Shedding an Identity

In a previous post, I discussed surrendering to the process of shedding old beliefs.  There are also times when we need to shed an identity or an aspect of one of our identities.  In this context, identity relates to the way we conceive of ourselves as being different to others – it can encompass a set of specific skills or trade (e.g. an architect); a level of achievement in sport, art or literature (e.g. a writer); and/or represent identification with a particular group such as a cultural or ethnic group.  There are times, however, when assuming an identity ceases to work for us owing to outside influences, often beyond our control.

Elite sportspeople, for example, who suffer a career-ending injury are confronted with the need to reframe their identity.  Others may find that chronic illness or a disability makes it impossible to pursue the activities that they once saw as part of their identity.  It may mean that they can no longer teach, write or act in the theatre, so they need to rethink how they define themselves or suffer ongoing frustration and, potentially, depression.   People who suffer from the debilitating effects of Long Covid often find that they can no longer entertain an identity that has been a large part of their life – brain fog, fatigue, inability to concentrate and endless pain can preclude activities that they once saw as part and parcel of how they viewed themselves and their capability.

Shedding an identity is a long but rewarding process

 Shedding an identity takes time and self-care.  It involves acknowledging a declining competence, recognising a loss of self-efficacy and a need to address self-esteem issues.  While there can be residual elements of an identity retained in the event of major life changes, there needs to be acceptance that you are no longer like you used to be in relation to the identity being shed.  The challenge is to handle the change not only at an intellectual level but also on an emotional and physical level, particularly where a life time of competence building has been involved.

However, the rewards of shedding an obsolete identity are a sense of freedom, the opportunity to pursue other creative outlets, and build a new sense of identity.  One participant in a recent Creative Meetup noted that leaving her corporate job (and related corporate identity and trappings) provided space for her to pursue her artistic talents – she indicated that it had felt very constraining to be “an artist in a corporate suit”.

A personal example of the process of shedding an identity       

I prided myself as an “A” Grade tennis player, having won a number of team competitions at that level.   I enjoyed the feeling of competence and control that I could gain from playing great tennis shots and winning games (including my own serve).  Associated with this identity was a sense of agility, speed and endurance over many games and sets of tennis.  I would pride myself for being able to chase down a drop-shot and play a winning shot from this position (I was a school champion sprinter in secondary school).

However, more recently I have been diagnosed with multi-level spinal degeneration, exercise asthma and arthritis in my “trigger finger” (used to hold the racquet firmly).  The combination of these disabilities means that I can no longer use my “first serve” without causing injury to my back (because of the need to bend sideways), no longer play singles tennis (as a result of the exercise asthma) or hit the ball hard for a sustained period (because of the pain from the arthritic finger).  I have also had to avoid net play to reduce the risk of falling or being hit in the face (where I have had multiple surgeries for skin cancers, including a melanoma – a vestige of playing summer competition in the Queensland heat).  The challenge for my self-esteem is that I have gone from being a tennis player that people want to partner because of my proven competence to an aged player that some people resent playing with.

Over many years I have built up my sense of self-efficacy in playing tennis by recalling good shots that I have played during a match.  I would go to sleep at night replaying different shots in my head.  The net result is that I have virtually a video-tape library stored in my head that I can sort by tennis shot (e.g., backhand, volley, lob) covering shots that I have played over many years in both competitive and social contexts.  The challenge to my self-esteem now is that while I can envision these shots, I can rarely execute them.  As an opponent said on one occasion when I missed while playing a top-spin forehand shot down the sideline, “You must be playing from memory”.  He was right, but little did he know that I had spent many hours by myself just practising that shot when I was younger.

So I have had to make adaptions including shedding the image of being a very competent “A” Grade tennis player.  My adaption has involved making changes at three levels:

1. Mental
  • Giving up the goal of winning each shot/game (I no longer have the “weapons”)
  • Focusing on achieving shots that surprise my opposition as well as my partner (because of residual skills associated with my original tennis identity, e.g., being able to play different spin shots, able to “read the play”, sound positioning on the court, and an array of shots that I have learned and practised over more than 60 years).  The ingrained skills acquired through conscious effort have enabled me to retain the capacity to play instinctive shots in some situations (shots that I have never practised but just do intuitively in a rally, e.g., backhand, half-volley lob).
2. Physical
  • No net play or running down drop shots
  • No smashes or first serves
  • No lengthy rallies involving a lot of running
  • No singles play
  • No playing in daylight (because of UV radiation and the risk of more skin cancers/melanomas)
3. Emotional
  • Overcoming the worry about what people ‘think” in terms of my tennis prowess (or lack of it)
  • Being able to rise above my mistakes when playing tennis
  • Dealing with my tennis partner’s expectations and/or disappointment
  • Coping with the frustration of not being able to play a shot that I used to play with ease.

Reflection

    Shedding an identity is a multi-layered affair that takes time – sometimes it is two steps forward and one backward, particularly on the emotional level.  At least I am only dealing with an identity in a recreational/sporting arena.  A lot of people are dealing with shedding an identity (or multiple identities) that are core to who they perceive themselves to be, and by how they are recognised by others.

    Progressively shedding the identity of a competent “A” Grade tennis player has made room for me to develop a new creative outlet in the form of poetry.   Over the past few months, I have written at least eight poems of reasonable length that have caused one observer to comment, “You are a talented poet” – so something lost, something gained.   This provides a new arena for me to build a new sense of competence and self-efficacy – by writing poetry and researching this writing genre as I have done through books such as Kim Rosen’s book, Saved by a Poem: The Transformative Power of Words.

    As we grow in mindfulness through reflection, writing, and sharing in community, we can develop new creative outlets, build stronger emotional regulation and develop resilience to manage life’s challenges and setbacks that lead to the need to shed an identity.

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    Image by John Hain from Pixabay

    By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

    Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

    Consolidating a Career:  Establishing a Career Identity

    Angela Duckworth, in her book, Grit: Why passion and perseverance are the secrets to success, describes George E. Vaillant, Professor of Psychology (Harvard Medical School), as an exemplar of “grit”.  George was Director of Harvard’s Study of Adult Development for more than 30 years and persisted in data collection and interpretation over those years – mining the “gold” within the longitudinal study undertaken over 75 years.  He was particularly enamoured by the richness of such a prospective study which enabled data collection and interpretation as both the circumstances and characteristics of study participants changed over time – information being captured at different age points in their life (such as thirty, fifty, sixty and eighty).

    George readily acknowledges that not only did the study participants change over time, but the interpretive framework, including his own evolving understanding, changed as well.  He was very conscious of the biological mindset of the early investigators on the research project and his own latter bias towards psychological frameworks.  His third book about the study, Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study, illustrates very clearly his personal evolution as well as that of the people undertaking the study – he often acknowledges how his assumptions about an individual’s potential proved to be wrong (based on his prior erroneous reasoning).  

    Consolidating a career – an evolutionary concept

    George was strongly influenced by the adult development framework of Erik Erikson presented in his book, Childhood and Society.  In his Pulitzer Prize winning book, Erik identified 8 stages of psychological development, including Stage 5 – Identity Versus Confusion.  George attempted to fit the data on the psychological development of his study participants to this stage as described by Erik Erikson.  However, George found that while study participants were able to establish a personal identity, they often had not developed a “career identity”.  He decided to divide Erik’s “Identity versus Confusion stage” into two separate stages – “Identity” (versus “Identity Diffusion”) and “Career Consolidation” (versus “Role Diffusion”).  Identity in George’s terms means “to separate from social, economic, and ecological dependence upon one’s parents”.  Career consolidation, on the other hand, leads to “Career Identity” (a state he contrasts with experiencing role diffusion – an inability to commit to a “work” role that provides both personal enjoyment and social contribution).

    Career Identity

    The outcome of George’s “Career Consolidation” stage is “Career Identity”.   He maintains that this stage of adult development involves four key tasks – commitment, compensation, contentment, and competence.  George suggests that if all four are not present, then what is often involved is a job, not a career.  The tasks of commitment and contentment reflect the perseverance and passion that I discussed as core elements of “grit”.  Compensation often reflects competence but George points out that it can be a misleading concept where women’s compensation is involved (because of a lack of equal pay) and also for househusbands who he considered to have a “consolidated career” if commitment, contentment and competence are present (despite the lack of adequate compensation).  Effectively, “compensation” is the more flexible element of his Carrer Identity stage.

    George also argues that Career Identity involves a basic paradox in that commitment to a career that is sufficiently contributory beyond the self to warrant compensation, is also a “selfish” pursuit in that it requires the self-absorption necessary to develop the requisite competence. He suggests that society is tolerant of both men and women as they attempt to develop the “sense of competence” that underpins Career Identity.

    Reflection

    When I look at George’s concept of Career Identify, I reflect on my own work life as an academic.  I can see that my academic career spanning more than thirty years had each of the four elements present – commitment, contentment, compensation and competence (the latter reinforced by the award of Emeritus Professor on retirement).  While many elements of this career and associated identification were personally rewarding, some aspects were not.  I enjoyed teaching students, examining Masters and Doctoral Theses and the researching/learning that such a career entailed; however, I did not appreciate the politics of academia that diverted my energy and attention away from my core role(s).

    As I grow in mindfulness, through reflection and other mindfulness practices, I have come to value my career and its highlights, to be grateful for the opportunities that it provided (including overseas travel) and for the mentors and supporters (including my parents) who made my progression possible.  Without their guidance and belief in my capacity, I would not have been able to achieve this aspect of the Identity Stage of adult development.

    One of my mentors, Professor David Limerick, died recently after leading an exemplary life encompassing Career Consolidation, robust self-esteem, love of family, generosity towards others and an enduring love of nature and music.  I can readily feel the imprint of his life on my own mindset and personal development, my love of nature and music, and my perspective on organisation change and development. To this day, I appreciate the time and effort he took to enable us to co-author an award-winning article – Transformation Change: Towards an Action Learning Organization (1995 Award for Excellence, The Learning Organization Journal).

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    Image by Alexa from Pixabay

    By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

    Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site and the resources to support the blog.

    How to Build Team Resilience: The 10 C’s

    After writing multiple posts about personal resilience over the past five years, I have turned my attention to the task of building team resilience.  This has always been a challenge for managers but the issues have been compounded by the challenging times we are experiencing at the moment (with the global pandemic, war in Ukraine and elsewhere, economic uncertainty and the differential impacts of climate change and associated global warming).  Managers and staff are increasingly facing discontinuities in the way work is done, in where they work and in the nature of internal and external environmental changes.

    How then do we go about building team resilience as we are confronted with multiple assaults on many fronts – e.g., on physical and mental health, economic welfare, working conditions, supply and demand, and relationships?   More recent writing and research point to a number of factors that contribute to team resilience in these challenging times.  I have summarised these as the 10 C’s for ease of access and recollection.

    The 10 C’s for building team resilience

    Team resilience has been described as “the capacity of a group of people to respond to change and disruption in a flexible and innovative manner”.   Even if adverse conditions result in a temporary loss of productivity, the resilient team can restore its balance, take care of affected members and find new ways to work and achieve their goals.  They are able to revise their goals, too, where necessary.  The 10 C’s of a resilient team are described below:

    1. Congruence: This is the cornerstone of a productive, mentally healthy and resilient workplace culture.  Managers need to ensure that they share their values and align their actions with their words.  Congruent leadership inspires, motivates and engages others in the task of personal improvement and innovation.  Lack of congruence on the part of a manager adds to environmental uncertainty, derails personal resilience and undermines team cohesion.  Team members don’t know what to believe, question their own self-worth and lose confidence in the face of the ambiguity created by incongruent behaviour.  Managers need to develop managerial mindfulness so that they are constantly aware of the impact of their words, actions and omissions on the welfare and resilience of their staff.
    2. Connection: Dr. Erin Raab maintains that “resilience is rooted in relationships” which enable trust and flexibility to develop and grow.  Without trust in a team, there is no resilience – individuals withhold information, protect themselves and withdraw (both psychologically and physically).  Managers need to be proactive in building connection through established rituals – e.g., regular, productive and focused meetings; celebrations of birthdays and personally significant events such as cultural or religious days; on-boarding and “off-boarding” practices; and regular occasions of eating together (e.g., enjoying shared  lunches that reflect the multicultural nature of a team).  Foundational to trust and a sense of being valued for contributions to a team, is expression of appreciation given as positive feedback in a way that is sincere, specific, timely and personal.  This builds personal self-efficacy, reinforces team values and develops overall team competence and capability. 
    3. Clarity: Along with relationships, Dr. Erin places considerable emphasis on the role of clarity in building team resilience.  She maintains that clarity “facilitates communication, increases intrinsic motivation and engagement” and contributes to a team’s capacity to handle change adaptively.  At a fundamental level, this involves ensuring that each person understands the specific requirements of their job and are trained and resourced to achieve them.  For the purposes of this discussion, clarity includes not only roles and structures but also team values.  Lack of clarity around roles/structures can lead to role overlap, role conflict and role ambiguity – each of which can undermine alignment of individual effort with team goals.  Clarity about team values is critically important to team resilience.  If team values are developed collaboratively, along with the explicit behavioural expressions of those values, they provide agreed guideposts and enable individual and collective alignment with the ethos of the team, facilitating working together productively within an ever-changing environment.
    4. Collaboration: This includes being conscious of contributing to a team effort (rather than solely absorbed in one’s own tasks) and a willingness to work together and to help out where needed.   It also involves moving beyond competition to “committing to build each other’s competence” to enable other team members to be the best they can be.  In line with an action learning approach, this can entail providing “supportive challenge” to assumptions or negative self-talk that are holding an individual back and undermining their personal resilience and capacity to contribute to the team.   Managers can proactively build collaboration through cross-functional, action learning project teams, establish reverse mentoring (e.g. where new, young staff with specific technological skills mentor older staff in those skill areas) and/or engage in team-building activities such as collaborative problem solving using change tools (e.g., Force Field Analysis or Brainstorming).  These activities build overall team competence and capacity to effectively manage change as a team. They also develop a sense of agency amongst team members – the ability to influence their work environment and how their work is done.
    5. Competence: Conscious efforts to build individual and team competence are an essential element for moving a team beyond its current level of capability.  This not only involves providing externally facilitated individual and team training opportunities but also building competence through internal, prioritised knowledge sharing processes, multi-skilling activities and related learning-on-the job opportunities.  If people in a team are not developing their knowledge and skills, they are going backwards in terms of a changing environment and its concurrent demands for upskilling.  The wider the gap between the present level of team members’ knowledge and skills and that demanded by the internal and external environment, the less resilient the team will be.  In contrast, relevant competence building develops a team’s resourcefulness and the process of continuous learning builds a team’s resilience.  Having a debrief or reflection process after a mistake or setback, without trying to apportion blame, can provide team members with new insights, ideas, tools and increased capacity to avoid or manage such adverse situations in the future.`
    6. Candor: LHH and Ferrazzi Greenlight, through their research, identified candor as one of the four critical characteristics of a resilient team, along with compassion , resourcefulness and humility.  Candor can be understood as “tell it like it is”.  It entails honesty, openness and transparency on an individual as a well as a team level.  It is the manager’s role to keep the workplace “businesslike and professional” and a key element of this is providing corrective feedback to an individual where they fail to meet communicated performance and/or behavioural standards.  Honesty in this interaction is essential to develop the receiver’s self-awareness, create the opportunity for their skill development and reduce the possibility of disharmony in the team.  On a team level, the manager can openly share with the team where they are placed in relation to the team goals and elicit team members help in attaining the goals and/or setting new goals.
    7. Challenge: Keith Ferrazzi, Mary-Clare Race and Alex Vincent argue that helping team members to own, and share, their workplace challenges, builds trust and openness.   This is important on a team level as well as individually.  Managers can be open about the challenges facing the team as a whole.  I worked with a CEO some years ago who managed an aged care operation with 23 different residential facilities on the one site, each with a separate manager and providing services ranging from respite care to palliative care.  What the manager found is that the level of care required by residents was increasing in need,  complexity and cost, at the same time that Government funding was reducing dramatically.  The manager openly shared this financial situation with his team of facility managers and enlisted their aid in resolving the challenge.  The facility managers came up with a number of innovative solutions which enabled the installation to overcome substantial losses.   Managers, where possible, can share information about impending organisational changes to build change readiness in the team and to prevent team members from being blindsided by the changes when they occur.  In the absence of information, team members fear the worst and start to share rumours that undermine individual’s confidence and the team’s resilience.  Sharing information about forthcoming changes can enable a team to collaboratively develop strategies to effectively manage the changes, thus building resilience.
    8. Compassion: It is important that managers show that they care – not only expressing empathy for staff needs, but also taking compassionate action.  This may entail making reasonable adjustments for people experiencing mental or physical health issues.  It could involve developing mental health awareness programs that facilitate people effectively managing their own mental health.  Another approach involves offering workplace mindfulness training to enable staff to manage stress and build personal resilience in the face of multiple workplace stressors.  Mindful organisations develop compassion in all their interactions, including actively listening to each other in the workplace and helping each other through the challenges they experience.  Overall, it entails cultivating a care and concern culture where peoples’ welfare comes before task achievement – a culture that can be developed by regular, non-invasive check-ins by the manager as well as by workplace colleagues.  Involvement in the RUOK? movement can facilitate the development of this cultural orientation. 
    9. Communication: “Information is power”, so sharing information is sharing power – empowering others to achieve.  This involves moving from sharing information on a “need-to-know” basis (often arbitrarily determined by the manager) to a “need-to-enable” basis.  People need information to do their job, to understand the organisational context and to align with the organisation’s strategic direction.  Managers are interpreters of the organisation’s vision, values and goals and have a critical role in ensuring their staff know where the organisation is headed and why.  They can enhance their role in engaging the minds and hearts of staff by enabling collaborative development of a local statement of the team’s vision in line with the organisation’s direction.  What mangers say and how they say it can create a positive or negative culture and contribute to team resilience or undermine it.  Research has shown that a manager’s mood is contagious.  This emotional contagion impacts how a team responds to challenges and setbacks.  Managers are encouraged to be positive and avoid cynicism and negativity if they want to build team resilience.  They need to be conscious about the impact of their communication and monitor their own talk
    10. Celebration: Celebrating successes in terms of goal accomplishment or achievement of project milestones, deepens the memory of team members in terms of how they have overcome obstacles and setbacks and serves as a fall-back when future challenges or setbacks arise.  Mind Tools provides the research behind the value of savoring team success and offers multiple ways to celebrate team achievements.  Celebrations open up the opportunity to share success stories, build cohesion and reinforce positive emotions associated with belonging to the team – all of which adds to a sense of connectedness and team resilience.  Another way into savoring team achievement is to engage in an “appreciative inquiry” process with a team.  This strengths-based approach works from what is good about the present (revisiting achievements) to envisioning an even better future and innovating to realise this vision.

    Reflection

    The factors impacting team resilience – the 10 C’s mentioned above – are not discrete influences.  They overlap to some degree and reinforce each other.  The relationship between different factors is often bi-directional, e.g., connection inspires compassion and compassion, in turn, builds connection.  So, acting positively on any one of the factors identified, can strengthen other factors and enhance the impact on team cohesion and resilience.   The factors provide a focus for efforts to build team resilience.   If a manager wants to achieve a significant change in an organisational/team context, they need to have multiple points of intervention to shift from the status quo to a desired future. 

    However, trying to focus on all the resilience factors at once can create overwhelm for a manager.  Shelly Tygielski, international mindfulness trainer and trauma counsellor, encourages “chunking” when faced with such a mammoth “to-do list” – that is, grouping tasks into like activities (chunks) and assigning relative priorities.  A manager, for example, could engage their staff in a Force Field Analysis (FFA) process to identify the helping and hindering forces impacting the goal of developing team resilience and then collaboratively assign a priority to each force to determine what factor(s) to focus on.  The 10C’s and their component elements could be used as a checklist during the FFA process.

    When writing about personal resilience, Shelly Tygielski encourages “building resilience one step at a time”.   On a team resilience level, this involves beginning with a primary focus and progressively adding activities as one intervention is established and stabilised.  

    As managers grow in managerial mindfulness, they will see opportunities for improving their own practices and develop creative ways to build team resilience.  Proactivity is required on the part of a manager if team resilience is to be developed and sustained.  Writers in this area often liken team resilience to a battery – needing continual recharging and reenergising. 

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    Image by John Hain from Pixabay

    By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

    Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

    Manage Emotions through Savoring Life

    Allyson Pimentel in a recent meditation podcast reminds us to savour life and the opportunities it presents to experience positive emotions such as joy, appreciation and love.   Allyson describes “savoring” as a form of mindfulness with a specific focus and purpose – in savoring we pay attention to the things that we enjoy and relish, lingering on the positive feelings that emerge spontaneously when we focus on what is good in our life.  While savoring is pleasurable, it does not deny the reality of what is difficult in our life such as challenging emotions.  However, this practice enables us to bring positivity to our life by paying attention to “what feels good, what provides relief”.

    There are very clear benefits of savoring, including increased happiness, improved physical and mental health and better performance.    Research has shown that both older people and younger students experience greater happiness through savoring, not only from savoring what is present in their life at the moment but also what they have experienced in the past.  Savoring can lead to optimism about the future, improved self-esteem and greater resilience in the face of stress.  People who savour life bring appreciation and positivity to their relationships, enhance their performance through clearer focus and concentration, and gain greater access to their intuition and creativity – partly because they are not burdened or blinded by negative thoughts and an inherently, human negative bias.

    Guided meditation

    Allyson encourages us at the outset to make ourselves comfortable in whatever posture we choose as a prelude to the experience of pleasure through the savoring of sensations.  She begins the meditation practice by encouraging us to focus on a part of the body that brings ease or pleasure at the moment.  It could be the firmness of the feet on the ground and the attendant sense of security, the tingling and warmth in fingers that are joined together or the sensation of our thighs pressing against the chair.  She also suggests that this savoring meditation can be taken outdoors and enhanced by the experience of nature – its beauty, sounds, diversity and smells.

    Once we find a bodily focus for the experience of ease, Allyson encourages us to bathe in the positive sensations associated with the pleasurable feelings.  This may mean, for instance, paying sustained attention to the tingling in our joined fingers while feeling the sense of relaxation and calm as our breathing itself slows and we become free from our continuous focus on our thoughts.  This process is fundamentally becoming grounded in the here-and-now experience of our pleasurable bodily sensations and bringing full awareness to their impact on us and our sense of ease and pleasure.

    Next, Allyson asks us to recall a recent event that we found pleasurable and a source of joy.  It could be a recent interaction with someone new, an experience of competence when cooking or playing an instrument or any activity that we can recall as a source of pleasure.  She suggests that we recapture the feelings of the moment of that activity and bathe in the feelings and attendant bodily sensations – did we find ourselves relaxing, appreciating what we have, sensing a connection, enjoying conversation or valuing someone’s company and friendship?  I found for this activity that I recalled an interaction with someone I had not met before who was interested in what I do and have done, who shared some of their own story and rapidly built rapport through a communicated sense of curiosity, interest and shared common experiences.  It left me with a sense of warmth, strengthened self-esteem and feelings of connectedness.

    Allyson then asks us to choose another recent activity/event that was a source of pleasure and again recapture the feelings of joy and ease as we bring the activity/event into focus, bathing in our positive feelings and bodily sensations.  For this second reflection, I recalled my recent experience of being able to play my tennis shots more consistently, to recapture shots I have been unable to play for a while and to feel more comfortable and at ease with my game.  I bathed in my sense of restored competence, the unsolicited praise of my tennis partners, and the comments from my opponents expressing appreciation for the extended and challenging rallies.  I recaptured my feelings of joy in being able to experience competence that has come from many years of playing and competing in tennis fixtures.  This flowed into an overall appreciation of the ability to play tennis that has enabled me to play social games in France, England, New Zealand and New Guinea – a passport to engagement and connection with others wherever they reside.

    Reflection

    Savouring the people, events and things in our everyday life enables us in grow in mindfulness through being mindful of the many aspects of our life as they occur – it does not require formal meditation (although the capacity to savour can be enhanced by guided meditations such as that provided by Allyson).

    Our everyday life is full of opportunities to appreciate, and express gratitude for, the things that bring us joy and a sense of pleasure and relief – savouring can serve as an oasis amidst the busyness and challenges of life.  Over time, we can develop a growing awareness of the sources of pleasure in our lives and enhance their positive impact on us and our relationships.

    There is so much we can savour – the development of our children, friendships, our achievements and rewards, the joy of others, and life itself.  Allyson quotes Adrienne Maree Brown, author of Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good, who argues that there is freedom in savoring pleasure and that it “feels good to do good” in the world.  Blair Christie, in her TED Talk “The Simple Act of Marveling”, argues that this savoring activity can “take you on a journey that leads to action” that can change our world and the world at large.  Marveling, she suggests, is a great source of grounding and stress release.

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    Image by pen_ash from Pixabay

    By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

    Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

    Challenges for Couple Relationships During Quarantine and Working from Home

    Rick Hanson, in one of his Being Well Podcasts, spoke of Coping with Quarantine.   His focus in this discussion was on the intrapersonal and interpersonal challenges of physical distancing and restrictions on movement.   In the podcast, he identified the challenges and highlighted the fact that the pandemic and associated quarantine conditions have contributed to an increased divorce rate in China since the pandemic outbreak.  Rick spoke of the interpersonal challenges brought on by the confinement conditions and the mental and emotional pressures experienced by couples working from home.

    Challenges of social isolation for couples working from home

    The unusual conditions for a couple working from home in the context of other social constrictions creates increase emotional pressure for individuals in a relationship as well as for the relationship itself.  Rick describes some of these challenges as follows:

    • Heightened emotional activation: both individuals in a relationship who are working from home will be experiencing heightened emotions in the form of anxiety, fear and frustration as a result of the Coronavirus and associated restrictions on location and movement.   Couples typically experience daily aggravations with some of the comments and actions of their partner.  These aggravations can be intensified in the situation of limited physical space in the home environment and restrictions on movement.  The home environment can become a place of continuous annoyance, conflict and anger rather than a haven of peace and contentment.  Married couples in this situation can experience suffocation and/or staleness and need to draw on considerable internal resources to increase their tolerance and maintain their relationship.
    • Loss of social support: physical distancing can separate us from people we usually associate with and from whom we draw support and reinforcement.  Normally, we gain validation and confirmation of our competence and self-worth through these external relationships.  The change to a working from home environment means that we have lost the daily “water cooler chat” and with it the exchange of information, including sharing of our thoughts and feelings.  The loss of various forms of social reinforcement can cause us to challenge our self-concept and self-worth – difficult feelings compounded by feeling inadequate working from a home environment where we lack the personal capability for remote communications or the working space and technology to take advantage of the positive aspects of remote working.
    • Loss of structure: it is surprising how many people report in the current situation that they “don’t know what day it is”.  This is due, in part, to a loss of structure in their day.  The loss of regular, repetitive activities results in a loss of anchors to our days that serve to remind us what day it is.  We no longer get dressed for work, take the train or car at set times, play our social tennis on Monday nights, watch the footy together on Friday nights, visit our extended bayside family or the local market on weekends or undertake any other activity that serves to structure our day or week.  Rick suggests that these structures normally “prop us up” and their absence can leave a sense of “groundlessness”. 
    • Loss of familiar role:  in the work environment, we can feel competent and in control.  When forced to work from home in a more complex and difficult environment, we can feel overwhelmed by all the challenges and be ill at ease for much of the time.  For some people, this can be temporary as they develop the skills to master their circumstances; for others, being able to adapt becomes a real issue and aggravates the feelings of frustration and reduced self-esteem.  The intense sense of ill-ease and associated stress can debilitate people and hinder them from seeing a way forward and acquiring the necessary skills to capitalise on the current situation and personal conditions.
    • Loss of freedoms: with the restrictions on movement and need for social isolation, people can experience a loss of the fundamental right to “freedom of association”.  Along with this, may be the experience of a lack of privacy where both partners are working from home, especially where for many years one partner went to work every day for an extended period.   Introverts may experience a loss of access to their “cave” where they would normally retreat to recover from extroverted activity, including interactions with their partner.   One or both partners in a relationship may feel that their other partner is constantly “under their feet” – a complaint frequently voiced by people where one partner usually works from home and the other partner has recently retired from their job in the city or away from the home.

    Reflection

    Quarantine as a result of the Coronavirus and enforced working from home conditions can place increased stress on couples and their relationship.  The current environment also offers an opportunity to develop our inner resources through meditations (including mantra meditations), mindfulness practices and reflection on our resultant emotions and responses.  As we grow in mindfulness, we can develop a deeper understanding of what we are experiencing, keep issues and aggravations in perspective, develop tolerance, build our skills and draw on our innate resourcefulness and resilience.

    Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

    By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

    Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

    Your Brain: A Source of Wonder in the Game of Life

    The brain is amazing when you think about how much information it processes and how that influences our emotional and bodily response.  We have deeply embedded neural pathways that serve as short-cuts for determining an appropriate response.  However, our self-stories shaped by early childhood experiences can distort our perception and lead to inappropriate responses to situations that serve as triggers.

    I am always amazed at the functioning of the brain when I play tennis.  When you think about it, the brain is taking in so many variables when a person serves or hits to you (all absorbed at an exceptional speed):

    • wind speed and direction
    • level of lighting
    • ambient sounds
    • sound of the ball on the racquet of the server
    • speed of the ball
    • nature of the spin on the ball (e.g. top-spin, slice, backspin)
    • relational information (where you are in the court and where your opponents are positioned)
    • attention level and readiness of your opponents
    • elevation of the ball (impacting the landing and bounce)
    • expected landing point of the ball
    • the nature and height of the bounce of the ball.

    When you are receiving the tennis ball and returning your shot, your brain is determining how to respond to the information absorbed when the ball is hit by your opponent.  Again, your self-stories come into play here.  The inner game of tennis is critical as your self-belief impacts the choices you make re shot selection. 

    When you think about it, you must make an instant decision about how you are going to respond to the serve/shot by your opponent:

    • the nature of your shot (e.g. forehand or backhand)
    • direction of your shot
    • speed and spin of your shot
    • positioning of your body for your returning shot.

    How is it that your body responds unconsciously in some situations and does the perfect shot?  For example, when the ball is hit deep to your backhand side and your opponents are at the net, you automatically do a backhand, half-volley lob into the open court.  Some key influences here are your level of tennis competence (e.g. unconsciously competent as in the example situation) and memory embedded in your body.  Body memory is itself a complex process involving different elements such as proprioception (e.g. the capacity to know where a part of the body is such as the hand when you cannot see it).

    Body memory is reinforced when you go to sit in the driver’s seat of your car and land with a thud (after your 6 feet 3 inches son has lowered the seat to suit his driving position).  Another example is when you are trying to put the forks away after dishwashing and someone has changed the positioning of the forks in the cutlery drawer (the other forks are not where you unconsciously attempt to place the clean ones).  The role of body memory in relation to trauma is well researched and documented which is why somatic meditation often plays a key role in recovery from trauma.

     Reflection

    The brain is a source of wonder and yet we take it for granted so much of the time.  As we grow in mindfulness and awareness through meditation, mindfulness practices and reflection, we can better appreciate the complexity and ingenuity of our brain, its role in our daily living and sporting activities and express gratitude for the wonder of it.  We are also better able to manage mistakes we make when playing tennis or undertaking other activities requiring complex information processing.

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    Image by John Hain from Pixabay

    By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

    Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

    Music and Meditation: The Key Role of Practice

    Richard Wolf maintains that practice is a key element in meditation and playing a musical instrument.  Richard explores practice along with other parallels between meditation and playing music in his book, In Tune: Music as the Bridge to Mindfulness. Previously, I explored his ideas on achieving harmony through music and meditation.

    It is through practice that we can master playing an instrument or achieving a high standard in sport.  The same is true of meditation – our capacity to meditate and achieve its benefits is dependent on how well we practice.  The greater the regularity and length of our meditation practice, the greater are the benefits that accrue to us.

    Practice and repetition

    Practice requires repetition and may be experienced as boring, e.g. playing scales on a musical instrument.  However, as Richard notes, after a period of practicing, if we persist, we can be keen to “practice for practice sake”.  With sustained practice, comes the realisation that the practice itself achieves the desired benefits of competence, concentration, harmony and spontaneity.  This is as true of meditation as it is of practising a musical instrument.  It is similar with sporting practice. I recall practicing tennis drills with my brothers when we were playing A Grade tennis fixtures.  Repetition was a key part – hitting the ball up the line over and over or practising volleys again and again.  However, as we grew in competence, we would marvel at the shots we played, laugh at the fun we were having and experience a real sense of happiness.  We would look forward to our practice sessions.

    As our meditation practice improves and starts to flow into our daily life, we begin to experience a greater variety of benefits which, in turn, feed our motivation to practice.  Richard suggests that this occurs because when you meditate, “your mental, emotional and physical awareness are the instrument you practice on”.  The essence of effective practice is to maintain focus in the present moment on what we are doing, whether playing a musical instrument or meditating on nature.

    Breathing in time – treating your breath as a musical instrument

    Richard highlights the role of beats in music and the need for a musician to master different times in music such as 4/4 time and 3/4 time (as in a waltz).  He suggests that “counting beats internally” is an essential component of mastering a musical instrument.  He proposes that as a form of meditation practice, you can adopt the parallel technique of “rhythmic breathing”, e.g. what he calls a “four-bar sequence”.   This involves holding your breath for four beats (counting to four) for each of the four “bars” involved in breathing – inhalation, holding, exhalation, holding. 

    In his book, he offers other variations on this breathing sequence that you can adopt but stresses that the important thing is to go with whatever helps you to experience calm and equanimity.   It is vital not to beat up on yourself if you lose count in the middle of your practice – just start over again.  The outcome is achieving a mind-body rhythm that is beneficial to your sense of ease and wellness.

    Reflection

    Meditation practice becomes enjoyable as we grow in mindfulness.  This increasing inner and outer awareness flows into our daily life and brings a variety of benefits such as focus, productivity, creativity, calmness and richer relationships.  The benefits can grow exponentially if we sustain our meditation practice.  Rhythmic breathing can enhance our mind-body connection.

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    Image by Brenda Geisse from Pixabay

    By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

    Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

    Developing Mindfulness through Playing Tennis

    I have enjoyed playing tennis since I was about 10 years old. It is only recently that I have come to realise what an opportunity playing tennis represents in terms of developing mindfulness.

    Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness in the following words:

    Mindfulness is awareness that grows through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally.

    Paying attention

    With tennis, you learn to focus and concentrate on the tennis ball and to tune out other distractions – planes flying overhead on their approach to the airport, voices from other courts, the sound of tennis balls being hit on courts, near and far.

    If you entertain distractions – stop paying attention – you lose concentration and invariably mishit the ball, or worse, miss the ball entirely.

    In this day and age, with “disrupted attention” and the decline in our capacity to focus on a task, practicing paying full attention to a tennis ball is a great way (and enjoyable means for some) to redress that declining capacity.

    On purpose

    Well, even in social tennis which I play on a weekly basis, the purpose is to win the point or the game for yourself and your partner.  There are times when you are more mindful, the purpose is the sheer enjoyment of playing the game.

    It is only when you lose something that you really appreciate having had it.  Many years ago, when my back collapsed and I could not walk, let alone play tennis, I began to really appreciate the opportunity to play when I was fit enough (18 months later).  So now I remind myself what a privilege it is to be able to run and hit the ball and just enjoy the act of playing tennis and its associated pleasures – the conviviality of other social players, the new relationships that are formed, and the sense of satisfaction from the exercise and demonstration of some aspect of skill and competence in the game of tennis.  This certainly develops a sense of gratitude.

    In the present moment

    Sometimes when you play tennis, you become very aware of your surroundings – the feel of the wind, the freshness of the air and the smells of flowering plants and trees and freshly cut grass, the sound of birds flying overhead or the laughter and enjoyment of others.

    You are really in the present moment in terms of your external environment. At other times, your focus on the ball makes you really conscious of what is happening here and now.

    There are times when I just marvel at my mind’s capacity, almost instantaneously, to read the spin and speed of the ball coming to me, to get my body into position to return the shot, to assess the balance and positioning of the opposing players and to determine and execute a responding tennis shot with the right spin, angle and speed – certainly an instance of unconscious competence and a cause for delight in the moment.

    Non-judgementally

    On the tennis court, as in life and work, we can experience negative thoughts and doubts, emotions that distract us from the task at hand and cause us to lose concentration and focus.  You might be undermining your confidence and competence by the thoughts that pass through your mind – “I’ve missed three returns in a row!”, “What will my partner think?”, “The other players seem to be so good, can I give them a decent game?”.

    So, you have to learn to let these thoughts pass you by and not entertain them or they really negatively impact your game.  You gain self-awareness about your anxieties and concerns, your self-evaluation and your assumptions about others and their needs.

    You also learn self-management in terms of not getting upset or “sounding off” (or, in the extreme, smashing your racquet), when you miss a shot or fall behind in a game.  You have to learn to control your emotions – disappointment, frustration or even anger – and to channel the negative energy to a more positive focus.

    In my situation, where I am older than most of the other social tennis players, I have to learn to deal with the negative impact of their assumptions.  Some people who have not played against or with me before, assume that being older I am slower to the ball and not able to hit a decent shot, so they will not hit the ball to me because they think that I will “muck” up the rally.  Others, who have played with me or against me on a number of occasions (or who know that I played competitive A Grade tennis for years), will not hit the ball to me in a rally because they are concerned that I will hit the winning shot and finish the rally.  The net result is the same – I feel excluded from some rallies.  I have had to learn to stay focused, to enjoy the moment and stay uncritical about these assumptions and how they play out for me.

    Being mindful

    What served as a catalyst for this post, is a description of being mindful during tennis which was recorded in a novel, Purity, by Jonathan Franzen.  Purity, or Pip as she was called was having an extended hit of tennis with her hitting partner, Justin.  Franzen describes Pip’s mindful experience in these words:

    Pip was in an absolute groove with her forehand…They had impossibly long rallies, back and forth, whack and whack, rallies so long that she was giggling with happiness by the end of them.  The sun went down, the air was deliciously cool, and they kept hitting.  The ball bouncing up in a low arc, her eyes latching on to it, being sure to see it, just see it, not think and her body doing the rest without being asked to.  That instant of connecting, the satisfaction of reversing the ball’s inertia, the sweetness of the sweet spot…she was experiencing perfect contentment.  Yes, a kind of heaven: long rallies on an autumn evening, the exercise of skill in light still good enough to hit by, the faithful pock of a tennis ball. (p.545)

    Playing tennis can help us to grow in mindfulness if we maintain our attention and focus, be conscious of our purpose in playing, experience and enjoy the moment and learn to manage our own negative self-judging and associated emotions.  It is a great learning opportunity for mindful play and the development of skills that can transfer to other arenas of our lives.

    By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

    Image source: courtesy of skeeze on Pixabay