6 Lazy Ways to be Unintentionally Not Kind

6 Lazy Ways to be Unintentionally Not Kind

Fortunately, I do not know anyone who sets out on their day intending to be not kind to anyone at all. It’s probably the same for you too. So why is it that in any ordinary day all sorts of unkind things happen? 

Let’s look at our own behaviour at work. We could ask ourselves if in the rough and tumble of an average working day we find ourselves unintentionally being not kind. The thing is that individually each action may seem so small as to be insignificant. It can be the cumulative effect which is damaging.

Often it is because of habit, or insecurity, or pressure that we fall short in being kind. So, here is my list of six lazy ways it is easy to fall into being not kind. I call them ‘lazy’ because they are not necessarily intentional—in fact, usually they aren’t. They are largely due to not noticing what is going on with other people, or how your behaviour is affecting them.

1. Being pre-occupied can mean being not kind

When we are stressed, or really busy then it is all too easy to become turned in on ourselves. Our priorities take centre stage and our ability to see what is going on around us is reduced. 

At work this can easily become a sense of self-importance. This can lead to the feeling that what you are doing is so vital that it takes precedence over everything else. It gives us permission to prioritise our own story and not pay so much attention to other peoples’.

It can creep up on you in quite a subtle way. From your point of view, you are simply trying to do a good job. There is no intention to let your kindness slip but that is what happens when you become too self-focused. You don’t give your full attention to the needs of people around you and you miss things.

2. Gossip can lead to unkindness

I would be willing to bet that you are not the workplace gossip at your job. They are usually pretty easy to spot and not so difficult to politely avoid. It’s much more difficult to manage your own reactions and emotions without unintentionally being not kind.

If you are in any kind of team-leader, management role everything you say has an enhanced significance for the rest of the team. When someone in your team is struggling then how you talk about them in the group is very important. You need to find a way to give them difficult feedback without damaging their confidence and their ability to learn. They will be listening to every word you say, and what others tell them you said with a sensitivity heightened by fear and anxiety.

Whatever your role is, there are always people at work who are less easy to get on with than others. It is these people that you need to take special care to talk to and talk about with great skill. Just one off the cuff comment made in irritation can cause tremendous harm.

3. Criticism 

How does your workplace handle feedback and constructive criticism? It’s another example of something that, when it is done well, can help a colleague move through challenges. However, if it is done without kindness then it can be an enormous blow. 

Most of us have probably experienced receiving both kinds of feedback ourselves. One of my most useful work experiences was when a colleague—not a boss, or manager—asked to talk to me and set out to inform me of all my faults as she saw them. It was a devastating experience but when I recovered,  I realised I had an excellent list of what not to do if you want to give someone helpful feedback. I still draw on that list to this day.

The main thing that I realised was you need to give the kind of feedback that would be helpful to you, yourself. That is the only feedback that people can really hear and respond to.

4. Blame will make you not kind

According to research, blaming mistakes on other people is socially contagious. Observing someone blaming their mistakes on other people can lead to you doing the same thing to protect your image. Such a cycle does not help anyone.

In a workplace where blame is part of the norm, staff are less likely to succeed, and much less likely to be creative. Anyone who is in the habit of blaming others misses out as well. You don’t get the chance to learn from your mistakes if you don’t take responsibility for them.

It seems that optimistic people blame less, and pessimistic people more—with the prize going to narcissists.

For most of us the time to watch out for lazily blaming someone else for a mistake is when we are tired, worried, or over-worked. It’s not that we want someone else to get into trouble—it’s just that we don’t want to have to deal with it ourselves.

5. Bullying

It would seem that kindness and bullying are pretty far apart—how could someone interested in promoting kindness also engage in any kind of bullying activity?

Let’s take it down a notch—instead of bullying think of steamrollering, pressurising, over-persuading someone. When I think back to my years of managing an international non-profit, I am pretty sure that I used tactics like this. I was convinced that what I was doing was so important that people needed to get on board. Indeed, what I was doing was important, but I forgot to treat each person I dealt with as an individual, with their own strengths and weaknesses. I wanted everyone to go at my pace and it exhausted some people.

Does your enthusiasm and passion for your work ever translate as pressure for other people?

6. Not listening is not kind

Once again, we rarely simply ignore someone when they speak to us—especially at work—but we often listen in a distracted way. We’re busy, the speaker is taking too long to make their point, and so our attention wanders. The thing is that we feel it when someone is not giving us their full attention and it’s unsettling. Our ability to communicate is reduced.

When we don’t listen with full attention then we don’t hear all the levels that are being communicated and we don’t pick up on the accompanying body language, or emotional signs. That’s where the unkindness can come in. We miss stuff—someone’s concern, or even distress—and the person feels overlooked. Maybe it is simply information that we don’t completely process, which leads to mistakes further down the road.

It’s not only distraction which blocks our listening, it can be our opinions and prejudices as well. If we think differently to the speaker, we tend to listen through a critical web which filters out the points we just want to refute. It’s even worse if we don’t like the person who is talking to us because then we listen through a whole range of remembered slights and disagreements.

Wanting to fix what the person is telling you can also get in the way of listening deeply to what they are saying. We are so busy thinking of the response we want to make to put them right that we don’t listen fully to what we are being told.

Something to remember

None of us is perfect and there will be days at work where our kindness might be less than others but watching out for these six lazy ways we can be not kind can become a good reminder. For me, the underlying basic principle is to try and put myself in the shoes of the other person, or people. An easy way to do this is to ask how you yourself would feel if you were being treated in any of these six ways. Think how it feels to be the subject of gossip, or to receive withering criticism. No-one wants to be pressured to behave in a certain way and no-one enjoys being blamed—especially when the blame is unfair. We are all busy and trying our best and we all like to be listened to with kindness. Remembering this is a basic key to avoiding being not kind.

Where is the compassion in online communications?

Where is the compassion in online communications?

I am particularly delighted to welcome Carole to the blog. She is writing about such an important topic—compassion on the internet. In these polarised times it is so important to take her Netiquette guidelines to heart. Thanks for the post, Carole!

Compassion is a strength that has supported me throughout my life. I have also witnessed the development of compassion help many people in my role as a private practice psychologist.

I think we’d all agree that communicating via the internet has been one of the fastest growing evolutions of the last 20 years. These days there are endless opportunities to communicate online and it can seem like a fast-paced world, difficult to keep up with. No doubt there has to be an effect on our mental health. Our relationship with these communications and how we relate to each other has been something of a personal and professional fascination to me over the years. 

Today I will be sharing an online experience that took me to some dark human depths and caused me to wonder ‘where is the compassion?’ in these places. It was hard learning. This has driven me to create some online etiquette (Netiquette) guidelines that I am sharing with you today. I’ll walk you through my story.

Stepping into the Lion’s den

Working solely in private practice has its rewards and difficulties. One of the potential pitfalls can be becoming isolated from other professionals.  So, when the opportunity to connect with others became available through social media, I considered it. To be honest I mostly ‘lurked’, watching others post and felt very reticent to get involved. I didn’t think too deeply about why that might be at the time. I found myself drawn in to respond to areas I had experience and knowledge in, feeling a responsibility to share. 

One fine day I noticed someone asking a question on one of these social media networks that I had some information on and experience in. I summoned up the courage to post a link on the subject in question in a desire to be helpful – I remember thinking it was a neutral thing to do as I wasn’t directly offering an opinion. Now, it is important to say here there are difficulties with having such a small space to respond in as things may look out of context, AND you do not know what has gone on before in that forum…..these are things I learnt the hard way. 

The unforeseen threat

Although I had responded to one person’s information request what happened was an entirely different person responding with an angry tirade of words. They were directed to me personally, questioning my knowledge and professionalism…I had a sense of ‘who do you think you are?’. It felt very threatening and I can share with you I felt absolutely crushed. I did not know who this person was and what sort of influence they might have. Crucially, I did not know who was looking in and struggled to find a way to deal with the situation, in the moment. Nobody posted anything straight away after this – although each of us got (secret) likes. In effect I had experienced a group shaming process, and in my vulnerable state had to decide how or if to respond. 

I absolutely agonized over what to do. Ultimately, I decided there was no way I could respond directly or indirectly without entering into the angry, difficult behaviour. Abstaining was hugely difficult in itself as a fragile part of me felt like I was allowing myself to be bullied. In effect I was both trapped by the situation and blocked from responding – a dangerous and compassionless feeling place. This has caused me to wonder whether the speed of our ability to communicate is bypassing the decision-making part of our brain? We could be responding straight from our threat systems. Ironically, I suspect my seemingly (from my end) innocuous posting provoked the other persons threat system. 

The power of self-compassion

Now, at this point I’d like to say thank goodness I had been practicing self-compassion for many years. Fortuitously I was already on one of Maureen’s (online) self-compassion courseswhich was hugely helpful in helping gather myself, and help view things from a safer feeling mindset. From this view I applied some compassionate self-correction as opposed to shame-based self-attacking (Professor Paul Gilbert OBE) for my part in entering naively into the online domain ill-prepared. 

I wondered how I might respond if this were to every happen again. This was quite a conundrum. I spent some time considering what had happened to compassion in this situation and how important to our well-being kindly, well thought out communications were likely to be. Goodness knows we can think of many examples of difficult, unhelpful and harmful online interactions that go on every day. 

Salvaging something from the experience

I decided to move forward by finding a way to contribute positively to these tricky communication spaces. Previously, I had encountered Netiquette (online etiquette) guidelines but they did not cover what I wanted to convey. I really hoped it would be useful to offer an understanding of what might be going on for us as human beings in online places, and why this might be important for our well-being. 

Using my experience, I wrote from the heart and a set of compassionately written guidelines emerged. My thinking was that if anyone found themselves in the same impotent situation instead of entering into the communication, they could send a link to these Netiquette Guidelines. And whilst I am not naive enough to think this might also feel inflammatory the other end it would offer an opportunity to respond compassionately and not feel blocked.

NETIQUETTE GUIDELINES

These guidelines focus on the realities of being human beings in the online space, which has some significant differences to communicating in other places. There are some very interesting phenomenon that influence these communications such as the Online Disinhibition and Black Hole effects that you can follow if you are intrigued.  I bring into view the public shaming opportunities public platforms can bring, as well as the opportunity to use our powers for good. I also encourage PUSHING THE PAUSE BUTTON as we are encouraged to sacrifice sense for speed. 

Importantly …I encourage us to remember there is often a human at the other end  but crucially remember we are all human! Being courteous and mindful is likely to reap big rewards for our well-being. 

FORGIVE OTHERS AND BE COMPASSIONATE WITH YOURSELF 

– Remember you are a human too and with the best will in the world we all make mistakes. Mistakes online can feel much bigger, but if we are forgiving and compassionate with others and ourselves, perhaps that will become contagious. 

REMEMBER WE ARE ALL HUMAN.

We are not all the same

 You may be thinking ‘I wouldn’t be affected like that’, and this is a very interesting point. We are just in the beginnings of understanding what impact communicating via the internet might be having on us in terms of; changes in our brain, conditioning, attention etc. This evolution has potentially been the fastest in history and pushing the pause button to reflect perhaps the wisest thing we can do at this juncture. I have come to wonder how differently we react to online communications in different contexts and one interesting notion is how relevant our attachment styles might be. If you haven’t encountered attachment theory before it is really relevant in how we communicate with other people (and ourselves) and is often explored in compassion-based therapies. 

Attachment and its importance in relating to others

From our early experiences we often talk about four styles; Secure, Ambivalent/Anxious, Avoidant and Disorganised (basic explanation). It’s not our fault we find ourselves subject to these styles and it can be helpful to understand how they might impact on our lives. 

What is fascinating to me is how these might be acting on us in online communications that have different rules and less non-verbal communications to steer us. I have certainly noticed in my practice how some clients are drawn to continually check for approval in these 24/7 online spaces. It is also difficult to ignore the fact that we can compare ourselves to others at an alarming rate. Other factors are suggested as important such as; having a safe haven, a secure base, proximity maintenance and separation distress

It is profoundly interesting to wonder how these ideas might be being influenced in the often boundaryless feeling online space of the world wide web.

Reflecting on the learning

 My own very strong reaction to this experience has been hugely interesting and I would certainly subscribe to the idea my attachment style has a place to play. An area of concern for me is the idea that compassion might be getting eroded in some online communications.  Also, the capacity for group shaming and high levels of self-critical thinking, greater than in other spaces. Perhaps we could view these communications as high challenge in terms of being without the same safety giving non-verbal cues. This in turn might mean we require high self-support to manage them. In my experience self-compassion which encourages courage, distress tolerance, and a sense of safety might well provide balance to this modern-day stress. I sincerely hope my story and subsequent reflections have resonated with you. Please feel free to share the guidelines and I send compassionate best wishes for us all going forward.  

Endnote

I would like to leave you today with the words of Tim Berners-Lee (creator of the internet) in his open letter 2019, 30 years after he gifted us the Internet. His message, I believe, is of hope in we can steer the internet as we move forward – as opposed to being steered by it. I’m hoping in a more compassionate direction.

Against the backdrop of news stories about how the web is misused, it’s understandable that many people feel afraid and unsure if the web is really a force for good. But given how much the web has changed in the past 30 years, it would be defeatist and unimaginative to assume that the web as we know it can’t be changed for the better in the next 30. If we give up on building a better web now, then the web will not have failed us, we will have failed the web.” (Direct quote)

  • Gilbert, P. (2010). The Compassionate Mind. Constable: London
  • Holmes, J. (2014). 2nd Edition. John Bowlby and Attachment Theory (Makers of Modern Psychotherapy). Routledge: Abingdon-on-Thames.

Carole is a counselling psychologist in private practice near Bristol, UK. She provides therapy, supervision, consultation and training both face-to-face and via online means. Carole often combines her research interest area of online relational aspects and compassion orientated approaches to explore some of our every day struggles. Her passion is in sharing understandable insights she hopes will be helpful to us as human beings.

Is it Important to Have a Kind Workplace?

Is it Important to Have a Kind Workplace?

Take a moment to think about your workplace. Would you say it was a kind workplace? Is kind behaviour encouraged, or considered important?

All too often kindness is simply seen as a ‘soft skill’ and not considered to be necessary for navigating the complexities of work. This is a shame because focusing on kindness provides tremendous strength and flexibility to any workplace.

Stress at work

There are lots of quite worrying statistics about stress and its effects in the workplace. First off – stress is expensive. When people are stressed they are not functioning at their best and they tend to get sick.

The statistics bear this out. The Health & Safety Exec states that in 2017/18 15.4 million working days were lost in the UK as a result of stress. Across the pond, the American Psychological Association estimates that more than $500 billion is siphoned off from the U.S. economy because of workplace stress, and 550 million workdays are lost each year due to stress on the job. 

The effect on staff

Moreover, engagement in work — which is associated with feeling valued, secure, supported, and respected — is generally negatively associated with a high-stress, cut-throat culture. It people do not feel valued and respected at work, then they tend to disengage and this has consequences.

In studies by the Queens School of Business and by the Gallup Organization, disengaged workers had 37% higher absenteeism, 49% more accidents, and 60% more errors and defects. Similarly, in the UK it is estimated that disengaged employees are costing the UK economy £340 billion every year in lost training and recruitment costs, sick days, productivity, creativity and innovation.

This also affects staff loyalty and the rate at which people leave to look for new jobs.

Consumer expectation

Increasingly consumers are more alert to companies’ ethical positions. With Statistics from recent consumer polls by Edelman, and Young & Rubicam, show that 87% of UK consumers expect companies to consider societal interests equal to business interests, while 71% of people make it a point to buy brands from companies whose values are similar to their own.

Looking at this sample of statistics, we can see that the environment of a workplace definitely has an effect on the people who work in it. If the atmosphere is not healthy, there are strong repercussions.  So, maybe a kind workplace culture could turn out to be much more of an investment for employers that they thought.

What is so special about kindness?

From a Buddhist perspective, generating loving kindness is a way of wishing people happiness. It is an antidote to anger. If you think about it – it’s hard to be angry with someone and do something kind for them at the same time.

Kindness also makes us happier because we feel good when we are kind. In his research with volunteers, Allan Luks identified a Helper’s High that people experienced when they volunteered due to the release of dopamine in their brains.

It is also good for the heart because acts of kindness are associated with emotional warmth. This produces the hormone oxytocin which has an effect of causing blood vessels to dilate and so eases blood pressure.

We all like to be around kind people. Kindness reduces the emotional distance between people, and we feel bonded. So, kindness helps us to connect and improves relationships.

A great thing about kindness is that it is contagious. When we see people being kind to each other—we don’t even need to be directly involved—we feel good ourselves. Then we are more likely to go on to do something kind for someone else.

So, a kind workplace would be one in which employees were happier, geared to helping each other and healthier. It would also mean an improvement in relationships between staff but also with suppliers, customer and clients.

How would a kind workplace be?

Here are a few thoughts on some basic elements that would assist in ensuring that kindness is valued in a workplace. It’s by no means exhaustive.

• Staff would not need to assume a persona to succeed

It’s a strange fact of our lives but we spend more time with the people we work with than our friends and family. We see them most days—whatever is happening in our lives and however we feel. The thing is that all too often we feel that we need to wear a mask at work. A mask that says that we have ourselves together and are not affected by emotions. 

Actually, it’s a pity if we feel this way. To begin with, it’s not true. Of course, we are affected by emotions and the things we need to cope with. By hiding this at work and pretending to be something else, we are cutting off a source of connection and even empathy.

Naturally we are at work to carry out a job and to do it to the best of our ability, but this does not mean that we have to behave like machines. We can be honest about how we are and how we are doing.

People would be willing to lend a helping hand

With that kind of honesty in a workplace, it becomes much more possible to offer support to colleagues when they are struggling. If someone is having a hard time they don’t need to feel like a failure, or that they are letting anyone down. Knowing that it is alright to acknowledge struggle and to ask for help when it’s needed can be a tremendous source of relief. It opens the possibility to deepen relationships and to learn and grow together.

Blame would not be a fallback response and mistakes could be forgiven

How easy it is to blame someone else for the inevitable mistakes that occur in any workplace. This tends to happen more in a work environment that is particularly competitive and aggressive. 

Managers have a big role to play here. They need to create a culture where mistakes are understood as opportunities to learn, rather than failures to be punished. Staff could be encouraged to experiment and take reasonable risks. Managers could provide support to increase their confidence. Knowing that you will be blamed if something you are working on goes wrong increases stress and decreases improvisation.

• The meaningfulness of the work would be a priority

Generally speaking, we all look for meaning and purpose in our work. We want to know that we are using our time well and contributing to something bigger than ourselves. The very process of developing kindness in the workplace is itself connecting staff to a greater purpose.

Managers can enhance this by encouraging kindness and by sharing stories of how this connects to the company’s values.

People wanting to inspire one another at work

A workplace based on kindness would function as an interdependent unit. There would be a holistic view of the workforce. In such an environment, individuals would realise that just as they need encouragement and inspiration, so do other people. So, it would be natural for people to want to inspire and encourage each other. 

People could treat each other with respect, gratitude and integrity

Learning to respect other people’s opinions is not always easy – especially if you disagree with them. A kind workplace would take respect as a foundation for difficult conversations and working through challenges. Allowing people to express themselves and to be heard is a mark of respect. Dialogue and exchange will go more smoothly in such circumstances.

Appreciating the efforts that people make and being grateful for their contribution is also fundamental to a kind workplace. It does not have to be a big thing. It can be simply being grateful for a friendly greeting, or the offer of a cup of coffee. Showing your appreciation makes the other person feel seen and respected.

This is the first of a series of posts on kindness in the workplace. I would love to hear your response and your ideas about how to bring this into action.

Why it’s best not to get stuck in your own story

Why it’s best not to get stuck in your own story

Why it is best not to get stuck in your own story

Recently I have been reflecting on how easy it is for each of us to get stuck in our story. What do I mean by that? It’s the state we get into when most of our attention is focused on doing what we are doing right now, and we don’t notice what else is going on around us. We’re not talking about the mindful kind of focus where we are fully present with what is going on. Here, it’s more to do with being absorbed in our own interests, preferences and choices. They become our priority and we miss out on the bigger picture.

A little bit of history 

Last summer my partner and I discovered the Hunebedden, prehistoric burial sites in the North of Holland. 

Each site is made up of huge boulders that were transported here by vast ice-sheets millions of years ago. The sites are free to visit and open to whoever is interested. Although very little is known about the people who created the sites, people are asked to respect the sacred nature of the burial places. Notices by the pathways request that parents keep their children from climbing on the boulders. It’s not unusual to find people sitting quietly to view the ancient boulders or taking numerous photographs to try and capture their magic.

An example of being stuck in your own story

At one particularly large site there were more people than usual. People approached the boulder arrangement and walked up and down, occasionally reaching out to touch the stones. The atmosphere was quiet and reflective. Sometimes a word was exchanged or a smile.

A grandmother with her son and her two grandchildren stopped to view the site. Ignoring the other people there, she encouraged the children up on to the stones and suggested they stand on the top. Once up there she then went about photographing them from all angles. She moved the children about as if they were at home in their own garden. There was no interaction with anyone else there. Her son helped the children to climb and then to keep their balance. 

It was only because that there was a sudden shower of rain, that she stopped and took the children away. They had no idea where they had been—it could have been a playground. The grandmother had little idea of where she had just been and even less of the interruption she caused. She was completely absorbed in the story of her as a grandmother out with her son and her grandchildren.

The repercussions of being stuck in your own story 

• You miss things

Of course, it is wonderful to enjoy doing what you are doing. It’s just when we become over-absorbed with our own concerns, we miss seeing the bigger picture. 

We live in an interconnected world where our actions are naturally intertwined with the actions of those around us. When we switch off our sensitivity to this, we break the flow. Without awareness we miss opportunities for connection and deeper understanding.

You are not fully present to what is happening around you

The grandmother meant no harm at all at the Hunebedden site. She simply did not see that her actions were out of sync with the atmosphere of the site. All her attention was on the narrow field of her family. She did not see anything beyond it.

When we are not fully present, we are simply running on autopilot. We are not engaging our full resources. It’s a way of limiting ourselves.

You lose sensitivity to what is going on with other people

When you are stuck in your own story it’s hard to even see what is happening for other people. It’s a bit like starring in your own movie with everyone else playing the supporting roles. Other people simply become the backdrop for yourself and your actions.

Research that shows the effects of being stuck in your own story

A now famous experiment into the psychology of pro-social behaviour was carried out in the early 1970s in Princeton University, New Jersey

Subjects for the study were students studying to be priests. The task was to give a talk on the parable of the Good Samaritan. The talk was in a separate building. 

Before they left to give their talk, students were told one of three things:

  • either that they had plenty of time
  • or that they were on time
  • and some that they were late

In an alleyway they had to pass through was an actor pretending to be sick and asking for help.

Here are the findings:

63% of participants in the “early” condition stopped to help the stranger.

45% of participants in the “on-time” condition stopped to help the stranger.

10% of participants in the “late” condition stopped to help the stranger.

The main factor in whether people helped or not was how much time they thoughts they had.

So, what can we make of this? Remember, these were students studying to be priests. In interviews they had expressed the wish to be of benefit, to help people and to be of service. They were exactly the kind of people you would expect to want to stop and help someone in need.

The thing is, they got completely caught up in giving their talks and doing well. They were busy, pre-occupied and in a hurry. In other words—they were stuck in their own story and that took precedence over the need of the person lying on the ground.

When your story matches the group story

A while back, my partner and I flew return Amsterdam to Girona. We had a funeral to attend in the south of France and this was the cheapest, quickest way we could find to get there. Both flights were jam-packed. They were also delayed and as they were late-in-the-day flights it all got pretty exhausting.

Most of the people on the flight were regular flyers flying to and from the Costa Brava. Understandably they were in holiday mode. For them the crowded airport and the crowded plane were all part of their holiday experience. Wine flowed freely, people laughed and shouted across rows and gangways. They spread themselves out and took their time. People’s individual stories merged into a larger story of holiday makers returning home.

My partner and I were exhausted, sad from the funeral and certainly not in a partying mood. For a time, I felt a bit irritated all the loud, holiday people. Then I realised – my story was one of grief, exhaustion and coping but it was my story. Most other people on the plane were in their holiday story. It was just a different story.

How to notice when you are getting stuck in your own story

It got me thinking about how it is important to be aware of the stories you might be getting stuck in. 

Here are some things I thought of.

1. Are you present to what you are doing?

As long as you are aware and present to what you are doing you can avoid being stuck in your story. I managed quite well waiting for the plane – it was delayed by over an hour. It was when I began to get tired and to feel a bit sorry for myself that my story became more engulfing.

2. Do you have an awareness of what is happening with other people?

Once you stop noticing what is going on for other people around you, you are at risk of becoming self-absorbed. Remind yourself to look around you and get a sense of how other people are doing. It will help you stay connected and present.

3. Take a moment to check in with yourself

It’s always good to take moments throughout the day to check in with yourself. It’s a way of coming home. Lightly focusing on your breath for a few moments will help to cut through moods, habits and loss of attention. Then you are much more able to get a sense of how self-absorbed you are at that moment and whether you are getting stuck in your own story.

Creativity and Play

Creativity and Play

Photo by Edu Lauton on Unsplash

I am delighted to share this guest post from the writer, Rosie Dub. In this post she explores the relationship between creativity, and change. She shows how fear can block the process, while an attitude of playfulness can enhance it. Do enjoy this special posting!

In the antipodes it is spring, a time of rejuvenation as life bursts forth once more, after the dormant phase of winter. I sit at my writing desk watching the buds forming and the birds collecting materials for their nests. It has been a tough winter, with its short cold days and long, even colder nights, but now the light is returning and my spirits are lifting. It has been tough in other ways too, with family illnesses and other stresses taking my attention, filling my heart with pain and shredding my nerves. But despite all this, I have emerged blinking from the cocoon of winter, clutching a new novel and sporting a slightly broader waistline (an unfortunate side-effect). 

My experience with the creative process

For many years I have been intrigued by the nature of creativity which is hardly surprising, considering I work as a writer, a mentor, a creative writing teacher and an editor. In these capacities I am engaging with the creative writing process on a daily basis – both my own and others. I am intrigued too by the way my access to the creative process has always seemed to ebb and flow.  For much of my life, I felt like a passive being who either received inspiration or did not. At first, anything could get in the way of my creativity: a fleeting mood, a sunny day, an oven to clean . . . but I gradually learned that inspiration is only a small part of the creative process. The rest of it is dedication, which in translation means hard work. I got better at it, turning up at my desk whether I wanted to or not, struggling with the process on some days, flowing with it on others. Even so, most of the time there was something blocking that writing process, a barrier through which my creativity was ‘squeezed’, rather than a free-flowing space. As a consequence, my writing felt restrained and often forced but I knew that if I could step through this barrier, everything would change.

Obstacles to the creative process

Then this difficult winter arrived, bringing with it every obstacle to writing imaginable. My emotions were running high with anxiety, stress, grief, anger . . . I felt terrified, out of control and unable to focus my mind. I couldn’t sit down to do my usual meditation without being overwhelmed by all kinds of thoughts looping inside my head, to which my emotions would respond obligingly, until I was forced to leap out of my chair and do something else, anything to alleviate the anxiety, and often the wrong thing – more tea, a glass of wine, too much chocolate (hence the slightly broader waist line), unnecessary fussing, useless communications which only served to make things worse, wasting energy on tasks that weren’t important . . . The further I slipped into reactionary behaviour, the more impossible it became to access my ‘toolkit’, those techniques that help me to stay on track: meditation, walks, yoga, nourishing food . . . it all seemed too much to bother with. My fear had pushed me into self-sabotage mode and as a consequence any sense of self control or peace was lost. I couldn’t even sit at my desk, let alone write.

Common misperceptions about creativity

Over the years, I have counselled many people about writer’s block and helped them to find their voices and their stories. In that time, I’ve lost count of how often I have heard people assure me that they’re not creative, when in reality the issue lies somewhere else.

‘I wouldn’t know where to start,’ they say. 

‘I don’t use my imagination,’ they say. 

Or worse, ‘I don’t have an imagination.’ 

‘Oh yes you do,’ I generally respond. ‘You’ve just imagined yourself into being someone without an imagination.’

And that’s the key. It’s all about where we send our imagination and what we choose to focus on. It’s in our hands. Every single moment we have a choice. Do we make that choice with fear or with joy? Do we immerse ourselves in a task with fear or joy? The difference is immense, as I discovered for myself this past winter when I found my imagination fuelled solely by fear and as a consequence, lost my capacity to write. 

The importance of playfulness and how easily it can be crushed

It has taken me many years to understand that playfulness is an important element in creativity. According to Jung, ‘the creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity’. Yet for most of us, our sense of playfulness is crushed as we progress from childhood to adolescence and eventually adulthood. Much of that loss is due to the way we are schooled and the expectations of society. We are given structures and rules that restrict how we approach creativity and condition our thinking. ‘That isn’t how it should be done,’ they tell us over and over again. We are given gold stars for compliance not creativity. We are given answers not taught how to question. We are trained to copy not to create, and even worse, we are told that creativity is not for everyone. 

The consequences of losing our playfulness

Playfulness is light hearted, it involves a lifting of expectations around outcomes and methods and for most of us access to it requires a shift in our thinking, a deprogramming of sorts. If there is too much at stake . . .  if we have strict views about how something must be brought into being. . . if we are afraid of failing . . . if we are stressed and anxious . . . then we cannot access playfulness and as a result, we are no longer able to create joyfully. Instead our choices arise from fear and conditioning and our creations are shadowed with negativity. We get trapped by the enemies of the creative process: cynicism, depression, mind chatter, anxiety, perfectionism . . . and more.  The list is long but the common element is fear.

Re-engaging with our playfulness

Last winter when I found myself trapped in fear and anxiety it was an idea that rescued me. One that hovered in the back of my mind trying to get my attention, until in a rare moment of peace, I finally listened. Only then was the idea able to find its voice and nudge me into action; I made a note or two, a title emerged, characters formed and the idea grew, gaining momentum quickly. When my thoughts and feelings spiralled into negativity as they often did, I practised shifting my thoughts to this new idea, and most of the time it worked. I was still incapable of meditating and yet my writing time became a meditation of sorts. It became my ‘tuning in place’. No matter how fearful I was or how loopy my thinking, I found that I could immerse myself in my novel and immediately shift into a positive space. It was hard work, and I sometimes struggled to concentrate (hence the chocolate), but for the most part I was able to maintain focus, and work from a joyful, playful space, trusting the process to unfold as it should and crucially, letting go of fear. In so doing, I was able to complete a novel in just a few months, and for the first time, step across the barrier that has been in place within me for as long as I can remember.

Creativity permeates every aspect of our lives

As I sit here at my desk, bathed in the spring sunlight and feeling grateful that the difficult winter has passed, I realise that creativity and change go hand in hand. Without movement nothing can exist, for the creative process is fundamental to life. It’s all around us, embedded in the ebbs and flows of the seasons, the dance of the planets in their orbits, in the major turning points in our lives. But it is also embedded in the minutiae of life. Whether we are writing a novel, creating a business, cooking a meal, working in our garden . . . we are creating. Each moment of each day we create new possibilities and new directions in our lives. Everything we do is creative and every moment provides us with a choice as to how to implement that creativity. When we turn our backs on fear and free ourselves of our conditioned thinking, we can move into a playful flow that enables rather than resists and that imbues each task with joy. In this way we can gradually take our meditation into our daily lives and live it, thus consciously and playfully engaging with our creativity from one moment to the next. 

Dr Rosie Dub is a novelist, mentor, teacher, manuscript assessor and facilitator of the Centre for Story, a platform for stories that enable positive change in individuals and societies. Rosie has spent many years researching the nature of story and the role it plays as a transformational tool for individuals and cultures, and she shares her discoveries in her blog and the wide range of writing workshops and courses she runs in the UK and Australia. (www.centreforstory.com

Do You Make Room For Gratitude in Your Life?

Do You Make Room For Gratitude in Your Life?

Photo by Rosie Kerr on Unsplash

Last week was quite a rough week in which gratitude did not readily leap into my mind. A close family member was admitted to hospital early in the week. Our car developed an ominous rattle, which turned out to signal the need for massive repairs. Various work deadlines had to be pushed back. There was plenty of worry and stress.

On Sunday evening we were due to go over to a friend’s place for dinner. We really wanted to see him but were struggling to pull our energy together and make the journey across town by public transport. My partner rang him to finalise travel instructions and our friend picked up on our exhausted state. He immediately suggested that he bring the food over to us and cook the meal for us right in our own home! 

Suddenly gratitude was a much bigger part of my world view.

Gratitude can increase your happiness

The relationship between happiness and gratitude is one that is being thoroughly researched in the field of Positive Psychology.  There is now quite a considerable body of studies and findings that show the benefits of gratitude. 

In her book, The How of HappinessSonja Lyubomirsky details research her department of psychology in the University of California has carried out on the power of gratitude. Subjects are required to keep a ‘gratitude’ journal every Sunday for six weeks in which they record five things that they could feel grateful for during the previous week. Their levels of happiness and well-being were found to have increased as a result.

The importance of noticing things you are grateful for

If I am honest, I used to find that my eyes would glaze over as I read the huge lists of ways your life can improve once you make room for gratitude. It’s probably because of my upbringing and the emphasis on always saying ‘thank you’ and having to write an endless stream of thank you letters to aunts and uncles every birthday and Christmas. I got into the way of feeling gratitude was a bit of a chore – something I was ‘supposed’ to feel.

It’s really through my meditation practice that I have found the space to allow gratitude to flourish. It’s something to do with my mind quietening down sufficiently to allow me to experience more directly. Then I can notice what I want to be grateful for. The more I allow myself to open to it, the more settled I feel, and my happiness is increased. Last week was not a very happy week and yet our friend’s kindness resulted in us both going to bed more relaxed and happier than we had been all week.

365 Thank Yous: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life

I particularly recommend this short, readable book  for its no-nonsense, practical approach to gratitude. The author John Kralik tells the story of how he turned his life around by focusing his attention on what he had of value in his life rather than on what was missing. 

In Kralik’s case that was no hypothetical shift. He was a middle-aged and overweight divorcé. He was estranged from his older children, on the point of losing his current girlfriend and possibly his business too. He felt things had come to such a point that he needed to make major changes in his life. 

Inspired by a thank-you note that he received himself he decided to spend the year writing at least one thank you letter a day to cover all the things in his life he could feel grateful for. The book tells the story of how this process did in fact change his life.

The gratitude story in Kralik’s book that stood out most for me

My favourite story concerns Scott, the guy who serves the author in his local Starbucks. Not only does Scott remember how Kralik likes his coffee but he greets him every day by name in a genuine and friendly way. When Kralik delivers his thank you note, Scott assumes it is a complaint letter and is momentarily dismayed only to be delighted on realizing his has received appreciation and gratitude instead.

Gratitude can help us to really see people

It made me more aware of how I interact with the ‘routine’ people in my life—cab drivers, waitresses, shop assistants—all the people it can be so easy to glaze over while my attention is focused elsewhere. Just because someone is paid to do a job or offer a service it does not mean that we no longer need to feel appreciated for what we do. Like Kralik, I also quickly saw how much better I feel in taking the time to properly acknowledge the services I receive.

A thought about gratitude in the workplace

At work it is all too easy to take our colleagues for granted, or to feel unappreciated ourselves. Lyubomirsky points out that, among other things, gratitude helps us appreciate what we have rather than yearn for what we do not have and so increases our sense of self-worth and self-esteem. When we see how much we have to be grateful for it increases our confidence and helps us to unlearn the habit of over-focusing on our weaknesses and failures. So, a work team that is able to share appreciation for each other’s work and gratitude for each individual’s contribution has to be a healthier, stronger and more effective operating force. Take a look at Kralik’s book if you need convincing.

Some ways to cultivate gratitude

1. Keep your own gratitude journal

You could try keeping your own gratitude journal. This does not need to be anything fancy. A simple notebook that you use to jot down things that happened to you during the day which inspired gratitude. It helps us to notice things we are grateful for and to remember them.

2. Start a gratitude ritual

I have some friends who have a family ritual. Over dinner at the weekend each member of the family gets to share something that happened to them during the week that they are grateful for. They say it really brings the family together and everyone enjoys hearing the other people’s stories.

3. Try writing your own thank you notes

Of course, you could always try your own version of John Kralik’s thank you letters.

As I write this post ……

I am working on a tight schedule today and my partner just offered to cover my share of the morning chores so I could get started. It’s quite amazing how such a simple gesture can help me to settle so much more deeply. Feeling gratitude certainly can lead to a greater feeling of contentment. We just need to be open to noticing it and letting it nourish us.

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