Noticing How Desire Can Pull You Away From Your Values

When does desire pull you away from your values?

It might be the impulse to buy more stuff that you don’t really need; watch TV instead of doing some exercise; let work dominate your  life; make poor choices that change your life forever…

In this TEDx talk, Kelly McGonigal explains that the urges provoked by desire (the promise of happiness) have a tendency to overpower current happiness and satisfaction.

Desire for something you don’t have, but would like (in my case, millions of dollars and to write a best selling book!) can create stronger impulses than the feelings of contentment associated with what you do have (for me now: love, health, safety, meaningful work that uses my strengths). Even though what you have now may be much more important to you than what you desire.

When we feel that experience of wanting something, we feel an urge to do something to get that desire met. If we are to handle this tricky emotion wisely then we need to be clear about who we want to be and what we want our life to stand for. We need to have chosen the values we want to live by. But knowing your values isn’t enough.

Last week, Paul suggested that mindfulness helps us to turn our values into action. When desire is moving you away from what really matters, mindfulness can help you to ride out the urges rather than mindlessly chase what you desire .

You can mindfully notice how feelings of wishing and wanting are pulling you in a particular direction and check if that would be a move towards your values. You can become aware when desire is in control of your behaviour, catch yourself and come back to what really matters to you in the long term – love? kindness? connection? your health? security?

I want to be clear here that I am not suggesting that you abandon your ‘big, hairy, audacious goals‘, what I am suggesting is that you also:

1. Compassionately notice when pursuit of those goals feels driven and addictive. Pause and breathe and see if you can ride those impulses like waves rather than act on them.

2. Keep checking in as to how the goals you are currently pursuing fit with your values and life purpose

3. Have the ‘willpower’ to spend some time paying attention to other important areas of your life even though you may feel the addictive pull of the desire for something ‘bigger and better’ calling to you. Your thoughts might whisper, ‘I’ll just send one more email; read/write one more blog post; sign up for that course that promises to make me rich.’ Can you have those thoughts and the feelings associated with them and still spend the afternoon in the garden with your loved ones? Can you have those thoughts and feelings and bring your attention back to this moment now with all its small pleasures and pains?

Kelly McGonigal suggests that the recurring difficulties we experience in handling our desire well is not a sign that there is:

Something uniquely wrong with us – but it is actually part of being human. it is not just you, it is all of us.

Oddly, for me, accepting this makes it easier to deal with. How about you?

[I am running a low cost, one day workshop on ACT at The Relaxation Centre of QLD on  Sun 3rd March.  All proceeds go to the centre. I would love to see you there.]

Could It Be Helpful To Focus On Your Mistakes?

Do you have a tendency to focus on your mistakes? To notice the 5% of your presentation that wasn’t as good as it could be? To really remember and mentally grind over the times when your work was mediocre or even a bit rubbish?

I do.

English: Screenshot of Julie Andrews from the ...
English: Screenshot of Julie Andrews from the trailer for the film Mary Poppins (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was keen on challenging such ‘dysfunctional thoughts’, I would give myself a pep talk about it, ‘Now Rachel,  this is ‘all-or-nothing’ thinking. Just because you didn’t handle that question from the audience well, doesn’t mean it was terrible. Let’s remember what went well’.  It was like Mary Poppins lived inside my head. She meant well but she kind of irritated me. Do you know the voice I mean? The one that tries to help you think more positively?

When I discovered ACT, I started to respond differently to these thoughts. Instead of trying to change them, I worked on noticing them with curiosity.

Have you tried that approach? What did you notice? Perhaps you tend to be hardest on yourself when your behaviour doesn’t align with your values. You might also notice which feelings turn up when you don’t do as well as you had hoped – shame, guilt, embarrassment, disappointment?  What urges do you get when these thoughts and feelings turn up? Do you feel like you want to give up or do you want to try to do better next time?

This curiosity about your thoughts, feelings and impulses can be very useful. It makes it easier to become more flexible in responding to your thoughts and feelings and this can improve performance.

This curiosity might help you to notice those times when focussing on mistakes disheartens you and other times when it actually motivates you to improve.

When you are trying a new behaviour and you are worried that you won’t ever succeed then a self-critical stance can be de-motivating. Which is okay if the activity doesn’t relate to what is important to you. But if it does matter to you, if it is a move towards what you want your life to be about, then letting Mary Poppins give you a motivational pep talk might be helpful. ‘You can do it! Everyone messes up when they are starting out! This is really important to you. Keep going and you will get better at this. What is one small action you could take today that would move you forwards?‘ Note: The pep talk is best if it is realistic, links to your values and focusses on taking action.  Telling yourself you are doing wonderfully and are destined for stardom can be problematic.  You aren’t trying to get rid of the painful thoughts – that tends to be self-defeating.

However, if you notice that the self-critical thoughts encourage you to try harder then a different approach may be useful.  If you are highly motivated to achieve mastery at a behaviour and over time you have been becoming better with practice, then you may find it useful to focus on your mistakes. Focussing on the places where you have done poorly and working out how to improve are an important part of becoming an expert.

So next time you notice self-critical thoughts, you might want to try this approach:

  1. Pause – notice the thoughts, notice your feelings, notice your impulses
  2. Check in with your values – is this something that really matters to you? If it does, then consider either:
  3. Giving yourself a self compassionate, values driven pep talk and then take a small action to move yourself forwards, or,
  4. Really focussing on the mistake and working on improving your performance.

It is all about psychological flexibility!

Training People To Do What You Want – Ethically

There is an episode of The Big Bang Theory where Sheldon trains Penny to do what he wants. He uses chocolate.

We are all constantly ‘training’ the people around us but we don’t usually use chocolates and it is rarely deliberate. Because we aren’t even aware we are doing it, we are often inadvertently rewarding behaviours that we don’t want and punishing the behaviours that we do want.

For example, imagine your new enthusiastic staff member stops taking the initiative and starts waiting to be told what to do, what could have caused the change? It might be because you criticised her whenever she didn’t follow the correct procedure and didn’t encourage her when she was proactive. Gradually, over time you shaped her behaviour.

So it seems like a good idea to become much more aware of the impact of our behaviour on others and start to more consciously reward people when they do what we want.

But people can feel manipulated by this approach. You don’t want to be like Sheldon.

So what is an approach that feels more ethical and less like manipulation?

To be collaborative. Rather than deciding what behaviour I want to shape in the other person, I ask them directly, ‘Who do you want to be at work? What behaviours do you want to demonstrate? How would we recognise those behaviours? How can I support you in those behaviours?’

It is also helpful to acknowledge that these interactions work both ways. So I talk to my direct reports about how I want to behave as a manager. And then I ask, ‘Would that work for you? Are you willing to encourage me when I do those behaviours? And let me know when I am drifting away from them?

This more collaborative, transparent approach builds trust and engagement. How could you apply it at work this week?

You might also want to take a look at this earlier post on the 10 factors to consider when rewarding staff.

How You Can Make 2013 A Successful Year

So here we are in 2013. What will it take for you to define this year as successful?

Let’s start by looking back on 2012. What did you achieve? What mistakes did you make? Where do you feel you failed?

measuring up
measuring up (Photo credit: woodleywonderworks)

Did you get a promotion or an increase in salary? Did you buy something important like a house or a car? Did you fail to get elected to serve as President of the USA?

It can be easy to focus on these external markers of success or failure. But what about your internal yard stick? How much were you the person you want to be? How often were you mindful or generous or brave or loving or …(insert your own values here).

How good were you at noticing the times when you weren’t living your values and then gently adjusting your behaviour so it aligned more closely with who you want to be?

‘Values are your heart’s deepest desires for how you want to behave as a human being. Values are not about what you want to get or achieve; they are about how you want to behave or act on an ongoing basis.’

Russ Harris  – The Happiness Trap

Measuring your life by what you achieve isn’t wrong but the research suggests that we over estimate the impact of these events. We think that if we get the good job and nice house we will be happy and so we conscientiously pursue those goals. Sometimes we are so busy striving that we neglect other important aspects of our life, like nurturing our health and our relationships, and we forget who we are and what we want to stand for.

The second way of measuring your life – Did I live my values? Was I the person I want to be? – is both more likely to create richness and meaning and will tend to support you in making those moment to moment choices that determine the direction of your life.

So as you review 2012 and before you set yourself some goals for 2013, spend a few moments revisiting your values.  Lundgren’s Bull’s Eye activity is a cool way of doing this.

How Moments of Joy and Pain Can Help You Work Out What Really Matters To You

In this noisy world, where we are bombarded with messages telling us what to think and do, it can be hard to work out what is really important to us.

In this Big Think Interview, Steve Hayes gives two suggestions for how to connect with your values:

1. Take a moment to focus on what causes you emotional pain. What upsets, saddens or angers you? Then ask yourself, ‘What do I care deeply about here?’.

‘Look where the pain is. Flip it over; you’ll find that’s where the values are.’

This approach of looking for what our pain is telling us about what really matters can protect us from responding to pain in a way that narrow down our life. For example:

‘most people are hurt deeply by betrayals in relationships. And what your mind tells you to do is, don’t be so vulnerable; don’t be so silly; don’t open yourself up; don’t be so trusting; you can be betrayed. In fact, the reason why you hurt so much is that you want relationships that are loving, committed, intimate; you want trust. And what your mind is telling you to do in a way is, don’t care about that so much so that you won’t be hurt so much. It might be better to really get up against and sort of contact that caring, and maybe take a more loving stance even with your own pain, and keep your feet moving towards what you really want, because the cost in terms of intimacy and connection and caring that comes when you try not to be vulnerable, when you’re constantly looking out for betrayals of trust, is too great. It makes it very hard to have relationships of the kind that you really want.’

2. Notice what brings you joy and ask yourself, ‘What does this tell me about what matters to me? About who I want to be in the world?’

‘Think of the times that you’ve felt most with yourself, most connected, most vital, most energized, most flowing, natural. And if you take some of these specific memories and you walk inside them, you’re going to find that there’s things in there that you care about. There’s things in there that, when it’s really working well, are kind of a lighthouse, like a beacon in the distance, that you can move towards.’

‘Go inside the sweetness of life, catch the places where you genuinely were moved by or connected with life, and you’ll find in there kind of a light that can direct you when the cacophony gets very noisy and you get confused and lost, that can direct you towards what you care about.’

According to Steve, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is about:

‘living in accord with your values and in a way that is more open and accepting of your history as it echoes into the present, that’s more self-affirming, self-validating and values-based.’

…and it is based on science!

(For Brisbane based readers: I am running a session on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy at The Relaxation Centre of QLD on Sunday 16th December. We will be doing both of the activities above plus a lot of others – I am very much looking forward to it! If you are in Brisbane and you happen to be free it would be lovely to see you there. All proceeds go to the centre.)

 

If You Can’t Have It All, What Can You Have?

I believe that we have been sold a myth. A myth that tells us ‘If you try really, really hard then you can have it all’ – love; money; success; a wonderful family; happy kids; health; a beautiful body; a lovely home…

This myth can exhaust us. We run around trying to get everything right. Feeling anxious about all we haven’t done.

My messy garden. I decided to grow some veggies – then I neglected them and they died

The messy garden; the plump belly; the distracted attention we give to our partner. The job list at work that never seems to get any shorter. The school tuck shop duty we didn’t do.

We think that if we were just more organised, smarter, better in some ill-defined way; then we would be doing all of these things with grace and flair.

But what if we were to accept that we can’t actually do it all or have it all? What would that be like?

Instead of focussing on getting everything right, perhaps we could give our attention to becoming more and more like our ideal self. We could focus on living our values.

Perhaps you can’t have it all but instead over time you can become a better version of yourself.

In order to become more like your ideal self, you have to decide what you want that person to be like. Rob has gathered together some values clarification exercises here that might help you to decide who you want to be.

However, I need to give you a warning.

Knowing your values may not actually make your life easier. Moment by moment, again and again, you will still have to choose – do I give my attention and energy to my kids, my work, my partner, my health, the housework…?

And that choice is sometimes painful. At those moments, try asking yourself: What would the person I want to be do now? It might help you to make choices that lead to a life that is rich and meaningful And that might just be better than having it all.

What do you think? Can we have it all?

(This blog post has developed as a result of some conversations I am having with CEO’s and senior managers about their experiences of meaningful success. I would like to thank Jayne Gallagher, Manager Product and Market Development at Australian Seafood CRC and Tristan White, CEO of The Physio Co for exploring this topic with me.)

What To Do With Feelings of Shame

SHAME
SHAME (Photo credit: BlueRobot)

Do you think it is bad to feel ashamed?

In this interview, Maarten Aalberse suggests that we have a tendency to feel ashamed about feeling shame and that this causes us problems. He suggests responding to those feelings with empathy and compassion instead of trying to reject these painful emotions. What does that look like?

Shame comes up quite often for me. The other day, a participant in a session I was facilitating said, ‘Well I think this sort of thing is a waste of time. Nothing ever changes as a result.‘ and pop there it was… shame. Gnawing away at my gut. Making me want to crawl into a corner and hide.

My mind went into overdrive: I am a waste of space. All those years of training were a waste of time. I have been deluding myself. It was all pointless. ( I actually feel a bit ashamed letting you know the crazy thoughts my mind can come up with!)

And then, I remembered Maarten’s suggestions and I breathed and asked myself , ‘Can I turn towards this pain with kindness? Can I hold these feelings with compassion? Can I use all of those years of training to choose my next words? Even though the urge to react is so strong?’

This sounded like a good plan, so instead of getting defensive I responded with curiosity, ‘What would have to happen for today to be worthwhile? What would we each need to do?

The conversation moved forward and we made a plan.

I think that Maarten may be right. That allowing those feelings to be there and treating them with kindness may lead to more effective responses.

What about you…are you ashamed of shame? What happens when you treat those feelings with compassion instead? Does that work better for you?

You Probably Aren’t the Best Person for the Job

Do you ever feel like you might not be the best person for the job?

think stencil art & graffiti cat
think stencil art & graffiti cat (Photo credit: urbanartcore.eu)

Do you sometimes worry that people will find you out and realise that you aren’t smart enough or knowledgable enough or skilful enough for the job?

Do you sometimes get distracted by the fear that people are thinking that you are the wrong person for the job? That they are wishing they had a different boss, coach, project manager … even graffiti artist?

When that fear that you aren’t quite good enough comes up, what do you do?

Banksy people Clerkenwell
Banksy people Clerkenwell (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Whatever you do there will always be someone better at it. Banksy is better at graffiti than the person who did the cat in the 1st photo

When I am in the grip of that fear I can tend to push myself too hard, trying to be perfect. I can become preoccupied with scanning for signs that people are judging me and finding me wanting. I can ruminate over and over on the 1 piece of negative feedback I was given after a workshop and ignore the 99 pieces of positive feedback.

Apparently I am not alone. Most of us have this fear at some time. It even has a psychological name – Impostor Syndrome. You can take a test here to see how bad your ‘impostor syndrome’ is.  It is particularly common in high achievers. Which is oddly reassuring!

If you look at your ‘I’m not good enough’ thoughts then you might just realised that, to a degree, these thoughts are actually right. There are almost certainly people who are more skilful than you at your job. They might even be sitting in the next cubicle to you.

What would happen if you accepted the fact that you probably aren’t the best person for the job?

Sit with that question for a moment. See what turns up for you.

Perhaps your focus might become about growth, on becoming better rather than being the best? On admitting mistakes and the gaps in your knowledge and asking for help?

You may also notice that you have one big advantage over the person who is better at this. You are there and they aren’t.

So what is the best way to deal with the fact that you probably aren’t the best person for the job?

1. Accept it – it may well be true. And however good you get, those thoughts are likely to turn up now and then.

2. Get present – you are the person on the spot. So make sure you take full advantage of that by bringing your attention to what you are doing.

3. Develop a growth mindset  – it isn’t about being the best. It is about getting better.

Having The Courage To Be Vulnerable

You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery, and I promise you, something great will come of it – Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) in ‘We Bought a Zoo’

When was the last time you committed an act of insane courage?

Emotional vulnerability takes a degree of fierce bravery. You might be hurt or criticised. You risk shame and humiliation. When it goes wrong you might feel like you want to run and hide. The events often play over and over in your mind as you try to work out how you could have avoided the pain.

But vulnerability can also help us to feel closer and more connected to others. We often find that when we share our pain, shame just melts away. We take a risk and ‘something great’ comes of it.

I want to suggest though that vulnerability just for the sake of it isn’t helpful. Vulnerability has to be in the service of something. It might be about love, belonging and joy. It might be part of doing extraordinary work or making a difference in the world. But it has to have a purpose.

Although the nature of vulnerability means that it is risky and takes courage, we can make it a little safer if we:

  • Make thoughtful choices about who to trust, when and with what aspects of our vulnerability.
  • Have clear boundaries and hold people accountable when they cross those boundaries.
  • Listen to our needs.
  • Respect the needs of others.
  • Stay connected to the people we are talking with. Notice their reaction.
  • Check assumptions about what they are thinking. They might be quiet because they are horrified but it could also be because they are deeply moved.
  • Increase resilience to the painful thoughts and emotions that come along with vulnerability. (You will be surprised to read that Acceptance and Commitment Training is helpful for this!)

I am running a low cost session on The Courage to Be Vulnerable at The Relaxation Centre of QLD on Sunday 16th September 2012 ( All proceeds go to the centre). If you happen to be in Brisbane on that day do come along. I would love to meet you.