Have you ever asked yourself WHY you want to be happy?
Assuming, that is, that you do.
Yes, there is that 'feel good' effect created by the 'just right' cocktail of Dopamine, Oxytocin, Endorphin, Serotonin, GABA's, Adrenaline and Endocannabioids (and whatever others I may have missed). Any or all of those flushing through your system, in whatever combination, is a clearly a nice thing. It feels good.
Research has proven time and time again that happier people are healthier, more relaxed, more likely to connect and do something for others. Behavior that causes us pleasure is likely to prevail. Happy people are more likely to procreate, giving them that evolutionary advantage. Again, all good things.
But why should happier people obtain an advantage? From a systems perspective, is that a good thing?
I have a theory, and I'm not sure whether it is a spiritual, sociological or otherwise scientific one (I'll take your expert advice on that!)
I think happiness sets LIMITS.
We live in a crazy culture - ripping out, burning up and consuming our resources at a rate many times faster than our planet can sustain. We run around like an elephant in the china shop, pretending that unlimited growth on a finite planet is, somehow, going to be possible. That someone - maybe Elon Musk - is going to work out how.
The painful truth is: It's probably not going to happen. Our limitlessness is going to take us out - individually and collectively, sooner or later. Actually, probably sooner than you think.
But there is an antidote, and I believe it was given to us for a reason. That 'just right' mix of chemicals that is happiness curbs our otherwise pretty limitless drive to be, do, produce, consume, obtain MORE, which is currently wreaking havoc on our planet. It can stop us in our tracks.
Happiness sets limits.
When we are truly happy, we do not want to obtain, possess or search for anything more. All we want is for others to happy too - that, admittedly, without limitations.
I'm inclined to say that a lot of our planet's current predicament is due to the absence of true happiness.
So what has gone wrong? - We have collectively forgotten how to create happiness - and instead associated it with all sorts of material belongings. Dopamine, the 'surprise reward' molecule has taken over and is running the show. Somehow we have formed neural pathways that associated the perception of gain with happiness - and somehow, as a society, we have proliferated and continued to reinforce that.
The dubiosity of that is not new: As most self-development coaches will tell you: If you think that material gains = dopamine = happiness, you're selling yourself short. It's a pretty short-lived high and will leave you craving nothing more than the next hit. True happiness - obtained in balanced manner and through a balanced mix of chemicals, including those stimulated by human connection, contribution, physical exercise, personal growth, calm, certainty and variety - are much more lasting and thus will deliver more lasting happiness.
There's a lot of really good work and good tools out there who will help you question your quest for materialism and help you get a more balanced mix by helping you focus on your mindset and meaning. Because happiness is available to you in an instant, at all times - regardless of circumstance.
That insight alone is transformational, ground breaking and fantastic - and worth getting help with.
But what are the coaches getting wrong? - Well, more often than not they forget that the 'how' matters. They overlook that we're living on a finite planet. A lot of coaches will tell you you can have anything you want, and they will help you achieve it, no matter what it is. Because it's all about the client - you. They'll advise balance, but they'll be willing to settle for dopamine, at least in the interim.
The only thing is: it's actually not about you. It's about all of us, and the living ecosystems around us that keep us alive. Call it nature, gaia, planet, spirit - call it what you like - the thing is: You can't exist without it.
So the how matters. HOW you obtain happiness matters. And HOW LONG you can maintain it for, so that it can act as a limit on you.
Why I need you (and everyone else) to be happy is so that you can stop. Stop consuming, stop pursuing anything other than other people's happiness. Because if you don't, my kids won't have a planet left to live on.
Better get on with it.
Let's face it: facebook is addictive. twitter is addictive. instagram, snapchat... you name them.
And it's no surprise really - they were designed that way. A very insightful piece about this was published in the Guardian the other day.
And if you are sitting there, thinking to yourself "That may be true, but I don't actually think I'm doing too badly", you might want to double check yourself against the definition of addiction (this is from Psychology today):
"Addiction is a condition that results when a person ingests a substance (e.g., alcohol, cocaine, nicotine) or engages in an activity (e.g., gambling, sex, shopping) that can be pleasurable but the continuation of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary responsibilities and concerns, such as work, relationships, or health. People who have developed an addiction may not be aware that their behavior is out of control and causing problems for themselves and others."
Now, with that in mind - have you ever sat in the same room with another human being and, instead of engaging with them, checked your twitter feed? Have you ever been at work and checked your facebook notifications?
Yes, these things my happen once in a while, but what I'm observing in my own behaviour is that it is a creeping addiction... a little bit more each day it becomes acceptable (or accepted) to do things like googling the answer to a dinner table questions while at the dinner table. To glance at my phone while actually talking to somebody to quickly pick up the incoming message notification. And at nighttime, when there is a prime opportunity to catch up with the daily family events, play a board game, practice an instrument or at least read a book, the smartphone slowly becomes the default option.
In fact, more often than not I'm finding myself in a room full of people all staring at their individual screens.
To me, the whole thing is a bit like Pavlov's dog experiment: the same way the canine in it's sling started salivating at the sound of the bell, we reach for out phone at the notification sound - in a more and more automated manner.
I recently put myself through a somewhat painful experiment: I downloaded an app that tracks my smart phone use, showing me daily stats. After a week, I was appalled. I downloaded the next app - it's called 'Quality time' and let's you define times of day in which it limits your access to pre-set applications. No more facebook for me between 6pm and 9pm!!! - After another week, I was faced with the sad truth that I had overridden the app blocker 5 out of 7 days (despite the 30 second 'punishment' delay).
I haven't yet had the courage to look for an app without an 'override' button. And if there was: What about the laptop? The tablet? The other phone?
The good news is: I have made progress. After awareness, being the first step to change, settled in, I have taken some steps that have helped me bring things under control. Here they are:
This one was hardest. Because, in actual fact, I enjoy hearing from people. I learn a lot from what people post. I was never a great fan of reading a newspapers, but following my super-intelligent and clued up friends links has given me access to a whole lot of really useful information. I'm participating more in political discourse and debate than before. I also have a chance to be supportive to other people in the various facebook support groups I'm a member of. I'm able to send my love to faraway friends navigating challenging life transitions that I probably wouldn't hear about otherwise.
Which means, it's all a good thing, isn't it?
Well, there's the funny cat videos. The posts about the woman who dropped 150 pounds and found she was getting less dates than ever before. And the fact that Kim Kardashian was caught photoshopping her bottom.
I didn't need those.
That admitted, I looked at what all this information cost me: less quality time with my children who are racing through their childhood (Sometimes I worry that I may look up from my screen and they have moved out.). Less quality interaction with those around me. Less time for physical activity. Less motivation to go out an do stuff (because of finding enough distraction on the couch).
So, my first step was becoming very clear about what my motivation is for both: spending time on screens and NOT spending time on screens. A list helped immensely and every so often I pull it out.
2. Scheduling time
As a budding online entrepreneur, obviously I have to spend time online. Social media play an important role in my business and while I can see the merit in outsourcing all of that - I'm not quite there yet.
Also, there's the actual 'news' time and the fact that my biggest source of world news comes through social media.
So I scheduled some time into my diary each week where I can sit down and focus on those things, getting rid of the 'but it's work!' excuse.
The next step was taking care of the big stuff. All the completely inacceptable little habits that sneaked in over time. Things I didn't have to negotiate with myself about because I agree with myself that it is just not on, under any circumstances.
My next question to myself - and this was the critical bit - was: what needs am I actually meeting by browsing those streams?
Connection: participating in my friend's lives, exchanging messages and news.
Contribution: sharing information or support with others
Certainty: interacting with others in a way that puts me in control - people I can turn off if they get nasty. News items that I can choose.
Significance: facebook 'likes' that tell me I'm appreciated, interactions with semi-famous people who actually respond to my messages
Diversity: a wide array of stimulation, going any old way, that updates itself every few seconds
Growth: Learning stuff I wouldn't otherwise
Your list may be slightly different, but I suspect you'll relate.
In coaching we say that if something meets more than four of our six basic human needs, it becomes addictive. Bang. This is a 6/6. No suprises
5. New strategies
Next came the game-changer. I sat down and made a conscious effort of identifying an alternative strategy to meet each of those needs in a different way - a strategy that I felt willing to commit to on a daily basis. Here's my list:
Connection: Have a meaningful, face-to-face conversation with someone every day while keeping the phone out of reach. Starting with "how are you?" is a great opening. I also started a monthly women's circle and a local meet-up group. Inviting friends for dinner at least once a fortnight. Playing a game with the kids each night
Contribution: finding a small, practical thing to do for someone else every day. Sometimes in direct conversation (ok, I do count the phone into that - speaking, not texting), sometimes remotely (writing a card to someone), sometimes out and about (making someone a cup of tea). Volunteering time to help people.
Certainty: Committing to spending time regularly taking care of my financial certainty (doing my accounts for example) and generally committing to taking immediate care of things that stress me out first (which otherwise lead to default facebook procrastination). Following up any stressful relationships through direct conversation.
Significance: making time for self-care. My version of this was committing to both a 30 day fitness challenge (ok, that's an app, but I'll accept that) and a 30 day yoga challenge (ok, that's on YouTube, but I let that pass as well). Both of which I'm now on day 90 of (consecutively) and feeling so much better!!
Diversity: Making a conscious effort to do stuff with the kids: Taking them to the skate park. Taking them to a show. Taking them on holiday.
Growth: Making a commitment to read at least 20 minutes of a good personal development or business book each night (I'm still working on that one... would be a great one to do in bed, but high risk of falling asleep
Again, your list may be completely different - that's not the point. The point is to find something that works for you and COMMIT to doing these things AS WELL.
Funny enough - with all that going on - I'm finding much less time to be on social media. I'm spending more quality time with people and learn more stuff.
Meaning that - at this point - I can accept my social media use above and beyond that and actually feel comfortable about it (a piece on selectiveness is yet to come!!)
I'd love to hear what you think of these ideas!!
In this time of change, challenge and turmoil, I sometimes notice resentment about it expressed both around me and within me. As the world groans under our weight and we with her, I hear this idea: that we have been or are being treated unfairly in one way or another.
There’s resentment from those that ‘have not’ (yet) obtained western middle class access to possessions, services or property. It’s the feeling of ‘why do they and I don’t’? And it elicits a feeling of entitlement that, sadly, poses a deadly threat to our planet.
There’s resentment from the western middle class “haves” to the possessors of ‘luxury’
There’s resentment over giving up precious lifetime to a soul sucking 9-5, because that’s what got us here.
As we move up the societal ladder of increasing balance sheets, the resentment often in- rather than decreases. It kinda goes like this: “I’ve worked my fucking arse off (and/or insert: never seen my kids, sacrificed my relationship, health, sleep, everything my heart enjoys) for this, now I’m going to enjoy it”. Ironically, it’s the same for - indeed very genuine - pain of loss, missing out and sacrifice, felt at a whole new level. And even more ironically, instead of eliciting empathy and compassion amongst the ‘have not yet’s’, it elicits even more resentment, a global library of which you can find under hashtags like #firstworldproblems or #privilegetears.
Add to that our ‘everyday’ resentment about things that others “did to us” for whatever reason and the resentment over life choices gone wrong (which, in the old days would be called ‘learning’ but now, paired with our sense of entitlement, is usually someone else’s fault and unfair) and the amount of time spent in a resentful state can reach significant proportions.
So what happens when we feel resentful all this time?
At the mildest level, we bitch, we moan, we complain to others - gaining in return a sense of solidarity with our fellow victims of circumstance whilst further fuelling their own resentment - creating a vicious cycle.
At extremes, we may even let resentment turn to hatred and take actions of violence against our fellow humans that - presumably - have done us wrong.
Resentful envy becomes an ecological problem where, to satisfy our anger and cover up our pain, we consume. We buy stuff because we can, because we think we so deserve to have what others have. We buy stuff because it temporarily replaces anger with satisfaction. While in resentment, we take the opportunity to obtain additional possessions, services or experiences, because we earned it. Because ‘everybody else’ in our line of vision (which mostly glances up the societal ladder) already has it. So why shouldn’t I?
And, armed with our resentment and feeling of entitlement, we continue to pursue - pursue whatever perceived riches and privileges others have and we don’t. We pursue and we sometimes achieve - leading to an increase in consumption and ecological footprint. It is our pursuit of ‘material wealth’ at whatever level (for some this may just be running water, for some it is the third luxury yacht) that requires the ongoing ‘growth’ of our society, the ongoing extraction of resources, the ongoing destruction of our planet.
But here are the facts: even with the ‘tech-fantasy’ of increased efficiency, technologization and automation, our planet will NEVER sustain for all almost 8 billion of us to reach even ‘western middle class’ standard. Let alone the standard of luxury which the middle class now strive for. In fact, we are already using our planet’s resources 3 times over, so we can’t even sustain what we have now.
However unfair this may be, we cannot all reach consumer paradise. Because we’ve run out of planet.
What needs to happen instead, is LESS. Degrowth. Reduce. And those of us who have more will have to give up more to even fit within their permissible resource allocation. And give up even more than that if they want to take up the social responsibility of re-allocating to those who ‘do not yet have’.
Meanwhile, those that ‘do not yet have’ will have to come to terms with the fact that they ‘will never have’ - even if there were so many others who did.
So what about can we do about that anger, that resentment?
1. Realize who and what it is that’s hurting you
As the famous life coach Anthony Robbins says: “Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping that your enemy dies”.
The feeling of pain and discomfort that is your resentment of others, of circumstances is a result of only one thing: your expectations. It’s not ever caused by anything anyone else does to you - it is caused by your expectations not lining up with reality. It’s caused by not having what you think you rightfully ‘should’ have. But as Byron Katie says: “When arguing with reality, you only lose 100% of the time”. And while your lack of ‘privilege’ may be very real - the emotional suffering it elicits is a product of your own making. To quote Tony Robbins once more: “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”.
And these expectations never hurt anyone else but you.
The beauty of this probably unpopular take on things is that it gives you full control - you can stop your feeling of deprivation and resentment immediately by adjusting your expectations, by giving things a new meaning. Yes, you’ve worked hard all your life and yet are still struggling to make ends meet. What if you stopped expecting anything different? How does that feel? And how does it feel to ponder all the things you learned from being in those circumstances? To appreciate who you have become? Would you be the same person that your friends and family love if things had turned out differently? And: what else can you learn? Who can you pursue to become next?
2. Accept the pain of others
My very best friend in the world used to say “Each their own hell”. What’s true is that pain knows no class divisions, no standards. The pain of loss, of deprivation, of disconnection, the pain of feeling ‘not enough’ is as real for the multi-billionaire as it is for you, and those less fortunate than you. We all share the same biological makeup, the same physical responses to our thought constructs. And they produce the same uncomfortable results.
So stop the competition over whose pain is greater, or more legitimate. All it does is - increase your pain. All our pain is caused by the same thing: the meaning we give to the circumstances we’re in. And if we hold that expectation that we ‘should be better off’, even at the very highest level, the reality of not having achieved that is going to cause us pain. The same pain, and just as real. It’s a biological fact.
If we can meet each other in genuine compassion for each other’s pain we can open up doors to new possibilities. We can see each other in our humanity. And we can lay down our defenses and potentially our guilt. And if those on the ‘have’ side can be accepted and loved even in their #privilegetears, the same way we accept those in deprivation, they may be more willing to connect, reach out and share.
3. Shift your focus
Resentment is only possible where we focus on ourselves. It’s the result of an inner monologue that begins with “He/She/They should” and ends with “but they don’t”. Or “They have - and I don’t”. Focusing, listening to and believing this inner monologue results in only one thing: pain.
And the truth is, it’s inherently selfish.
So, stop. Take your focus away from yourself and focus on others instead. Work out how you can help someone, in whatever way big or small, and your resentment will evaporate and make way for something else: empowerment.
4. Stop whining
We all know how good it feels to complain, and be understood. Nothing more relieving than a good whining session. And that is, in fact, fair enough.
But sadly, it comes at a high price. By sharing your ‘have nots’ and ‘they did’ with others… or re-running it on single repeat in your mind… All that whinging and whining results in creating super-highway connections in your brain that, long term, achieve nothing but trap you in your pain. It becomes your default emotion, and what’s worse, you’re programming your brain to interpret everything that happens as yet another version of the same. And who is it hurting? Only yourself.
Instead, take your inner and outer monologue and focus it on something else: how can you genuinely help another person (not just exacerbate their pain by amplifying their victim stories)? What do you have that you can appreciate? What can you speak about that you’re feeling grateful for?
Talk about the non-material abundance in your life: the love you share, the people around you, the beauty of nature. Practice radical appreciation. Give empowering meaning to things - at every level. You may not have access to whatever level of ‘luxury’, but it is up to you if you let that make you feel deprived. Maybe it empowers you. Maybe it sets you up to be more resourceful. Maybe it even frees you from the burden of excess possessions. Create whatever meaning makes you feel good, not bad. It’s up to you.
5. Practice sufficiency and ingenuity
I’ll admit, even as I’m writing this, I’m have moments of doubt. Surely, it cannot really be too much to ask to have a warm, safe, dry home for those that don’t yet have that? What about very basic access to food, water?
No doubt, there is a basic level of sanitation, food and shelter that is essential for survival. It is surprising how low this level actually is when we get real with ourselves and focus on gratitude. Human beings are amazing, adaptable creatures - able to survive in the most extreme circumstances. And they have a unique, human ability to consciously experience their emotional world - to love, to connect, to share, to celebrate. To grow their compassion, their understanding of self. This is open to anyone.
There are many inspiring stories of people who created abundance, growth and practiced gratitude in the most adverse of circumstances. People who experience happiness and love on a daily basis - sometimes while trapped in an isolation cell of a war prison.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t pursue basic standards of safety for everyone. What I’m saying is we should ALL, collectively, practice sufficiency, and gratitude. We should cultivate our ability to recognize when we have ‘enough’. I do, actually, believe, that things will then sort themselves. And that with our human gifts of ingenuity, collaboration and compassion we can work on reallocation, and sharing, rather than growth.
When you look around our world today it's almost easy to believe that our happiness and fulfillment will arrive in the package with our latest gadget, tossed into the bag along with the purchase receipt or maybe it'll just magically appear when finally we just wear those new shoes.
At least I'd say there is an undeniable attempt out there to make us believe that our happiness somehow correlates with - stuff.
Now, we're not stupid - we all know that that's not true. Everyone knows money doesn't make you happy (or does it?). That you can't eat it (or can you?) and that what matters are life's true values.
Of course we do know that.
And yet, there's part of us that seems to not believe. That seems to hope that - just maybe - we might still feel a bit better after that next 'thing' we get - even just for a short while.
I don't want to go into why we're so bloody unhappy in the first place that we need to start looking for fixes. That's a topic for another day.
What I'm more interested in is a variant take on this quote from the book Ishmael by Daniel Quinn:
You'll have to read the book to fully understand what the gorilla thing is about (and I highly recommend you do, not just because it's a wonderful example of reframing!) but let's rephrase:
With stuff gone... will there be hope for man?
Which of course you can read in two ways (that's the point) - is there any hope for us to feel happiness when our stuff goes away (be it by choice or disaster). Or can we only have hope for happiness when (finally) our stuff goes away?
In our culture exists an assumption that our western model of civilization and industrialization has produced well being and happiness and that if we do more of that, we'll get more happiness.
As you may know from statistics, this was true to a degree up until the 1950's. But during this time of 'peak happiness', life was overall still pretty simple. Ever since, our stuff has increased, and our happiness has declined.
So what does this mean? What do we strive for, if not for the latest i-thing? And- is happiness without 'stuff' actually possible?
Which, sadly, is equivalent to the question 'Can we have our world and be happy at the same time'? Because at the rate that our obsession with stuff is consuming the world's resources, polluting our environment, endangering most of the rest of our ecosystem and exploiting our fellow humans, we are paying a high price for that hope for happiness we hold.
Luckily, the answer is an incontestable 'yes'. Of course we can be happy and not ruin our planet as we go. We just need to immunize ourselves against any concept that tries to make us believe anything else. Wean ourselves off it. Overcome and transcend it like any old addiction.
So here's how to start:
1) Eliminate advertising, as much as humanly possible.
The first thing we ever did that freed us, was get rid of our TV. One day it died, and never got replaced. Boom - hours and hours of ad exposures gone in an instant. But you can do even more: from the 'absolutely no junk mail' sign on the letterbox, to the powerful ad blocker on your browser.
In today's world, you may not be able to free yourself from every piece of cleverly positioned infomercial - but you can take reasonable steps that go a long way. Understand that advertising is a powerful trigger to your addiction - and at the same time, you're not yet directly giving anything up (after all, who likes watching ads anyway?). So it's a great first step.
I realized the effect it has on me quite strongly when we moved into a new house and - after years of successfully eliminating junk mail, newspaper inserts etc - I was reached by a mail order catalog addressed to the previous owner. I picked it out of the letterbox and started flicking through the pages on the way to the breakfast table. Before I knew it I was browsing through the whole thing and by page 25 I found myself thinking that that dress would actually be quite nice for the winter. By page 30 I was reading the ordering instructions for an item I didn't need, didn't even really want and certainly shouldn't afford at the time.
It is that bad.
2) Don't get rid of your stuff - or do.
There's a new minimalist movement going on which has become quite popular - people posing on YouTube with the 20 items they own (and nothing else), declaring how their lives got simpler, better and happier. (Usually these items include an mac book and an iPhone).
And that may be so and work for some. And if it works for you - by all means: get rid of your stuff! But do me one favour: don't chuck it out. Sell it. Share it. Give it away. Don't just order the skip bin on a weekend and dispose of everything that weighs you down - because that's not helping.
But maybe, if you're like me, you like having stuff around. I love my books and my trinkets that have accumulated over the years - they hold fond memories. I also love hosting people and own a vast collection of (non-matching) cups, plates etc.
And I also like having a new thing here and there.
But the thing is - my new things are all old things. I can't remember the last time I bought anything new, actually. In our current waste society, items find me from second hand stores, give aways and often even out of road side skip bins (sitting outside the houses of people who decided to join the minimalist fad). And guess what - they offer the same degree of satisfaction, if you're into that sort of thing. I rejoiced like a child when recently a $60 vacuum cleaner from the thrift shop entered my home. It had suffered a broken carry handle, which clearly didn't meet it's previous owners standards. But it sucks!!! (and it's a Hoover). When you're living in a house with light colored carpet and 2 black pets, you might appreciate my joy.
While of course I realize it doesn't solve the problem, as long as that Hoover was still made in a polluting Chinese factory (which it would have been) - at least you're not supporting the industry with your purchase. And you're keeping an item out of landfill. (And if it breaks and you fix it instead of tossing it, you'll help even more!) So in the interim, it's not a bad strategy.
And if you're thinking it's dodgy going through someone's discarded stuff - how dodgy is it to mindlessly chuck things out in the first place? OMG. Time to strap on your waste warrior gear and save the world, hero!
Stop buying into the buying industry.
3) Get real.
Now, as my third step towards freedom I could say: consider your true values and focus on those, instead of buying stuff... and if you do that thoroughly enough, you'll sure as hell find that 'accumulating stuff' won't be one of them. But here's the thing: We all have all sorts of values, but not always do we act in alignment with them. Particularly not when other drivers get in the way. And our emotional needs are pretty strong drivers.
But on the bright side, there's a much easier fix. Your addiction to things is likely a misguided strategy to obtain something entirely different - and that is the thing to look out for.
Whether buying into the buying game makes you feel connection (keeping up with the Jones's, or connecting with yourself through 'retail therapy'), love (giving gifts to people), diversity (the new shiny object syndrome), certainty (the expensive reliable car) or significance (that same expensive car) - focus on that which you are really trying to achieve - and then choose another strategy. Because, honestly, if your feeling of significance depends on the size of your car, you're clearly not very significant.
So, my task for today: think about what you're feeling when you're browsing those stores. And what the need is you're trying to meet. And then: grab a piece of paper and write your list... your list of things that you know will REALLY give you connection, or make a person significant. Because - you do already know. That's why you admire Nelson Mandela and not Donald Trump.
So go on, get real.
Do you know those days when by 11am you’re starting to feel like life is out to get you? And onto knock number one piles knock number two piles knock number three and all of that on a day when you’re feeling your most weak, vulnerable and doubtful to start with? Those days where you find yourself doubting that things could ever be good for any length of time, at all?
And here you are, armed with the best strategies to stay well in rough times, all laid out perfectly straight in your head and you just feel too devastated to use them??? And when you do, you do so halfheartedly while secretly holding onto the belief in your head that they simply won’t work, anyway.
These days happen, and they happen to all of us. And they are an absolute gift.
Because how easy would it be to get complacent about yourself otherwise? And how easy would it be to stop growing and become less than the best possible version of yourself?
But sometimes it’s hard to see that - especially when you’re in it. It much more feels like the end of you. At least for today.
Here’s what to do on those days (or in those moments) when things are crashing around you and are taking you down with them…
If life knocks you to the floor, that’s where you start. This is not about aiming for serenity. This is, initially, about restoring basic functionality. Checking that the stand-by light is still on.
Are you still breathing?
This is not a joke - we often completely unconsciously hold our breath when we get stressed - further cutting the oxygen supply to our brain, which makes finding your way out of the slump with any sense so much harder. So: breathe.
And if you can, try to breathe a little more deeply. And a little more slowly.
For a while, that may be all you can do.
Stay there a while.
Vital functions - check.
Next, check your body. That awful anxious, painful feeling you’re experiencing… that stress or fear, or anger or whatever it is: it has a home. It might cling to your shoulders with the grip of a vice or it might hit you in the belly with the force of a sledgehammer. Maybe it has it’s icy hands around your neck, slowly clenching your throat.
Find out where it lives, and then deal to it. This is physical pain, you can do something about it. Gently massage your solar plexus with your hand. Apply a hot water bottle to your shoulders or roll your head to release gently. Do whatever is necessary to deal with the painful feelings in your body. Definitely change your posture - straighten up, stretch.
Once you’ve located and seen to the pain, check the rest of your basics - are you thirsty, hungry, tired? - Take care of that. That’s easy. Even now, you can do that.
Body - check.
Ready for step 2...
2. Adjust your meaning
Once you’ve taken care of those basics, at the very bottom of pit, it’s time to do a bit of active engineering. Whatever unpleasant thing is happening, it’s likely that your mind is having a field day over it. If you’re feeling affected, something in you has been triggered and it is spinning you out of centre. And while you may not be able to control the circumstances, you can control what meaning you give to the situation.
And let me tell you - if your meaning at present is that your life is too hard and hopeless - it’s not going to make you feel very good. Downward spiral, here I come…
So it’s time to adjust.
Note: What comes next, is not going to come to you naturally or easily. This is not a ‘quick fix feel good all is well’ thing - it’s going to take some actual effort - but it is far from impossible.
Once you’ve got your body sorted, try to focus on coming up with a new meaning for whatever things have just happened. What can you find in this that you can feel grateful for? What could you be learning? What is the opportunity that is buried in this situation that you can access only now (even if you don’t want to take it)? Which door has opened that was previously closed?
With a little (or a lot) of digging and searching, you will find something. And when you do, THAT is the thing to focus on. And every time you are going back under, rinse and repeat. Come back to that meaning. Place your focus there - and hold it as long as possible. Remember it.
By looking at things this way, you will also be able to place that tiny but all important space between yourself and that crazy trip your mind is just sending your body onto. And then at least you can see it for what it is: a crazy ride.
3. Do something (else)
By now you should be feeling those icy grips starting to loosen and you might even slowly start feeling like there might be a tomorrow after all.
The next best thing to do is: something else. Ideally, do something you enjoy. Or, just return to business as usual for now. Any sort of activity is good - especially if it is in some way demanding of your brain. But even mundane tasks can be good if they involve movement (and maybe loud music)?
And the secret tip to make this work even better is this: do something for someone else. Or at least ask someone else how they are - and genuinely listen to their answer. There are always people who go through stuff that’s even harder than yours - now is the time to help them out. And - try not to talk about your problem. Or if you do, keep it lighthearted and positive.
While it can be really helpful to be able to tell of your challenges and talk about our emotions - it can also amplify whatever story we made of the situation. While the connection we get there can provide great reassurance, it also drives us deeper into the mud (and gets us stuck). So sometimes it’s better not to talk about things until you have put a bit of distance between yourself and the matter of the moment… there’ll still be plenty of time to deal with things then.
And remember that this, too, shall pass...
Again and again I hear people speaking about the disconnect in our communities. Their feeling of lack in that regard, and their loneliness. Which seems so bloody odd considering the fact that we supposedly live in the most connected world of all times. But, I guess, the glow of a screen at night is not what keeps you warm.
The question on my mind then is - what would it take? What would it take to just break the pattern and reach out - step out, knock on the neighbours door, talk to the stranger on the street not just with a polite nod of the head but in a meaningful and deeper way as if they were a fellow human with the same struggles, the same pain, the same worry? Just because.. They probably are?
What is that threshold that stops us from seeing our fellow travellers as nothing more than extensions of ourselves?
My guess is, it is mostly: fear. Wanting the reassurance that it’s going to be ok - that this particular human we’re facing is not the same as the ones we read about in the paper - the ones that are surely dangerous and horrible.
But here’s the thing: when do you ever get certainty in relationship to other people? And aren’t the ones closest to you the ones that hurt you the most and the most frequently? Shouldn’t you be staying away from THEM and hang out with the check out staff instead? - They’re generally at least polite, until you get to know them and then they’d fall into the first category and you’d have to find a new supermarket….
Get what I mean?
But then there’s the ‘weirdness’.
But actually, so what you’re feeling awkward, afraid, shy, concerned… what if it’s totally worth it to do it anyway? What if you have an opportunity EVERY DAY, almost every moment, to meet someone who will inevitably teach you another little piece of the puzzle that is your life? Have you ever considered the amount of learning and growth you’re missing out on from all those missed connections in your life? Have you thought about all the life stories you haven’t heard, the different ways of doing things you haven’t experienced because you haven’t reached out??
And so what if some people are weird? Don’t you think you’re weird to them? And isn’t it strangeness and differences that can stimulate your imagination the most? Sure, you can surround yourself everyday with the same old people saying the same old things. While you’re there, why not surround yourself with people who agree with you the whole time and take all that conflict out of life. But, let me ask you this: how would you learn? How would you grow? And how bored would you be?
But what about the risk, you might say? What about the chances of actually being mugged/burgled/killed? Doesn’t that count??
Well, I could throw a bunch of statistics at you now - and if you’re good with numbers you can work out how much more likely this would be than being struck by lightning or winning the lottery. And then work out your odds (depending on where you live, results may, admittedly, vary greatly…)
I was just told about an interesting experiment yesterday, conducted by some psychological researchers. They asked a whole big load of people what was most important in life. WITHOUT exception, people stated things, such as LOVE, CONNECTION, HAPPINESS, FRIENDSHIP, FAMILY. In fact, love was the most often stated one of them all.
But then the researchers did something rather mean: they exposed the respondents individually to a ‘fake’ set of results - a complete set of lies - claiming that other respondents had without exception stated things such as ‘MONEY’ ‘POWER’ ‘WINNING’ etc.
And you know what? People believed them. They actually, wholeheartedly believed that they were the ONLY ones thinking that love and connection were important. (And presumably, took on one of two possible internal narratives: either: “I’m strange, destined for loneliness and wrong”, or: “I’m right and they’re stupid”).
Isn’t that sad? And would you have believed the scientists?
I’m afraid, those narratives are currently ruling the world - dividing us into the group of people (your friends, family) who are good and well intentioned and whom you love and enjoy the company of - and the others, who are probably strange, probably disagree and are not to be trusted (with maybe a few exceptions, but how are you going to tell the difference?)
But you know what? If you listened to your gut rather than your fear, I think you’d soon find out that everyone else out there is doing the same, and that the story sucks.
And if you applied only a little bit of sensory acuity, I’m sure you’d smell out the rotten eggs in the basket pretty reliably.
And you don’t have to jump into the deep end. After being unused for so long you need to train your trust muscles. Build them up slowly, like any good exercise regime. You can even start with the really really safe ones - wave down a police car if you must and chat to the officer (unless you live in one of those places where the police are the biggest problem). The point is to slowly, slowly build up enough courage to actually look into someone’s eyes. And when you do - hold their gaze.
And here’s another exercise for you: pull out a pen and paper (or just do this in your head) and spend 5 minutes coming up with the MOST OUTRAGEOUS things you would never do, or say to, a complete stranger. A few ideas that are so bloody crazy and would be so unbelievably awkward that even the thought makes you shudder - and that you know 150% you’ll never do. Have a load of fun with it and imagine the crazy scenes that might ensue in your head.
(Yes of course I have an agenda for this, but go and try for yourself to see what will happen)
Do you have an Alter Ego? As in - an alternative personality which you put on when you show up at work?
Do you leave who you really are at the coat rack by the door?
I sure have done that often enough.
And why? - Because somehow, on some level, I thought that showing up as myself wasn’t enough. That somehow I had to present something - or someone - else: and that someone was generally someone who was trouble free, more competent and less passionate than the real me.
Kinda like the ‘PC’ version of myself.
Because - let’s face it - we all have our darker sides. And none of us are perfect. Who the hell are we kidding??
I believe what happens when we leave the beautiful mess that is our life by the door is that we lose so much of the dimensionality of life. If we show up as someone who’s in control, hasn’t got any problems, knows everything and - at the end of the day - doesn’t really CARE: What sort of decisions are we going to make?
Because it’s not like this is something you’re just putting on for others.
Wearing your Alter Ego does something with your head.
You actually forget - temporarily - about all those other aspects of yourself - the feeling, wondering, humble, curious, messy parts of yourself.
And it will influence what you do.
But not only that - you’re at the same time role-modelling for everyone else around you, and can they PLEASE do the same and focus on the matter at hand and don’t bother us with their insecurity?? Or the fact that they, indeed, are not perfect either.
Because, honestly, when I’m in this state, I can’t cope with that. It’s tearing down my walls. Can’t have it.
What if we did this differently?
Don’t get me wrong: I think having the ability to slip into an “Alter Ego” is a wonderful and useful thing - if it is to do with making a conscious choice about your state and who you want to be.
Because we do have the ability to create WHO WE ARE and - most of all - to choose WHO WE BECOME.
But if our ‘Alter Ego’ is principally a consequence of our beliefs around what is ‘appropriate’ and our fear of somehow not being enough - we’re in trouble. And so are those around us. And so is our planet.
Because somehow we’re going to be projecting all of this crap all over the place.
So let’s at least be conscious about it.
If there is such a thing as “PC” - some sort of societal consensus about what is appropriate and what not - let’s make it something that best serves us as the amazing complex human beings we are - and the planet around us.
Let’s make our messiness, our compassion, our vulnerability, our love, our passion part of that persona. Let’s start making decisions with not just our head (that’s an illusion anyway) - let’s make them with our gut, our heart and our soul.
And let’s open up. Do you really think that your fellow travellers around you are buying that ‘invincible superhero’ crap? Don’t you think they sense in the way you walk that you actually shouldn’t be here today? Don’t you think they know you’re lying?
If we bring our human-ness back into our lives, we may start accessing our compassion for others on a more regular basis. And as we strengthen our muscles for FEELING for ourselves, with and for others - we may start feeling for our world again.
And we may stop cold on the way back into the building to watch the bees on the flower heads and realize the beauty and treasures of our world. And we may be mesmerized for a moment and sit and ponder. And then go back and tell the others and light their day up with that beauty.
And we may take a moment to contribute to the life of another struggling soul near us - and we actually may make things a bit better.
So when you’re creating your Alter Ego - think whether you’re creating a model of the beautiful, multi-faceted, caring and passionate human you can want to populate this earth - or whether you’re creating a monster.
Because being the best possible version of yourself is not just about you. It’s about all of us and generations to come.
Travel well my friends xx
“There’s a psychological term for that - it’s not ‘insanity’ - what was it?”
Sometimes naming things makes them real. I came across this article yesterday (you’ll find the link on my facebook page) which talked about ‘pre-traumatic stress disorder’ (would the acronym still be PTSD?) It is a phenomenon which climate scientists have been experiencing recently when contemplating the global implications of their findings. Things, indeed, are looking worse every day and the overwhelm, grief, anxiety these scientists are feeling apparently causes them to call in sick on the odd day.
It appears to me that now - more than ever - we need these bright, wonderful minds to be working hard on understanding the problem so that we can all develop solutions. We really need these guys to function!
Having said that, the emotional upheaval is perfectly understandable - and I think many of us are experiencing it on some level (maybe less intensely than these guys, but maybe not. Maybe we just haven’t been ‘diagnosed’ yet)
But I believe the same that goes for those scientists goes for the rest of us… we all need to be in our best state to contribute to this world whatever it is that we need to contribute. We each need to do our part in addressing this problem, however small this part may be.
So if you’re finding yourself plunging into the cold antarctic meltwaters of ‘pre-traumatic stress disorder’, e.g. feeling paralyzed by the prospect of an apocalypse lying ahead, consider these things:
1) Don’t make things worse than they are
I’m not a climate scientist, so I clearly don’t have the full understanding of all the data etc these guys are looking at. I do understand that things are not looking good.
In fact, they are probably looking awful.
However, it is also true that we’re talking about ‘the future’. However scientific, these are still projections of something that hasn’t happened yet (at least not to it’s full extent). If you like, you could call it science fiction. Or fortune telling. And “We’re all going to die” is likely a generalization.
What matters is that here and NOW (and if you practice mindfulness, you’ll know the importance of this) things are different. We’re not there yet. And while it is good to look at things as they are (I’m not talking candy-coated unicorns here) it is just as important to not make them worse.
We all have a liking for drama. It’s part of our culture. And why? - Because it allows us to feel. It gives us an excuse to connect with others.
Those are good things. But making things worse than they are has some potentially serious side effects. When taken excessively, can lead to lethargy, overwhelm and depression. So by all means - reach out to others. Feel. Love. Share. Connect. Open up. But aim to empower and inspire. Not to make things worse.
Focusing on the here and now goes a long way.
2) You’re in charge of the meaning you give things
Fact is, you may not be able to change what is happening in the world on a macro scale. (Unless you have that magic wand that fixes everything in an instance - in that case, please wave it now!). But you have total, 100% control over the meaning you give to these events.
Every threat holds an opportunity. Just the same way this could be the end of the world, it could also be the beginning of something new. And that new thing could be amazing - who knows??
But optimism aside... if you’re focusing on the now, you may be able to find in this what you are called to now. Because, on a personal level, this is a calling. A calling to focus on what is important to you. What you value. And to work out what you might need to change in order to feel like you are living your life to it’s fullest potential.
A calling to develop resilience - mental, emotional and spiritual.
So if you can quieten your mind’s drama, you may hear the whispers of your calling. These are big world events, but what matters is YOU. Who do YOU need to become to live in these circumstances??
It’s a calling to grow..
3) Create your own certainty
No doubt we live in uncertain times. We have NO idea what is going to happen next. None.
But guess what - it’s always been like that. The only difference is that most of us have believed a story that somehow gave us an illusion of certainty over the future. Somehow the future was going to be a bigger, better version of the past.
Fact is, that was always a story - even if it seemed to hold true for quite some time. But never did we really, REALLY know what was going to happen. And we all have always accepted this on a personal level - you didn’t know what would happen to shape your life. Births, deaths, illness, career changes… This is just the same, only bigger.
The way to create certainty in uncertain times is to know what YOU are doing. Take time to form a vision of your life, set goals, make plans. As far as you’re concerned, whatever you come up with there, is the future. You may need to change your strategies to get there depending on what happens around you. But your goals are clear. You know what you’re doing. So there - now you know what’s happening.
Travel well my friends.
PS: I’m making good progress on my little publication of how to get ‘Untrapped’ in 2017… Leave me your email if you’d like to find it in your inbox when it’s there!
I had a look at my calendar today and was shocked to find:
IT IS FEBRUARY!!
I honestly don’t know what happened to January. It just seems to have evaporated. On the upside, it’s the middle of summer in my hemisphere and my garden is currently pumping out food and is looking like this, so no complaints there. It’s a blissful time of year, no doubt.
If you’re one of those people who made New Year’s resolutions, chances are that you fall into the 67% of people who have given up / forgotten about them by mid January. It’s honestly that many. So chances are by now you’ve forgotten that you even HAD some New Year’s resolutions - and hopefully stopped feeling guilty about not sticking with them as well, because guilt is a pretty useless feeling.
I’m not about New Year’s resolutions anyway. I’m about making lasting change - and frankly, I don’t care when you start…
...as long as it is today.
(Even if you’re reading this in June.)
Because you’ve lived this way for long enough. You (and the planet) deserve so much more - more health, more kindness, more abundance.
See, to me it is all interlinked: no matter what trouble you’re experiencing in your personal life, it’s nothing but a reflection of what is happening on the macro scale. Because we live in a fractal world.
If you’re mistreating and disrespecting your body - you’re likely mistreating and disrespecting Mother Earth. And I don’t just mean on a spiritual level (although that’s probably true as well). If the food that you eat is non-organic, sugar laden, highly processed stuff you’re supporting an industry that is killing our planet with every purchase (AND abusing your body).
If you’re unhappy with your body you might get sucked into the advertising industry that promises that your life will change if only you buy this new pair of shoes - made in China where the factories are polluting the air so much that half the population can’t see the sun. And you pay for that temporary glitch of feeling better about yourself with an ongoing quiet knowing that it’s just not right.
If you’re stressed about your career, your relationship or your finances, you’re likely to be making choices from a place of scarcity. You’re likely to indulge in distractions like shopping or media. And you’ll stress out those around you, which means they’ll do the same. And round and round we go.
You get the idea. It’s all connected.
So I say: let’s solve these issues and get you happy and well this year, so you can cut the crap and start contributing to the solution. Because I know you want more and you’re better than this and you have SOO much potential to really make a difference and I need you to be up for it.
So the goal for 2017 is just that: clear all the clutter and gunk out of your life that is holding you back from living your true purpose, values and convictions - because once you do that, I KNOW that your contribution to this world is going to be one of healing, of creativity and restoration.
And I know that because you’re already on the path - otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this.. But if you are human it’s likely you’re caught up in the everyday clutter and stress of life, of the systems and society around us, caught up in demands and relationships and bills to pay and all that is so bloody complex and demanding that you barely have a chance to surface for air but when you do you remember that life is actually about something different. And you realize all the ways in which you’re not currently serving the planet and the true purpose of life, because you’re just too bloody busy and then you just feel overwhelmed and maybe a bit guilty and you go back under.
And you know what - it’s like that for most of us. In fact, if you take a moment and look around you can probably feel a sense of compassion for all your fellow journeywoMen around you who are fighting just the same battle. Because I am totally, deeply convinced that us humans are, in fact, smarter than yeast (if you’ve ever heard that analogy before). We can, and will, realise that our current behaviour is destroying our host - and putting us on the trajectory of destroying ourselves - we just believe we haven’t got a CHOICE.
Which makes it all the more painful really, because we’re doing all this stuff in full knowledge of the predicament - and in that way layering a level of guilt, sadness, helplessness and despair over the top of the whole thing as if it wasn’t bad enough already.
So who’s to blame all those journeywoMen who choose to bury that consciousness under a thick layer of distractions - because if you can’t do anything about it anyway, what’s the point in facing the guilt and despair on top of it? I totally get that. It’s actually a healthy response, for the individual. Unfortunately, it’s not great for the whole.
And then there’s the systemic issues - the big four big, contradictory illusions (or lies) of our time: an economic system that is built on and founded on the illusion of unlimited growth, a society that is founded on the illusion of separation and a worldview that is dominated by the illusion of us having control over our natural environment - while at the same time believing that we have no control over the systems that control us, bringing us out of alignment with our true essence.
Ironically, that last MASSIVE thinking error also holds the key to our release from our predicaments.
Because the good news is: you actually do have control. Maybe not over the full extent of your circumstances (some you will be able to control). But you have full control over the choices you make and the meaning you give to things. And from that meaning and those choices, you can take action.
All that needs to happen is to peel away the layers of ‘trappedness’- bit by bit - so that you can exercise those choices in a way that is in alignment with your essence. Some of those layers are those ‘whole of society’ thinking errors. Some are the barriers we put up for ourselves to protect ourselves from pain. Your personal hell, which is also your greatest gift as it presents the biggest opportunity for growth. Whatever the limitation, it is only and illusion. And it’s time to wake up.
Because by peeling away those layers you can expose your real commitments - the commitments to your spiritual self, your fellow journeywoMen and all the other living things sharing this planet with you. Your commitments to future generations. Your commitments to your own growth. And from that place, I already know that you will create beauty.
So let’s make this year about getting untrapped.
The time is now. Undo.
P.S. In just a short while I’ll be releasing here my 2017 roadmap to getting you started. If you leave me your email I’ll make sure you’ll find it in your inbox.
If you have ever felt a sense of confusion about where your life is headed, say "I"...
I have met countless people (me included!) over the last few years who appear to be in a state of drifting... Either they were tied to a job they didn't really like, wondering whether there's more to life than that - or (the radical ones) who'd left their jobs and were travelling the world trying to find an answer to 'What should I do next?', drifting nonetheless.
Undoubtedly, when we look at the world and it's many problems - you should think there's plenty of opportunity to get stuck in. Everywhere you look there are hands needed, creativity needed, skills needed to help, to mend, to solve, to fix... So why is finding meaning so incredibly hard??
Are we missing part of the puzzle? What are we overlooking?
Most of us were brought up with some form of a roadmap in mind - thinking that the future will somehow be a bigger better version of the past, if only we get a good education, a good job and do our bit to contribute to the economy. However, recently, in the light of climate change, global politics, economic breakdowns, the future seems significantely more uncertain - in fact, is it just me or do you also see sparkling unicorns cross the scene everytime someone entertains the idea that everything will be ok?
Society has been undergoing massive change, and some part of ourselves has yet to catch up. Our traditional ways of operating no longer exist - in a world of instant knowledge, networking, fast changing technology - who still has a job for life? Who stays in the relationship they started when they were 18? Who is not at some stage in their life moving cities, states, countries, hemispheres? For many of us, keeping a goldfish seems to require careful consideration in terms of commitment.
With our new, interconnected, transient lifestyles, our security has disappeared. Life has become increasingly unpredictable. It's exciting and varied, but increasingly uncertain. Add to that the newsfeed on any regular day, brimming with what often looks like a game of diaster jenga, and suddenly netflix beckons like an island of peace.
In among all of that, we have to navigate our own way, according to a new set of rules that noone really has explained to us. No longer can we do what our parents did. But worse than that - we can't even do the opposite, because rest assured it's been done before and failed as well.
As we go through more transitions in life than our parents ever dreamed of, we seem to be faced with compound choices. Life becomes an endless series of decisions and options. And from a place of sheer overwhelm, making no decision can start to look like an acceptable life philosophy.
To make these decisions, and to make them in a way that is ethical, moral, and in line with our responsibilities of being human on this planet (a topic for another day) we need to have a deeper understanding of ourselves than ever before. We need to understand how we operate, what drives us, and how we interact with the natural world around us. Because, our default ways of responding appear to be what got us into this mess, so maybe it time to pick up the reigns? While we all no doubt want the best, we're collectively continuing to create results everyday that make things worse - together, because of our overwhelm, we're all getting to where we're not going.
Taking action in a meaningful, ethical and sustainable way through better understanding of how we as humans operate is what this blog channel is about. Stay tuned.