Yearly Archives: 2011

The power of language, visuals and the ownership of wellbeing

Yesterday we had a new car delivered, not on a large flatbed, like I had expected, but driven to our door by a 75 year old man. When he arrived I asked him how he was getting home, to which he happily replied,

“Oh, I’ll just get on the train.”

I insisted he come in a have a cup of tea and that rather than walk, once my partner returned he could drop him off at the nearest station.

As we chatted he told me he had driven down from Devon where he currently lives.

“Do you like it there?” I asked.

“Yes, its lovely,” he said, “we used to live in the Lake District, but in Devon it’s much easier to get around.”

One topic lead to another, until he lighted upon ‘the accident’.

“I used to be about 3 inches taller, but I had to have my discs fused together, so I’m quite a bit shorter than I was,” he told me.

As it turned out 15 years ago, Trevor, a Prison Warden, was held hostage during an outbreak, his spine smashed by rioting inmates.

“But I’m fine now” he added, “still smiling” and he flashed me a grin.

And he was.

Beyond the mind bogglingly, horrific nature of his experience, the thing that caught my interest was not only Trevor’s positive attitude, but his use of the term ‘the’ accident to describe his experience; not ‘my’ accident, but a distanced ‘the’.  The notoriety of the incident could have easily become self-defining (also known as a secondary gain), but clearly it hadn’t.

In contrast, I recently met a woman whose diagnosis of a vertigo producing illness had the same effect on her as being star of a reality TV show. Similarly, I listened to her use of language and it soon became apparent that no self-respecting illness would ever choose to leave such a welcoming home.

How we choose to perceive our experiences is at the cornerstone of their impact and crucial to our wellbeing.  Each of us has within ourselves the ability to re-frame, either verbally or visually, the negative impact of personal challenges and to subsequently diffuse their power.  That is…if we can evade the seductive notoriety of ‘being ill or mistreated’.

Asking ourselves ‘what is our relationship with personal negative experiences’ and listening to our own use of language can be both interesting and enlightening. I’m certainly not advocating denial, but is seems clear that the simple use of the term ‘my cancer’ versus ‘the cancer’ for example, establishes our sense of empowerment, ownership and position in relation to the disease.

Where we catch ourselves embracing negative experiences, a simple visual exercises can also be used to re-frame habitual language. Rendering a symbol of an issue, anything from an illness to a challenge in the workplace and drawing smaller and smaller versions of it (until it diffuses to nothingness) can have a deep and profound impact on our perception; dictating to our unconscious mind how we choose to view our relationships with personal challenge.

It is an empowering visual strategy.



Re-framing the UK Riots – lessons from positive psychology

Everything we have learned about mental wellbeing teaches us that what works is proactivity and positive redirection. So why, in relation to the youth riots are we so keen to embrace an illness model and attribute cause?  Sure, we can surmise and perhaps that might even help us circumnavigate these types of problems in the future, but I would hazard a guess that even the youth themselves don’t know ‘what’s wrong’ only that ‘something is’.

From a slightly different perspective it seems clear that, although expressed pathologically, the riots represent an uncontrollable urge to feel a part of something, a physical sense of community, which as a human response is not so very different from the uncontrollable urge that drew adults in their hundreds to clean up the mess. So is it, in fact, possible that we have all been busy expressing the same social need?

So no, I don’t condone it, I don’t excuse it, but beyond this, if we are to be proactive and forward thinking we need to provide a vehicle that will ensure that hundreds of angry, disenfranchised youth, who have clearly demonstrated their ability to ‘pack’, don’t turn into angry, disenfranchised adults.

Young people need guidance, they need boundaries, they need positive mentors and they need industry. This is our long term solution. It is fundamental, it is the responsibility of our society to provide it and in doing so we may, in fact, find ourselves reconnecting with the same positive, social urge that had us picking up our brooms in the first place.



Breast Cancer and Wellbeing

Over the past several months I have been workings with women contending with the many challenges of breast cancer at the Haven in Fulham. The Haven offers a unique environment with a wide variety of supportive and life enhancing programming from Qui Gong to nutritional advice and belly dancing. As my relationship and experience of this remarkable venue has developed, I have begun to see how, for many women, the experience of breast cancer is such a life changing event – and one that is not always entirely negative. There is the fear, of course, there is no denying that. The not knowing, the lack of control, the re-defining of who we are (all themes we have explored metaphorically in our art workshops), but this is where for many women the transformative qualities of breast cancer come into play. The opportunity to take stock, to look at our lives and say ‘I’ve been living this all wrong, I need to change, my life is precious’.  Amid the fear, many of the women I have met have seen their cancer as a strange door opened to possibility. We all need to take stock, personal stock and find ways to create moments to celebrate, to refuel and to nurture our own well-being. Mental well-being is not something that someone can give us, it can only be facilitated, the ultimate responsible lies with us and far from being frightening, that knowledge is empowering.

Can creative people lead?

Are Creative Types lousy Leaders?

Research typically gets caught up in a game of Chinese whispers once it reaches the media and then takes on a life of its own. Less interesting than the actual research which seems narrow, is the heated debate that surrounds the topic of ‘the relationship between creativity and leadership.’ If the question is whether or not creative people are capable of rising to leadership roles, it is important to consider the context of that role. Creative people are ground breakers and innovators, they are not followers which is probably the main reason why they are not often found in corporate or government ranks (where right wing views tell us leaders congeal), but rather out in the world starting entrepreneurial ventures. I think creative people are difficult to harness, less because they are ‘quirky’ and more because they are visionaries who are reluctant to tow somebody else’s party line. If creative aren’t rising to the top of corporations…I doubt it is so much a case of ‘not being able to lead’, as ‘not being drawn to environments that have not yet learned the skill of how to nurture, celebrate and reap the benefits of creativity’. I somehow think we create types aren’t the ones missing the opportunity….

The benefits of the mental well-being at work ‘booster’

Yesterday I received assessor feedback on my dissertation recommending that I publish my results on my recent thesis. It’s interesting to consider the  impact that positive feedback can have on us. Today I am at my computer, reconnecting with this project when yesterday I was quite happy to prep my bedroom for painting. While doing my research one of the studies that stood out in my mind looked at the impact of a vacation on the mental well-being of workers. It suggested that for three weeks post-vacation workers were on a productive/ positive wave, yet after those three weeks they returned to baseline. Today on Radio 4, I also listened to two women authors who spoke of their sense of dejection rather than elation when a novel was finally finished – a project vacuum emptiness of ‘well…now what do I do?’ Together these thoughts made me think about ‘well-being at work programmes’, the overall costs of running programmes, the potential dis-elation when they finish. It seems to me that ‘booster session’ (as evidence by my own renewed interest and focus as a result of external feed-back) to re-energise our engagement may be all we need, not a daily rah-rah- rah, but just a slow, regular drip from the positive re-enforcement intravenous…

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