Friday 5 November 2021

Ease and discomfort

One of the components of Nancy Kline's Thinking Environment (qv passim) is Ease. Kline sees this primarily as a freedom from urgency. Her thesis is that people think better in our presence if they know that we have time for them and that we are happy for them to take their time in developing and articulating their thinking.  And I think that she is right.  I would also add a freedom from being judged, as a contributor to that sense of ease.

On the other hand, I am also keenly aware of the importance of discomfort. If we go to the leading edge of our thinking, and explore the unknown, that may be uncomfortable.  Further, the Thinking Environment process itself is uncomfortable for some people: it is so contrary to their habits and expectations (eg the complete absence of interruption) that it can feel odd. So I often reassure people that I am quite comfortable with their being uncomfortable...

So how do I reconcile those two? And do I need to?  I quite like paradox - it often takes us to interesting places.

And as so often, this blog post is my thinking out loud about the subject, as it were.  It is work in progress, not a settled position.

My current thinking is this: if we look at why Ease is so important, I think it is for a few reasons.  One is that if people feel some urgency, the risk is that they go by the most direct route from Problem A to Solution B.  But that most direct route is the well-trodden path in their mind (or the strongest links in the neural network, if you prefer). Which means that they are likely to think what they always think, when addressing such questions under time pressure. And that in turn means that new insights are less likely.  Whereas, if they take a more rambling route, if they allow their mind to play with ideas, to explore some of the by-ways, they may see things from a different perspective, see new links and new possible pathways: and that may be where insight arises.

The second reason is that urgency risks stimulating the sympathetic nervous system: that fight/flight response, when our amygdala releases adrenaline etc into our system to respond to a (perceived) threat. Whereas ease allows us to operate out of our rational, pro-social mind, focused more on long term goals than short term survival, enabling a more expansive and humane consideration of the issues we are addressing.

So perhaps my role is to create sufficient ease that the thinker is able to go to the uncomfortable non-habitual or even dangerous places, and experience the discomfort of doing so, in such a psychologically safe space that the fight/flight response is not stimulated. 


With thanks to Ian Stauffer, Kai Bossom and Lionello DelPiccolo for sharing their photos on Unsplash

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