Easter Resolutions

photo of blossom to illustrate blog on Easter ResolutionsThis weekend I have been soaking up the sun (and eating chocolate) and pondering the nature of renewal.  Many religions have spring festivals which celebrate the idea of birth and re-birth and renewal – all in line with nature.  The fields are full of spring lambs, the flowers (and weeds!) are emerging and new life seems rampant.  It effects people too – the Cornish beaches have been full of locals and visitors alike, shedding their winter clothing and exposing pale bodies to the warm freedom of sunshine.  It all makes me wonder why we don’t make Easter resolutions.

I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions.  People put themselves under pressure to make multiple life changes when the days are short and cold, when it barely gets light before the long night begins again.  In January I am usually fighting an urge to hibernate – being up and dressed and at my desk constitutes a major achievement without the added pressure to lose weight, exercise more, give up alcohol etc.  Trying to execute such change in the middle of winter goes against nature.  It is punitive and often destined to fail.

Spring, on the other hand, is a time full of optimism.  I want to eat healthily and the fields are full of fantastic produce (anyone who knows me knows I get ridiculously excited about the first Cornish asparagus each year).  I want to be out walking in the fresh air, or swimming in the sea.  So why not make Easter resolutions and have a greater chance of success?

But it’s not just physical change.  Spring is a great time to make emotional and psychological change too.  Mood and confidence are often lifted by sunshine.  In the clear light of day it is easier to see the dust and to sweep it away.  It is why we spring clean our houses but the same applies to personal change too.  Now is a great time to set goals, to plan and to implement the change you want to see in your life.

That is why, later this afternoon, I will be sitting down to make my own Easter resolutions.  And, of course, I always have time to help you with yours too.

Brave New World – How do you respond to the unfamiliar?

Brave New WorldEarlier this week I was sitting on a beach, morning coffee in hand, reflecting on all things Yellow Dot.  My peace was soon disturbed by the arrival of a visiting family.  The children ran headlong down a slipway onto the beach and then stopped.  I see this often with families.  The focus has all been on getting to the beach but not on what to do once they arrive and so they rush to the sand and then – stop.  But this time, I was more interested in what happened next.  Each of the three children approached this Brave New World differently and I wonder if you recognise yourself in any of the responses.

The youngest of the boys was (at a guess) around five or six years old.  He rushed to take off his shoes and socks and ran around barefoot in the sand, laughing.  Then he sat down, letting handfuls of sand trickle through his fingers, examining every grain and tiny pebble with wonder.  He was totally immersed in the joy of the unfamiliar.

His older brother was around nine or ten years old.  His immediate response was to throw seaweed and sand at his siblings.  This was rapidly followed by finding the biggest rock he could carry and smashing it repeatedly on the slip way, shouting “yeah, I’ve broken it”, when it finally cracked.  I see this a lot in adult behaviour too.  The need to hurt someone or destroy something we do not understand.  The unfamiliar becomes something to conquer or diminish.

Their older sister gave me most pause for thought.  She was probably around twelve or thirteen.  She ran down the slipway and stopped at the bottom with her brothers and then – nothing.  She brushed off the sand and seaweed the older boy threw but did not complain.  She watched each of her brothers in turn but clearly felt unable to join in with either the exploring or the destruction.  She asked her mother if she should take off her shoes but she didn’t want to get sandy.  She looked repeatedly to her mother, as if hoping for some direction.  Eventually she headed back up the slipway to join her mother, observing the beach from the safety of the promenade.  I wondered when she became so timid, so self-conscious, so completely out of her depth in an unfamiliar environment.

I have worked with lots of people over the years helping them to adapt to a new environment or Brave New World of one sort or another.

I don’t often get to work with women who embrace the new with a sense of joyful adventure – these women don’t necessarily need my skills.  But they do number amongst my closest friends.

I have worked with new managers who have taken teams apart, changed routines and imposed new work regimes within a few weeks of starting.  They have determined to destroy the unknown and rebuild in their own familiar way, without taking the time to see how the existing systems work.  For them, the Brave New World has to be cowed and conquered.

I have also worked with many women who are timid in the face of change.  Who don’t know how to respond to the unfamiliar.  Women who lack confidence and continually seek approval and support from others.  Self-conscious women who avoid the need to change.

Which of these children do you most identify with?  How brave are you when faced with a Brave New World?  Would you like to approach the world with less anxiety and just a little more wonder?

The wonderful starts here.

click and be brave

 

Cognitive Dissonance – or what happens when we disagree with ourselves.

multi-coloured lights to represent cognitive dissonanceCognitive dissonance is a slightly unwieldy psychological term for a phenomenon we will all have experienced.  It is the uncomfortable, confused feeling we get when two or more of our beliefs or values are in conflict with each other.

Dissonance is defined as a lack of harmony between musical notes. That’s really a good way of thinking of this – a kind of harsh, discordant clashing of thoughts and ideas in your own mind.

I experience cognitive dissonance all the time and I suspect that you do too.  That’s perfectly ok.  The important thing is what you do next.

For example, I have a fundamental belief in kindness and tolerance.  I think the world would be a much better place if we just accepted that other people have a right to their own viewpoints.  I also believe very strongly that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” (Edmund Burke).  So sometimes, when I see the expression of views which are alien to my own beliefs and values, I don’t know whether to challenge or accept, to say something or be tolerant.

This is a really uncomfortable place to be.  I want to stand up for what I believe in but I’m not sure what that is.  Which belief should win?

None of us wants to feel uncomfortable so we are motivated towards behaviours which will reduce the cognitive dissonance.  Sometimes we find helpful behaviours but, more often, when we are being less self-aware, we will find unhelpful responses.

Avoidance

It is really easy to reduce cognitive dissonance by avoiding the situations that cause it.  In the example above I could stop using social media, stop reading newspapers and stop exposing myself to some of the more extreme racist, sexist etc. views that are expressed.  If I am never faced with a need to challenge views I will never feel uncomfortable about it.

Adjustment

Alternatively, I could simply adjust my beliefs to fit any given situation.  If faced with a particularly hateful comment on Twitter, for example, I could convince myself that there is no need to respond because it was probably written by a robot and therefore I am not able to influence it.  Or I could tell myself not to feed the trolls.

In avoiding or adjusting I am really just trying to make myself feel more comfortable.  I am not addressing the fact that, behind the immediate situation, I need to find a way to accommodate both beliefs.  Real learning and self-awareness does not come from a comfortable place.  It is this very dissonance which tells us that there is a learning opportunity at hand.

You may not share my conflicting views about tolerance and challenging hatred.  This could lead you to think that cognitive dissonance is not an issue for you.  But think outside of my immediate example and look at your own experiences.

Perhaps you gave up drinking or smoking as a new year resolution.  You genuinely believe that smoking/drinking is bad for you but you also genuinely believe that it helps you to relax and de-stress.  How do you decide what to do when the craving kicks in?  Which belief is given dominance and how do you reduce the dis-harmony?

Maybe your relationship is in difficulty.  You fundamentally believe in the vows you made (for better or worse, till death do us part) but you also believe that you have the right to be in a happy and fulfilling relationship.

That, right there, is an opportunity for personal development.  You have been presented with an opportunity to learn something important about yourself.  But the learning doesn’t always come easily.

In my case, many years ago, I learned about Unconditional Positive Regard.  I learned that it is important to respect people, to accept that they are a product of their experiences and that it is not my place to judge them.  But I also learned to separate the person from the behaviour.  I can challenge what they say.  I can challenge what they do.  But if I am to be congruent, to stick within my beliefs about kindness and tolerance, I have to do so respectfully.  I cannot be nasty or vicious in my response.  This allows my apparently conflicting beliefs to operate in harmony with one another.  It took me three years of counsellor training to really learn this lesson and I am still faced with it on a daily basis.  FYI – I still don’t feed the trolls!

What have you learnt about yourself and your beliefs today?

How are you going to make the most of this learning opportunity?

Coaching for Personal Development

Be Careful what you Wish for

Dandelion clock against pink sky to illustrate blog be careful what you wish forYou will all have heard of the phrase “be careful what you wish for”.  Over the last two or three weeks I have had cause to reflect on it more than usual, so I thought I would share my thoughts with you.

I have been working with a number of women who are contemplating major changes in their lives.  Some of them are motivated away from a source of discontent; for example, a difficult relationship or unfulfilling job.  Others are motivated towards something that they particularly want; starting a business or re-locating.

Part of my job as a coach is to remind clients to “be careful what you wish for”.  It is not in my nature to be negative or to squash a woman’s dreams and I need to be clear that this is not what is happening here.  I would always encourage clients to embrace change.  However, with every change you make in your life, the gains are accompanied by losses.  It is just as important to consider the potential losses as it is the gains.

For example, some years ago we stayed at a little B&B in St Ives.  The owners told us that they were selling up and moving back to their home town of Altrincham.  It had been their dream for many years to take early retirement, move to Cornwall and open a B&B and they were proud of the fact that they had made it happen.  However, what they hadn’t considered was how much they would miss their grandchildren.  The children could only visit in the school holidays and the school holidays were, of course, the busiest time for a B&B.  Quick visits up North in the colder, winter months just weren’t enough.  For this particular couple, the loss far outweighed the gain.

So, if you are contemplating change, please do be careful what you wish for.  Make sure that you consider the losses as well as the gains, and then, when you are sure, go for it!

Help me to get the change I want