A lot has happened this month so I’ve got a few chunky nuggets for you. And since in comparison with the world it seems odd to tell you about the exciting stuff that’s been brewing in my kitchen I want to jump straight in with…
In horror I’ve watched a man being murdered on camera by those who are supposed to protect and serve. This is not something new, but it hit a spot. And not just with me. I’m not Black and I’m not an American. But you don’t have to be in order to be deeply affected by the injustice (ok, fairness is a strong value of mine so that definitely added to the weight). And it’s not just the injustice of a policeman kneeling on someone’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds until they’re dead while this 46 year old man calls out for his mum. What got me furious and baffled is the fact that once again this policeman, along with the other policemen standing by doing nothing, was about to literally get away with murder, until the world cried out in protest and it could no longer be ignored.
Much has been said and there’s still too much to say. It’s been mind-boggling to me how so many people deny that systemic racism exists, how so many close their eyes to their unconscious biases, how so many rather not look at some of the uncomfortable truths of how their psyche has been impacted by centuries of colonial rule. As Dave Chapelle pointed out in a recent appearance: “My great-grandfather was born a slave. This shit ain’t old!”
So what can we do? How can we learn from this? How might we affect change? I believe it starts with awareness and calls for action. My friend and colleague Georgie Nightingall offered a moving account and some fantastic resources in a recent post (I love most of her posts btw) along with some practical ways of doing your part. John Oliver delivered a crushing account of the aftermath and how little responsibility the police are taking, still, after so, SO many incidents. The list of names I could mention is endless.
What left me positive is how the world has reacted and how so many stood in solidarity against the injustice despite personal risks. It gave me hope. It led people to question their privilege and uncover some blindspots. And as a coach I’m all about uncovering blindspots, taking responsibility and doing what we can to contribute towards the kind of world we’d like to live in where those in power are failing to take action.
One aspect that I wanted to pick up on is the #AllLivesMatter debate. I’ve seen people with good intentions use this phrase and as I love myself a witty cartoon to help people consider a different perspective and reflect back what might be at play here and how your opinions might fall on other people, I wanted to share my two favourite responses with you. Again, most people I’ve met who used the phrase didn’t have bad intentions, but it did demonstrate a level of ignorance to the cause and lack of awareness to what the BLM movement is fighting for (though in one case it genuinely was an attempt to sympathise with the cause, albeit in a rather awkward way). It’s difficult to even imagine what it’s like to sit at the receiving end of this even after so many conversations with people affected by racism and unconscious bias. It’s humbling. I’m both grateful for being so lucky to be born into privileged circumstances as well as motivated to keep challenging people’s perspectives and elevate their level of awareness, both of themselves as well as the systems around them. It’ll take generations until we’ll get the worst out of the majority of people’s heads, but it’s worth fighting for.
What’s holding you back
When it comes to the possibility of change, there are two extreme schools of thought that I often come across as a coach: Those who tell you that you can be and do whatever you want as long as you put your mind to it, work hard, break through your limiting beliefs and tell yourself a different story; and those who tell you that “people don’t change”, that 50% of who we are is determined by our genetic make-up and the other 50 get wired into us by the way we’re brought up or how we’re being programmed and manipulated by our surroundings, the media our personality type etc.
The truth tends to lie somewhere in between. Yet we get inundated with messages, especially in the world of personal development, of how we too can be as amazing as our wildest fantasies if we just choose to (and usually pay a significant fee) or how we don’t need to feel bad about ourselves because we never stood a fighting chance against greater forces. I can see the appeal of both camps.
What plays into this is the notion of free will and only recently a commentary on a piece of research I shared on Facebook sparked considerable engagement. Following 2 training courses in existential coaching in June I was pretty debated-out on the topic but it was good to see people’s thoughts on the matter and some great resources. Now given recent political happenings and what’s been revealed in the aftermath about mass manipulation and tempering in elections nearly a century of using psychology to sway public relations in people’s, countries’ and organisations’ favour (I recommend this documentary to learn more about “Freud’s asshole cousin”) and tonnes of “research” in the advertising and sales sector, it’s astonishing to learn how much we are able to sway someone’s opinion and even make people think that it was their idea all along (check out this segment by the great Derren Brown, who explains the process of awareness without perception extremely well). It gets truly scary when you look into how the Nazis used propaganda to create some of the darkest times in human history while having millions of people committed to the cause. You can really fuck with the human mind if you put enough resources into it. A number of conversations with conspiracy theorists, climate change deniers and right-wing political supporters have shown me how deeply this can sit and how difficult it is to challenge.
But it isn’t black and white. We can be powerfully influenced by forces we may or may not be aware of, and yet exercise our free will in those moments of awareness. We can choose to embrace the discomfort of cognitive dissonance or to risk looking like a fool while we’re learning. We can choose to commit ourselves to circumstances in which we may not be exposed to the forces that seem to control our lives by e.g. cutting ties to certain people, getting out of relationships, moving home or checking ourselves into a recovery clinic. It is in these moments that we exercise our free will. And yes you may argue that these “perceived choices” may in turn be determined by outside forces. That’s why the free will debate is still a debate. What I recommend is to look up some of the resources in the post I mentioned earlier and make up your own mind. It’s a complex issue but worth diving into as it lies at the core of our motivation to change and our sense of ownership over our lives.
Now it is certainly an empowering message that you can choose to be whoever you like. It is certainly true that by developing a more constructive narrative about ourselves and change the way we talk to ourselves inside our mind is a powerful way to induce change. And it is also true that our personality, once it’s developed, is relatively stable over time and can in some instances seem to almost predict behaviour. While big data sets and nauseating advances in technology have made predictions in people’s choices (such as spending behaviour) scarily successful, we’re still free to choose, as long as we are aware of the forces that influence us. That’s part of why I do what I do and that’s why I will never stop being the annoying person that tries to challenge your views or knock on your established worldview in order to create some more awareness. It gives us the power to choose for ourselves.
Below I include a comment I left on a group about personality types, limiting beliefs and my existential perspective on it. And also a quick shout to Niall from The Weekend University who recently interviewed Benjamin Hardy, who recently laid out the one side of the argument in his latest book on how personality isn’t fixed and anybody can rewrite their story.
This is such an interesting discussion!
Research into personality based on e.g. the “big 5” and Jung’s archetypes (MBTI, enneagram, Insights, 16 Personalities, DISC etc) has demonstrated that core personality traits such as introversion/extraversion are relatively stable over time. It doesn’t mean that an introvert can’t learn to do extrovert things (I’m speaking from experience here), but it means it’ll take more energy and I’ve seen introverts who “told themselves a different story” burn out for that reason.
There are schools of thought (e.g. NLP) that teach that any label can be changed, any story re-authored and that people can be anything they choose if they just put the work in. While this is an empowering narrative and there are impressive case studies, I don’t think the data supports this claim.
As an existentialist I’m no fan of labels or personality categories by any means and I’ve argued fiercely with MBTI and Enneagram lovers and am generally a bit weary of those who imho take personality research a bit too seriously (e.g. Jordan Peterson), but I came to the conclusion that as people we are indeed limited (if you wanted to use that word). We can’t be whomever we like to be due to our genetic make up and the way we grew up. Many of these “limitations” are strengths if we look at them from the right angle. Many can be changed and re-authored through coaching or therapy, self-help or other ways. But I believe there are limits and it can be toxic to be made believe that everything’s a story we can choose to re-write. It makes people feel so guilty for being who they are, for struggling with something they may never be able to truly leave behind. It makes people adopt the teachings of their gurus only to never quite shake the feeling of inauthenticity and feeling like they didn’t get it right.
Susan Cain, in her excellent book “Quiet”, wrote a fantastic section on Tony Robbins and introverts in this regard. If you consider yourself an introvert, that’s a great one to read in general. It points out all your strengths and shows how there is no “better”, it’s just that some things come easier to “us” and some things are harder.
And once more, I don’t like the categorisation and the us vs. them. We all score higher or lower on a spectrum and we all are more or less ex/introvert depending on context.
Thanks for bringing all those thoughts out!
I started this series last year but hadn’t picked it up in a little while. The idea stemmed from Alain de Botton’s excellent TED talk, listening to an hour of Tony Robbins teaching a crowd and my history with martial arts. All (in their very own ways) highlight the importance and value of repetition. Hence I made a list of things I’d like to imprint in my kids’ minds so that they may carry it with them forever.
To be honest, I forgot where I picked this up but it immediately stuck in my head:
What it carries is that we shape our world by how we choose to make sense of it. We attach meaning to often very neutral situations. We think someone’s mad at us and relate to them from that position, which brings out the mad in them. We treat someone like a child and, low and behold, they’ll rebel or become dependent. If you think something’s impossible, it often becomes impossible. If you think something is possible, often there’s a way (though please see my nuggets on limitations before you start preaching this). The way we relate to life creates our perception of what life is. Hence, life is exactly what you think it is. Be mindful of how you think about stuff. It makes quite the difference.
My most wonderful colleague Pninit Russo-Netzer shared this gem of a quote this month and in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has so powerfully demonstrated the fragility of the world, I wanted to share it with you. To me it works both ways. I’ve seen clients who struggled for years only to feel reborn in the wake of a sudden opportunity or chance encounter. I take Samuel’s words as a reminder to cultivate presence, to try and meet each day with the gratitude it deserves and as a beacon of hope when the world seems like it’ll never change. Btw, I found many other gems where this came from. I recommend a quick Google search.
Talking about Coaching Episode 12 – Do you take notes? Some coaches take copious notes during their coaching sessions, others never write anything down. Many write reflections after the sessions to keep track of actions, achievements or specific contexts. Other don’t.
Talking about Coaching Episode 13 – Is it crucial to have a niche? – One of the most frequently asked questions among coaches starting their business. We’re shedding some light on the range of opinions, talk about different ways we might niche and discuss whether we need a niche at all.
Bringing Positive Psychology into Coaching – I’ve had a wonderful chat with Animas COO Robert Stephenson about why positive psychology matters and how we might use it in our lives and in our coaching practice.
The Positive Existential Leader: The hidden challenges of leadership and how we might “NARVEGATE” them – In June I’ve been invited to give a short talk at the 2020 Flourish Summit organised by Perth College and Suzy Green’s Positivity Institute. I’m introducing my vision for a Positive Existential Authentic Resilient Leader (PEARL) and a 9 step process and mindset to go with them.
- July 7th: Yannick’s Coaching Lab with somatic coach and founder of The Somatic School, Nathan Blair
- July 8th: Coaching & Psychedelics Drop-in Session of our newly founded MIND Foundation Interest Group
- July 16th: Pub Psychology – Topic TBA
- July 16th: I’ll be guest on The Doubters with Olivia D’Silva
- July 25th: I’ll be presenting at the IMEC 2020 Meaning Conference and will be talking about Existential Coaching during Covid-19. Fellow speakers include Alfried Längle, Carol Ryff, Kirk Schneider, Robert Neimeyer, Dmitri Leontiev and a good few more so very worth joining!
- July 31st – August 2nd: Evolve Wellbeing Retreat. My passionate and logistically talented friend Jon Davis finally realized a dream of his. On the last weekend in July we’ll be gathering with a small group of social distanced people eager to learn about personal development, positive psychology and how to navigate life in a stunning location in Herfordshire. I’ve created a 2-day programme worth checking out. Covid allowing, we’ll be having the best time and learn a lot. The deal is phenomenal for what you’re getting so if you’d like to spend the weekend with me, get on this!
That’s it. If you’re reading this, I appreciate that you’re still with me and I hope you found, well, a nugget. If you can’t get enough, I sporadically upload past editions to my website’s blog. As always, if any of it resonates, make it swing! I’d love to hear from you 🙂