What’s one of the easiest and best ways to unite the people in the room into a cohesive whole?
Surprisingly it is to tell a bad joke- when it’s done well it puts everyone at ease and gets them on side.
This is partly because catching the eye of the person next to you and connecting in mutually agreed superiority (to the joke teller) is a great way to bond.
But it also does something that goes completely against one of our big societal norms- the need to be right, do things well and be consistent.
As a friend (irritatingly) said to me about 10 years ago when I was complaining about a relationship (you see I still remember- I was that irritated)- ‘you’d rather be right than happy.’ Gah!
And in that particular instance she was right, as you can see by my over-reaction.
When we are too attached to being right then we can very often become entrenched in our current position and lose touch with what is actually going on.
This is why we can sometimes refuse to back down in an argument even though we know deep down we’ve got it wrong.
It turns out there is a very good reason for this stubbornness and that’s that humans value consistency extremely highly.
Professor Cialdini has written about this principle and in his book ‘Weapons of Influence’ where he suggests that it is of very high importance to be seen as somebody who is consistent.
In a society where you have to rely on other people for survival the price of being unreliable could be very high.
It could mean that you don’t have any food for dinner on the table or that you’re attacked by a wild animal.
This carries over to our status within the group- even if that group is made up of only two people we value consistency very, very highly.
So the message is whatever you do. Don’t. Get it. Wrong!
This need to be (seen to be) right creates a big problem because if we want to be truly creative we have to follow our line of thinking or action through to completion.
This means we have to be open to making mistakes and getting it wrong which dramatically undermines our desire to be correct and consistent.
In an ideal world we can stop when the time is right- just as a project is coming to completion or before disaster strikes.
But all too often we don’t realise until our actions are totally out of alignment with the needs of the situation until it is too late and we are totally exposed.
At this point there are only two possible actions. Either you go deeper into your commitment to your wrong-headed point of view.
Or you put your hands up, cut your losses and experience the pain, shame, discomfort but also the sweet relief of setting yourself free of the prison of sticking to the idea or action that is wrong.
Easy enough to say but not so easy to do.
So how can we begin to get used to and even start to enjoy getting it wrong.
There are two components. The first is some awareness that there is this fight between the creative demand (which means we have to get it wrong some of the time) and the survival demand (the need to be consistent).
We can’t get rid of these two contradictory pulls in us but we can begin understand how they work in us. As we do this the survival demand loses some of its power.
The second component is to explore some of the benefits of getting it wrong.
Firstly, if we hold up our hands and admit we’re going down the wrong path we can avoid enormous costs down the line. Like as with a poor investment we stop throwing good money after bad.
A second benefit, is that there can also be the most enormous amount of connection generated by the vulnerability that we show when we admit that we were wrong. This connection can sometimes almost magically create a bond with somebody where just moments ago there was only hostility.
And then there is the relief that comes. I believe that this comes from two sources.
One is that we have let go of the stress of holding onto two opposing thoughts where we are sticking with the wrong opinion even though another part of us knows deep down that it’s wrong. This causes so much stress it can quite literally cause us to break down.
The second is that when we come into alignment with what we know to be true we automatically align ourselves to a worldview that has more clarity and insight and sees things from the standpoint of the bigger picture. From this place our decisions have a sense of peace associated with them.
And there are other benefits of being able to admit that we were wrong.
We can commit more fully to how we feel in the movement and express it more fully because we know that we can adjust and adapt.
We get better at coming up with new and different ideas because we experience in a real way that they are stepping stones to greater truth and insight.
And then there is the greatest freedom that developing ease with being wrong can give. As we get to know our different and sometimes contradictory inner voices we become more accepting- not just of ourselves but also of those around us. And this is the greatest foundation for our creativity to flourish.
A while back I used to have a friend who lived in my area. She had just sold her house for £4.5 million pounds and yet every time I saw her she was complaining about not knowing where to put her money. She was so stressed about it and she could talk about nothing else. Every single time we met!
While we may not be in quite as extreme a situation as my friend, we can often to relate to how in a period of high stress we lose touch with the good things that we have going on and can only seem to focus on the bad.
To see why we do this happens it’s useful to think about what stress is.
The most useful way to understand being stressed is that the internal systems that we use to process the demands of our lives simply aren't coping.
Like any machine that is run at levels beyond its capacity, at a certain point it just can't take any more.
On the day-to-day level we may experience this as creating anxiety or it may make us feel irritable or overwhelmed. But over weeks and months and years unresolved stress will often go into the body and become hard-wired as stress patterns that come out in illness.
In many respects our lives are much less stressful than previously. Life expectancy is longer, many of us live with a quality of life that would have been unimaginable even 50 years ago and in many developed countries there are large areas that are relatively safe.
So why is stress continuing to be such a huge and apparently ever-increasing issue in our lives?
There are a couple of different parts to the answer that relate to the changing world we live in and especially the effects of the technological revolution we’re in the midst of.
We feel stressed when our internal coping mechanisms are overwhelmed. In an increasingly virtual world it is our perception of threat and stress that becomes increasingly important.
As the landmarks of the physical world are less prominent in our virtual lives it becomes harder to break out of the cycle of stress. In addition many of the major technology platforms are designed to monopolise our focus, and as a result we are effectively being trained to become less self-reliant when it comes to managing our internal stress levels.
In addition with the introduction of the internet and smartphones the demands that are placed on us in terms of information processing have spiralled exponentially.
One study suggests that we are exposed to 34GB of information daily. Even if we are not taking this all in, it’s a huge amount of information to be bombarded with.
I am sure that as a species we will adapt to this deluge. But as individuals if we don’t have a system in place to manage all this extra information it can easily lead to a high background level of stress- and a correspondingly lower ability to respond creatively when stressful situations happen.
Because of this sense of overwhelm we tend to try and slap band aids over the stress where it shows up- in our relationship, at work, our family life- rather than addressing it at its root cause, the internal operating system that governs how we respond to stress.
Because things keep changing so fast the only way that we can manage our stress is by improving our ability to adapt. In a time when things are evolving at an ever increasing pace the system we use to process stress has to be robust and flexible enough to help us keep on top of the stress in our lives.
This is the entire focus of the Samaii Method for creative stress management.
Instead of trying to only resolve stress where it manifests the Samaii Method uses the problem itself to go directly to the cause and improve the operating system and internal rules that govern how we manage stress.
Instead of running from one problem to the next fire-fighting each issue becomes a doorway through which we can step to uplevel our whole set of coping and stress management skills.
The bedrock of this method lies in understanding that all of us no matter who we are, where we come from or what we have done in our lives we are at our essence creative beings.
This is not just the creativity that we see in art, music, craft or drama- this is the foundation of our individuality as a person and our ability to live a truly satisfying life.
Our creativity is the pure expression of who we really are in this and every moment. And if we find methods to help it to work for us it will start to bring us a constant stream of new solutions and possibilities- to even the most long-standing and intractable issues.
The best thing about our creativity is that it is built into each and every one of us. But because of misguided parental, educational and societal ways of doing things it gets covered up. This means it can never be broken and we can always regain access to it- no matter how far away from it we might feel at times.
Ok. So that's a long way from worrying about paying the bills, an ignorant boss or a frustrating partner. But the process of how we manage ourselves is what determines how well we can move out of stress and more fully into a fuller expression of our best selves. And this is the first step to building a life that we really want.
So how do we do this? There are a few different skills we need. The first the understanding that comes from having a framework to understand how stress and creativity work. It has to be practical in dealing with issues now and also be flexible enough to support our growing, changing and evolving lives.
Once we have an understanding of the framework we can focus our energy on the two key leverage points where we can make the most difference.
The first leverage point is becoming adept at finding our way out of overwhelm. This enables us to start to feel once again like empowered agents in our lives.
The second leverage point is to become the embodiment of ourselves as the person who focuses on what we really want. This authentic desire is the doorway to creating space for the creative self to flourish.
When we focus on these three keys to unlocking the creative self we create the right conditions for the creative self to emerge into the world. As the creative self comes more fully into our lives our stress levels start to diminish naturally and our sense of satisfaction, purpose and quality of life go up.
And we start to notice and appreciate the good things that are already around us.
Do our dreams actually mean anything or are they just meaningless psychic garbage, our brains attempts to process the days events?
And if they do have meaning, can we access their power?
Current psychology has many current theories ranging from dreams not having much meaning outside of what we project onto them to memory processing to simply being a response to biochemical and electrical changes as we sleep.
The psychotherapeutic approach goes a little further because every dream can be seen as being a message from our unconscious that can be interpreted to enhance our understanding of ourselves.
In ancient Greece dreams were seen as a direct source of healing from the god Ascelpius. Entire temples were devoted to healing through dreams.
Then there are also Lucid Dreaming, Tibetan Dream Yoga, Shamanic work to travel to different worlds- any number of different ways to work with and understand dreams.
So who's right?
When was the last time you saw an image of a blissfully peaceful woman sitting cross-legged at sunset by the sea like the one above?
Or a monk eyes closed in deep contemplation with on a mountain, blue sky stretching out to infinity?
Probably pretty recently.
Maybe even in the last 10 minutes if you’ve been logged into Facebook or searching any site that is even vaguely wellbeing related.
It is such a powerful image holding out the possibility of a deep and abiding sense of calm that no amount of stress, commuting, family dynamics, money worries or anything else could touch.
I’m not sure that I am. I tend to constantly be commenting, judging, nudging and often fighting with the stream of thoughts that flow through my mind.
Doesn’t sound very free to me.
And yet the most powerful process (inbuilt in all of us) that I have encountered in my 25 years of personal growth work is that of discovery- the ability we have as humans to experience something new.
This is where our excitement comes from. When we experience something new we feel alive. It’s almost like being reborn.
So why do we so often resist change? Because we are built around a paradoxical conflict that has been with us since birth.
Therapy in a prison? With murderers and gangsters? Upwards of 80 men all in one room getting in touch with how they really feel?
Sounds like a recipe for disaster.
This was the subject of a recent BBC documentary ‘Storyville: The Work’. Prisoners- all with extremely violent histories that had landed them in prison- mixing with men from the outside come to discover themselves in a very different therapeutic environment.
This is, in a very small way, what I’ve just had to do over the last few months. Tinnitus, headaches on one side of the head and other unexplained symptoms had caused me to be referred for an MRI scan which found…. something.
As I started to get to grips with the possible implications it felt as if everything was falling apart.
Another more detailed MRI scan and a CT scan was ordered. Then there was the waiting. This was made all the worse because the referral letter from the first scan was mislaid so when I eventually received the appointment for the second scan it was now urgent.
You get up to do a presentation and you dry up. The words just aren’t there. Somehow you finish and sit down and spend the rest of the day beating yourself up for not having performed better.
You sit down to dinner and your partner says or does ‘that thing’. You can’t stand it anymore and can’t stop yourself from reacting. The atmosphere is ruined and you end the evening going to sleep with your backs to each other.
You go to a dance class (this happened to me last night), get invited to dance and then pull off the clumsiest dorkiest move ever. The other person decides (in their wisdom of self-preservation) to move off and I, spend the next 10 minutes feeling like a fool and unable to get back into the groove.