In a crisis we come together.
While standing on the train station this morning, waiting for the fast train to London with all the regular commuters, the silence was deafening. Everybody was so separate. So isolated. So absorbed in their own world.
It felt desperately alien to me and I wanted to talk to someone – anyone – to create some human connection.
Our train was delayed, only by 5 minutes, but as the tannoy announced its arrival I thought about those instances when trains are REALLY delayed. Where people start to talk to each other; first about the state of the train service but then moving on to work and personal conversations. Sometimes discovering they have some kind of connection in common. And in those instances when the train finally arrives, people cheer together – connected through the adversity.
We see it over and over again. Give us a crisis and we come together. I remember in my last job when one of our shops was very sadly burnt to the ground. The team effort which ensued was incredible, there was pace, there was communication and collaboration across boundaries, deadlines were left for dust, people went over and above. And it resulted in a new store being built in record time. A store which then went on to outperform its previous sales results as it became a beacon of pride for the local team and community.
I remember at the time it was used as an example to say “we can achieve amazing things when we come together like that. If we can do that more of the time, we’ll be flying”.
So what stops us? What is it that means we only connect in a crisis? That means we only behave as our most awesome versions of human beings when the chips are down.
I saw this TED Talk of Simon Sinek recently and I think there might be an answer in here.
Our primitive brain still plays a significant part in how we operate today.
Simon describes in this talk about our primitive heritage when we had to connect and be social for our survival. We had to be able to collaborate to ensure someone was on night-duty and watching over the rest of the tribe while they slept. We had to work together to catch food so everyone could eat.
And in the days of our primitive heritage, a state of crisis was more the norm than the exception. Our stress response was a necessary physiological response to ensure we survived to see another day and ensure procreation would continue.
Bringing this to today, the stress response is still alive and well, it’s just that the sabre toothed tigers have turned into bosses, competitors, shop fires and delayed trains.
And so it’s in these circumstances of threat that we pull together, connect and collaborate just as we would have done all those years ago.
So this is perhaps an explanation for our innate ability to pull together in a crisis but how do we make it happen more of the time? And how do we make it happen without the need for the stress response to kick in? Because as much as our ancestors lived more on stress than not, pulling together more often than not, I would guess their life expectancy was a fair bit shorter than we have today. We know that prolonged periods of stress make us ill – physically and mentally – so the answer isn’t to create stressful situations more of the time.
So what is the answer?
Maybe it’s the opposite.
Positive Psychology is about making more of the good stuff. Finding strengths and doing more of those things that let us use them. Focussing on what’s gone well. Seeing what’s gone not so well as an opportunity to learn and adjust. Being appreciative of what we have. Being believed in.
When these things are present we’re awesome versions of human beings and even better because, in contrast to the stress response which narrows our thinking, being in an environment of positivity and safety broadens our thinking. Broader thinking means more opportunities are spotted and more great things are created.
This broader thinking is what enabled us to progress ourselves and our world from those primitive days. Although back then the predominant feature was threats, there were times when we did feel safe and it was in these moments that we invented stuff and created new solutions to help our subsequent generations find shelter, food and stay safe more easily.
So by now, you’d think we’d have invented so much of this great stuff that we’d feel super-safe and be at our best, most positive selves all the time.
And yet that’s not true. As Rick Hanson writes in Hardwiring Happiness, our mind is still like Teflon for the good and like Velcro for the bad. Another hangover from our primitive days to ensure we stayed alive.
So this positive stuff, we have to work on it. We have to re-train our brains to help us be our awesome+1 selves more of the time.
But imagine that: awesome teamwork, communication, delivery of results, going above and beyond – and all without the need to be in a crisis!
This is me – www.wildfigsolutions.co.uk