Resting is the new Cocaine.

resting guy

It struck me a few days ago. I felt so good. There was a happy buoyancy inside me. No matter
where I turned my eye I had this positive lift inside my skull, my skin, my everything. What was
going on? It felt indeed like having a buzz on from a couple of pints or maybe even some other
form of chemical assistance. But the fact was that after weeks of hard work and one week of play I
had actually done nothing at all for over a week now. I had eaten well, slept well, even exercised
almost every day, had snuck in a meditation twice and now it felt like I was on drugs!

I noticed three things that made it feel that way:

  • I felt enveloped in a general state of wellbeing. Simply feeling good, like how leaning back in a very
    comfortable luxury chair can feel good. There was an absence of absence. I lacked nothing. I was
    not craving for x, y or z that once attained would make me feel better. All was well, exactly as is. And even if it changed it would be alright.
  • I was infatuated with my fellow creatures on earth. I loved my grass, my appletree, my neighbours,
    even the kids yelling in the background. They were all worthy inhabitants of the same universe I
    was in that day and I was willing, even eager, to connect with them and share the bliss of existence.
  • I had self-confidence. Perhaps self-efficacy is an even better word. A belief that if I undertook
    something it would be a success. A belief that I could make a difference. A belief that my extended
    will would lead to things well done.

So where did it come from? Let’s start by looking at what state it replaced. When you are in the business of running workshops as I am, three or four full day sessions a week is actually a bit much. Add to that a bit of intercontinental air travel and you quickly get used to a feeling of not-being-rested. Do that for a number of weeks in a row while you still want to partake of life a bit in the weekends and you start to know yourself as someone who will catch-up up on rest later. The bravado of slogans like there will be time enough to sleep when you are dead, combined with still functioning reasonably well (albeit not at peak level) and of course not liking to say no to clients make you plod on and think of that as business as usual. Because we humans can get used to anything.

And the beauty of it all is that one of the workshops I was running in that period was for the Energy Project where we discuss the fallacy of accepting this fatigue paradigm and instead emphasise that our work culture needs to rediscover the value of renewal, in short of making sure you are rested in order to perform at your optimum. And here O’ irony, I had finally discovered the truth in that message. That there is a rested state that is so valuable and powerful that it would be silly to operate too long from any other state. How true is the stuff I teach I thought, now only to live by it.

So renewal is the new drug. Getting yourself up on a high. Your highest performance state. We need to get better at this drug. Make it acceptable, create good supply lines, exchange different ways of using it, push each other to better ways of partaking of it. Now it is a drug with side-effects. Inverse to the other kind of drugs, renewal has as side-effects improved performance, improved problem solving, improved relationships, improved creativity. The key is to stop being a binge user. Stop waiting for weeks and just plodding along before taking a vacation and binging on the drug. No, instead, make the drug a part of your every day, your working routine even. Let’s get used to being high every day. Let’s get used to being our best every day. Let’s make our (working) cultures legitimise this drug. Let us not inadvertently reward the plodders with admiration for plodding on hour after hour, week after week, running themselves and the quality of their work into the ground. Let us not frown when someone goes for a long walk, or meditates, turbo-naps or does yoga at work. It is the drug we need more of. Let’s not settle for less ever again.

The warning signs on the packages of the new drug of course should be, you’ll feel better about yourself, about others and about what you can achieve.

Your prehistoric programming

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One of the experiences that I run at THNK, the School for Creative Leadership is designed to make you aware of the legacy of your ancestors of 100 000 years ago. It helps you become aware whether you are Ranking or Linking in any given moment. What do those words mean? Imagine for a moment two friends in a cafe and one says to the other that they have great news, they have just received a promotion. How might the other feel?
At THNK I divide the answers into two columns. ‘Happy’ usually is in the list in one column and ‘Jealous’ in the other. Then I name the columns Linking and Ranking respectively. These are the words Elaine Aaron uses for the modes your brain can be in when dealing with others, Linking when you are connected and curious, Ranking when you are status conscious and eager to win and not lose.

To understand the origins of these modes we timetravel 100 000 years to the period when our brain evolved and look at the living conditions of your hyper-grandparents. Usually they live in small tribes in situations of scarcity and danger. Let’s say in front of a cave in a gang of 30-40 people with wild animals not far away. Now what is the worst thing that could happen to someone living in those circumstances? Death? Well, we would suggest there is something even worse than death. Being thrown out of the group. Because being ostracised means certain death anyway and can you imagine how it must feel if the only people you have known all your life throw you out? That you die alone in the savanna instead of in the arms of your kin. Pretty rotten I would say. In any case the brains that got through evolution are the brains that were good at staying in the group. So the brain mode that helped was very conscious of its relative position in the group. Am I close to the edge or at the core of this group? The edge is dangerous, you are one step away from the wild animals and if there is limited food people at the perimeter are the last to eat. So this status-conscious part of your brain really loves moving closer to the centre and hates being pushed out to the rim. We can still feel it in action. When we get  recognition from someone famous or with power, pleasure centres are triggered in our brain. And when we experience a loss of status we get an involuntary defeat response. It feels bad, some can even become really sick to the stomach if snubbed badly.

Yuval Harari adds an interesting notion to this in saying that 100 000 years ago homo sapiens was in the middle of the foodchain. Through the use of technology we have risen to the top of the foodchain in a very short period of time (in evolutionary terms). Now species such as the shark or lion got to the top of the foodchain through evolution, it took them millions of years and it shows. They are self-secure beings without too much anxiousness, hyper-vigilance and self-doubt. We however have risen to true dominance but with the programming in our brain of the middle of the foodchain. So our brains are still continuously scanning the world for danger as if our survival depended on it. And because it still believes that our social status is connected to our survival our brain spends a lot of time and energy preoccupied with our rank in the world.

Luckily Linking got through evolution too. We survived also through making intimate connections and caring for and being curious about the other. This mode is a good alternative for when the Ranking mode is only making you feel bad. For let’s be clear Ranking is not all terrible. First of all we would probably do away with all sports if we didn’t care about winning and losing at all. And surely we don’t want that. Also we know competition can bring out extra effort in people and companies and by itself probably has produced a lot of the progress mankind has made in various fields. However I think it is fair to say we overuse the Ranking mode quite considerably. Being thrown out of a group is no longer life threatening, so we can let go of the habitual use of the Ranking mode. How many petty quarrels and dysfunctional gatherings are not caused by someone feeling their status threatened. It can be good to see that it is just your prehistoric programming trying to make sure you don’t end up with the wolves. Very functional back then. Pretty dysfunctional most of the time now.

With our THNK group we play a game in which people can lose. When they do they then register what their involuntary defeat response is like. They get to observe their pre-historic programming. And attempt to switch to the Linking mode. Because that kind of mental state control just might be the next evolutionary advantage.

Next time a friend tells you some good news monitor your Ranking and Linking modes. Just as a game to see if you can spot which one you are in. For we would never want to eradicate games, especially those you play against yourself.

Storycolors: Wade through the Wobbly

Being a coach I know the value of thinking things through out loud with someone who is good at asking questions.

So I know I should do it, and yet… the cobbler’s shoes syndrom happens so easily.

Therefore, now that I have started Storycolors I have to force myself to do it, and what better way than hiring a coach? I now have three sessions with a creative business coach, her company is called Do Vision. Exactly what I need.. to do my vision.

Visions are so safe and easy when they are in your head and when externalising them they can all of a sudden feel wobbly, which is of course not a pleasant feeling. But oh so necessary. We have to wade through the wobbly to get to firm land.

The only alternative is not take on the journey, and keep the vision in our heads. So I am wading.

My new book is out – in Dutch: Fearschool

bangschool cover
This week is the week of the childrensbook in Holland and it also saw the launch of my newest book, a book for 11+ kids called Fearschool. It basically is a mysterious story about a 12 year old who gets accepted at a strange school called Fearschool – even though he doesn’t want to go. But he does end up going and the crazy things he experiences there change his life forever.

jj bangschool