The BET-RR Way: Self-Awareness for Better Living


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Self-awareness. Most of us believe we have a good measure of it. But how did we learn it? Is it just natural? If we had to teach someone to become more self-aware, how would we teach them? We know that self-awareness is good for personal growth and increasing well-being, but how many of us actually have a way to work on improving self-awareness?

One thing I have learned as an insight-oriented therapist is this: we are blind to aspects of ourselves. It can take years and even some crisis-experiences before we are able to fully realise the deeper parts of our hearts and minds. It is as if we are immune to negative feedback on those parts of us that we don’t like. But in order to grow with integrity-of-self coupled with a sense of freedom and authenticity, we need to get in touch with every part of our selves.

Over the years of work with clients and seminar participants, I have put together a useful and robust framework to help people develop deeper self-awareness. It is an abstraction and combination of different therapy modalities** into a simple acronym I call: The BET-RR Way. BET-RR [pronounced “better”] stands for: Body – Emotions – Thoughts – Reactions/Responses. Let’s talk about BET first.


Our brains are connected to our bodies. We can have a bodily knowledge of our state of being even before we are clued into it intellectually. For instance, when the room temperature rises, our bodies are already responding to the rising temperature before our minds are aware of it.

A more sophisticated example of this is the “gut-feel.” Our bodies somehow know what’s going on, but we can’t quite explain it. While the body does not reason quite as clearly as our minds can, sometimes, we ignore the intuitive signals our bodies give us to our own detriment — for example, trusting someone we had the sense that we should not have.

In order to have good self-awareness, we need to get to know the signals our bodies are giving us — the sense of tiredness, irritability, sadness, hunger, are all felt in the body. In order to get to know our bodies, we need to slow down and pay attention to what is going on.

Going deeper: Eugene Gendlin advanced the idea of having a “dialogue” with our bodies through a processed he called “focusing.” Watch this short video of Gendlin talking about the bodily “felt sense”.


The emotion is an interesting phenomenon that is something of a bridge between a body-sense and a thought. For example, it is not just body sense of “tension,” and neither is it a full formed mental opinion of “I don’t like this person in front of me.” An emotion is body-brain phenomenon that we label with words such as mad, sad, glad, scared, ashamed. Emotions come and go, but they provide incredibly important signals to what is going on inside of us.

Some people ignore emotions in order to push through to do the things they need to do. That can be OK for a while. But to keep on ignoring our emotions is like to ignore that odd sound in the car that keeps coming back — one day, we will break down, just like the car. Our ways of breaking down come in the form of smoking, drinking, over-eating, over-sexualising, addiction to social media, and even violence.

Developing self-awareness requires us to develop awareness of our emotions. Our emotions provide us with the more pure and honest answers to how we are dealing with things. One good way to develop emotions is to tap into our body sense and our language. The more words we have to describe what is going on for us in the body and emotion, the more refined we will be at self-understanding.

Going deeper: A few years ago, researchers mapped emotions to bodily sensations, and found similarities across cultures. Have a look at some of the findings.


I use the word “thought” to mean our reasoning or opinion-making. Between our bodies, emotions, and thoughts, we are likely to be most aware of our thoughts. This could be due to our need to talk about what we think so as to help others better understand us. So why would we need to develop more self-awareness of our thoughts? The answer is this: we are not fully conscious of how we reason or even the opinions we hold about something, especially the opinions about ourselves — our core beliefs.

Negative core beliefs, such as I am unlovable, I am defective, I live in a dangerous world, I am at fault, come from our early experiences. For example, if a woman growing up was badly teased about her looks, she may believe that she is defective somehow. Even though she might have become a very beautiful adult woman, that negative core belief may still be operating within her, and may even lead her to make decisions about her life that is not based on sound and objective reasoning.

Becoming aware of our core beliefs may take some work. It starts with taking a look at a list of core beliefs and seeing if any of these apply to us. Then, ask where those beliefs came from in our life experiences. Often, those who are closest to us may be able to give good feedback on the core beliefs that we operate with unconsciously.

Going deeper: In trauma work using EMDR, a very important component to the healing is to identify clients’ negative beliefs about themselves and help them move their negative beliefs to their preferred positive beliefs about themselves. Such movement is not to restate an opinion, it is a fully embodied shift in belief that is accompanied by positive emotions and body states.


When danger occurs, we enter into a Reactive fight-or-flight mode. It is a survival mechanism that allows us to act quickly without thinking — which might save us from being eaten by wild animals. But in today’s world filled with deadlines and expectations, our bodies operate in continual high-alert.  For busy people focused on productive action on a daily basis, stress can cause us to be reactive without our awareness. That reactivity can then impact our closer relationships, the ones that we take for granted, such as our spouses, partners, and family members.

Becoming aware of our bodies-emotions-thoughts, and how they interact with each other, gives us a helpful mirror to the inside of ourselves. It allows us to catch our chronic-stress reactions, pause and think through our situation, and then choose well-reasoned Responses instead.


Over the past few months, I have been testing the BET-RR framework with different people and in training seminars. I am finding that it works well and people can understand it easily. But the most beautiful part about this framework — what gets me really excited — is that it can go really deep as well, especially when used by those who have practiced the BET-RR way over time.

Those who have grasped this framework have told me that they can see the BET-RR way applied to different life contexts: leadership, management, personal productivity, parenting, communication, marriage, addiction control, and the list goes on.

I will be developing this work further both in writing as well as through workshops and seminars. If you are interested in attending any public seminars that I will be giving on The BET-RR Way, come and follow my Facebook page (I don’t add strangers as friends, but you can follow my page) and you will see announcements posted up from time to time.

** In particular, I credit the work of Eugene Gendlin (Focusing), Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and Francine Shapiro (EMDR).

© Johnben Loy, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Johnben Loy and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Three Indicators You Are Getting Better Through Therapy

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One of the challenges clients face when entering therapy is knowing whether they are improving. Unlike coaching, where clients enter the process with clearly stipulated goals (not dissimilar to hiring a golf coach to improve your swing), therapy is much deeper, and clients often come in with great distress. They only knew one thing in starting therapy: they want the pain to end, all of it!

But pain will always be with us. In fact, to hurt is human.

Due to their great distress, clients can hold on to the notion that therapy should get rid of all their pain. It doesn’t and it is not meant to. What therapy does is to help individuals, couples, and families learn how to manage pain and conflict more effectively.

Perfection is not the goal of therapy. Therapy is to help you improve in your process to the point where you can continue to improve on your own, ready to terminate your work with your therapist. The pain is still there, but you can move on.

A client once asked me, “if the pain is still there, how can you know if you are improving?” Here are three helpful indicators.

(1) Shorter duration of the negative occurrence.

If you are struggling with deep sadness over a loss, there may still be moments of pain, but it does not last as long. For example, rather than feeling the sadness the entire night, it only last half the night. That’s an improvement!

For a couple, if an argument typically lasted 30 minutes, being able to end it after 20 minutes is an improvement! Or if the argument used to result in a silent treatment that lasted a week, finding yourselves returning back into normal conversation within 3 days, although still not ideal, is an improvement as well!

(2) Lesser intensity of the negative occurrence.

There is a difference between feeling so sad that you want to end your life and feeling so sad that you don’t want to go out and hang out with friends. Even though the sadness that causes you to stay at home is still quite intense, it is lesser in intensity than the sadness that leads to wanting to commit suicide. It is an indictor that things are getting better, even if just a bit. Give yourself a hug even for that tiny bit of improvement!

For a couple, the argument that used to result in slamming doors may now only result in raised voices. Or instead of using profanity and blaming, the words are now more consciously chosen to lessen the impact on the partner — for example, instead of “you are a f**king idiot!” the words become “I am feeling really angry at you!” These are small indicators that help us to realise that the intensity is lessening. Build on them, continue to stay in a state where you can be engaged in productive conversation and remain more reasonable.

(3) Longer duration between negative occurrences.

Lastly, you know you are improving when the bad spells happen less frequently. The length of time between bouts of sadness is longer. Instead of feeling sad every night, you notice that there are times when sadness is not experienced for two nights in a row. That’s a great sign!

For a couple, instead of finding yourselves arguing once every two to three days, the arguments now happen once every two weeks. Yes, there are still conflicts, but they are lessening, which is a cause for celebration!


Focusing on the improvements–even small improvements–is much better than focusing on the negative occurrences and feeling frustration that they are still there. In therapy, the tendency is to want to get rid of all negativity because of how distressing it has been. But that does not help. Choose to focus on the small positives instead — it will help to improve the recovery process!

© Johnben Loy, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Johnben Loy and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Handling Disagreements — Remaining True While Staying Connected


When disagreements arise, it can be difficult to stay connected with the disagreeing person and yet remain true to yourself at the same time. If feels more natural to either blame the other person or to walk away. But if we are to grow into emotional and relational maturity and wellness, we must learn to be able to ask and manage this question in times of conflict:

How can I be fully me and fully us at the same time?

Put it slightly differently: “I want to be true to myself (to be fully me) while I stay connected to you (to remain us), even when we disagree. How can I do that with you?”

I learned this idea from one of my family therapy supervisors many years ago:  move from “either/or” thinking to “both/and” thinking.

We often think in “either/or” terms especially when we are caught up in a fight-or-flight mode during a conflict. Being able to engage in  “both/and” thinking instead gives us new power for creative collaboration.

How does it work?

Continue reading “Handling Disagreements — Remaining True While Staying Connected”

New Blog Focus: Living & Leading Well

Starting in 2018, my blog will have a distinct focus. I will be writing practical, readable articles to help busy executives and discerning homemakers with helpful advice for “living and leading well.”

What do I mean by “living and leading well?” Basically, how to be happy in life and family, and how to achieve success as managers and leaders in the workplace.

The fundamentals for positive living in both family and work are actually the same. First, manage yourself. Second, manage your relationships.

Continue reading “New Blog Focus: Living & Leading Well”