Tag Archives: anxiety

Beyond the Fluffy Kitten Effect – a positive perspective!

Crisis is all Around

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A week or so ago I read an interesting article on treehugger.com regarding the  floods in Colorado. Unfortunately this type of article, which tells the story of heart ache and devastation for fellow human beings is now all too common. In reading the article I was drawn to concept that as a society we’ve become immune to crisis.

Everyday, driven primarily by the mainstream media we are bombarded with an overwhelming number of stories and images that explain in detail, the negative things that are happening all around us. In fact, so prevalent has this focus become that it is almost impossible to escape. These stories and images extend from examples relating to single individuals through to the mass destruction of civil wars and environmental catastrophe.

Negativity Bias – a perpetual state of fear

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What many of us don’t realise is that as human beings we have an inherent bias towards the negative. That is, embedded deep within the reptilian parts of our brains, is our primary desire for safety and survival. From the very start of our evolution to become ‘modern man’ we have relied on this brain function to help our species survive and thrive.

Today, how this primary desire for safety and survival manifests is through an unconscious bias towards the negative; our negativity bias. That is, no matter how positive a person you claim to be, as a human being we are each  inherently more aware (at least at an unconscious level) of the dangers around us. It is true that some people are better able to deal with this than others, but this awareness of the negative is still the same. In fact, the theory of negativity bias suggests that we are five times more conscious of negative events than we are positive.  Hence, it requires five positives events to compensate for every negative one!

Restoring the balance – beyond the fluffy kitten effect

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It is a reasonable assumption that the focus of the mainstream media on the negative, is merely a collective unconscious reaction to our negativity bias. That is, because this bias exists within each of us, it is not unsurprising that we all are drawn to the negative stories, which drives up ratings and creates a perpetual cycle of fear. And, I’m sure it could be argued that this perpetual cycle of fear is what creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of threat-fear-reaction-threat, at the micro (individual) and macro (country) level. (The need for increased military spending and a nuclear deterrent is one such self-fulfilling prophecy that comes to mind!)

Whether this is true or not, is up to the audience to decide. And this does not mean that bad things are not happening constantly around us. But, what the Fluffy Kitten Effect tells is that the desire for positivity still exists. The Fluffy Kitten Effect is revealed by that single article in the news about the kitten being saved from the tree, or the dog that can ride the skateboard, or the birth of new Panda cubs etc etc, which is intended to restore our faith in the world we live within. It is the one glimmer of ‘goodness’ in an otherwise stream of negatativity.

For the average person living in modern society, the influenceable danger that may threaten our safety and survival is no longer as common as it was during our early evolution as primitive man. That is, today we are less likely to die from eating poisonous berries or be killed by a savage animals than we were back then. Yet the parts of our brain that are wired to be aware of potential threats are as strong as ever.

To overcome this we need to restore the balance and go beyond the Fluffy Kitten Effect. We need to find ways to increase the positivity, whilst decreasing the negativity we observe in every day life. A useful start of this for many of my friends has been to no longer watch the TV news or read news papers. Instead they are focusing on using this time for that which brings them greater positivity, meaning and purpose.

The Choice is Yours…

Ultimately once we become aware of our negativity bias we are given a choice. We can continue living a life where we allow the negativity that surrounds us every day to keep us in a unconscious (or even conscious) perpetual state of fear. Or, we can change our perspective and focus our attention on the richness and beauty of life and humanity!

Stuck – focus on the process, not the solution

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Stuck in the Paradox of Choice

Over the last month I’ve had several conversations with people who are just stuck; their unhappy with their current place and want to do or be something different, but they don’t know what.

When talking to each of these people it became obvious that they were stuck in the paradox of choice. That is, in front of them they each had a variety of choices as to what job they could do, where they could live, and how they could choose to live their life. And while being in the position of having so many choices was great, they found themselves unsure of which of their choices to pursue, or even whether they should pursue any of them at all.

In all essence they were stalled by the number of possibilities in front of them.

Why before What

In each of the conversations with those people who where were stuck, I couldn’t help but challenge them on whether they really knew what they wanted to achieve in the first place. That is, when we know the destination, assessing which path to take becomes easier.

When I raised the question of ‘Why’ – what is the purpose you are trying to fulfil in considering any of these options – they each looked at me blankly.

“Surely it’s only when we understand why something is important to us in terms of contributing to our purpose, that we can understand what the best options could be for fulfilling it.” I stated.

In the face of Uncertainty – Focus on the Process!

The question of purpose is not always an easy one to solve. Often, when we haven’t properly considered this – what is the purpose of our lives – we sit faced with a blank field of uncertainty in front of us.

Unfortunately, as is wired into our physiology, uncertainty for most human beings breads anxiety and fear. And to resolve this, we rapidly fumble around trying find a solution, often unconsciously clasping onto the most convenient solution rather than that which will help us truly fulfil our potential and live our purpose.

To ease our anxiety and fear in the face of uncertainty however, we don’t need to jump straight to solution mode; we don’t need to ‘fix-it’ as quickly as possible. Instead, we can fill the space with a process that helps us on the journey to find the solution.

Process = Journey of Discovery

The recommendation I gave to each person I spoke with is to hold the tension of wanting to find an answer and use your energy to go on a journey of discovery. To guide them on this journey I encouraged them to consider a few simple questions:

– Who am I ? (who do you really want to live your life as?)

– Why am I here? (what contribution do you wish to make in this world?)

Through considering these questions I’ve already seen these people explore different alternatives, connect with different people who give them energy and most importantly, contribute more positively to those around them.

The answers in life are not always easy and obvious but embarking on a journey of discovery, where our focus is on fulfilling our potential and purpose, is what helps us live in a state of unconditional happiness.

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Development Areas are Useful, but the Key is to Play to your Strengths!

“You have Development Areas”

With part of my time spent in the corporate world, I’m constantly amazed at the fixation of many on what they call ‘Development Areas’. As I understand them in how they are described by others, it seems that these development areas are areas of weakness, where you are behaving or operating below the required standard.

Although I agree that we all have these ‘Development Areas’ depending on the context we are in, I don’t agree with our constant focus on them. Often I’ve wondered whether our fixation on ‘Development Areas’ is actually an unconscious way of holding people back and not pushing them forward to fulfil their potential. How many times have you heard? – “You are performing well, but we believe that you have these development areas!”

Fulfil your Potential – Play to your Strengths

In the journey we each progress through in our lives, to live in a state of unconditional happiness it’s critical that we are always consciously focused on fulfilling our potential and living with purpose. It’s true that to do this requires us to constantly explore what we are doing which is holding us back – e.g. our beliefs, behaviours, abilities and attitude – which could be described as ‘Development Areas’. That is, we should constantly explore how we further build or refine our skills, knowledge and/or capability in the context of fulfilling our purpose. But,  this is not the complete picture. To live in a state of unconditional happiness through living with purpose, we need to go beyond the focus on development areas – we each need to play to our strengths!

Playing to our strengths means that we must first know what our strengths are! Often, we get tricked into focusing on development areas, because we don’t always know what we’re good at and what impact these strengths have.

Secondly, when we know what our strengths are, we should explore how we use our strengths to make a positive contribution to society and thus live our purpose!

Finally, in knowing our strengths and how we use them, we should focus on using them more intelligently and more consciously to increase the positive impact we have.

A final word…

When you’re told to focus on your ‘Development Areas’ be sure to listen and understand where extra effort is required to improve in the areas that may be holding you back from living with purpose.

However, beyond this, be sure to play to your strengths. Your strengths represent the things you are good at and through which you will make the most positive contribution to society – your strengths are what will help you fulfil your potential, live with purpose and ultimately live in a state of unconditional happiness! And…the first step in doing this is to figure out what you strengths are!!

Are you a Victim?

There Are Victims Among Us…

Every time I watch this clip I can’t help but think about a few individuals that I’ve helped over the years. These individuals were all good people, with the right motives and all in search of happiness and fulfilment in their lives. However, in addition to these great traits, they also had one thing in common:

They were all Victims!

When I say that they were victims, I mean they allowed themselves to be victims to their circumstance; whenever things didn’t work out the way they’d hoped, they just sat there and complained, rather than taking ownership and action. 

How do we become Victims?

I’m not sure what the true reasons are for why we become victims, it could be both a nature and a nurture thing. However, what I am sure about about is why we continue to be victims into adulthood. And the reason is…

Because we avoid taking responsibility!

The absurdity of the video clip reveals this … ‘Why don’t they just walk up the steps?’ … I’m sure you wondered. That’s exactly right!

Although the video clip above is an extreme example, often when working with vicitms I’ve felt myself asking the same questions of them as we would ask of those people in the clip – Why don’t you take action? Why don’t you take responsibility?

Whenever I ask these questions of victims I always get bombarded with the usual load of excuses, all of which are designed to hold them in the comfortable ‘victim state’ they exist in!

Breaking Free of the Victim Mindset

To break free of the victim mindset is, as I describe it, simple but tough. It’s simple because taking responsibility is as easy as recognising when we’re avoiding responsibility. And then, when we realise that we’re in ‘avoiding’ mode, we seek to make our decisions for ourselves. However, although this seems simple, making the decisions we need to make can sometimes feel quite tough.

Why does it sometimes feel tough to make decisiosn for ourselves? Well…from what I’ve experienced with people, it’s because we’re scared of getting it wrong!

Being Scared of Getting it Wrong

The reason why we become victims and hence avoid taking responsibility is purely about fear. Often this fear is intense and buried deep within our unconscious. And, our fear is about being scared of getting it wrong.

One of the key existential concerns that each human has is the fear of freedom; we are free to choose what we do with our lives in the moment and over the course of our existence. We are therefore responsible for our lives. This on anyone’s measure is quite daunting, because the natural question ask is: what if I get it wrong?

This fear of getting it wrong, as I’ve said is natural. But this is only relevant if we believe there is a right and wrong decision to make. For many of the decisions we have to make we perceive them to be more important than they potentially are – yes, some decisions are critically important, but not all of them!

Throughout our lives we have to make many decisions, some big and some small. For the big decisions we know that they may have a significant impact on our lives. However, this is not a reason to avoid them or defer them to someone else. Because, believe it or not, this is still making a decision.

Stop being a Victim – Take Ownership of Your Life!

To avoid being a victim we must therefore recognise when we need to make decisions and then take ownership of our own lives. This does not mean that the decisions are not tough, but it does help us realise that whether we like it or not, they are our decisions to make!

Don’t allow yourself to be trapped as a victim – conquer your fear by stopping yourself from taking responsibility, so you can begin to take ownership of your life!

Everyone has a Story – What’s Yours?

In my life I help a lot of people. In fact I believe that one of the most precious gifts you can give someone is quality time, because time is the one thing each of us has humans can never get back in your life. In helping people deal with the challenges they face I’ve come to realise that:

Everyone has a Story to Tell

I have not met a single person who does not have something in their past that still effects them today. It could be bullying at school, a bad childhood, a broken relationship, parents divorcing…and the list goes on. For some people these events (or stories) were highly traumatic and therefore still haunt them today, acting as a weight that drags them down. For others, their stories are more subtle in how they influence their present state of being.

What’s your Story? What’s your Identity?

When I first started realising that everyone had a ‘story’, I also began to realise that many people were holding onto their stories as a source of identity for who they are today. At one level, this made sense, because our stories were a part of our past, and hence were a part of the experiences we’d had. However, on another level I was baffled – why would anyone  allow themselves to form an identity based on the negative events of the past? Why would we allow such a weight to continue to hang around our necks as a form of weight on our soul, preventing us from being who we truly could be?

This epiphany on the connection between our stories and identity was great, as today it enables me to challenge people in two ways:

  1. The first point of challenge is: What’s the story that you are holding onto and how does that shape the identity that you’ve formed for yourself? That is, how is your story impacting on how you show up in the world through your thoughts, attitudes, behaviours and beliefs. And more critically, how is this helping you be all you can be, or holding you back?
  2. The second point of challenge is: What’s another way of telling that story? Too often we choose one version of the story, that for many is classically the more negative version. Fortunately however, we can choose to change this by crafting another version – we can unpack the negatives and draw out the more positive interpretations of all the events, regardless of how bad they were.

From all the experiences I’ve had, I know that life is too short to allow the negative stories of your past define who you are today. Often we allow this to happen  because we find a bizarre sense of comfort in the identity that’s created; it’s familiar, and the brain is wired to like familiarity. But, the version of the story we’re currently holding doesn’t have to be the only one – after all it is just a story. 

My challenge to you is therefore, to consider:

* What stories do you have about you, and how are you allowing them to define who you are today?

* What’s an alternate version of those stories that allows you to create the real definition of who you truly are and can be?

Through the stories we tell and hold on to, we define who we are in this world. So, if this is the case, why wouldn’t we tell stories that help us live in a state of unconditional happiness – a state of inner contentment and peace of mind. Why wouldn’t we tell stories about ourselves that we love telling?

Become the author of your life – craft your own stories about the real you!

www.flowwithpurpose.com