December 2016

One of the items during a talk show this week was an interview with neuropsychiatrist Theo Compernolle about burnout. Through his daily work he noticed that burnout is increasing spectacularly in the 25- to 35-year old age group. He attributes this to the fact that young people nowadays are (or want to be) constantly connected through modern technology and social media and are in fact continuously multitasking. He claims that our brain is not wired to do so, leading to all kinds of negative consequences.

A possible solution according to Dr Compernolle is to work in time blocks, without being distracted by social media and email. This way you close yourself off from multitasking and you can work more efficiently. This is also called the Pomodoro technique (named after the cooking alarm in the shape of a tomato). I experimented with this myself and I can see a lot of advantages. You indeed get a lot more work done and it gives great satisfaction to concentrate on work without any stimuli or distraction. But…. not getting disturbed is something you have to want for yourself.

And that’s where it gets difficult. I notice there is usually a wish and a firm desire to change. But all too often there is also some kind of invisible resistance to do what is right for us. It is as if we are mildly addicted to our unhealthy behaviour. This invisible resistance to change fascinates me and solving it seems to be an important key. In their book “Immunity to change” (Kegan & Lahey) the authors claim that next to a conscious motivation and commitment to change something, there is often a hidden and competitive commitment. Because this is hidden and unconscious, it sabotages our conscious commitment.

Let me give you an example from the book. A successful CEO is very motivated to develop personally, to take time for himself, to “be” more and “do” less, to be less focused on achieving goals or results. He realises that this is very important in this phase of his professional and personal life. But what does he notice himself doing every single day? He behaves in a very result- and solution-oriented manner, he wants to make a difference and often looks for situations in which he can bring about exactly that, as if it is stronger than himself. His behaviour does not correspond with what he committed himself to do, with the change he wants to make. When he is very honest, he likes playing the saviour or the hero and he likes feeling indispensable. Somewhere deep inside there is this firmly rooted assumption that he cannot feel satisfied unless he is the hero.

So what actually stops him from making a real change is a hidden emotion, the fear that he will no longer be the rescuing hero, the role he likes to see for himself. Other very common fears and assumptions are: when I depend on others and have to ask something, I lose my self-respect or others will see me as weak and stupid ; when I put myself first, others will not like me anymore ; when I do not come up with solutions, what is my added value? We must be really honest with ourselves and examine what is more important to us than the change we want in our lives. We may have to make difficult choices and adapt our behaviour accordingly. Self-reflection is the first step.

If you want to examine the hidden motivations that stop you from starting to make the changes you want in your life, consider coaching. Contact me for a free sample session and make your New Year’s resolutions come true. I wish you pleasant and warm holidays. See you next year!

Our pets – dog, cat and hens – are my source of inspiration again, the whole lot of them. Observing them reminds me of what we humans sometimes do. Let’s start with Django the dog and Binkie the cat. At first we were very curious to see how their first meeting and subsequent living together would work – after all, Binkie has been with us for quite a few years already. Since the arrival of our dog, Binkie has taken a firmer grip on his territory. He has been around the house more often, also during the day, as if he doesn’t want to risk creating a vacuum.

Django, who is very playful, wants to frolic around with Binkie as he sometimes does with other dogs. But our senior Binkie behaves very stoically at the sight of all that puppy energy and ignores it completely, which just adds fuel to the fire for Django. His interest and eagerness only seem to increase. Every now and then he forgets his place and gets slapped by the cat, after which he slinks away defeated. This does not stop him from trying again a few days later, under the assumption that a ‘no’ is certain and a ‘yes’ is possible. So basically the resistance of the cat yields the opposite effect.

Django and the four hens are a completely different story. When Django had just arrived, the hens were a great hunting target. He would charge at them, making them run in all directions, loudly cackling. He would just go on, having great fun – and in case you are worried: he did not hurt any of them, so no need to call the animal rescue services. The hens do not put up any resistance, they just oblige. When nowadays he goes into the garden or the hen enclosure, it is as if he does not notice them anymore. They have become insignificant, there is nothing left to conquer.

This difference in behaviour makes me think of the quote from the famous psychologist Carl Jung: “What you resist, persists”. He discovered that patients who strongly resist certain aspects about themselves, in fact persist these aspects and even reinforce them. Creating more and bigger problems, in other words.

Aiming your attention at what you want, works much better than focusing on what you do not want. The quote continues to say “what you allow, will continue”, or “what you accept, will grow”. Take a look at yourself and what you find hard to accept about yourself or how you judge yourself. “I’m not skinny enough, not smart enough, not ambitious enough, not rich, not successful…” Often you try to oppose this or take action to undo it or make yourself feel better about it. Ask yourself if this really leads to any fundamental change, to more happiness and satisfaction. The chances are small, so time to do things differently!

During coaching sessions we focus on our clients’ unique strengths and values, what they stand for, who they really are and what they want from life. Bringing people in contact with these notions and teach them to stand in their power, works much better than focusing on what is not working and trying to bend that into an acceptable result.

Coming back to Django: in dog training school we learn to reward desired behaviour and ignore or prevent undesired behaviour. That basically comes down to the same principle. Now we just need to convince the cat.