Friday 17 December 2021

Finding Freedom through Discipline...

There is something of a paradox about freedom and discipline, that I am reflecting on as the year comes to a close. It seems to me, that the more I stick to certain disciplines that I have chosen (around exercise, meditation, structuring my work and others), the more freedom I experience.

This morning's view...
Thus the discipline of getting out on my bike first thing every morning and cycling up the fells, come rain or shine, frees me in unexpected ways. At one level it is the obvious thing: being fitter makes me less prone to bugs, and being physically tired means I sleep well at night, free of insomnia. But it also frees me from rumination: I process a lot of thinking as I cycle.

Likewise, the discipline of meditation frees me from worry and stress in significant ways; and the discipline of structuring my coaching sessions (and various other 'sandwiches' about which I have blogged previously) frees me to be emergent in a lot of my work, whilst knowing that I am doing a good job. 

In the same way, the freedom to follow my inclinations (to laziness, to one more glass of wine, to... well I don't want to get too confessional here) clearly limits my freedom to do what I truly want to do. This of course links to my previous musings about artificial authenticity; and to the research about delayed gratification which I refer to in this post about what I really want to do.

So I offer these as some reflections, as we approach that time of year when we start to think about New Year's Resolutions (and if you want some help formulating those so that they work, I blogged about this at the start of the year, here).

This will (almost certainly) be my last post of the year, so I wish all my clients, colleagues, friends, and any other readers every blessing for a restful and restorative Christmas break, and a rich and stimulating New Year.

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With thanks to Mona Miller for sharing her photographs on Unsplash

Friday 10 December 2021

In a crisis...

I heard a great anecdote this week about some experts on Crisis Management from (I think) Harvard. They begin their presentation with a series of slides: 

1    In a crisis...
2    Either the crisis manages you...
3    Or...

.... and then ask the participants to respond.  Apparently, wherever and whenever they do this, they always get the same response; '... or you manage the crisis.'

Which, they then go on to say, is the wrong answer.  (In passing, it interests me that the structure of the question so reliably prompts that response: are we so conditioned to think in clich├ęs?... but that is not my main point).

The correct answer, according to them, is '... or you manage you.'  Their point being that it is of the nature of a crisis that it is unmanageable: that is almost a definition of a crisis. But what we can manage is our response to it.

And that makes perfect sense to me. It also accords with the insights of Viktor Frankl (qv)  and his observation (hard-won in the concentration camps) that 'Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.' 

Which is all well and good: but how does one manage oneself in a crisis?

One part of an answer is all the work on resilience, about which I have blogged before a few times (here for example).

Another aspect is to do with awareness: so that we understand our particular, and predictable, responses if we are starting to lose control of ourselves; that is, if we are not moderating our thinking and behaviour as well as we usually do. And that is precisely what the Hogan Development Survey (or Dark Side as it is popularly known) looks at.

So it is no coincidence that the Dark Side behaviours that the tool explores are grouped in fight (moving against) and flight (moving away) categories, with an additional two that are about ingratiating (moving towards).

Thus the fight behaviours are those labeled bold, mischievous, colourful and imaginative; the flight behaviours are excitable, sceptical, cautious, reserved, and leisurely; and the ingratiating behaviours are diligent and dutiful. It is worth saying that these labels are not always helpful, and often looking at the subscales in each category sheds more light on what it encompasses. Thus leisurely is a combination of passive aggressive, unappreciated and irritated.

So it is helpful for me to know, via the Dark Side tool, that the warning signs I need to look out for,  that suggest I am losing control, are those associated with colourful, reserved, and imaginative. Thus if I feel inclined to start to show off (colourful), withdraw (reserved) or suggest ever more, and ever more bizarre, ideas (imaginative), it is likely that I am not self-moderating as well as I usually do.

That knowledge no only acts as an early warning system, as it were; but also provides me with a longer term strategy to work to address these tendencies, should I wish to do so.

And if I put all these disciplines in place, and then, in a crisis, simply pause, breathe, count to ten, and then access all this understanding, I may just be better placed to manage my response to it.

Friday 3 December 2021

Blighter's Rock

 I thought this morning that I would not have time to write a blog post today.  But things change.

And now I can't think what to blog about.  That feeling, of course, instantly brings to mind the wonderful scene in Shakespeare in Love, when Will is consulting his soothsayer about his writer's block. And that brings to mind the superstition of writers in even naming the phenomenon. Russell Hoban used the phrase Blighter's Rock (but then he would, wouldn't he).

The difference (one of the differences, to be more accurate) is that I am not a writer in the sense that either Shakespeare or Hoban was. And whilst I don't subscribe to Johnson's view that No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money, I do recognise the difference between serious professional writers and casual bloggers. And when considering Shakespeare or Hoban, that quality of genius also springs to mind as a differentiator.

All of which raises the question, why do I write blog posts? The question is simple enough, but the answer is quite complex. I think there are several contributory factors.  

One is that I do see myself, in part, as a writer. As well as the book I have published, I have written some radio plays (all wisely rejected by the BBC, though I was a near finalist in their playwriting competition many years ago), and I write a lot professionally: handout material, video scripts, reports for clients on consultancy projects and so forth.

Another is, I suppose, marketing; in that broadest sense of keeping in touch with some of my client base in a way that I hope is engaging, and reminds them of who I am; and for potential clients giving them some flavour of that.

A third is the adulation. At least a couple of people, over the last few decades, have said that they enjoy reading my blogs, and I as am susceptible to such praise as most people.

A fourth is that it is one of my disciplines; that is to say, one of those practices to which I have made a commitment, as part of my regular routine. (I can't quite remember why, but probably for all of the reasons I am rehearsing now). So it has become totemic, for me, of honouring a promise I have made to myself.

A fifth is that my writing often entertains me (sad, perhaps, but true) and sometimes others.

But perhaps the most significant is something that I have alluded to occasionally in previous posts: I write my blog posts to think out loud: to explore my thinking about whatever is on my mind - and this week, that happens to be, why do I write blog posts. 

The real mystery, of course, is why anyone reads them.