The subtly of change

When things are tough, their tough.

Our problems can come to dominate our view of the world, our relationships and sense of self. They touch everything and anything. The relating and associative capabilities of the mind knows no bounds.

And yet, change is possible. Maybe not overnight. Nor instantly. But still possible. Subtly.

It may start by simply noticing those briefest of moments when the problem isn’t as much of a problem. Those exceptions to the problem. Times when the problem would normally be present but isn’t, or isn’t as dominant.

Do you notice these instances? Do they register in your darting mind as contrary to the problems dominance? What did you do to that helped this moment come around? What differences, however brief or limited, did this moment make? Who else may have noticed these differences? What might the existence of such moments suggest about your problem? About you?

So, careful now. Change is afoot. Quietly.

““Where you stand determines what you see and what you do not see; it determines also the angle you see it from; a change in where you stand changes everything.” – Steve de Shazer

A note on self esteem.

Overly positive self help books that promote positive thinking as a panacea for all human woes can be grating (think, “The Secret”).

But the jotion of self esteem posited by Nahon and Lander (2005) is one that sticks. They suggest that self esteem is a global rating of the self and stems from having self respect. We develop self respect from honouring our values in our actions, not repeating positive mantras to ourselves.

Simply put:

Daily value driven beahviours = self-respect = self-esteem.

On Values

Over the past year, I’ve been intelletually captured by the work of Danielle Nahon and Nedra Lander (2005). Their work, building on that of O. H. Mower, focuses on the curical role of Integrity in our mental well-being, way of living and relationships with others.

There are just two fundamental beliefs central to the Integrity Model (IM):

  • Humans beings have deeply personal values
  • Ones experinece of emotional distress depends upon the degree to which one violates these personal values

These beliefs in themselves are deeply challenging and insightful.

Where many of us may seek to remedy our symptoms of anxiety, “negative thoughts” and other experiences through the application of psychological tricks (aka “techniques”) or other means, the IM challenges us to reconsider our experiences.

Specfically, it challenges us to ask ourselves: what values that I hold central to me am I betraying?

I can certainly relate to this…

In 2018 I experienced a bout of “insomnia” where I’d fall to sleep OK but would wake up in the wee hours of the morning and struggle to fall back asleep again. All I could think about in these times was what I was doing with work? How could I overcome a particular challenge? Why wasn’t a colleague being co-operative?

In these ruminations, I would point the finger at my colleague. I’d blame them for the confusion I was experiencing and resulted in me not addressing the issue.

Instead I sought to find ways to get my solid 7-8 hours sleep that is held as the holy grail of optimal living. What if I read at night before bed, would that put me in to a sounder slumber? Maybe if I practice mindfulness if I do wake up, I could fall back asleep sooner? What if I just don’t worry about it?

Needless to say, the results were mixed. Some nights I could get back to sleep. Other nights I couldn’t.

The breakthrough was the application of the basic principles set out by Lander & Nahon (2005) described above.

Rather than seeking to remove the symptoms of lack of sleep, I sought to undestand how I was living my life. Or, more specifically, how was I being at work in relation to my own values?

A bit of reflection highlighted that I was hiding away from building bridges with my colleague in question. Afterall, pointing the finger at him wasn’t helpful. Globally labeling his whole character as “on the psychopath” scale (despite me knowing nothing about psychopathy!) didn’t help either. Doing so just created distance between us with my own crap being a key driver for this.

So, what did do about it? Afterall, we can philisophically reflect on our experiences all day but we must also live in the world!

Like all things, small steps are best. I simply took more an interest in my colleagues week, asking him where possible and suitable: “how’s the week been? Hows your son?” etc.

Nothing major but a way of being that is congruent with my own values. One that builds bridges.

Fast forward a year. THe relationship is still fraught but I’m sleeping better knowing that I’m doing what I can to keep things professional and moving forwards.


See beyond the symptoms, what values are you betraying in how you’re acting?

References:

Lander, N. R. and Nahon, D. (2005). The integrity model of existential psychotherpy in working with the ‘difficult patient’. Routledge: New York.

The myth of techniques

I love exercising and those who know my training regime know its plagued with frequent niggles.

Best remedy: ibuprofen and some ice. A simple technique that often sorts things out.

So when it comes to personal development and overcoming our barriers towards growth, are techniques all that we need? A perfect strategy that controls the mind and body to unlock our hidden potential…

Working as a sport psychologist, the profession has become synonymous with techniques. Many athletes approach me asking for a technique to overcome their anxiety, deal with their negative thoughts and build their confidence. And why not? The way sport psychology is written about in the media suggests this is what we do. Indeed many sport psych talk about these techniques. Therefore, sport psych = techniques. How dare one stary from the dominant narrative!

But I’d disagree! Whilst there may be a place for self talk, visualisation and relaxation etc. to aid performance, the use of these techniques are merely symptom reduction. I believe they overlook something far more important. So important that if you can gain an insight into it, you can begin to make meaningful change (and those techniques may actually stick!).

That is, they fail to consider your worldview. The accumulation of your assumptions, beliefs, values and drives that you carry with you into each moment.

If you’re belief is that not winning a medal is a mark of your inferiority as a human being, then why on earth would a dosage of positive self-talk as you slip down the rankings have any meaningful impact on performance!?

Stop seeking quick fixes. Start getting curious about what your problems reflect about how you are in the world.

Back to exercising. For me, perhaps my recurring symptoms aren’t something to just be remedied. Perhaps they suggest a radical alternative perspective of reflection, understanding and meaningful change.

Conscience awakening

There’s someone at the door!” I shouted to whoever was near me. They ignored me.

*Chap*

*Chap*

*Chap*

*Chap*

“There’s someone at the door! Answer the door! I’m busy!”.

Again, they ignored me.

*Chap*

*Chap*

*Chap*

*Chap*

“C’mon! I always have to answer the door!”

Again, they weren’t bothered.

Whoever was at the door was getting impatient and wasn’t appreciating being ignored either. The “chaps” turned into “booms” and were quicker…

*Boom**Boom**Boom**Boom*

I groaned, got up and walked towards the door.

*Boom**Boom**Boom**Boom*

I woke up at this point – I have no idea who was at the door, no idea who I was shouting at to open the door, but I knew one thing, my heart was pounding.

In fact, I can remember the rhythm:

BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM

Whilst others on the outside reading this may take interest and get fixated on interpreting my relationship with the strangers I was shouting to; I knew what it meant.

With my heart pounding, the feeling I woke up with was the same one that dominated my gut the evening before. Guilt.

The evening before I’d read an excellent article by a friend in a science journal and I thought to myself: “I could do that”. And then the guilt came.

You see, I’d spent the last year and a bit convincing myself that I can’t write academic material for science journals. I was convinced by it.

Yet I also value contributing to society, sharing knowledge and wisdom, engaging in debate and to develop myself. My year of convincing myself that I can’t write was a year of frankly deluding myself. A year of hiding from my sense of responsibility to contribute to my own profession. In its simplest form, it was a year of kidding myself on. I wasn’t being who I wanted to be.

No wonder I felt guilty! Conscience has a way of coming to redeem itself. And it did via the means of a RUDE awakening the next night.

So, for me, it’s time to start writing!

A Perfect Start

Seth Godin is a writing machine. For 8 years solid he’s written a blog a day. That blog helps him serve his mission of levelling people up and connecting with others.

Could I do that, I asked myself? Could I write a blog a day? Even just for a week? Perhaps noting some interesting thoughts of the day, observations or readings?

“Well, I’ll download the WordPress app. But what will I even say? Maybe I’ll just watch an episode of Stranger Things to let my unconscious mind create a hot topic.”

40 mins later. Nothing.

Some guitar? Still nothing.

“I’ll do it tomorrow. Then there’ll be something, I’m sure.”

Seeking perfect conditions is the death of creative progress