Responding to Change

“I have to find safety. My home is disappearing!”
“I have to find safety. My home is disappearing!”

The Western world is in an uproar over the predicted-by-some, yet surprising-to-most, election win by Donald Trump. For me, the event and its aftermath is a fantastic example of what many experience as “unwanted change”, and the behaviours that manifest at such times. This is a fantastic public theatre of what occurs on a smaller, often ignored, scale within organisations undergoing change, planned or unplanned, welcomed by or imposed on the employees. This article highlights some of the more obvious behaviours being exhibited and highlights some considerations that may create a more positive outcome at an individual level.

We have seen significant grass-roots responses to unrecognised needs by those in power in the form of Brexit. Now a surprise (to some) Trump victory. As life giving as change can be, it is not always positive. Enough wars show change can be damaging. Fear is palpable now. For many groups, if Trump seeks to fulfil his intent stated in his campaign speeches, there are real threats to loss of rights and liberty. Some of his early choices suggest he intends honouring, as far as possible, what he promised during his campaign.

Based on some of the more obvious behaviours being demonstrated since the Trump election win, here are some ways people react to change:

  • Polarisation and strengthening of positions: Ardent fighters for and against a change strengthen their positions and fight it out. The fight may be peaceful, or might descend as low as individual human morality allows. There will be a mixture of those aggressively assailing others with a different point of view, whether physically, emotionally or through power over. Others will assert themselves, clearly identifying who they are and what they stand for, without imposing on others. Mahatma Gandhi and his followers’ non-violent protests of British rule is a good example of the latter.
  • Run away and hide: This may be observed as people and groups getting busy with something else, a way of distancing from the pain of loss and occupying themselves with something they have control over. It may be literally exiting the scene, leaving the country, becoming a hermit, or otherwise divorcing self from the challenge of being or staying engaged.
  • Filter reality: Notice how many proponents of each side argue, using only the information (often opinions of others rather than real facts) that supports their view, and ignore anything counter to their position. This also shows when others are accused of falsehood when citing something that is counter to the position held. The media are getting a lot of flak for beating up situations if they merely mention something that doesn’t support promoted views.
  • Normalisation: “Give him a chance”, “Wait and see” and in a practical sense, sitting on one’s hands. Then, almost as in a frozen state of numbness nothing is said or done as ongoing change initiatives bring into reality the worst nightmares of those who voiced fear of the worst. For example,
    • Steve Bannon, former head of alt-right nationalists’ recommended media source, Breitbart News, appointed as Chief Strategist
    • Myron Ebell, a global warming denier, as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency
    • Trump’s own children being put forward for cabinet and advisory roles, and simultaneously running his and their own businesses, with a simple, “You can trust us.” Very basic ethical principles are trampled underfoot, and seems to be widely accepted as okay. Not if anyone else tried it!
  • Disavow any responsibility: “I don’t know”, “I didn’t realise this would happen?”, “How could I know?” Or as in Seth Meyer’s case, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, when challenged on calling Bannon ‘controversial’, he was unwilling to give an opinion because he had not met the fellow conservative. Seth Meyers, of the Closer Look program, called Meyers on this side-step well when he said, “I’ve never met John Wilkes Booth, but I let his past work inform my opinion of him.” It is as though many are running for cover and refusing to say anything that may impact their future position with the one in charge. They could do with taking Lucy Gennaro McClane’s advice to Matt Farrell in Live Free or Die Hard (aka Die Hard 4.0), “You need to grow a bigger set of balls!”

When facing change, we each have choice. We can allow fear to overcome us and react to what is happening from that place. We rely on the fear-based survival reactions fight, flight, freeze and fabricate. Alternatively, we can function from our personal power, and manifest the power-based thrive responses assert, attend, act and authenticate. The former requires little consciousness from us, with our amygdala (or reptilian brain) reacting to threat. The latter requires conscious choice and self-intervention to assure we behave in a manner that is of our choosing. The thrive responses also require that we are clear about and are congruent with our values, not relinquishing them when the going gets a little tougher.

What I experienced as warm, heart-felt and assertive was the plea and invitation offered to Vice President-Elect Mike Pence by the cast of Hamilton at the end of their show. The play was themed around freedom,  the constitution and diversity. After the final curtain call, Brandon Victor Dixon addressed Mr Pence, inviting him to listen, and said:

“We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us — our planet, our children, our parents — or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us. All of us.”

New York Times, 19 Nov. 2016 (link)

Debate is as polarised around whether this was appropriate as it is on many other issues related to the election and subsequent events. One of the bigger questions is how to voice disagreement in an environment that seems hostile to any opinion counter to the future Commander-In-Chief.

While I have used very public examples from the follow-on of the Trump election, these behaviours often occur in change situations. The choices you make in response determine your contribution to the outcome. When confronted with change, particularly change you do not welcome, what do you choose to do? Do you voice concerns you hold? Do you assert what matters to you? Do you shrink away and leave it to others to work through? Do you get overwhelmed and find it all too much, unable to find anything you can constructively do? Do you look for what you can do, stay engaged and take some action? Do you blame others for what has happened? Do you act from a place of personal responsibility and ownership and attempt to help shape next steps?

Pause Your Judgement and Notice the Beauty

Steam locomotive
A beautiful example of a steam locomotive

I had a wonderful experience the other day that reminded me of my own biases and judgements. I got to see them clearly, and the beauty that exists in those I might judge. I was richer for the increased awareness.

I caught the train into Wellington city and one of the conductors collecting tickets walked along and clicked each ticket and said in a very robotic, short, sharp fashion, “Thank you.” He was stern looking and seemed quite stiff in his body. Click. “Thank you”. Click. “Thank you.” Click. “Thank you.” My judgement: he was bored to tears and going through a learned process or routine. Then magic happened. He finished the ticketing process and stopped to chat with a small group. His whole being softened. His face lit up. He changed roles and was instantly a bright, engaging, excited and friendly character. In that moment, for me, he shifted from being alien and difficult to fathom to a beautiful and vibrant human being. I got to see the problem with my own biases and judgements.

Judgement is a very natural survival- and fear-based process that occurs within milliseconds of meeting anyone. It enables us to simplify the complexity of life and make decisions quickly. It was massively helpful when walking around a corner and meeting a sabre toothed tiger or a mammoth, or a strange cave person. It does help us now as well. Is this a hostile or a friendly audience? Is my customer pleased to see me, irritated, or angry? Judgement is natural and essential. It is not always accurate. Some of our judgements are biases we have learned, as children from our parents or from our own experiences. Often they are very contextual and then get applied generally. They limit our openness to others, particularly those we judge as different.

A friend of mine, who has some clear understanding of some of his biases, was taking his daughter to choose a new school. In meeting with the principal, he heard, paraphrased, “We are largely a white school”. His response: “I may be a racist but that doesn’t mean my daughter has to be.” They went looking for a different school.

Research highlights that diversity in our teams and organisations creates an environment where we get better solutions and results. The varied opinions, experiences, thinking processes, however annoying we may find them from time to time, create variation that challenges and improves the outcomes.

I remember an organisation that decided project managers must be Myers-Briggs ENTJ. Any other type was excluded from being a project manager. Their projects all had a common look and feel, and failed to respond to variation in a similar fashion. It is difficult to learn from others when those others are the same as you. In a different organisation I had consulted with them for several months, and had worked with the manager in a different context for several years. Then, because he was considering offering me a permanent role, he had me psychometrically assessed. I did well in all the cognitive and behavioural aspects, but he turned me down for the role because, in his opinion my Myers-Briggs suggested I was a business analyst, not a project manager. That was a thoroughly unscientific judgement based on his own misuse of the tool. This was in spite of him having observed me as a successful project manager in a variety of different contexts over the years we had known each other.

What challenges are you aware of in building diversity and inclusion in your teams and organisations? What benefits have you noticed? What judgements get in your way? Do you surround yourself with those you feel comfortable with or do you actively engage with those who are different from you, who may challenge your ideas? What value is lost when there is a push for sameness rather than diversity?

What Story Do You Carry?

You get to choose which stories you use!
You get to choose which stories you use!

I felt moved as I read the transcript from a Ted Talk given by the Nigerian author, Chimamanda Adichie, titled “The Danger of a Single Story”. She spoke of her early love of reading, initially always Western children’s books. When she wrote stories in school they mirrored what she had read, not her experience. Later she went to university in the USA. Her roommate met her and voiced stereotyped expectations of her, a view developed from the stilted view portrayed in Western media of the African “country”. A professor even rejected her writing, now of her experiences in growing up, as not being authentically African, because she wrote of reading and speaking English, having a happy childhood, and not to his flawed idea that all of Africa was war torn, starving and destitute. She shared other stories of a similar ilk.

We all carry stories. A few may be inspiring, liberating and expansive. These rare gems will act to open the mind to possibilities and lift judgements placed by others to uncover potential. I am all for this type of story.

Generally, the stories we naturally carry are restrictive, declaring the nature of groups and individuals based on their fit to some specific characteristic. As such they cloud our ability to see others as they are when the stories we apply (without even realising it!) rule out any other possibilities as being reasonable. They get in the way of us appreciating the diversity of others. They are essential for bigotry to occur. The stories separate people, cultures, groups, nations, political parties, gangs and peer groups. Their liberal use stops us seeing others for who they really are, and connecting in a meaningful manner. With a story clouding our perception we tend to mentally validate our story by finding any matching attributes, and filtering any mismatch. It is a mechanism the brain uses to simplify processing the complex data. It leads to erroneous and limiting judgements: “This person is a … therefore”:

  • they are …
  • their experience and background is …
  • they judge me as …
  • they expect …
  • they cannot …
  • they don’t know …
  • they value …
  • They are different from me because …
  • they should be [pitied / hated / loved / shunned / included / excluded / listened to / … ] because …

And so the list goes on.

The really interesting thing is we also can and do carry stories about ourselves. All the above may be rephrased with “I” instead of “they”. We then have a belief about ourselves that indicates the story we hold about who we are, what we can achieve, our strengths and weaknesses. This story is often inherited from our childhood, and we then fail to update the story as we grow and develop. We can hear old stories of ourselves from inside that are long out of date. Unchallenged, they persist. Even when they are challenged, these old familiar stories return on the slightest indication that they will be tolerated.

A great thing about coaching is the powerful assistance it can provide in recognising and adjusting the stories you work with.

How Can I Respond Usefully to a Story I Carry?

First, recognise that any of the above sample scripts, or others similar in intent, are running. Whether about you or someone you are meeting, these statement of judgement are a clear indication a story is running, that you are generalising about this person based on some arbitrary criteria.

Second, acknowledge to yourself that this process is limiting your perception and there may be a different or broader perception to be had of this person. Again, this applies as much to stories about ourselves as it does of those about others.

Third, ask questions of yourself that open your mind to alternatives. Examples include:

  • What [does this person / do I] bring to this situation that is of value and different from what I know (I.e. my current story)?
  • What do I notice about [this person / me] in this situation that is outside my previous experience (I.e. Different from my story of them)?
  • What is one thing of value [this person bring / I bring] that I hadn’t recognised and acknowledged? What’s another one?

Each of these questions serves to challenge the mind in a way the mind likes to be challenged. They are open questions asking for investigation and inquiry. The mind will respond with answers, and in so doing will have to adjust the story it was carrying. That said, some stories are so deeply burned into our psyche that it will take many such intentional challenges to create a shift to a new one.

Forth, actually engage with the person in an open dialogue, mentally holding the possibility that your story is incomplete or incorrect. Become a ‘naïve inquirer’ and ask questions of them to understand who they really are and what matters to them.

One of the stories I carry about myself is “I am inadequate.” That shows up in almost every context, is generally thoroughly unfounded, and the monotony of repeatedly retraining my brain can be frustrating. However, the breakthrough of doing so is worthwhile because then I shift mentally and emotionally into a free space where productive action becomes possible. In fact, when I step out of my story of inadequacy the question about success does not show up. I am in the “zone” and make things happen as a matter of course, the mind not interfering.
What is getting in your way with yourself or others? What groups or individuals do you exclude because …? Are you prepared to entertain the possibility that the stories you hold may be invalid, even if only for the person in front of you?

Freeing yourself of the limiting effect of stories opens the possibility of new and exciting opportunities, relationships and outcomes. Which of your stories needs to be dropped? All the best with the adventure of redrafting your world through changing your stories.

Tuning Your Sea Anchor

Wrong turn somewhere
A working sea anchor may have made a difference to this outcome.

A sea anchor stabilises a boat in heavy weather by increasing drag and providing a breaking mechanism. It also supports the boat from turning broadside into the waves, reducing the risk of being swamped or capsized.

We have our own form of internal sea anchor that reduces our speed and keeps us moving in consistent direction. Two components of our sea anchor are our conscience and our inner critic. While our habits, patterns of behaviour and beliefs also tend to keep us following a consistent line, they function more as a corral that limits our movement rather than slowing us or bringing us back in line.

Our conscience is the voice we hear within us that informs us of the right and wrong of what we are doing. This is quite distinct from guilt, which is a condemning voice that comes after an act, refers to the past, and reminds us, from a basis of what we have been taught, of what we should have done. The conscience is a voice we hear in the present moment about what we are doing. It may be overlooked and dismissed, or encouraged and developed. By tuning into and adhering to our conscience we remain more consistently true to ourselves. We are congruent. This is a beneficial sea anchor. Our conscience is often overshadowed by other contributors to our decision-making process such as pressure from others, learned behaviours, habits, or actions arising from being emotional hijacked. One way of tuning our conscience is meditation. As you sit and observe your inner world without judgement you can delve below the din of day-to-day life, observe yourself in your current situation, and gain insights into what really matters to you.

Our Inner Critic also acts as a sea anchor. It tells us we are wrong, whether that is measured as inadequate, evil, stupid, inappropriate, clumsy or a vast array of other possible negative judgements. The familiarity with our Critic stems from its development in our formative years, its voice gleaned from the messages of our parents or other significant people. A lucky few have little to no critic. Unfortunately, most of us have a somewhat noisy, incessant and repetitive voice that goes off any time we move against what others taught us to expect of ourselves. The Critic is not a voice based in any truth. We may believe it is true because we are so familiar with its messages, having heard it all our lives. We can be sailing through life, enjoying the sun, the sea air, skimming the waves in a carefree manner, and suddenly … come to an abrupt halt as our mind is filled with negativity. The Critic is a sea anchor in all the wrong ways. We may have found a zone of productivity, where we really are humming with excitement and ease, creating the results we have wanted, and suddenly we lose all momentum, founder, and have to deal with the impact the negative messaging has on us. The Critic brakes us when we are ready to race, and brings us back to the direction the negative messaging would have us go.

The Critic is a mental habit. Neuroscience highlights that rather than “changing old habits”, it is easier to implement new habits. The underlying principle is that habits, particularly long-term ones, have cut neural pathways in the brain that are deep and fixed, somewhat similar to the channel cut by the river in the Grand Canyon. Attempting to fill in that river would be futile. By implementing a new habit, our focus and attention shifts. The brain doesn’t need to change the old pathway. The more strongly the new habit can be installed, the better. Changing habits requires adjustments to mind-set, motivation and intent. The old habit loses traction as its relevance is diminished by disuse.

To adjust the habitual Critic, it is important to implement another way of thinking and being. One way of doing that is by creating an emotionally-charged, positively-phrased affirmation that you anchor with repetition, and connect with whenever you recognise the Critic is ‘speaking’. Or, reassign the Critic a new role. Imagine the Critic is a member of your internal orchestra. The Critic is currently playing a trumpet at full volume and out of time and tune with the rest of the orchestra. Reassign your critic to the triangle, and coach him to only play when called on by the conductor. It is a matter of asserting yourself against that inner bully. Other approaches can also be used that bring greater inner peace and freedom to be yourself. By adjusting the behaviour of your Critic, you have greater freedom to chart the course in your life that matters to you, and will spend less time foundering or on the rocks.

Are you doing what is meaningful in life? Are you congruent across your thoughts, feelings and actions, and with your values and beliefs? If you want support to be more fully who you are, coaching can be a valuable avenue.

Celebrating Relationship

Couple in relationship
Being in relationship

Being in deep relationship with others trumps any other approach to learning about ourselves. We may take a journey into ourselves through solitude, meditation, and a myriad other ways to get better acquainted with ourselves, and raise our consciousness and awareness of what makes us tick. At times we may need space and time to disentangle from the complexities and crossed messages that play out when in relationship with others. However nothing beats relationship for creating an environment that enables growth.

I have enjoyed solitude, going on silent retreats and developing awareness of my inner world. None of that comes close to the pressure cooker of being in relationship with another human being and learning while in process. I manage that in small doses, then claim some space for myself before reengaging.

Also, I am not suggesting all relationships are positive. Some are diabolical, or at least damaging, and that we allow them to persist suggests lessons of self-worth and of ending abuse we have yet to learn.

As a young person I felt awkward and uncomfortable with myself, and even more so with and around others. Key messages from my internal critic were that I was inadequate and unworthy, and no one would want to know me. No wonder I felt awkward. Those messages still play though with less intensity. They interfere with engaging smoothly and easily. I watch others who seem to flitter easily into and out of connection with others, and sometimes I feel jealous. I wish it was that easy for me.

However, I have learnt how to be with others, some others, in a deep, intimate and very real way. This includes recognising that:

  • a relationship comprises three primary entities: them, me and the in between.
  • deepening a relationship requires me to share something of myself. As I am more vulnerable and trusting I invite the other to join me. What they do then is their choice.
  • as a relationship deepens feelings are unleashed from within as past experiences (often unconsciously) manifest as current behaviour. Recognising those feelings are not about this person but are about past wounds can assist the relationship building process, especially if I don’t make the person with me the dumping ground for my past hurts. Staying with those feelings and allowing myself to be seen and held in and through those moments is healing. Dumping them on the other person is damaging for them and the relationship.
  • being with the other person as they struggle in their own experience is a privilege so long as they are not dumping their past on me, making me the target of their pain.
  • Empathy, forgiveness and love are crucial ingredients for moving through hurt between me and the other person.
  • in addition to the three primary entities, a relationship includes all those who have been part of both our lives. Their voices, their shaping of our beliefs, attitudes and perceptions, and how they may have hurt us may manifest in our minds or be reflected in the other person at any moment.
  • Not all relationships are equal. Some people will not respect or positively respond to my vulnerability or genuine attempts at being in relationship. Choosing wisely about when and where and with whom to share myself is important.
  • Being in relationship is a dance. It is not a linear process, going deeper, deeper, and deeper still. Instead, it is learning how to engage with this person in front of me, different from all others. Which steps do we share and that enable us to flow together? Which steps do we struggle with and how do we develop in them? What causes us to step on each other’s toes or to trip and fall? How do we pick ourselves up and start again? When is it appropriate to let go and move away? When do we choose to return and reconnect?

These things I have learned are about being in relationship with anyone, not just an intimate partner. The degree of intimacy (“in to me see”) and engagement can be contextual, but often it is choice.

Being in relationships is not an easy exercise. It can be deeply rewarding. At the end of the day success is, in my mind, defined by how I have engaged with others, and what I have learnt about being more fully and authentically with others. In the process I will have seen aspects of myself previously unconscious, and encountered challenges that require me to dig deep and develop new capacities. By being in meaningful relationship with others we have the opportunity to learn about ourselves more deeply and intensely than any other way I know.

What have you learned about being in relationship with others? What gold have you gleaned from your experiences?

Co-Counselling: A Doorway to Self-Directed Healing and Transformation

I have been practising Co-counselling for over six years, and as a result I am equipped to process emotions, identify and resolve patterns of belief and behaviour that get in my way, and am able to create my own positive future. These and other outcomes are directly accessible by learning and practising Co-counselling.

I became aware of Co-counselling as a result of the Essentially Men programme, the skills learned being a core to the programme. As I learned Co-counselling my capacity to work with myself and support others increased; I became more emotionally competent. Now, as a facilitator of Essentially Men programmes it is a vital part of my tool-set.

When I first attended training I realised I was harbouring significant anger and was distancing myself from women because of a then recent betrayal by a woman who had been a dear friend for many years. Consequently I would not allow women close to me, and I was failing to form and maintain intimate relationships. I carried so much distress that I didn’t know how to act differently. As a direct result of my Co-counselling training I was able to identify and dislodge patterns based in fear, grief and anger, and opened up to new possibilities. I was able to re-engage with women in an open, wholesome way, and that led to healthy relationships.

The ability to identify my core needs, the distress associated with them not being met, and discharging the built up energy, has enabled me to autonomously direct my own healing process. I have become my own healing detective, able to find a symptom that indicates a blockage in my own flow of life, and track back to the source and resolve it.

Far more than focusing on and healing past hurts, Co-counselling supports and encourages actively creating positive futures. Validations are core to the practice, tapping into the positive truths we hold about ourselves, and expressing them, perhaps reversing what may be a lifetime of self-criticism. Action planning is used to map out next steps. Celebration magnifies the positive experience of success and acknowledgement. These are founded on authentic connection with self, and not on the fabricated distress of a lifetime of pain. Learning the skills and practices of Co-counselling is liberating and enlarging, and enables you to write a new script for your life. I have for mine.

More than at any time in my life, I am now living the life I always wanted. I am married to the woman of my dreams. I have written the book I had known was in me. I am increasingly working in the way I have always dreamed of. I am manifesting my purpose and vision more fully than ever before, and I know that more is to come as I continue to open to myself and allow my essence to emerge with greater freedom and passion.

I have learned that how I feel is not hard-coded. I can change my experience, my attitudes, beliefs, patterns of behaviour, and even how I feel. I am captain of my ship, navigator of my life, and that I have proven I can withstand storms with a certainty that comes from knowing and loving myself. And Co-counselling has assisted me to achieve this.

If you are struggling with self-limiting beliefs, burdened by pain that seems unrelenting and overwhelming, are deafened by your own internal voice of criticism, or want to shape a better future, I encourage you to add Co-counselling to your toolset. It is personal and portable, can go with you wherever you choose to travel. It will assist you to feel and experience life more fully, so that whatever you believe and want to create can become a reality. It will bring you into community with others who are interested in creating a better planet by creating better selves, themselves, and then living their purpose more fully.