Saturday, January 25, 2014

More From The Media

My latest encounter with an article is a New Yorker commentary by Louis Menand on the recent book by Scott Stossel titled "My Age Of Anxiety." It is the story of Stossel's life long experience with anxiety. You may read the article here

Stossel is the editor of The Atlantic and he was first treated at the age of 10. As one might imagine he has been through any and every model of treatment available, except electro-shock therapy. What interested me most is what seems to be an idea that anxiety (what I have been calling fear) is a disease to be eliminated. Every course of therapy and treatment, as I understand it, has had the intention of curing the condition. There is a built in supposition that Mr. Stossel's suffering has to do with a similar kind of suffering one might experience with a cold or the flu. These temporary biological upsets caused by an invasive organism or virus.

What if the situation is fundamentally different? We know that an infection causes a fever, which causes one to feel "sick" which causes one to seek medical treatment. Pains are the same kind of attention grabber leading to curative measures, But what if the psychological conditions we deal with such as depression and anxiety are merely indicators of the invasion, and what if they aren't so much calling for cure as much as they are calling for adaptation.

Many people I have talked with have held the notion that feelings, such as fear or anger are things to be controlled. I suggest the desire to control is an effort to avoid the negative consequences that have occurred when one has exploded in anger or crumbled in fear. But one thing I'm sure of is that these feelings are reactions to events outside the body, not reactions to the thoughts within the brain. After the feeling, the thoughts begin, often judgmental in nature, and many times reactive. I'm guessing the reactive behavior is similar to the fever or pain associated with the biological diseases referred to above.

My suggestion here is that the point of intervention required to effect a different kind of outcome is in the space between the feeling and reaction, not ahead of the feeling. Controlling one's feelings requires intervention before the feeling occurs. This is the outcome patients experience when they have taken psychotropic medications and complained about being numb or listless. All feelings are diminished by these drugs, which leaves a patient feeling lifeless.

I am not condemning use of these drugs. I personally experienced a depression, was prescribed Prozac, used it in conjunction with therapy and stopped after about 7 months. Both the psychiatrist and I considered this a successful course of treatment. But what the therapy did in conjunction with the drug, was to help me gain awareness and skill associated with my responses to my feelings. At the time I was so sad I needed the meds to get up off the floor. That gave me the opportunity to show up and take a look at my reactions. As I learned more mature responses to my feelings I became less reactive and the depression lifted.

The Revolution I have been talking about isn't about everyone in the world having the same experience and taking the same course of action and treatment I had. Rather the Revolution is about learning how to be present with my feelings and my thinking at the same time. My reactive nature, learned as a child, did not allow me to think about a response. I was reacting first and not even bothering to ask questions later. I believe that's more common than one might think.

The Revolution is not an argument between professionals. The Revolution is about how we can all help each other see the world as a larger place than we think. And then for each of us to see ourselves as larger than we thought.  We are all more capable and more complex that we have believed. And in order to see this, to feel its authenticity, we need each other.

Be well, stay warm and come back soon for more.    

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Revolution? Really?

I know many will think I'm just trying to get people's attention. And they would be correct. Don't shoot me for wanting readers. But there is content coming to demonstrate what I'm saying.

You've read or heard me saying that revolutions happen without people knowing it. We think there is always some evil cabal meeting secretly and hatching nefarious plots to overthrow our nice, safe world; but the truth is that as people stop believing that their world is nice and safe, they begin to adjust their thinking and sooner or later they look up and change has occurred.

Last time I talk about the 3 power girls and their newly launched events called The Third Metric. I feel compelled to mention them probably because I butchered Cindi Leive's name. I come from a time when I signed my name William, even though I have never liked anything but Bill. And the spelling, especially of her last name just will not stick in my head. So I misspelled her first name. My apologies to you if you see this Ms. Leive.

Too long a digression.

So the three girls have this idea that turning off their phones will allow them great weekends and wonderful vacations. But will that do the job? A fresh article out of The New Yorker
talks about Wall Street and their apparently being enlightened to the fact that people just can't work effectively without rest. The article is short and worth the five minutes, but my point here is that we have all taken on a belief system that not only honors hard work but accepts the notion that it's okay for the boss to think I work around the clock. I am even willing to be seen as unimportant if I am unavailable for a minute. Who gets to go to the bathroom in that model? But in all fairness Goldman Sachs saying their people shouldn't work more than 70 or 75 hours per week is hardly enlightened.

What we at Paeon believe is that whatever anyone likes or believes, the model will change. Whether I want to let my people be human is not a consideration. Sooner or later people become themselves. and even if the investment banks are a little less than enlightened in their view, the fact that they are able to articulate a view at all is probably the result of recognizing greater expectations aren't working anyway. And the only way they are able to see this is by observing the actions of their people. And if my guess is correct, people were breaking down in spite of their intention to act omnipotent, to excel in all areas, to push beyond all limits. Of course all that is not possible, except within the walls of imagination.

I hear a call to moderation in these words. I hear a need to revisit beliefs and assumptions. But in if I am going to do that, I need to change my view. If I continue to think and believe that what's expected of me is perfection or 70 hour weeks or 24/7 availability, I will pretend to turn off my phone, but that doesn't  free my mind. That doesn't let my psyche get its needed rest; it only refers the fear to another region. In that region one may find all my feelings. Keeping company with my fears are anger, sadness and joy.

Joy? Even that?

Yes. Of course if I turn off my feeling, I turn off my feeling. That means everything that's not painful enough to break through my denial. I can pretend not to be any of these things and yet feel some of them, but that's only pretend. I've discovered that for chunks of my life I have experienced pleasure and called it joy. But when I looked at joy and its true nature, I realized I have been joyful in times of great pain and fear. Times absent any pleasure. At that point I learned something that is valuable to me and our clients.  I don't choose my feelings, they happen without my permission or consideration. My body experiences the world and sends messages back about what it observes. In real time. Which tells me if I want to be present I need to know how I feel. I need to know what my body is telling me about Sad, Glad, Mad and Afraid.

And here is the Revolution I've been talking about. For a long, long time mankind has survived on earth with an emotional reality based on survival. That means threats are dealt with by running or killing. These are not actual decisions in terms of thinking what's best, they are reactions to the body's impulses. But is this the best, or even a good way for contemporary humans to live? When was the last time any of our lives were threatened? The Revolution is merely that if I am going to be present in my life, if I am going to do my work and end the day while I am still alert, if I am going to have actual weekends and vacations, if I am going to have relationships I can actually show up for, then I need to know how I feel. Now. At this moment. And I need to know what to do about them.

I thank Daniel Goleman and the others who began the conversation about Emotional Intelligence. I also thank Allison Wood Brooks and her colleagues at Harvard Business School who actually had the nerve to talk about the impact of fear in the workplace and its negative impact on performance. There are no doubt many others toiling in this field. There is going to be more on this here soon, but we're going to avoid the academic. This isn't the forum for detailed investigation. That's important stuff, but it is also for others.

So check back next time and find out if you'll need a uniform to join the Revolution.

Stay warm and be well.

Friday, January 17, 2014

And a new year

Still writing checks? Lots of us don't anymore. Still dating them 2013? That was always a problem for me. And apparently I'm not alone. Not to mention all the other things that are so hard to change.

I'm always getting new information, mostly from the print media, which is delivered on my computer. Lots of it is little more than cat videos in terms of importance, but lots of it catches my eye, particularly if it is relevant to things I'm interested in. Take, for example the topic of change. If there's one thing a coach is into it's the concept of change and the impediments to people making it.

I recently filled out a questionnaire from an organization called APQC (American Productivity & Quality Center). They're a non profit membership organization doing research in the fields suggested in their title. There were several questions designed to uncover attitudes and beliefs of senior executives regarding leadership within their organizations. There were several conclusions, but they summarized them as follows.

  •  Many participants are still following traditional leadership practices;
  • There is a gap between the leadership competencies needed for an organization to succeed and the competencies that employees currently possess;
  • Trends such as advances in technology are currently impacting organizations; and
  • Survey participants are concerned about an impending leadership skills deficit.
Where this leaves us is in a situation where decisions about quality of Leadership are not really equipped to make those decisions, for the most part. They haven't adopted any new practices, and they judge their people don't have the skills. And it looks like a recipe for continued lack of change.

Then there's the Gallup Business Journal. This is a very well respected organization, doing great research in many fields. Their concept of Employee Engagement is widely used and its adherents praise its results. Their latest offering talks about 6 keys to building a high performance culture. These six are basically about improving performance through more training and communication. You can see the details here:

Then there's Morning Joe, the popular MSNBC morning news/business news show co-hosted by Mika Brzezinski. She and her friends, Arianna Huffington and Glamour mag Editor Conci Leive have begun a thing called the Third Metric, which they're turning into a road show headed for New York, DC and LA. It's geared toward women, but I'm sure they'll take the money from any men who'd like to attend. Arianna began the idea with a gathering of friends at her Manhattan apartment and the energy built. The first two metrics seem to be money and power. The third metric is actually quality of life. Their talk as three powerful successful women, is all about the personal, human cost of living the kinds of lives that have gained them the money/power thing, but left them realizing something has been missing.

And what's the real key to their realizations? They all report being in situations that are supposed to be relaxing ones, enjoying with family and friends and realizing the continual distraction of the iPhone. (No doubt other smartphones would do). It's the call of work and the routine of distraction, the magnetism if you will of the habit of gaining money and power.

I suggest that these women have fallen into the trap of the other gender, allowing their unrecognized fear of losing what they have by not being on top of everything all the time. There is a sense of urgency that all things require their attention all the time.

They've decided to do The Cleanse of their electronic handcuffs in hopes of connecting with their actual lives. I wish them well, and I am sure the're on the right track. But the question comes up at this point: How does one deal with the withdrawal symptoms. What happens when the feelings come up? A strategy for dealing with discomfort, as we see it here at Paeon is to learn to identify ones feelings on a routine, nearly consistent basis. Otherwise the suppressed, unidentified feelings cause a reaction that precedes any kind of awareness.

How is it the right now I am mad, sad, afraid and joyful? And what, if anything, do I need to do about it now?

More on this soon.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The New Century

Happy New Year! And welcome to the Revolution!

Yes, revolution. People are annually engaged in new years resolutions and predictions about the new year for themselves or others. I'm going to talk about something a little different. I'm going to talk about some things I've been observing and how I'm interpreting about them.

You all recall about a century ago there was this thing called the Industrial Revolution. Unlike a typical political revolution, the rebels of the day weren't so much focused on revolting as they were on trying to find better ways of doing things. And these people may have had various motivations. For some it might have been to make their lives better. For others the prospect of profit. No doubt there were others who were just curious to see what would happen if they tried something new.

There is a temptation to look at these events and motivations through a narrow perspective. Historians do this in order to create a narrative to help explain how these events fit in the long arc of history. Others, and I confess to being this way, are trying to simplify in order to claim understanding. This time I am attempting to take a wider view. I want to look at this time in a way that includes things that I don't necessarily understand or that don't fit my model perfectly. In relation to the early 1900's for example, all the talk of machines and their impact completely ignored Einstein and his discovery of relativity which happened in 1905.

Even though Einstein and his successors had the most profound effect on the last century, it is only now that we are beginning to come to grips with some of the broader implications of his theory. Today we are immersed in the ubiquity of the electronic device. I'm talking about the computer of course, but the other computer like devices: smartphones, mp3 players, tablets and the numerous gadgets we take for granted today. All these are products of the Age of 2100+, whatever it will come to be called. It may be known as Information, Connectivity, Electronic, Computer, Social Media and most likely something else.

But you and I really don't care much what future historians call this time inn 50 or 100 years. I won't be here and neither will most of you.

But what if we chose to realize that the world is in a revolutionary period right now and what if we thought about what kind of revolution we want? Yes it's an individual quest, but if we all thought about it and we all used our own resources many of us would come to similar conclusions with similar objectives. Why? Because we are all products of the same history. We have all been in the same times and places with the same conditions (globally) and we all view a similar terrain.

While that doesn't mean we will all come to the same conclusion, but if enough of us have similar takes on the situation, there's a chance we could create a world lots of us are really happy with.And if you have followed the discussion I began in the fall, you will realize that I have a point of view I am pursuing here.

C'mon back for the next installment in which we will talk about one of my favorite tales from mythology, that of Harmonia, the Greek goddess of harmony.