Isolation has lifted…is lifting…might soon be lifted. A global reverse-Mexican wave of lockdown being lightened. During this time there have been millions…billions of different experiences and lessons. Here I’d like to offer you a moment to pause and consider the ONE SINGLE THING that has been at the heart of it all. Know this and normal life will never be the same again.
Here in Britain we’re awaiting news of how isolation will be loosened in the coming weeks and it’s got me wondering what you’ll take from this experience? How will you return to ‘normal’ without it being a reversion back to the old normal; instead bringing with you all the brilliance you’ve experienced.
We can do this at a practical level, considering what’s worked and what hasn’t, lifting and dropping what’s worked into the world as we re-enter it. These could be things like ‘we had this kind of meeting, at this frequency and it worked’ or ‘ we travelled less and it improved productivity’. All good. these might keep being successful back in normal land. And they might not. We can’t know because the circumstances will have changed.
So instead I’d like to invite you to a deeper level of realisation about what’s made your working from home experiences so successful at this time. When you know this it doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, you’ll be aligned with your innate brilliance which is perfectly designed for the now — whatever that now entails.
Let’s start from the practical content of what’s been experienced. These are the kinds of things my clients have realised:
- We can make decisions well and quickly when we are in the here and now and just getting on with it.
- We feel more connected with colleagues despite being remote: there’s been an understanding of limitations of circumstances, laughter about cats knocking over tea during meetings, wearing-daft-head-gear-day for the video call, taking time to understand how people are doing beyond the task list, fundamentally being real and human with each other.
- Our teams are capable and trustworthy and don’t need to be watched or monitored
- We can work remotely, removing the need for the vast majority of business travel. And many who thought they could never do a video call are now using tech creatively to keep in touch
- When we’re not concerned about doing it ‘right’ (because this is, of course, unprecedented — no rule book) we find life is alive and fulfilling and we do it brilliantly
Behind, beneath, before each of these experiences is the ONE thing which either gets in the way, or which disappears and sets us free.
The one thing — an idea of me
Let me elaborate using one of those examples: a meeting.
In normal life, in a meeting, we’ve donned our ‘work me’ cap. There’s a ‘me’ I want to show in this world because it seems like it’s a competition. I need to fight for my place. It’s dog eat dog don’t you know, winners never quit and all that. Performance ratings, salary bands, promotions above others. I need to show I’m capable and on it and professional and can answer all the hard questions and can ask hard questions too.
Plus we’re in the office — the place the mind has correlated to all those attitudes — and we’ve got our properly-studious-looking notebook. We’ve just dashed form the last meeting to this (extra ‘me’ kudos points) and we make it clear at the start ‘I’m back to back today, can we make sure we finish on time’ — yes I am that important.
But now, we’ve just got up from the sofa to make a cuppa and have rolled into our favourite zoom-call seat, chosen because it has an alright background or because it’s the best for wifi, or it’s quiet away from the kids or dogs, or…no reason, just this seat.
Maybe we’ve put on a smarter top for the call — maybe — but comfy trousers or even pj’s are still holding us in that relaxed space.
And now, given work can’t happen in the normal way, the normal rules have been forgotten. Performance reviews seem less important, there’s not the chest-puffing competition that comes with being in the office (and I’m not just talking about men here) and — in the absence of anyone really knowing what’s happening or what will happen next — we’re feeling enlivened by the ‘cliff hanger’ state. A mixture of excitement and trepidation. Edge of the seat stuff. Curious about what the next curve ball will be.
In this ‘now’ experience, the ‘me’ isn’t getting much of a look-in. Maybe it’s popping up here and there when it considers what to wear or how the hair looks on screen but, unlike in the office, it’s not now the predominant position being taken.
And so now, in the absence of an idea of me, the team get a real you and you get a real them and more effective conversations happen and more productive work gets done and more timely decisions get made based on ‘what we know now’ — because really, what else have we ever known?
It’s not been about homeworking or less commuting or unprecedented circumstances — not really. The ONE THING at the heart of it all is whether there’s an idea of me present or not.
So what’s made the idea of me disappear?
Although it could look like the ‘me’ has gone because we’re not in the office, or because we’re travelling less, or because we’re at home feeling more relaxed, or because we’re working in unprecedented territory, these experiences are not causal to having a more fulfilling, connected, productive or easier time.
There will be plenty of people who are missing their commute and feeling stroppy with their family. There will be plenty of people for whom home is not relaxing and they’ll be living on edge. Including for you — your experience of home, or travel, or meetings, is not causal to how you feel. If they were causal you’d feel the same about them all the time, every single time. Or at least pretty similar. And you don’t. (And you must tell me if you do because you’d be the first person on the planet and we’d need to get you in the Guinness Book of Records!!)
The experiences we’ve been having recently are simply correlated to greater safety and therefore a more fulfilling, connected, productive or easier time. Being at home generally seems a safer place than being in the office, so the voice of the ‘me’ goes quiet. There isn’t (usually) a thought of threat at home like it imagines and expects it will get at work. Being at home isn’t in its box marked ‘danger’.
AND in an unprecedented experience of ‘no rule book’ the me also sees safety. Brilliant! I can’t get it wrong! We’re all in the same boat. Phew! So this gets correlated to the ‘safe’ box too and the me quiets down, and we get brilliant!
So the idea of me goes quiet when it correlates an experience to being a safe one — and then we experience our innate brilliance.
From that, we could say, ‘right, so now we need to create a psychologically safe working environment. We need to make sure people feel safe the vast majority of the time and then we’ll get their brilliance more of the time.’
But this creates a psychological game of tip toe. Not daring to sneeze — or maybe cough — in the wrong direction for fear it creates danger for someone and jumps their ‘me’ back into the game.
This is what happens for people with anxiety. Knocking experiences off the list of ‘things I can do’ until there’s very little left and their ‘safe zone’ has become their house. And even that doesn’t look so safe.
How do we really disappear the me then?
First off, most people don’t entirely disappear the me — and we don’t need to — because everyone has the capacity to see it for what it really is and change their relationship to it — and this changes everything!
Instead, notice the word ‘correlates’. The me doesn’t know anything about the outside world. It’s an idea in thought that takes information and tidies it up. It thinks its job is to keep us safe and to do that efficiently. It’s not — we have an in-built alarm system for that— but in the absence of knowing that, it very efficiently sees incoming information, checks what it looks like — oh, it’s a bit like this — and tidies it away into the box with ‘other things that look like this’. Safe — dangerous. Towards — away from. Like — don’t like.
All done without any idea of what’s actually going on. And trying to be so efficient in its task that it glosses over distinctions, nuances and differences to make it fit a pre-existing box. Much more efficient that way.
The more we see that the me is an activity of thought, playing a game of guess-and-match and not one of insightful assessment, the more it starts to lose it’s appeal.
The moment we shift our understanding of how it’s all working, our behaviours and habits automatically shift — and always in the direction of more humanity.
As we poke and prod at it’s boxes, we see them collapse before our eyes. No longer the definite, fixed truth we thought they were. In fact no truth to them at all.
And box after box, we do this and we find no truth, no truth, no truth.
With each box that disappears a little more of the idea of me looks less compelling, and with each bit of the idea of me that looks less compelling, more of our brilliance emerges. The same innate brilliance that has made lockdown-working a success. The brilliance that is decision making in the now, connecting with other humans in a real way, being compassionate in difficult times, dropping daft ideas of competition and being better than another.
All available the moment I’m not in the picture.
And do you want to know something even better?
We don’t even have to look at all the boxes.
As we look, and poke and prod and as some boxes begin to go — the mind naturally starts to cotton on to this trick of the light we’ve been hoodwinked into all these years, and life starts dissolving the boxes for us. We don’t even notice it happening until we come to do ‘that’ activity again and — oh, that was different, and easier, and more effective. Brilliant!
And then more, and more, and more.
I’ll leave you with some Wei Wu Wei.
Why are you unhappy? Because 99.9% of everything you think and everything you do is for yourself; and there isn’t one.”
With love, Helen
I work with people who want a quieter mind and a more fulfilling life. They’re smart, passionate people who are curious about there being a better way. They’ve worked hard to get to here and yet something’s still missing: ‘is this it?’. In our work we explore and reconnect to innate brilliance so they rediscover a quieter mind, fulfillment and balance. Find out more here.