As I’ve journeyed through a fascinating life, I’ve often wondered how I found the inner resources to keep going. In the ’50s and ‘60s I was coping with life in care, albeit in the children’s homes of the Church of England Children’s Society – a slightly better experience than being in Barnardos as I was reminded with the recent passing of the great British author Leslie Thomas who wrote about his childhood experiences in “This Time Next Week”. In those days racism had an almost naïve blatancy about it which got uglier in the ‘70s and ‘80s when trying to make something of my life.
Now when I find myself supporting so many senior people and business owners, it’s useful to reflect back on my own resilience and the techniques I’ve used to win out over the odds. These techniques can be learned and applied by you too if you have a mind to focus on what might be holding you back from fulfilling your own unique abilities and potential.
Three resources come to mind:
Firstly the ability to bounce back from despair by putting knock-backs into a larger perspective for one’s life.
Secondly an internal feeling that grew – the worse things got (ironically) – that I was not alone. That somehow I would survive whatever odds I was facing partly through sheer hard work and application, but also because I was in the care of some higher force.
Thirdly something that has developed with the wisdom of passing years, an ability to exert a modicum of emotional control or mastery when the proverbial ‘hits-the-fan’. This entails engaging rigorous reasoning in order to come to a more rational interpretation of potentially damaging events.
Taking the last point, is it really possible to ‘change our minds’ by challenging how we feel about a situation? Could it be that what we think is our ‘authentic self’ is in fact mostly our reactive emotional self, and not our ‘whole-self’?
It seems that it is, and just as well as I get a lot of people coming to me held back by the negative feelings associated with past events. Somehow they can’t shake off the emotionally damaging impact of bad stuff, be it a poor performance review, a failure to get promoted, the loss of a loved one, recurring guilt over something in the distant past, a negative relationship with a colleague, a failure to meet the expectations of others, being bullied and / or abused earlier in life, an un-supportive working environment… the list goes on.
A recent edition of BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs illustrates the point about not letting the gremlins of emotionality get to you. Comedian Jack Dee talked to Kirsty Young about his childhood experiences at school, how being belittled in front of his whole school has had a lasting effect. He’s finally learned that when “… that little voice comes into my head saying ‘you’re thick’, I just say ‘no you’re not’” because he’s able to access the objective evidence of his own success. Interestingly he also recalls having a very strong sense of destiny that was ‘always speaking to him’ – “… what are you doing here, you’re in the wrong place, what are you playing at” and eventually discovering his true vocation after taking many wrong turns.
Nobel prize winner Professor Daniel Kahneman recently featured in a BBC TV Horizon programme called “How You Really Make Decisions”. His work has led to a breakthrough in our understanding of the mind, our brains and how we make decisions and come to the conclusions we do. He explains that we have two major thinking systems:
Mind thinking system 1 is fast, powerfully automatic, instinctual and dominates our actions. It lacks logic, is effortless and is the thinking system we’re in most of the time and is responsible for what we do, what we see and how we understand and interpret our surroundings. It produces instant answers and does most of the driving. Interestingly, it often makes us take a punt and is often wrong, especially when it comes to decisions around money.
Mind thinking system 2 is much slower, logical, deliberate, and rational. We flatter ourselves that this is the bit of ‘us’ that is in charge but it’s not. This system 2 involves hard work, time and concentrated effort to engage. It’s a bit lazy and takes up not inconsiderable energy to power up, and finds multi-tasking difficult, eg when trying to solve complex problems or functions alongside one another.
Mind thinking system 1 has helped us successfully evolve into the complex and sophisticated creatures that we’ve become and it is very old, 35million years OLD. So we can assume that we cannot easily control the 150 biases that mind system 1 has developed in that time. However, we can develop some new mind habits that help us to remember that we do have a mind thinking system 2 and that we’d do well to access that at times of challenge, disappointment, and stress in order to THINK rather than just FEEL our way to more rational options and solutions.
Why might this be important? It seems that our minds posses a tremendous ability to quickly make things up, to create connections, to fill vacuums in information, to make some kind of quick sense of what’s going on… our very survival as a species has depended upon this. However, notwithstanding the odd rampaging hairy mammoth, we can now afford to think deeper and more logically about our lives. The modern day equivalent of Freeze, Flight, and Fight needn’t be our first recourse to a solution, but rather THINKING about what is really going on, whether you have enough evidence and information to really come to that snap decision or fast conclusion.
So maybe ‘sleep on it’ is great advice. Get mind thinking system 2 into gear and think about what else your experiences might be telling you but in the light of hard evidence. It’s amazing how things can suddenly change for the better when you ask yourself “Is there another way of looking at this; what actual evidence have I for the conclusions I’ve drawn; could I learn something positive from what’s going on; what’s my role in all this, and how can I become more accountable for what I want to happen next?”
For those of you hooked on drama, catastrophe, constant stress and a life half empty, it may well be just your mind thinking system 1 missing screaming for your life in the path of a rampaging hairy mammoth. These are old habits but they can be re-moulded for modern living, and you can, with effort, learn to ‘change your mind’.
Call me if anything in this article has inspired you to face down your demons, and change your mind by developing some new cool mental habits that will stand you in good stead for the rest of your wonderful life to come.
Contact me if you feel trapped in your prehistoric fur skins. It’s free and it’s easy – or just text me on 07760 270 392.
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