Denial, anger, depression, bargaining, adjustment: put the banking crisis behind us

Ladies and gentlemen, where are we are the path of psychological recovery after learning, not only that our country is not only flat broke, but that our prosperity in the last ten years was a house built on sand?

Denial?

Anger?

Depression?

Bargaining?

Adjustment?

Denial about the banking crisis is over

I believe we are out of denial.  Do you agree?  Not everyone understands the extent of our financial woes, or the rate that they are getting worse, but we have grasped that when we wake up in the morning, the problem will still be with us.

Anger about the banking crisis . . . still with us?

Much of the citizenry is still very angry about the financial crisis.  We are still looking for someone to blame and somebody to hurt back in return for the hurt we have suffered?

Am I right so far?

Depression . . . the politicians are depressed about the crisis?

Politicians, to a man and woman, seem depressed about the crisis.  They are busy having meetings and telephone conference calls.  But by-and-large, they are being busy.  Of course, they are busy. They are ‘shaking the tree’ or in the parlance of a domestic household, looking down the sofa for small change to pay the rent.  That doesn’t put anyone in a good mood.  But their gloom is the result of more than penny-pinching and cash flow management.

Do you think they are acting with a positive sense of the future or just getting-by?

Bargaining  . . . what does bargaining look like?

What does bargaining look like anyway?  I don’t really know.

In other countries and other crises, I have seen people protest a country’s position ‘between a rock and a hard place’ by going on ‘fasts’ (not, hunger strikes, ‘fasts’ or ‘pacts with God’).  The country didn’t move forward very much but the fasters did get very slim and they learned to get up early in the morning.  I can say that for their methods.  Whether their lives improved in other ways, I doubt.  Unsurprisingly, they did very little work.  Their electronic diaries were pristine with the exception of their prayer schedules.

The secular equivalent of keeping one’s head down can be just as dangerous, by-the-way.   It normally involves being very busy doing-the-boss’-bidding while he or she sits out of harm’s way- a bit as Carne Ross described in talk at LSE this week on life as British diplomat.

Does satire play the role of bargaining?  Does laughing about ‘their idiocy’ without taking action not perform the same function of reducing emotional concerns without moving forward?  Resignation rather than adjustment which is really a form of bargaining?  If I laugh, then it will be alright?

Is writing this post a form of bargaining?  I guess it is.  I am being an observer of ‘them’.

Adjustment . . . is it possible?  Can we just adjust and get on with it?

If I don’t really understand bargaining (as much because we think this stage of recovery is a delaying tactic rather than useful), I do know what adjustment is going to mean.

Adjustment is accepting that we were all part of the mess and are all part of the mess.

Adjustment rests on a foundation of “who we are”.  Who are we loyal to?  Who is ‘me and mine’?  Until we really feel solidarity with each other and are willingly to form a new social compact based on that solidarity, then we aren’t going anywhere fast.  We will ‘lurching from church to school’.  I’ve no idea where the expression came from but it conveys the idea.

Our solutions will be in direct proportion to our solidarity.  While we hate each other, our solutions will be correspondingly mean and inadequate.

Getting to adjustment in a country that is in trouble

Getting to ‘adjustment’ when a country is severe trouble is a tough one.  The psychological key is our own good temper, or whatever kernel of good temper that we can find.

When we identify what we believe is good in Britain, when we can point to what is, rather than to what we want to be (usually through someone else’s efforts); until we believe the something is sufficiently good that we are willing to get out of bed to work on it, whether or not anyone else is working on it, we – I mean you, I mean me – are not going anywhere very fast.

The questions, to me, are three fold:

  • What is, right now, is so good that it fills me with awe?
  • What is, right now, that I can bounce out of bed to look after and nurture?
  • What am I willing to do right now, whether or not you support me or not, but which can include you if you want to be included?

Keeping my good temper intact

So here I am writing a post ‘about’ Britain – and in a way about what is wrong with Britain. Here I am apparently procrastinating and avoiding doing some work which has shards of pleasure and the sharp edges of tedium.

Am I being a hypocrite?  Or am I saying that I like to process the news and know what I think and feel?  Am I saying that I like to read between the lines and see the big events that might be affecting us all (the government is looking for small change down the sofa)?  Am I saying that I like to use the heuristics I have gathered over the years to think economically?  Am I saying that I think people like Carne Ross (apostate diplomat) are right?  Change in UK will not start in Whitehall. It will start at street-level with small matters, with whatever we care about executed, not an angry, contested manner (even when that is concealed under do-goodery), but in a respectful, collaborative manner that demonstrates democracy in the minute detail?  Am I saying that I like Web2.0 (blogs etc) because they minimally give me a neat place to store my thoughts and writings and a place where others can read them if they choose?

And having cleared my mind, I can get back to work, because work is like hoovering the carpet – it’s not much fun but the results are pleasant.

And for every moment I spend doing work that matters, I might be building a foundation for future solidarity.  And from there we might find solutions to build a Britain fit for the next 50 years.

So here ends my thoughts on where we are psychologically in making sense of the financial crisis using the well known heuristic of the grief cycle – denial/not us,anger/blame, depression/loss of direction, bargaining/magical thinking, action/affection.  The kernel of your good temper is Britain’s future.

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This is not a recession. Stop dithering and step up to the plate . . .

HR and the recession

People are out hunting again for information on HR and the recession.  I’ll briefly recap my thoughts her.

1 Keep positive

The over-riding goal of HR during a recession is to remain positive.  I don’t mean vacuous gushy “everything will be alright” talk.  We look foolish when we deny the reality of the precariousness of our financial situation and our the hardships being encountered by people around us.

In practice, being positive means this. Get yourself home. Get your staff home. Have plenty of R&R.  Begin the survival course of the recession by keeping the HR team in blooming psychological health.

Then work on the managers. Make sure they are in rude psychological health. Get them home.  Make sure they are keeping things in perspective.

And lastly work on the employees. Make sure they have plenty of time off and if they are on short-time, try to arrange training and meaningful activities that speak to their innermost dreams and sense of who they will become in the future – good economy or bad.

In short, our job is to “do our blooming in the crack and whip of the whirlwind”.  We can’t stop living just because the economy has gone bottoms-up.

2 Get business minded

Cut out the BS, the bullying and the waste of trees.  Get the business facts onto the table.  Ask what evidence there is that something works or doesn’t work.

Ask what needs to be done now. Right now. When someone is throwing their weight around, ask them for one hour when they can stand up in front of the company and explain their vision of the future with facts and figures.

Keep the discussion focused on what our current customers are buying, what we do well, and what we could do more of quite easily.  If someone has a wish-list, ask them to sketch out a project and take charge of it – including persuading people to cooperate.

3 Get negotiation minded

No one is in business to please us. Not our customers. Not our suppliers.  Not our employees.

What are they willing to do right now?  This minute.  What of those choices is good for the business?  Get that done right now.

When someone sulks, ask them what they are willing to do right now.

Of course, negotiation is a two way street. What are you willing to do right now. And do it when called for.

Is this HR?

Sure it is. HR isn’t a set of tree-wasting morale-hoovering procedures.  It is keeping the team together in a constructive mood.

We can only achieve our mission when we are feeling fresh and rested.  We can only do that when we are talking about mutual goals (business).  We can only do that when stress belonging – what we are doing together rather than what we are not.

And it begins with us.  If our mental health is ragged, we can’t support the managers.  They will become ragged and they can’t support their employees. If necessary, retain a positive psychologist to telephone you weekly or even daily.  Otherwise just look after yourself.  Go home. Eat fresh food. Take exercise. Keep a gratitude diary.   You will notice the difference.

Then cut out the time-wasting and focus on business.

Then focus on belonging.  Why does this person want to be here?  Why do we want them here? Have we made that clear?  Are we setting th tone for a positive inclusive enviroment?

HR is a leadership role

A stern tone – yes, I think I am becoming impatient.  That won’t do.  I must take my own advice.  But this why I am so certain of my advice.

This is not a recession folks.  Stop dithering, and step up to the plate to deliver the positive, business minded, inclusive leadership that we joined HR to do.

And that applies to me too.

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A positive psychology prayer

Pottery Jar, Acoma Pueblo, taken at Field Museum
Image via Wikipedia

Hold On…

A Pueblo Indian Prayer

Hold on to what is good,

even if it’s a handful of earth.

Hold on to what you believe,

even if it’s a tree that stands by itself.

Hold on to what you must do,

even if it’s a long way from here.

Hold on to your life,

even if it’s easier to let go.

Hold on to my hand,

even if I’ve gone away from you.

Found on Inspiration Peak

[Use this when the day has made you too gloomy to fill out a gratitude diary.  Remember what is good, what you believe in, what you must do and who is important to you.]

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Feeling good in the credit crunch and bank bailout

Harvard on the credit crunch and bank bailout

Two weeks ago or so, Harvard staged a panel discussion on the “credit crunch” and the “bank bailout”.  SocialMediaToday have video which is longish (1:36) but worth watching.

Many people will not watch the video fearing they will not understand it or because they think, so what – I can’t influence the politicians anyway.

First, the video is accessible.

Harvard professors are where they are because they are informed and communicate clearly.  They are refreshingly clear about how the mess developed and what might be done about it.  I found I developed a clear idea of the discussions I want to take place and the parts of the system I would be happy to see disappear.

Second, understanding leads to a sense of control.

When all is said and done, happy people exercise control.  By understanding what can and cannot be done, we figure out where to act and then we act.  Not understanding makes us feel anxious.  Saying “I cannot influence politicians” is “learned helplessness”.  It makes us feel awful!

Happiness is taking part

I am certainly going to trot down to the pub to meet my local politician on his rounds and ask him clearly what he will be doing.  I have a rough idea of the questions I will ask and I will watch the video again so I can summarize my ideas and keep it short.  Nonetheless,  I’d better be prepared to buy him a stiff whisky!

Once I start the conversation in the village in which I live, I am sure I will be educated further not only about what can and cannot be done, but also about other people’s hopes and fears.

Thereafter I hope we move to a positive consideration of what are we going to do about the impending changes in our lives.  I don’t want just to hunker down and hold my breath.  I want to be part of a conversation which looks at ways of taking the community to a better place for everyone – a place where we thrive in the increasingly competitive global knowledge economy.  I’ll let you know if I gain any insights.

I’d be interested in your thoughts.

UPDATE: For an HR Managers perspective on the Recession, I have written a summary on a new post.

3 essential steps to become a positive psychologist

So, I am a psychologist, but how can I become a positive psychologist?

I have found three essential competencies that I need to master in addition to my conventional training.  Can you think of any more?

New maths

1.  I need to be able to think in terms of fractals.   To be more concrete, I need to think of phenomena at three levels.

  • A clutch of relevant dimensions that are interdependent (a recursive model, that is).  So I am happy when the world is good to me and the world is good to me when I am happy.
  • Phenomena that are phase states.  So I am thriving when I am happy about good things and sad about bad things and move appropriately between the emotive states.   I am sort of coping when my state varies but it is limited.  I am definitely not flourishing when my mood is consistently positive or negative no matter what happens around me.
  • The benefits of the phase states are phrased at a different level of analysis, such as prosperity and longevity, and are expressed as mean differences rather than a direct linear effect.

Narratives

2.  Out goes the lab report, though I need it for some things, and in comes the story.  Can I tell a story about who does what, to what, and why?  Can I recount stories that reflect my vulnerability?  Can I create situations which respect the voice of others?

After a life time of “science” I find myself learning the art of story telling.  We have great role models in TED and fortunately great coaches such as Cliff Atkinson are stepping up on the business front.

Personal experience

3.  Have I applied positive techniques to my own life and do I approach situations appreciatively as reflexively as I looked for objectivity in my conventional training?

Am I able to take part in the mutual environment of action research or do I have to hide behind a facade of objectivity?

Any more?  I think positive psychology is going to take us on an interesting journey of professional transformation.

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How our training as psychologists inhibits our ability to understand generative, positive and appreciative psychology

The way psychologists were taught to think

I suspect that the most interesting concept in positive psychology, if you are a psychologist, is the relationship between the past, the present, and the future.

Our training is based predominantly on on linear models. We are trained to think that if we are X today, we will be Y tomorrow. Most of our tuition taught us to define and measure X’s and Y’s and took for granted that today and tomorrow are independent.

The way psychologists will be taught to think

Positive psychology is based on recursive models. The past does not predict the future; it is part of the future. Mathematically, we predict the value of X in the future, rather than the value of Y in the future.

Is the future a separate place?

David Whyte’s Midlife and the Great Unknown begins by addressing the relationship between future, present and past. To feel well, to feel vital, to feel alive, we need to be active, to be acting our future in the context of the present. In other words, always to be doing now what we want for the future, without the future being a separate place.

Everyone’s story is unique

I particularly like David Whyte’s idea that we are all unique – well of course we know that, but do we act that way? Do we look at all our relationships with people, with events, with places and even with things and see a unique story that is unfolding and interesting in itself?

Mindfulness as experiencing being present

Related is the concept of mindfulness – to be fully present in events, not to experience their beauty or their ghastliness (ghastliness is real) but to experience being present.

It is a hard concept for we psychologists!