A time comes in your life when you finally get it…when, in the midst of all your fears and insanity, you stop dead in your tracks and somewhere the voice inside your head cries out…ENOUGH!
Enough fighting and crying and blaming and struggling to hold on.
Then, like a child quieting down after a tantrum, you blink back your tears and begin to look at the world through new eyes.
This is your awakening.
You realize it’s time to stop hoping and waiting for something to change, or for happiness, safety and security to magically appear over the next horizon. You realize that in the real world there aren’t always fairy tale endings, and that any guarantee of “happily ever after” must begin with you . . . and in the process a sense of serenity is born of acceptance.
You awaken to the fact that you are not perfect and that not everyone will always love, appreciate or approve of who or what you are . . . and that’s OK. They are entitled to their own views and opinions.
A sense of safety and security is born of self-reliance
You learn the importance of loving and championing yourself . . . and in the process a sense of new found confidence is born of self-approval. You stop complaining and blaming other people for the things they did to you – or didn’t do for you – and you learn that the only thing you can really count on is the unexpected.
You learn that people don’t always say what they mean or mean what they say and that not everyone will always be there for you and that everything isn’t always about you.
So, you learn to stand on your own and to take care of yourself . . . and in the process a sense of safety and security is born of self-reliance.
You stop judging and pointing fingers and you begin to accept people as they are and to overlook their shortcomings and human frailties . . . and in the process a sense of peace and contentment is born of forgiveness.
Be true to yourself and others
You learn to open up to new worlds and different points of view. You begin reassessing and redefining who you are and what you really stand for.
You learn the difference between wanting and needing and you begin to discard the doctrines and values you’ve outgrown, or should never have bought into to begin with.
You learn that there is power and glory in creating and contributing and you stop maneuvering through life merely as a “consumer” looking for your next fix.
You learn that principles such as honesty and integrity are not the outdated ideals of a bygone era, but the mortar that holds together the foundation upon which you must build a life.
The only cross you bear is the one you choose to carry
You learn that you don’t know everything, it’s not your job to save the world and that you can’t teach a pig to sing. You learn that the only cross to bear is the one you choose to carry and that martyrs get burned at the stake.
Then you learn about love. You learn to look at relationships as they really are and not as you would have them be. You learn that alone does not mean lonely.
You stop trying to control people, situations and outcomes. You learn to distinguish between guilt and responsibility and the importance of setting boundaries and learning to say NO.
You also stop working so hard at putting your feelings aside, smoothing things over and ignoring your needs.
Your body really is your temple
You learn that your body really is your temple. You begin to care for it and treat it with respect. You begin to eat a balanced diet, drink more water, and take more time to exercise.
You learn that being tired fuels doubt, fear, and uncertainty and so you take more time to rest. And, just as food fuels the body, laughter fuels our soul. So you take more time to laugh and to play.
You get what you believe you deserve
You learn that, for the most part, you get in life what you believe you deserve, and that much of life truly is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
You learn that anything worth achieving is worth working for and that wishing for something to happen is different than working toward making it happen.
More importantly, you learn that in order to achieve success you need direction, discipline and perseverance. You also learn that no one can do it all alone, and that it’s OK to risk asking for help.
Step right into and through your fears
You learn the only thing you must truly fear is fear itself. You learn to step right into and through your fears because you know that whatever happens you can handle it and to give in to fear is to give away the right to live life on your own terms.
You learn to fight for your life and not to squander it living under a cloud of impending doom.
You learn to build bridges when others build walls
You learn that life isn’t always fair, you don’t always get what you think you deserve and that sometimes bad things happen to unsuspecting, good people . . . and you learn not to always take it personally.
You learn that nobody’s punishing you and everything isn’t always somebody’s fault. It’s just life happening. You learn to admit when you are wrong and to build bridges instead of walls.
You explore your negative feelings rather than hang onto them
You learn that negative feelings such as anger, envy and resentment must be understood and redirected or they will suffocate the life out of you and poison the universe that surrounds you.
And revel in your positive feelings however small
You learn to be thankful and to take comfort in many of the simple things we take for granted, things that millions of people upon the earth can only dream about: a full refrigerator, clean running water, a soft warm bed, a long hot shower.
Promise never to betray yourself and act the way you think appropriate no matter the provocation
Then, you begin to take responsibility for yourself by yourself and you make yourself a promise to never betray yourself and to never, ever settle for less than your heart’s desire.
You make it a point to keep smiling, to keep trusting, and to stay open to every wonderful possibility.
You hang a wind chime outside your window so you can listen to the wind.
Begin to design the life you want to live as best you can
Finally, with courage in your heart, you take a stand, you take a deep breath, and you begin to design the life you want to live as best you can.
My internal GPS uses faith, intuition and discipline every day to calculate my position
It’s presumptious to re-phrase his words but I know a lot of people who are bothered by poetic language and who might find “faith, intuition and discipline” so “unscientific” and “contradictory” that they tune-out.
Let me provide some behavioural examples
Imagine that I am doing a piece of work that I dislike. It doesn’t engage my attention. It is unchallenging. It’s not sociable. I learn little. I don’t think it adds value to the world. These conditions seriously challenge my ‘faith’ and fill me with ‘despair’.
In “History of the World in 100 things” running on BBC Radio 4 at the moment, I heard instructions given to icon-makers. Say a prayer. Forgive your enemies and remember God is watching you at work . . .
This is apt when we have a dreary task, not so? Clear my mind of other grievances (my lousy work is grievance enough). And then start my work imaging that “my god”, or my destiny, is watching me.
Feeling “my god” watching me do whatever it is that I do, will bring all that I value to that work, however awful or even terrible that it is. Thinking that “my god” is watching, having a conversation with “my god”, helps me concentrate and shape the work more in the image I believe appropriate.
If you scientific in your thinking, then test the idea. Try it. Do you not have a mental image, however abstract of what is right about the world? Doesn’t bring that image into the room with you help you find value, not matter how dreary the circumstances?
I understand intuition to mean very simply that our brain processes information at many different levels. Much of our processing is unconscious and much is actually . . . inaccurate. It helps to take a moment to let the whirring of my brain catch up with itself and to determine what I think and why.
If I don’t make time, I am likely to be confused (not become confused, be confused) and take wrong turns.
I need to slow down. I need to take time to close my eyes and listen for the furthest sound. I need to label your emotions an let it all come together. What is the rush anyway? Ah the clock, the boss! Funny how we always have time to do things twice but never have time to get it right the first time. I tested what I am saying by staring at those old ropes, Instead of feeling mild irritation, I became clear about what I would do and why.
Slow down and get sorted. And don’t forget to close my eyes and incorporate the most distant sounds.
I am not to sure what Paulo Coelho meant by discipline and I deeply suspect that the meaning I learned in childhood is wrong. I’ll take a stab at it and put it this way.
Most of the time, when we are out of sorts, we think the world is not being kind to us. The secret is this. The world is not about us. The mountain is there whether we are here or not. The mountain doesn’t care so much about us.
Discipline, possibly, means mindfulness and being in touch with what is happening around us. It helps to feel the carpet beneath our feet and the keyboard below our fingers. What is happening around us? Then we know what we need to do.
I’ve always regarded myself as disciplined. I keep my promises. I do my share of unpleasant tasks. I put in extra work. But goal orientation and conscientiousness isn’t discipline, I think. Respecting the right of everything to have its own existence, independent of mine. Respecting everything around me rather than ignoring what does not serve my goal – that is possibly the discipline of which Paolo Coelho speaks.
What do you think?
My internal GPS uses faith, intuition and discipline every day to calculate my position.
I am here. It is right that I am here. All the things I perceive make sense, if only I take time to sort them out. And everything else has a right to be here too.
Positive psychology, appreciative inquiry, and mytho-poetic tradition are well understood and taught in psychology and management classrooms in all corners of the world.
But we need a name
Paradoxically though, the technical names for these fields are relatively unintelligible to lay people. If there is anything we want to achieve in this field, it is to be intelligible to ordinary people.
Would personal leadership do as name?
Eventually, I settled on the term personal leadership.
We are concerned about styles of leadership that are personal. What I do, for example is not strictly relevant to what you do. And what I do today, has little bearing on what is relevant tomorrow.
And does the name contribute to our understanding?
Having described the rationale of this new field in these words, is it truly a discipline that belongs in the professions?
How can this definition of leadership generate a theory that is useful in practice? After all, if what is relevant today and is not relevant tomorrow, what use is that theory?
We have an ontological challenge
The difficulty is less in the epistemology, that is in the way we study leadership, than in the ontology, the nature of leadership.
We used to think of leadership as something we do.
Now we look at ourselves in context. Our unit of analysis, as researchers say, is “ourself in context”.
What are the practical implications of defining leadership as ourselves in context?
We don’t exist when we don’t see
David Whyte refers to attention. “When my eyes are tired the world is tired also”. We are our habits of attention. We are what we attend to. We are our capacity to pay attention. When our way is lost, we find ourselves by paying attention. By becoming mindful and “touching and feeling” what is around us.
The big change in our understanding of leadership
Who we are is not what we do repeatedly and well.
Who we are is our frontier. Who we are is the place where we are curious about the world. Who we are is the frontier we cannot ignore.
Paradoxically, often when we feel tired, it is not because we are at our frontier, it is because we are not. We are not at a place where we are confronting the unknown carried by the energy of compulsive curiosity.
Leadership is not a spectator sport
We feel alive when we are in a place where “we want to know”. We are leaders when our curiosity about a situation leads us to ask questions. We are leaders when our compulsive curiosity asks questions which holds a mirror up to a situation.
We are leaders when our questions allow people to ask their questions.
How can we understand leadership in a way that allows us to share knowledge?
This question has two goals.
#1 What is the knowledge I can share?
There are many ways of sharing knowledge and we know stories are much more effectual than dry statistics answering questions that were unlikely from the outset to produce a practically significant answer.
We also know that knowledge is also more likely to be absorbed when people trust the presenter – when the presenter shares the journey of the students.
#2 What can I charge for my knowledge?
And probably more important is the heretical question of what can we charge for our knowledge. How can we claim and sustain status for our knowledge?
It is this question that personal leadership answers. We share knowledge not because we are right, but because we are willing to share in the gains and losses of a decision.
It is here that the field of personal leadership enters into the spirit of our age. Authority comes from being willing to share the gains and losses of a decision.
Are we so curious about the people we are with that they are willing to be changed by them ~ without notice and without guarantee?
That is knowledge to be passed on. Am I willing to act with you right now?
Where are the places in your life where you are trying something new and where you know neither the rules and the outcome?
Why those places? And where are the places that you don’t want to try?
One frontier at a time
I think that like good Generals we can only have one frontier at once. By their nature, frontiers are scary and ask for all our attention. Maybe we can have one-and-a-half frontiers – one serious one and one hobby.
Which frontiers are become possible?
More interesting are the frontiers that terrify us. Aren’t those worth looking at again? Maybe we can edge towards what we couldn’t contemplate last year.
What terrifies you? Of this list, which might be quite long, which might you actually want to make your frontier for 2010? Your frontier where you know neither the rules nor the outcome? (Breath and breath out slowly!)
I think I will go to bed thinking about the frontiers that frighten me!
A few days ago, Stumbleupon quite appropriately threw up an old Telegraph article on Richard Wiseman’s work on luck, or luckiness.
Quite briefly, Wiseman showed in an experiment that unlucky people have tunnel vision. They are so focused on what they want that they miss good stuff happening under their noses.
More interestingly, Wiseman ran a ‘luck school’ and helped luckier people get luckier and unlucky people become lucky.
The ‘luck school’ is hard to find
I’ve searched and searched but I cannot find the Wiseman’s exercises Nor has the work developed much traction under Google Scholar. It seems that Wiseman is breaking his first principle of luck – get out there.
Firewalls, copyright, hopes for a bob or two from a book sale, consigns interesting work to oblivion.
Failing in my search for what Wiseman actually did, I reverted to first principles – in plain language, worked it out for myself. Reinvented the wheel!
Luck & positive psychology
Since Wiseman did his work, positive psychology, positive organizational scholarship and the mytho-poetic tradition in management have burst into bloom. So I’ll start there. Does Wiseman’s work add to what we know about having a good life?
#1 Wiseman talks about self-fulfilling prophecies, which are devastatingly powerful ,as we know from Pygmalion and My Fair Lady. When you are treated like a lady, you act like a lady. We are immensely influenced by 0ther people’s expectations of us. And we are also influenced by our expectations, when we believe them.
Simply put, it’s a good idea to work on our story and to write down the best one that we can believe in. And then write it again, and again. As we live out the best one that we believe in, we’ll create opportunities that allow us to imagine another, and then another!
#2 Psychologists are wizards at ‘reframing’. That’s what most psychologists do for you when you have a bad case of the blues. You can teach yourself to reframe too. That’s what a gratitude diary does. I stumbled over a permutation of the conventional gratitude by playing with the Montreal app Inpowr.
This is what you do. Jot down what happened in your ghastly day and ask what went wrong – just as you normally do. Remonstrate with yourself – why did I . . . etc. etc. etc. When you are done beating yourself up, ask yourself what you will do better next time. Great. That’s where most coaches take you.
Now fly! Ask yourself this: why did I do so well? You are not saying you did well, but why did you do well? And then you notice the positive mechanisms that were jumbled up in the mess. You’ll feel better immediately andsee your ‘pushing off’ points in a flash. A good night’s sleep, and you approach the next day positively.
#3 Psychologists, and even more so positive organizational scholars and mytho-poetic practitioners, also encourage us to think through our story. What brought us to this place? What is the road we are travelling? What is our journey? We are often in tizz because we feel rejected. Bad events challenge our sense of self-worth. When we recall our journey and see the hazards as part of that journey, then we put them in perspective. Yes, the situation is bad. The situation is bad. We are not. If we have done bad things, we can make amends. But we should never, ever confuse the bad situation with ourselves. We should also watch out for people who try to confuse us with the situation. People who are insecure in themselves think because we are confronting bad situations that we are unlucky and edge away from us. Reassure them. Then, see if they come to help. If they don’t, fine. Every journey includes people who help and people who obtruct!
In short, we chose the story we live. Something brought us to this place. We must own our story that led us to encounter the bad stuff, but not the bad stuff itself. That’s just bad.
#4 And then get out there! We can’t win the lottery if we aren’t in it. If we meet the same people every week, we cannot meet anyone new. The trick in life is to add a little variety and chance to our daily comings-and-goings. We can take a different route home. Or, sit in a different carriage. Or, travel at a different time. We can talk to people in a queue or to our neighbours on the street. We can take a walk at lunchtime or do something uncharacteristic – go to a museum, buy lunch for a homeless person. Mix it up, a little.
This too is a feature of the positive approach to psychology in this way. Just as we are not bad because the situation is bad, we are not good in and of ourselves either. We are our interactions with the world. Our life is situated in those interactions. If our relationship with the world has got stale and boring, then we can give it a quick fluff up as we might a cushion. Now remember, don’t give the world a fluff up, and don’t give yourself a fluff up – give your interactions with the world a fluff up!. That is why makeovers are so cheap and easy to do. A smile rather than a frown. A different route to work. A quick polish of the glass after you washed it. Little acknowledgements that the world is there.
Poet David Whyte says: when our eyes are tired, no part of the world can find us. Relax your eyes and let them wander. You will be amazed at who & what says hello.
Luck is more than positive psychology
What does seem to be different about the work on luck is its attention to variation.
So much of western psychology tries to remove variation from life. We are expected to walk in lock-step like soldiers on parade. We are taught that mistakes are bad. We demand punctuality (yet we have inefficient transport and we lose data on trains).
Everyone who has studied stats knows that we look at two numbers : the average (or mid-point) and the spread.
If we just attend to the average, we would be like an army that buys the average size boots and asks every soldier to wear them whether they are much too big or much too small.
There is an old joke too that armies line up the recruits on the first day and send away the tallest and the shortest – because they didn’t buy uniforms in those sizes.
When an army does that they have recognised that they have variation – but they are still trying to make variation go away.
There is an alternative. To ask how variety will work for us. That is what we can learn from the work on luck.
Our personal goals and stories should embrace the richness of the world, and the variety out there. Our personal goals and stories should embrace what we don’t know and the way other people can surprise us.
A colleague of mine, a British/Norwegian psychologist, trained executives to listen to presentations and to hold back their reactions until they had asked these questions:
What surprised me about what you just said?
What would I like to know more about?
Once they’d explored disconcerting events or requests, then they could make decision.
Slow down, and put your finger on the luck, before you rush off again?
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.
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!
Have you read The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency? Or did you see its premiere on BBC1 last Easter Sunday?
The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency is that – the first detective agency run by a woman – and its novelty is that this series of detective stories is set in contemporary Botswana.
The star of the series, Patience Ramotswe is a heroine, with a large heart, but she is no superwoman. She is famously ‘traditionally built’ and has few pretensions. She runs her detective agency on the basis of one “how to” book, and has no particularly skills. She dislikes telephones, and drives with her handbrake on.
Jill Scott’s plays Patience Ramotswe in the BBC series. Ian Wylie quotes Scott’s description of her character:
“She believes in justice and she loves her country. . . She’s a real woman who has experienced the loss of a child, being heartbroken with her first marriage, but decided that life is so much better, that there’s so much more than those particular heartaches.”
The series of books are written by Alexander McCall Snith and are available from a library or book shop near you! Fabulous reading but do read them in order as the lives of the characters unfold. No 1 Ladies . . is the first in the series.