Those rocks are smaller than you think

Those rocks are smaller than you think

Coming to the end of The Obstacle is the Way I was surprised when the author announced that I was now a philosopher in Stoicism. Although the title of the book is perhaps an obvious clue as to what follows, I hadn’t framed my approach this way. But I found much of the book confirmatory of the usefulness of the concepts of stoicism – especially in a world of disruption (i.e. always!).

The challenging client? Covid anxiety? A war? The intractable work issue? Passive behaviour that feels aggressive? Too many life admins outstanding? All of the above all at once? I try to monitor and notice my own reactions to life’s obstacles – does my heart rate increase, am I irritable, do I start doing detailed work and planning? To notice is to be present in the here and now.

I remember many moons ago working in the Auckland Central police watchhouse – where people who had been arrested were “processed” – until they were bailed or taken to court. As you might imagine, not all customers were particularly happy – many drunk, aggressive and abusive. But you had to search, photograph and fingerprint them, whether they liked it or not. In some respects, achieving the outcomes required behaviour that was the antithesis of the macho, forceful imagine of a uniform cop tackling an alcohol-infused melee. It required the ability to depersonalise the anger directed at you. It’s surprisingly difficult to fingerprint someone – hold their fingers over an inkpad, and roll each finger on the paper – all ten of them – if they don’t want it! I must have achieved a modicum of success as the senior sergeant asked me to stay on for a second six month tour because he said, I had the temperament. I declined, patrols were far exciting.

But it must have been part of my journey of stoicism, which has really come to the fore these last couple of years, although I’ve never really framed it for myself that way. Perception, Action and Will make up the three disciplines of this book and underpinning it is turning every obstacle into an advantage. In business we might say “turning lemon into lemonade”, or “pivoting now”, but what we’re doing is turning the challenge, the obstacle or disadvantage into an opportunity.

Put another way, declining to be a victim despite the circumstances of apparent unfairness, avoiding catastrophising a situation – living in the present – the book says that unfortunately “We have to dive endlessly into what everything “means”, whether something is “fair” or not, whats “behind” this or that..”. Actually most of the time when something isn’t going our way, the person, or people that might be the perceived cause, are more than likely not particularly interested in us. Sad, but good too! It can put perspective into our lives.

Been “disrespected” at work? Who hasn’t been? (who hasn’t done it too?). Was the other person acting with intention? Possibly, but more than likely it was just a moment. So don’t worry. Feed off what they said and come back more powerful appearing more considered and patient as a result.

It’s a perfect day for stoicism. Rain is here after what feels like months of fine weather (unconscious bias of course – there’s been some!), and it’s got that cosy, rain on the roof feeling.

An opportunity to catch up on life admin, and even restart a blog!

Stephen

Headline Photograph: Stonehenge from a visit in 2015. The rocks were quite a bit smaller than I had imagined.

It’s in your head

It’s in your head

I’ve been grappling a bit over the last couple of years with resilience – the concepts more than the actual thing (I think!). People talk of building it up, focussing on your wellbeing to make sure you are resilient, especially during this Covid era when uncertainty about work, health, travel, whanau is ever present. It’ll be coming up four years soon since I saw my eldest son, now settled in Ireland with children of his own, one I’ve not seen in person. There are thousands of similar, and far more challenging situations for many Kiwis. I’m thinking especially those who have lost their employment or had their earnings restricted from business, or who haven’t been able to say farewell to loved ones who have died. It’s tough. And resilience is needed.

I was out at my little piece of paradise this long Waitangi weekend, doing some cleaning up, after a big clean up – moving bits of old metal, some electric power line fittings – trees in pots that had fallen over and so on. I’ve been very cautious – one of my legs is not what it used to be and I’ve been looking after my resilience by protecting it, having others to do the hard graft, leaving me for such strenuous activities as watering and fetching cold drinks from the fridge in the container (should you leave it on? – I hope it’s alright!).

Something switched – maybe I suddenly reached a tipping point and got tougher, but I grabbed all the old metal, electrical fittings and some bits of timber and lugged them up the hill to the bin. Cripes it felt good. Then I did it again. Then I moved the plants back upright. Then I attacked the door to the bore shed that’s been jamming – fixed that.

I’m certain it wasn’t all in my head, I have been weaker, but it had got in my head and now it’s out and I’m free and strong to do what I can. Well that’s what it feels like – probably won’t make the Olympic team quite yet, but you get the drift!

Mount Taranaki

In The Mental Toughness Handbook by Damon Zahariades he separates resilience from mental toughness. He says Resilience:

“is the ability to bounce back from unforeseen complications. It’s the ability to adapt. For example, suppose you leave your home at a normal time en route to your workplace. Unfortunately, you run into expectedly heavy traffic on the freeway. This setback is sure to make you late for a meeting scheduled that morning.
A resilient person might grit his teeth and curse under his breath, but he’d ultimately adapt to this circumstance. He might seek a different route to his workplace, using his phone’s GPS feature. Or he may call his office and reschedule the meeting. Or he might compose an explanation for his tardiness that allows him to avoid others’ disapproval.

Mental toughness is a mindset. It not only reflects our ability to bounce back from unforeseen complications, but also demonstrates a positive outlook during the experience. It’s not just the ability to handle stressful situations. It reflects how we handle them. For example, a mentally tough person caught in unexpectedly heavy traffic might take the opportunity to listen to an inspiring audiobook. In fact, she might be pleased with her circumstance because it gives her the opportunity.”

Obviously there’s more to it in the book than I can relay here, but think about the times when things go wrong – do you see it as an opportunity? Or do you try and make sure the tracks are covered?

I’m not advocating pulling yourself up by the bootstrings necessarily but there is something to be said for thinking of the opportunity. But it’s tough. Mentally tough, but it might just be in your head as to which way you choose.

Resilience vs Mental Toughness. Subtly different.

Stephen