Tag Archives: Positive Living

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!

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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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Micro-Manifestations – The patterns which define our Purpose

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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)

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!!

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!