Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A crisis in confidence

Don't panic, nothing is under control

We all know those people who elude confidence. There is a flow and grace about their actions and communication that says ‘I am completely in control’. I’ve always been in ore of those people, and over the years I’ve been privileged to learn what goes on behind the scenes of such graceful living. In contrast to these people and within both a personal and professional life, I’ve seen the damage that a low confidence can do. It can lead to irrational and fear related decision making, exasperate stressful living conditions and it can lead to defensive and isolating behaviour. It can also leave people to ‘make do’ and abandon any dreams they may held. This pandemic of low confidence has spread like a virus through our families, communities, institutions and it continues to ripple into an even more destructive relationship with the planet we live on. I wonder how different the world would look if we all lived with confidence?

Don’t get me wrong here. As I see it, confidence is not about being egotistical and loud. There is a subtle difference between independent confidence and blatant disregard for others. Rather more, what I am pointing toward is a confidence in ‘being’ who you are and following your heart wherever it takes you. Call it a fine tuning of your instrument… your body. By bringing awareness to our thoughts and feelings we can begin to move toward the thoughts that make us feel light and creative and move away from the old habitual ways of being. This is not about freeing ourselves from obligation, but rather more becoming responsible and for the choices we make. We can do this by listening to our wisdom rather than being pulled every which way by the demands of those and the culture around us. If we are trying to conform to all of these demands, no wonder we loose our confidence with the world. If this sounds airy-fairy, then I apologise, because really I am pointing toward something extremely practical here. Confidence comes from not fearing the unknown and by allowing some magic back into our day to day interactions.

Clearly, we all benefit from a confidence boost. But, this pondering did make me wonder what confidence actually is. Were some people born with it? Is it a skill that you can acquire after several years of therapy? Or are some people just taught from an early age that they can do no wrong?

I have no doubt that the social environment in which we grew up will have a huge impact on our perceived ability to deal with life and its varying situations. Bringing confidence to a task, even without any experience or skills will massively increase your chances of gaining a level of mastery and more importantly enjoying the task at hand. But there is something more subtle at play here. For instance, I’ve also known many people with a wrecking ball style of confidence. Those who have succeeded in certain areas of life, they’ve come to rely on particular methods and 9 times out of 10, this has got them through. However, there’s rigidity in this approach that can cause problems down the line. Looking back at school, I wonder if it’s the kids who were the most popular who end up leading less creative and perhaps forfulling lives; like they peaked too soon. Could it be that they made it to the top of their game at school, got comfortable and then spent the rest of their lives wondering where their popularity went? In the meantime, the odd balls, the ones who were quietly trying to avoid attention moved into a life that was way beyond the imagination of their school careers' advice service.

What makes these people different? Relying on the same old thoughts is much like relying on the same joke. They get tired. So imagine that the thoughts running through our heads are an acumination of the ‘jokes’ we’ve acquired over the years. Tried and tested, these thoughts keep coming up and we use them to navigate our way through the world. Until one day they just don’t make people laugh anymore, or we don’t get the results we expected. No longer does A+B always = C. The linear world we were taught to navigate by our school education no longer has the same applicability. As a result, our confidence gets knocked and for those who are reliant on ‘knowing’, it can leave them feeling lost and insecure.  

It’s from this point that we face the choice of disengagement or participation with life. Where we have to be willing and able to learn our way through each experience or instead suffer. So I’d like to suggest a new way of looking at confidence. That it is not our ability to know how to deal with every situation that confronts us, but rather more to trust our ability and creativity in the moment to learn and respond.

There’s no doubt that confidence can come from experience, but it can also come from a deep sense of knowing that we can’t know everything. Instead we can appreciate and trust that with every moment we approach life with our big bag of tricks and old thoughts, but also with an unlimited potential to create new responses to the world around us. These creative moments come from listening to our body, to the feeling that accompanies thoughts and moving forward appropriately. Tapping into confidence isn’t about becoming an expert in knowledge. It’s about learning what feels right and having the confidence navigate accordingly. Some of the most inspirational people I’ve met are also the ones who are most willing to admit that they are ‘making it all up’. They are the ones who are willing to disregard the fears from old thought and instead dive into the unknown with a willingness to learn and connect.      

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Pass the shoulds and pick up a pebble

This post is nearly a year in waiting. I remember writing a poem one night that captured its essence and the blog’s been bubbling, but unwritten ever since. Its time finally came...

I live from lists. Mental lists and physical lists adorn my world, offering continual productive bait for my seemingly waning attention span. I have so much to achieve and many expectations to live up to. So many tasks, people to contact, things to write, stuff to organise. I wonder what mood I was in when I wrote my last list. I am surprised it didn’t remind me to clean my teeth and check I was still breathing. And with this, I wonder if I have lost faith in my own motivation. Instead, I’ve started relying on bits of paper to keep me on a track; as an acceptable functioning member of society in the 21st century.

I returned to England a few weeks ago. Flung immediately into the Christmas period and surrounded by family and friends. The transition from USA life to UK life is never seamless. It seems to take several weeks for me to fit myself back into the groove of those around me. All the while, recalling and relearning my own history. Today, writing this, I remind myself that each moment brings an opportunity for recovery. At Christmas I’m reminded of those extended family members who’ve slipped quietly into my past. Unable to shake from the chains of our earlier mistakes and judgements, we’ve become strangers. As I grow older though, I’m beginning to see these moments of awareness as an opportunity for change. In the past I may have drowned in the fear of judgement rather than embracing mine and my family’s vulnerabilities. Moments of awareness are now opportunities for recovery. It’s never too late.   

So, I’d like to share this because I think it’s what we do. This is the human part of us. Relationships are part of human life, whether they are negative, positive or neutral, they are there and with every interaction follows a ripple effect.  Like a pebble dropping into water, each conversation or silent interaction we have will bump together with those experiences of others and momentarily create unknown ripples of their own. The law of unexpected consequences means really that, that they are unexpected. We can’t know what consequences will come from our actions. We can only guess, wish or even deny our part in it. Like it or not though, just being alive means you are a pebble thrower! Creating ripple after ripple, every moment of every day. So with being human comes a huge responsibility. How do we choose to ripple out into the world around us? Do we want to cause gentle splashes that tickle those around us or tidal waves that shunt them into reaction? How can we responsibly throw pebbles without exhausting ourselves?

Several years ago a friend, in jest, asked me if I was catholic. I appeared to him to be carrying a lot of guilt on my back which was disorientating me. This observation helped me enormously. As an experiment, I recall removing ‘should’ from my vocabulary.  Just say that word, ‘should’ aloud and be aware of its impact on your body. For me, it feels heavy. So over the years, as the word has popped up in my mind, I’ve respectfully allowed the thought it was contained within to pass me by. With thoughts come feelings and following a heavy feeling isn’t going to lead you in a healthy direction.

As a result, I’ve learned that I am best help to others when I am genuine and in order to be genuine I have to be present with them. By present I mean, fully in the room. Not thinking about my plans for later that day, resenting them for taking my time and not swimming around in my own fear or judgement. All this requires a genuine commitment which often doesn’t spur from a ‘should’ driven action.

It’s not that I let others’ pain pass me by, quite the opposite actually. I have found that there is a time and a place for deliberate action. There is also a time and place for deliberate inquiry and unpicking of the past. So now, allowing myself to act upon genuine feelings rather than any guilt-driven means I have genuine and healthy intentions. We humans are hard wired to care and feel compassion. We don’t have to try hard to have wonderful impacts when our intentions are genuine.  This is what I call responsible pebble throwing. I can feel the difference because when I’m not genuine, actions feel like I am wading through treacle. In contrast, a genuine action feels light but focused, with little to no second guessing going on in my mind. Over the years it’s also allowed me to look after myself properly, which in turn has offered others ‘the best of me’. It’s been a win, win development. I am excited to trust that things will happen when they are supposed to, instead of forcing something into being and suffering from the unintended consequences.

So what if, in the moment that we became aware of an inclination, we just followed it? What if we unlearned the rules, discarded all the shoulds, coulds and can’ts that we’ve acquired and instead, what if we just moved forward into the unknown? Trusting our intuition to reflexively guide us; step by step, moment by moment. What if pain is unavoidable, but continued attempts to buffer against it is actually creating unnecessary suffering? There is nothing wrong with being kind to your self.

I believe that at the heart of all of this is learning to trust that underneath any concerns or fears you have, you have a silent list of genuine tasks that present themselves at the right moment. Much like my previous GPS analogy! With our wisdom we are always recalibrating. You just have to be able to be quiet enough to notice those inclinations and silent, but guttural tugs to take you back in the right direction.

If we believe that we are more than the loud words in our heads, what impact does that have? If you believed that you were more than the churning of memories and or insecurities, or even that you are more than the incredibly important list of tasks you have to accomplish. How would that change the way you related to those around you?

I’ve returned to England for a short time and while I am here I want to continue to explore my own golden thread of genuine interactions. Each day brings surprises. For me, this means fearing not the judgements of my past, or expectations for my future.  Instead I’m learning to follow my inclinations and to trust the unknown. Equally, I’m listening deeply to know when I’m acting out of fear. In those moments I do my best to acknowledge my wavering lack of mental clarity. I stay calm, kind and still and eventually I feel a tug toward my own individualised, but healthy path again. I continue to be surprised by the people who join me on that path. So, in conclusion, pass the shoulds and enjoy throwing those pebbles!