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Is belonging the cornerstone of thriving & flourishing?

Trials more difficult than ours

I don’t know this soldier. I don’t know the details of his story.  I also don’t want to ‘use’ his story in ways that he doesn’t approve.  He used a phrase, though, that struck a cord with me. He said that even though he was injured, he was still part of a team.

Belonging is so important to our well being

For a long while, I’ve believed that belonging is one of the most important factors in well being, in productivity, in thriving and indeed any form of flourishing.

When we belong, we at least are saved from worrying about not belonging.

This soldier shows that belonging is more. When we belong, we are concerned for the wellbeing of others and we trust them to take care of ours.

Am I over-interpreting his story? Is he a fool to want to belong? Is it too hard to create belonging?

Or is the promotion of belonging our first task. To help us belong ~ so that we can thrive and flourish?

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Test your positive thinking: make yourself the main character and feel pain

How deep is your positive thinking?

So you’ve resolved to live happily ever after?  And your friends and colleagues are mocking your for your new found happy ways?

The big test

Here is the big test for your commitment to happiness.

Imagine yourself in the most horrible circumstances

Write a short novel with you as the main character.  And write the worst things that can happen to you. Not the most horrible things in other people’s minds but the most horrible in yours.

Think of things that are so bad that your heart races and you feel as if you could pass out.

Now write yourself out of those situations.

When you can describe the worst and write a story that takes you out of those places, then you understand your hopes and values. Then you are truly thinking positively.

My first try

I am going to try this over a cup of coffee.  And you know what?  I know the first hurdle.  I know I don’t want to write myself out of a bad situation because then it is obvious I could get out of it!  And when I define the situation as bad, I don’t want it to suddenly be quite manageable (if disgusting and terrifying).  I wonder if I will ever manage this!

Tell me about your first try?


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3 steps when goals seem out of our reach

I think back to the most frustrating times of my life and I felt exactly like David Whyte standing in front of a ravine, desperate to be the other side and with palpitations because it seems impossible.

Whenever we feel frightened it helps to visualize the ravine.  And draw the ravine on a piece of paper.

  1. What is on the other side that we want so deeply?
  2. What is the gap and the frayed rope bridge that seems too dangerous to use?
  3. And where are we now?

I want to be clear: when we are really frightened, we forget to do this.  And we chide ourselves for forgetting!  But we shouldn’t – we are anxious because our dream is important!

When we remember, our task is to imagine the ravine and draw, or jot down, our answers to all 3 questions.

Then we concentrate on question 3 and write down everything we can think about where we are now.  We might want to concentrate on the other two questions.  That is understandable but we should write down point after point about HERE & NOW.  Set a goal – write 1, then write 2 more, then write 2 more, until we are on a roll.

Lastly we underline the parts that work well. This is important.  We go through our list of HERE & NOW and underline what works well.

And if you don’t think of something that will move you forward, write to me and complain!

But I guess you will write to me to say how well this method works.

Come with me!

  • Think of your biggest dream that you have put aside to attend to your obligations or because you think you have to be cautious during the recession.
  • Feel your fear and honor it!  You only feel fear because this goal is important to you.
  • Then draw the diagram and remember to write down in detail where are now  Finally, underline what works well.

Are you feeling better?  Can you see a way forward?

Prepare for a winning week!

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Overcome your fear in 3 steps

There was David Whyte, on his own, standing at the edge of a ravine in Nepal.  He knew he wanted to be at the other side but the rope bridge was in a bad state of disrepair.  He couldn’t go on and he couldn’t go back as his friends had taken another path.  He was terrified.  What should he do?

Situations which frighten the life out of us often have THREE parts.

  • A goal that feels distant and unreachable – Whyte knew he wanted to be the other side of the ravine.
  • A gap between where we are now and where we want to be that seems impossible to close – the rope bridge was in a perilous condition.
  • And where we are now – which in our funk we have forgotten about completely.

The gap between where we are now and where we want to be is sickening.  We cannot see how we can get across and we are awash with strong and negative emotions. In this state, we can think of little else.

Now I will tell you that if you are experiencing a deep, debilitating funk every 6-8 weeks, you are not living!

When was the last time that you felt so nervous you almost threw up?

Come with me!

Think of when you last felt that something you wanted was unreachable.   Or think of something you presently feel is unreachable.

Then draw the ravine.  What was on the other side that you wanted deeply, what is the gap and the frayed rope bridge, and where are you now?

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you the secret of dealing the overpowering emotion and finding ways out of seemingly impossible situations.

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Poets advice for surviving the financial crisis

In the middle of the road of my life, I awoke in the dark wood where the true way was wholly lost.

Dante in the Inferno

Mid-life crises, sudden loss, tragedies, and world-wide financial crises are certainly different in degree, and different in content.  But they have one thing in common.

They are unpleasant to experience.  We feel that we have lost our way.  And we have a vague yet pervasive feeling that there isn’t a way and that we were mistaken to believe that there is.

David Whyte, British corporate poet, explores this experience in poetry and prose, and uses stories and poems about his own life to illustrate the rediscovery of our sense of direction, meaning and control.

Using his ideas and the ideas of philosophers and poets before him, we are able to refind our balance, and live through the financial crisis, meaningfully and constructively.

Come with me!

David Whyte has a 2 disk CD, MidLife and the Great Unknown.

If you get a copy of his CD, I will listen to it with you.  And we can discuss it online?

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We do know how to deal with the unknown

When I listen to the news and the financial commentaries, I am still struck by the lack of useful information on the financial crisis.  We are told no one knows what has happened, what is happening, or what to do.   We are told there are no examples in history to instruct us.

This is not true.

Arriving at a place where we are both disoriented and scared-to-death by the challenges we face is as old as time.

David Whyte, corporate poet, reminds us of a line from Dante’s Inferno.

In the middle of the road of my life I awoke in the dark wood where the true way was wholly lost.

Could we persuade David Whyte to make a series of broadcasts about dealing with junctures in our lives when we are lost, alone and scared?

Until then, I recommend David Whyte’s CD Mid-Life and the Great Unknown.  It’s good to listen to in the car and on the train.

Come with me!

We do know how to deal with the unknown.  Spread the word!  We do know how to deal with the unknown.

UPDATE:  I posted today about Karl Weick’s ideas about systems that spin out of control. If I have understood him correctly, to understand the unknown, we have to  “leap in order to look”.  Action is critical to knowing.  If we want to understand something we have to act on it!

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Initiative – are you interested in taking charge of our destiny?

What are we waiting for?

As the financial crisis gathers like a tempest around us, I am struck by what people are doing, and not doing.

When we receive bad news, we go through stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. And we go through the stages at different speeds.  We do need to be patient.  I need to be patient.

What distinguishes

  • people who might get moving if someone bellowed “all hands on deck” in their ear
  • those people who are already on deck and who got there immediately it was obvious we were in trouble
  • and the people still sitting below in the mess room clutching a cup-of-tea?

This seems to be the question of our time.

Are you waiting for someone to tell you what to do?  Or have you got to work already?

My task this week: initiative

I don’t want to feel impatient, or worse express impatience, with people I work with.

So I’ve set my task this week to review the work of German psychologist, Mike Frese, who writes on initiative.

What readies us to take action and to remain effective even when the world is swirling and crashing around us?

Come with me!

I am going to read over Mike’s work and explain it during the week.   I’d be interested to know of instances of action and inaction that puzzle you.  And whether Mike’s work, or my my explanation of Mike’s work, helps you solve the puzzle!

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Sing and dance to the music of the recession!

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance & the financial crisis

Over the last one -and-a-quarter years, since the run on Northern Rock, I’ve been making a concerted effort to understand the credit crunch, the financial crisis and the recession.  The nature of understanding big, bad events is that we are so busy trying to understand them that we have little time to reflect.

Typically, we follow a five stage process.

  • First, we deny the crisis either saying “I’m OK – it doesn’t affect me” or conversely ranting “This can’t be happening.”
  • Then we move on to anger, when we are quite clear we are not to blame and that someone else such as politicians and bankers should be punished for getting us in to our mess.
  • When we are a bit further along, we work out what will stay the same in our lives and what we can can cut out.
  • The next stage is to resign ourselves to our mess dragging on for twenty years or so,  and we are actually secretly relieved because if the mess is that big, there is nothing you and I, ordinary Joe citizen, can do about it.
  • And eventually we begin to dig beneath the surface of the crisis and, in this case, set about upgrading our financial know-how and skills.

Where are you?  And where are the people around you?

My job as a psychologist

I have a page where I store good, accessible explanations of how we got into the financial crisis and I will expand it to include the financial know-how that you and I should have.

Being a psychologist though, I think it is my job to bring to your attention key psychological ideas that equip you for understanding the recession and the ways we react to it.

  • The first psychological idea in this post is described in the at the beginning.  We often respond to bad news in five rough stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  We go through these stages when we hear of the sudden death of a loved one.  And we are going through similar stages as we get our heads around the idea that our financial system has been subject to a the equivalent of a major earthquake.
  • The second psychological idea in this post is that objective knowledge matters.  Positive psychology emphasizes that our attitude to a problem makes a big difference.  It does, and I will return to that in other posts.   But objective information matters too.  It is foolish to pretend that a large box isn’t heavy.  We are much better off when we understand the principle of levers.  We do need to take charge of our education about the financial system.  We clearly did not understand it well enough to play our role as informed voters, wise buyers and sellers of stocks and shares, and savvy consumers of mortgages and credit cards.
  • The third psychological idea is the one I wanted to highlight today because I think it will be key to the mental housekeeping required to come to terms with the recession.

In the west, we have a weird idea that time is linear

Of course, we ‘know’ that yesterday was before today and today comes before tomorrow.  Unfortunately our separation of time into yesterday, today and tomorrow, has some peculiar side effects.   This works in two ways.

  • In good times, we spend like mad and rack up debt.   We take ‘Carpe Diem‘ or ‘seize the day’ far too far.   Tomorrow features insufficiently in our thinking about today, and when tomorrow comes, we are in a mess.
  • Equally, in bad times, we look ahead, see a diminished tomorrow, and we feel dejected.  In short, we bring tomorrow far too much into today.

This inability to act appropriately in time is an inability to ‘give unto Ceasar’ or to accept that ‘for everything there is a season’.  The net effect is that we enjoy life a lot less.  We also rack up unhealthy deficits and one day we wake up very disappointed with our lives and where we have taken ourselves.

And then we are into the five stage process I described at the outset. This cannot be happening. It is not my fault.  OK, I will compromise.  Oh, this is impossible.  And then ultimately: OK, I’d better get on and understand this.

Are you acquainted with philosopher Alan Watts?

At the end of this post is a video presentation, about 3 minutes long, that accompanies the late English philosopher, Alan Watts, talking about the way we confuse time.

He begins “you get into kindegarten, then you get into first grade  .  .   .”  And ends, life “was a musical thing and you were supposed to dance or sing while the music was being played”.

Do watch it!

I grew up in a competitive culture so this resonated with me.  I have long protested that we should let 3 year olds be 3, and 18 years olds be 18.  Preparing for the next year is part of a 3 year old’s experience but it is not all of their task.  And being 3 should never be dreary.  Nor should being 84!

Recessions are simply part of life

Like preparing for a test or examination, they are there to be enjoyed (!) along with all the other activities that come at the same stage.

It takes time to work through the five stages of our reaction to bad news.  And we work through at different paces.  So we need to be patient with ourselves and each other.  But we also do need to resolve not to become stuck at any stage.

We may be in for a long and difficult time in this financial crisis.  What I am suggesting is that we sing and dance to the music nonetheless!

Come with me!

Here is the link to this great presentation accompanying Alan Watts.  Do enjoy it and have a good weekend!  There is a season for everything!

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Positive psychology on despair and world conflict

To arrive is scary.  What will be our journey, if we are already there?

As I’ve watched the supersonic work pace of Barack Obama, I’ve also been annoyed with the curmudgeonly spirit of many commentators.

I believe they are scared.  Not because of anything Barack Obama may or may not do, but because Barack Obama may be the person we all want to be.   If it is possible to be articulate, poised, present, warm, honest, then we don’t have to be scared, hesitant, insecure, insincere and most of all ‘outsiders’.  We can just ‘be’ and ‘be accepted’.  To arrive is scary.  What will be our journey, if we are already here?

Don’t let disappointment be an excuse to delay arrival

Nonetheless, I was very disappointed by the bombing of Pakistan.  Sending an unmanned drone into a civilian building seems to me a murderous act.  How can we defend this?  I would like this to stop.

We want what we don’t like not to be

My emotional reaction to this event follows a spiral that, I believe, is quite common when ordinary people follow politics and world events. I read the reports and I felt disgust.  Then I felt judgmental.  And then I wanted to reject what disgusted me.

And when reality does not cooperate, we sulk

But the source of my disgust is in power (and popular).  Rejection is not an option open to me. So, I felt down and dejected.  Feeling that there was nothing I could do but endure the undurable, I withdrew, at least emotionally, and felt alienated, despondent and dejected

Curmudgeonly behavior is a mark of esteem in UK but it is “wet”

It is very likely that many people who express a curmudgeonly view are going through a similar process.  Something specific disgusts them, and they allow that one point, important as it may be, to allow them to feel despair about all points.  Positive psychologists call this ‘catastrophizing‘.   We go from one negative point to believing that we lack control.  Not only do we believe that we lack control on this issue, we go on to believe that we lack control on other issues too.  And we don’t stop there.  We go on to believe that we will always lack control, to the end of time.  In other words, we feel that what has gone wrong is persistent, pervasive, and personal.

So what am I going to do?

Put the strength of my feeling in words

Well, this issue is important to me.  I am sickened by the bombing of civilian targets.  I am ashamed it was done.  I leaves me uncomfortable and embarrassed and feeling that our condolences are woefully insufficient.  I don’t even know how to express this adequately.

Be a player

But it is also wrong to write off the hope that has come to the world.  One day I may be in a position to influence decisions like this.  And if I am to open a conversation with influential people, I need to be informed, and much more informed than I am now.  So I will become so.

List specific small things that I can do

And for now, should I meet my MP, who is a UK specialist on the conflict in Afghanistan, I will ask him.  I will tell I am unhappy and that I want to know more.  And though the whole matter makes me want to throw up, I will listen and learn.

Stay where the decisions are made

If we want the world to be as we wish, we cannot pick up our toys and go home every time we don’t like something.  I am afraid the art of politics is to be where the decisions are made.  Sometimes we have to stay and engage.

Stop the decline into ineffectiveness

Positive psychology does not say that the problems of the world will go away.  But it does help us not sink into despair and become ineffectual.

Come with me!

  • Is there something that makes you angry and fearful?  Are you overgeneralising from one issue, thinking it is ‘persistent, pervasive and personal’ – catastrophising?
  • If you put aside your general despair and remain in the forum where decisions are made, what do you need to do to become more effective at influencing our collective decisions?
  • And having thought this through, can you see a way that you may be able to influence events in future?
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Awakening: A new era begins

Today, Barack Obama spent his first day in the office

This is the week of the new Presidency in the US of A and I’d resolved to write in response to events.  My business, as it does, demanded my full attention today, and as evening came around, I was tired, with still lots to do, and very little idea what Barack Obama had done in his first day in office.

My favourite business in the village, Much do, had set me up with dinner – cold roast turkey and cherry foccacia (made by Gareth – I recommend it), and I was able to catch up with the events in Washington while I ate.

What a work ethic

I was amazed by what Barack Obama achieved in one day.

He spoke or requested to speak to each of the leaders closely involved with the dispute in Gaza.  He spoke to his own military leaders including a linkup to the General on the ground in Iraq.  He suspended activities at Guatanemo, pending review.  He pronounced an ethical code including strictures on salaries in the White House.

A role model for role models

I felt a little sheepish at my fatigue, and also inspired.  It is quite extraordinary how a role model, enacting a full and organized day, motivates us to do the same, and not by lessening what we have done, or chiding us, or exhorting us, but through showing the road ahead clear of obstacles, and suggesting that our contributions, too, are valued and invited.

We are not trouble guests on this earth

David Whyte, the poet, has a line that says

“You are not a troubled guest on this earth, you are not an accident amidst other accidents, you were invited from another and greater night than the one from which you have just emerged.”

From ‘What to Remember When Waking’ in River Flow.

What have you been inspsired to do by Barack Obama’s election?

Have you too, been tentatively, resurrecting projects, which you had pushed to the back burner in those hard decades, thankfully ended, when too much was rejected as too idealistic, too charitable, too sincere, too including, too worthwhile?

I’d be interested to know what today you believe possible and previously would only whisper when no one could hear.

I am watching with interest what tomorrow brings.

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