why do we seek to grow?

personal growth
It would seem to be a very human thing, to seek to grow, to strive, to learn, to somehow be bigger.

I’m not aware that other animals do this. They seem content to find food, water, shelter, to survive and maybe to indulge in what Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory might call ‘coitus’ – for the purpose of reproduction and survival of the species you understand.

So why do we seek more? Our desire to learn new things, have new experiences, achieve more, to get better at something, even to master it, seems to be an invisible force driving us on.

I’m not suggesting this is a bad thing. I like to learn or do something new as much as the next person. I’m curious though about the unending drive, and some of its consequences.

Where does contentment fit in? Can we ever be content? At peace with what is?

The drive for growth seems to fuel our desire to work harder, earn more, so that we can fund more growth, so that we can own more. Try snowboarding. Walk to Machu Picchu. Learn the piano. See the latest 3D movie on our 4K television. It seems to make us restless. I wonder how that tips over into other parts of our lives, impacting our relationships, our families, our work and our personal happiness?

Organisations for example – merely complex social systems of people – seem obsessed with growth. Is that even possible? Can they all grow inexorably? Are there enough global resources, is there endless demand, sufficient money in the system, enough personal drive for growth…?

In organisations we are encouraged to have goals, to strive to better ourselves and to do better. Encouraged to learn, become more skilled, more flexible, more agile. We are told to aspire, to seek promotion, betterment. It creates a sense of failure, if we don’t achieve.

It’s not very many years ago, our forefathers would have been bemused by this. They worked to live. Nothing more.

So what would happen if we sought growth less? Not abandoned it – it provides motivation, provides us with purpose in our lives. But … what would happen if we balanced this with contentment?

What if organisations equally rewarded contentment? Not complacency, but a general state of contented happiness? A ‘Bhutan-esque’ Gross National Happiness measure?

Maybe growth is a human condition?
I see some benefits.
But I also see a lack of contentment in our world.

Time for better balance I wonder?

Deviant art photograph by: RickHaigh

what is your baseline state, where you live your life?

What is your baseline state? Where do you live most of the time?

Do you live in a state of worry, or a state of restlessness, or a state of trying (to be better, good enough…)? Do you know your baseline state?

You’re probably aware when your state changes. We change state all the time. You’ve probably experienced a state change when you’re hungry or tired – it may be harder to concentrate, perhaps you’re a little irritable? Our state impacts our behaviour, our ability and also our choices.

Changing state is unique to our individual humanness. Take moving from asleep to awake. When I awake, it’s like a gradual wave of consciousness. Often my mind becomes active almost immediately, but my body, particularly my eyes often need longer – fifteen to twenty minutes sometimes. It’s as if in that initial awake state I am focused internally and not yet ready to engage with the world. For others, waking is like a switch – mind, body, emotions ready to go, almost instantly. Be curious about your version of a state.

A state involves thoughts, feeling and physiology – bodily clues exist as well as emotional and mental ones. Posture may change. There may be a rise in heart rate, shallower breathing, churning stomach or hunched shoulders.

States are often associated with our environment, what’s going on around us and what we feel, think and do in response. We’ve all experienced a euphoria or joy when something good happens, or a sudden moment of panic when something scary or bad occurs.

States, thinking, physiology, feelings are all interconnected. Each impacting on each other. Like a five-a-side football team these four play in formation with environment. One moves, makes a run in one direction, the others move in response. Constant momentum, like a roller coaster loop – twisting, rising, falling without end.

We attempt to control this wild ride, primarily through thinking. Yet four other parts are on the ride too.

Change your environment, your state changes, your feelings shift, your thinking alters. We’ve all walked in the fresh air to clear our heads. Experiment. Sometimes your environment or physiology are easier to alter. Do you run, so that your head clears, so that the endless thoughts subside? This is changing your state.

In this way, our state isn’t just the result of our thinking or emotions. It can also change them.

So, what’s your baseline state? The state you are in when the other four players aren’t moving position on the pitch? If your baseline state is anxious, or striving, or hurried, or confused, or afraid, or something else that isn’t working for you, change it.

Live your life in a state that works for you. That way when you’re blown off course, you know where you want to get back to.


are you scared?

scared change
Are you scared?

Sometimes I am.

The world is changing at an unbelievable pace.

Did you know that there are now more people in the world with access to a mobile phone than access to a toilet?

That would have been inconceivable only a decade ago. If change happens that fast, what will be true in ten years time?

And will you cope?

The world is changing. Business is changing. Communication is changing. Your job is changing. Are you changing?

The irony is that at this time of unprecedented change, what we most need … is an ability to change.

To change ourselves.

Not to become someone else, but to adapt, to be more agile, to learn quickly and change our approach, change our behaviour, change our thinking, change our response, change our direction.

Put simply we have two choices. We can shoot the change. Complain. Try and stop it. Avoid or hide from it. Run away. Deny it.

Or … we can stop looking outside and look inside. At ourselves.

It starts with giving ourselves attention, building our capability to understand ourselves; this enables choice, agility, resilience, freedom, learning, growth, happiness.

Maybe in ten years time, more human beings will have full access to themselves than currently have access to a parking space?

How cool would that be?

how much is a hug worth?

I read this morning about a Chinese mother selling hugs in an attempt to raise money and awareness to save her four year old daughter, who has leukaemia.

She is selling them for around £1.  It made me wonder what a hug is worth?

A hug at certain times in our lives can mean much. It says hello, it says I’m pleased to see you. It is an expression of intimacy. It says I love you. It also says I’m there for you. It says I acknowledge your existence, I see you and you’re ok. It transmits understanding and empathy. It says don’t worry. It says you’re safe. It says I understand. And much much more. Physical connection, touch, makes us feel good, emotionally, physiologically and psychologically.

Research has shown hugging has an impact on our health, reducing levels of stress and anxiety, reducing heart rates, cortisol levels, blood pressure. It has also been shown to increase levels of Oxytocin, referred to in some circles as the bonding hormone, raising levels of trust and feelings of security.

Of course, reassurance and affection of this kind, through touch, can also come through holding hands, fingers gently entwining. It can come through a stroke of the arm or face. Even meeting eyes, or exchanging a smile can have similar impact. The hug though, seems to be the ultimate. Its level of connection more total, more of us physically in contact with more of someone else, our bodily cores aligned, as one. It pulls our hearts closer together, so that each feels the other beat. It holds our very being, in that moment. It contains our energy, our life source, which, in that moment before, seems in danger of leaking away.

Maybe you can think of a time when you gave someone that gift?

Maybe you can think of a time when that was what you needed. All you needed.

At that moment, what was that hug worth?

I would suggest, priceless.


boxes, cupboards and life

box cupboard key
In relationships there are often routine niggles. I’m sure you have them. A different perspective between you and your partner that crops up from time to time. Never something to truly fall out over, but ever present nonetheless.

At home one of ours is cupboards. I see a cupboard as a filing system. I want to go to it to find something easily. To know where things are and to be able to access them without searching, without moving anything to get to them. My wife sees cupboards as storage depots. For her, it’s somewhere to hide stuff away. The more you can squeeze in the better – because if you can’t see it, it’s tidy. Neither right, neither wrong, just different.

As you might imagine this difference can lead to the occasional fractious ‘conversation’, or pile of stuff on the floor. This happened the other day.

It served to remind me that the motivation or trigger for our behaviour as human beings is often hidden, whilst the storm of the action is all too visible.

It also served to remind me of cupboards, boxes, walls and other ways of hiding things.

In my coaching work I often work with people who use a phrase such as ‘I’ve boxed that away’ or ‘I’ve put that back in the box’. Sometimes there is a whole wall, behind which much can be hidden.

An interesting metaphor – and like our cupboards at home,  is it there so the contents can be found quickly, or there because you want to hide them away? Generally of course it’s the latter. The box often contains hurt or pain. We don’t want to feel it again, so we keep the lid closed.

Often when asked, or sometimes unconsciously volunteered, my client will indicate where the box is. On their left, just behind them, or down to the right at their feet for example. Generally we know where the box is in relationship to our physicality.

A bit like me interacting with our cupboards at home though, something comes along occasionally to unexpectedly open the cupboard and the contents fall out. In an uncontrolled mess.

Cupboards and boxes can be useful. Not when we keep a part of ourselves shut away in them.

If you have a personal box or cupboard, find a way to reorganise it. Very carefully, maybe with someone’s support, open the box or cupboard and sort it out. Throw away some things you no longer need in your life, polish and cherish some parts you do and put them proudly on display, reorganise some other contents and index them differently. Embrace who you are. Your story is just your story. Care for yourself.

Boxes and cupboards can be useful, when used appropriately.


dance like it’s your birthday

Why born
We celebrated a birthday in our family the other week. Some cake, some cards, a few presents. Nothing grand. I’m sure you do the same. Children’s birthdays are often more lavish affairs, as are so called important or landmark birthdays. These were decided by someone, once. 18, 21, 30, 40, 50 etc… I’m sure any of you celebrating some of these would like to have words with that person.

Our date of birth seems to be important. Yet it has a large element of chance. I wasn’t, but I’m sure if you were, born at one minute to, or one minute past midnight, you might wonder at the possible alternative? We are seldom born on the day we were ‘due’.

Yet our somewhat chance date of birth seems to be important. We are often asked for it as a kind of identifier or label as to who we are.

A relative of mine celebrated the wrong birthday for many years, until they were required to extract their birth certificate and realised they were born on a different day. It hadn’t changed who they were.

Many organisations such as banks, insurers, our employers even, use our date of birth as a key identifier of who we are. At my doctor’s surgery you can sign in on arrival using a terminal. The first question is ‘what is your date of birth?’  The system then presents a list of letters – the initials of surnames – presumably those people of that birth date, registered at the surgery or with an appointment that day?

At school we are batch educated, based on our date of birth. If you happen to be born late in August, you will be in one year group. Born a few days later, you will be in another. We even classify people by decade or period – child of the 60’s, generation z…

Yet our date of birth really says very little about who we are. It says no more than our job title does, or our place of residency, or the university we went to, even the name we were given.

Yet ask someone who they are, and this is often where they start.  “I’m Graham, I’m forty three, I’m a taxidermist, I live in Cippenham with my wife and three children. We have two dogs.” Labels, just like a date of birth, we use to describe who we are.

Try this.  Ask ‘Graham’ again. “Yes and who are you Graham?”  This time you might get something like ‘I’m a family man and I love nature and the beauty of the natural world around us’.

Repeat again. It takes time, but gradually you may find out about ‘Graham’. What matters to him, what he values, what he believes in, his motivations, his dreams and much much more. You might find out who he is.

One of my favourite quotes is by Mark Twain

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why

What if we celebrated that second day, not the first? Cake and party poppers for something more significant, more real, more impactful on our lives?

It seems to me that requires more celebration. Finding your reason for being, finding out who you are, is to be rejoiced over. Far more than the incidental day you began to breathe.


all the same, uniquely different

Uniquely different
I have recently been meeting someone with dyslexia.

At the time of our first meeting, they had only told a handful of people in the world. We have now spoken four or five times and I have noticed some things on the journey.

There is a strong desire not to be treated differently, not to be marked out in some way as needing help. With that comes a fear of judgement. As if by being seen, belonging will be denied – a kind of ostracism from normality, from humanity.

We have researched the number of people in society with dyslexia. I have spoken to them about the idea of neurodiversity. Still belonging … to the rich soup of humanity. After all, who is to say what is ‘right’, just the majority?

Recently they confided to me of a plan to tell some colleagues at their place of work. A huge step. Taking the number of people who would know, almost to double figures. Afterwards, we met and I asked how it went.

In the conversation they had given examples to their team of how to get the best out of them and some things not to do – for example, don’t give me a fifteen page document to read in the next hour.

I was struck again by their world view that this was just them, needing a special way of interacting. Almost apologetic.

I pointed out we all have preferences for working, for relationships. How another person’s words, actions, behaviours can either encourage us, inspire us, make us feel comfortable or enable us to be at our best. Equally words, actions behaviours can have an opposite effect.

I, for example, struggle when I’m not given, or allowed to find, a reason for something – a purpose, a bigger connection. Also, if someone asks me to do something and then tells me how to do it – I get frustrated, angry even, which them obstructs me from being at my best.

My dyslexic friend seemed surprised, but somehow relieved.

It’s a strange phenomena to me that we still find it hard to just say – this is me, this is how I work, this is what I need. Instead we follow a path of assumption, of judgement, of misinterpretation, of struggle.

We’re all the same, just uniquely different.

Digital art by BuestRose