Work, Stories and New Beginnings

Work, Stories and New Beginnings

I am delighted to share this beautiful exploration of how we can use stories to investigate our new year goals, what we want to build on and the changes we want to make. Thank you Kate!

Although each moment represents and offers new beginnings, I do find the beginning of a new year especially exciting. It feels like the mother of new beginnings, a crisp fresh start, a blank page, even though in all practicality it is only one day sliding into another. I feel the same excitement about the beginning of a new year as I feel when receiving a new book; familiarity with the main outlines of the book and aware of my intention of purchasing it, but unknown of its content and implications for my way of understanding, seeing and relating to life.

Work and stories


Ken Wilber, an American writer and philosopher, calls himself a storyteller. In an audio program called Kosmic Consciousness with Tami Simon, he presents that a part of being human is reflecting on those things that arise around you. On the one hand we live our lives and on the other we make theories and maps about it, philosophise and reflect to make sense of our experiences. When you hook all these things together, you tell coherent stories.

So, we all have stories concerning work in various degrees. It could be that you are currently unemployed or haven’t yet stepped into work life, or that you find yourself in a job you dislike or one that you find fulfilling and meaningful. For quite a few of us work represents a blend of sometimes contradicting stories. It can both be meaningful and exhausting, giving and stressful. 

I go about living my work life filled with meetings with clients, deadlines, project writing and working to reach the company’s objective and key goals, as well as create stories around my work experiences. Now and then I remember to pause and step back to take a bird’s-eye view of what I am up to, but rarely do I view work life with such a wide-angled lens as I do in the beginning of a New Year.

The written stories – the work year of 2019

Can you relate to the feeling that arises when you decide to disengage from your otherwise busy life and sit down to read a book? You actively make a conscious decision of doing something else, of pausing. The beginning of a new year is a little bit like that for me, but instead of sitting down with a book, I sit down and take a reflective look at my work biography of the past year. It is a great way for me to acknowledge all the time set aside for work in 2019, for remembering and for finding areas for future growth and development. I look back at moments of joy and accomplishments, moments of difficulties, struggles, sadness and hiccups, as well as all the people I have connected with in different ways.

Looking back at challenges experienced, challenges overcome and what factors supported me in overcoming them, gives me the opportunity to reflect upon areas I have felt growth and in what areas of my professional life I still feel stagnation. Noticed areas of difficulties, open wounds or standstills are particularly interesting for me to take a look at. Not always comfortable, but I often find that within the areas I most tend to procrastinate or overlook lies the hidden gold for development.

If you took a look back at your work biography of 2019, where would you find learning and growth? In what situations didn’t things go according to plan or you made mistakes. In what ways might that have affected you? Anything you are particularly thankful for having experienced at or through work the past year?

The unwritten stories – the work year of 2020

“Today is where your book begins…the rest is still unwritten”. These words come from one of my go to energetic, inspirational, feel good songs by Natasha Bedingfield. By taking a curious look at the work year that has been, I find an opportunity arises to identify what changes I would like to incorporate into the stories that are still unwritten for the new year. Often I have an idea or headlines for the upcoming book of 2020, but how work life in itself will actually develop…well that is a completely different story. I do find though that having some sort of an outline gives a sense of direction and movement. I create the outline by reflecting around what could be helpful for me to be more aware of in how I relate to myself, clients, or how I engage with my colleagues and boss. Also reflecting on what habitual ways established “often not the most helpful ones” would be beneficial for me to work with in 2020.

Letting the questions and reflections shed some intentional light on different areas of my work life without making hardwired goals that I end up measuring myself up against. For me bringing intentionality to my present and future work life creates movement and development in areas that I have experienced stagnation and seen unhealthy patterns. It feels like being both the author of a book as well as the main character, instead of just being the main character.

Are there any areas where you maybe experience stagnation or procrastination when it comes to work? Any wounds from 2019 that needs seeing to in 2020, and if so how can you best tend to them? Let’s say you were to be the author of your own 2020 work life book, how would you outline it? What new beginnings would you like to consciously bring to work for growth, further development and self-care for the year ahead of you? 

The uncertain work stories…


The clients I am honoured to work with from day to day are those who for different reasons find themselves outside of work. It could be due to health issues, lack of education, redundancy and so on. No matter the reason for being currently unemployed I always ask my clients to take a good look at what activities have felt meaningful and given them energy in the past, and what particularly they have enjoyed through previous interests’, hobbies, studies and/or work. Holding the clients’ reflections about the past up against the backdrop of present values, interests and preferences, gives important clues for possible areas for work in the future. Finding oneself in between jobs or living an uncertain work story can be quite a challenge. It can also be an opportunity for a new beginning. What in your past can be of value for the future? What small step can be taken today to bring you closer to getting a job if that is what you aim for?

 

Start writing… 

It can be both exhilarating and daunting to sit with a blank page before you. A new year filled with uncertainties, plans, hopes and aspirations. When the beginning of the new year 2021 is here, the work story of 2020 will have been written. To what degree you consciously take part in the story writing is up to you. The pen is there, the semi blank pages ready to go…have fun!

Kate Bredesen works as a job consultant and mindfulness instructor at iFokus Arbeidsinkludering AS in Norway. She is a former nurse and reflexologist, with MBSR teacher training from IMA. Kate has been teaching mindfulness since 2011. Through her daily work she teaches mindfulness to staff and clients and is passionate about supporting people in strengthening their connection to work, whether they are currently unemployed, on sick leave or find themselves partaking in demanding work life.

Bringing Compassion to Anger

Bringing Compassion to Anger

It is a great pleasure to share this wonderful post from Russell Kolts on working with anger.

Anger can be a tricky emotion, both in how it plays out in us and in how it impacts our interactions with others. While many people will have sympathy for those who struggle with anxiety or depression – perhaps wanting to offer comfort or reassurance – the response to those who struggle with anger is often less than sympathetic.  

That’s no one’s fault, actually.  It’s a part of how anger evolved, with angry facial expressions and body language designed to signal dangerousness.  Think about how you feel when you see someone wearing an angry expression on their face.  Do you find yourself wanting to help them, or to get away?  

And yet, people who struggle with anger are indeed struggling.  In this blog post, we’ll explore how to bring compassion to the table in working with our own anger, and perhaps in how we relate to others who struggle with anger as well.

A Compassionate View of Anger

In de-shaming the experience of anger, it can be helpful to understand it in the context of Compassion-Focused Therapy’s (CFT) three-systems model of emotion, developed by Professor Paul Gilbert. This model considers anger through the lens of evolution, recognizing it as having evolved to help us recognize and respond to things that threaten us, alongside other threat emotions such as fear, anxiety, and disgust.

Considering this, we can see that anger isn’t something that’s wrong with us.  In fact, it’s a sign that our threat systems are working to try and protect us. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.  Anger isn’t our fault.  We didn’t choose to have these emotions, and we didn’t design how they would work in us.

You may find yourself thinking, “Yes, but my anger has caused a lot of harm.  I’ve hurt the feelings of people that I really cared about.  I’ve acted out my anger in ways that have caused problems for me and others at home and at work.”

In making these observations, you’re noting one of the tricky parts of anger – it evolved to motivate us to fight when we are threatened, so unrestrained anger can often result in behaviors that are hurtful or which have lots of unwanted consequences.  This can be particularly true for those of us who grew up in situations in which outbursts of anger were modeled by our caregivers, or which didn’t teach us how to handle things well when anger comes up.

So even though it isn’t our fault that anger comes up in us, it’s our job to take responsibility for working with it so that our behavior reflects the person we want to be.  This involves being honest with ourselves about the fact that we struggle with anger, and taking a good look at our relationship to our anger.

Considering Our Relationship with Anger

Take a moment to consider what it’s like when you are angry and behaving angrily, and how it feels afterwards:

  • How does it feel in your body?
  • Do you enjoy or dislike feeling angry?
  • Do you feel empowered by your anger or ashamed of it?
  • What sorts of behaviors do you engage in when angry?
  • How do you feel about those behaviors?  How do you feel about yourself during and after doing them?
  • How do you feel after the anger episode is over?  
  • What do you do then?

These questions are meant to give you a head start in unpacking your anger, so you can consider factors that shape how it plays out over time, and perhaps identify obstacles that may prevent you from taking responsibility and working with it in helpful ways.  Take a moment to consider these questions, maybe even jotting some responses down on a piece of paper before continuing on.  

The Problem of Avoidance

For many years, we’ve had lots of effective anger management techniques, which guide people to do things like identifying situations that their anger, come up with plans for how to work with anger the anger that comes up in response to these triggers, and teach practices for working with the body and mind to handle anger in helpful ways (for example, slowing down the breath, creating some distance between you and the object of your anger, and considering helpful ways of responding).  For those who struggle with anger and are committed to working with it, a quick internet search provides lots of options in the form of books, websites, and other resources which describe many helpful practices for managing it.

The problem is that many people who struggle with anger often don’t use those resources, and may even resist acknowledging that they struggle with anger to begin with.  One of the biggest obstacles that keeps people from working with their anger is avoidance.  Avoidance can take lots of forms: blaming others for “making me angry,” rationalizing or explaining away our anger-driven behavior, or shifting our attention to something else and pretending that nothing happened.  The problem is that all of these strategies get in the way of us acknowledging that our anger-driven behavior is causing us problems, taking responsibility for this behavior, and working to do better in the future.

Why do we avoid?  Obstacles to Taking Responsibility for Our Anger

In my experience, there are at least two common factors that can get in the way of people working with their anger:

  • We may enjoy feeling powerful. Anger evolved to get us moving in a way that can feel very energizing and powerful in the body, with a corresponding feeling of urgency in the mind.  In this way, anger can feel very powerful.  Especially if we don’t often feel powerful in other areas of our life – for example, at work or in our familial relationships – these powerful feelings can be seductive. If we feel disrespected, it can feel powerful to put them in their place or to finally get our way, can’t it?  Anger can also function as a secondary emotion, helping us avoid experiencing emotions that feel more vulnerable (and less powerful) like fear, sadness, or anxiety.   This is tricky stuff! Think about it – would you want to give up the only way you had to feel powerful in your life, even if it came with negative consequences?  It makes sense that it would be hard to give up, doesn’t it?
  • We’re ashamed of our anger and its consequences.  Often, admitting we struggle with anger – the first step toward taking responsibility for working with it – means admitting we behave in ways that cause terrible pain in others, and often in the people we love the most. This reality, that I am hurting the people I love or I am behaving in ways that are the opposite of the person I want to be, can be deeply painful.  It can be much easier to ignore our angry behavior, blame it on others, or explain it away rather than to face this uncomfortable truth.

People can experience one or both of these obstacles in tandem.  Tricky though they are, if we look at these obstacles, they can help us understand how to do a better job of working with our anger.  If we’re going to work productively with our anger, we need to find other ways to feel powerful, and we need to stop attacking and shaming ourselves for having it.

Compassion as True Strength which Helps Us Work with Shame

When doing group therapy with people who struggle with anger, I sometimes ask questions like, “What is more powerful, the anger you use to avoid vulnerable-feeling emotions like sadness or fear, or compassion, which will help you face and work with all of the experiences that come up in your life?” 

Compassion, defined as having the willingness to notice and be moved by suffering and the motivation to help alleviate and prevent it, gives us a way to turn toward pain, suffering, and struggle – not with judgment or condemnation, but with the recognition that “This is hard, and I want to do something that might help.”  Anger lashes out, but compassion stays with the suffering, looking deeply into it, so that we can begin to understand the causes and conditions that produce and maintain it (as we’ve done a bit here with anger), so that we can do something helpful.  

In considering this, our groups came to the conclusion that while anger may feel powerful, true strength lies with compassion – which empowers us to be honest with ourselves, to acknowledge that although it isn’t our fault that we experience anger and that we didn’t choose to struggle with it, that if we want to have happy lives and good relationships, we need to take responsibility for working with it productively.

Compassion can help us do this.  Instead of seeing the angry version of yourself (or others) as a jerk who creates all sorts of problems, what if we see them as someone we dearly care about who is struggling with emotions that they haven’t learned to control? 

What if – recognizing that anger is a threat response – we consider what that angry version of the self (or that angry person) would need to feel safe and accepted? 

What would they need to be at their best, even in this difficult situation?  

We could even imagine ourselves – this compassionate version of ourselves that we’re operating out of now – in their place, considering what might be helpful in handling this tricky situation that triggered the anger, in a way that would be about working with things in a way that minimizes harm for everyone. If we were at our kindest, wisest, and most courageous, how might we handle this situation in a way that would be helpful?

That’s true strength.

That’s compassion. 

Russell Kolts is a Professor of Psychology at Eastern Washington University and Director of the Inland Northwest Compassionate Mind Center in Spokane, Washington, USA. He has published numerous articles and written several books about CFT and compassion, including The Compassionate Mind Guide to Managing Your Anger, An Open-Hearted Life: Transformative Lessons on Compassionate Living from a Clinical Psychologist and a Buddhist Nun (with Thubten Chodron), CFT Made Simple, and Experiencing Compassion Focused Therapy from the Inside Out.

The Performance Equation

The Performance Equation

I am delighted to share this guest post from Jefferson Cann. I met Jefferson through a shared client in London. Later I participated in his online programme, The Fearless Culture which was a great learning experience and which I highly recommend. If you have any questions about the post, please add them in the comments section. Enjoy the post!

Purpose and Performance

It may seem strange to relate a concept from performance psychology to self-development, meditation and spiritual growth.  Doing so, however, can help us focus our energies on what can bring the most positive value to ourselves and those around us …

As soon as we express a Purpose for ourselves we create a Vision of what the fulfilment of that purpose would be like.  This vision of our desired future or state – which is not necessarily ‘visual’, bit can be a relatively vague concept or a feeling or intuition – creates and/or becomes a Goal that we wish to achieve.  We then compare this goal to our Current Situation – “Where am I now?” – and we can then see what needs to be done to move from where we are now to where we want to be.  At this point we perceive or create the journey and the milestones that we will pass as evidence that we are ‘on track’.

Purpose   >    Vision   >   Goal    >    Current Situation   >     Route + milestones

In my experience, many people become disheartened at the point of comparing their desired future/state with their current situation – “Oh, it’s too hard!”, “I couldn’t possible do that …”, “It’s too difficult/expensive/time-consuming/disruptive/inconvenient for others …” and so on.  Such thoughts can come at points during our journey or even before our journey starts!

The Value of the Performance Equation

This is where the application of the Performance Equation from one of the greatest performance coaches – Timothy Gallwey – can help: Performance equals potential minus interference.  Looking more closely …

  • As with all equations, each component is dependent on the others – adjustments to one cause changes in the others
  • Performance is an output, so you cannot affect that directly
  • Our potential is an unknown – what we think is our potential is only part of the story we tell ourselves about who we are, which is itself a function of conditioning, our interpretation of past experiences and our current ‘mood’.  Who we might be as a human being and what we might do is unknowable in many ways within the obvious, given constraints of our circumstances
  • Interference is the only things we can directly affect – just as we talked about

This means that we do not have to worry about our performance itself, however we may define it.  Nor do we need to let conditioned fears or limiting beliefs about our potential take any time or energy.  All we have to do is identify what interferes with our achieving our goal.  Once we can see this, we can deal with those ‘interferences’ one by one, knowing that doing so will improve our ‘performance’ and help us explore and fulfil more of our potential.

‘Interference’ and the Neurophysiology of Fear

The biggest interference to our personal performance in achieving our goal, in being who we wish to be and living how we wish to live, lies not in the external circumstances and events that we face day-to-day.

The biggest interference to success lies within – within individual psychologies that determine our relationshipto the external circumstance. 

And that interference is fear in one of its many manifestations – stress, tension, avoidance, worry, anxiety, anger, defensiveness, impatience, hopelessness, lack of clear and focused communications, dependency, the need to control – all these are aspects of our fear response. 

Like an overbearing, over-anxious, over-controlling authority figure, our hind brain or ‘reptilian’ brain (the oldest part of our brain, where our fear response is rooted) panics at the first sign of challenge, of change, of a falsely perceived threat and it totally locks us down or causes us to react with defensive/aggressive behaviours. It hijacks all our resources and traps them in the prison of its own primitive, crude perceptions. Creativity, engagement, connection, resilience, initiative, motivation, aspiration, belief … all these and more high-performance behaviours are undermined when fear is triggered …

Our fear response – mediated by the amygdala – lies within our ‘reptilian brain’.  It has no awareness or understanding of our emotional (mid or mammalian brain) or our conceptual (fore or human) brains or the capacities they give us as human beings. Its only job is to protect our physical selves from an perceived threat – and when it is triggered it ‘hijacks’ all of our resources to ‘neutralise’ the threat it perceives.  When it does this, it cuts us off from access to our emotional and conceptual selves.  

So, when we act through fear, we are acting from our ‘reptilian’ selves – we are less than human!  This is why any decision made through fear is the wrong decision!

Does this sound familiar? Can you think of an instance recently when your behaviour has been less than favourable, and maybe – just maybe – you might have frustrated those around you? Or a time when your anger or frustration led you to shout or be aggressive to someone and then immediately regret it – when the release of your ‘reptilian’ fear meant that you were once again able to access your emotional and conceptual resources and understand the damage you had just done to the relationship and conceive of the longer-term consequences of your actions?  Or has your mind ever gone blank under pressure of an interview, an exam or a presentation?

Once we can free ourselves from the prisons of our fears, however we may experience them, we automatically release our potential and improve our performance in achieving our goals – being who we wish to be, doing what we wish to do.

For more information, visit www.jeffersoncann.com and www.fearlessculture.life

About Jefferson

Prior to becoming a leadership and organisational performance coach, facilitator, speaker and consultant, Jefferson enjoyed a successful 25-year career in industry.  Since 2004, he has been delivering Leadership Performance Coaching internationally at senior levels – Chairman, CEO, Managing Director, Vice President and Director functions – throughout the world across all business sectors at the individual, team and organisational levels.  

Jefferson (www.jeffersoncann.com)  is co-founder of Extraordinary Leadership (for organisational work) and LeadNow! (leadership development for young adults).  He also co-founded the “Extraordinary Leadership Journey”, which takes clients to work in Kenya, South Africa and India, and “WellBoring”, a charity which provides sustainable water solutions for African communities.  He recently founded the on-line programme ‘The Fearless Culture’ (www.fearlessculture.life) .

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