Fearless thinking – the essential ingredient for a happy life in 21st century?
What would you do if you had 24 hours to live?
Would you cry, drink wine, eat chocolate, do a bungee jump, walk the dog, blow lots of money, have passionate sex, spend it saying good-bye to friends or by taking selfies for posterity? Would you forgive your enemies and hug your friends really tight? Would everything that held you back and worried you now seem so trivial?
It’s interesting to reflect on how we might spend those last few hours in this world because it makes us think about how we spend our lives now, day by day, week by week. Do you live your life waiting for the time you will feel good? Do you worry about an unknown future or dwell on past regrets? Would you be braver if you only had 24 hours to live?
The best things that have ever happened to me have come from the times I have said yes to scary challenges and taken the chance to make them work. Job interviews that on paper I shouldn’t have stood a chance of securing, speaking at conferences way out of my comfort zone, climbing mountains I thought were impossible, writing books that seemed ridiculous for someone like me to write.
Everybody wants a happy, rich and fulfilled life, so what holds us back from true contentment? I have noticed that this doesn’t always depend on the traditional pursuits of wealth, beauty or intellect. Many rich, clever, beautiful people who live in fabulous places are very unhappy. It certainly feeds our ego to have the external evidence of our success. But somehow that ego still notices that other people may have a better job, bigger house, flatter stomach or even just more Facebook or Twitter ‘likes.’ This feeds our insecure thinking and makes us more risk-averse, which is often the source of our discontent. Even when we get a taste of success, there is the fear of losing it if we have insecure thinking. Are we still as good as we were? Are other people overtaking us?
It is this type of judgmental thinking that can make us unhappy. Social media feeds our ego and feeds our insecurities. No wonder that people who spend lots of time with it eventually get depressed. I believe that that the happiest people are those who don’t feel threatened by other’s success but are inspired by it. Happy people don’t judge themselves or others but are curious to understand the success of others and are willing to do things that scare them, because they know that failure is part of learning.
Living every day as if it was our last, being brave and fearless sound tempting because we suddenly have courage without thinking of negative consequences. No one (including ourselves) will be there to judge whether we did the right thing. Maybe what holds us back is our fear of consequences. We may indeed fail at that new business start-up, have a yucky date, collapse halfway up the mountain – even default on that mortgage.
So rather than do it, we think about it, imagine the worst, feel scared and opt to stand back and not put our head above the parapet. How many amazing things could you have missed by feeling afraid of uncertainty? But nothing is certain, fool-proof or guaranteed – especially in the present state of the world. The trouble with feeling scared, and thinking negatively those feelings are telling us something about future possibilities is that this can lead to habitual anxiety and insecurity. The more we think our thoughts are warning signs about future impending doom, the safer we feel doing nothing, staying home, keeping quiet, doing what we have always done. And maybe feeling quietly discontented. The less we do, the less we can do.
Getting more comfortable with uncertainty and going for it, despite our doubts, gives us a philosophical approach that underpins self-confidence and builds resilience. Once we see our thoughts are just a relentless commentary of random judgmental rants, we can stand back from them, question them and become more courageous, contented and fulfilled.
Sometimes we need to take off the goggles that make us see the world through a filter of negative thinking habits and realise that underneath we are as brave, resilient and loving as we would ever need to be. We need to rediscover our inner child who in the past had endless curiosity, played recklessly and lovingly with a passion for learning everything about this world. Toddlers have so much courage because they experience joy and frustration with no thought of consequences or judgement. They haven’t learnt to think like that… yet. They have an open curious mind, laugh a lot, love unquestioningly and take crazy risks.
We learn to assess the risks and take precautions as we get older and wiser but our instinctive focus on threats and dangers can sometimes be overwhelming and create spirals of anxiety. If this is you, reminding yourself to live more in the present and take a bold step into the unknown occasionally may be a good mantra for 2020. Toddlers can teach all of us a bit about how to spend every day as if it were our last!
My top tips for living a life with more fearless thinking include:
- Laugh more – especially at yourself
- Be as brave as you can every day
- Get comfortable with uncertainty – whatever happens, you will cope with it
- Realise that high and low moods come and go, and that this is ok
- Understand your thoughts as just a pair of removable goggles through which you frame your experiences
- See judgement of yourself and others as your ego at work. Don’t let it dominate your life
- Keep learning and growing by expanding your comfort zone, step by step
- Listen more, get other peoples’ take on the world. Realise that they are all doing the best they can with the thinking habits they have.
- Stay truly connected to your family, friends, partner, children and the beautiful planet we live on – because having a real connection feels like pure love
- Be grateful for everything you are and everything you have. This is who you really are
Jackie Beere OBE , Mindset Coach, Leadership and educational consultant, trainer, author
See ‘GROW – change your mindset change your life – a practical guide to thinking on purpose’ by Jackie Beere – published by Crown House Publishing
Life begins at the edge of my comfort zone
During this pandemic we are all outside our comfort zones in one way or another. Uncertainty rocks the stock market and our daily lives. Some of us are being impacted financially, socially or medically, testing our personal resilience and putting some people into a state of blind panic and insecurity. However, your response can be more positive and does not have to mirror this. Some have lost their businesses and financial security but feel glad to be fit and healthy. Some are welcoming the social isolation as it gives them the time to slow down, reflect and focus on the now.
It has never been so clear that people experience events in different ways. People’s responses don’t simply have to depend on the impact the event has had on them because there are always a range of responses. What follows are some top tips for healthy thinking when living at the edge of our comfort zones.
- How you think about the situation dictates how you will feel about it
- No matter how dangerous life seems, you are probably going to come through this
- The world is still turning, the birds are singing, and the skies are clearing of pollution
- Your neighbours are smiling, dancing and clapping for carers and those in the NHS
- There is a levelling in how the virus attacks the rich and poor, the powerful and powerless – but thankfully it is generally kind to children
- Many are using new technology and communicating with people they didn’t have time for before this happened
- Being grateful. This creates the ultimate resilience – do a mini gratitude meditation every day if you can. Find a way to be kind and generous – and have kind and generous thoughts. Know that the vast majority of people around you are good and well-intentioned. Realise that the few that aren’t are lost and unhappy. Try to forgive them because they are doing their best they can with the thinking they have.
- Read, sing, dance and laugh as much as possible. This stops negative, catastrophic thinking which is both is damaging and non-productive. Catch yourself before you make up stories that end in complete disaster. It might happen – but it probably won’t. Make the best of this time.
- Whatever happens, you have the innate resilience to survive and – if you get the thinking right – thrive. Life and learning really do begin at the edge of your comfort zone…
Saving the World – how to grow the resilient global citizen
This strange time in history has prompted reflection on right and wrong decisions, good and bad people, life and death options. Some people have so much certainty in this uncertain world about where they stand on such matters. but being absolutely convinced can be an entry to a rabbit hole that sucks you into a story that connects to all your past anxieties or antagonisms. The echo chamber of social media can confirms your cognitive bias and once you develop a set of beliefs you want to defend – sometimes to the death. When fake news is all around us, our children need critical thinking to be able to stand back, reflect, adapt, empathise with other views and get creative solutions to the challenges ahead.
The World Economic Forum constantly updates the skills most required by employers now and into the future. These skills are not always a priority within our curriculum – but they should be! Teaching them enhances a teacher’s own pedagogical skills and adds a crucial personal growth dimension to the essential knowledge we deliver to children. I have written The Complete Learners Toolkit, a book full of lessons for 9 to 14-year olds, to help our children to thrive in a more uncertain world with a whole new set of values and priorities.
The lessons are built on the following WEF skills:
Active learning and learning strategies
Aim: To help students understand more about how their brains work so that they become more effective learners.
We know that learning changes brains, but each brain is unique.
One of the most important research discoveries about knowledge and memory, according to Peter Brown et al. in Make It Stick, is that active retrieval is the most powerful way to strengthen learning. Making a determined effort to recall your knowledge and test yourself on it works.
Complex problem solving
Aim: To remind students that they are natural problem solvers and that there are many ways to tackle any problems they face in their learning.
According to Mike Berners-Lee, we have created an ever more complicated and complex world, demanding a challenging mix of interdependency and technical mastery. However, we are born problem solvers. Children are experts at solving problems. As infants, they solved the problem of how to get fed, talk, walk and adapt to life. They did it through playing, watching, listening, copying, practising and learning how to learn, showing that we – as a species – are natural problem solvers who can follow our instinct to work out what to do next.
Aim: To help students realise and practise how to think and reflect objectively so that they can make good judgements.
Critical thinking is a crucial skill for achieving success at school and at work in later life. It involves observing, analysing, assessing and evaluating evidence in an objective, open-minded manner. It also asks that we cultivate a sense of curiosity that is always willing to ask questions and challenge for the truth.
Aim: To make students consider ways in which they can have the courage to take necessary risks to find new ways of thinking.
Creativity develops new thinking, leading to different approaches and novel ways of doing things, solving problems and finding new answers. It takes courage to be creative because as we grow older, we get used to doing things in ways that make us feel comfortable.
Leadership and social influence
Aim: To help students develop the skills to lead and communicate effectively.
The skills needed to get on with other people are key to success at school and in the workplace. Social skills can be developed and nurtured by working as team members and leaders.
Aim: To help students develop the self-awareness and emotional regulation that will serve them well at school, at home and in their future workplace.
Emotional intelligence encompasses self-awareness and self-management skills which develop confidence, tolerance and success. Emotional intelligence combines interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence and leads to the development of expert communication skills. Becoming emotionally intelligent helps students enjoy a challenge with less self-judgment or comparison with others.
Judgement and decision making
Aim: To help students identify their values and encourage them to make conscious choices for their own benefit.
Having good judgement and being able to make sensible decisions is an essential skill for us all. So why is it that some children (and, indeed, some adults) make choices that endanger their health and happiness? We need to help students to think purposefully about their personal values and how they can use them to make good choices in life.
Aim: To encourage students to want to help other people and to take pride in delivering high-quality outcomes.
The idea of being ‘in service’ could be seen as demeaning – perhaps slightly reminiscent of domestic duties or outmoded class hierarchies. However, adopting the mindset of serving others is a very powerful way to see the emergence of a generous spirit and the humility of true self-confidence.
Aim: To practise good listening and communication skills that will empower students to develop healthy relationships.
Being able to negotiate involves effective communication and emotional resilience so that you can take an objective view and see all aspects of a situation. The gifts of patient listening and empathy will create great negotiators.
Aim: To help students be able to adapt to new situations and maximise their learning capacity.
This is the ability to change your mind and adapt to different circumstances by knowing when to have a growth mindset attitude to the struggle ahead.
Teaching these skills within the knowledge curriculum means weaving the lessons in this book into your classroom so that students can apply them in practice and see how they impact on their learning. I taught these lessons myself for decades and discovered that when children understand themselves as learners, they can teach themselves, adapt to change and self-regulate effectively. The new ‘normal’ education must deliver this as a priority so our children can, indeed, save our world.