I’m confident that you would have experienced being in a conversation with someone, and you get a sense that they aren't really paying attention to you, maybe it’s not a sense, maybe its downright obvious that their attention has been hijacked. You notice their eyes not meeting yours, they’re checking a device, or their attention span has been shortened from device overuse. They may randomly comment but what they say is totally irrelevant to the thread of the conversation. Personally, I find this not only frustrating, but it quickly dials down my respect and trust in the other person.
By no means am I always an active listener angel, I notice my ability to pay attention diminishes when I am tired, stressed out or preoccupied with a project. I assume this may be the case for you too. What I have come to understand over time is that listening, like any other skill, can be improved and more importantly, our ears, eyes and for some of us our highly tuned empathic sensing provides a direct link to our hidden modes of communication.
There is something magical about being fully heard by another human. When we share ideas and experiences unencumbered by judgement or having someone want to solve our problems we feel liberated and connected. The shared space creates a deep connection with the other person increasing mutual trust, respect and sometimes a feeling of catharsis.
One of the biggest challenges in personal and professional relationships is creating space for effective two-way communication to occur. We need to manage both our internal and external environments effectively in order to do this.
Manage your External Environment to connect deeply.
One of the things I love to do is catch up with friends, not over a coffee, but for a walk-in nature. There are a number of reasons for this, the first being I love being in nature and all the benefits it brings, and secondly to create a space for undisturbed connection, nature has fewer background distractions that are often found in a café, no dobt you’ve experienced the clanging of coffee machines, conversations nearby reverberating off the tables, walls and floors, and the constant interruption of a staff member asking if the meal or coffee was ok.
Consciously choosing where you meet, or talk is a great start, then removing any distractions is always helpful. If you’re at home, put the TV on mute, or turn it off, put your phone on silent and pop it away and out of sight and for those of you with smart watches, there is nothing more frustrating than having a conversation with someone who repeatedly lifts their wrist to check notifications or interrupts the conversation to share that their watch was telling them that mum’s calling, but they won’t answer it. So, maybe turn of your vibrating notifications too.
When we converse over the phone or online, the same rules of deep engagement apply. Although you may not be in the same physical location, you can still be 100% present. Do your best to dial in from a location with as little distraction as possible away from pets, partners and children, turn off notifications and close down any other apps. When you do this your focused attention on the conversation will pay huge dividends for yourself and the relationship.
When scheduling time to be with another human be sure to use the time to be fully present for each other and allow for the natural flow of the conversation to take you to a place where nothing else exists, there’s no time, no one else and nothing else matters.
Notice your Internal Environment to be fully present.
When dealing with other people being able to share your thoughts and wishes effectively is a something most of us can do with some level of success. But we also have to be open to what others have to say. The most important aspect of creating and nurturing relationships begins with active listening. Active listening is an inside job and can be a challenge to master.
Most people confuse hearing with listening. This can lead to misunderstandings, arguments and frustration for both parties. If you are the one needing to be heard, and you’re not, you may end up lowering your respect levels and trust for the person you are with. We can't control other people’s actions or how they listen to us, however we can set boundaries or rules of engagement if someone is continually distracted when they are in our presence. (we’ll cover how to set boundaries in another article)
Active listening is an inside job, it requires awareness, curiosity and compassion. Often when communicating, our inbuilt filtering system prevents us from really hearing the other person. Our beliefs create confirmation bias, our assumptions cause misunderstanding, our predetermined judgements about a person or situation may stir up a perceptual defence and our emotional state may lead to us to only hearing what we want to hear.
We often think that it takes courage and confidence to share our deepest thoughts and to be heard, and it does, but it also takes awareness, courage and confidence to shut up and listen.
Become a great listener
Active listening is a skill any one can learn (and most of us need plenty of practice) Active listening will become your go to tool once you discover its power to improve personal and professional relationships. If you don't invest in becoming better at active listening, you will unconsciously discount other people’s perspective, ideas and experiences and they in turn will become emotionally distant (not a great thing in an intimate relationship) and they will no longer want to contribute to conversations or provide creative ideas (Impacting the progress of a business)
Active listening basics
The aim of Active Listening is to build respect, gather information, expand our perspective and increase understanding. In a world of constant distractions where our attention span has become less than that of a goldfish perhaps we can borrow a line from Mark Anthony’s request for attention in the play Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare. Where he announces “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears"
It takes attention, focus and the willingness to accept what is being expressed without judgement. Can we lend our ears and eyes 100% to the person attempting to communicate with us?
Here are 5 tips to help you become an Active Listener Angel.
1. Pay Attention
2. Show You're Listening
3. Compassionate Curiosity
4. Defer Judgment
5. Respond Respectfully
Active listening is one of the many communication tools we can use to build trustworthy relationships. Make time to listen to the people that matter in your life, it doesn’t make sense to be too busy to listen to someone else's story, opinion, idea or point of view. Listening is a beautiful gift of our most precious resource ‘time’ that we can give to others allowing humanity to thrive and grow together!
p.s remember to have some fun!
Contributed by: Georgia Ellis
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 & contributed by Georgia Ellis
I have always found being human fascinating, and as I continued to dive into the different sciences that underpin our humanness, I soon learned there is still so much we don’t know… which makes me wonder, with the pace of scientific enquiry and discoveries, how long will it be before what I know today… is well… irrelevant and outdated?
For Humans to get along with each other, there is a need for all of us to increase our capacity for critical thinking. To move from thinking our way is the right and only way and from hunkering down on outdated thinking and paradigms, to being curious enough to seek more information, look at things from every angle and formulate a flexible adaptive opinion. In other words, not being stubborn in thinking that the conclusion I came to today, will still be valid and relevant tomorrow when more or new information comes to hand.
Whether they know it or not, everyone lives most of their life from a biased vantage point, their Mindset. Our mindset is as unique as our thumbprint. It consists of our various values, perceptions, conclusions, assumptions and beliefs. All of these components create a filter or lens that you view the world through. To be able to see things differently, to appreciate new and diverse information, and sometimes opposing perspectives, and even solve wicked problems, we all need to be able view life from different vantage points.
We must notice when we are experiencing cognitive dissonance and at least be open to the perspectives of those who challenge and disrupt our long held (and sometimes outdated) patterns of thinking. Open and curious dialogue can help us bounce between the black and white thinking that keeps us stuck, to meander and experiment in the grey between what we believe is right and wrong. We need to know how to get off of our self-imposed playing field and up into the grandstand to see the game of life being played out before our eyes. Then, and only then, can we join the dots, make the connections, see where we have gone wrong and more importantly what moves to make to improve the game of life, for ourselves and everyone.
Your ability to see life from new or even opposing points of view is one element of critical thinking, it’s a mental muscle and similar to your physical muscles, the more you use it, the stronger it becomes.
In 2018 a picture of Prince William that went viral. It showed what looked like the prince giving the “bird” to a crowd of onlookers. However, different photographers captured the same moment from different vantage points, revealing that Prince William was actually holding up three fingers indicating the birth of his third child.
If you had only seen the first image, you would have likely created a story about the prince, your clever brain filling in the blanks to make an erroneous assumption. This is just how we work, and if you didn't have the opportunity to see the same event from a different vantage point, you likely would hold on to your incorrect assumption for some time. This simple example shows you how even a slight change of view or stepping into the shoes of someone else (in this case a different photographer), allows you to perceive an event, problem or situation in a different way. It also builds your ability to think critically and enhances your mental complexity.
Perceptions are extensions of repeated and revisited thoughts and feelings. Strong emotions create very strong perceptions. You will only see the world, and people according to how your brain has been wired. This means that your beliefs and perceptions are completely attached to your past experiences and past thinking. Your perception may not be based on actual events and how they happened, it will be based on the thoughts, feelings and mental state at the time of an event.
Your perception is formed about a person, situation, thing or experience once you become aware of it. Your brain fills in any missing information from past memories and experiences or by asking questions or making assumptions. Finally, you develop an understanding or belief about the person, situation, thing or experience. It becomes your point of view. How you saw the situation, how it made you feel and the thoughts you had about it creates your unique personal experience which will often be at odds with how other people who were involved in the same situation experienced it. This is why the people we live and work with have a different point of view to ours. Often causing conflict, confusion and even a break down in relationships, especially when people stubbornly hold on to their experience as the ultimate truth.
This does not mean that there is no truth in someone’s account of a situation, there is often an element of truth to a person’s experience. Sometimes we can see their truth and sometimes due to our different perspective we can’t see what they see, often leading to disagreement. Rather than arguing, you can use a difference of opinion or perspective as an opportunity, an invitation, to become curious and better understand how or why people see things the way they do.
The three factors that can influence your perception are your experiences, your motivational state and your emotional state. In different motivational or emotional states, you will react to or perceive something in different ways. Also, in different situations you might employ a "perceptual defence" where you "see what you want to see" and disregard the facts. This is commonly known as ‘confirmation bias’, a unique way to distort reality to have it fit into how we believe the world to be.
Steve Jobs is well known for doing this, his success was largely driven by holding on to an idea or point of view that brought Apples products to life. When people, including his own team, believed things couldn’t be done, Steve often saw things differently. Biographer Walter Isaacson writes that Robert Friedland "taught Steve the reality distortion field." (RDF). The RDF was said to be Steve Jobs' ability to convince himself, and others around him, to believe almost anything. He used a mix of charm, charisma, bravado, marketing prowess, appeasement and persistence. This approach was said to distort his co-workers' sense of proportion and scales of difficulties and to make them believe that whatever impossible task he had at hand was possible. This was the upside of his distorted reality, however Jobs also used the RDF to claim other peoples ideas as his own, even pitching an idea back to its originator, after dismissing it days earlier.
Knowing that your point of view is based on your past thinking, and possibly outdated beliefs allows you to expand and strengthen your perception by taking on new points of view, perhaps like Steve, believing in possibility when no one else does. This is especially useful when you are faced with a problem you can’t solve. Changing the way you look at a problem, or changing the thoughts and beliefs you have about an issue can often lead to solutions and save many an argument. Most arguments are caused simply by the different ways in which we all see the world. Doing your best to put yourself in someone else's shoes can help to build stronger and more meaningful professional and personal relationships.
In our Life Reloaded suite of programs, we explore tools designed to help broaden perspective and increase mental complexity. We look at how a team or individual can map differing points of view to solve organisational challenges and polarising viewpoints. We also explore how to use a simple activity (shared below) to help people step into the shoes of anybody, at any time, in any given situation.
Einstein has been attributed as saying “You can’t solve a problem with the same level of thinking that caused it”
You can’t solve a problem with the same level of thinking that caused it
We tend to approach the world from the same perception that causes and creates our issues, making it difficult to find a solution or a way through it. I personally started using this simple activity after reading about a similar approach recommended in the classic book “Think & Grow Rich”. This is how easy it can be:
Although it appears simple this activity allows you use your imagination to see things from another person’s point of view. Imagining that you are someone else shifts your thinking patterns, helps you to temporarily suspend your own mindset, release your biased point of view allowing new information to flow to you. You may find this to be a simplistic way of looking at your problems, however I encourage you to experiment with it the next time you feel stuck.
With a deeper understanding of perception and the right tools to shift your point of view, you will build confidence in your ability to resolve conflict, solve your own problems and shift your perspective in a powerful way.
Learning to walk in another persons shoes and manage polarisation are great tools to have, especially in the world we live in. This form or critical thinking allows you to tap into new information and to see the upside of the things that are opposite to what you personally value, and acknowledge that your side isn’t perfect, it allows you and those you live and work with to be better humans together.
Contact Blue Chip Minds to learn how to strengthen yours or your teams perception and increase mental flexibility.
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
I am often astounded by the number of people who feel stuck, frustrated or challenged by life's uncertainties. I can even become a little perplexed as to why so many of my fellow humans are still ignorant to their own potential and resourcefulness.
I have come to understand that how teachable a person is plays a big part in their ability to progress and move though life's challenges.
Years ago I was introduced o a concept called the "Teachability Index" and I'd love to share it with you as it may just shine a light as to why you may not be progressing as you would like.
Why 'Teachability' Matters
If you're not teachable or coachable you won't receive the full benefits from any development interventions you invest in. Not being teachable reduces your ability to really maximize the potential lying dormant with in you.
Regardless of whether you are a great teacher yourself, an expert or even highly intellectual you'll never reap the rewards from life if you are not teachable. In fact thinking you already know something is a very dangerous mindset that has the potential to stop you living a fulfilled life. Those living a fulfilled life have open minds and understand there is always more to learn.
To be teachable you have to accept how much you don't know. Do you know that you don't know what you don't know? Think about that question for a while and let it sink in.
Being teachable means you listen and absorb information without challenging it by disagreeing. You're not going to blindly follow it either. You're going to believe what is presented as the truth – but you are going to question it until you understand why it's true or possibly not true – you must be teachable!
Understanding teachability opens the doors to a world of information, knowledge and possibilities. So how teachable are you? There is a great way to find out by calculating your own Teachability Index.
The Teachability Index will help you determine how teachable you really are.
Calculating Your Teachability Index
There are two variables you need to consider when it comes to teachability.
The First Variable
The first variable is determined by asking yourself "What is my willingness to learn? “And then scaling it from one to ten. This will determine how high your willingness to learn the information is.
You can apply this index across any area of life and in any form of study. You must have a high teachability index otherwise you're wasting your time. You can't read something once and think you know everything, if you do think this is the way to learn you will easily become unteachable.
On a scale of one to ten what's your willingness to learn new information?
To help you determine your scale, answering some of these questions may help.
• What are you willing to do?
• How much time are you willing to invest?
• How much money are you willing to invest?
• How much effort are you willing to put in?
• What are you willing to give up?
In most cases people think they have a high willingness to learn but they don't. The real question is – What are you willing to give up to learn this information?
What's your favorite thing to do? Perhaps it's watching an enite Netflix series in one sitting, maybe you like to sleep in, what about the time you spend on social media. Are you willing to dramatically reduce the time you spend doing your favorite thing, or give it up completely so you can immerse yourself in new content, information and activities?
The Second Variable
The second variable is even tougher than the first. It’s determining how willing you are to accept change.
If you are not happy with where you're at right now it’s obvious that something has to change. The reason the second variable is tougher than the first is because you have done things a certain way and you have thought a certain way up until this point (potentially a very long time). Your actions and thoughts continually create the results you are getting. They are patterns that you have formed in your subconscious mind and it’s these patterns that you're going to have to change to fully maximize who you are. So, really you need to ask yourself: What is my willingness to change the way I think, the way I feel about things and what I habitually do?
What is your willingness to change?
You may think you’re 10/10 and say convincingly to yourself… "I’m going to learn this information, but change... no, I don’t want to change anything in my life”.
Willingness to Learn X Willingness to accept change = Teachability Index
If you’re willingness to learn is a ten, and your willingness to accept change is a zero. Ten multiplied by zero equals zero (10 x 0 = 0). You have a ZERO teachability index, you are not teachable. You must have both a high willingness to learn and a high willingness to accept change to have a high teachability index.
If you have a high teachability index you would be thinking and saying things like:
If this sounds like you, then you would score a ten in willingness to learn.
If you would also be saying and thinking things like:
If this sounds like you then you would score a ten in willingness to accept change.
Therefore ten multiplied by ten equals one-hundred (10 x 10 =100) – You are the perfect student. Your attitude toward growth and learning will reap rewards in a short period of time. You will quickly notice positive changes in your results because you will learn and understand new information better than most.
Why Most People Fail
Most People Fail Because They Refuse to Be...
Most people don't fully maximize who they are or they fail in their endeavours due to a low willingness to learn, even if they do have a high willingness to learn, they often have a low willingness to accept change. These people keep doing the same things over and over again and they refuse to change their thinking, beliefs and habits.
Those unhelpful, unhealthy and unproductive habits that have been a part of your life for so long have established very strong, ingrained, neural pathways in the brain and are lodged in the subconscious. Most people find it hard to change because they lack the knowledge and deep understanding of how to form new neural pathways that will create new patterns and programs at the subconscious level.
You must understand that a low teachability index is a major cause of failure.
Not everyone will score 100 all of the time, there maybe some things you are not willing to change, things you won’t be willing to do and times when you may not feel like learning. Regardless it’s recommended that you check-in regularly to see what your Teachability Index score is.
A simple way to check in with yourself in a situation where you find yourself, distracted, disengaged, disagreeing, bored, or saying things like "I know" ask yourself 'Am I being teachable?"
Calculate Your Score
Be completely honest with yourself and give yourself a score out of ten for the two Teachability Index variables.
There is no right or wrong answer with your final score.
Knowing your Teachability Index score builds self-awareness and is a powerful tool for change. If you feel your score is too low… ask yourself: “What can I do to raise my score, what will it take and am I committed to doing what it takes”
Now that you know how teachable you are ask yourself – “Am I happy with my current results?”
You know that there are certain things in your life that could be better, listen to that deep innate calling inside of you that’s searching for more… not always more material possessions, it may simply be more of the good things in life, more time, more love, more happiness, more confidence, more growth or greater fulfillment.
With a high teachability index, a high level of self-awareness and an understanding of human potential you will be poised and ready to maximize who you are and confidently self author your life.
An Important note:
To truly optimise who you are you must understand that your teachability index is never stagnant. You must continually consider how teachable you are because it will change from moment to moment depending on your priorities and the knowledge you have. You will always go up and down in teachability, it's like a sponge there's only so much you can take in before you become full and are no longer teachable.
Being teachable means that you can't learn a new concept right now and say "I've got it” – being teachable actually means you're never going to get it… And here's the reason why… it’s because you will always be “getting it”.
The best thing you can do is notice the times when you say “I know” or “I read a book on this or that topic” or “I have this or that qualification” or "I've done this before" because as soon as you say or think things like this, you automatically close your mind, you are no longer teachable and you block access to your untapped potential.
Think of the times when someone has been explaining something to you and your immediately respond with “I know, I got this, I know, no need to go on I’ve heard it before”. When you react like this in that moment you are not open to the possibility of learning something new, or hearing a different perspective on a concept. You are not teachable and you can not maximize who you are.
Contributor: Georgia Ellis
Georgia is the founder of Blue Chip Minds. She is dedicated to helping individuals and businesses to unlock their hidden potential, achieve personal mastery, increase productivity, tune into flow and thrive now and well into the future.
Georgia curates content and provides education and application on what science is discovering about the human experience. She draws on the latest findings in: positive psychology, flow science, neurobiology, quantum theory, emotional intelligence, epigenetics and neuroscience. Georgia has worked with organisations in sectors including; banking and finance, entertainment, medical, logistics, technology, education, procurement, event management, health & fitness, manufacturing and retail.
Her programs and services have been provided to people in Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, India, United Arab Emirates, Austria, South Africa, New Zealand, Japan, France, Ireland, United Kingdom, United States, Brazil, Belgium and Canada.
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