Taking Time

“But, then, in those good hours, those sunshine hours in the yard, you could make them slow, you could pull them up like they were well-trained horses and you could turn an hour in the flower garden into half a day, because you were living in five dimensions and the dimensions were the things you were smelling and the things you could taste and touch and hear and the things you could see, things within things, small universes in the stamen of a flower, layers upon layers…”

Boy Swallows Universe – Trent Dalton

I came across the above passage while reading Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton and loved the way it read. He’s got a fantastic way with words and it’s easy to see why the book has received so many accolades. If you’ve not read it, you can buy it here. Outside of the beautiful way it’s written (and whether Dalton did it on purpose or not) this passage describes the experience of Mindfulness Grounding; a technique that can help alleviate anxiety, stress, and spiralling thoughts. It’s a way to pause, breathe, settle, and prepare for what’s next.

By “slowing down time” this character was allowing himself to be present and enjoy the tiny wonders of the things he could see, smell, hear, taste and touch. By focusing on our senses we are immediately reconnected with our current reality; our sense of hearing tells us what we are hearing right now, not what we might hear tomorrow. It’s our brain that does the worrying about tomorrow’s sounds and by bringing our senses back to “now” our brain will naturally follow and becomes grounded and focused on the immediate moment – allowing our thoughts to slow down, allowing us to take time and stretch those seconds to relax, collect our thoughts and feelings before moving on with actions that will reward us and move us towards our goal.

So, how do we do it? Shukla (2020) outlines five recomendations for Mindfulness Grounding. There are different variations on these and you may only need a couple of these to take your own time, or you may need all. As always, it’s about what works for you but I would always recommend starting with a few deep breaths and then:

  • Look at 5 things – notice the colours, shapes, patterns of 5 things you can see from where you are.
  • Touch 4 things – this could be the feel of your clothes on your skin or maybe you can reach out and touch a wall, or a table. Notice the texture on your skin or the way your pen rolls in your fingers.
  • Listen to 3 things – Notice 3 sounds one by one. Seperate them from the hub-bub. Can you hear a bird calling or the sound of one particular car going by? Focusing on them one at a time will allow you to listen to it until your attention is back in the present moment.
  • Smell 2 things – Maybe you need to move from where you are to find something to smell. Smell is a powerful scent and quickly focuses our attention. Do you have a pack of mints you can smell or is there a flower nearby?
  • Taste 1 thing – This one can be tricky and may not always be available. If you’ve got that packet of mints, can you pop one in your mouth? Move it around your tongue and notice the different tastes. If your due a meal take the time to eat it slowly and focus on each flavour of the meal you are tasting.

Taking time is important for our mental health. Too easily our mind can race forwards or fling backwards but investing energy in the future or past doesn’t pay off. Grounding ourself in the moment and investing our time and energy here is how we generate change.

The Philosophy of YAAAAARGH!

My son, who turned four years old this weekend, approaches every day, task and challenge with one philosophy: “YAAAAAAAARRRRGH!”

Chances are if you’ve ever met a three or four year old, you’ll be familiar with this idea. The philosophy basically consists of yelling “YARGH” at the top of your lungs as you run directly at your sister, the toilet, the bath tub, the dog, your father, or anything else you’re hoping to get done in your day.

There’s a reckless abandon you need to adopt when living life through the Philosophy of YAAAAARGH – you don’t let little things like physics get in your way and sometimes you need to use your face to break your fall as you come off your bike because you were going too fast down a hill. But there’s also beauty in it, his high energy approach to every situation yields giggles and laughs almost every time for him and his sister.

There’s a reason we grow out of this stage. There wouldn’t be enough emergency room beds to house us all if we didn’t learn risk aversion at some point. But what if we keep the giggles and laughter and avoid the face-planting? There are significant mental health benefits to laughter and too often the idea of having a bit of a laugh and some fun takes a back seat to the serious business of living life or getting your job done. Behind the “good feeling” we get from laughter are a number of chemical reactions that occur within our brain – it alters dopamine and serotonin activity and releases endorphins. It also decreases a number of stress-making hormones and laughter therapy has been shown to be beneficial for the treatment of depression (Yim, 2016).

So how do you fit some YAAARRRGH into your day and get those laughs in?

Maybe you’re a leader in a workplace, is there an opportunity to make fun a pillar of your culture? Workplaces that incorporate fun into their day-to-day see an increase in morale, productivity and engagement. They’re also more likely to attract new employees, see increased levels of communication between team members and higher levels of customer satisfaction (Ford et al. 2003).

Perhaps you’re a parent – does deliberate fun have a place in your parenting style and your parenting goals? Activities that generate laughter away from screens can have benefits for child and parent alike. It’s an easy way to reduce stress for mum and dad, and for the kids it can have a positive impact on the reduction of childhood obesity, improve parental attachment and other social skills (Escobar-Chaves et al. 2010).

Your idea of fun might not involve anyone else. Some of my son’s best moments are on his own, creating whole worlds that he explores, conquers and revels in. Maybe you’re past the age of make believe but do podcasts, books, music or movies generate those happy hormones for you?

No matter who we are we have an opportunity to choose to fit some YAAARRRGH into our day. Try and avoid ending up in an emergency room but tap into your inner 4 year old and let rip with some giggles and laughter!


References

Escobar‐Chaves, S. L., Markham, C. M., Addy, R. C., Greisinger, A., Murray, N. G., & Brehm, B. (2010). The Fun Families Study: intervention to reduce children’s TV viewing. Obesity18(S1), S99-S101.

Ford, R. C., McLaughlin, F. S., & Newstrom, J. W. (2003). Questions and Answers about Fun at Work. Human Resource Planning26(4).

Yim, J. (2016). Therapeutic benefits of laughter in mental health: a theoretical review. The Tohoku journal of experimental medicine239(3), 243-249.

Grief and Goodbyes at Work

We all experience grief at some point in our lives and many of us will be familiar with the grief cycle of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance (Kubler-Ross, 1969). This cycle has been depicted in movies and TV shows and you may have heard it from a caring friend or relative after the passing of a loved one. The passing of someone we love is a familiar context for grief, we know what it looks like, sounds like and feels like. Grief in the workplace is a less familiar context and has less consideration but can have equal immediate and long-term impact on us as grief in any other context.

Vickers (2009) explored workplace grief and found that many workplaces have processes and policies in place for supporting employees who are experiencing grief from outside sources but many do not adequately consider the grief generated within or because of the workplace, the most common trigger for which is redundancy. This is an area where COVID-19 has had a significant impact – there are 32% more unemployed people in Australia in September 2020 than September 2019 (ABS, 2020). There will be people of all ages experiencing redundancy for the first time due to this pandemic and it’s worth considering their experience and the potential support needed.

Like the five stages of grief, Vickers (2009) has identified four stages of workplace grief relating to redundancy: Something Changed; Loss Commenced; Loss Confirmed; and Afterwards.

Something Changed is not always associated with redundancy but in all of Vickers’ subjects they talked about a period of euphoria, flying high on the organisations’ achievements, feeling highly committed, excited and values aligned before feeling like something changed. It was hard for the participants to pinpoint one single thing but this feeling of unease was evident and nearly all of them used the exact term “but then something changed”.

Loss Commenced was when this “change” became evident. It was more visible that things were shifting and was clearly tangible, there may have been conversations around reductions in duties or restructuring. Vickers highlights that this period is still before redundancy is a reality but is when the loss of things once enjoyed starts to be felt.

Loss Confirmed brings certainty – redundancy is happening and is the most emotional stage, characterised by anger, frustration, humiliation, rejection and anxiety. Things that were comfortable, enjoyable and valued are gone and often seen as having been “taken away”.

Afterwards has no fixed timeframe. The period after leaving the organisation will potentially see the emotions experienced in earlier stages fade over time. However, they don’t always and can still be felt after the person secures a new position. Some participants continued to report feelings of anger, uncertainty and mistrust towards their new organisation, even when it was perceived to be a “better” role than the one they left.

Grief is normal, be it after the passing of a loved one or leaving a position we love through redundancy. Experiencing grief in a healthy way enables us to understand and adapt to our “new normal”. Now is the time to connect with the support you need to process this experience, the danger in not doing so could see future endeavours impacted by the emotional hangover caused by this period of grief. Do you reach out to friends and family? Do you talk to those sharing the same experience? Do you get busy with budgeting, or planning? Or do you switch off and take some time to relax and reconnect with yourself? Maybe you’re not sure what’s next or don’t know how to process these emotions? Working with a Life Coach can help order these emotions and start you on a path forward, clearing the way for you to feel excitement about what’s next.


References

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), (2020). Labour Force, Australia, September 2020. Retrieved from https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/labour/employment-and-unemployment/labour-force-australia/latest-release

Kubler-Ross, E. (1969). On death and dying. Sydney, Australia: Tavistock. 

Vickers, M. H. (2009). Journeys Into Grief: Exploring Redundancy for a New Understanding of Workplace Grief. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 14(5), 401–419. doi:10.1080/15325020902724198 

Chalk and Cheese

One of our favourite family getaways is a camping trip. We went camping last week to a beautiful spot in the bush and let the kids go! We were camped on the banks of a creek so there were many adventures skimming stones, swinging on the rope swing and hanging out around the campfire.

We’ve always enjoyed seeing the difference in our two kids as they grow but this trip really brought it to light. It got me thinking about Nature vs Nurture – the debate around whether it is a person’s genes (nature) or their upbringing (nurture) that instills their values and develops their personality. For one of my assignments I came down hard on the side of nurture – surely it’s the impact of the parents and the society that determine a persons interests, values and behaviours right?! Obviously for my assignment I had to pick one or the other and then argue for it’s merits but real world, it’s not as clear and this trip with my two kids highlighted that for me.

We’ve got Daisy, Miss 6 year old, and James, our 3 year old little dude. While there is a bit of overlap, these two are such uniquely different people, which surprises me and teaches me many things. Daisy is extroverted, she draws energy from her interactions with others and was rarely at our camp, more likely to be off playing with her new friend Ava or sliding into someone’s bocce game. James on the other hand is much more introverted, able to draw energy from within and create whole worlds of his own on his own, being very comfortable playing by himself.

It’s easy to brush this off and think “So what? Daisy is more like me and James is more like his Mum, no big deal.” And that is what I would think, I’d also marvel at how these two children raised in the same house by and of the same parents could be so different. And then it struck me, this thinking dismisses the fact that these are two people, whole people, of their own mind, thoughts, personalities and values. I think too often we can see our children as part of us. Perhaps because we love them like they are and also why it hurts so much if they disappoint us, part of us has let us down. However, this takes away their power as whole humans, how can they be whole when they’re just a part of us?

Respecting our kids as whole humans also extends to respecting their choices about their bodies and their identity. One of my favourite pet names for Daisy has always been “Monkey”. One day she asked me to not call her that anymore, I felt like something had ended but felt proud that she was strong enough to make and voice a decision about how she wanted to be seen in the world. The same applies to hugging, kissing and tickling. When the kids say “stop” the game stops, if they don’t want to give someone a hug then the hug isn’t happening. Neither of the kids are big on kissing and it makes it all the more special when we score a goodnight kiss along with a hug – it’s something this other human has decided to share with us as opposed to a routine.

Respecting them as whole humans and acknowledging that I can (at best) influence them as they grow, means releasing control – replacing it with conversation and teaching, to empower them as they define themselves. This learning has helped me define myself as a parent.

Confidence or Arrogance?

I love a good podcast and I recently stumbled across a brilliant one called “David Tennant Does a Podcast with…”  The last episode of Season 1 is with actor Michael Sheen. I’ll include links below, have a listen to this and all the other episodes.

About 10 minutes into the episode, Michael speaks about his early acting experiences and his confidence that he would be discovered as the greatest actor the world had ever known. He speaks openly and honestly about the experience of realising he wasn’t going to be “anointed” with that title and the impact that had on his mental health. He describes having a “sort of breakdown”, losing all confidence and leaving college.

Michael then goes on to talk about rebuilding this confidence in a grounded, constructive way by re-engaging with acting classes and getting back to the basics of what he was trying to achieve. Doing it with the purpose of being an actor instead of doing it for the purpose of being famous meant he was open to learning and refining a skillset which developed his abilities.

Is this one of the differences between confidence and arrogance? Was Michael “confident” when he was waiting to be anointed or was he “arrogant”? The work by Kleitman, Hui and Jiang (2019) suggests that arrogance is confidence without ability. Perhaps this is why Michael had the experience he did? His purpose of being famous was arrogant because he lacked the abilities to be famous, if for no other reason than how do you define the specific abilities required for fame? Yet when he refocused his purpose and developed his abilities in acting, a clearly defined skillset, he was able to find new confidence and went on to be a successful actor?

So, what does confidence mean to you? Do you feel confident at the moment or do you need to hone your abilities to support it? Perhaps you are confident at the moment but you want to move onto something else? Will you lead into your new opportunity with arrogance or take the time to ensure or develop your abilities in order to find your confidence?


References

Kleitman, S., Hui, J.S. & Jiang, Y. (2019). Confidence to spare: individual differences in cognitive and metacognitive arrogance and competence. Metacognition Learning 14, 479–508. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11409-019-09210-x

Spotify Link: https://open.spotify.com/episode/2i2db3uaCuEiFo6WqcPQGP?si=IiMAijZPSc-_dCkv6-ECZA

Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/michael-sheen/id1450005207?i=1000436114712 

Post-Grad Purpose

This is the first of what I suspect will be many posts about “purpose” – the “why” that drives us everyday to think and behave the way we do. Many of us have a purpose but have never voiced it or even thought about it very much. There is strength in knowing, speaking and living your purpose:

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”

Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl

Frankl saw horrors that many of us can only imagine. His work “Man’s Search for Meaning” is his diary of life inside a Nazi Concentration Camp and offers a unique, and at times gut wrenching, insight into human psychology and development. Through this work he highlights the drive that humans have for meaning. Even in the most dire of situations he observed the strength that is evident when one is driven by purpose.

The conversation I had with a friend today, who we’ll call Sarah, was nowhere near as dark as Man’s Search for Meaning but still revolved around purpose. Sarah is in her 20s and has not long ago graduated university and now finds herself being pulled in a range of different directions as she tries to answer the question “what’s next?”. Does she move into the field she studied? Does she stick with a side hustle she’s got going at the moment? Or does she change course and return to study to try a new career path she’s recently discovered an interest in? It’s obviously not my role to give her the answers to these questions but it highlights the importance of purpose – with a clear “why”, her “how” will fall into place.

Sarah is not alone in this feeling either, it is common for graduates to feel a loss of purpose or to wonder why they even studied X degree in the first place. At 17 or 18 years old you set off on a path that you’re told you will follow for the rest of your life but it just isn’t how the world works anymore – the average person will have five different careers. Finishing high-school I was certain I would be a lawyer. I couldn’t have told you “why” I wanted to be a lawyer other than I liked public speaking and I heard it paid well.

When I started my degree I wasn’t able to clearly articulate “why” I was doing it and this lead to me changing my course a couple of times. Starting with a Bachelor of Social Science before moving into a Bachelor of Applied Social Science majoring in Coaching. As I learned about the importance of purpose I was better able to visualise and voice why I wanted to earn my degree and this brought me to the Bachelor of Counselling (Coaching). My purpose was best served by this degree and with that clarity came motivation.

Encouraging the development and understanding of purpose in adolescence and youth won’t necessarily set you on one career path for life. Nor is defining purpose as an adult a silver bullet. However, knowing “why” you want to do the things you do will provide direction and keep you grounded when you start asking yourself “what’s next?”


References

Damon, W., Menon, J., & Cotton Bronk, K. (2003). The development of purpose during adolescence. Applied developmental science7(3), 119-128.

Frankl, V. E. (1985). Man’s search for meaning. Simon and Schuster.

Uncertainty

The impact of COVID-19 has rolled through most of this year and it is predicted we will continue to feel its’ effects well into 2021.

Along with the physical effects of this virus there are countless ways it is effecting us psychologically. This includes an increase in anxiety disorders, depression, loneliness, confusion, anger and some PTSD symptoms (Black Dog Institute, n.d.). Even without experiencing one of these serious mental health concerns there is also an added layer of uncertainty that permeates our day to day lives at the moment.

A large part of our make up drives us to avoid uncertainty, it is through certainty that we feel safe and move into a mindset of “thrive” instead of “survive”. This is why governments, employers, and parents strive to provide certainty – we grow more, work more, develop more and spend more when we feel certain about what’s next.

So what’s happening for us at the moment? Emotional times layered with uncertainty make us perceive unpleasant events as more unpleasant than we would during times of certainty (Bar-Anan, Wilson & Gilbert, 2009). This might manifest for us as perceiving slights where there is none, or in greater suspicion of those around us, or not being as generous as we used to be with either our time or money, or perhaps everything just feels a bit more “meh”.

There’s another side to this though. The research by Bar-Anan et al. (2009) also tells us that during times of uncertainty we see pleasant events as more pleasant. Our perception at either end of the spectrum is amplified during times like these.

What does this tell us? I could write now about the importance of choosing your mindset or adjusting your attitude but for many of us there are serious consequences to this uncertainty. Maybe you’ve lost your job, maybe you’re missing a family event, maybe you’ve lost a loved one? It’s normal to grieve and worry and “adjust your attitude” isn’t what you want to hear at the moment. Maybe though, when you’re ready, or for those who haven’t been as impacted we can start to seek out the pleasant. It doesn’t matter how small, thanks to uncertainty the pleasant feeling will be amplified! “Tiny Wonders” are all around us and if we seek them out they will seem all the more wonderful and full of awe when the wheels have come off everything else.


References:

Bar-Anan, Y., Wilson, T., & Gilbert, D. (2009). The Feeling of Uncertainty Intensifies Affective Reactions. Emotion 9(1): 123-127. 

Black Dog Institute (n.d.). Mental Health Ramifications of COVID-19: The Australian Context. Retrieved from: http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/20200319_covid19-evidence-and-reccomendations.pdf 

Martin, J. (2020). Tiny wonders helped me through depression. Now they’re making lockdown bearable for Melburnians. ABC News. Retrieved from https://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2020-08-30/melbourne-lockdown-moments-help-overcome-depression-isolation/12601672