Tag Archives: Paradox

Stuck – focus on the process, not the solution

stuck_1116867i

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.

path journey

Micro-Manifestations – The patterns which define our Purpose

Forest

What we already know…

The purpose we seek to fulfil in our lives represents the purpose of our existence. When faced by such a significant statement, and choice, it’s easy to be daunted by the concept of searching for and even committing to something which will define us. Furthermore, when we realise that one of our core existential fears is of freedom – we fear the freedom we have to choose our life direction – we can understand why so few of us make the decision to ‘live with purpose’. But, what many people fail to realise is that each of us actually already know, albeit at an unconscious level, what our purpose is.

Look Outside to Find Within

When we hit the deepest darkest place within the existential vacuum it is easy to feel despair; it is easy to feel lost and without a destination or purpose; to feel that although there is no turning back to the life you’re leaving, there is also no clear path to follow into the future.

It is at this moment that we often intuitively begin our search within ourselves, introspecting to find the answers we need. However, this approach will not always provide what you desire, as although the answers to the questions posed within the existential vacuum (Who am I? and Why am I here?)  do come from within, they can only be answered from first looking outside. That is, to alleviate the tensions we feel and to discover the purpose we desire, we must focus first on our contribution to those around us – we must look outside of ourselves and focus on how and where we are making a positive contribution to the world. It is therefore, from outside ourselves that we find the answers which lie within.

Searching Outside – Look for the Micro-manifestations

Manifestation

The search outside to find our contribution to those around us can be a confusing one. It is rare for those passing through the existential vacuum to recognise that their contribution has been leaking from them throughout their lives; our purpose has always been with us, pouring from us into the world in the form of micro-manifestations. That is, throughout each of our lives we have, to a greater or lesser degree, been living our purpose through small unconscious patterns of behaviour. We have been contributing positively to those around us through our day to day actions as we interact with others.

To begin the journey of discovering your purpose, we must therefore consider the common ‘contribution’ patterns we have exhibited throughout our life. We must then piece these micro-manifestations of our purpose together as if completing a puzzle to see what they reveal. And as the picture forms, so to will your understanding of why you are here on this earth.

Although the journey through the existential vacuum is a difficult one, the answers you are seeking exist. They exist in your past and as a part of your present in the form of recurring patterns of contribution.

Job or a Calling – Fulfilling your purpose through work

A Profound Resignation

Pope Benedict Resignation

In February this year, some colleagues and I were fascinated to see on the BBC news that the Pope had resigned. Through the conversation which followed we deliberated about whether it is actually possible for someone in such a position, someone who represents something so symbolic for the catholic faith, could just step down.

At one point during the discussion I stated; “I guess that if it’s a job, then of course he can resign.”

One of my colleagues then quickly responded by saying; “But is it a job? Surely a position like that is not a job, it’s a calling.”

Although I’m sure the debate about the Pope’s decision to step down could continue into the late hours, I was struck by this question of ‘is it a job or a calling?’.

Is it just a job?

In our current professional lives, it is easy to feel sucked into the corporate machine; existing to work 9 to 5 every day (if you’re lucky) to earn enough to satisfy the needs and wants that must be satisfied. At best in this scenario, you enjoy what you do and connect well with the people you work with, resulting in the ‘job’ being a pleasurable way to spend your day. At worst however, you find that your job draws the life out of you, and you feel as though it is slowly eroding your soul. And, I’m sure you could find yourself anywhere along the continuum between these two extremes.

The scenarios above however are only relevant if you believe that what you do is just a job. Throughout our education and life, very few of us have never been taught to see what we do as being more than a job. Very few of us learn that what we spend so much of our lives doing, can transcend the classic definitions of work, and actually represent our purpose – our calling.

Recognise your calling?

Your Calling

A calling represents the purpose for which you were put on to this earth; the purpose of your existence! As explained through the Paradox of Happiness, your calling is represented by the contribution you make to society, the fulfilment of which is what paradoxically helps you live in a state of unconditional happiness.

To recognise your calling it is essentially to start with the question of “Why am I here?” Through this question you can begin to explore three further questions:

  1. What is the difference I want to make in this world?
  2. Who do you want to make this difference to?
  3. How will you make this difference?

It is through these questions that you can begin to focus; you can begin to bring some clarity to your calling.

Fulfilling your Calling through your Work

Often when people first begin to define their calling (or their purpose), they feel a sense of frustration. This stems from the mis-alignment between what they currently do in their work and the difference they are seeking to make to others. While this frustration may feel like it is valid, before taking any drastic action (i.e. handing in your resignation without other options) it is important to first look for opportunities where you can bring your calling to life through your current job. I have been surprised when discussing this with people that the opportunities to bring your calling to life exist all around, but only if we become conscious of them.

Therefore, as you begin the journey of fulfilling your purpose, begin gently. And, like building the momentum in a fly wheel, look for ways in what you currently do day to day to test your calling and to practice.

(Image of Pope Benedict from Guardian.co.uk)

Creating a Movement

Having stumbled upon this clip a little while ago, I couldn’t help but marvel at the power of crowd and the message that was contained within.

Leadership is over-rated, the First Followers are the key!

It seems to me that within our society today is an environment where we are each told to be leaders – we are each told that we have the potential to achieve anything. This I believe, in many respects has a lot of merit. To reinforce and focus our ability to dream, to develop our aspirations, and then to seek to consciously unlock our true potential, is one of the most powerful gifts we have as human beings.

However, there is a second edge to this sword. Through reinforcing that we should each be leaders, we risk creating further divides within society. That is, through the perceptions we attach to what ‘being a leader’ means, we perpetuate a mindset of individualism, where we unconsciously believe that “I am, or I must be the leader”. Pardon the cliche, but although there is no ‘I’ in Leader, it is the premise that underpins the concept of leadership.

To my mind, the biggest implication of this unconscious belief is that we dissolve the power of the crowd and we fall into one of our greatest existential concerns; isolation!

The Power of Aligned Purpose – The Power of the Movement

To live fulfilling your purpose in life, is what I call living on the path of Unconditional Happiness. And through the paradox of happiness, we can only achieve this if we recognise that our individual purpose in life is to make some form of positive contribution to others; we can only achieve true unconditional happiness through making a positive contribution to those around us. With this in mind, at the highest level, our purest purposes as individual human beings are aligned.

When we recognise this alignment of purposes we can begin to relax some of our preconceived ideas about being a leader; we can begin to let go of our belief that we need to be ‘the  leader’ and instead focus mobilising the crowd and building the power of the movement toward our aligned purpose.

Being the leader in any movement is a lonely place. Much like the penguin that finds themselves standing out of the edge of the colony, it is easy to feel isolated. However, by aligning with others who share our purpose and who seek to make the same contribution as us, we can build a movement. We can share our ideas and our energy and we can focus on working together as one to make a difference.

Examples of the  power of the crowd are all around us. Sometimes the crowd is mobilised for good and sometimes for bad. However, for each of us, focused on our purpose of making a positive contribution, we can be a leader by creating, or we can be a first followers helping to build or mobilise the crowd – either way, we can become a movement. And through becoming a movement, we can change the world!

Are you ready to create a movement? Are you ready to live fulfilling your purpose?

Artificial Fragmentation: Transcend to become Whole

Forced Fragmentation

With the pace of modern day life we all struggle to keep in flow. That is, we feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of ‘things’ that bombard us in any moment. We struggle to keep our heads above the surface of the metaphorical flood of information, tasks and preconceptions that gush in around us.

To deal with this, we over-rely on on a single approach that we each have been taught by others who’ve also suffered through the same struggle before us; like cutting a picture into a pieces of a puzzle, we divide the components of our existence, artificially forcing the fragmentation of how we define our lives.

In taking this approach, searching for a way to stem the tide, we paradoxically reinforce the situation that got us there in the first place. As we divide and force fragmentation, much like cutting the pieces of the puzzle into even more pieces, we create even more ‘things’ for us to deal with in any moment. Furthermore, in a bid to manage and understand this greater list of ‘things’, we establish false dichotomies that reinforce the fragmentation – for example; Work and Life, Personal and Professional, etc. Then, with a seemingly even great number of individual ‘things’ to focus on, the feeling of drowning becomes stronger and stronger.

Our Desire for Wholeness 

Despite our well practice and deeply engrained pattern of behaviour of fragmenting our lives, deep within each of us as humans is the desire for wholeness – our desire to exist in a state of unbroken flow.

As individual humans, it is true that part of our time in any day consists of work and non-work (what people often refer to as ‘life’ in the work-life balance dichotomy).  However, what we often fail to realise is that despite these perceived fragments, what is common to each of us is ‘us’ – our purest human existence. Recognising this common factor in everyone of our fragments means that we can each forget those fragments and focus on what is common – us! With this focus – being conscious of the commonness of ourselves across each fragment – we can therefore stop worrying about ‘managing’ the fragments, and instead focus just on living as who we are and who we want to be.

Create, then Multiply to Transcend 

To achieve ‘wholeness’, or to become ‘whole’, requires practice. But this is not the usual practice that we are each taught – i.e. stop doing the bad things and do more of the good things. This practice is one of paradoxical intention. Because our desire to fragment our lives is so deeply engrained in our behaviour, we should not try to fight it. Instead we should continue the process. In fact, we should not only continue the process, but we should intensify it by multiplying our efforts and create even more fragments of fragments of fragments.

By creating fragments and then multiplying them further and further, we are able to consciously or semi-consciously approach an infinite number. That is, we are able to transcend our existing clutter of fragments by overwhelming ourselves to  the extent that all our fragments blend into one; one whole that is bound by the commonality of us!

You can become Whole

To overcome the artificial fragmentation that so heavily plagues our modern lives and prevents us from living in a state of flow, we should first focus on the commonality across all our fragments; we must recognise that despite the divisions we create in the definitions of our lives, we as individuals are the common factors across every aspect of our existence. Then, as we become comfortable with the commonality of our existence, we should avoid fighting the desire to fragment, and instead continue creating and multiplying our fragments to the point of of infinity, or wholeness!

The Paradox of Happiness – Part 2

Purpose = Happiness

The paradox of happiness tells us that to achieve the happiness we each deeply desire we must at the same time be both selfish (focusing on gaining fulfilment) and selfless (focus on giving to others). As with any paradox however, this creates tension. And with tension, comes discomfort. But unlike many other times when we experience discomfort in our lives, this is not one where we should seek to resolve it as quickly as we can by choosing one side over the other. Instead, we must learn to use the paradox and the tension it creates.

Using the Paradox = Learning to Serve!

To use the paradox of happiness it’s critical to realise that the tension it creates is what gives us life – it brings an energy and focus to our existence, which helps us achieve all we desire.  However, to use the paradox of happiness we must be simultaneously selfish and selfless, but at a deeper level than we have ever considered. And to do this, we must:

Learn to Serve! 

Learning to serve means learning to transcend the self-grasping aspects of our own ego and instead reach a deeper level of existence by focusing on the fundamental human needs that each of us have. That is, at the very core of who we are has humans, we each desire to fulfil our potential – to be all we truly can be as humans. And this includes loving and being loved, as connected and flowing parts to the universe. However, often our deeper fundamental human needs are buried under the fears and insecurities perpetuated by our ego.

Our ego is the protective mask we wear each day that holds us in a place of fear and discontent. Our ego is driven by what we perceive society wants us to do, rather than who we truly can be as individual humans. It’s formed from our early childhood out of insecurity, fear and anxiety, and therefore it is a survival mechanism, not a fulfilment mechanism.

Our ego does not seek to serve our deeper human needs, it only seeks to serve itself by perpetuating the pattern of negativity. By living solely through our ego we are therefore trapped in a place where we become a slave to our fears and lower order needs for safety and survival. Our ego buries our deeper human needs.

To transcend our ego and reduce it’s power over us, we must learn to connect with our deeper human needs and become a servant to our selves and to others.

Becoming a Servant 

The noblest act we can perform is to serve another in helping them fulfil their full human potential – to help them be all they can be. And it is through this noble act that we serve ourselves by becoming who we truly can be.

To become a servant requires us to first suspend any judgement we may hold about ourselves or others. Driven by our ego, we are all quick to judge. Learning to suspend this judgement, helps us see ourselves and others as real human beings with the same fundamental deep needs that we all wish to have fulfilled.

With our judgement suspended we can then begin to understand and respond to our and others deepest human needs.  This means learning to immerse yourself in the worlds of others. This allows you to understand who they are as humans and how they are seeking to fulfil the same needs as you. Once you understand this, you will begin to realise that all humans deepest needs are the same, it is just how we seek to fulfil them that changes. With this knowledge you can then respond more consciously by seeking to fulfil the needs that you and others have.

By immersing ourselves in the worlds of others we begin to see ourselves in a different way.  We recognise that our and others’ deepest human needs are the same, and hence we let go of some of the insecurities and fears that we have by becoming a servant to those deeper needs.

You serve others, and in doing so, serve yourself. 

Through Service comes Happiness

The paradox of happiness tells us that to be selfish we must be selfish. To use this paradox and the life giving tension it provides, we must recognise that at the heart of who each of us are as human beings, we have the same needs; we each need to love and be loved, and we each need to fulfil our human potential. Failing to do this will result in us continuing to live a life to others preconceptions, while also remaining in a state of fear and insecurity. Recognising this, and learning to suspend the judgement created by fear from our ego, we can begin to understand and respond to the deepest needs that each of us as humans have.

To achieve the happiness therefore requires us to become servants to the deepest and purest human needs of love, compassion and fulfilling our potential…

As it is through Service comes Happiness!

The Paradox of Happiness – Part 1

It’s Unanimous – it comes from within!

At the recent Flow, with Purpose, as Yourself ™ events that we’ve been running in London, the concept of Happiness always prompts some great conversation. It seems that people unanimously agree that happiness, in its purest form (i.e. Unconditional Happiness), comes from within. That is, happiness does not rely on attachment to material things or even to people and the relationships we have. Instead, it comes from living in a state of inner contentment and peace of mind – a state where free ourselves from the concerns that plague us and we live fully confortable in our own skin, enjoying and immersed in the present moment.

I’m pleased to say that in each of the conversations that were had at the events, everyone agreed that this is a state that we can all achieve this, although only if we have the desire and focus to do so.

A Paradox – Happiness versus Purpose?

However – and here’s the paradox – despite everyone agreeing that Unconditional Happiness comes from within, we also all agreed that it cannot in itself be a goal that we pursue. That is, Unconditional Happiness is not achieved by focusing solely on it. If we focus solely on achieving happiness it becomes an illusive destination rather than a way of experiencing the moments along the journey of our life.

But, this raises a question:

If Unconditional Happiness is not a goal, how do we achieve the state of inner contentment and peace of mind we desire?

Victor Frankl I believe provides the answer to this; you do not pursue happiness, instead you ensue Unconditional Happiness through focusing on your purpose. And, your purpose involves giving to others – making a positive contribution to the world. In this respect, the best way to ‘achieve’ Unconditional Happiness is paradoxically to forget about it…and focus on giving to others.

Recognising the Paradox – Purpose = Happiness

Any paradox – two conflicting truths – creates tension. In modern society however, we see tension as uncomfortable and therefore negative. Furthermore, we are taught to resolve the tension as quickly as possible to help us return to a comfortable state. This is why we’ve created a quick fix culture where, for example, we ‘pop pills’ at the slightest ailment hoping to ‘fix’ it as quickly as possible. At one level, this ‘quick fix’ culture could be seen as useful, but when applied as a blanket philosophy across our lives it removes some of the life giving tension that we as humans so desperately need.

To use the paradox of happiness – i.e. that to ‘achieve’ happiness, we must forget about it and focus on our purpose – we must learn to hold the two conflicting truths in a state of tension. That is, imagine you are holding your hands in front of you with palms facing the sky. In your left hand is your desire to achieve the state of Unconditional Happiness – inner contentment and peace of mind – which you know, can only come from within. In your right hand is your need to focus on your purpose, which is all about giving to others. As you look at and feel both your hands you can sense the tension between them; to achieve what I desperately need for me in my left hand, I must give to others in my right hand!

When we become aware of a paradox it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by it, hence wanting to ease the tension that’s created. In respect to the paradox of happiness, this would represent dropping one of your hands to focus only on the other – i.e. I either focus solely on me and my happiness, or I focus solely on others and their happiness. However, rather than doing this, to get the most out of the paradox and therefore to achieve Unconditional Happiness through focusing on fulfilling your purpose, I would suggest holding your hands in place. It is only through doing this that you feel the weight of both sides of the paradox, and you can begin to explore and appreciate the tension that’s been created. And it is only through doing this, that you can realize that Purpose = Happiness…which means to be selfish (i.e. to achieve our desired happiness) we must be selfless (i.e. giving to others).

Coming soon…

Paradox of Happiness Part 2 – Focusing on Purpose