coach on the ‘post-its’. Now look at them and if it's something to do with connection and the way they made you feel you put it on one wall and if it’s something about their technical ability put it on the other wall.’ And of course, it was all about connection. Every way you could express connection was on the one wall. That's what made a great coach. And as you say, I mean the technical abilities were a given. Of course you want someone to have good technical skills, but connection is the difference between good and great, and it was really eye-opening. I was fascinated to hear, word of mouth, that in one of the biggest law firms in the world, the most well-attended workshop was on Imposter Syndrome. So, is this and how can we, how can this prevent us from being the best version of ourselves?
Sunita: Hmm, it's you know, it's an interesting concept imposter syndrome and I think we all we all suffer from it at times in our lives. I think it's very highly correlated with people who are very successful, so the high potentials, and in a way, I think it happens very often when the high potentials then meet the other high potentials in an organization. I think the imposter syndrome is a collective feeling. I don't think you feel imposter syndrome when you're on your own. It's only when you're in interaction with somebody and, and I see this because of executive coaching. The word executive – you are often working with the elite, so the top 5% of talent all over the world and it's interesting how when they're faced with somebody who's heard, ‘YES, all their lives as well, who's been number one, who has received awards and who's never heard ‘NO’ - I think there's something about turning up and being that number one in your village or your school or university and then coming to place where you suddenly see a hundred people like that. It starts making you think, ‘I am in the right place’. This is the first time that you’ve ever, ever had to look at yourself and think, ‘Oh, I may have to add something to my skill set. I may have to add something different. I might have to actually learn from somebody else. Somebody might know more than me.’ And it's not easy. It's really not an easy position to be in.
Tania: Yeah, yes, and I think this is where we've learned so much about the difference between having a fixed mindset and a growth mindset and allow ourselves to see the enormous value of being challenged and seeing opportunities to learn rather than the threat of failure.
Sunita: I’ve experienced this in so many companies and in life generally. I think to myself, I have two children and I think about the pressure on ‘mothers’ now, on being perfect. I think about the pressure on teenagers having to be perfect, you know, with Instagram and with social media and everyone's life has to be, you know, super - everyone's just really exciting, eating in the best restaurant having the best meal.. and that's just not true. And then we have the other side where companies are saying, ‘embrace your failures’, let's talk about it.’ So that’s really interesting. You have this polar opposite, two things going on at same time. I'm the best, I'm showing that I'm the best and everything's fantastic, and at the same time, let's be ready to talk about failure. And I think it's really, really interesting how these two things are emerging at the same time.
Tania: And I think just in terms of language, because we hear about failure, but it's more about not being afraid to make mistakes. Failure isn't the opposite of success. It's part of success, but actually it's about not being afraid to make mistakes. In other words, not being afraid to learn from your mistakes. And that's something we all need to do?
Sunita: Hmm, that's a very good point. I think, you know, again, if you're in a safe environment you make mistakes. You, you know, people, you do learn from them. I mean we, when something is going really well, we don’t often think we learned a lot. It's often when things didn’t go so well. And I think this is where you know, there's a very good exercise, I think it will be ARA, I might be wrong, they always ask three questions, ‘What happened? What did we do right? What did we do wrong? And what can we do next time?’ And I think these four questions actually are really good questions to ask ourselves and, and we should not to beat ourselves up if we make a mistake. Often, I think we are the person who dwells on it far more than anybody else.
Tania: I, I believe so. As a movement specialist. I find that people often approach learning a new movement skill with a fear of failure and pressure to be perfect that make their movements very stifled and rigid and I therefore encourage them to approach learning every movement skill with, a lightness and a playfulness, and through trial and error to explore and discover different ways they can feel a new freedom of movement that they haven't experienced before. I just wonder whether our societal norms of conformity and control, based on systems of punishment and reward, stifle people's ability to express themselves and, and I believe that the lack of self-expression leads to depression.
Sunita: Yeah, how well put, and I think, you know, when you talk about the punishment and reward the carrot and stick system is still in place. The reward and punishment system at schools, in organizations, at University, in life. And you know, I was talking to a client a month ago and we were talking about a school - her children attend a public school in Zurich. The school are saying they want to scrap giving marks. And she was horrified! She said, ‘How will they learn?’ And the school want to thing ‘out of the box’ and say, ‘look, can we just try this? What we want to do is to get students to auto-value themselves and we were going to give some written notes about how we think about this piece of work. But we're not going to actually give a mark’. It was such a, such a culture shock for the mother. Is this think—it, the mother will, you know, it’s a different generation? So, we're still in a very, very strong dynamic where it becomes too, you know, reward and punishment.
Tania: Yes. It's hard to change behavior patterns.
Sunita: Yes.
THE LIFEWISE SHOW: The life-wise show, watch our films and be inspired at movementwise.org.
Tania: In Michelle Obama's beautiful book Becoming and I don’t know if you've read this book, Sunita? She speaks about her grandfather and it's this part that really touched me when she spoke about it – in fact to Oprah Winfrey as well in an interview, about how he was inspirationally intelligent, but tragically disillusioned, and her parents had to explain to her the terrible thing that happens inside a man when he knows he is more than the world will give him the opportunity to be. And of course, we can reframe this to say, ‘the terrible thing that happens inside a girl or a woman when she knows she's more than the world will give her the opportunity to be.’ So how is a society can we create equal opportunity for everyone to shine and become the best version of themselves?
Sunita: I'm absolutely in love with Michelle Obama.
Tania: Me too!
Sunita: I've been listening to her podcast and I have to say I can't, I don't understand how she is able to provide this, this feeling that you're sitting opposite her on a sofa having your chat. I found her story about her grandfather very touching. It reminded me of my own father actually because as an immigrant he used to be teacher and he couldn't get a job as a teacher and he ended up working in a factory, a food factory. And I remember him always being very resentful and angry and I'm sure that had a huge part to play in his unhappiness. With regards to giving people equal opportunities, it starts very early on - it starts with where people are living? How much income the are given? Which schools do they go to? Do they go to school? How much support do they get? You know, really the change and the opportunities can only grow if you start very young and that's just not happening. That's not happening and with COVID, my fear is that if the disparity between the rich and poor is going to get bigger.
Tania: Yes. That's sobering, a very sobering thought. You run workshops on inclusive, inclusivity and diversity. I mean what for you are the three most valuable life skills you would like people to take away from, from one of your workshops for example?
Sunita: Awareness. I really believe self-awareness is a superpower.
Tania: Yes, I do.
Sunita: It is a superpower and it is so empowering because it's suddenly, I mean, I always say it's not about them. It's about you which is a contradiction because that's the phrase ‘isn’t about you, It's about them.’ But this time I'm saying, ‘No, it's about you.’ So, I think it's really important. What I would say, first of all, is that people walk away thinking, ‘I’m becoming more aware of my, of how I'm being. I realise that maybe when I said that, it could be taken this way’. I really feel that we under estimate how self-aware we can be. It's just about being present. It's just about interrupting yourself and being aware and asking questions. The second thing I would say is I would encourage people to be more courageous, you know, so if you see something or you feel something or you read something which you think is not okay, you feel that its exclusive, not inclusive, then I think it's, it’s very important for you to, I mean, some companies say, ‘call it out’. But in some cultures, it is very easy, but in some organizational cultures and some countries is not easy to call it out but there are ways to call it out. And what I would say is that silence gives permission for bad behavior. So, you are responsible if you don’t say something, you're part of that system. You are part of creating that inequality, that exclusion. So, it's really important to acknowledge and say something because otherwise you're just adding to the problem.
Tania: Yes, and it's interesting what gives people courage to, to voice what they feel that they know is good or bad, right or wrong, or sits well or badly with their deepest values.
Sunita: Yes, that's a very good point because we may be both sitting in a meeting and what I think is not inclusive behavior, you might not agree. So, this is where I ask questions. It's not about being right or wrong, it's about being curious. But if you don't ask any questions and you are not curious, or like you said about the growth mindset about being open, then we are never having a conversation and there is ‘an elephant in the room’ and it just gets bigger and bigger and bigger.
Tania: Yes, curiosity and creativity are very key developmental assets I think for all of us, and that the curiosity to be able to sit calmly and want to see and want to try and understand things from other people's points of view, rather than just sit rigidly in your own point of view is, is interesting.
Sunita: Yes, and again, so much of this is about other isn’t it. So much of this is about sitting and not fixing - and that's hard as well.
Tania: Yes, being open to listening with all of our sensors not just selectively, that's a life skill I think. Listening is an art that we again have to work on and be open to and give time to. When you see top executives from many high-profile organizations you work with, what are the most common challenges they ask you to help them with and, and, and how can you help them?
Sunita: Difficult conversations with people who are in the team. It’s always about difficult conversations and conflict, or just resolving the conflict between two or three people. But it's interesting, there seems to be a similar pattern with most executives, it’s human, I'm going to say because you know I'm in that category as well. It’s when something happens, what people normally do they talk about what's happening to the other person and slowly, slowly we work together and I see that they start saying, ‘Okay, yeah, so, so this is what I'm doing and this is what I could do’ and this is why I wrote the book How to get out there way because when people first come to me, when I first meet people, I feel that the way they're getting in their own way is that they haven't thought about what they're bringing. They haven't really thought about what they're bringing to the conversation. They are either angry or irritated or annoyed or sad about what's going on or just powerless and so that becomes the basis for everything and it really is very powerful when you start seeing people and they say, ‘Oh, yes - I didn't realise that when I should have noticed that that could have an impact.’ So yes, I would say difficult conversations. The human factor is extremely problematic.
Tania: I love the saying, we are all ‘response-able’ and what many of us tend to do especially because we get caught up in this rush, rush and go, go and get stuck in our 5% analytical minds, becoming reactive rather than proactive, is to take the time to really start with self-awareness and then think about the impact of our words and our actions.
Sunita: This is the beauty of having coaching, or having any type of help, because you have somebody who's who is not a partner or a family member and they, they are actually the cheerleader for you. They want the best for. I mean, that’s how I work. But firstly they have to do the work for it.
Tania: Hmm, so how do you measure success and, and, and how to, with your clients, and also you personally, how has this changed for you over the years?
Sunita: I think success, with regard to a clients point of view, there are objectives and processes, clear coaching objectives and then you have the line manager involved. People start behaving differently, they start trying out different behaviors. They start getting feedback from people around them that, that there's a shift in, in their mindset or that the way that they are approaching things. I like the second part of the question because I think the first part is what I focus on more and I would say for me success is when the people I'm with a they really have a positive experience and when I say positive experience, it doesn't mean that we will be laughing the whole time and it was fun and I was just throwing praise at them. But there really was a really deep experiential learning and that they left that coaching saying, ‘You know what, I really feel better, you know, things at home are really better, not just at work. Relations, my friends are better. I'm looking after myself. You know, I feel that when I'm in a conversation now, I'm really thinking about my impact. You know this, this shift that's really powerful.’ That’s so powerful for me because I know that's never going to go away, if you keep at it.
Tania: Yes, you’ve given them real tools that will stay with them for life and affect their lives in a positive way. That's so rewarding for everybody.
Sunita: Yes, I hope so.
Tania: Yes, so now your book, Getting Out of Your Own Way is for women who want to win. Don’t men need to get out of their own way as well? And if we all got out of our own way, could be not then build allyships between men and women?
Sunita: The reason I wrote the book for women is because very often I am the only woman and the only woman of color in a room, so women are less likely to get executive coaching and I really wanted to democratise and de-mystify coaching a little bit. Because I think very often when you coaching a team you become the authority in the room, and you know that with your clients, suddenly you're the expert. And I remember once one, with one of the corporate groups I was working with, one of the guys said to me during coffee break that he was having some issues with his teenage son. And he said well, of course, you don't, you know, you won’t understand this because you don't have any problems. And I remember thinking to myself should I say something, shall I say something, should I share - and I said to him I do, I totally understand where you are coming from. So, what I wanted to say, is that we're all trying to get our own way.
Tania: Yes.
Sunita: But I specifically wrote this book for women. But you know if you have a sister or you work with women or you have a mother or you have any contact with women it's for you as well. I was very, I would say, deliberate about writing it for woman, because I do feel that we are 2020 and you walk into an organization and there are probably seven men in a group and one woman.
Tania: Yes, so the need really is far more, and not as well addressed for women as, as for men?
Sunita: Yes, and I think this it's interesting what you said about, ‘do you think men need to get out of their own way.’ They do need to get their own way. However, it’s really quite interesting - two years ago I went to give a diversity and inclusion workshop about gender diversity. When I got to the place in the morning, the head of the department said to me, ‘Don't talk about gender’ because it was a male orientated group. So I thought that was, that was very interesting. I think sometimes that there is something about why are we including men in this discussion and I'm not saying not to include men in this discussion, but I'm saying that women face more exclusion. They have less opportunities. So why not push up the people who need pushing up and lifting? And then we're going to be lifted up together. To me, it seems logical.
Tania: Yes, and in that last sentence, what really resonated with me, is when we think about diversity and inclusion, there are so many people who for different reasons, whether it be culture or color or whatever, just need lifting up because they're not given as many opportunities to lift themselves up as others and I think all of those people need you - to make them realize that there is so much more that they can do. It’s coming back down to those limiting beliefs that once we’re told we can't do something, we are put into a little box, and defined as a certain shape and size. Sometimes we tend to adapt and become that shape and size and I think that's terribly sad for anybody. Something I've seen a lot of and of course working with movement, you know, it is very important to understand both the physical, mental and emotional drivers of people's posture and movement habits and performance failure. So, your new book on Belonging. I'm really waiting for this to come out. Can you give us a little bit of insight into why this is such an important topic for you and for all of us? Is it linked to Identity?
Sunita: It's actually a, a book for leaders and organizations. It's not specifically about identity. It's more, I would say, about the impact of not belonging to a group. Last year, it was actually after this discussion with the lady who said about not talking about gender bias when I wanted to talk about gender bias in a workshop on gender bias. I thought to myself how could this topic be welcomed and embraced by everybody? You know, wherever you are and whoever you are. How could you connect to this topic? And I read some work by Pat Wardens who wrote the BP for LinkedIn and she wrote something about DIB. So, diversity – inclusion - belonging and I read that and I felt, yeah, belonging sounds really interesting. So, I then embarked on personal research. I interviewed a hundred and twenty-nine people, people from all different walks of life; a yoga teacher, a priest, a monk, a physiotherapist, a doctor, a psychiatrist, CEOs, admin assistants and talked about this topic of belonging.
I suppose the origin of it was that I never thought I truly belonged to my family of origin or my community of my country of birth and it left me feeling with real strong lack of psychological safety, so I spent most of my life trying to fit in. When you're in a simulation mode all time, it's really exhausting but I think this really gave birth to this book and so I started this, this research. I finished very quickly actually, the research, because of COVID and the book was finished within, six to nine months simply because I had so much time on my hands when wasn't traveling anymore. So the, the book is really for anyone who’s really working or managing people and, and really wants to achieve better relationships. I hope that it gives the tools for people managers what people have said in the the interviews. There are six basic questions for everybody. When I ask them about how important belonging is? The first three questions were transactional. I saw this pattern happening quite a lot in the interview. The moment I asked the question what does it feel like when you don't belong? It was really interesting the reaction, and what was even more interesting was how deep the reaction was. How profound the reaction. People talked about developing an autoimmune disease when they didn't belong. Somebody mentioned that they got a word problem when they didn't belong, they lost their voice. People talked about burnout. And the they were so colored by their experience and their feelings. I had an assumption that people for example, like, the priest, the neuroscientist, the monk, they would be really talking in depth. No, it was a CEO. It was a CFO. It was the engineer. It was really so descriptive, how they felt.
Tania: How interesting.
Sunita: It was, it was fascinating! I mean, I have to say the interview process was absolutely fascinating, absolutely fascinating. I really enjoyed it.
Tania: You and I talked a lot about a Gabor Maté’s work on Compassionate Inquiry. and lot of his work around understanding how important belonging is. Whether you're talking about this within big corporations, or in life, the impact that belonging can have on your health and your performance is, is yes, very important. Compassionate Inquiry, I think it's something that we’ve both seen how these subjects have impacted the people we work with.
So, if there was only allowed to give me one piece of advice, I mean, what would that be in life?
Sunita: Trust yourself.
Tania: What a lovely - that's very interesting. Yes.
Sunita: You know yourself better than anybody, trust yourself.
Tania: This part of trusting yourself is taking time to listen to yourself. You know, Gabor Maté talks about the fact that many of us don't listen to our gut feelings anymore. We are listening to our brain but, our second brain is in our gut and how many of us have lost touch with our bodies and ourselves? You have to start listening and having a relationship with yourself to be able to have relationships with others.
Sunita: I mean, I was, I, when I said trust yourself, I was going to say trust your gut instinct, you know, and I don't know about you, but every time I have gone against my gut instinct, it's come to, it's come back on me and the chatter that you listen to is like muddy water, you can't see properly. That was my first instinct - we need trust ourselves more.
Tania: Hmm. I want to show you this wonderful sketch. I can't tell you who was behind this sketch: ‘Somebody is driving a car and then the windscreen wipers just going on and they're just looking at the windscreen wipers going, right-left-right-left, their heads just following the windscreen wipers until they realise they can look beyond the windscreen wipers at the road ahead’ - it was, I have to say, very funny. And I thought, ‘what a great analogy!’
Sunita: Sure, and I think life at the moment, if you’re not careful, can look like.
Tania: Yes, focusing on the windscreen wipers just rather than the way ahead, yes.
Sunita: Exactly.
Tania: So Sunita, would you share with us, please, do you have a favorite film or favorite book and even a favorite quote? Your book, Getting Out of Your Own Way, has the most beautiful quotes. You don’t need to mention all of them, people can buy your book if they want to read all of them!
Sunita: My favorite book I would say is The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy and I think the reason why I chose that is it's really a reminder of how powerful our words are and how they can destroy somebody and how they can make somebody feel, and it had such a profound effect on me. I mean, it is such a beautiful book and she's such a wonderful lady. A truth-teller - not popular in India, but nevertheless she tells the truth. She's not afraid. I like that about her.
Tania: I’m definitely going to read that!
Sunita: My favorite film? I know this is maybe terrible but I’ve just watched The Godfather. I just love that film. It was so wonderful. It was about family and loyalty and family dynamics and relationships and power and loyalty and how good people do bad things and bad people can do good things. It was just, I just found it so interesting and maybe it reminded me a little bit of my own Indian community.
Tania: I will have to go back and revisit it.
Sunita: Maybe, may be my mind is working overdrive, but I think also it reminded me of a little bit of my Indian Community. Very closed people, you don't talk to anybody outside the community so it really stayed with me. And my favorite quote is and it's in the book is by the wonderful Maya Angelou and I would say this is the quote that I live my life by is “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Tania: That is a really beautiful, beautiful quote. Something that is part of self-awareness.
Sunita: Definitely.
Tania: And if there was a call to action that you would like to share with people, do you have you know, the call to action something you feel very strongly about that you feel you want us to take into our heart?
Sunita: Be kind. Be generous and just you know, it's such a tough time out there at the moment really be kind and be generous first with yourself and then with others. This negative self-talk does have an impact on other people. I think kindness is so underrated. It such a huge, it's such a beautiful thing. Very often I have found that we have a perception, we think people who are kind are stupid or a bit naive but people who are kind are really strong.
Tania: Oh, yes.
Sunita: They know things that we don't know.
Tania: Oh, yes. And I loved what you said at the beginning. You know, you said, you need to be kind to others but also be kind to yourself. We know that self-compassion something that really enhances positive mental health and all we must to be kind to others. We need to start by being kind to ourselves and self-compassionate.
Sunita: Yeah, most definitely I agree.
Tania: So how can people or organisations get in touch with you, Sunita?
Sunita: I have a website, www.walkthetalk.ch and it's a very cheesy, saying that I just love it.
Tania: I love it too.
Sunita: And they can contact me also on Linkedin. I'm always happy to help and support people especially with diversity, inclusion and belonging. The more unsafe it is out there the more we need to help leaders create psychological safety within their teams.
Tania: And when might your book be coming out, when will it be available?
Sunita: I sent it to the publisher on the 3rd of September, I don't know if they -I would think 2021 in March. I think that's probably the date that they're looking at.
Tania: Very good we’ll all look forward to that. Well, Sunita, you know, I can't thank you enough for sharing your experience and wisdom with us today.
Sunita: Oh, thank you.
Tania: I feel lucky in a way that I went to boarding school with people from different countries and cultures, from all over the world and for me, it's what makes life really interesting. You know, when we dig deep ultimately, we all have the same needs and desires. We want to live, love and feel truly alive. So, I salute the work you do, and I hope that we will all in some small way find a way of taking your wisdom out into the world and learning from you and spreading, those golden nuggets. Thank you very, very much.
Sunita: You’re welcome. Thank you, Tania. Be well.
Tania: Thank you so much Sunita. Have a beautiful day and I look forward to seeing you soon.
Sunita: Yes, me too. Take care, Tania.
Tania Cotton: Thank you for joining us today on The LifeWise Show. My next guest not only promotes diversity within society but also in nature. Nicole Schwab will be revealing how our health and the health of our planet are inextricably linked and how we can look after both. I will be giving you access to a special visual version of this podcast that will connect you to your senses. I look forward to meeting you there.

Meet Tania Cotton

Tania Cotton avatar

Tania Cotton is a Movement Analyst and Chartered Physiotherapist with over 25 years' experience helping people overcome pain, injury and disease to lead a happy and fulfilling life. After 12 years as a consultant for the Swiss Olympic Medical Centre in Geneva, Tania began making films on health and human performance to show people what is possible and to inspire them to take action.

MovementWise - Empowering You to LIVE Your Best Life