Are you growing, stagnating or decaying inside?

It would appear that change in some form or other is inevitable. Nothing stays the same. Whatever you focus on is either  growing, stagnating or decaying. All healthy organisms and organisations grow. The same can be said about us as human beings.

We see growth most obviously in the physical world when we observe healthy babies physically grow into children, adolescents and eventually adults. However, other forms of growth are no where near as predictable. Intellectual, emotional, psychological and spiritual growth are much harder to predict. To put it  bluntly it would seem many people do not grow much in their lives. Yes they grow physically, but they stay at a juvenile emotional, psychological or spiritual level. Even so, there are notable exceptions. It is those exceptions who provide inspiration and a vision to the rest of us for what is possible. (For examples see the life of Nick Vujicic or Lessons on Happiness From a 108 year old).

Its for this reason I have always been curious about personal growth, and why it is that some individuals and teams can dramatically excel in their performance and well being, while others in broadly similar circumstances will stagnate, plateau or even decline. The same opportunities and the same environment yet two people can go in radically different directions.

A helpful definition of growth I have come across is from Dan Sullivan when he says, "growth is about making your future bigger than your past." In many ways the desire to grow is a manifestation of the love of existence, or just being. In other words growth is a passion for existing in this world and a deep desire to fully explore life. It is about letting go of one's fears, insecurities, perfectionism and what other's think to live towards the God given potential we have all been given. Stepping out into the unknown is always an uphill and at times painful process - but it is also more fulfilling than the status quo.

The Greek writer Plutarch said, "What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality." So growth is fundamentally first an inside job. It is about inside-out transformation - what this blog is all about! The world around us tends to encourage us to focus on external growth, assuming that what is internal and unseen will eventually catch up. That is invariably never the case. You can't run a company like that nor a life - eventually reality has to catch up with potentially disastrous consequences if there is too much of a mismatch between the outside and the inside.

Indeed you are more secure if you are greater on the inside than the outside, because eventually what is unseen will be revealed. When you are better than others give you credit for you can pleasantly surprise them. But when you are worse than others give you credit for there is the potential for disappointment, cynicism or much worse.

Meaningful growth begins at the level of thinking and mindset. Because change can happen at the speed of thought, the mindset we have becomes critical. Especially in our current age where our world is changing faster than ever, offering an abundance of challenges and opportunities. (Also see Never Or Not Yet - On Having The Right Learning Mindset).

Over the years I have become more and more convinced that growth comes from the mindset that you have. What is central to that mindset is seeing your future as greater than your past. What do I mean?

In the next blog post we will explore this further and look at some questions you can ask yourself to lead you in a growth direction, but for now how do you ensure you are growing and not decaying or stagnating inside?

Lessons on giving from Bill and Melinda Gates

They are the richest couple in the world with a fortune currently estimated at $90 billion. Since 1994 they have donated $35 billion to charity. The Gates Foundation that was launched in 2000 is the world's largest charity with over $40 billion in funds.  But the following 25 minute TED talk by Bill and Melinda Gates is a fascinating insight into what it personally means to develop a healthy attitude to giving.

Granted that none of us has access to the resources and expertise that the Gates have, but what is particularly interesting  to learn from them is how they have deliberately and intentionally thought through how they should use what they have been given. It has now become for them a life time's work of service to the world. Rather than retiring and living a life of luxury they have chosen to focus on some of the world's greatest and most deeply entrenched problems, particularly global poverty and inequality.

The primary aims of their foundation are, globally, to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty, and in the United States, to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology. But it started with a trip to Africa when they were an engaged couple which opened their eyes to extreme poverty and their responsibility to make a difference. They could have chosen to ignore what they saw, but instead they have deliberately gone after some of the hardest practical problems in the world......

Podcast #033: Practical ways to find joy through disappointment

Disappointment. We all experience it. We all know what if feels like. We have all at some time or other said and done things when disappointed with our circumstances or other people that we have later regretted. But what are healthy ways to handle disappointment in our lives?

On this podcast I continue my conversation with the author John Hindley on his book, "Dealing With Disappointment: How To Know Joy When Life Doesn't Feel Great". (Our earlier conversation at Podcast #032 is here).

Disappointment can so easily come to dominate life - the nagging thought in the back of our minds and the constant "yes, but..." colouring all our pleasures.

Do join us as we discuss practical ways to find joy through disappointment. In particular we discuss:

  • Disappointment with my circumstances.
    The power of a different perspective rather than relying on the stoicism that we tend to default to.
    Or, in other words, how to defeat those painful things that are true by looking at things that are more true.
    Finding a balance between working too much or too little.
  • Disappointment with people.
    How do I decide if it is something I should forgive and move on from or something I should forgive and then talk with the person concerned about?
    For more on this also see: Podcast #025 Is There A Difficult Person In Your Life?
  • Disappointment with my success.
    John and I confess personal examples of how easy it is to tie up our meaning and identity with things that are actually quite trivial.
    How the good things of life are a signpost to a far greater work and person we should be enamoured by.
    How "the fuel for living a truly successful life is to know that you will one day live it perfectly, and with perfect satisfaction."
    For more on this also see Podcast #002 Success.
  • Disappointment with myself.
    How facing up to the painful reality that I am not the person I wish was can be not the last word in our lives, but part of our story to greater wholeness.
    The freedom that comes from understanding, as John writes, "Your purpose in life is not to be perfect. Your purpose in life is to showcase God's grace to the imperfect."
    Balancing in my life God's gift of forgiveness with the gift of integrity.
  • Disappointment with God.
    For people of faith, this is probably the hardest disappointment to face up to. As John says, "If God is in control - and He is- then behind all your disappointments with your relationships, your circumstances, your ministry and yourself must lie disappointment with God......God could have, should have, might have....and didn't. So often, in so many small and serious ways, it feels as if God doesn't come through."
    For more on this also see Podcast #028 The God I Don't Understand.

 

If your life isn't perfect..... you need to listen to this podcast!

How a higher perspective empowers you to handle disappointment

One important way to get a handle on disappointment in our lives is to be able to take a higher perspective. Somebody who understood this well was the author C. S. Lewis. In 1942 he wrote the book The Screwtape Letters that has since then been continuously in print. It has been adapted into plays, made into a comic book, and recorded as an audio drama by the actor John Cleese. The Hollywood Film company Fox owns the film rights, and Ralph Winter, best known for blockbusters like “X-Men” and “Fantastic Four,” has said he will produce it.

The novel is a fictional account of a series of imaginary letters from a senior demon called Screwtape to a junior demon, Wormwood. It is a powerful perspective on the real life challenges of faith in God and handling disappointment. In the novel, God is the enemy. We eavesdrop on the schemes and strategy of  two devils in the mind of a human being, described as 'the patient'. While being fiction, it provides piercing insight into the challenges we face in day-to-day life while pointing us to a higher spiritual perspective.

Modern 21st century secular thinking tends to have no place for the realm of a higher order of evil let alone for the existence of God. However, it is worth reflecting on that most of mankind has believed in the supernatural power of evil for much of history. There is also little else available to explain the power and rise of evil regimes and forces during the course of human history from the rise of Nazi Germany to the current horrors of North Korea.

The following short excerpt provides a powerful insight into disappointment:

Understanding the 3 dangers of disappointment

Taking the bitter medicine

To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Disappointment is an experience we all go through at some time or other in our lives. While disappointment is a form of suffering, it is not the acute, dramatic, heart wrenching extreme painful form like sudden bereavement, or betrayal or torture or persecution. (For more on that type see here).

Instead disappointment is more subtle and insidious. But it is just as challenging. Like a hidden cancer under the surface it can eat away and destroy our sense of joy or wellbeing. It is linked to a general sense of frustration with life. Maybe there is a mild depression or even a root of anger, cynicism or bitterness.

Disappointment can be seen as a product of affluence and having an abundance of choices and opportunities (If you are reading this on a computer or smartphone, then that includes you!). The truth is we have privileges and possibilities that are beyond the wildest imaginations of people of previous generations. But it doesn't feel like that. We have a tendency to say something along the lines of, 'Yes I know I should be thankful, but....' It's what you say to yourself or others after that 'but' is the disappointment we are talking about.

John Hindley in his book 'Dealing With Disappointment: How To Find Joy When Life Doesn't Feel Great,' defines disappointment as "What we experience when we expect satisfaction and this satisfaction is denied." John goes on to give the almost banal example of coming home from a long day's work expecting his family to welcome him and finding that they are out somewhere. So he feels disappointed - he expected a certain satisfaction and it was denied. There is certainly nothing earth shattering about that.

Disappointment is that sense my life is ok, my marriage is ok, family life is ok..... even worse I have achieved my dreams and I am still empty and unsatisfied.

I remember in my own life how I acutely felt that in the summer of 2001. I had just been confirmed in my job as a consultant psychiatrist. I had reached the top of the career ladder after a six year medical degree and 11 years of work and study. I was happily married with the joyful arrival of our third child. I was actively involved in church leadership and ministry. On the surface everything looked so good. If you had asked me I would have said yes there is a lot to be thankful for. But (there was a but) yet the biggest thing I remember feeling at that time was a profound sense of emptiness, which was so disappointing.

Unchecked there are three main dangers of disappointment:

How do I make sense of my ego?

All of us struggle with the problem of ego.
In the right amount ego is inherently positive and provides a healthy level of confidence and ambition. When ego works well it drives out insecurity, fear and apathy. But left unchecked, and this is where it is most obvious, it can get out of control. Ego can easily then become arrogance. When that happens it attacks our talents and abilities. This is either through overconfidence and giving the false illusion that we’re better than we actually are, or by robbing us of confidence so that we lose trust in our ability to use those talents to capacity.

So at one extreme ego is the tendency to think too little of oneself and so fall into the trap of not valuing who I am and the contribution I can make. At the other extreme is the more obvious problem of thinking of oneself more highly than is appropriate and running insensitively over the feelings, plans or ideas of others.

The football manager Jose Murhino is often disarmingly honest and illustrates this danger with his comments to a Spanish radio station in 2011 when asked what he felt God thought of him:

"He must really think I'm a great guy. He must think that, because otherwise He would not have given me so much. I have a great family. I work in a place where I've always dreamt of working. He has helped me out so much that He must have a very high opinion of me."

When things go well in life it is very easy to fall into this kind of thinking.

Somewhere in the middle between thinking too highly and too little of oneself is humility that keeps our ego balanced and between these two extremes.

John Newton (1725 -1807) was a slave trader who lived a life of profanity, gambling and drinking. He experienced a spiritual awakening which led to a radical change in the direction of his life. He wrote the famous hymn ‘Amazing Grace’. A favourite saying of his captures what it means to live with humility while keeping one's ego in check:

Is ego getting in your way?

I don't know who originally said it, but I've often laughed at the saying "If I could kick the person who has caused me the greatest amount of headache and heartache in my life then I wouldn't be able to sit down for a week!"

Marshall Goldsmith is arguably one of the most insightful and successful business coaches in the world. In this short 4 minute video he touches on the important subject of ego and how it can get in the way of us living truly satisfying and fulfilling lives. It is short, punchy and profound.

His provocative point is that everyday we make ego and pride (putting myself and my desires ahead of anyone or anything else) more important than our health, our safety and even more than the people we claim to love.  In many ways pride is the ultimate form of selfishness. That selfishness is the worst part of our human nature, or as Tim Keller has vividly described it, " a ruthless sleepless unsmiling concentration on the self." This is no small or trivial issue. It is a blind spot that affects all of us in some way or another. It has destroyed individuals, families and even nations.

From the video, taking the example of surgeons not allowing nurses to ask a series of simple questions such as 'Did you wash your hands?"  and  simply systematising this into a simple checklist has, according to Dr Atul Gawande, contributed to more deaths than the Vietnam War, Afghan War and Iraqi War combined!

The positive way forward advocated in the video is to appeal to enlightened self-interest. So in the case of a pilot it is seeing that being asked simple questions from a checklist by a junior such as "How much fuel do you have?" is vital to prevent not just needless passenger deaths, but also the death of the pilot himself. When I let my ego win, ultimately I and everyone else loses.

The vast majority of us are not surgeons or pilots, but how can we be better armed against the dangerous self-sabotaging effects of our egos? Perhaps the best way is to recognise and be aware of the early warning signs before they cause irreparable and lasting damage. Here are four to consider:

Podcast #032: How to know joy when life feels tough

Life can certainly be challenging at times. There are the unexpected setbacks that occur, but more than that there are also the general frustrations of day to day living. What do we mean?

Photo of disappointment

When we talk about disappointment we are not referring to major calamities or disasters, but things maybe not going the way we expected or success not bringing the fulfilment we thought we might achieve.

How do you handle life when things don't go the way you expect? How can we develop healthy ways to handle disappointment? How can we know joy when life doesn't feel great?

Someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about this is the author John Hindley. On this podcast we have the privilege of interviewing John about his book titled "Dealing With Disappointment: How To Know Joy When Life Doesn't Feel Great."

John defines disappointment as "what we experience when we expect satisfaction and that satisfaction is denied."

Do join us as we discuss:

How in life there are lots of little disappointments that can give us a sense of vague discomfort, which we have a tendency to push away and ignore.

How at times our experiences resonate with that of King Solomon from the 9th century BC in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes as he cried out, "Meaningless! Meaningless! .....Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless."

Why if we want to live life to the full then we should expect at times to be disappointed.

Understanding disappointment as what we experience when we expect satisfaction and that satisfaction is denied.

The disappointment that can come with success. How this can push us to long for more.

Ways to break through disappointment and which involve:
- finding hope that destroys despair
- purpose that cuts off escape
- perspective that shrinks disappointment.

What John means when he says, "There is more satisfaction in the smile of Jesus than there is disappointment in a thousand lifetimes. "

Also see How To Rise Stronger When Life Takes You Down

 

How healthy is your brain?

6 key take away implications

Dr Daniel Amen is an American psychiatrist and director of the Amen Clinics in North America. Amen's six clinics specialize in the use of brain imaging equipment (Single Photon Emission Computerised Tomography or SPECT) in diagnosing psychiatric disorders. He has also written ten books on his work that have hit the New York Times bestseller list.

Below is a 14 minute TED talk given by Dr Amen in 2013 entitled "The Most Important Lesson From 83,000 Brain Scans". He speaks candidly and openly about his own life journey along with his passion for psychiatry and mental health:

A SPECT scan is a type of nuclear imaging test, which means it uses a radioactive substance and a special camera to create 3-D pictures. So while imaging tests such as X-rays can show what the structures inside your body look like, a SPECT scan produces images that show how your organs work. Thus a brain SPECT scan can show not only how blood flows to your brain, but also which areas are more active or less active.

However, Amen's methodology has been criticized by some psychiatrists and neuroscientists on ethical and safety grounds.

Since the original TED talk above Dr Amen and his team has gone on to have done over 100,000 brain scans using SPECT. His organisation has the world's largest database of brain scans related t0 behaviour on patients from at the last count 111 countries.  He states that his work has been published in over 70 peer reviewed journals on subjects such as:.....

How to rise stronger when life takes you down

A guest post by Kathleen Thompson

Life happens. When we’re the least prepared. Whether we like it or not. We’re going along minding our own business, and BAM! Something happens that knocks us off our feet. We lose not only the life we led, but also who we are, as we scramble to regain our footing.

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When Option A crumbles at your feet, how can you thrive in the midst of the pain? Maybe even because of it?

Here are three important steps you can take to thrive when you’re left with Option B:.....