Sunday, August 30, 2009

Are you addicted?

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Are we a society of addicts? Addicted to Shopping, Alcohol, Shoes, Drugs, Food, Sex, Sport, Gambling, Work, Twitter?
The bigger question is; are these addictions of choice that add fun and excitement, color and texture to our lives? Or perhaps they are subconscious default habitual addictions that imperceptibly eat away at our ability to adapt to our social environment. Whilst there are physiological addictions that require medication to stabilize behavior, ever more research is providing compelling evidence that a huge percentage of destructive habit patterns are controllable. This research is suggesting that many addictions are adaptations to stress. Often these behavioral adaptations are inherently self destructive.

Stressful events affect the immune system. Anxiety, fear, tension, anger and sadness are emotions and physiological stressors.

It needs to be understood that these descriptive words are actually describing chemical reactions in the body. These chemical reactions define our physical and mental health.

Addiction derives from something called the dopaminergic system, or in simpler English-The brain's reward system. The intensity of this desire for reward (the rush of dopamine running through our veins and the ensuing spike in sensory pleasure)

A polarizing theory is posited by Professor John Booth Davies in his book 'The Myth of Addiction' He asks the question 'Is addiction a choice?' and suggests that addicts fall into two categories; those interested in changing, and those not interested.

Insight is the starting point for those interested in changing their habitual destructive actions.

Dr Hans Seyle, coined the term 'General Adaptation Syndrome" He describes three clear stages of adaptation to stress. Initial brief alarm, followed by prolonged resistance, and eventually the third stage, which is exhaustion and death! The chemical precursor to this disturbing eventuality is; enlargement of the adrenal gland, atrophy of the thymus and spleen, and lymphoid tissue, as well as gastric ulcerations.

This is not a medical resource article, but it's worth noting that the throw away labels we give to our emotions and behaviors have an underlying and very real impact on our well being.

So much misery in life is the result of maladaption to stress. What interests this scribbler however is the area of science called Psychoneuroimmunology. Research in this field of science, looks at the impact that state of mind has on the immune system. Former Harvard professor of physiology-Walter Cannon first coined the term Homeostasis. He observed that there is a brain body dialogue played out via control of cortisol levels that can largely be manipulated by conscious thought. Popularly known as the power of belief.

Many NLP(neuro-liguistic-programming) practitioners believe that we can trick the body by changing our response to stress triggers. The belief is, that the stimulus is not the stressor, rather our response. How we label a stimulus defines its impact. Are we angry, or merely annoyed. Are we devastated or merely sad. These labels, our interpretations of our life experiences, are ultimately manifested within our immune system.

Beware how you label your experiences it's self fulfilling. Just a thought!

What would you do if you knew you had 5 years to live?

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If you knew you had exactly five years to live, would you do anything differently?

This is a question that cuts to the quick regarding what really matters and what we truly value. Step back for a moment from the hustle and bustle of making a living and observe your efforts in creating a life. What defines you? Is it the car you drive? The acres of tiling or marble that envelopes your house? The manicured lawns? The awe and esteem of your subordinates? The fear of your enemies? Does your sense of well being relate to your sense of status within your peer group?

Perhaps the bigger question is whether this sense of life purpose and relative self importance is merely an exercise in futile self delusion. A recurring question this scribbler posits is thus. In the absence of context can anything have meaning. Hence the question; would you live your life any differently if you knew its exact expiry date? Would you smell the roses more frequently. Would your perspective alter with regard to what really matters? Would the smile of a child mean more than the compliment of your boss?

We could wax lyrical with any number of metaphoric images to convey the essence of living. The point however is this. If you would make any significant changes to your life in the knowledge of its use by date, then what on earth is holding you back? Are you going to wait until you reach the ripe old age of 95 before you start focusing on what really matters? Procrastination is the default for so many sad souls. Waiting until the time is right before living life. Building houses, instead of homes. Delaying enjoyment today for delayed gratification tomorrow.

For what it's worth, here's a little paradigm shift of context to mess with your grey matter. Reframe your goals in the context of a finite 5 year time line. Notice what adjustments you would make. Notice what your true values really are. If you don't rate the 40 plus hours per week you spend at work as at least an 8 out of 10 in terms of relative enjoyment, then perhaps something needs to change. In the next 5 years you will no doubt use up 9600 hours, engaging in this activity. That equates to 400 twenty four hour days.

If you had only 5 years to live, would you want to spend 40% of your waking hours in the pursuit of an activity that rates so low on the enjoyment scale? Of course we can defer fun and pleasure today, the French call it joie de vivre in order to indulge in our sunset years. Problem is of course, if we are already in our sunset years and haven't realised it, then that really would be disappointing! Life matters is obviously a play on words.

Sometimes it pays to step off the treadmill of life and ask, what is it that really matters? And act accordingly.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

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Perhaps the better question is; "Why do you want to grow up?"!

Remember a time in the dim mists of time when life's riddles seemed simpler? Grown ups would delight in endlessly interrogating any young child in sight as to what they wanted to be when they grow up. Answers such as doctor, nurse, pilot, builder, policeman were positively and knowingly approved. Ask the same question today and you might feel less enlightened by the answer.
Traditional jobs are 'all so yesterday'. Much in the manner that a previous generation may have responded to the career choice perhaps of a cobbler, chimney sweep or basket weaver. It's all in the realm of black and white movies of a bygone era when politeness and formality ruled over spontaneity and individualism.

Predictability in our warp drive journey through the vast digital world of untapped knowledge is all but dead. 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' Is a question that presumes some future Nostradamus-like insight into the shape of things to come.

The modern child prodigy is more likely to define their future career goals in terms of what they want to become rather than how they want to spend their lives. Predictability is the antithesis of the new generation's future strivings. It's all about now. Predicting future trends is the new Lotto. It's all about finding contemporary niches to manipulate. 'Niche' is the new buzz word for the ambitious. It's not about becoming an engineer or accountant anymore.

It's about finding and tapping into a hidden somewhat obscure yet lucrative market place. Perhaps garden gnomes. Find a community of gnome enthusiasts and cater to their predilections Join their social media communities. Blog with them. Identify their desires and provide solutions. Sell them an e-book on some curious angle about their passion and conquer the world!

The glazed somewhat confused look your question may elicit may not be the result of lack of ambition, but perhaps the instinct that their answer will be so incomprehensible to you that it's not worth the effort answering.

It's a new world where spontaneity, laced with a touch of hedonism and living in the moment, whilst not particularly sensible and definitely not predictable is undeniably perfectly adaptable. Adaptation is the key to survival in any environment and perhaps this new unblinkered approach to career possibility is enlightened.

Just don't expect a simple answer to your question!

why is it that everyone wants to go to heaven, yet no one wants to die?

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Facetious statement, I know. There is a hint of truth there, however.

How is it that some seemingly fortunate folks seem to sail smoothly through life, with few turbulences, crises or adversity worth talking about, whilst an all together larger percentage of the population seem to experience the opposite? Catastrophe, bad luck, and various examples of strife seem to shadow their every venture.
If the personal success guru's are to be believed. Then it's all pretty simple really. It's to do with the law of attraction. We attract the people and circumstances consistent with our dominant thoughts in to our lives. Taken to it's logical conclusion therefore, this law would seem to suggest that peer group is the biggest influencer of success and failure in life, all other things being equal.

Having worked with Juvenile Justice recidivist offenders, Olympic Champions, Multi-Millionaire Entrepreneurs, and more than a few of life's hard luck stories, I've often pondered what is it exactly that most determines the differences in their respective life results.

At the risk of condensing the myriad of life's complexities down to a few simple platitudes, it does seem that there are certain strategies that have a quite profound impact on performance when implemented.

For almost immediate guaranteed change to take place in your life, try a couple of simple exercises, and reserve judgment until after the exercise.

Firstly. Make an emotional decision. A decision that some aspect of your life MUST change. Now!

Secondly, establish the belief that you are capable of actually making the change.

Thirdly, take massive and immediate ACTION.

The degree of change that you want to occur will determine the the extreme level of action that needs to be undertaken.

CHANGE is the operative word. Try Changing your peer group for awhile. This is the biggest influencer and reinforcement of your current situation. Break free. Build new social networks. Try different activities.

Change, if necessary, disempowering intimate relationships. Change job. Change clothes. Change thinking. Just start making changes!

Find a MENTOR. Success in sport, music, art, rocket science, is rarely acheived independently. Life accomplishments are more quickly acheived with the assistance of others. Find someone to model, copy, duplicate.

There's an old Irish expression that states that 'everyone wants to get to heaven, but no one wants to die!'

The challenge for many potentially outstanding individuals, is that the comfort zone of their lives, whilst far from being comfortable, is preferable to the unknown. Sometimes the umbilical cord, connecting us with an often malignant and miserable experience needs to be cut.

There is in life a risk in stepping in to the unknown. However continuing on the same path to predictable oblivion makes no sense whatsoever. It may be a cliche, but nevertheless there is a simple truth to the line; 'if you keep doing the same things over and over, then don't expect different results". In other words if you want to fly with eagles, get out of the turkey pen!

Fatalism and Simpl-exity Conundrum

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Friar William of Ockham seemed like an interesting fellow. 600 years after his less than earth shattering comments, along the lines that, simplicity is invariably the answer to all manner of puzzle, quandary and bafflement, philosophers still debate vigorously the merits of this belief system.
The more grounded and less sophisticated ponderers of life's big questions might wonder what all the fuss is about, over someone who stated the 'bleedin' obvious' yet whose tenet 'Ockham's Razor' has slipped so comfortably into the modern lexicon.

This scribbler however does question this assertion that the simple answer is invariably the best. The inspiration for this brief ramble was a chance conversation recently with a chap who informed me with no hint of winking kiddology that he expected to depart his mortal coil at aged 62. He wasn't specific though regarding the exact time and date. His fatalism was borne out of nothing more than the observation that many of his predecents died at around this age. His thinking might have been applauded by Friar Ockham.

In a universe that is unfathomly diverse and debateably, immeasurable, is such fatalism justified? In a world where bad things happen to good people, is it useful to live as though free will is an illusion? We've all been inculcated by the passed down aphorisms of long passed cultural sages such as; 'what will be will be'.

The old wise Greeks coined a term; Moira for that unseen power that rules over human destiny. If cosmic determinism really scripts our life novel, then are we then deluding ourselves with the belief that life has any meaning or purpose? Nihilism-the belief that nothing has meaning, lays the seeds of indifference. This pervasive attitude manifests in feelings of pessimism, hopelessness and despair.

Some religions counter this bleak prospect with the idea of Providence. Christianity would refer to as Divine Providence. In the absence of certainty we are offered solace in hope. The problem of course, is that a life lived with the guiding light of hope as its engine is generally rendered impotent. Self determinism or self actualisation therefore is the domain of the non believers.

This is not an article on philosophy or religion, but rather the questioning of whether it is useful to choose beliefs that are empowering, motivational, inspirational energising and uplifting rather than dreary self defeating indifference that pervades that of fatalism.

Perhaps the whole concept of our existence is not within the scope of of our grey matter to ever comprehend. Given the choice of choosing positive simple beliefs that are positively charged, whilst not conclusively verifiable may lead to a more fun journey.

What's the story with Life Coaching?

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Sounds like the introduction to 'Seinfeld" skit!.

Life Coaching: When did it become fashionable to acquire a life coach? There seems to have been a dramatic shift from the psycho-therapist's couch to the On-Line Life-Coach/Personal Planner in recent times.
Are we becoming less sane? Or are we becoming more self aware and sophisticated in our personal development?

In a mere few generations, society has moved from agrarian to urban. Family and village values that tied communities together became diluted as the pace of change increased and peer groups became less cohesive.

Back in the day, the Sunday pulpit served as a voice of reason and consolidation of values and meaning. The erosion of simple life philosophies through education bred cynicism, and questioning of ones place in the natural order. The problem with self awareness is that increasing introspection can leave a void. A sense of fuzziness as to our life's purpose.

This 'helter skelter' rushing around chasing work, home, social, education, health, sport and spiritual pursuits, in the hope of achieving a successful balance of sanity, happiness and meaning no longer seems so simple. Divorce rates have never been higher. Kids today are reared by biological and step parent/s. Their siblings are biological and step-'half-brothers and sisters'. Families relocate frequently. This dislocation can impact our our innate sense of balance and social calibration.

How do we define ourselves? Are we mothers, teachers, entrepreneurs, friends, or confidants?

This awareness that Life's no longer simple and predictable is producing generations of stressed out confused and uneasy individuals, assessing their life balance ratios.

What is life Coaching? Generally accepted as unregulated and non accredited, the Life Coach is often a mentor within the same social circle. Often a calm voice of non judgmental reason and sounding board. A motivator and listener. The main difference between a Life coach and certified therapist is that a therapist focuses on diagnosing the past. The LC however focuses on facilitating change in present and future behavior.

The main goal of most LC's is the inspiring of a more positive future vision. Identifying and inspiring goals. The two most important roles of the LC however is eliciting a conscious balancing of life goals to produce the highest degree of happiness, and uncovering the highest life goal, which is that of Life Purpose. There is very little in life that is more profound than the search for meaning. Life purpose may be defined as that which we would be willing to die for. Ironically, this life purpose can get lost in the head long rush toward insignificant accoutrement, and once lost, leave an empty feeling of pointlessness bereft of joy.

So what's your life purpose? A tad uncomfortable question to answer perhaps, but worth the effort maybe!

The Lotto Fantasy

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I recently spotted an advert for an e-book, entitled ‘Proven Lotto Winning Strategies Revealed' If the title is to be believed then it should become one of the best selling books of all-time.
I’m not sure however what the motivation to write this book is however. Shouldn’t the author keep this epiphany of knowledge to himself, else all his believers dilute the winnings!Recently Oz Lotto had a first prize of $90 million. This was shared between two winners. A cool $45 million each. Some expressed amazement that one of the ticket holders had won, with the first ticket they had ever bought.

What I find infinitely more amazing is the irrationality of spending $20 on something with odds so small that there is more chance of getting into a fatal accident on the way to buy the ticket, than actually winning.

I understand the emotional daytime fantasizing that such a purchase derives. The building of hope and dream building, yet ponder this thought. If we could have an alternate perspective to measure the odds would we indeed ever part with our hard earned cash?

Consider this. The odds of actually winning are in the realm of 45 million to one. There are close to 50 million combination of numbers. Imagine flying into Heathrow Airport, paying a sum of $20 that would allow you to randomly select one person in the whole of the United Kingdom who had the winning ticket?

You’ve got to be in it to win it, the believers cry out. Buy two tickets and double your chances! Technically that is true but practically, deluded. Lotto is a game of outrageous chance and the pursuit of systems and tricks is as pointless as trying to burn water.

There are only four strategies that can produce financial independence.

Save: squirrel away a significant portion of your income for a lifetime. After a lifetime of poverty and misery you may achieve significant wealth.

Inherit: a strategy often pursued by completely unmotivated individuals.

Investment: in time and money to leverage and compound results.

Lotto: Hardly a strategy, but a default mechanism that offers solace and hope to those who have lost faith in any of the previous strategies to produce the bacon.

A little fantasy can be fun. But, a lifetime obsession chasing windmills is the epitome of irrationality. Bon Chance!

Is Adversity a blessing or a Curse?

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There's an old adage, that suggests; that which doesn't kill us makes us stronger. I'm not entirely convinced that all trouble and strife is heaven sent to strengthen our resolve and turn us into unconquerable uber-warriors. There is a corollary to this view however. The absence of challenge or difficulty often breeds weakness. Observe the the life outcomes of second and third generation offspring born into wealth and privilege. Often a recipe for mal-content and dysfunction
Adversity and Opportunity, are they two sides of the same coin? Adversity has two subtly different definitions. One is; misfortune, affliction, difficulty, trouble, hardship, distress and so forth. This definition refers to a negative reference point or actual manifestation of strife the sufferer of the adversity endures. It suggests a pervasive and passive state of existence. There is a hint of victimization apparent with this state of being.

The other definition of is; contrary, against, opposed. As in an adverse decision or finding.

If an adversity is viewed through our perception lens as less of an actual state but rather a set back, not to be endured but rather as an uncomfortable but temporary situation, then the attitude starts to change. This can then become a wake up call or feedback barometer that motivates us to look for the lessons that need to be learned in order to progress.

The language used to identify our adversities can define them. Simple words such as desperation, distress, hardship and crisis can become self fulfilling. If however in the face of apparent hopelessness we choose to revert to more empowering descriptions such as setbacks, blips, challenges or temporary hurdles, then the internal strength and resources to move forward become more easily engaged.

Opportunity is the enemy of adversity. The word itself is enervating. It conjures up visions of hope and self control. In the midst of even the greatest personal devastation we have a choice in how we respond. The problem may not evaporate but with an attitude of hope and orientation towards finding some opportunity from the depths of the despair some progress may eventuate.

Adversity is either a fixed state of hopelessness or an opportunity to re-analyze new options. There is nearly always an alternative way to respond to any situation and our ability to redefine the experience is the first step.

A life bereft of opportunity would indeed be cursed. Transient periods of adversity may however be a blessing, the fuel that propels our motivation.

Today's crisis may one day be viewed as the catalyst for greater triumphs to come.

How's your work-Life balance?

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Why is it that so many people love Fridays yet don’t like Mondays? This is not a trick question, as the answer perhaps seems obvious.
Many millions of commuters identify the daily grind of competing with the masses as a necessary evil in the pursuit of the wherewithal to pay for life’s bare necessities.

The weekend however provides the opportunity to indulge in social activities. Catching up with friends for drinks, coffee, meals and good banter. Perhaps to pursue hobbies and crafts. Paint landscapes, re-build old cars, write the grand novel go for long treks with loved ones whilst contemplating the marvel of life.

The reality of course is somewhat different. Monday comes around all too quick. The weekend is spent cleaning, gardening, taking kids to sport, paying the bills, catching up on the news and worrying about work.

Is your work complementing your life or getting in the way of family time and meaningful endeavors. Are you energized, enthused, motivated and empowered or stressed, frustrated, constantly tired, and on edge? If so surely there’s got to be another way. Is the alternative to work, the pursuit of a hippy life on some commune?

Millions of people are now searching for alternate solutions to the 40-hour week x 40 years to retirement existence that will be the default life for the masses.

The exciting news is that we currently live in the midst of greater opportunity and accessibility to knowledge than ever before in the history of the human race. There are more choices available regarding how to spend our time and earn a living than we can count.There are people working in their pyjamas at home earning more money and spending less time doing it than most of their friends spend just commuting to and from their labour of love

One of the great paradoxes of life, is that so many will spend their precious and finite hours in quiet desperation working to a plan that if successful will not even provide them with their desires.

Life balance is precious. There are alternate ways to live your life. Change jobs. Learn a new language. Live abroad for a year. Work from home. Try something new. Just do something different once in awhile!

Michael Jackson: a troubling epitaph

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As the dust settles after the frenzy that surrounded yet another celebrity melt down, it is interesting to reflect on the legacy Michael Jackson leaves behind. Those who worship at the alter of cultural icons rarely find an excess that can’t be reframed sympathetically, thus maintaining the almost divine aura of their hero.
Is there something in our cultural psyche that blinds us to the insanity of such obviously self-destructive behavior and hypnotically draws us to tears and mourning akin to that felt with the passing of a close friend or relative?

How do we remember Elvis Presley, now that 32 years have passed? It’s hard to differentiate between the musical legacy and the craziness of his last few years, which saw a relatively young man with more to live for than most of us could hope to aspire to in a thousand years. He had millions of adoring fans, was at the pinnacle of career success, with a family and royalty income that would keep an oil sheik happy for a lifetime.

How will Mike Tyson be remembered? Will he be remembered for his total and terrifying dominance as a heavyweight boxer or as a complete and total loser?

We create celebrity heroes to indulge our reminiscences. We love to look back and wax lyrical of our memories of Ali, Monroe, Gable, Jordon, Pele, Tyson, Elvis and Michael Jackson. Our Sporting, Big Screen and Musical idols provide grist to the wheel of our pub conversations.

Our collective appreciation for the sheer magic of excellence, albeit often fleeting, somehow bonds us as a society.

Legacy is by definition the imprint or lens by which we filter our memories of said legends. As role models however, it is curious that some of these idolized heroes of our generation, in the cold light of day represent a mother's worst fear for her children. What mother would trade the choice of 10 years fame and idolatry for the complete and utter car wreck in which many of these ‘heroes’ end their lives?

Like Elvis, it’s hard to separate the great memories with the knowledge of their extreme foibles. The epitome of dysfunction and excess pervades our memories and with the passing of time some of the gloss will wear off.

Some of the great inspirations of every generation are those that rise out of adversity and achieve greatness, the other journey from greatness to complete catastrophe is sobering and perhaps also inspiring, but for a different reason.

The lesson perhaps to be learned is that all success is contextual and that depending on the lens you use to examine a legacy ultimately determines whether the epitaph, is that of Legend or Loser. Judge for yourself!