That which is not good for the hive, is not good for the bee.
MARCUS AURELIUS (121 – 180), Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher.
I recently listened to a guided meditation where William B. Irvine, an expert in Stoic philosophy, explained the idea of a psychological immune system. Imagine Billy, a child who grows up never being exposed to anything unpleasant, never receiving any bad news, never criticised or insulted, and always having someone solve his problems. What will happen to the adult Billy when he goes out into the world? How will he deal with setbacks?
Whereas the biological immune system protects us from sicknesses caused by germs, the psychological immune system protects us from the unpleasant emotions that are triggered by life’s setbacks.
The world is imperfect, which means shit will happen. So it seems wise to strengthen our psychological immune system in order to better deal with setbacks. How can we do this?
- Psychological vaccination: Irvine suggests we regularly use the Stoic technique of entertaining negative thoughts, like imagining losing something or someone. Or recognising that our lives could be much worse and imagining what that would look like. He says we don’t want to dwell long on these negative thoughts, but for it to be flickering moments. These thoughts work like a vaccine, preparing our psychological immune system for life’s setbacks. Another Stoic technique he recommends is called “the last time”. I talk about it in this video here.
- Psychological exposure: Another way to develop our psychological immune system is to expose ourselves to “germs”. This means deliberately moving out of our comfort zone, and doing things that are physically and/or emotionally uncomfortable. For some people, karaoke in front of a big crowd will do the trick.
In what shape is your psychological immune system? A good measure is how often you feel outraged or lose control to anger. Another is the average mood of your mind. Is it tranquility and confidence, or agitation and anxiety?
It’s naive to think we’ll live without setbacks. Preparing for them by strengthening our psychological immune system is the wise thing to do.
On Friday I gave an online workshop for Amazon’s Recruiting Team for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. It was about self-care and self-investment, and my premise was that any life worth living will regularly get messy just like the kitchen gets messy when we use it.
The key then to wellbeing is not to try avoid the mess, but to care and invest in ourselves so as to be emotionally fit when the mess happens. I shared with them several shortcuts for emotional fitness. Here are three that require little effort but have a massive, massive, massive impact in our wellbeing.
- Sleep: Matthew Walker, sleep expert and author of the book “Why We Sleep”, recommends we give ourselves the opportunity of 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. He says that the pillars of a healthy body are not diet, exercise and sleep, but just diet and exercise, because sleep is the foundation.
- Gratitude: It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to feel grateful and at the same time anger, fear or sadness. Gratitude energizes us to deal with life’s challenges. This is why I recommend starting the day by bringing to mind a few things we can be grateful for, and to connect with the emotions that this generates. This will set us up to deal with what comes our way during the day.
- Hanging out with TRUE friends: There is a growing body of evidence about the vital role of friendship in overcoming challenges. Introverts or extraverts, we are all social beings. Helen Keller said that she would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light. The Beatles nailed it when they suggested we get by with a little help from our friends.
“Assume ignorance before malevolence.”
JORDAN PETERSON (1962), Canadian clinical psychologist and a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, author of the #1 International Bestseller 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation,
we are challenged to change ourselves.”
VICTOK FRANKL (1907-1997), Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, a Holocaust survivor, and author of “Man’s Search For Meaning“
“The problem is not the problem.
The way we see the problem is the problem.”
STEPHEN COVEY (1932-2012), author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
“The person is not the problem.
The problem is the problem.”
MICHAEL WHITE (1948–2008), Australian social worker and family therapist, founder of Narrative Therapy
How much satisfaction are you getting at “work” these days? For me it’s like a rollercoaster: ups and downs, much more than I’d typically welcome.
Recently I participated in a Zoom Panel on Wellbeing and Happiness in The Workplace, organised by Systemic Coach and Communication Trainer, Jelena Vetockina. Here is the audio of my interventions about things we can do to be well in this time (see the full interview here).
What does it mean to be resilient and how can we be better at it?
On the concept of being “emotionally fit”:
What do leaders want to be doing in this time of uncertainty?
Hands-on techniques to deal with conflict:
What is your Team Diagnostic about?
Hope this has been helpful and I’m open to continue the conversation with you about what your team is going through or what your are experiencing at work in this time.
You can reach me at email@example.com
Today I read a post on LinkedIn written by John Ford about the difference between sympathy and empathy. I decided to comment on it, but the amount of text seems to be limited. So I wrote this post instead.
Words matter. Agreeing on what words mean matters more.
The Ancient Greek words for sympathy and empathy (which then found their way into Latin) can provide insight into to their meaning today.
They have a common root, the “pathy” part. It derives from the Greek word “pathos” (πάθος), which means “pain, suffering, passion”.
Prefixed to the root are conjunctions: “sym” meaning “with” (from “sun”, σύν) and “em” meaning “in” (from “en”, ἐν). This adds up to:
Sympathy is “pain with”: to feel the pain with someone.
Empathy is “pain in”: to feel the pain in someone.
Sympathy, in its positive understanding, means we identify with the person’s pain because we’ve experienced the same or a similar situation.
Empathy takes it up a notch: we feel the person’s pain, even though we do not personally relate to their situation. In other words:
Sympathy is putting yourself in someone’s shoes and feeling:
“I know what it’s like, mine feel the same.”
Empathy is putting yourself in someone’s shoes and feeling:
“I don’t know what it’s like, mine feel nothing like that. But I relate to how they make you feel.”
Empathy is priceless when we’re incapable of identifying with the person, for instance, when people do things we could never picture ourselves doing.
Empathy allows us to connect with them by identifying with their feelings and emotions, even though we consider their actions and behavior unacceptable.