Facing the facts

Yesterday, inspired by my 14-yr-old, I wrote a post called “Facing the Fear“. Today I caught myself posting on Facebook that I was “making up stories in my head”. Then I remembered this quaint little acronym : “FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real”. Meditating on that this morning has been helpful and led me to focus instead on facing the FACTS…

Business man afraid of his own shadow monster concept on grungy

We all have our monsters. Some of them exist in the real world and we are right to be scared of them. But many of them are just stories we have made up in our heads.

The Buddha is reported to have said that “all pain and suffering comes from attachment to desire and ego”. This is not to say that when you get burnt, the fire didn’t cause you pain. But to say that much of what causes us distress is our attachment to some story we have made up in our head (some form of “ego”) that we can’t let go of.

To better understand this, let’s take an example : Suppose you have a meeting to go to and on the way, your car breaks down. That little voice might say “Oh no, I’m screwed” or “This is terrible” or “There is nothing I can do about it”.

What is happening? You had a plan and something happened. In this new moment, you have a memory of the past planning you did and things you wanted (to have a meeting) and an idea about what you want to happen in the future (to go to the meeting). Neither of these things now correspond to the current reality (not going) and you get annoyed, stressed, worried etc… It is the separation between reality and story that causes the pain. It is the separation between reality and story that IS the pain.

If you think about this a little, you’ll see that much of what annoys you, stresses you, makes you angry (or even makes you happy!) is not “true” in the traditional sense.

 

So what is this ego? What are these stories? What does all this mean in REALITY and how can we get out of it?

If you want the Buddha’s answer, do the research. If you think you can turn off this “ego”, try meditation (good luck!). And if acceptance is your thing, thats cool too. But a little bit of “cheap psychology” and fact-checking might help too.

 

MANY of the things causing the fear we have are simply not based in reality. A voice in our head is telling us all sorts of things. Most people have a tendency to over-identify with that voice, as it were “me” or “the real me”. Others believe is is just a thing that happens in your body over which you have no control, just like your breathing or your hair-growing.

When this little worrying voice comes up, here’s how it goes: First, there is a thought that comes out of nowhere. You can’t help it, it just happens. Somehow, on autopilot, you compare that (random, uncontrolled) thought with your memories and/or wishes for the future. Then you make conclusions and predictions about “what IS”. This is all normal.

But, in the words of Mr Dylan “It ain’t me babe”. It’s just a thing that happens. A thinking habit. A PIECE of what you DO. But not you, and oftentimes, not true. And to be more philosophical, it’s pretty strange to attach oneself to all this non-existant stuff. The past is gone and the future doesn’t exist yet. In short: Right now is just right now: Stuff is happening, including a little voice in your head. That’s it.

 

So check the facts. Example in case: In today’s economic and health situation, I am (was?) today worrying about the future. I am capable of telling myself “I’ll run out of money” or “No-one can help me” or “This thing could go on forever and I won’t be able to be freelance anymore”. These are normal worries for everyone IMO. But they are not “truth”, in the sense that they are not current reality. They are that little voice thinking about a (thus far) non-existant future and a (gone) preferred past.

This is not to deny that things might turn out as I imagine. And IMO I would be naive to think it will all be all right out of pure optimism. That would be just the same functioning : more stories in my head.

 

So what DAN? What do you want to really say?

Check the FACTS. Anything that isn’t fact NEEDS to be accepted as no more than a story or hypothesis to test or include in risk-analysis. But not more. Not worry, not stress, not fear. If you can already separate for yourself what IS true and what is your own story, you are going in the right direction. Try it..

 

When I see things on social media about what might happen for the Corona virus, it can almost immediately create worry in me (without any effort from the real me :). What do I do? I check belgium.be for the latest facts. Everything else is conjecture, fakenews and fear-mongering.

When I worry about paying bills and wonder if anyone will help me, I check the facts. I heard something about loan repayments being put off. Research… call the bank.

How many times in your life did you worry about something only to find out if didn’t happen? And how many times did you think “Oh, I should have checked that, or thought about that” ? This is hard to do because we get swept away by the worry, the little voice.

There is a lot of stuff in reality today that IS problematic for people. I do NOT deny it and I do NOT suggest ignoring it. I only add that there is also a lot of worry not properly grounded in fact. Go check.

Good luck to all.

 

More from me on this whole “stories” and “perception” thing:

2 of my short stories:

 

…otherwise, I would strongly recommend checking out YouTube videos or books from Alan Watts. I don’t want to start listing all my favourite links to this guy. Just know that he was the first (1950s) and foremost expert on Eastern Philosophy, including Zen Buddhism. If you dig anything I said above, you might like him too.

 

Facing the fear

I will admit it immediately: This post IS inspired by all the Corona mess. But I won’t talk about that any more.

I want to tell you what my 14 year old had to say about being “on hold” and not being sure how to move forward. With the innocence of a child and the natural creativity that goes with it, I think she made a great point : It’s scary to do the things we aren’t used to. And since the older we get, the more get used to, it’s only going to get harder unless something changes. It is time to face up to the fear and dare to do something different. And a change in point-of-view might help …

 

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It all started with cancelled training: Since no-one is in the office, a trainer like me can’t go in and teach about how to pitch an idea, or how to negotiate a deal, or how to manage people. My daughter asked me “Why don’t you do ‘tele-travail’ (working at distance) like everyone else?”

I had a whole load of answers from “Its not the same thing” and “My clients prefer ….” to “I need to be careful with my brand” and “I like to be WITH the people” and, importantly “I’m not sure I want to do that”.

Next daughter question (where does she get this stuff from??) : “Give me one idea of what you DO want to do today” to which I replied that I planned to work on fitness and fix a few things in the house. And then came the magic.. she said “Thats because you know how to do those things and you know what you will get” (!!)

Now, I’m not the guy who tends to, or likes to, think “It’ll never work” but this did strike a chord with me : If I’m truly honest, I have no idea what the future will bring and yes, like many a 42-year old, I may well be getting stuck in my ways. Underneath my “wait and see when this all stops” attitude, there has also been quite a bit of “… and I can’t do anything about it”. I felt silly. I know too much to act like that. (Or maybe I act like that BECAUSE I know too much!)

 

At this point in the story, I was already feeling inspired to get out there and make things happen. “Focus on what you CAN control” and all that. But I didn’t have a chance before she doubled-down and threw her next point into the mix. She said :

“Imagine you were a 25 year old just starting out and you wanted to help people get better at the things you teach. You’d be in THIS reality from the start and you’d be asking yourself ‘How can I set this up?’… So, ask yourself that: ‘How can I set this up?’ ”

What did I get out of all this? What do I really want to say? What is the lesson to be learned ?

 

Our experience and knowledge and “the way things are” puts us in the box. And when the box starts to change form or get broken, it CAN be scary. Looking outside IS hard. Being fresh IS hard. Not KNOWING how things are going to go means trying something new, taking risks, and the possibility of failure. And so its easier to just stick to what you know and hope for the best.

But if you can admit that MAYBE you don’t know everything and MAYBE you have a few assumptions, then MAYBE you can entertain a new point of view, even if only for a moment. It might be scary and it might not work, but there might be a chance for some new results.

 

“I can’t” and the amazing truth about us all

We say “I can’t” all the time: 

“I can’t come to dinner, because it’s my wife’s birthday.”

“I can’t stop smoking. Its too hard.”

“I can’t figure out why I’m so tired. I’m just tired.”

 

But its never true. Every “I can’t” is always an “I don’t want to”: 

“I don’t want to come to dinner because I prioritise my wife’s birthday.”

“I don’t want to have to deal with “too hard” while I quit smoking.”

“I don’t want to figure out why I’m so tired. I’m satisfied with ‘so tired’.”

 

If we can realise that “I can’t” is never an expression of ability, we will be more truthful about what it really expresses: Willingness.

If we can replace “I can’t” with “I don’t want to”, we will be more honest with ourselves and everyone else.

It will be hard, but we will be willing to do “hard”.

 

“Of course,” you will say, “there are limits to this denial of can’t.”

“OK, maybe I don’t want to go to dinner with you, but I can’t play anything on a violin! ”

 

But it’s not true. There are no limits.

If I want to play a violin, I will play a violin. It’s as simple as that. We are all amazing. We are all limitless. And we are all able.

If we want to be.

 

“No, no, that’s enough,” you will say, grasping at straws. “There are still some things I can’t do :

I can’t jump over a tall building without any aid from technology.”

And you will wait for me to say that you could try if you wanted to.

But I won’t. Because that’s not the point and not the truth that gives rise to the point.

 

Yes. There are some limits in physical ability.

I could not go out today and complete an Iron Man faster than anyone ever did.

I can’t jump over a tall building.

 

But that is not a reductio ad absurdum to the real point.

Because the point is not about physical limits and you damn well know it.

When did you ever say “I can’t jump over a tall building” until today ?

You are just looking to argue your way out of hearing the truth about how we all speak all the time.

And the truth about who we really are.

 

The point is about being a lion, not a victim. 

We all have amazing ability.

We all have dreams.

We all have a “real me” hidden behind the bullshitting victim that other “me” is trying so hard to cling on to.

We can all be decisive and take ownership for whatever action we choose to go out and get.

We can all dare to announce to the world the limits we choose to place on ourselves.

And we can all believe in and be willing to be who we really are and do what we really want.

 

Sometimes I don’t want to.

And that’s OK.

 

But I always can.

And that’s the amazing truth about us all.

 

 

The depressed inventor

The depressed inventor hadn’t always been depressed.

For most of his life he had been really happy.

As a little boy, he loved to invent clever ways to fix problems. Once he invented a cat flap to feed the family cat when she came home in the morning. And to get to school more quickly, he invented a really big catapult to throw him from his house to the school yard (although Mummy said “No” to that one).

 

For every problem, he invented a solution.

And that pleased him very much for many years.

 

Until the day he ran out of problems to solve.

At first, he thought it would be a good moment to take a holiday. Surely when he came back, he would find lots of new things to invent?

But when he got home, he still couldn’t find anything to work on.

Until he had an idea: He would invent a problem!

For days and days, he worked very hard at inventing his problem.

No time to eat, no time to sleep. So much work to be done!

 

Finally, he was satisfied: He had a problem to solve!

So he set to work to invent a solution.

No time to eat, no time to sleep. So much work to be done!

He read lots of books and talked to lots of people. He made lots of notes and did lots of sums.

 

But after lots of time, he still hadn’t invented a solution.

And so he started to get sad. And sadder still. And sadder still, under he was completely depressed.

For the first time in his life, he didn’t know what to do.

So he went to bed and slept. And slept. And slept some more.

 

After a few weeks, the doorbell rang.

The depressed inventor dragged himself downstairs.

At the door stood Benny the Baker, who wanted to know why he hadn’t come to buy any bread for so long. And his little girl Jenny, who asked “Why do you look so sad?”

So the depressed inventor explained. He told Jenny how he loved to invent things to fix problems and how he had always worked hard to make everything work just so. When he told her how he had run out of problems, little Jenny started to smile.

As he started to explain how he had invented a problem, little Jenny started to giggle.

And when he said he was sad because he couldn’t invent anything to fix his problem, she just burst into laughter!

The depressed inventor looked at Jenny all seriously and asked: “What’s so funny?”

 

And so little Jenny told him:

“It’s so silly. You can’t fix your problem because you just made it up! And the more you work on it, the worse it gets. But it doesn’t even exist, because you just made it up! Your problem is that you had no problems and made up a problem so now you have a real problem because you can’t solve your problem. But there’s still no problem. It’s so silly!”

 

All at once, the depressed inventor understood.

Little Jenny was right.

And he started to smile again as he remembered he had made up his own problem.

And that’s not really a problem at all !

 

THE END

Jim Smith on letting go of your fearful boxes

ATD2015. Session SU304 is underway. Jim Smith says it’s not good enough to think out of the box. We need to get out of the box and act out of the box. 

To do that, you need to keep your personal power. You need to be able to be vulnerable enough to be yourself and not cater to the opinion of others.

But it’s not easy: There are many ways that we lose our personal power, from having fear of failure, to wanting to be liked, being overly-critical of ourselves or being perfectionists…

 

  

 

If you (like me) recognise any of these things, what can you do about it?

In short: Let it go. (I knew that was the theme song for ATD2015)

Really, that’s the whole message: Dare to live in the moment, stop worrying and believe in your personal power.

 

Want to see it in action (that sounds arrogant!) ? Here is my improvised mini-presentation from Jim’s session…

 

As I said to Jim later on, I think the key message here is far important than this post gives credit. Probably, I am not the only person with “self-esteem issues”. Lucky is the man who can say he is really in the moment, not caught up in what is “good” or “bad”, what has always worked in the past, or what “should” be done into future. Many of us worry (Are we doing OK? Will it work? Will people approve?). And caught up in the worry (box) we try desperately to keep doing the same things we always did in the hopes of getting the same satisfactory result.

But is “satisfaction” what we want out of life? Or do we want more? Do we want joy and awesomeness? If the answer if “yes” then it can’t be about staying in our boxes and conforming (to our own self-image or that of other side). “Awesomeness” is not a thing you can put in a box, measure, write and run a process for. It’s a “way” and a “being” that has to be felt. You have to trust in it. And that requires a little faith.

 

Let it go.

 

Read more:

There’s no respect in tolerance

Tolerance is supposed to be a good thing. The British stiff upper lip demands that we take a deep breath and don’t aggress those who don’t fit our standards. But this is not the same as true respect.

Today in training, we have discussed the different things that annoy us and how we deal with them. Participants have shared several examples of how people do unacceptable things, but they tolerate them. As if that’s a good thing.

But I only need to tolerate something I can’t tolerate! When someone is disrespectful, I can “teach him a lesson” or I can tolerate it. When someone exceeds the limits of what is acceptable, I can “put him in his place” or I can show tolerance.

But respect is different. Respect is true acceptance of the idea that I have my vision of things and you have yours. I have my beliefs and you have yours. I have my way of doing things and you have yours. None of them are “correct”, “better” or more “valuable”.

When I have respect for the vision, beliefs and behaviour of others, I have nothing to tolerate. I accept that everyone has the right to his own vision, beliefs and behaviour. Everything is “OK” and we can all agree to disagree. 

Tolerance is SO last year.,,

Obligations don’t exist

We all feel obliged from time to to me. But obligation is not a “thing”. Not like a tree is a thing. Or an arm. So, what is it? If we can answer this question, we may find the key to some kind of personal liberation. And maybe even real happiness.

When I first met my wife 13 years ago, I started to learn French. Following the first childish phase of her pointing at objects and giving me their names, we moved on to basic grammar and sentence structure. Pretty soon, I heard the phrase “Il fait beau” (It’s nice weather today). I was expecting that French speakers would say “C’est beau” (It is nice) but was instead confused by this “il”, which had thus-far been restricted to meaning “he”. I wondered: “Who makes it nice today?” (And suspected the answer might be “God” or “the sun.”)

As my learning went on, I heard more and more of these strange third-person phrases, but didn’t give them much thought until I noticed that my wife would regularly say “Il faut…”

  • Il faut qu’on parte
  • Il faut manger maintenant
  • Il ne faut pas dire ca

In all of these expressions, the meaning is the same: “It must be the case that…” But grammatically, this strange “he” appeared again, as if someone else was obliging her.

Having at first wondered if French speakers were controlled by some invisible third-person, I decided it must be a cultural thing. Maybe they do feel more obliged by something external. But then I realised that although the grammar is not the same, my own language is full of these same obligations:

  • I must go now
  • I have to eat
  • You shouldn’t say that

Whatever the language spoken, my reaction to such phrases varies based on my mood: Sometimes I ask “Says who?” Feeling friendly, I might say : “If you like.” And to expose what I sometimes see as indirect manipulation in these phrases, I might ask “But what do YOU think?”

But whatever I feel about such phrases it is important to restate that obligations don’t exist. Not like trees and arms. The answer to “Says who?” is always “me”. Even when I first think it is someone else. I accept that for my wife (and everyone else) her education, belief system and habits lead her quite naturally to feel that some things simply “are the case”, or that there are some rules to which we must abide. But we always choose to subscribe to these rules (or not), consciously or not.

If I want to be a law-abiding citizen, then I have to follow the rules of the country in which I find myself. If I want to understand people, then I have to listen to them. And so on and so forth… But if I don’t want to, I don’t have to.

So the first question is always therefore: What do I want? And to answer this, I have to know who I am. If I know who I am, where I come from, what works for me, what I like and don’t like etc.. I start to get a better picture of why I say things like “We have to…”, “I have to..” and all these other seeming obligations. I get a better understanding of why I announce these things as if they were true, rather than simply my own opinion.

The more I realise this, the more I can decide: Who do I want to be? Which obligations do I want to subject myself to? Who is responsible for my life and my behaviours? And every time, whatever I decide, I realise it’s just me who decided. And me who obliged myself.

Obligations are not a thing in the world, but a thing in me.

The no-mind of creativity

The mind being a collection of experience, education and value judgements, it keeps us safe, structured and sure of the world. But it doesn’t help us to be creative, open-minded and fresh.

It’s Christmas Day and my brother-in-law is playing the piano. In contrast to my mother-in-law or myself, he has no classical training or musicianship and, in short, no idea what he is doing. His music is without scales, without harmony and without structure. But it is beautiful. Since his fingers have not been conditioned by his mind to follow the rules, his music is fresh and different. There is soul and there is innovation.

This “no mind” spirit has created something new. Gone are the 3 or 4 chords of almost every other tune in the Western world. Unaware of how things “should be done”, he is just doing. He is truly creating.

If you want something new, you need first to be free of the old.

The question is how to get this “no-mind” after years of experience, education and value-judgement?

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The burnout monkey trap

Burnout is getting a lot of press in Belgium these days, given the new legislation stating that employers must do something about it. But what can they do? Isn’t burnout just another monkey trap that needs what Charlie Sheen would call a “blink to cure the brain”?

Having just subscribed for the Epsilon ForumPlus 2014 conference, my interest in burnout is rekindled (pun intended). I will be following 4 sessions on well-being at work, burnout and flow. I’m intrigued to see what speakers have to say about decreasing the risk of burnout in the workplace.

Recently, I was invited to complete a survey about burnout by a well-known actor in the Belgian HR sector. Questions like “Do you think there is more stress in the workplace today?” and “Do you think remote and mobile working increase stress in the workplace?” seemed odd to me. Maybe I missed the point, but isn’t stress something that is in people rather than the workplace? Or, as the American Institute of Stress says: “we create our own stress because of faulty perceptions you can learn to correct”.

 

Isn’t burnout just another monkey trap?

If you want to catch a monkey, but some food in a hole or a jar rooted to the floor. The monkey comes along to get the food and reaches in. When grabbing the food, the monkey forms a fist. And due to the size of its fist, the monkey cannot get its hand out of the jar again. The monkey will not let go of the food in the jar. He has trapped himself. The hunter waits for the monkey to die, or captures it.

Other blog posts have already talked about the analogy between the monkey trap and addiction. And if you think the monkey trap is just a myth, watch this video.

I’m just wondering: If burnout is like the monkey trap should we be blaming the forest, the jar or the food? Or should we be helping the monkey? Should we be trying to change the organisation or conditions of work, putting a stop to flexi-time and homeworking and banning email after 6pm on a Friday? Of course, if the work conditions and employers are unlawful or simply unacceptable, that does need to be changed. But isn’t it more necessary to help our employees better understand why they seek to hold onto their “monkey food” through their burnout disposed behaviour and how to let go of it?

I’m not saying that this will be easy and I’m certainly not belittling burnout. I just don’t think that the organisational solution to stress and burnout reduction should be to simply take away anything that might cause harm to the people susceptible to burnout. It is easy to rehab when you are in rehab. But people will fall off the wagon when they are back in the real new world of work. Should employers change everything in the environment to suit “dysfunctional” employees (yes, I did just say that! Whoops!) ? Or should they help people to better deal with their own private monkey traps?

And while we are not on the subject: Is burnout a bad thing anyway? It costs companies money and productivity, and it’s no fun for the burnout “victim”, but it may also be a fantastic opportunity to replace an unhealthy flame with something more sustainable, satisfying and healthy for the employee. (More on that later)

So, what can the employer do?

My own expertise being limited to one person in a non-corporate environment and without a complete vision on the law, this short list of actions is no more than a first brainstorm for employers to consider:

  • Be willing to help
  • Look out for people who show unsustainable behaviour and attitudes towards work
  • Create better dialogue between employer/employee; make the “person of confidence” worth confiding in
  • Educate those at risk on the impact of their behaviour and attitudes
  • Help employees to find structure and limits in their approach to work
  • If necessary, help employees to reorient towards more satisfying and fulfilling work

…hopefully, I will hear more ideas at the ForumPlus conference on the 6th November.

See you there?