Of the most successful 10% of people in a sample of 21,000, 91% scored “I am contented, joyous and fulfilled” with ‘very often’ or ‘nearly always’.
Sadness (disappointment), fear (anxiety) and anger (frustration) are easy emotional traps to fall into. Far too many indulge in these destructive reactions. They will leave you in perpetual freeze, flight and fight states. This is deep suffering and ineffective.
Only 4% of the least resilient people score fulfilment with ‘very often’ or ‘nearly always’.
Question:What is the constructive emotion for this moment?
Condition:Be intolerant of complaint, frustration and blame
Caution:When necessary, tell your truth with courage and empathy
What you can do right now?
In every moment – even the darkest – there is a positive response. In sadness there is learning and growth. In fear there is courage and calm. In anger there is tolerance and altruism. Be assertive in searching and expressing the positive response.
Complaint spreads discomfort. Reject it. Frustration disables you. Reject it. Blame steals your power. Reject it. Respect, experience and name these negative reactions. They are real. Use the signal to say “NO”. Seek the positive angle.
Learn to strengthen your positive emotions. If sad, seek the lesson learned. Be grateful. If afraid, seek calm presence. Be content. If angry, seek kindness. Be compassionate. If fatigued, seek energy. Be resilient.
Positive emotions are like muscles. If you work on them, they will get stronger. Even the toughest moments can be fulfilling. Enjoy your discomfort. Appreciate the moment. Strengthen your joy.
Of the most successful 10% of people in a sample of 21,000, 96% scored “my purpose in life is clear and meaningful” with ‘very often’ or ‘nearly always’.
Question: What is my purpose? Describe with clarity and meaning
Condition: Step back, up and take a wide view of what matters
Discipline: Connect and leverage all you do to your purpose
Caution: Keep a sense of humour, laugh and play
If you cannot define and describe what matters to you, you leave yourself exposed to distraction, seduction and procrastination. You will become a victim to the purpose of others. Your success will be compromised.
Only 6% of the least resilient people score purpose with ‘very often’ or ‘nearly always’. Poorly defined purpose leads to suffering.
What you can do right now?
Your life is rich and diverse. There is no right or perfect purpose. Each of us must seek to define what really matters. Consider the times that you felt your life or activity was optimally on track. Joy and engagement are the signals to seek. Imagine your life with more of these times. What purpose would you be serving?
It is essential to step back and remove the daily busyness and distraction. Find a perspective where you can take a wide view of life. What work needs to be done. Where are your particular skills best deployed? How do you want to feel? Who do you want to contribute to? What would you most love to achieve? Right down what this purpose would look like in action.
Be courageous and look for ways to reduce those parts of your day that are not on purpose. Where could you increase the amount of time that would be spent on your purpose. Do what is not on purpose in the aim of getting back on purpose. Share your written purpose with others. Seek helpful feedback. Ask for help.
Being on purpose all the time can be boring, overwhelming or intimidating to others. Don’t be too serious. Welcome failure and learn. Laugh when you go off track. Forgive yourself and make time to play. Seek nature and creative expression.
Building purpose takes time, experimentation and setbacks. The more accurately you can describe your purpose the more you will access your motivation and intuitive decision-making.
Of the most successful 10% of people in a sample of 21,000, 94% scored “my mind is clear and focused” with ‘very often’ or ‘nearly always’.
Question: What meaningful activity will I complete today?
Condition: Clear your mind of distraction and clutter
Discipline: Hold intense, steady and sharp attention on task
Caution: Take regular breaks to rejuvenate and keep perspective
Distraction, uncertainty and self-doubt rule. Every day, thousands of interruptions, concerns and risks will present. For those who do not understand, train and continually improve focus, it is a very dangerous time indeed.
Only 4% of the least resilient people score focus with ‘very often’ or ‘nearly always’. Lack of focus leads to suffering.
What you can do right now?
Select a meaningful task each day of the week. Start with making your bed or eating well. Once you have your basic daily routines sorted, then shift to one meaningful work or career goal. For example: today I will complete my new CV. Rest at least one day of the weekend – no important task.
Clear your mind. Focus is impossible when lost in floodwaters of distraction. One by one, clear it away. Select your focus window during which your phone, e-mail, music, food and drink options are not available. Be comfortable but alert. Relax your awareness into the moment. Allow all frustration, anger, anxiety, fear, disappointment and sadness to drop away. Detach your mind from thoughts that arise and gently return to the present moment.
Build intense focus. Select the focus required for the immediate task in front of you. Direct your attention fully at this task. Zoom in so that you can see the detail in fine granularity. Keep the beam of attention firmly on the current execution of your skills. Learn to recognise when focus fades, take a break and refocus.
Building powerful focus will take time and practice. Select achievable goals and define your time periods carefully. Pay attention to what works.
We have worked in the field of resilience for over 20 years. We have helped our clients understand how resilience fails, how to bounce, and how to sustain an effective integration between work and life. Dealing with our mental illness reality demands a specific, tailored response.
In 2017 we launched our first programmes to help leaders and managers increase their skill and confidence to support mental illness and recovery in their businesses. The original article ishere.
Find out more about our mental health training programme options and toolkit.
Our conclusion is that a basic understanding of the key concepts that underpin mental illness is necessary. Further, we recommend that every leader and manager can recognise the key signs of common conditions. Let’s start with the common conditions:
Depression, diagnosed as unremitting sadness, loss of confidence, confusion, appetite and sleep disturbance for two weeks is the most common. Suicide takes 800,000 lives per year and depression has a massive cost to productivity. Sadness prevails and it is a form of “freeze” reaction
Physical signs: loss of energy, disturbed appetite, sleep disturbance
Emotional signs: sadness, despair, tears, joyless and loss of hope
Distress first presents with physical symptoms such as tension, respiratory, cardiac, abdominal or skin disorders. When overwhelmed by pressure, we experience anxiety and worry. We all feel anxiety (fear) at times. It is a “flight” reaction.
Given the apparent increase in anger in society, this is an important condition. This is the “fight” response and may present as:
Angry outbursts, shouting, swearing and calling out others
Passive aggressive resistance and resentment…..
Clearly, no mental illness suddenly presents. It is almost always a process of progressive failure. It starts in the mind, progresses to emotion and only then presents as a diagnosis. Leaders who can recognise the process can intervene skilfully and prevent illness. This means being alert to overload, attention failure and withdrawal as below.
Leaders skilled at noticing how and when resilience fails are powerfully placed to intervene and prevent risk.
For example: at Confused, simplify priorities and give people a clear goal. At Disengaged understand how to establish rhythms, breaks and rejuvenation disciplines. At Withdrawn, reach out to a person and be sincerely interested. However, a leader’s job is not to be a psychiatrist.
While a better understanding and skilful bounce reinforcement is effective, it is important to know where skilled help can be found. That may be through human resources, EAP, coaches, psychologists or medical specialists. Our experience is that many leaders do not follow up. When someone is referred to expert help it is important to know that the event actually happened, how it is followed up and preferably some measures on how things have improved.
When one of your team is struggling with a mental health issue it can be unsettling. Be brave and meet with confidence. You are an important aspect of recovery.
Always be sincerely respectful. If you are concerned, reach out to someone in privacy and in a supportive environment. Sometimes simply showing your care can begin recovery.
Secondly, know your limits. Your job is not to be a psychologist. In conjunction with your people team make sure you work towards an appropriate referral.
Thirdly, be present for the recovery process. Part of the leader or manager’s job is to facilitate return to work. Let someone who needs help know that you expect them to recover and come back to work. Most people do.
We are seeing increasing distress amongst leaders who, while dealing with demanding roles, are taking perhaps too much of a supportive role with team members who may be suffering. The world of work is tough. Leaders must remain strong and resilient themselves. If we become too involved in the suffering of others we may suffer what is now termed empathic distress (compassion fatigue). The leader takes on the suffering of the team member. This will render you ineffective as a leader and will compromise both effective empathy and skilful support.
As we deal with more distress in the workplace, leaders need to step up to and take much better care of their own physical, emotional and cognitive resilience. Implementing a daily routine to support and sustain resilience is essential.
“Life is a storm. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you human is what you do when that storm comes.” Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo
Part 1 explored what Spirit in Action is and Part 2 scoped out why this is important at individual, community and planetary levels of function. In Part 3 the question to address is: “What exactly should, could or will I do?”
This is the most difficult challenge to engage with. Our personal responsibility is contentious. Some strive for decades in abject poverty, accumulating tens of thousands of hours in prayer or meditation. Others simply relax into the moment. You might choose to punish the body, discipline the emotions or train the mind. Or, you may choose bacchanalian revelry.
For many today, drifting about in mindless fidgeting, distraction and impulse gratification becomes the default. As we see in burgeoning reports the impact is clearly evident:
We spend 10 hours in front of a screen versus 17 minutes active (National Geographic, 2017)
The average person will touch, swipe or tap a phone 2,617 times a day (Lewis P, 2017)
Our fitness, strength and posture are in decline (Journal of Physical Therapy, 2016)
Over 70% take medication and 2% take over 5 medications (Mayo Clinic, 2015)
Adults sleep an hour less than needed – teens 2 hours less (Walker M, 2018)
We are self-centred and lonely – teen togetherness dropped 40% 2010-15 (Twenge J, 2017)
Anxiety (and worry) is a constant companion
Depression and suicide continue to increase
We have pushed our planet into the 6th great extinction (McKibben B, 2019)
Gyms, diet books, mindfulness, mental health professionals, medicine as a whole and medication have little impact beyond a lucky few. We desperately need a fresh approach.
The question “what should, could or will I do?” becomes interesting. With unlimited freedom to choose combined with the irresistible compulsion to react to short term gratification, most of us have surrendered the quest for higher levels of consciousness.
Many religions have been used on a “should” basis. Authorities decree that people should follow the rules of the church. If we look at the state of many lives, perhaps the approach has merit in our modern world.
What we “could” do is extraordinary. Imagine if we applied modern wisdom, technology and medicine with respect and resolve to human life. This is incredibly exciting. We are clearly capable of immense greatness – peace, vitality, love, clarity and flow. We watch this achievement amongst our athletes, musicians, artists, entrepreneurs and philanthropists.
This vision of actualised human beings has guided the great work of William James, Abraham Maslow, Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, Ken Wilber and those at the Mind & Life Institute. It is a vision of optimism and hope. In the face of the many challenges facing humanity, it is essential to remember and drill this possibility.
Spirit in Action is a method to frame and guide this journey. If willing and able, here are five deliberate practices that will take you to a much better place.
First, strive to be calm, steady and still in the storms of life. Caught up in the adrenaline surge of fight or flight, we sink to a reptilian level of consciousness. When calm you are healing, moving, feeling and thinking better.
Drill: learn and master contemplative/breathing/relaxing practice 5 min per day
Second, strive to be healthy, energised and dynamic. Illness, fatigue or lethargy makes the experience of enlightenment impossible to sustain. Being able to enjoy vitality is a key part of the experience of connection and joy.
Drill: be non-negotiable in your sleep, activity and nutritional disciplines
Third, strive to be positive, empathic and caring. It is essential to consciously feel and flex your emotions with an orientation towards generosity. The experience of peace, love and joy is diagnostic of enlightenment for many theologians.
Drill: restrain your impulses, generate joy and respect the joy of others
Fourth, strive to be present, focused and clear. Ruminating on the past or fretting about the future causes suffering. When present, we experience each moment in its fullness. Suffering drops away.
Drill: catch your thinking and focus 100% on the present moment
Fifth, live with skill and purpose – particularly in the testing moments. Flow is the state of full engagement with a meaningful challenge. Whether this is in loving prayer, skilled acts of compassion or creative pursuit, your spirit (little self) is in action and you will feel one with Spirit (greater reality).
Drill: define how, where and why you get flow and get a little every day
Accepting wise mentorship on this path of deliberate practice will accelerate your quest. It is very easy to get stuck in eddies when one area consumes too much attention. Many who exercise fanatically clean forget to relax or develop their emotions. Many meditate at the expense of their physical capabilities. Sometimes too much love, can distort our altruism into destructive sympathy.
Each of these base categories of discipline can reach levels of enlightenment. Consider the advanced yogi (super-calm), your favourite athlete (grace), Buddhist compassion (love), mathematical brilliance (clarity). They all trend towards flow.
There are many paths available for enlightenment. We live in a wonderfully diverse and creative world because humans courageously pioneer untrodden paths. Use the basic concepts and the lessons of our great spiritual traditions to stabilise and direct your journey. Seek truth, respect and practicality.
At the end of the day you have to choose and walk your own path.