Being Not Doing - The Art of Being More Human

Being not doing - the art of being more human

Being more yourself is the key to a happy and fulfilling life. However, society expects us to be busy, always doing things and being completely action orientated.

So life is packed with action: at school we have lessons, then after school clubs and busy weekend activities, this continues at University with vacation work, worthwhile gap years and endless socialising. When we are not at work, when we could be relaxing and at leisure we fill the space with computer games, films and mobile phones. The internet just seems to add all the choices!

Though don’t get me wrong, it is a great time to live - with more opportunity than ever - rich and diverse - but we also risk losing the very thing that we’re trying to seek, which is very humanity.

Human beings not human doings

We are, as they say, human beings and not human doings. What does this mean?

One key element is, I think, being in touch with the ‘still small voice within’. The constant input from our hectic lives means that we crowd out that still small voice, it means that we cease hearing our very soul. The less in touch we are with ourselves the less likely we are to have a happy and fulfilling life. Ultimately without listening to ourselves, we cannot truly be ourselves. Without stopping to listen we cannot process the changes that are inevitably going on within us all the time. If we do not know how we are changing, how can we know who we are? If we do not know who we are, how can we have a happy and fulfilling life?

If we do not have some peace and quiet in our everyday lives then we cannot effectively reflect on the past and so we cannot see how we’ve changed. Now I’m not advocating that we all meditate every day - although evidence suggests that this is beneficial - but I am advocating that we occasionally take stock and listen to ourselves. This inevitably means carving out some time from our busy diaries and in the peace and quiet listening to the rumblings of our mind.

A lesson from business

Now maybe this sounds ‘airy fairy’ to some - however I do not think that it is. Consider a company or a large corporation: it is often pausing, stopping and reviewing the past and making decisions about the future. In management jargon they call this strategic planning - or maybe ‘blue sky thinking’. For example most companies will have at least monthly accounts to look at and at the least annual reports to publish to their stakeholders.

Most companies will have a vast array of other performance management information and they will use this in regular decision-making meetings and also in away days. These are chunks of time set aside for senior managers to consider the future based on the evidence of the past and their intelligence of the present. So if the macho bosses of large corporations know that they need to take to take time out to think and plan and make decisions, then why do we think that we can be different in our personal lives? Surely we are more invested in our own life than in any company that we might work for or invest in?

Take charge of your life

Nobody is likely to tell you to do this of course. It is not really seen as the western thing to do, but if you do not take charge of your own life, take stock and spend some more time being and a bit less time doing, how will you know that you are going in the right direction?

If you never take stock how will you know who you are? If you never reflect on where you’ve been, how do you know that you are going in the right direction that will ultimately bring you what you want: happiness and fulfilment? Consider why you are doing all the things that you are doing as I am sure you will agree that it is because you want to be happy and fulfilled - even thought you might be travelling there via wealth, success or personal relationships. However has it occurred to you that in spending more time being you may become more happy and fulfilled anyway simply by being connected to yourself more deeply and more often?

So at some point over the next week why don’t you treat yourself to a bit more being and a bit less doing? Set aside some time to be quite somewhere, maybe sitting outside looking at a wonderful view with a paper and pen for any thoughts and feelings that rise. Or maybe looking at a lighted candle will be your inspiration. A silent place is probably best so that you can hear the still small voice within - because that is how we tend to hear it, as a conversation in our minds.

The more time you give it and the more attentive you are to listening, the closer you will get to hearing some authentic messages from your soul. Do not worry if to start with all what happens is that you have a running commentary on all things that need to be done, you’ve been programmed for so long to do that. So expect it to take some while before you can get through all that chatter to the being.

This is where the paper and pen will help. Write down all the things that come to mind that need to be ‘done’. Tell your unconscious mind not to worry about them because you’ve now written them down and captured them, so you do not need to worry about remembering them. So you may write down an awful lot of things, as an awful lot of things may come up - things to do, things you’ve got to remember, people to speak to, children to worry about… Write it all down and notice how you are feeling - and write that down too.

When the ‘to do’ list has been written down and the chatter has started to calm down, be attentive to what bubbles up from the still small voice. Repeating this over a period of time will help you to build up a picture of the common messages that are bubbling up from your subconscious mind. In doing this you will start to get a steer from your very core, from the authentic you, who is calling you towards a life of happiness and fulfilment.

Identity Who are we

Identity: How Do You Define Yourself?

Identity: how do you define yourself?

Defining our own personal identity can take a lifetime and to complicate matters, our identity changes throughout that period whether or not we consciously undertake a process of personal development. So what do we mean by personal identity? How can we answer the question “Who am I?

The answer is more than just our given name of course – it is much deeper than that – it is a question about our personality and more. There are some obvious factors that we know from the outset just by looking at our circumstances. That we are male or female, whether we are young middle aged or old.

Identity from groups and community

We know our nationality – or at least most of us do, although some people who have migrated or have dual citizenship may even find this difficult to be certain of! In this world there is a wonderful opportunity for migration and travel, with the results that we can cease to feel part of our local community, or even our nationality and instead feel part of the global village. We cease to be surprised by the McDonald’s restaurant in a developing country – it feels like home. Identity even on this seemingly simple level quickly gets complicated as previously strong local identities get transformed.

In the UK, there is increasing emphasis on local, regional and devolved (national) government. The UK – the United Kingdom – is made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Living here means that our identity can change depending upon the circumstances. An Englishman overseas may say he is British, if in Scotland he might say he is English, whilst a Scotsman may only feel that he is Scottish and never British. Within England, there are definite regions, North and South being the obvious ones and yet those in Cornwall may view themselves as a separate nation.

On a yet more local level we may view ourselves as a member of a local community, a housing estate, a school, an office, a company, a church or a town.

Each time we say we belong to one of those groups we identify with them and adopt some of the behaviours and beliefs of the wider group. Some of these groups that we are a part of are in conflict with each other, so even on the level of these most basic external circumstances, it can be difficult to come up with a definitive identity of who we are.

What groups are you a part of and how does that influence your identity?

Identity through roles

Identity Who are weIn our day-to-day lives we may define ourselves through the roles that we play. These roles may include being a mother or father, husband or wife, brother or sister, son or daughter, colleague, friend or even enemy! Again some of these roles may be in tension – consider a priest or doctor serving in the front line alongside soldiers, a certain level of internal processing needs to take place for someone who is committed to saving and preserving life to also be involved in taking life.

What roles do you have that form part of your identity?

Identity through our work or profession

We may define ourselves through our profession or our work. I am a teacher, I am an accountant, I am a lawyer, I am a plumber, I am an electrician, I am a chef … and so it goes on.

However if we define ourselves by what we do, our profession or work, then does this not oversimplify our complexity? Of course it does. There are many individuals who become lawyers, but they are not all the same, however they may describe themselves as a lawyer and this may be the main way in which they establish their own identity. But something is lost by doing this.

The problem of who we are

The problem therefore with all of these ways is the reduction in our identity to generalised groupings. There are two problems with this: the definitions are external to us and they are generalised.

Our identity surely is more than the generalised identity of the groups we are part of and more that what we do, how we behave and the roles that we adopt.

Our identity is who we ARE not what we DO.

So how do you define yourself?

Take a blank piece of paper and a pen and write down as many words, roles, groups and thoughts about your identity that you can think of. Take about 10 minutes over it.

Then sit back and consider whether these are really the things that define you – are you more than this?

Looking at that list, who is defining who you are? – is it you or those around you via these groups and roles?

And is that how you want to define your identity?

You can take back control of your identity today.

Flow for life - how to experience flow every day

Flow for life - how to experience flow every day

Flow comes from within you not from outside of you, so to experience flow throughout your life it is simply a matter of identifying how you get into flow and practising how to trigger the flow state more often. This is good so far as it goes, but this is still just switching into flow for the moment - the question is whether there is anything more than this.

Just as in writing this text I could suffer from writer’s cramp, so others can suffer blockages that prevent them from being in flow. Interestingly, performers who suffer from stage fright describe symptoms such as tight stomach, dry mouth and sweaty palms - which just so happen to be the exact same symptoms described by performers who are getting ready to go on stage and perform at their peak! Getting these symptoms tells them that they have the nervous energy needed to perform at their best - that they are in the zone - in flow.

It is interesting that it is our interpretation of events that puts us either in a state of optimal performance or a gibbering wreck, shaking and feeling sick!

It is the ability to channel our stress and harness that energy towards our purpose that can put us into flow even under pressure. Staying in flow under times of stress is the path to consistent peak performance over a period of time. But how to achieve this nirvana?

Well, instead of relying on techniques to trigger the flow state, it is possible to alter things in your life in order to trigger the flow state automatically - in fact more exciting than this is to live in flow, to be in flow, to exist in flow. Not to just experience flow from time to time, but to live there.

Finding a purpose

One of the key things to do is to find a purpose to your life.

Most people who experience flow describe it as happening when they are completely immersed in doing the thing that they love best. This begs the question how to get completely immersed - well this will almost come almost automatically if you are working on something that you love. So therefore the question is how to find something that you love?

Unfortunately here the argument can become a bit circular - the things that we love are typically the things that put us into flow! In fact we might love them primarily because they put us into flow. We could go round and round in circles here!

The way through this I think is to notice when we engage in flow and identify the activities that trigger it and what it is about those different activities that might indicate the other sorts of things that we could do which we would probably therefore love. This will also indicate what we are uniquely able to do - what our purpose is.

This involves living a life of growth - of discovering more and more what we are good at, what energises us, what we uniquely enjoy doing and gain fulfilment from.

Being more yourself

Being more yourself and living a life of growth is one thing that is very likely to put you in a state of flow most of the time. Growth however means going to the edge of your comfort zone - not something that most of us think of as comfortable.

Research shows that putting yourself at the edge of your comfort zone is likely to put you into a state of flow. What this means is that your ability to do something is matched evenly with the challenge of the task, so there is enough to keep you engaged and challenged whilst at the same time there is still a confidence in your ability to do the task well. Or even more simply there is a belief that you can do it. A strong self-belief about your ability to do the task built on your previous experience.

However to get this experience one has to extend out of the comfort zone from time to time in order to learn something new. It is unlikely that you will be in the flow state then as you have no belief that you can do this something new. However this constant stretching out of your comfort zone to learn something new and then retreating back into your now expanded comfort zone allows you to operate effortlessly.

Just imagine combining the right level of challenge matched with your level of ability, to do something that you love which is also in line with your purpose! WOW you are really going to be motoring!

You will have the benefits of feeling that you are in a peak state, being highly effective, being highly efficient, doing something pleasurable and enjoyable for its own sake, doing something meaningful, achieving something significant and moving towards your life’s purpose - all at the same time. Now that is a life worth living!

Flow state on demand - 3 techniques to get in flow

Flow state on demand - 3 techniques to get in flow

The flow state is a mental state where you operate at peak performance, tapping into yourself fully and aligning all your resources to focus on the task in hand. Being in flow is an enjoyable and rewarding experience.

The flow state is essential for people who operate at the highest levels. Olympic athletes are in flow - or in the zone, as they call it - when they compete. They have to be in order to be able to get a medal or break the world record. They could not do it if they were not fully and completely focussed on the task in hand. Being in flow is not just for athletes however.

If you have ever experienced flow - which I expect you have - then you will know that it is a state that you want to recreate. However you may be frustrated that you cannot easily get into flow. Can you do it again?

Well the good news is that if you have done anything once then the chances are very high that you can do it again. Back to our Olympic athletes, they have to put themselves in the zone on demand - the race won’t wait for them until they happen to be in the right state - they have to create it.

If you don’t think that you have ever been in flow - or at least you cannot remember what it was like, then take heart from the fact that many people access the flow state in many areas of their lives every day. If they can do it, you can do it - we’re all basically the same.

Here are 3 slightly different techniques that have worked for others - try them out and see which help you to access the flow state.

Accessing your flow triggers

If you have already been in flow and can remember what it was like, then this technique is the easiest to try. You are simply going to recreate the situation, meaning the feelings and thoughts that put you in flow in the past. Now don’t panic, thinking that you cannot remember exactly how it came about. Your brain remembers - even if not consciously - just trust that it will remember and allow it to access those cues again.

So to get in flow, close your eyes and take yourself back to the time when you were last in flow. If you cannot think of a time then ask your unconscious mind to remember for you and trust that it will do so. Then hear what you heard, see what you saw and feel what you felt. Feel as if you were back there again and you were experiencing the state of flow. Now intensify all those experiences and feelings, make the sounds louder and the colours brighter. Enjoy the experience again. Now search your memory for another example and repeat the exercise. If you cannot remember one, then again ask your unconscious mind to remember and to put you back into that same state, experiencing what you saw and felt and heard more intensely. When you are experiencing the flow state in your mind, ask your unconscious mind to keep you in that state throughout the day. Then open your eyes and staying with those feelings begin to work on the task in hand.

Go with the flow

This second technique requires you to let go of your desire to control everything and to literally go with the flow!

Instead of getting cross, angry and uptight with everything that seems to happen to you - as if there was some external force deliberately trying to make your life a misery - simply accept that events will just unfold. Believe that you have the resources inside of you to respond appropriately in any circumstance. Trust yourself and stop trying to control the outside.

Focus on accepting life as it comes and accepting the feelings and thoughts that you have as a response. You can tell yourself that it’s OK to feel how you are feeling. The feelings will soon pass anyway whatever they are, just let them come. Stop struggling and start accepting.

You should feel yourself relax and feel more present.

Then focus on being grateful for this moment and focus on what is great about this moment, or this situation. If you cannot think of anything then be grateful that you are starting to learn about being in flow and how exciting it is that this state will serve you both now and in the future.

Think what a wonderful life you will have being in flow every day. Be joyful and thankful and then keep that feeling with you throughout the day by remembering to let go and flow!

Flow like a river

This third technique uses the word flow and builds on the water analogy.

If you have not been in flow before, then this could help you access it for the first time.

So close your eyes and imagine that you are standing in a river. The water is flowing around you - so try and feel that flow around you. Then the next part is to feel the flow going through you as well as round you. Then finally when you can feel that, allow yourself to be carried along by the river in its flow. Effortlessly. You will feel part of the river, moving freely and easily along in flow.

When you are experiencing that feeling of flow, open your eyes and in this new relaxed state start to work on the task in hand, trying to keep hold of that feeling of being in flow. If nothing else you will feel relaxed!

Flow Explained

Flow - the state of optimal performance explained

Flow has been described in a number of ways and so it is not always clear what people mean by flow and being in flow. Flow is generally accepted to be a peak mental state where you perform at your best and find the task fulfilling, but in a way that has an added quality about it. This added quality is one of effortlessness.

Others describe it as tapping into a higher power or being congruent, which simply means having all your mental and physical resources pulling in the same direction.

Sustained concentration

Being in flow generally means that you can concentrate on one task for an extended period of time, be highly productive and get more done in any period of time than when in your normal state.

The normal state for most of us is to be thinking about one thing and then quickly losing our focus, or getting distracted. It is said that we lose our concentration every 5 to 10 seconds and keep having to refocus. Most of us live our lives in an environment where there are many stimuli and so it is not surprising that most of us get distracted repeatedly. For example, working in an open plan office is not generally conducive to working effectively as there are people moving around, phones going, printers whirring and that’s before taking into account your own phone, email or other people demanding your attention. The normal state then for many of us is one of trying to remain focused on a task - and working hard at it.

At the end of a day of distraction we can often ask ourselves what we have really accomplished. If we close down our computer at the end of the day to find half written emails, incomplete because we got distracted, or notes on our desk from snatched conversations which we haven’t followed up on, it can feel like we have not been effective at all. Surely there must be an easier way!

Optimal experience

Being in flow is that easier way. Whilst the state has been around for a long time, the name hasn’t. It was coined to put a name to the psychology of optimal experience - or put another way, in any given moment it is how to be happy doing what you are doing, how to enjoy it and gain fulfilment from it. The extra added ingredients that make flow optimal rather than merely effective are enjoyment and fulfilment.

The miraculous thing though is that it is possible to access the flow state and gain happiness, enjoyment and fulfilment whilst doing virtually anything! Yes even things that you currently think of as mundane and boring! Wouldn’t that be amazing? To be able to be efficient and effective and fulfilled doing the things that at present you put off and hate doing.

One common example is doing the household chores - cleaning. It can be easy to put them off and build it up in one’s mind as being a big chore, but actually if you were to get into flow and get on with it, you would do it quicker, more effectively, enjoy it and feel satisfied from having done it!

Characteristics of flow

So what are some of the characteristics of the flow state?

Usually there is a clear intention or purpose. The person knows exactly what they want from the situation and this focuses their mind. This is in stark contrast to mindlessly performing a task or even worse thinking how much you dislike it! You cannot get into a flow state by trying not to feel negative about a task, you have to replace it with something else - a purpose. Interestingly the purpose may not be directly related to the task - so you may not have to have a purpose of having a clean house as the purpose behind doing the household chores. The purpose might be to be fully present and experience the task fully, noticing things anew as if it were the first time - this would transform the experience.

Another key characteristic of the flow state is that time seems to stand still or pass more slowly, for example at the end of a task it didn’t feel like a whole hour had passed - looking at the clock surprised you as you didn’t think so much time had elapsed. This was because you were completely involved in the task, absorbed by it and present whilst doing it.

You may well have experienced situations like these, where you had a clear focus and a purpose, you performed a task and time seemed not to be passing at the rate that it actually was - well if so, you were in the flow state. Congratulations, you’ve done it once and you can do it again - all that remains is to work out how to recreate this state for yourself more often.