Social fear and ways to overcome it.

Feel the fear.

social fear
Enjoy dinner for one and feel the fear surrounding a simple act

Fear in social situations can contribute to physical reactions, we may shake, blush, speak less clearly or sweat, fearing this will be obvious to others, compounding the problem. Or we may have less visible symptoms such as a racing pulse, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness. Other reactions include a fear of looking foolish, or boring, and putting pressure on ourselves to be liked by everyone. These stresses can also increase our sensitivity to perceived criticism, inhibiting our ability to cope. Most people who have social anxiety problems know that this is irrational and doesn’t make sense. Knowing something though, is not the same thing as feeling it in the moment and using this feeling constructively. For these people, thoughts and feelings of anxiety persist and usually show no signs of going away.

Fear also causes us to notice and remember negative events, which reinforces the sense that the world is a scary place. We can work to change that by deliberately noticing the positive things in our life. The joy we feel when we see someone we love, the pleasure of a sunny day, the beauty in nature, the fun of an outing, the humor in a situation. We have to slowly place ourselves in the situations we fear. The first thing to do, is to remove avoidance from the equation and let yourself feel the fear. This way you will learn to survive without safety measures and avoidance tactics. When we suffer from social anxiety, it’s crucial to take gradual steps towards healing. Putting ourselves into the situations we fear, can be counter productive, unless we introduce careful thought and planning.                                 

Fear in social situations. 

A good starting point for us, is to make a list of our most feared social situations, from the lowest, upwards, based on our anxiety levels. Then we start with the least feared situation and expose ourselves to it, until we have successfully faced the fear. It’s a mistake to move on to the next level too quickly, we have to practice and feel confident before we can proceed. Social interactions of course, are between people so truly hearing and listening to another person, has got to be the biggest act of kindness there is. Not only will they love the fact that we find them so intriguing and interesting, but as we  focus on them, we will be distracted away from ourselves and our own anxious thoughts and feelings.

Keep in mind that social fear is in our head. If we could look past the fear, we would find there is nothing on the other side. In fact there is very little in the western world that we do need to fear in our everyday lives. The “fight or flight” tribal fears are gone now, we are not going to be bitten on the arse by a saber tooth tiger anymore, but our brain is still geared up to protect us in the same way. Of course this is still very useful in certain situations. In social settings though, where most of our fears are now centered, it is of little help and more of a hindrance. If I go into the city and do a stand up comedy routine on the street. I will be completely useless, but there is nothing to fear physically.

Practice feeling fear.

We go to our nearest coffee outlet, preferably when it’s busy, and order a coffee and a muffin. When they ask us for the money, we are going to say, “I would like a 10% discount please”. This of course is going against normal social protocol, as we don’t live for the most part in a bartering economy. The first reaction we are going to get, is amazement and disbelieve that we  have asked this question at all. Who asks for a discount on an amount of  $7.95, we are not going to offer any explanation, just ask for the discount. Watch the reactions you get, feel the fear but don’t explain yourself. Our request will most likely move up the chain of command, and that’s fine we just wait patiently.

Eventually we will most likely be told it’s company policy, we don’t give discounts or a variation of this. Then we just smile sit down and enjoy our coffee and muffin. The more we do this the less we will care about the glances we receive and the imagined gossip that we think is happening. Now the venue is a popular restaurant in the evening, where plenty of people are socializing. We’re not asking for a discount this time, the only stipulation is we book a table for one. We just turn up sit down and enjoy a bottle of wine and relax. We’re there for one hour, so there is no point in rushing the meal, we can’t reach for our phone either, or a book, as we left them in the car. As we look around us, we make eye contact with people and smile, that’s all we have to do.

Fear nearly under control.

These two social situations, are ones I have used but there are many more of course. My social fears now seem to be under control. On the sliding scale of anxiety that I mentioned previously, the social skill of talking impromptu in front of an audience, is still something I’m not comfortable with, and possibly never will be. In a social situation though, it’s the closest I’m ever going to get to that sabre tooth tiger.

social fear
Order a coffee and a muffin and ask for a 10% discount and notice how this makes you feel

The Cult of possibility.

There has always been a cult of celebrity but now there is also a cult “of possibility”.

cult of possibility
More ordinary people are becoming media celebrities than ever before

The cult of celebrity is not new, but it is increasing in its scope and effect. At one time, people would simply gawk at the famous, and possibly dress like them. Now, many take their moral and political opinions from them. Fame confers authority, and the principal way of acquiring great fame is via the entertainment industry. Entertainers are the gods of our age, with de facto powers to influence our opinions. Why is it that our minds enjoy and often crave engaging with this? Is it a form of escapism, are celebrities helpful role models, or do they create an inferiority complex for all of us touched by their influence. Are those entrusted with this accolade different, or better than those existing without it? Will there ever be a “possibility” we will wake up from this intoxication and see that there’re simply human.

Fame, is accessible to anyone and those who want it, are fixated by those who are already in possession of it. Within the social media platforms, is another professional and sometimes raw phenomenon, of the “cult of possibility” Where ordinary motivated people in the media, connect with thousands of others who may not be quite so motivated. In doing this, they present themselves to the world, as authentic to the things they are doing. The difference between them and “celebrity proper” is we can imagine ourselves, being capable of attempting everything they do. This is the “cult of possibility”, where sometimes, with a small amount of effort financially, we can attempt exactly the same thing.

The “cult of possibility” gives us a more personal connection.

One of my favorite shows on television is Grand designs, a show that is based in England and sometimes in Europe, it follows and interacts with people who are building their Grand design to live in. The show is about design, but the ratings for each episode are very different. When people have an abundance of money to throw at a project, it doesn’t resonate as well with the public, as a couple who struggle building a home with their own hands, while maxing out their credit cards in the process. One of the publics favorite episodes, also the presenters, was the “Woodsman” who built his home from the trees in the forest he tended by hand, with some of his friends to help him. It showed how he struggled to create a home, and the surrounding gardens of natural beauty.

He was a smart hard working man, who resonated well with the camera. But it wasn’t the lack of money that prevented him achieving his goal. So we were are able to see the “possibility” that we may be able to achieve exactly the same thing. Also the older couple who met later in life and purchased an absolute wreck of a chateau in France, when most people would be putting their feet up, took on the challenge of their lives. If they can do it with so little money and mostly using sweat equity, there’s no reason why we can’t do this, or the “possibility” that we can. The average person loves to dream, but the dream is always more pleasant when there is a “possibility” that one day, it will come true.

The “cult of possibility” is alive and well.

Life for many people has lost it’s sense of optimism for the future. We are wondering what’s going on, we feel uncertain as we look for inspiration where ever we can find it. Nothing has changed though, there is no quick fix or miracle cure. The Alternative lifestyle movement is as popular as it has ever been. Selling possessions and downsizing is not about money, the usual excuse we use. Now it’s the social conditioning we have to contend with, the what if’s and possible maybe’s, that we have to get past. There are a proliferation of channels on U-TUBE where “normal” people are attempting to live an alternative life. Traveling in buses, vans and RV’S some of these people, have thousands of subscribers on their lists.

The two favorites that appeal to my slow pace of life, are based on the canals in England. “Cruising the cut” and “Journey with Jono” both very well produced, great sound and picture quality. The narrow boats travel at walking pace, something I’m used to. The surrounding countryside and the hypnotic sound of the engine almost send me to sleep. I certainly know I’m relaxed anyway. These men aren’t rich, they sold their homes to follow a different lifestyle. This allows us the “possibility” that we may do this, but possibly never will. This resonates with us, we bond with them because we see ourselves doing these things through their eyes. This resonates with me, because they are “nice guys” someone you would love as your next door neighbor. They appeal to a very wide audience both young and older.

The “possibility” of owning a narrow boat.

Both of these channels have thousands of subscribers. Jono is on his narrow boat with his dog Molly, as everyone seems fascinated with dogs, Molly has a cult following of her own. My realization that this was a “cult of possibility” came when l looked at the comments left by the subscribers. They were from all around the world, watching this narrow boat on the canals in England. Many of them voicing the “possibility” that one day they would do this for themselves. Jono and David aren’t showing us a dream, but showing us a possibility. There’s a twist to their story though, for their shows to last longer and with more personal disclosures. They are being forced by their audience to expand their horizons.

They have to look for different features to keep up with demand. This is time consuming for them and I’m sure, a fine line that they are walking, between the life they want for themselves and the life that is being demanded from them. So even though they are ordinary men presenting a simple life story on a narrow boat. They are being forced by the  “culture of possibility” to put more effort into living a different story than they would possibly have thought of in the beginning. Inadvertently, this could be a good thing for them, as they expand their stories to satisfy their audience and hopefully themselves.

culture of possibility
The “possibility” that we may own a canal narrow boat

 

 

Will part of us always be a “hunter gatherer”?

Will part of us always be a “hunter gatherer” at heart ?

hunter gatherer at heart
Hunting for food was a way of life once.

No matter how sophisticated we think we are in our comfortable western society, there will always be an element of the “hunter gatherer” within us. A certain few still have the desire to hunt and kill animals. But for the majority of us, these tendencies are concealed in a less noticeable way. Myself and many others experience this feeling when we are exposed to nature for a period of time. The first opportunity I had to really experience this, was when I was around seventeen years old. I went to Canada with a friend of mine where we met up with his older brother, we took a camping trip through the national parks and countryside between Toronto and Montreal. This was in the late sixties and even though it was a popular pastime, it wasn’t quite as sanitized as it is today.

Sitting around the “camp fire” in the shadows listening to the wild life all around us. The wind blowing through the trees, the clear night sky and in those days the proximity of bears, foraging for food, gave me a “primitive” feeling. This felt very different to what I had been used to living close to London. It didn’t feel strange or even different though, it felt “right” as if this was how it was meant to be. Today, the first major problem most people will have, is disconnecting from social media. Dare I suggest leaving all the electronic gadgets at home, this includes the satellite navigation system. Even in the late sixties, where life was relatively simple, we were closer to our “hunter gatherer” roots than we are now in 2017.

Are we getting farther and farther away from our “hunter gatherer” past?

Is this the fundamental underlying problem that we have, without even realizing that we have a problem. Food sharing and cooperation are central to “hunter gatherer” societies. “Hunter gatherers” exist in multi-level social structures, to help regulate cooperative systems. Furthermore, these social structures regulate rules, friendship, kinship ties and the spread of social norms. Central to this, is an extended family environment where everyone looks out for each other. We see this as primitive now, because we think we have evolved into a society that has all the answers. At an intellectual level we may have a lot of the answers, but unfortunately we also have a lot of unanswered questions to think about.

Community is an essential part of life in these “primitive” societies, we have almost stopped “hunter gathering” for our food supply now. We eat more and more processed food now, as it’s convenience helps us cope with our hectic lifestyles. At the same time that I was in Canada on my trip through the forests. My mother was walking to town everyday with her shopping basket. Purchasing fresh food from the “fish mongers” the “butchers” and other individual outlets. I can remember “Tesco” being no bigger than my local newsagent is today. Community was organic, it just existed, by virtue of  people walking everywhere. Loneliness the disease of the 21st century, had hardly been “invented” at this stage. A lot of the ailments that loneliness would bring, hadn’t as yet, started to develop.

A “Hunter gatherer” problem manifesting as something else.

There is always an internal battle going on in each of us in two conflicting parts, one is our center of rationality and high minded logic. But unfortunately these feelings are trapped inside a biological animal, who mostly cares about survival, which is linked to our tribal past. The farther we move away from this  tribal past, the worse this problem seems to be. But we can design our lives like a “hunter” traveling light, and in doing this, we can set up our lives in such a way, that we can be quite comfy with very little money. The “Hunter Gatherer” is not possessed by his possessions. The modern worker unfortunately, is often one pay check away from the street. With more attention paid to our basic needs, instead of our wants, we can have long stretches where the “hunting” is not so good, but we can still survive.

 

hunter gatherer at heart
A more simple way of life could be the answer.

 

Kaizen the smallest steps to continuous improvement.

Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction, ends up being the biggest step ever taken that’s Kaizen.

kaizen continuous improvement
Japanese self improvement it’s easy to digest that’s kaizen

“Kaizen” is a Japanese philosophy, while not having an absolute definition in English, it’s meaning is, continuous improvement, making small adjustments as we go forward. Kaizen, doesn’t represent the new exercise machine standing in the corner gathering dust and now being used as something to hang our clothes on. The new years resolution we made that was broken in the first few days. Business ventures that somehow never get off the ground, because the reality doesn’t fit the dream. Signing up for night classes full of enthusiasm, but after a few weeks of cold weather, missing classes to stay home in the warm. Obviously, there are people who take on these challenges and make it through to their goal. But more often than not, it’s easier to give up, move on and try something else that gives us more excitement, for a while.

Kaizen unnoticed steps

As we keep giving up on our grand dreams, we will be forced to ask ourselves some harsh questions. Why am I such a loser? How could I be so stupid? What’s wrong with me?  So not only have we not stayed the distance with our dreams, now we are using our energy to emphasize our inadequacies as well. This is where kaizen comes in, it allows us to bypass the lofty goals that are often doomed to failure. Allowing us to concentrate on moving forward with easier and often unnoticed steps.

The trouble is the “Flight or fight” part of our brain which is critical to register an imminent threat, has in most cases, become a liability. Any new challenge or opportunity, still tends to trigger degrees of fear, but most of the time it’s not a legitimate fear. Although, this still prevents access to the thinking part of our brain which becomes restricted and often shuts down.

Kaizen trying to trick the “flight or fight” mode

Kaizen is making minor adjustments, that are often so small they become almost unnoticeable. The part of our brain that becomes overwhelmed with change leading to fear, is tricked into staying asleep. These little steps of kaizen, are a stealthy solution to the large steps we often set for ourselves, but fail to achieve. Small actions take very little time or money, are very agreeable to many of us who haven’t built supplies of willpower. By outfoxing fear and negative responses, our brain is allowed to build up permanent optimism. This approach may seem strange to us, as it goes against most definitions of personal progress.

As individuals, we are prompted to “Think big. Believe big. Act big and the results will be big”. The results may be big for some people, but not for the majority. Kaizen isn’t about thinking big, it’s about thinking small positive thoughts to eventually get big results. Our attempts to be better usually end in failure, because life-changing goals overwhelm us into inaction, instead of inspiring us into action. Unrealistic goals make it insanely difficult to make any progress, so we become stressed over what is supposed to help us take action. A big audacious goal looks scary to our brain, and when our brain encounters “scary” it goes into “freeze” mode. If we constantly overstretch ourselves, we lose the required energy we need to take the necessary action to get better.

Kaizen in action

We decide to get up an hour early, the first day is fine, but the next day we feel tired and quickly abandon the idea. The kaizen method would be, to get up three minutes early the first day, and increase it to six minutes the day after. Adding three minutes each day until after 20 days we are getting up an hour earlier. Small incremental steps, that our body doesn’t even notice over the longer term.

We like the idea of meditating for half an hour every day. But a half hour meditation isn’t easy, so attempting a half hour block, won’t last for the majority of people. The kaizen way would be to meditate for just 30 seconds the first day, and keep adding 30 seconds each day. In 60 days we are meditating for half an hour, making it easier to maintain over a longer period.

Kaizen as a system

If we have never exercised before, deciding to go to the gym for a hour each day is going to be extremely hard and most likely will end in failure. As we watch television we decide to take the first tiny step. On the first evening, we get up off the couch during an ad break and do a fast walk on the spot until it’s over. And the next night two ads and so on until we reach one hour. It takes a while to get there, but once there, we are more likely to keep going as we have gained the momentum now.

While Kaizen was originally developed to help businesses improve and thrive, it’s just as applicable to our personal lives. If we want to achieve our goal every time, we need to create a system that works. Instead of dreaming about the ultimate goal, design a great process. This way makes us a winner, we can enjoy the present moment and most likely, improve at the same time.

kaizen continuous improvement
The smallest steps are all we need with kaizen

 

Death why we should take the time to think about it.

Death it’s only natural

Death space to think
Flowers bloom as we have the capacity to bloom within our season.

Are you feeling courageous? Then take some time out to think about your death and take note of what comes up. Invite the anxiety and the disquiet, feel the supposedly solid ground of your world tremble slightly. Approach the topic with compassion, and remind yourself, that it’s a natural part of life we’re all going to experience. Is there any benefit in thinking about our death, I believe there is. A more meaningful, mindful life and less chance that our story will be included in the next edition of the “Top five regrets of the Dying” by Bronnie Ware. There are so many clichés surrounding death, that now it’s become disconnected from any significant meaning. Unless you are directly involved with or close to the process itself. “You only have one life” “Life isn’t a dress rehearsal” Why worry when you could be dead tomorrow”

It’s only when we are told that we only have a short time to live, that we become aware of how fragile life is. This got me thinking, is it possible to live our life within our self imposed comfort and only face the fear of death when we absolutely have to? While still trying to keep the status-quo in place, and not rock our boat in anyway. But it’s almost impossible to always keep ourselves in a safe place. When change comes, as it inevitably will, we will then be ill equiped to deal with it. In life, there is no turning back and there are no guarantees either. Isn’t it better to realize this, to embrace the fear of death and then use this, to live a really meaningful life.

Use death to live life.

We all have the capacity to live our life to it’s fullest potential. This is not to be confused with everything having to be an adventure, and taking unnecessary risks. We know in ourselves what makes us feel good, this provides us with the feeling of inner contentment. It can be cooking, painting, spending time with family or renovating houses, as long as we don’t get stuck in a rut. We all have our issues, problems and frustrations in our lives, this is all part of being human. But being aware of our death, is one solution to cultivate an intense awareness of the fragility of life. This has helped me to see the big picture, and not get bogged down in the pettiness of many situations.

Everything in life is constantly coming together and then falling apart. There is beauty in the moment, the seasons change, the flowers bloom and then they die. There is an impermanence to everything around us and we are a part of that. The vacation that was so fantastic, is over all too quickly, so we feel sad. The party we went to that was so much fun, that we didn’t want to end. And conversely, the crap party that we wanted to end. We are constantly confronting these types of endings, but while we are waiting for the next beginning to arrive, we are often missing the “Now”.

Death and mindfulness.

The fact that we are going to die, doesn’t create a meaningful life, it’s the wisdom of “knowing” that captures our attention. Then we are more likely to ask ourselves what’s important, and how do we embrace it. Habit of course, has a strong momentum that can carry us through until we die. So the question arises, what habits do we want to cultivate that will cause us to engage more with life Instead of procrastination, worry, and always wondering if we are making the right decisions. We constantly build defences against our vunerability, and death is the ultimate vunerability for us. But when we allow our life to be vunerable, we become more open and allow the world to impress itself on our consciousness.

What ever we have done in our life, is who we are when we die, so everything counts. We dont have to wait for death to find peace though, we can find peace in the wisdom of thinking about death while alive. Allowing these thoughts to guide us in making decisions, that may have seemed outside of our capacity before. Worries that once seemed relevant, are now put into perspective. Every bad day, seems pretty damn good when compared to having no more days at all. When we truly accept our death, we can hold on to that feeling in the same way we think about our grocery list or our plans for the weekend. We start to see what’s worth our time, and never worth our tears.

Death space to think.
Every problem is solved now only our legacy is left