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.

How to practice some Compassion Mind Training Techniques

How to practice some Compassion Mind Training Techniques

Photo by Alvaro Serrano via Unsplash

Here is the second of Chris’ two guest posts on Compassion Focused Therapy. This one gives helpful guidance on how to do some of the key practices.

In the first part of this post on compassionate mind training and Compassion Focused Therapy the core concepts were considered.  In this second post some of the practices I have found helpful are covered.    

Compassionate exercises

The practice of Soothing rhythm breathing

This is considering breathing with a purpose – a compassionate motivation-  to both soothe and act as a grounding tool, either at times of distress or in preparation for other exercises. 

As part of our overall nervous system, we have a component called the autonomic nervous system (ANS) looking after many of our automatic bodily functions – heart rate, respiration, digestion – so it regulates our internal environment.  It has two main branches – sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).  SNS is linked to our threat system, it prepares the flight-fight response.  For example, increased heart rate, reduced digestion.  It is indicative of psychological arousal. 

PNS is linked more to soothing and replenishment, so resting and digesting.   It is indicative of psychological relaxation. 

Our organs receive input from both, so activity (heart rate) is controlled by the relative levels of PNS and SNS activity.

What the science suggests is that certain behaviours or actions can help engage the PNS.  These include body posture, facial expression and breathing, in terms of depth and pace.  Given that in our modern lives our threat system can be highly active and so SNS is running on a high state of reactivity, it’s important to consider how we can engage PNS. 

Perhaps you can see how this ties in with the idea of using the soothing system to help with threat and drive balance, and one way to facilitate that is through a practice called soothing rhythm breathing. 

The practice involves a few elements – 

  • sitting in a relaxed and comfortable manner, focused on breathing but not in an alert state
  • having a relaxed facial expression, with a gentle smile
  • focus on breathing – deep breathing, really using all the lung capacity and using a count of 5 on the in and out breath. Recent research has also suggested a pattern of count of 4 on the in and 6 on the out.  

The motivation to perform a practice is two fold – one it can help on a daily basis that you take some time out to pause, to nurture your body with moments of rest and secondly its developing a practice that can be called upon at distressing times. 

Aside from perhaps creating a routine time to perform the exercise each day, it can also be helpful to pause at times during the day, to take a minute or two and engage in some deeper, regular breathing as part of a commitment to looking after your emotional wellbeing. 

And at times of distress or ahead of doing something challenging this practice can be very helpful to help engage the soothing system and support bringing to the fore the compassionate self.

Here are two example guided practices – one from Prof Paul Gilbert and one from Dr James Kirby 

The practice of Compassionate imagery 

One brilliant skill is that our brain can visualise many things and by doing so can cause us psychological and physiological reactions.  This ability to visualise as lead to so many of the great innovations and developments of humans,  It allows us to plan, remember and imagine.  It can also allow us to ruminate and wonder “what if” which may lead to creating catastrophic events in our minds that never happen.

Compassionate imagery employs this great skill we have with a motivation to provide support and one very helpful practice is the compassionate place. 

The compassionate place is an exercise to bring to mind a place which nourishes and replenishes you.  This can be a place you know well, somewhere you have visited or perhaps seen on television or social media – or it could be a made up place.  Mine is a made up place, although with elements of places I know, of a wooded area.   As part of imagining it I use all my senses – to visualise what it looks like, to sense the movement of air, to feel the tree bark, to hear the nearby brook, to smell the wood.

The important thing is that this doesn’t have to be perfect, it’s not something to get right.  It’s something to help you and the place will be personal and meaningful to you, so don’t be influenced by what you might think you “should” be imagining. 

The practice of Compassionate letter writing

As well as the formal compassionate letter writing exercise ,  I use the techniques and approach when writing in a daily journal as well.  Personally writing about emotions, depression and everyday challenges can really help to bring some clarity and engage the compassionate self,, fostering the compassionate wisdom and encouragement I may need . 

The key intention behind the writing exercise is to acknowledge our suffering or distress and to help with managing that.  That links into the definition of compassion from episode one. 

To start it can help to foster the intention and motivation towards the writing by sitting and doing the soothing rhythm breathing exercise. It can also help to pause if something causes you a lot of distress while writing, to revisit that breathing exercise and also the soothing place exercise.

With the motivation and intention in mind, consider what the letter will be about.  Its a letter to yourself , no-one else will read it, so have the motivation to be open and honest within it, as challenging as that may be. You write it as a letter, so addressed to yourself.  In the first part acknowledge what the issue is, in a way that you might talk to a friend who is struggling.  Supportive and understanding.

Then consider what you are feeling and validate it.  Acknowledge that this is a difficult time or challenge you are facing. Validate all the feelings you have around this.  This may include considering how your threat an or drive systems have played a role.  It can be helpful to acknowledge that some of your reactions are part of that evolved way of thinking, so often the reactions are natural. 

Really consider what you are responsible for and what you are not responsible for. 

Now start to consider what thoughts and actions you could take , being guided from a place of compassion, towards yourself and to any others involved. As part of that reflect on any challenges or barriers that may come up, what could you do if they happen and is there any support you need.

Finally close off with a compassionate commitment to the changes you envisage, to help sustain the actions.  So this is an encouraging, coaching commitment towards yourself – no judging or criticising.

The last part is to read, which you can do immediately or leave for a while.  Bring your compassionate self to the reading – don’t judge how well you have written, any misspellings or errors.  They don’t matter – recognise that you have written with honesty and openness to help address something which is causing you distress. 

A free guide to this practice is available from the Compassionate Mind Foundation. 

In conclusion

I hope that these posts have provided an overview of the core concepts and some of the exercises from compassionate mind training.  Deepening compassion, especially around self-compassion, made a real difference to me…perhaps these posts will inspire you explore compassionate mind training for yourself.  Further details about CFT can be found via the Compassionate Mind Foundation

Chris Winson is an author, blog writer and founder of #365daysofcompassion, which is an online community of people sharing thoughts, reflections and information about compassion and well-being. 

During his life Chris has managed depression, often hiding it until a major period in 2016 lead him to seek help.  That introduced Chris to Compassionate Focused Therapy, which has lead to his focus on how compassion and Compassionate Mind Training can play a supportive role to health and wellbeing. 

Chris recently recorded a series of video talks on CFT which can be found here https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCX-zBQP7u2fRY-riGNGuaDw

How Compassion Focused Therapy has helped me

How Compassion Focused Therapy has helped me

Photo by Nick Fewings via Unsplash

Awareness in Action is delighted to publish the first of two blogs from Chris Winson on the subject of Compassion Focused Therapy. Thanks to Chris for this accessible and informative overview of how CFT works. Part 2 of the blog will go into some useful methods.

You can’t miss articles, talks and social media posts advocating how helpful self-compassion can be, it’s running a close second to mindfulness for coverage and promotion. 

But what does compassion mean to you ?  How can it can help with mental wellbeing ?

I hand’t really thought this until in a therapy room, working through what depression really meant to me.  At that stage self-care meant getting through the next hour – self-compassion wasn’t in the room, it wasn’t in the same building as I was.

That didn’t mean I wasn’t a compassionate person.  I was towards others, struggled to sometimes accept help from others and any self-encouragement was drowned out by self-criticism. Then I was introduced to Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) and things started to change….

A definition of Compassion Focused Therapy

Compassion Focused Therapy was developed by Professor Paul Gilbert.  It includes concepts which help to inform and provide insight on some of the psychological behaviours and systems which have evolved and developed to help us, but can sometimes be tricky to manage and can present problems,  even though they are trying to help and protect us.  It includes practices and exercises which form compassionate mind training.

Within Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) compassion is a seen as a motivation – a motivation to both acknowledge and work with distress , in self and others, with a commitment to address and alleviate if possible.  

And that is far from easy.

Some concepts of Compassion Focused Therapy

Emotional systems 

Within CFT a three emotional regulatory system model is defined, blending neuroscience, physiological and psychological processes into a very understandable model.  The three systems are threat, drive and soothing, often presented with a colour scheme of red, blue and green.   This doesn’t mean we have these three parts of our brain, its a conceptual model involving emotions and motivations which have evolved to help us. However in our modern world they sometimes cause issues while trying to look after us. 

Threat, the red circle, looks after us, evolved to to be alert to predators and risks to life, with a set of predictive abilities based on a “safer than sorry” approach, which is therefore more negatively focused. However it evolved to be an immediate response for short periods of time, which is not the case often in our lives today. In a world of social comparison and competition the threat system can be on all the time.  Without the opportunity to reduce levels or constantly overestimates threats,which may not be real, the threat system can be functioning at a unhealthy level.

Drive is the system that motivates us to seek resources, rewards and pleasure, represented by the colour blue. It includes feedback loops so when we achieve something we get a feeling of pleasure, which can reinforce the behaviour or activity, which an be helpful. However the system can go into overdrive, pushing ourselves too hard, often to meet the requirements of others and how we feel that we are perceived by them.  As its a reward based system if we fail to meet the achievements we strive for then we can feel like a failure.  This is very true within perfectionist thinking.

Additionally if the rewards are based upon external feedback then we can feel very vulnerable and hurt when somebody doesn’t respond as we expected or if they question or criticise us. 

The systems do not work independently , most of the time we feel a mixture, nor are threat or drive are good or bad systems. They are both essential to us and its perhaps better to view them as in terms of having a healthy or unhealthy balance.  And what helps them balance is the third system, the soothing system. 

And its this green circle that for me embodies compassion.

This is the system that often needs help though, which CMT practices can help with. techniques. We are usually very good at caring for others, usually okay, but not always at receiving care back from others.  We are not often great at taking proper care of ourselves.  It helps to really bring awareness to what is important  to you and for you to focus on, to take the best care you can, even at challenging times when the threat system is very activated. 

This is a helpful representation of the three systems via Dr James Kirby 

Flows of compassion in Compassion Focused Therapy

In addition to the three systems, three flows are considered – compassion to others,  compassion from others and compassion to ourselves.  

Showing compassion to others, through help, kindness and caring behaviour comes naturally to many, especially towards those close to us.  If you see a family member or friend in distress or needing some help we are likely to offer it – sometimes whether its needed or not and sometimes at a cost to ourselves.  But what about to strangers or to people who may not share our views or be different to us?  Does compassion become harder towards them.  Research would suggest it does.   Research also shows that acting and being compassionate towards others can bring positive effects to ourselves and wellbeing.

Receiving compassion from others can sometimes be trickier.  How many times do we say “I am fine” and soldier on. We can also be so wrapped up in our busy lives that we don’t notice when someone shows us kindness or interacts with us with warmth.  It happens to us all.  The reason that being more open to receiving compassion from others, even just a simple random of act of kindness, is important is that it fosters feelings of connection and shared experience, which are helpful to our wellbeing. 

Which leaves the third flow – self-compassion. This can be seen as being “soft” on yourself; misunderstood as “oh its okay I will be nice to myself and everything will be fine” or even self-indulgent. Some people fear that without the more critical inner voice they won’t be successful.  The truth is that most of us are our worst critic and harshest judge.  We will use a tone and language with ourselves that we would not say to another or even say out aloud.   But does that help ?   

Why are the three flows important?  They are important to our wellbeing and its important to consider their balance, similar to the three systems.  It is often the case that we have them out of balance, so we may be offering a lot of help and care to others and neglecting our own wellbeing. 

The compassionate self

The compassionate self is different to self-compassion, it’s a psychological concept that we have multiple selves – a happy self, a sad self, an anxious self, an angry self, a confident self and so on.  Often one self can dominate our thinking, influence our behaviour or actions, in different contexts and on different days.  That doesn’t mean we switch from one self to another – just like the three systems concept, we are a blend.

So why focus on the compassionate self ?  Because it isn’t one of those that often comes to the fore, especially towards oneself.  Part of compassion mind training is to spend some time considering what compassion means to you, how it’s embodied and considering ways in which it can provide deeper help. 

It can help to focus onto some attributes that the compassionate self can embody, for example attention, wisdom, a commitment to caring and courage. 

All these things take time to deepen and work with, its not easy and sometimes we take a step forward, to then pause and rest before the next step.  And that is perfectly fine. 

This first part has considered the core concepts of Compassion Focused Therapy and compassionate mind training.  The second part will consider some of the exercises and practices which help deepen our compassionate self.  Further details about CFT can be found via the Compassionate Mind Foundation

Chris Winson is an author, blog writer and founder of #365daysofcompassion, which is an online community of people sharing thoughts, reflections and information about compassion and well-being. 

During his life Chris has managed depression, often hiding it until a major period in 2016 lead him to seek help.  That introduced Chris to Compassionate Focused Therapy, which has lead to his focus on how compassion and Compassionate Mind Training can play a supportive role to health and wellbeing. 

Chris recently recorded a series of video talks on CFT which can be found here https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCX-zBQP7u2fRY-riGNGuaDw

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

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) .

Things To Keep In Mind Before You Quit Your Job

Things To Keep In Mind Before You Quit Your Job

I am delighted to welcome back Bhavna Vaish with another guest blog. When people get into meditation, and a different way of approaching life, they often want to quit their job and work for themselves. Hey—it’s what I did! Bhavna runs through some important practical advice about how to make this transition in the best possible way. If you missed her previous post, then check it out, How to Fund an Alternative Lifestyle.

A few years ago I quit working a full-time day job

The reasons are many. But to be completely honest about it – that day had been a long time coming.

Heck, I was ready to stop working even at the age of 25. I wanted to do ‘my own thing’.  I dreamed of the freedom it afforded, of being accountable to myself. But it took me a whole bunch of years before I could actually quit. 

Today my blog is my work and my job. Though it doesn’t quite yet, I am hoping that one day it will graduate from being my passion project to also being my main source of income. 

Do you want to quit your job?

Are you getting ready to quit your workplace and start your own enterprise? If you are looking to replace a salary with income from your own venture then welcome to the tribe of people who have chosen to lead a life outside the cube. 

Also, you need to read this. 

Think you have saved enough to stop working. Think again. 

Did you know that as your own boss you are likely to be paying more bills than when you were employed

In other words, YOU need to plan for higher monthly expenses and hence more income to cover these expenses.

As your own boss, you are responsible for certain costs that earlier your company would incur. There was stuff that your company would provide for when you worked as an employee. In addition, workers like you also get plenty of non-monetary perks and benefits that help you to achieve the lifestyle you have today. 

Just make sure you are cognisant of these and have built them in your calculations before you take that key next step – to quit your job. Budget for these expenses if you want to become a successful solopreneur, a blogger or a freelancer.

(p.s. Here are some financial habits of a successful woman.)

Medical and Health Insurance

Many companies provide health and medical insurance for their employees. Not just that, they also incentivise their employees to conduct medical check-ups especially if they are above a certain age. As your own boss, your insurance costs are going to come out of your paycheque. 

Health and medical insurance can cost a bomb. But being without them is not an option, really. So unless you live in a country where the government sponsors or subsidises your healthcare costs, you need to budget in this cost.

P.S. – My company also provided life insurance coverage for all its employees. If yours did it too then another cost that you will need to bear on your own account.

Funding Your Future

One way to plan for your retirement is through employer-sponsored savings plans such as the 401(k) or the Roth 401(k). The advantages of such plans are that they provide an automatic way of saving for retirement, there are tax benefits associated with these investments, but most importantly employers offer matching contributions which essentially means free money for employees.

If you are self-employed, not only would you have to actively plan and save for your future you also miss out on the employer’s contribution which can be a lot of money that you have to work for yourself.

Continued Education, Training, and Conferences

All companies have a budget for the skill enhancement of their employees. But guess what, once you are on your own, you will need to pay for that training you want to go for. 

As a solopreneur, you will need to know about the different aspects of running a business – marketing, accounting, taxes, the technological aspects about which you probably know little to nothing about. 

Add in the networking conferences that you want to attend – all costs that you did not have to pay for as an employee.

Holidays and Time Off

Leave policies vary across companies but there is one thing common – employees are allowed paid leave each year. Not so when you are a freelancer or a solopreneur.

While you will have lots more flexibility in deciding your work hours and choosing your days-off, chances are that you will also feel compelled to not take any time off, at least initially. Yes, you could write a book, run ads on your blog and have a course set-up. But setting up passive income streams take time. 

And if you are a freelancer, then you earn when you work. 

Workplace at Home?

One of the many perks of being a blogger or a freelancer is getting to work from your own home. You can be with your children, oversee your home while you earn your living. 

This does not come for free. You have to buy your own equipment – laptops, printers, cameras, pay for their running costs. Utility bills will inch up. 

Other Perks

Does your job provide you with accommodation or a car? Does it reimburse your phone bills? How about your family – what are the benefits they enjoy as a result of your employment? 

You need to think of how you will replace these in order to maintain your lifestyle and the cost of replacing them.

Non-Financial Benefits

Working in an office environment along with other colleagues has its own charm. The social aspect is important for mental health. You learn from your colleagues and bosses which you will miss out on when you work as a freelancer or a solopreneur.

The Bottom Line

Nearly all young and middle-aged workers ask themselves if they are ready to quit their day job in order to do something on their own. It is an exciting prospect. 

However, there are additional costs you have to incur when you work for your own self. The best way to ensure that life does not have any surprises hidden is to be prepared. Know the costs and advantages of what you are planning so you can make an informed decision. 
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Bhavna Vaish is a blogger who loves the world of finance. She writes about being wise with your money so you can live a life you love on a budget you can afford.  Her blog Pennies For Cents has more useful articles for you. She has been a banker and a finance professional for many years before choosing early retirement.

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