Contributed by Georgia Ellis
In social gatherings I often find myself simply sitting and observing. I’m teaching myself to take in the surroundings and pay attention to what people are saying and doing. Overtime I have trained myself to notice the slight nuisances in a person’s tone of voice, their posture, the pace in which they speak and the words they choose as I’m observing I then get curious, I ask myself, I wonder what experience, information, values, and perspectives sit behind how they are showing up?
The truth is I will never know how someone comes to their view of the world, this in and of itself doesn’t bother me. I may be able to better understand them and their motivation by how they are communicating, which can be helpful, if I get it right that is but what often raises a mildy disapproving eyebrow is when I hear people sharing an opinion or information that is not backed by personal experience or clear evidence. There is a word for this kind of communication, gossiping. These interactions usually lead to misinformation as a story is rehashed to suit a particular situation or the storyteller’s agenda; a little like the ‘Whisper Challenge’ the further away or down the line you are from the original source, the more likely you are receiving embellishments, untruths, or biased information.
For the receivers of information who are not fully trained in the art of thinking, the misinformation can lead to misguided actions and reactions and can go on to produce unwanted ripple effects in their own life and the lives of the collective as misinformation or outdated ideas becomes a mainstream belief or world view.
Each of us holds a unique and personal perspective of reality that is often formed through childhood as part of our induction into being human, and then as adults we unconsciously and consciously give certain people and organisations credibility and a halo of godliness, automatically believing what they say without question. For the most part we are influenced and manipulated by external forces, too lazy to think for ourselves. When we’re busy being too busy, it is much easier to scroll social media or turn on the TV and listen to a person dressed in a suit tell us how to think and act.
Fortunately, there are a growing number of people who are no longer swayed by the glitz and glamour of a celebrity clambering for recognition, a politician trying to win votes, or a friends ego getting the better of them. These people are in the process of mastering the art of thinking. They usually do this through curiosity, discernment, trusting their intuitive nudges and an awareness of human nature. This skill, yes, it is a skill, is one that anyone can learn. Through practice we can learn how to ask the right questions to determine the motivation and credibility of our sources of information. In short, we can tune our ‘Bullshit detector’ to a high level of accuracy and know when and how to boldly respond in a way that doesn’t lead to conflict.
Over time as a species, we have and will continue to collectively increase our mental complexity. This form of human evolution is often the result of an individual or group making a bold stand and challenging a commonly held perspective that has been inaccurately accepted to be true or mainstream. Unfortunately, sometimes their questioning or new perspective is subject to harsh and even life ending consequences, all because their view or questioning was not in line with the mainstream perspective, or they did not agree with those who claimed “authority” at the time.
Humans are funny creatures, we fight so hard to hold on to our perspective, and when someone comes along with a different approach, idea or viewpoint that could change an individual’s life, increase an organisations productivity, or maybe even make the world a better place for future generations – we scoff, snigger, shoot them down, insult them and publicly ridicule them – go team human?!
“The man with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds.” - Mark Twain
We seem to quickly forget that thinking differently has been key to major shifts that have so profoundly influenced the advancement of our collective pursuits in philosophy, science, and technology.
So, back to my social observations. Why do I do this? Why sit there and watch what’s going on? The truth is, I am trying to master the art of thinking. I am trying not to let my past dictate my future. I am having meta conversations with myself to try and allow my habitual, egotistic, biased thoughts and feelings to rise above my accepted norm in that moment. I am practicing how to entertain an enquiry that takes me outside of the constraints of my default perspective of how things are or are meant to be. I must admit, it’s not easy and I find myself asking the wrong question and saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Real thinking is an artform that requires awareness, practice and time. The hardest part for me has been adopting a willingness to be wrong in a belief or view and learning from my misguided enquiries in the hope that I will be able to gracefully transcend ideas that once were deemed by myself or society to be absolute truth that have no relevance in the world we woke up in today.
Throughout my life I have had various mentors (some alive some alive through the medium of books) some whom at the time I trusted impeccably, only to find as my mental complexity grew, as my values evolved, their views no longer served me or my changing worldview. Right now, I have a few mentors who offer me a wide angled view of the world and who unbeknown to them, continually challenge my world view. They are teaching me to think, to discern and to test my assumptions. I must admit this process is often a destabilising and challenging experience as I muster up the courage to unlearn and to think differently. It’s exhausting! Pass me the remote for some six-o’clock news someone please.
But wait, there is more to this challenge of shifting perspective.
As I am begin shifting my personal world view, and feeling off kilter, skidding between guard rails, the people around me assume I’m the same me. They believe I hold the same view, values and beliefs that I did yesterday. This becomes a next level challenge as I emerge in my familiar surroundings, looking the same on the outside, with an internal updated operating system that no-one is aware of unless I open my mouth and talk. Friends and family must feel like they’re sitting down at their trusty PC only to switch it on to find it’s using an Apple operating system, they are lost, confused, and don’t understand the language I now speak. Interactions become disjointed and frustrating to everyone especially those who may not agree with or understand my emerging view. It feels lonely, I want to curl up in the foetal position and suck my thumb until it’s safe to come out again. Although as enticing as it seems, hiding away is not courage, it’s an act of fear and potential conformity where nothing changes, my world stays the same and I won’t make a positive difference sucking my thumb.
In his unified science course, Nassin Haramein Founder of the Resonance Science Foundation writes,
Historically, thinking differently amidst a strongly held philosophic and scientific set of beliefs has proven all too often to be a difficult road to walk. The authority structures of the time will typically put-up great resistance to new ideas, and the individuals and groups who are willing to voice these new ideas are challenged or allegedly “debunked”, in many cases without either an unbiased evaluation of their ideas or a reasonable argument against them based upon such an evaluation.”
According to Abraham Maslow, one of our deepest needs and drivers is the need to fit in and having a point of view that is at odds with those we live and work with can feel threatening to our survival. One way I see around this is for as many of us as possible to dig deep and be bold - together. Yes, we will come up against friends, family, colleagues, policies, procedures and structures that feel like a form or resistance to a new and often better way of thinking and being. We may feel like an oddball, with no tribe to fit in with and become discouraged to stand up to an injustice, or an outdated workplace policy, in some instances we may feel threatened and even begin to question our own conclusions and logic and may even start to judge ourselves as being stupid for even thinking something different. It’s hard to swim against a current of arguments that appear to be truth and accepted as ‘right’ in our culture. This is the wave some of us are riding now as new ideas and ways of working are emerging and confronting long held collective views, can we ride the wave arm in arm? If we see someone swimming against the current, can we throw them a perry buoy in the form of encouragement, being interested in their point of view and using curiosity to validate their position with them?
I don’t have all the answers, but I do have some questions that we can ponder together.
How to practice the 'Art of Thinking' to widen your perspective.
Shifting your perspective is a deeply personal experience. It’s up to each of us to pay close attention to where information is coming from and our personal relationship to the information and decide for ourselves what feels true.
Continually shifting my perspective and being open to new ideas is an ongoing learning process for me, by no means am I perfect. Over time I have noticed that as each of my outdated perspectives fall away and as I listen deeply and pay close attention to the motivations of those around me, my life has become richer, and I have a deep sense of freedom and faith in a better future for everyone.
As you navigate life, I invite you to become a ‘Virtuoso of Thought’ by asking yourself some questions during your interactions with other people and sources of information:
When you decide to open your mind and start shifting your perspective, you begin to positively contribute to a greater organisational, community or even global shift.
Contributed by Caterina Viterale
Reframing responsibility to help organisations, teams and individuals be better humans
Until recently, I have had a tug-of-war like relationship with the idea of responsibility for as long as I can remember. This recent shift felt like I was handed a key to a new understanding that nested in my mind and then expanded to create a form of internal freedom.
As if handed down by the magical powers that be directly into my awareness, I was offered a unique and transformative way to reshape how I look at, and understand, responsibility beyond what I had thought previously, which was always associated with a role, title or position.
I now consider this a framework, a concept, a potential mapping of sorts, for how we can navigate ourselves and each other through the terrain of modern living and all of its complexities, and in this article I will be sharing it with you.
So, grab yourself a glass of your favourite beverage, sit back and let’s go on a little meditative and contemplative ride of curiosity and wonder together about how we can potentially reshape how, and what, we think when it comes to responsibility.
Responsibility, for a very significant amount of my 32 years of life, has been an extremely heavy, yet liberating, topic and experience for me. On a personal level, it’s been extremely burdening. On a professional level, I have always thrived with some form of weight on my shoulders – a team to manage, a goal to hit, something to organise, pieces to put together.
Recognising why I have these two experiences of the same topic was something I really struggled to understand and master.
Why was I exceptional at managing a team, being a good leader, and exceeding professional goals, but I could barely manage my personal life?
Why was it different?
I couldn’t figure it out because the weight of my personal responsibility was too heavy for me to be able to look up, look around, and see things differently.
Then, one day, a few months ago whilst meditating, an entirely new way of looking at responsibility came to and through me, right when I was no longer looking to understand it.
And this is what I will share with you.
The New Understanding
“The application of one’s ability to provide an appropriate response to any moment or situation, whereby one has, or is perceived to have, something that is of benefit to someone or something, including themselves”.
Let’s highlight the many important, and specific, elements to provide us with the guidelines for putting this into practice, and break down this new way of thinking about response-ability.
Application: because the rest of the definition becomes completely useless if we do not APPLY it. Simples.
Ability: ability for humans is never one dimensional. It is both within and between the elements of physical, emotional and mental that we may or may not actually be able to do something.
I may know you have the intellectual capacity to fulfil a task based on past experience, but not know that you’re physically unable to do so in this moment because you’re exhausted from lack of sleep as your new born child is unwell. Or because you’ve started seeing a therapist about that childhood trauma no one knows about and it’s emotionally and physically exhausting you.
We may have assumptions about someone (colleague, friend, partner, parent, employee, neighbour, person at the checkout) with regards to their ability to fulfil a task, without considering the infinite number of factors that contribute to one’s ability to do so, even if it appears, they are, in fact, able to do so on face value.
This is where the co-founder of the Flow Genome Project Jamie Wheal’s ‘Playground Rules’ provides a handy rule to live by:
#2 “Benefit of the Doubt (Everyone's Doing Their Best!)”
Appropriate: This is about emphasising whether or not we have consciously assessed the situation and considered the response we are about to make is, in fact, as appropriate as we can assess it to be.
This requires a certain level of mental development and complexity - specifically the utilisation of a particular mental faculty, ‘perspective’.
How many perspectives outside of our own have we considered in our analysis of an appropriate response?
What internal space is this analysis coming from?
Are we angry, tired, hungry (or hangry), overly excited, focused on one perspective?
Does it feel rather cerebral, meaning, are we just thinking about it intellectually, or are we allowing for things such as empathy and compassion to enter our consideration of what’s appropriate?
The findings of our internal investigation provide important reflections and considerations for how we may expand what we consider appropriate.
Response: without getting into technicalities of dictionary meanings, I feel the significance of response is that, in embodied practice, it is very grounded. It is clear, open, attentive. It is a state of assessing as much available information as possible whilst knowing that even in this state we are unable to know absolutely everything. Thus, remaining open to the information we receive as a unique opportunity to add to our knowledge base.
I want to emphasise also what it is not, and more specifically what it isn’t in comparison to a reaction.
Typically, when using ‘reaction’ in conversation, there is an assumption that the reaction was a direct and immutable outcome as a result of a specific cause that is often emotionally explosive; it’s automated and without control or influence.
This is definitely not what I feel a response to be.
Response seeks to find the causation(s) of the present moment, assesses it in as many ways as it seems appropriate that is the most expansive and inclusive, then consciously CHOOSES an outcome.
A moment or situation: this brings the mind’s attention, and the practical application of this response-ability principle, to the here and now (whatever present moment we find ourselves in).
Not yesterday, not tomorrow, not in five minutes time, nor the previous encounters with this person/s in the environment we are in.
It’s the here and now, which requires a specific state of mind that has the ability to absorb it for what it is, and not what it has been previously or what we anticipate it to be.
Has, or is perceived to have: sometimes we know what we have, and sometimes we need others to provide the information to bring it to our attention.
This is particularly useful in times when we forget that we have a skill, resource or piece of information that is so automatic in our existence that we forget we have it.
Take speaking our native language as an example.
Most people use it so frequently and have become so acquainted with its existence and use that they forget that it is, in fact, a skill that could be used to help others – a foreigner, a blind person who is unable to read/see something, or even as a means to voice an injustice/issue that requires attention.
Something: it’s important to remember that something isn’t always an object – it can be an idea, a word, a resource, and in fact, something can even be a nothing. The thing that you may be able to provide as an appropriate response is, well, absolutely nothing (silence, for example, when listening to someone share their story).
Benefit: most often, we are used to considering benefit as strictly on the positive side of the negative to positive spectrum. It is important to note, however, that benefit may also include an outcome where there is a reduction in the negative, thus, moving the indicator within the spectrum closer to the positive side and away from the extreme negative side.
Someone, or something: we live on a planet, that doesn’t just have people. It has objects, other living organisms, constructs, ideas, beliefs, houses and e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g else that exists outside of our present here and now. Therefore, it isn’t just about responding to people within a moment or situation, it is also guiding us towards paying attention to, and considering the benefit of, e-v-e-r-y single thing that exists.
Including ourselves: well, because, most of us just don’t think of ourselves, especially when it comes to responsibility! It’s often housed in the environment of others – our roles and duties to others and things outside of ourselves. This can create an array of negative consequences. From illness, to stress, to poor health, poor sleep, no money, poor relationships, minimal joy, and everything else that you can think of when you take a moment to reflect on all the ways you’ve neglected yourself – your body, your wants and needs, your desires, your feelings and emotions, your experiences.
Now that we’ve delved a bit deeper into the elements of this alternative perspective of response-ability, let’s ask a really important question.
Why is this even important?
If we consider many of the issues we face globally, much of it stems from a lack of response-ability.
“How many times have I seen someone (including myself) dismiss an idea or action - a response – when something clearly needed to be done?”
For example, a task at work that wasn’t part of your “job title/duties” so you ignored it; a conversation you avoided having about something that needed addressing but was put off and the issue became far greater than it needed to be.
The list goes on.
And when we collectively leave a large amount of small things unchecked or ignored, they build to HUGE mountains of things that suddenly seem too overwhelming.
I mean, just take a look at the news over the last year, where do we begin?
More deeply, if we consider the global social, economical, political and environmental landscape, a significant portion of it involves us needing to pick up the pieces of other people’s lack of response-ability - we are constantly having to utilise our time, energy and resources rectifying the consequences of others behaviour, decisions and actions, as opposed to showing up in the world and living a life that is full of richness and the freedom to create playfully.
We are devoting the one resource that we have always known to be finite and irreversible in the physical plane – time – to resolving issues as a result of a lack of response-ability of our fellow humans in the past, instead of basking in the playfulness of existence itself.
And, sometimes there’s no stronger blockage than a perception of finite time that limits our ability to be conscious and aware in our actions.
This is an important segue into an often ignored, yet extremely influential element that can dramatically impact one’s ability to practice response-ability.
Burdened people burden people.
Photo by Ben White
We’ve all heard the common phrase: ‘hurt people hurt people’, but when do we consider the reality that often, burdened people burden people?
Think about the Manager who is overworked, stressed out, and feeling overwhelmed by the disproportionate ratio of their skills to the tasks required of them by those above (and sometimes, below) and so unfairly demands more from those they manage and increases their workload?
The single parent, working their asses off (or are unable to), struggling to overcome a past trauma and so demands more from their child, intentionally or unintentionally?
The person in a position of power who is burdened by a personal situation, who comes to work carrying that weight into a decision-making process, and then chooses the less personally consequential option that has an increased workload on others, as opposed to the harder, but more appropriate, option?
What happens in all of these situations?
The person burdened, begins to unwittingly burden those around them.
Whether by having to take on tasks, or holding space for them to react to their stresses (as opposed to processing their emotions in a healthy manner), the weight gets distributed to others who are already carrying the burden of the people and environments they’ve previously been in.
And so the burdened becomes the burdener.
When we’re burdened, we cannot perform optimally, and at our best; we cannot give to ourselves, each other and the here and now moment we find ourselves in. Essentially, we cannot be response-able.
So, what can we do?
2. Remember that during times of emotional, physical and/or mental internal imbalance, people are not at their best, and therefore, we need to recognise the inability of the other person to provide what we believe to be an appropriate response.
A potential tool for these moments would be to become curious and ask the person we are about to request something from, “what is your current energetic, emotional, and physical capacity?”
We could even go so far as to ask them to rate their levels out of 10 or 100, and if used in a team environment, whoever has the highest score may be able to take the reins for a moment to allow others to regain their equilibrium.
3. Use the description of ‘response-ability’ as a principle to live by, outside of roles, duties, status and labels – let’s perceive it as a guiding principle.
Here are nine ideas I invite you to consider to help make the shift from responsibility to response-ability a little more easier collectively.
1. It’s a paradox that we must develop in to
We must both let go of, and embrace, the past and future in helping us navigate the now.
In the context of providing an appropriate response, we must clear ourselves of the past conditioning and future assumptions that blind us to providing an appropriate response, whilst also utilising past knowledge and holding future ideas and plans to help us navigate the situation to the most appropriate and beneficial outcome.
This can be challenging for some, as it requires a high level of mental complexity that many of us are not yet capable of, or are still developing into.
Therefore, we must consider this a journey towards response-ability mastery on both an individual and collective level due to the navigation towards, and transformation to, living this as a guiding principle.
Developing self awareness through mindfulness practices such as meditation can assist us in the optimisation of processing throughout the here and now and maximise the ease at which we can practice this principle fully.
2. We’re all going to be students, and teachers
No one is a master at this, nor will they be. Every moment we are growing, evolving and changing, as is everything else that exists, and therefore, there will always be more to learn, to adapt to and to consider.
What’s that playground rule again we need to follow?
“Benefit of the Doubt (Everyone's Doing Their Best!)”
3. It’s never going to be 100%
There’s ALWAYS going to be some form of “problem”. This perspective isn’t about solving and eradicating all of the tension in the world, it’s about limiting the amount of unnecessary realities we’re creating that require subsequent solutions - the burdened burdening others included.
We must ensure our thinking going forward is built upon a foundation of knowing there is no final and complete utopian destination.
4. Try to refrain from worrying about over there, focus on your here
Until your ‘here’ is functioning optimally and beneficially, refrain from utilising your valuable energy, time and resources on the “over there” situations – trust that they are being dealt with by those there, experiencing their own here and now within it and utilising these same principles.
Make sure your house is in check first, then go out and help others optimise theirs.
5. There’s no reason not to play and have fun
This piece was written deliberately with a hint of playfulness to provide a glimpse of the light-heartedness that we can bring to the spaces we occupy.
It may feel as though we have a big job to do – personally, professionally or collectively as a human race - but if we bring an element of play and child-like wonder, we can get the job done in a much faster and cohesive manner.
Maybe we can start asking ourselves “how can I make this a more enjoyable process?”
6. Trust ourselves, each other and the bigger picture – all of which we know very little about
The greatest of minds have always proclaimed that the more they know, the more they know not.
Let’s take that piece of advice on face value and act accordingly.
7. We have a choice
Response-ability is a tool we can use to help us CREATE the world we want to live in – it gives us agency, sovereignty and conscious engagement, and not simply be a passer-by in this great adventure that is life as a human on this planet.
Let’s CHOOSE to be the person/s we want to see in the world.
8. Not everyone is as keen as you are
When we think something is important, we forget, or simply fail to consider, that whilst we are having an experience right now of something having our focused attention, so too are the people around us who we are interacting with.
We must remember that no matter how important or significant we feel and believe, or even know, a thing that is requiring our attention is, we must accept and forgive those who cannot give us the energy, focus and attention we may want or need.
9. Response-ability is always a 100% game
If you are conscious, and in a body that is able to move with conscious engagement, then you are 100% responsible for your response-ability - remember, existence equals responsibility.
No situation is about breaking down who contributed what percentage of 100% of the outcome.
It’s about taking personal accountability for our own actions, choices, and behaviours (including what we do not do), and recognising that we are 100% responsible for the contribution we made in any given moment.
We shift our focus and analysis from “they did A, B and C!” (usually blame) to “what did I do here?” (self empowerment and mastery).
The more I think about this, the more I feel there’s so much to say, develop and find clarity on how the actual practical application of such a framework fits across our lived experiences.
Though, essentially, I think it can be summed up by being more considerate of others and the environments we find ourselves in, and shifting our focus and attention from other people’s choices, actions and behaviours to our own.
If we at least start from there, I trust the magnificence of who we are on a fundamental level - kindness, compassion, openness, curiosity, playfulness, joyfulness - will help us find our way.
Written and contributed by Stephen Gibb
Around nine months ago, my daughter Willow developed a fear of elevators. Each time we walked towards one, Willow would become hyper-vigilant. Her breath would quicken, and she would cling tightly to me. If I resisted, Willow would begin to cry and become incredibly distressed.
Willow and I live on the top floor of an apartment block. It was upsetting to see her in distress every time we would leave or return home together. My reassurances that elevators held nothing to fear didn’t help. And, while I did my best to convince her, infants don’t care about calming breathing techniques or cognitive reframing when in floods of tears. These tools are, however, very beneficial for adults — more on that later.
On one swelteringly hot day, when the elevator was out of order, Willow and I were forced to climb down and then back up four flights of stairs. Willow complained of sore legs and tiredness every step of the way (other than when I was carrying her of course), which made what happened next even more surprising.
Every day afterwards, Willow asked to use the stairs rather than the elevator, even volunteering to climb all four flights unassisted. Willow had found a way to avoid the uncomfortable feelings brought on by the elevator and was undeterred by the extra effort, discomfort and inconvenience involved.
I, however, wasn’t a fan of Willows labour-intensive plan. I believed she would outgrow her fear and, in what now seems like an act of torture, subjected her to many more stressful rides in the elevator. That was until I understood the underlying cause of her distress.
Fear primarily refers to an experience in which we are faced with an immediate or expected threat to our life or wellbeing. This is called a rational or appropriate fear and is typical and even helpful in dangerous situations. It serves a protective purpose, activating the automatic “fight-or-flight” response to keep us safe.
Another category of fear exists, namely irrational or inappropriate fear. These are fears of something that poses little or no actual danger. Although irrational fears can become so severe that they interfere with everyday life. When they do, they’re called phobias. When confronted with the thing feared, the terror is automatic and overwhelming. The experience can be so nerve-wracking that you will go to great lengths to avoid it — inconveniencing yourself or even changing your lifestyle. This is what was happening to Willow.
As it turns out, Willow didn’t feel threatened by the elevator at all. In fact, the elevator was only a trigger for Willows phobia and experience of anxiety. Willow was anxious about the elevator doors separating her from her dad, and the potential of becoming lost.
Anxiety is a natural part of life and, at normal levels, helps us to function at our best. It’s what motivates us to plan for the future. In this sense, it’s a good thing. It’s that nagging feeling that encourages us to study for that test practice harder for that game or be at our very best in that presentation. However, some people experience such intense anxiety that it is no longer helpful or useful. They may become so overwhelmed and distracted by anxiety that they fail their test, fumble the ball, or spend the whole presentation stumbling over their words and staring at the floor. Anxiety can be incredibly challenging to control and at its worst completely debilitating.
The difference between fear and anxiety is exceptionally nuanced. The perceived threats (physical or imagined) are processed in the same parts of our brain and cause us to experience many similar symptoms and feelings when they occur. However, being able to spot the difference is critical in being able to handle the situation and alleviate the discomfort.
Because Willow never feared the elevator, my attempts to convince her that it was safe were destined to fail. When Willow offered to take the stairs, it wasn’t to avoid using the elevator, it was to dodge the stimulus of the anxiety associated with becoming lost. Willow had stumbled upon a way to suppress the anxiety through avoidance. However, she wasn’t addressing the underlying phobia, meaning there could be numerous other triggers that could cause distress in the future.
Stress, the bodies response to fear and anxiety, is a rapidly increasing challenge of modern society. From an evolutionarily perspective, stress was designed to help us focus on the present moment and by preparing the body to move. It was intended for short irregular applications to help us escape from something or capture something else. Today, however, many of us live in a state of perpetual stress, or, to give it its clinical name, chronic stress. Over time, repeated activation of the stress response takes a toll on the body. It can cause high blood pressure, the formation of artery-clogging deposits, changes in the brain that may lead to depression and addiction and even obesity.
It appears that benign irrational fears can, in fact, be as life-threatening as their rational equivalents. It is critical, therefore, to take steps to lessen stress in life to maintain a clean bill of health.
I am adept at findings ways to relieve the discomfort of stress, and like Willow, will accept sacrifices to do so. These can be as trivial as leaving the house early to avoid busy public transport or as significant as giving up a personal ambition for fear of failure. Regretfully, this behaviour has deprived me of our meaningful opportunities to learn, grow and lead a liberated more vibrant life.
Most people know when something in their life isn’t working. However, they lack the tools to understand what’s wrong and what remedial steps to take. Fear, or more specifically, anxiety, can be a great indicator of what’s not working. It can also be the catalyst and impetus to step outside of our comfort zone to address the root cause and develop as an individual.
The way I permanently address anxiety and alleviate stress is to eliminate the uncertainty associated with the underlying fear. For Willow, that is a work in progress. I’ve been teaching her what to do if we become separated, not just by the elevator but anywhere. However, the solution to becoming lost goes beyond just knowing how to find each other again. It includes reassuring Willow that I am there for her, that she can rely on me and when she is a little older, that she’ll be capable of independence. This is a tougher nut to crack, but we will get there.
Working through uncertainty is a cognitive process of gathering information that invalidates your fear or increases your comprehension of the imagined situation and how to handle it. Providing your brain with the understanding, you can overcome the fear serves to turn down the volume on the anxiety. The more certainty you can develop around fear, the quieter the anxiety and the resultant stress becomes.
Managing uncertainty can take time, and unsurprisingly, anxiety and stress doesn’t disappear while we are trying to develop certainty. It’s beneficial, therefore, to have some tools that can help release the pressure when it all gets too much. The tools below were shared by Neuroscientist Andrew Huberman from Stanford University on a recent Thrive Global post. They act on the core nervous system to shift us from “fight-or-flight” into the “rest-and-digest” state, and in doing so, calm us down.
1. Use Panoramic Vision
The focus of the eyes is closely linked to felt levels of stress. Engaging panoramic vision (looking straight ahead and allowing the peripheral vision to expand), can positively impact stress levels.
When feeling stressed or experiencing a build-up of anxiety. Lifting the gaze away from the screen and looking ahead can have a profoundly positive affect. Or better still, increase the impact by getting outside into nature and viewing the horizon; bonus points for a sunrise or sunset.
2. Exhale Emphasised Breathing/Physiological Sighs
One of the most common things people say when someone is stressed is to take a deep breath. However, studies show that it’s actually the exhale that plays the most significant role in the calming the nervous system. Inhale focused breathing (any breathing technique in which the inhale is longer) increases agitation and stress in the body; which can be valuable under certain circumstances. Exhale emphasised breathing, where the exhale is longer, allows the nervous system to be reset to base levels.
Completing two to five rounds of a physiological sigh — double inhale (breath in, pause, breath in again) and long sigh out the mouth — will be impactful in lowering stress levels.
3. Take Action
Often times when stress arises, the last thing I feel like is doing is moving. I have even found myself in a state of paralysis in exceptional circumstances. Other times I have attempted to suppress the overwhelming feeling of stress because I’m not sure how to handle it. These reactions are counterintuitive to our physiology.
Rising levels of stress are the nervous systems way of encouraging forward movement to take action towards confronting a challenge or problem. Doing so provides the rewarded of a release of dopamine — a feel-good chemical in the brain that is part of the body’s reward system. This dopamine hit suppressed the internal chemicals responsible for the feeling of stress and strengthens the “take action” circuit of the brain. Making it easier to take action the next time stress takes hold.
I can achieve a similar outcome by taking action on something wholly disassociated from the source of the stress. Just succeeding at making a cup of coffee, putting on a load of washing on or making the bed can also stimulate a release of dopamine in moments of heightened distress.
So, what can we learn from Willow, a three-year-old little girl with a fear of becoming lost?
1. All fear, including anxiety-inducing irrational fear, can be life-threatening. What life-threatening anxiety and suffering are you choosing to live with?
2. It’s easier for us to find avoidant workarounds rather than facing our fears. What are the workarounds masking your fears, and inhibiting your growth opportunities?
3. Irrational fear and the resultant feeling of anxiety can be overcome by eliminating uncertainty. What steps will you take to bring certainty to the context of an existing fear?
Just before I published this article, I spoke to some close friends. I wanted to make sure I was doing the right thing by putting a story about my beloved daughter on the internet. One piece of feedback was so thought-provoking; I thought it worth sharing.
“…maybe change this line, because it is only when it comes to lifts, the line below implies she has it in all situations?
So, what can we learn from Willow, a three-year-old girl with a fear of becoming lost?
I don’t know if you want to label her. All kids look for their parents”
The same concern had crossed my mind. Willows situation is primarily concerning elevators, but there have been other instances too, and most kids do worry about becoming lost. But, I think this is an excellent illustration of a large part of the problem. We are societally scared to label and confront our fears. Instead, we put on a brave face, muddle through and die a little more inside each day.
I don’t want that for my daughter or for anyone else. It is my hope that the research I did to write this will allow me to help Willow overcome her fear and that in reading it, others will be inspired to do the same.
In March 2020, life started to feel a little funky, and not in the cool hip, bluesy kind of way, more of a holy almighty what has just happened to the world as I knew it kind of panic funk, and I’m certain I wasn’t the only one feeling this heavy uneasy feeling.
Retrospect is a wonderful thing and six months on, I am grateful for all the knowledge and practices I had leading up to the occurrence of this global funk. I was able to navigate out of it, with a quick journey up to a higher perspective, noticing what was contributing to my personal experience of what was going on in the world, taking stock of what I could control, and then taking decisive action and maintaining practices that would allow me to weather this unrelenting onslaught of confusion.
Taking decisive action and maintaining practices that would allow me to weather this unrelenting onslaught of confusion.
There are many tools and ideas that I called on during this time, but the one I believe that served me the most was an idea I was introduced to in 2004 as part of a Leadership program I had attended.
The idea was simple; I could either choose to approach life from one of two narratives, that of a person who has mastery over their life or one who has adopted a victim mentality. I recall having to list all the traits of a victim and a master. Upon reflection, I promptly decided that Mastering my life was where it was all a. So began the long and never-ending path to Mastery of Self, I began doing my best to model my life on being a person who took full responsibility for their outcomes, I began reflecting and adapting behaviours along the way. This was a game changer for me, I was letting go of allowing external forces such as relationships, the economy, managers or any situation outside of my control define who I was and how I felt, I was determined to dive into the depths of my being to see what I was really made of, oh and for what it’s worth, I am still doing that!
Years later I would come across two other frameworks that expanded on these Victim / Master narratives. I was introduced to two new roles that keep us in a state of Funk and two additional roles that would allow me to show up as a better human to those I was sharing life with, move beyond the ongoing cycle of uncertainty and victim hood. Enter ‘The Drama Triangle’ (Stephen Karpmen) and ‘The Empowerment Dynamic’ (David Emerald). These ideas took me from looking at how I showed up for myself in life and introduced me to the roles I (and you) play in every human interaction and in every situation. I now had a detailed brief of the games we all unwittingly play together. The ongoing narratives we shift between that keeps us, and as we are experiencing on a global scale, the world in the funk of Drama and the roles we can choose to step into, to finally lift that funk.
Roles that keep us in the Funk.
The three roles in Karpman’s Drama Triangle are Victim, Rescuer & Persecutor.
Freeing yourself from the Funk, requires a shift from reacting in a situation to choosing to pause and consciously respond to life’s events. When you practice responding, you take yourself out of the situation and are better equipped to observe your behaviours. David Emerald ‘s book “The Empowerment Dynamic” provides alternatives to playing in the dysfunctional Drama Triangle. You can move from showing up as a Victim, Persecutor or Rescuer to interacting in a positive and empowering way. With curiosity and compassion, you can move from being a rescuer to a supporter, from a persecutor to a challenger and from being a Victim of Circumstances to Self-Authoring and creating your life.
Freed From The Funk
“In order to change an existing paradigm you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete.” - Buckminster Fuller
Using the wisdom of Buckminster Fuller you can switch out the Drama roles by creating new mental models that would look like this.
You will notice a clear difference between the roles, the roles trapped in drama keep everyone stagnant, angry, anxious and frustrated. While the empowering roles facilitate growth, and physical, mental and emotional well being.
It takes moments to read about these roles, however it takes a lifetime of application to master the empowering behaviours that will free you from the funk.
As you reflect on life right now, this perpetual funk that most find themselves in, ask yourself, am I keeping myself here, am I dancing around with my friends and family in Drama or are we empowering ourselves and those we care about to take responsibility and self-author our way to greater agency?
I want to leave you with this quote by Jim Rohn as food for thought and to inspire you to no longer being the victim to what is happening in the world we share, but to choose to take responsibility and create circumstances that turn the Funk into Funky (in a bluesy kind of way)
“You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.” - Jim Rohn
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