The Christmas and New Year break of 2019-2020 was not what we were hoping for here in Australia.
The fires still burn as I write, with no substantial rain promised in the forecast. I write from a place of safety within this unfolding disaster, my life and home have not been at risk, for which I am very grateful. Some have lost everything and others still fight to save what is left as the winds and fire fronts change.
Today I write to those of us that are bearing witness to this event.
The past few weeks have brought with them a heavy sense of helplessness and sadness. Perhaps you have felt this too?
These feelings may seem big and deep. It is only natural to want to make the unpleasantness go away as soon as possible but I encourage you to resist the urge to turn away from them too quickly.
The mind and body try to make things as easy as possible for us to go about the world. Avoidance behaviours may look like numbing out with our favourite distractions like TV, social media or online shopping. But it may also wear a trickier disguise and look like burying our attention in work, or even excessive rumination on the fires and perhaps anger.
I invite you to pause for a moment and focus on the feelings behind the distractions and beneath the anger.
Let them have their moment in the spotlight within your body. And then let them spur you to take action.
Take a little step to honour these unpleasant feelings. Maybe it’s putting water out for the birds, making a donation or writing a letter to your MP (of support or constructive criticism) or maybe it’s turning off the news for 24 hours because your heart can’t take anymore.
In my work as a coach I encourage people to find their truest life, and this involves feeling the whole range of emotions, not just the pleasant ones. With this honesty we can better determine where our own values truly lie and take action to live a life that is aligned with our own values.
Last month I was lucky enough to train with Dr Russ Harris (author of The Happiness Trap). He describes the mind as a ‘don’t get killed’ device. A lot of our unpleasant, anxiety inducing, stress-making thoughts are just the mind doing its job.
The mind has evolved over the last 100,000 years with selective pressures favouring minds that were best at analysing past negative events and anticipating future ones. Positive events didn’t impact evolution as much as the life-threatening negative ones, so there was a negative bias in this process. Both physical threats and social threats were the focus of the mind, because survival of the individual was dependent upon not being eaten as well as not being kicked out of the social group.
Your ancestors and mine must have been good at this as their genes have survived and been passed on to us. Go ancestors!
But jumping forward to today. For most in our society, the basic needs for survival have been met but our mind is still on alert for threats. Our keen ability to analyse the past and anticipate the future, with a negative bias, can leave us feeling anxious, stressed and awake at 3am with a mind full of worry and a gut full of angst.
In addition, because we have placed the mind on a pedestal we’ve been left at the mercy of our thoughts. This means that our (very normal) negative thoughts go unquestioned. They are considered as truth and reality, and we might not even recognise them as a thing to be examined or questioned.
But by seeing the mind as a ‘don’t get killed’ device, we get a new perspective to our thoughts. We can observe them, question them, and importantly we can choose how we respond to them.
I can help you observe and choose how you’d like to respond to your thoughts in a way that aligns with your values. Choosing action that takes you towards your goals, and towards a more purposeful and joyful life. I love this stuff and could talk about it all day – but I promise not to!
Have a lovely December. Please stay safe and well hydrated!!
Time and attention are our greatest assets.
Bill Gates is apparently always punctual because the one thing he can’t buy is more time. Tech companies feverishly vie for our attention through more and more sophisticated means.
How discerning are you with your time and attention?
I won’t judge anyone who loses time on Facebook or Pinterest etc. I am a sucker for kittens on the internet.
But what if we got a little more deliberate about putting some time and attention on what brings us purpose and joy?
I would be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t value a purposeful and joyful life – the kicker is we aren’t given much guidance on how achieve it. Or even how to identify what it would look like - it’s as individual as we are.
“I don’t know what I want, but it’s not this…”
Sleuthing for things that bring you a greater sense of purpose and joy is well worth some time and attention. Even small changes can help nudge you towards a more satisfying life.
I say sleuthing because sometimes it is a bit of a hunt. Not everyone gets smacked in the face with a passion (kudos to those who did, I wasn't one of them). And if you’re exhausted or burnt-out, you may well not be feeling good about anything at the moment, much less passionate!
I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to not be able to answer the question: “What do you like?”
So I started small and came back to my body. I put a little bit of time and attention on my senses and noticed what felt good; the smell of that hand cream; the sound of that bird’s song; the warmth of Sun on my back…
With a little bit of deliberate time and attention, I started to reawaken what felt good to me and nudged the needle towards more purpose and joy.
I now have no trouble listing things I love to do and feel excited about getting out of bed in the morning (*most days)!
With so much vying for our time and attention, taking a few moments to direct this most precious asset towards our own purpose and joy is definitely worth the effort.
In a Meritocracy an individual’s progress is based on their talent, energy and achievement, as opposed to say social class or wealth. That’s a good thing but it’s not all skittles and rainbows.
Merit-worthy achievements are determined and recognised through various social structures (parents, friends, social media etc) not necessarily by ourselves. This is a slippery slope to a busy but unsatisfying life.
In a public service town, examples of achievements may be meeting the project deadline, pushing through the urgent policy change and getting the briefing pack to the Minister by Sunday afternoon. If you tick these boxes, go to the top of the class in the Meritocracy. You are achieving, you are productive. Yay for productivity!
But how are YOU feeling when you do this? Are these achievements leaving you exhausted, uninspired and dreading going back to work?
I love being productive. I love ticking things off my to-do list. Feeling productive is so important for the sense of self.
But it’s important to pause and question what meaning the activities hold for us. Are we keeping ourselves busy and productive, but doing activities that hold no meaning for us?
Is the status bestowed by the Meritocracy upon productive people enough to keep us satisfied?
From my experience, it isn't. It sure is seductive but the inescapable truth is it isn't enough.
So let’s dig a little deeper and re-examine our to-do lists.