My last week has been a bit different to my usual. For one, I’ve up in the mountains with my 1.5 year old nephew, who demands attention veritably every waking second, and who punishes lapses of attention with a level of disorder and destruction seemingly disproportionate to his range of ability.
For two, Corona vanished, according to media, and was replaced by the murmurings of another war in Europe. It was seriously suggested that the war may be nuclear, bringing up the old cold-war era mentality of preference to eradicate our species, rather than accede to a fellow human.
Amidst these two prevailing features, I wrote:
Downtime is important for morality. Tied up in conflict and negotiation, or even just taking care of everyday tasks, you lose a bit of yourself. And if all your day is spent losing little bits of yourself, then you are nothing by day’s end.
If attention is always pointed outward, if everything seen as a problem to be fixed, we risk being blind to our inner light, and forgetting the “why” of our existence.
In 1985, amidst the whole world’s mental wellbeing held hostage between the warlords of Reagan and Khrushchev, Sting sang “I hope the Russian’s love their children too”. Like Sting says, it doesn’t take much to bring us back to basics, to re-evaluate war and international antagonism in light of just being a decent mother or father to your child.
In fact, even “it doesn’t take much” is overcomplicated it. It takes LESS. Less rivalry, less diplomacy, less war, less maneuvering, less social etiquette.
All you have to do is sit with yourself. News, drama, daily errands, work, music, books — none of this is invited. It is you, and only you (perhaps this is more for introverts), immersed in nature.
In such moments, and they need only a few minutes; in such moments, you see your values. In such moments, you observe the tremendous reservoirs of energy expended on inconsequential “adult” foibles, in such moments you become more of yourse.
In such moments, you reconnect with something that is both you and much greater with you, it is deep within yourself, but also everywhere around you, extending to the infathomable edges of the universe’s existence.
Such moments shed perspective both on how infinitesimally small I am, and how trivial your every action is, but equally how very unified and coherence I am, how entirely justified I am in my being.
The lords of corruption and unrestrained rapacity in Ukraine don’t need support, nor opposition, little do they need even to be heard or to receive understanding even. They need these moments.
That is my prayer for the North Atlantic world today.
“If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. … If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed, … and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.” — Bertrand Russell (1952)
Is your therapist a modern take on the Spanish Inquisition?
Therapists are fallible. Even if they’re Dr. Prof. Ph.D. Actually, especially if they’re doctor-professor-phd-academicGod.
Several of my clients have noted that, despite all their expectations, they found therapy with younger or less experienced therapists more useful and fulfilling than with the older super-qualified psychologists and psychiatrists. In fact, this has been mentioned often enough for it to be a consistent theme.
And they had their own ideas why. Compared to therapists who had been entrenched in their field for two decades, clients reported that the newer ones tended to be:
more daring, to try new things
more accepting of client as him/her-self (and less “do it my way/I know what’s best”)
more socially progressive (e.g. less likely to follow DSM-III diagnostic standards of seeing homosexuality as a mental disorder!)
less dogmatic (e.g. sticklers to retro CBT (cognitive-behavioural therapy) )
a broader “Weltanschauung” (less of a boxed-in perspective, e.g. a stereotypical educated white-male way of seeing things)
listen more (again, less directive “listen to me, the authority”)
My client’s impressions mirror also scientific studies into this topic. In short, there are several factors we might think were relevant, but actually have absolutely no effect on how effective a therapist is.
Many features of a therapist have no impact on how effective she or he is, including:
level of education
what sort of education (counsellor, versus psychologist, versus medical psychiatrist, etc etc)
years of experience
age of therapist
what school of thought (CBT fanboy, Freudian psychoanalysis, etc etc; at least, as regards therapy effectiveness as a whole)
And this is nothing new. We have most of a century of evidence that showing again and again, that what makes the best therapists is not what society measures. Ironically, in psychology we’re taught quite clearly that what we measure needs to reflect what it is we actually seek. This is called empirical validity. This is basic knowledge to data scientists and even software engineers. But despite this, psychological therapy as a whole tends consistently fails in precisely this. So much so, that the error has become institutionalised.
The problem is deeply entrenched in bureaucratic dogma in more countries than you’d care to consider. In Australia, there’s been decades of lobbying and the formation of an alternative regulation body, in protest of the baseless elitist hierarchical ordering of psychologists, which contravenes the evidence. As such, I would not expect meaningful reform any time soon; perhaps I won’t ever see it there in my lifetime.
For the client, therapy can be a dramatic and heartfelt outpouring of deepest emotions and hidden secrets. The therapist runs the risk of the job becoming “just a job”. And this mismatch is perhaps the most common obstacle in the therapist-client relationship.
So then for my readers who are currently, or will soon seek help of mental health therapist, what you should know:
If you’re not getting much out of therapy, it’s worth first checking that it’s not due to some ongoing internal voice of failure you’ve been wrestling with. Because if it is, then you won’t find any more success by changing therapists.
If it’s not due to some internal challenge, therapy might still have ground to a halt due an issue in the client-therapist relationship. It’s worth mentioning this directly in your therapy session; ideally you and your therapist work through this together and come out both stronger because of it.
But you might instead be entirely unhappy with the course of therapy, and it’s obvious there’s an irreconcilable difference between you and your therapist. Any therapist worth their salt should already see this him/herself, but as mentioned, some are just crap. Then, it’s time for you to take initiative.
you, as a client, have rights. You have a right to question your therapist’s assumptions, to disagree, to correct them, and to make your own suggestions, and to tell them you think “xyz is a terrible idea and why would you even think that?!”
if you’re not happy with your therapy progress, (and it’s not that internal self-sabotage,) then you’re allowed to end it, and try with another therapist
if you therapist is unprofessional, difficult to schedule with, erratic in availability, and doesn’t pay attention to you pouring out your heart, drop him/her—they’re probably not worth the 180$/hour
if your therapist is a racist, neo-conservative, self-righteous arse (or whatever sort of douchey), then tell him so, mic-drop, go find a better one
if you’ve actually been rattled, or even traumatised by previous therapy, please know that not all therapists are crap. Leave a bad review. If it’s a violation of professional standards, report them. If you do indeed still need help, remind yourself your rights, and then go find a better one.
Have you ever had a bad experience with a therapist?
Has therapy at times felt like the Spanish Inquisition?
Let me know in the comments, or write to me directly. I read all personal messages sent to me.
Key Readings (Primary Sources)
Eysenck, H. J. (1957). The effects of psychotherapy: An evaluation. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 16, 319-324.
Wampold, B. E. (2001). The Great Psychotherapy Debate: Models, Methods, and Findings. Routledge
Orlinsky, D. E.; Grawe, K.; Parks, B. K. (1994), “Process and outcome in psychotherapy: Noch einmal”, in Bergin, A. E.; Garfield, S. L. (eds.), Handbook of psychotherapy and behavior change, John Wiley & Sons, pp. 270–376.
How hard can it be to give a gift? You buy something notionally cool ($→Bezos), wrap it in coloured bark, and set it in the hands of the recipient.
But then, evaluatations…Judgements!
Yes, we as a social species are painfully complicated when it comes to interactions between two individual. Beyond the classic “Will it hurt me?” and “Can I mate with it?”—questions that arise when two animals encounter each other—human gift-giving entails the perils of social taboo, careful assessments of ulterior motives, and chess-like manoeuvering and escalation of action.
Yesterday, my breakfast with the esteemed members of the wiser generation included an unexpected helping of emotional discussion. Who should my mother-in-law invite to Christmas? Should invitations follow standards of personal preference, familiar duties, social norms, or immediate necessities? Should she cook that which she wants, or something expected by her guests, or as according to social expectations, or to maximise the extravagance of the menu until within an inch nervous breakdown?
All reasonable expectations, within the bounds of our irrational society.
And that’s not even including the lose-lose dilemma of one-uppance in giving presents (“Well now this is embarrassing— he sent me a present and I didn’t get anything for him”).
If Jesus were alive today (and if we’re not assuming he’s metaphorically alive in your non-anatomical heart); that is, if a corporeal Jesus we invited to your standard Western consumerist Christmas party of 2021, he’d be horrified. Or at least, as horrified as could be, as one of sublime grace. [Replace “Jesus” with whichever noble religious figure is most familiar to you, as needed.] And the irony wouldn’t be lost on him that this neurotic, judgemental, and ruthlessly decadent circus was in his honour.
Money willingly doled out to the richest man in the world, products made and delivered at the expense of a withering rainforest, commodities received to the chagrin or disappointment of recipient, the giver being thanked with the judging eye of social comparison and greedy expectation, and neurotic attempts to cook and decorate things well above one’s ability, or salary.
Do we have a term for “Christmas-related burnout”?
I find it amusing and not entirely displaced, that Chilly Gonzalez has taken all our classical joyous Christmas songs and dropped them into mournful minor keys (an excellent alternative, by the way, to anyone who’s had their fill of plastic-pop or light-swing renditions).
The breakfast discussion of who to invite, and associated dilemma of what then to cook, raged on around me, as I continued as best I could to mindfully chew my toast.
The local-made jam was brilliant.
An exasperated plea for validation (or perhaps it was vindication) was called for from me across the table, and my first input to this debate was a non-verbal response, to take the edge off the frantic interchanges. A few more minutes to simmer down, and then I offered my piece — the summary of an internal dissertation I’d gathered in my head for 20 minutes, the fruits of such luxury afforded the introvert who has some elementary mastery in focusing his attention.
“The purpose of a gift, is it not?, is to bring something good into the life of the recipient, to strengthen the connection between giver and receiver.” Admittedly, I still have not yet determined if one is incumbent on the other. The artfully-given gift likely includes in equal measure both the relational bonding and the recipient’s uplifting.
“If a gift is procured amidst onerous aggravation, given perfunctorily in irate disinterest, and received with disdainful reluctance, then might we say, it is in fact no longer a gift?”
With that, I closed my side of the debate. And I continued enjoying that fantastic marmalade.
Especially amongst elders, I’m loth to merely drop my opinion in as prescribed course of action. Far more nourishing and simultaneously courteous is to proffer some cud to chew on.
As we enter the “silly” season, and come together over family members who we might not have seen for many months, we may notice our emotions shift.
But what sort of relationship do you have with your emotions? Are they a problem to fix? Are they a monster to chain up? Are they fuel for your ambitions? Or, maybe you don’t particularly notice which emotions you have and when.
The following short article first walks the edge between psychology and philosophy, but ultimately hopes to give you small something of substance, an entrée to nourish your sense of self.
Clinging To Reason
Coming from my background in clinical psychology, emotions, like pretty much everything psychological, were seen as problematic. This appears to be a speciality of Western society; a direct offshoot of the Calvinist-Kantian romanticised notion of rationality.
Romantic rationality? Yes I’ll let that irony sink in a moment.
We’ve had 3 centuries of hype over how freakn awesome reason and logical rationality is. Yet if we can examine with an objective eye our obsession (oooh, is that also an irrationality?) with being rational, we may see it’s propensity for futile and counterproductive efforts and how it, paradoxically, leads us into a lifestyle diverging from common-sense.
Therapy with a Hammer
Anyway, back to psychology. If all you have is a hammer, you’ll see everything as a nail. Psychological training equipts one to see all manner of problems and about-to-be-problems churning and champing in everyone’s mind; almost invisible there, hiding behind gesticulations and tics, freudian slips and stammers. Like the president of a paranoid empire, seeing all manner of natural phenomena as an incoming threat (another modern Western speciality: whole-life competitiveness).
Frankly, your garden variety psychologist—whether noob or veteran, probationary or PhD—they’re all likely primed to view every part of your psychology as an issue waiting to be fixed. A concerned parent, or if you’re particularly unlucky, a patronising Messiah-wannabe, looking at you with a frowning “tsk tsk. You poor thing. Let me help you the way I know how.”
Yes, psychologists are prone to cognitive biases too. And emotions, as one the most potent parts of your psychology, aren’t exempt from this skewing of perspective.
But wait, don’t pry open the head just yet! Is it actually a problem to fix? Or is it chugging along more-or-less just fine?
Emotions aren’t in competition with you, nor are they a waste product. They are there for a good reason. A very good reason. Human emotion is one of the most powerful and intricate of all our survival mechanisms, honed over aeons of biological and societal evolution.
It’s ok to eat fish, ’cause they don’t have any feelings
Nirvana – Something in the Way
René Descartes likened the cries of a distressed animal to a squeaky machine. The philosopher who wrote about not trusting even his own senses (despite taking care to curate his relations to others) understandably has no room to think animals might possibly have their own internal experiences, such as emotions. Modern day experimental psychologists still tend to doggedly follow Descartes’ disbelief that animals are capable of feeling emotions. Yet at the same time, behavioural experimenters will readily note exhibited fear responses (oy wait, fear…. didn’t we call that a human emotion?).
The point here is that emotions are something evidently integral to certainly all mammals, perhaps to all invertebrates. Humans have them too, because they offer an evolutionary advantage. Or perhaps Charles Darwin would rather I say: because of the evolutionary advantage of emotions, humans!
Regular readers of my blog will already know this, how fear keeps you alive when the sabre-tooth tiger lunges at you, et cetera. Other emotions, not quite so primal as fear, are tuned to more niche aspects of human survival, such as navigating social hierarchies.
Make Allies of Enemies
So now we see human emotions aren’t a cancer to excise from our lives. We need them. Indeed, we survive and prosper, at least in part, thanks to them.
In deeply troubled individuals emotions may follow a pathological pattern. They may rocket up too quickly to intolerable levels, they may linger an inordinately long time, or they may vacillate too violently from one extreme to another. My patients suffering Borderline Personality Disorder experienced emotions in all three of these destructive patterns simultaneously. In such cases, the hammer of psychology—the old medicine-based psychiatric attitude of fixing diseases—does help. (Albeit, it’s not that simple— BPD treatment definitely requires more than just standard CBT therapy or other such problem-focused therapies.)
For my other psychology clients, and particularly now with my private coaching clients, emotions aren’t so utterly devastating. Instead of violently lashing our emotions into line, and sneering at their nefarious designs to cause use misery, emotions should be seen for what they ultimately are—a powerful ally.
Emotions for Motivation and for Anxiety
In motivation training, clients learn to actually put their emotions to use, leveraging their goals onto this deeply-evolved motivation system. Many of their goals seem to be constantly self-sabotaged because they are operating in competition with their emotions. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, in The Scarcity Mindset, in a duel between your conscious and subconscious, such as between a goal and an emotion, you can always count on the latter to win.
For those I see suffering from anxiety and incessant rumination, a similar adversarial relationship with their emotions is again found. Gripped with fear—fear of the future, or public spaces, or dentists—the immediate response is to wrangle with this runaway emotion and get it under control. If in “crisis-mode”, or full-blown panic attack, there’s little else to be done. But actually the key is to carefully rework the connection one has with the fear into acceptance. It sounds counter-intuitive, but this is the sustainable solution to living with anxiety and panic.
Your Oldest Friend
This is only the very beginning of the journey of changing the perspective one has toward one’s emotions. The ultimate in co-working with emotions is when you’re able to strategically apply the right Mindsets to the situation.
All too often I witness people, myself definitely included, regarding their own emotions as a problem, whether or not they’re even conscious of of having made that judgement. But your “problem” emotion, whatever it is—anger, jealousy, fear, frustration—is not your adversary. In fact, if anything, it is probably you who are being adversarial, wasting your own willpower in competing with yourself.
Just like making amends with an old friend you once fought with, coming to terms with your emotion isn’t something you can just flip-around in one minute. It takes time and the discipline needed in pursuing a long-term project. But once you get there, the reward waiting for you on the other side is truly worth it.
When I began this document, I intended it to be a quick definition of “mindset” and why that’s relevant to you. I realised it is a disservice, and indeed risks harmful interpretations, to give an incomplete story of only one or other aspect of the science and art of mindsets.
I’ve mentioned other mindsets before (e.g. The Scarcity Mindset), but the concept of mindset warrants its own detailed analysis. What follows is to be considered a working draft at this stage, until I get it to a satisfactorily thorough document.
There is no consensus for the definition of mindset. The one I use for myself is:
A mindset is the pattern of labile psychological processes, summoned ad-hoc, that leads to a real-world result.
I’m 99% sure that definition doesn’t help you, my dear readers. So I’ll break that down a bit into non-psyched terms.
Real World Results
How we act (or re-act) in a real world situation depends on a few things: our genes, the state of our health, the other people involved, the weather… Most of these things are beyond our control. But there’s also a set of factors, invisible to the outside world, that we can change, and in doing so determine the course of our actions (and, re-actions).
What we can control, to a great extent, is the stuff going on in our heads—thoughts, beliefs, emotions, levels of motivational energy. These are “labile” qualities of our psychology—they are changeable. In fact, they irrepressibly do change, prompted by a transpiring event, another person, or from our own determination. (You can see where this is going.)
An example is in order. Let’s select here beliefs, and set it in the scenario where I’m going to join a hockey team training session as a complete beginner.
I can go in with a mindset which includes the belief “I’m pretty good at learning new things; I’m moderately fit; I’m curious how I go trying new things”. Set up like this, I’ll likely pay attention to the instructions, put in decent physical effort to run after the ball, and enjoy the whole learning experience.
Alternatively, I could also go in primed with the belief “I hate sports; I’m no good at anything physical; and what’s the point of chasing a ball when I can watch Netflix instead?” Guess what—before I’ve even started it can be almost guaranteed that this will be the first and last hockey training I ever go to.
(Ok, I cheated a bit there—the third self-statement in each example wasn’t really a belief. But you can see how different “stuffs” in our head all paint a powerful picture together, which really change how we approach the world.)
Mindsets are ad hoc in that they’re responsive to the context in which they’re formed. Something happens— usually an external event, but it might also be a shift in one’s mood or thought-process—that prompts us to automatically adopt a suitable mindset to address it.
Mindsets are not prepared ways of thinking that are consciously put into play at pre-defined destinations or at scheduled times. Although, it is possible to use some clever classical conditioning on ourselves, to gear certain mindsets into action in specific foreseeable circumstances. This is discussed more below.
Mindsets do not include a certain other aspects of psychology that are more fixed, and embedded.
You cannot simply end schizophrenia with a mindset shift. Though, it is known that altering the mindset of the friends and family can greatly improve life for the schizophrenia suffer.
Or, to take an example from my personal childhood, if you’re stuck with a seemingly untreatable chronic gastro-intestinal disease, chances are that you’re unable to sustain physical exertion very long, regardless how optimistic your outlook is on your latent hockey skills.
Similarly, there are other stable aspects of psychology that aren’t just switched on and off depending on the mood and the circumstances of the moment. Personality is considered a stable feature of one’s psyche (though, it’s less fixed than most people assume). Cultural indoctrination is also something that tends to stick with us our entire lives, regardless of our mood or the situation we find ourselves in. And our Weltanschauung is also a complex basis for our comprehension of the world, which means it is necessarily robust and consistent, day-in, day-out. These parts of our psychology might be grouped under the rubric of “Identity“.
Lastly, mindsets do not operate in isolation up in your head. The world as it is perceived has every potential to affect and shift the mindset. Equally, having a particular mindset will inevitably affect how you perform and engage in the world.
Uses and Implications
At any given moment, we humans have operating with a specific mode, state, and range of cognitive ability. For example, we can have the activation of the sympathetic nervous system (the so-called “fight-or-flight” response), or the parasympathetic nervous system (“rest-and-digest”). As mentioned in another article, we cannot be maxing out all levels and abilities at all times—there’s an advantage to laziness! So, it’s quite impossible, and for that matter pointless, to be in both fight mode and chill-out mode simultaneously.
Mindsets are a learnt way of approaching a situation as efficiently as possible, using the best abilities and modes available to us at the time, so we can deal with the obstacle, hazard, or opportunity as best we can. Part of the pre-speech mindset used by a semi-experienced public speaker would be to active the parasympathetic nervous system, and calm himself as he gets on stage.
When I said mindsets are learnt, I do not mean you go sit in a classroom and study them. They’re almost always learnt intuitively, without our meaning to, without our even realising. Like most learning, this happens predominantly in early stages of life.
Humans are creatures of habits, and even though we have the ability to alter out mindsets, we tend to naturally stick to the same handful of mindsets.
We habitually fall back on the same repertoire of mindsets because they feel familiar to us and because they deliver reliable results. No alarms, no surprises, business as usual.
This has its advantage in offering us a safe, stable picture of the world around us. For anyone going through a traumatic experience or having their world turned upside-down somehow, the safety of old mindset patterns can help reassure them and ground their experience in terms that can be understood and integrated with their lifelong history of experience.
For the most of us, the overwhelming majority of our days are, in the greater sense, stable. Most days, there is no shock to the system that rattles you for weeks or years thereafter, no shift of paradigm, no twist in plot that makes you have to re-evaluate “everything you thought you knew about x, y, z…”
A universal exception to this is the immense shock to to our a senses when we’re born, moving from mother’s womb to the “real world”. Fortunately this comes at a point in our lives where we have no detailed Weltanschauung and little in way of holding preconceived ideas, and we can accept our world being turned upside down (in this case, literally so).
When Mindsets Fail or Hurt Us
Most of us live a stable lifestyle, where the cosy familiarity of our most beloved mindsets let us approach each day like the last one. Which is fine, unless…
…the mindset isn’t helping!
The mindset we keep using for a particular scenario might be sub-optimal, unhelpful, counter-productive, or downright maladaptive and deleterious.
A sub-optimal mindset still serves your purposes of dealing with what the world throws at you, but may be outclassed by another potential mindset which gets you your goal faster, easier, and more completely. The reason we get stuck using sub-optimal mindsets is often because we’ve transitioned into a new phase of life. So, for example, the work ethic that served you well-enough as a teenager in school may not work so well when you have to direct yourself through a 3-year-long PhD.
In every client I’ve seen, there’s been a contraproductive mindset in regular play, activated multiple times each and every day. These self-defeating and self-sabotaging mindsets are not to be underestimated. No aspect of life is immune from profound effects—relationships, self-esteem, career advancement. And they can consume huge amounts of resources, stirring up negative emotions over 100 times a day, sometimes demanding up to half the waking hours just keeping it under control.
Purging oneself of such mindsets is rarely accomplished alone. It takes a powerful event to kick it out of your mind, and many heart-warming Hollywood films include a story this effect. But rather than waiting for such a divine intervention, some people take initiative and work together with a counsellor or life-coach to effectively eliminate the self-defeating mindsets in a series of emotionally-involved sessions.
At the pathological end of the spectrum, a mindset may pose a danger or be socially maladaptive. As mentioned earlier, all mindsets were learnt as a way to best deal with a situation. So, how could that be harmful?
An example of a harmful mindset might be with the boxer who’s mastered a fight-night mindset: seeing the victory ahead, feeling impervious to pain, aggression ready and champing at the bit, confident in training. Now, this is a fantastic mindset to have stepping in to the ring! But something’s gone awry if this mindset takes over when he’s spoon-feeding his baby niece. In this case, the context with the baby needs to be intricately dissected to see how it got connected to the fight-night mindset. This is where working with a psychologist can be helpful.
Mindsets are changed in one of two ways: implicitly or explicitly; or another way of saying it: incidentally, or intentionally. The first is something we’ve all experienced, though not always with our conscious awareness. The second is an abstruse art form, that has only since recently received some trickle of input from science.
Paradigm shift is the most obvious example of a mindset that is fundamentally shifted due to an unplanned incident. It is when we’re compelled to dramatically re-assess what we think of the world, or at least a specific of understanding of the world, after it is found that all our prior assumptions are flawed. It engages the four fundamental constituents of a mindset—thoughts, beliefs, emotions, levels of motivational energy.
Paradigm shifts happen every few generations in every field of science, for example when Ignaz Semmelweis demonstrated in the 1840s that infections were caused by invisible microbes, and not by toxins or evil spirits or “bad air”, and that perhaps doctors should wash their hands and sterilise their instruments. His work immediately led to a 90% reduction in hospital deaths; through his “germ theory”, trillions of lives to this day have been saved, and trillions more spared undue suffering.
Paradigm shifts are rare, and are met with immense resistance. For his work, Semmelweis was rejected by the academic community, publicly ridiculed, and committed to an asylum where he was beaten and tortured. He died a few weeks later from an infection, ironically easily preventable by precisely that which Semmelweis himself proposed—sterilisation.
(Yes, whilst not exactly a “mindset”, self-defeating ideology can also infest institutions. The academic establishment is by no means exempt.)
Unsolicited Mindset Changes
Now, back to psychology of the individual.
A much more everyday example of an incidental mindset shift can be seen in changes in the emotional component. Being sad or depressed has the added effect that doing the dishes becomes intolerably onerous. Whilst being excited makes it difficult to read Shakespeare.
There is no rational reason for there being a connection between a 15th century playwright, and it being 1 hour before meeting a girl for your first date. But, there is. The systems are connected, and influencing each other.
Perhaps the most common daily mindset is found first thing in the morning. Pre-breakfast, I can barely grunt together two sentences in response to a question, and any activity beyond lifting a spoon to mouth may as well be a mission impossible to Mars. But then about 10 minutes after finishing breakfast, and with a bit of luck, I’m willing and able to do any number of challenging tasks.
So, what changed? In this case, it was primarily my levels of motivational energy, which is tightly linked to my circadian rhythm. If there’s enough interest, I will detail more of the fascinating sequence of neurotransmitter and hormonal changes when we wake or/fall asleep in a later article.
Intentional Mindset Change
And then there’s the bit the hustlers have been waiting for—the planned and directed mindset changes. Yes, we need not wait for a haphazard act of God—there are ways to pro-actively shift mindsets in precise directions.
As I mentioned before, this is far from being an exact science. But there are a variables we can manipulate so as to produce specific results with a certain level of reliability. The details of that process are quite involved, and best left to its own dedicated article, and is something I offer professional guidance with in my private business.
The important thing to know about changing mindsets in a predictable fashion, is that it takes time. Sure, you can shunt your physiology quickly, for example spiking your blood-sugar levels by binging on jelly beans, and this will give very short-term boosts to any physically energetic sort of mindset. Or a more familiar example is forcing yourself awake with caffeine.
But the deepest and hence most powerful component of mindset is the beliefs segment. It is generally very resistant to change; when it does change due to intentional and deliberate means, it happens slowly and gradually. And this is good, because if it were so easy to change all levels of a mindset we’d be wide-open to manipulation and our lives would be very unstable.
A term I’ve seen thrown around more lately is mindset evolution, which seems like an apt label for the process, at least in adults, since we do not do away with the old mindset completely, but instead keep nudging the old mindset incrementally toward the one we want.
As always, if you’d like more information on using this in a way that is personally meaningful to you, and actually useful in your life, feel free to contact me.
A mindset is a combination of pre-conceived beliefs, emotional state, thought processes, and then what behaviour one performs as a result of this. All these components can be changed, to varying extents.
Mindsets can, and do, completely transform our experience of events and our performance of tasks. This generally happens automatically and without us consciously noticing.
Although mindsets affect essentially all aspects of our outward life, some aspects of our inner life, such as identity or mental health condition, are unreceptive to mindset.
We each go about our lives with our particular repertoire of favoured mindsets, that we consistently default to.
Most of our repertoire was learnt long ago, subconsciously, and without us planning it or even having had any say in it.
Not all mindsets are helpful. Those that are holding you back warrant an attempt to change it.
Most mindsets changes happen haphazardly.
Intentional and deliberate changes to mindsets are possible, but there are no quick fixes that deliver lasting reliable results.
It might look like I’m doing nothing. But physiologically, my metabolism is very busy!
The Power of Silence
People cannot be “on the go” every minute of every waking hour.
An orchestra is nothing more than a loud cacophony of white noise, if all instruments played all the notes they can. Pauses, gaps, space—they are all of importance equal to any poignant note or chord, lest the latter be stifled. The power of these notes is in standing out from the space around them.
So, too, is our activity pointless without pauses. Silence is part of the production. Productivity doesn’t exist without its antithesis—idle time. That is to say, idleness isn’t wasted time. Down-time is a necessary part of any sustained activity, be that activity physical, or the mental activity of applied focus and concentration.
The Folly of Industry
This is in stark contrast to most current-day models of commerce and industry. If you own a production machine—weaving cotton, stamping steel plates, printing newspapers—it often makes sense to run the machines 24/7. The machine doesn’t tire, it needs no sleep; and it only adds to business when it’s running. If it’s not running, the machine is only depreciating in value, as a liability.
Yes. Machines! But for some reason, we’ve allowed society to apply this reasoning to humans. It’s another instance of (irrational) people confusing rationality with common-sense. Tell a human to work 24/7 and see how much damage this does to your business already toward the end of day 1. Doubtful they ever make it to the “7” in “24/7”.
And you don’t need to be a corporate consultant to have the message shoved down your throat daily. Media in western societies where socialism never took off almost make it shameful if you’ve not worked 12-hour days. The message is everywhere — hustle, be disciplined, time waits for no man, boost productivity (in professional and private life), optimise, life-hack and, courtesy of silicon valley, move fast and break things.
You may get there fast, like this. But where is the there? The short-lived fame of a hollow-feeling entrepreneur? A 10k profit for your millionaire boss? An early grave?
As the analogy goes—beware of spending your whole life climbing the ladder, only to find this ladder doesn’t lead up to where you’d like to be. This type of relentless self-harassment is largely responsible for 2021’s epidemic of burnout.
The Actual Way, to Find True Power
The down-time is a regenerative phase, for refuelling your energies. Mental energy tends to spontaneously re-fuel whenever it’s not getting expended. However, precisely where and how your mental down-time happens dictates the how effectively restorative that idle time is.
In my next article, I will be introducing the 4 spaces of regeneration. Not every type of down-time is equal, and not each type of regeneration is appropriate for each person.
Yesterday, as I was doing my morning stretches outside, a wasp came to land on my arm. What attracted her to my wooly jumper, I don’t know. But it was clear she had no intention of stinging me. And after a while, it seemed she had little intention to leave either.
In any case, she got me thinking grand ideas…
My relation to wasps has been tenuous lately. I find them fascinating, frequently annoying, and occasionally horrifying.
Last week, minding my own business on the hammock, an insect pair plummeted onto the hammock fabric next to my face. Only, it wasn’t actually a mating pair, as I first thought.
On top was a wasp, yes. But underneath — up-turned and twisted in upon herself — was a bee lying on her back in utter submission. Perhaps the bee was already dead. Perhaps paralysed and dying. She seemed to offer no resistance.
The other side of me, placid bees continued busying about their bee-business, dropping into flowers and buzzing around the pot plants. They showed no discernible concern for the bizarre violence befalling their counterpart, a mere 20cm away.
Why is a wasp flying around with a bee in her clutches anyway?
Yesterday’s morning wasp was decidedly more peaceful. But, I don’t speak waspish, so who knows.
Yesterday’s lesson was about fairness and justice.
My relation to human society has also been tenuous. I get highly attuned to any act of injustice that I witness, and it affects me at a deep, visceral level. Others seem to be able to brush it of with a jaded stoicism, sometimes even with a bleak sardonic light-heartedness. Me, I get fixated on counteracting the act of injustice, to the point of putting myself in harm’s way. I cannot live in a world where the perpetrator goes unpunished.
At least, that’s what I hear and feel from within me. But, does it need to be so?
Justice, and the Psychology of Personality
The “sense of injustice” has been conceptualised as a sub-trait resulting from one’s personality type, and at times as something of a personality trait in itself — some people naturally seem to be highly sensitive to injustice, some people aren’t.
The other end of this, is not just how attentive one is to perceiving injustice, but also how one reacts to injustice. Some people tend to be more forgiving, some seek retribution.
Unfortunately for me, it seems I tend to be both attentive and vindictive.
Whilst personality is normally regarded as a fixture of one’s life, it’s merely a standard pattern of behaviour to a standard pattern of situations — personality changes when the situation changes. Also, you can work with your strengths and weaknesses, to adapt one’s personality to what life is giving you.
In short, if I can’t make the world fair and just, I can at least adjust my way of thinking so that the world doesn’t crush me.
Time for a philosophical excursion; this one with practical application!
The Difference? Indifference!
Life isn’t fair. Nor is it unfair.
When do you get stung by the wasp?
Sometimes without any ill intention of yours at all. Just by being in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Sometimes you are stung only due to where where you innocently put your foot. From your perspective, there is no malice, no nefarious design, no hostility.
Nonetheless, from the wasp’s point of view, you are a threat, and the reasonable response (or, as humans like to call it these days, “rational” response*) is to punish, inflict pain.
But so, too, will you get stung if you intentions are threatening—if you are trying to swat the wasp away, or to knock down their nest from the rafter.
As such, we need to accept we will get stung in life even with the best of intentions. Don’t take it personally—it’s part of life. Just ask that bee.
What you Can Do About it
But, you will get stung a whole lot more if you have ill-willed designs.
Getting stung or not, as an all-or-nothing concept, is beyond your control. To try stop it entirely is an exercise in futile vanity — as sure a route to anxiety & nervous breakdown as any.
What you can do is ensure you don’t increase the risk. By minimising how many nasty things you think and do will mitigate how many people come to sting you later.
Justice can be sought out. Indeed, we as beings of moral responsibility, it must be pursued. At the same time, do not allow a random injustice to existentially destroy you.
To live as part of nature, we must see it for what is is — occasionally flawed, occasionally unfair, but at the end of the day it’s not out to get me. It’s not all about me. To continue as a member of society, as a member Earth’s web of life, I have that responsibility to pursue the ideal of fairness, but also to gracefully and humbly accept that some of this is beyond me.
Törnroos, Maria & Elovainio, Marko & Hintsa, Taina & Hintsanen, Mirka & Pulkki-Råback, Laura & Jokela, Markus & Lehtimäki, Terho & Raitakari, Olli & Keltikangas-Jarvinen, Liisa. (2018). Personality traits and perceptions of organisational justice. International Journal of Psychology. 54. 10.1002/ijop.12472
Lovas, Ladislav & Wolt, Richard. (2002). Sensitivity to injustice in the context of some personality traits. Studia Psychologica. 44. 125-131.