Comedy is Truth

DSC_30022014 has turned out to be a land mark year for my development journey. Over recent weeks I have been attending workshops to learn the skills of stand up comedy. The intention was to raise money for Claire House, a children’s hospice in Liverpool, England. The event was sponsored by Laughology, a business focused on developing people and organisations through humour and laughter.

I was approached in the previous 2 years to take part but declined out of shear terror at the thought of standing on stage and trying to be funny. Everyone’s worst nightmare would be stoney silence; tumbleweed rolling across the front of the stage. I was no different.

This year, at the third time of asking, I agreed. I’m not entirely sure what was different for me this year. I had been reflecting on my development journey over the last few years and wondering what my next development adventure might be. Maybe this was the trigger. Never say never.

Over four weeks, myself and 8 other novice comedians were taught the tricks of the trade. We went through exercises to explore our natural styles and to experiment with material. I rehearsed my material dozens of times. Whilst walking the dogs, shaving, showering and travelling by rail or road, I was telling my story and fine tuning my inflections and timing.

On the big day, in front of over 100 people, I delivered my 5 minute set. I heard laughs where I wanted them to be and a loud cheer at the end as I wrapped up my material with the ‘loop back’, big finish.

Contrary to what I predicted, I was able to relax during the live performance and enjoy the moment. The rehearsals had paid off and the lines flowed reasonably effortlessly.

Three things stand out from this experience.

The first is the marked difference I feel in my confidence and presence. I feel more alive, alert and ready for life. I really do feel ‘different’. I think the challenge, feeling and conquering fears, accomplishment, recognition and acquiring new skills, all seem to be contributing to this.

I’m also wondering whether this experience has put a spotlight on a long-held curiosity about performing. I have a lasting memory of being very young and one of my parents predicting that I would “end up on stage one day”. I’ve always considered myself being on stage in my work facilitating groups and speaking at conferences. However, this is the first time since my nativity donkey disaster (don’t ask) that I’ve performed in the truest sense of the word. It was exhilarating and liberating.

The third area I find myself reflecting on is the autobiographical nature of my material. We were advised by our fantastically talented comedy coach, Kerry Leigh to pick a story from our lives and to think of something that the audience could relate to. This naturally led to more or less autobiographical material for all of us. The way my material emerged over the four week period was particularly enlightening.

My intention was to simply pick funny moments from my life and write about them. I looked to my family, friends and colleagues, my upbringing, school, work, and general experiences. Once assembled, I started to explore whether the raw material had any legs. Lots was written. Much was discarded. Without intention, I ended up with a story line that starts in my teenage years and ends with the present day.

In 6 minutes I tell the story of my desire to achieve and to move in different circles to those found at my school and home town. Essentially, I tell a story of a northern lad who had aspirations to be a little bit posh.

It was meant to be a joke. And it is. But, having had some time between finishing writing and seeing myself on stage delivering the finished product, I realise it is also quite close to the truth.

There is both ambition and pretentiousness in my life story¹. I can see that more clearly now. I think I’ve always recognised it, but writing about it and condensing it into a 6 minute set, certainly puts a spotlight on it.

The art of good comedy seems to be about exaggeration and emphasis, the unexpected, being willing to laugh at one’s own beliefs and behaviours, and sharing stories that hint of, or point directly at, the truth.

They say comedy is truth. I agree. My comedy debut has revealed truths about my journey that are both enlightening and entertaining.


¹ Watch the video to see what I mean by ambition and pretentiousness. Be warned, it contains strong language.


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Change for change’s sake: What about tradition and stability?

I recently attended a conference at which Ralph Stacey, a renowned professor in the field of complexity, said something that resonated with me.

He said that “we have become obsessed with change.” He went to say that “this is nonsensical. We also need tradition and stability”.

I’ve recently become acutely aware of how much pressure there is in society and in our organisations to change. I believe this pressure to change for change’s sake is creating unnecessary anxiety.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for change. This blog isn’t called for nothing. However, I’m all for reasonable, enhancing or necessary change. Change towards a reasonable, enhancing or necessary, as opposed to idealised, view of what it is to be a fully functioning human being, member of society, employee or leader.

I also like to think of ‘growth’ rather than change. Change implies some permanent change of state or being. I’m not sure this is possible for human beings. What and who we are will always be with us. What we can do is add to this and allow some aspects of what we and who we are to come to the fore more than others. These foreground aspects might be new. They might also be existing aspects revisited. Either way, this is growth. People might say “you’ve changed”. What they mean is “you’ve grown”.

What and who we are right now is our tradition and stability, the things Ralph Stacey was suggesting we need. What we add to this is our growth. The former offers comfort, meaning and a sense of self. The latter offers excitement, achievement and a sense of purpose.

The next time someone says “we need to change”, suggest they reframe their statement to a question: “How might we best grow?”

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Is your thinking ‘black and white’? What about shades of green?

20130920-095036.jpgI was recently watching a BBC current affairs programme during which Jeremy Paxman, a somewhat cantankerous British journalist, hosted a healthy, challenging debate about the English Lake District National Park.

This debate was of particular interest to me. The Lake District is a place of significant spiritual meaning to me. From an early age, I’ve spent many days walking it’s fells and, when old enough, sampling it’s delicious beers. Many of my happiest memories were laid down with friends, my partner, my children and occasionally alone, on the top of its highest peaks and in its cosy public houses. With clear blue skies, fresh air and stunning scenery, there is no better place for reflection and renewal.

I once had the privilege of observing the mighty Golden Eagle soaring above the cliffs of the remote Longsleddale Valley. I’ve walked amongst many varieties of bird, insect and mammal and included in the last category is, of course, the ubiquitous sheep. Unknown to them, the sheep were the centre of this heated debate.

The National Trust, owners of the Lake District National Park, have applied for World Heritage status for the park. They want it to be recognised internationally alongside sites such as Stone Henge and the Taj Mahal. The basis of this application is the Lake District’s outstanding natural beauty.

The challenge to this goal came from a chap who was arguing that there was nothing at all ‘natural’ about the Lake District. He argued that the whole region has been farmed to ‘within an inch of its life’ for centuries and is now nothing more than one big sheep farm. He lamented the cutting down of the forests that would once have blanketed the area (and most of Britain) and the manicured ‘lawns’ created by the incessant grazing of the sheep. He even had a go at the poor sheep given they are essentially man-made decedents of some long-lost breed of wild animal.

This debate reminded me of the post I wrote a while ago about reframing perspectives. My post discussed this very subject; whether the English countryside, including the Lake District, could justifiably be labelled as ‘natural.’

I was reminded that it is very easy to be ‘seduced’ by what we know well, what we hold dear and what has become significantly meaningful to us. This seduction can lead to right and wrong, black and white thinking. This is a dangerous place to go. All conflict, whether petty or of lethal consequences, is premised on two people or two ‘sides’ believing they are right and the other is wrong.

So often, neither is right or wrong. There are simply alternative perspectives. The Lake District is, for me, a place of outstanding beauty and significantly meaningful. However, I do recognise the man-made aspects of what is essentially an industrial-scale collection of small-holdings that has significantly altered the natural landscape. I could very easily have taken a hard line in this debate and argued the case for World Heritage status. However, despite my emotional attachment, I found myself coming down on the ‘other side’. I’m not sure that sheep farming is what the World Heritage movement was founded to promote or protect. Sorry Mrs Sheep.

Seeing both sides and exploring alternative perspectives, is an extremely useful skill to develop. The next time you find yourself taking a ‘principled stand’ take a few minutes to explore alternative perspectives. Argue for these alternatives and see how your thinking and opinions flex. Very few things are right or wrong, black or white. Embrace the shades of grey. Or in the case of the English Lake District, the shades of green.

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“Improve Your Life With The Science Of Laughter”

mockedupbookWRA good friend and business associate, Stephanie Davies, has recently published her first book, Laughology – Improve Your Life with the Science of Laughter.

The title pretty much describes what the book is about. Laughology is the name of Stephanie’s business and the name she has coined for her study of humour and laughter and its impact on our quality of life.

Being a psychologist and stand up comic, Stephanie is well placed to write the book and she has done a great job of it. The book is easy to read and full of great tips and practical exercises. Of particular use are the FLIP and SMILE acronyms that help readers remember key lessons and activities.

At first sight this work might be mistaken for a book from the ‘popular’ psychology genre. This is definitely not the case. Stephanie has both sound academic credentials and relevant experience. She has worked in hostile and challenging environments where humour and laughter were not the first things one would expect to be used as interventions.

Stephanie knows her stuff and this book is well worth a read.



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Embodied Leadership – A Must Read Book Review

I’ve written a review of Pete Hamill’s new book (Embodied Leadership) on my Organisation Development blog,

The blog post and the book are both worth a read. Each has insights for individuals looking for personal development and value for those looking at leadership from an organisation perspective.

Happy reading.


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The Paradox of Change – A Gestalt Perspective

I recently revisited the work of Paul Barber¹, a recognised authority in Gestalt facilitation. It reminded me how much my work with individuals, groups and organisations has Gestalt theory and practice as a core strand. It also reminded me just how powerful Gestalt approaches to personal and group change can be, but also how paradoxical they can at first seem.

Gestalt is a German word with no English equivalent. It can be summarised as the “essence or shape of an entity’s complete form²”. In simple terms, Gestalt methods when applied to personal or group development, seek to understand the whole picture or “field” affecting the individual or group. This field is made up of five “realities”:

  • physical/sensory – what we think and what our bodies sense
  • social/cultural – what societal or organisational norms, values and cultures we are exposed to
  • emotional/biographical – how our past experiences and emotions influence us
  • imagined/projective – how what we imagine is projected into the world as perceived reality, our unconscious biases and the metaphors that shape our language and thinking
  • intuitive/transpersonal – our meaning making, spiritual values, unknown potential and purpose in life

Gestalt methods seek to understand and work with all these internal and external influences (our intrinsic and extrinsic motivators). Gestalt theory and practice developed as a challenge to the behaviourist approach to change that focuses solely on extrinsic motivators (the carrot and stick) to bringing about changes in behaviour.

In practical terms, Gestalt facilitation or coaching leads to exercises that focus on physical movement, sensing, dialogue and creatively expressing thoughts and feelings. This is why my children, when younger, wondered whether I went to work to actually work, or whether I actually went to play. It can seem like that at times, but the power of these methods has been proven time and again in my groups and those of others.

When approached from a Gestalt perspective, workshops where experiential methods are used, where there are no formal agendas, objectives or prescribed outcomes, can yield significant, tangible outcomes in terms of personal and cultural change.

The challenge Gestalt practitioners have is explaining what it is and how it works. Most often, delegates have to experience it to appreciate it’s power. Invariably, I never refer to the underpinning theory and practice. Delegates leave knowing they have changed or have started a journey. That’s all that matters most of the time.

This challenge to ‘getting’ Gestalt lies in what Beisser³ referred to as “Gestalt’s ‘paradoxical theory of change’, which suggests that change:

  • Best occurs when you become more fully ‘what you are’ rather than when you ‘try to become what you are not’
  • Does not occur through force or pressure but through abandoning what you would like to become and being more fully appreciative of how you maintain your world view
  • Is resisted when a person has two warring voices in them saying ‘what they believe they should be’ and ‘what they are’ and shifts continually between the two warring identities.”

Focussing on ‘what you are’ and not ‘what you want to be’ in order to change, is indeed a paradox.

Essentially, it is about understanding how we perceive the world, feeling more comfortable with ourselves as we are, warts and all, and relaxing into a comfortable sense of self. This comfort reduces anxiety, strengthens self-confidence and reduces the fear of what is new. It is about relaxing into the change once we have a firm grasp of and feel secure with, our current reality.

When I was being coached in this way, before I had studied Gestalt, I was somewhat perplexed when it was suggested I focus on becoming who I already was and stop trying so hard to become something I was not. I trusted my coach and the process, and it worked.

I’ve come to realise that this focus on what I already am in order to better facilitate subsequent growth, is the essence of being grounded and embodied. It is also at the heart of developing personal presence.

¹Barber, P. (2012) Facilitating Change in Groups and Teams: A Gestalt Approach to Mindfulness. Libri Publishing, Faringdon, UK.
³Beisser, A. (1970) quoted in Barber, P. (2012). See for the original text.
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Goal setting guidelines – running shoes optional

In previous posts I’ve shared frameworks, models and concepts around goal setting. I have another process-oriented framework to share in this post. This utilises elements of other concepts and adds to them.

As I’ve said in previous posts, there is no silver bullet, no ultimate goal setting process that works better than any other. Research into goal setting indicates there are some basic principles that help with successfully setting and achieving goals, but there are many ways of actually getting there.

No doubt I will keep ‘reinventing the wheel’ in the years to come. I will do this partly to keep my thinking and goal setting fresh, and partly because it prevents me becoming complacent and falling into a ‘best-practice’ trap.

So, here is my latest offering. I’ve previously described my Four-Plus-Three Personal Development Framework. In this framework I introduced the acronym RUN. This stands for Review and Recognise, Unravel and Understand, and Nurture and Negate.

In setting goals, it is worth creating some reflective space. In this space we can Review our sucessess and failures, and our strengths and weaknesses. We can Recognise (acknowledge, see for the first time, say hello to, etc.) those aspects of our journey, personality and skills set that are helping us or might be hindering our progress.

We can then Unravel and Understand the belief systems, values and underlying journeys that got us to where we are now.

Finally, we can Nuture belief systems, habits and skills that help us move forward. At the same time we can look to Negate those belief systems, habits and behaviours that might be holding us back. You might want to review my post on positive affirmations. They can be very useful in helping nurture or negate belief systems.

I now have three more letters to add to our acronym: FAR. So, we have RUN FAR. See what I’ve done there?

F is for Future Focus.
A is for Aligned Action
R is for Relax and Rejuvenate

Future focus is a fairly obvious aspect of goal setting, after all what is a goal if it isn’t something to be achieved at some point that isn’t right now? I put this forward as an element of this particular model because I find too many people focus on the past when setting goals for the future. They look to past achievements to gauge future potential. This can be useful in setting realistic goals, but can also be limiting if you have only just started to tap into talents or opportunities.

Look to the future with an open mind and dare to dream big. Use past experiences to indicate where your strengths lie and what might be holding you back, but don’t let it limit you. Future focus means potential, opportunity and new horizons.

Aligned Action keeps us grounded in our values. Knowing what is important to us and what boundaries we will not cross in the pursuit of our goals helps us set the right goals. It also helps with the daily decisions that need to be made as we progress towards our goals. Stay grounded in your values. That’s probably the most important advice I can offer in goal setting.

Finally, when the goal is achieved, don’t forget to rewared yourself with some down time. Relax and Rejuvenate. This may be 5 minutes sitting back in your chair and reflecting on the achievement before getting on with your work. It may be a glass or two of your favourite tipple, or it might be a more expensive treat. Whatever the goal, whatever the reward, take time to savour the moment. A goal once achieved no longer motivates, so recognise the passing of what has been an important part of your life before moving onto the next adventure.

I hope you find RUN FAR a useful acronym in your goal setting. Just remember it is not the only one. There is no ‘right answer’.

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Continuing Professional Development – promoting bad learning habits

In a previous post I wrote about weaknesses in formal Continuous Professional Development (CPD) programmes required of some professionally qualified sectors. I bemoaned the tick-box exercise that most had become as people attended events in order to achieve a target number of study hours.

The so-called learning delivered through this CPD also came under my critical eye. I shared how most CPD interventions were focused on the transfer of knowledge at the expense of much needed skills development, particularly in the areas of personal development, leadership and culture.

In this post I want to continue this critique of CPD with an observation that traditional CPD programmes can positively discourage personal reflection and, as a result, prevent learning.

Consider the typical question that appears on nearly every CPD form needed to provide evidence of learning: “How will you use this knowledge/new skill in your role?”, with its implied subtext: “And when?”

This line of thinking assumes that every ‘learning’ opportunity has to somehow relate to the learner’s current role and be applicable in the near future; otherwise, what’s the point of spending time (and money) on the learning? We need a return on our investment as quickly as possible, don’t we?

Also, it assumes the nugget of imparted learning is a stand-alone piece of information or behaviour change that can produce a return on investment without the need to use it in association with previously learned, or yet to be learned, knowledge or behaviours.

In my experience, these assumptions are only applicable when the CPD content is focused on legal, regulatory or market updates. Only in these cases can one answer the question “When will you use this knowledge/skill in your role?” without feeling like you have wasted your time.

However, for most learning these assumptions simply don’t reflect how much of what we ‘know’ actually emerges from a mix of knowledge and skills acquired over time and applied through the filters of memory, beliefs, emotions, physical health and mental states.  Also, much of what we know or can do, is or becomes habit and is co-ordinated through our subconscious processes.

This is where reflection is such an important practice. It helps us unravel these learning journeys and better understand our learning needs for the future.

Without reflection, and with our desire to see an immediate return on investment, we restrict content for CPD programmes. We then pose a question at the end of each isolated CPD event focused on immediate uses. This is where formal CPD interventions can actively discourage reflection and prevent learning.

A desire to only provide learning that might be immediately beneficial prevents opportunistic exploration of subject matters that might develop general awareness of a profession or associated fields. Reflective sessions, where the combined experience in the room is used for innovation or creative experimentation, are seen as too nebulous and lacking in ‘learning outcomes’. Simply allowing individuals to reflect on their practice and better understand their strengths and development needs in order to build a more appropriate CPD programme, are not considered.

A simple way to start to change the focus for formal CPD events or activities is to change the question typically asked on the CPD log. Rather than “How will you use this knowledge/skill in your role?”, we might suggest learners “Make a note of how this knowledge or skill might be of use to you in your role?”. There is an option here to say “At this time, I don’t know.” And that is a perfectly acceptable answer. It is not an indication that the time has been wasted.

To further build the effectiveness of CPD events, we might then ask questions such as

  • What do I know and what can I do?
  • How do I know what I know?
  • How is it I am able to do what I can do?
  • What experiences and learning contributed to my current capability?

It is from the answers to these questions that we can then better look forward with questions such as

  • What does my current role require of me?
  • What do I need to be able to do better?
  • Where might I focus my learning and development going forward?

These questions allow for a more complete, reflective learning experience. In this reflective space, learners might better see where they can use the knowledge/skill just acquired, thereby improving the chances of an immediate return on investment.

My suggestion is that CPD logs should be both retrospective and prospective. The questions “What do I know?” and “How do I know it?”, should be combined with “What do I need to know?”, “How might I learn to do it?” and “How might I apply this particular nugget of learning (if at all)?”

Surely, this approach would reduce the number of times the answer to the last question here is “I don’t know!”

Critics to this might argue that this is too idealistic a stand point. They might argue it is for organisations and individuals to create this more reflective CPD journey through performance conversations and the creation of personal development plans. The suppliers of most CPD events can’t be expected to run events utilising this more nebulous, work-with-the-unknown, design-on-the-fly strategy, can they?

My argument is that these suppliers and their client organisations would both benefit if they did. Many organisation simply do not help create these more reflective CPD journeys for their employees and nor do most employees for themselves. If professionals are to be required to undertake formal CPD programmes, then why not make them so much more useful by approaching them as ongoing journeys of reflection and discovery, with more impactful, relevant content, tailored to the outcomes of this reflection?

I’m sure the service providers currently creating isolated, low-value-add workshops would have their hands snapped off by organisations if they offered a more constructive, strategic approach to CPD outlined in this post. Surely these organisations would then think more highly of their service suppliers. That way, everyone wins.

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Continuing Professional Development – a tick-box exercise?

This post covers some of my long-held concerns about formal Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programmes. It was prompted by discussions currently underway in the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD) on their support for ongoing professional development in HR. It finishes with an ask of regulators and professional bodies to review their thinking on how they setup and assess CPD programmes.

From early in my career I have been required to undertake CPD. This was often delivered by my professional trade association or regulators, by my employers and sometimes by suppliers.

This post focuses on this narrower, better known definition of CPD as learning undertaken as a requirement to maintain an accreditation or license to trade. Lawyers, accountants and financial services advisors are examples of professionals required to undertake this formal CPD. It is typically expressed as a need to complete a target number of hours per year engaged in CPD activities.

Content is most often focused on keeping knowledge up to date as legislation, case law, regulatory requirements or products evolve and emerge. Occasionally, skills and mindsets are the subject matter of CPD events, but this is rare.

This imposition of what seems an arbitrary number of hours and the focus on knowledge over skill, are partly where my issues with formal CPD requirements are focused.

Let’s take the target number of hours first. This takes no account of the actual development needs of the individual and in my experience leads to a tick box mentality. People simply turn up, get the form signed and log their hours. Whether any learning takes place is inconsequential.

Wouldn’t it be better to focus on actual development needs? These might be focused on a mix of ongoing changes to regulation, practice or products, combined with developing core skills required to undertake the role (for example, recommending the most appropriate financial products). There may even be a need to build in customer service skills or develop risk management, operational management or leadership skills. This approach would drive an outcomes (development needs) approach to CPD rather than the input (hours study) approach, which is currently the norm.

This brings me to my second issue with CPD; that of favouring knowledge over skills. Given the issues we see in our failed organisations are rarely anything to do with a lack of technical knowledge, but more to do with a lack of leadership and a need for culture change, a focus on these two areas in our formal CPD programmes might be a change that is long overdue.

It is time we started assessing the quality of CPD interventions in terms of their alignment with the individual’s and organisation’s most pressing development needs, not the number of hours spent ticking boxes. I wonder whether the professional bodies I’ve been most associated with, the CIPD and the newly created Financial Conduct Authority, might rethink their approaches to CPD?

Demanding more meaningful CPD programmes for individuals and organisations as a whole would be a good place to start.

In my next post I will pick up a third area of discontent with CPD programmes; that of recording learning outcomes and impact in the workplace.

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Taking a Long Hard Look at Change – Balancing Cautiousness and Curiosity.


This post is about the way we see change and how that determines how well we might react to it and take advantage of it. It starts with a reframe based simply on choosing how we view change. It then takes this reframe to a deeper level with a review of why change is so prevalent yet always to some degree, resisted.

Let’s start with a simple challenge for us to make a decision to ‘see’ change differently.

What You See, Is What You Get

W.Y.S.I.W.Y.G is a mnemonic often used in sales (pronounced wiziwig). It stands for What You See, Is What You Get.

The phrase is used to let buyers know that what they are buying is what they can physically see.  There can be no complaints if the product turns out to have something wrong “under the bonnet” once they get it home. The second-hand car market is particularly prone to the WYSIWYG factor.

The general rule for the buyer is that it pays to take a long, hard look at the product before parting with hard-earned cash.

With change, I often find it is worth taking a long, hard look before ‘buying’. The way we see change is a strong indicator of how well we might cope with it and how well we might realise benefits from it. What you see is, indeed, what you get. If change is seen as a nuisance, an imposition, or to be feared, then reactions are often negative, full of resistance and pain.

On the other hand, if change is seen as an opportunity, welcomed even, then initial hesitation or fear can be overcome and overall reactions can be positive. With change framed in this way, emotions can be a mix of the inevitable low-level fear, mixed with excitement. This is where we feel more fully alive at the “edge of chaos”.

This simple challenge to reframe how I see change, as an opportunity, not as an imposition, has helped me better deal with and take advantage of change over the years.

Easier said than done

However, this reframing, whilst simple in its description, is actually easier said than done. When faced with the fear of change it isn’t so easy to then say “don’t worry, this is an opportunity.” The feelings of fear and desire to stick with what is known, can run very deep.

Some years ago I was challenged with not always being able to see change as opportunity. I therefore decided to take the WYSIWYG challenge a stage further and take a long, hard look at change from a species perspective. Given that change is all around us, every day, I was wondering why humans couldn’t simply get used to it and not feel the inevitable fear. Why do we humans sometimes resist change that turns out to be incredibly helpful to us? And, if we fear change so much, why do we keep creating so much of it?

It turned out that this long, hard look helped me reach a deeper understanding of change and its impact on the human condition and made my reframing of change easier to enact, in the moment.

I knew from my reading into psychology and neurology that humans inevitably feel fear when faced with a change to the current status-quo. It is a natural reaction that has placed a necessary level of caution into our decision-making processes. I took this to be a survival mechanism that prevents unnecessary risks being taken.

However, the success of the human race has not just been brought about by the evolution of cautiousness. Along the way humans have taken incredible risks. We left our homelands and eventually walked to practically every corner of the globe. With a relatively slow running speed and no useful natural weapons like fangs or claws, we took on other predators, stole their kills¹ and defended our families.

Given this natural fear but overwhelming evidence that our ancestors must have been explorers and opportunists, I came to the conclusion that we must also have developed a deep level of curiosity to balance our cautiousness. Our desire for the new and opportunistic gains, balanced our fear of change and natural cautiousness. These balanced forces of caution and curiosity created a level of adaptability that ensured our survival and development as a species.

Before the agricultural revolution, when humans lived in relatively small tribes, living off the natural resources around them, this balance of caution and curiosity served them well. Change was more under individual control as each member of the tribe had an opportunity to influence decisions. Stress was probably short-lived and came in the form of infrequent threats from predators or other tribes.

As our circumstances have changed and we have become societies rather than tribes, individuals have found themselves with little say over much of the change impacting them. Even in democratic societies, little of the change that impacts individuals is under their control. Even when we are effecting change for ourselves, there are always forces at work that might derail or influence the final outcome. We have cultural norms, laws, regulations, neighbours, competitors, free-markets and the like.

It is this lack of perceived or actual control that generates the anxiety associated with change. After 2 million years of evolution, individuals still have the balancing forces of caution and curiosity. The problem is, for many, the former is being invoked much more than the latter. The normal balance of short-lived bouts of stress related to perceived or actual threats, along side longer periods of excitement and reward associated with curiosity-driven exploration and opportunism, has been upset.

A lack of influence or direct control over the change that societies create is one driver of this imbalance. The other is the ever-increasing pace of change that society is now able to generate. Our natural curiosity, honed over millions of years of evolution, is now finding laser-like focus through technology, organisation and sheer numbers of individual contributors.

As a species, our natural curiosity, expressed through modern means of production, distribution and communication, is creating massive levels of species-driven change. Unfortunately, our natural cautiousness, can be called upon too much when faced with this onslaught. The natural balance of caution and curiosity is broken when our species takes over the change agenda.

This is why reframing change is so important for individual health. Redressing the balance between cautiousness and curiosity at an individual level is needed. Seeing change as an opportunity, deciding which changes to worry about, which to accept, and which to challenge or influence, is an important skill to learn.

Take the WYSIWYG challenge. Take a long, hard look at the change impacting you and look under the bonnet for the opportunities that it may well hold.

The research I undertook some years ago was just such a WYSIWYG challenge. Taking a long, hard look at why change was so prevalent and why this was having a negative impact on individuals, has certainly helped me redress my cautiousness-curiosity balance.

I believe I am better able to call upon both my natural cautiousness and curiosity to live at the “edge of chaos” more often. This is the place where I feel most alive and paradoxically ‘in control’ of my own destiny. This edge is the place where I believe our ancestors found themselves as a matter of course in their every day lives. Unfortunately, we have to work at finding that edge, but it is there. Just take a long, hard look.

¹See here for modern tribesmen stealing from  pride of 15 lions with nothing more than spears for protection and





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