How long have we known about the degradation of our environment? How long have we known about the effect of the aging process physically, and other impacts such as stress mentally on our bodies? How often are we told "relationships take work"...and how do we find ourselves losing the things that we love only realising we'd taken better care of them while we had them?
Having worked in wellbeing as a trainer and coach for nearly 10 years now (with a further 10 years as a teacher before that) I have always wondered - If we KNOW what the
right thing to do is...why don't we do it??? I know that sometimes a "warning shot" such as a health scare can be the catalyst for change, and people then report "finally" appreciating their bodies...but we don't always get that "privilege"!
Evolutionary psychology proposes 4 primal instincts:
These are the most instinctive drives, and while our world has evolved, they remain constant motivators, almost hard-wired into our brain. Hence, for example, even if we know there is no immediate physical threat when we see someone's success on social media - our brain may still react as if we were "challenged" in some way and that stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system may makes us feel anxious. Similarly, we might be perfectly happy in our relationships, but a momentary glance or brush of the hand and you are physically having to control unexpected urges. And probably, most common of all, that smell of freshly baked bread or roasting coffee and we've got a desire for breakfast!
Unfortunately these instincts can, if we follow through without discernment, can get us into trouble, and a lot of my work focuses on practical tools to make little changes to our behaviour, almost trying to "short circuit" the brain to become the person we choose to be rather than the one that we might be "driven" to be.
I should digress for a moment and say - when the brain originally evolved, instinct made a lot of sense for survival within that environment...unfortunately as everything else has innovated and developed, the brain is still catching up.
Then, I also do a lot of work with environmentalists whose focus is on protecting the planet - and once again they share a similar problem - people know what to do, but we're just not doing it. Sometimes, there it is because, perhaps the threat is simply NOT obvious. In the same way as "anti smoking" campaigns at one point had less effect on younger generations because they didn't perceive the danger to be relevant to them, not only do we sit comfortably knowing that the problems of are plant are, for now, "Not In My Back Yard" but also if I were to change anything, I may be less comfortable...and I don't know if I'm prepared to do that.
Yet some people DO make a difference through change - going against their "instincts" and doing what's right. Buddhism would ask us to focus on compassion driven by feelings of empathy, and that may be true; and Psychology proposes that motivation can be (crudely) described as:
Efficacy (of WHAT you're doing) + Value
...and maybe both will help us.
Those who make a difference through making changes - perhaps following a health scare, or perhaps if they are supporting a loved one (compassion), or are simply campaigning for the "right thing" do so because they CARE.
Neuroscientists have argued that the instinct that mothers have to protect their babies - which can be applied to anything we might stand our ground for - is the "bonding hormone" oxytocin. They care.
As such I believe, until we begin to care:
- about ourselves
- about our partners, families and friends
- about our environment and planet
...and I mean really really care - our attempts to help ourselves and even others may be half-hearted or unfinished - if they even get started.
(AND I would even add here, that the "caring" can be for selfish/personal rather an altriustic reasons, but at least it's still caring!)
So what can we do?
If we are to assume that there is a potential correlation between healthy, protecting behaviours (even in the face of other dangers or difficulty) and how much we are bonded with, love, or care about the thing we are looking after...then we need to get a little more love into our world.
SELF LOVE EXERCISES
Write a "love letter" to yourself: In this, emphasise your best qualities and reflect on how they have helped you be the person you want to be. Don't worry if you are a work in progress, knowing what you do have that you can celebrate is a strong foundation for growth. If you're not ready to do this yet, then stick post-its with affirmations, or nice things others have said about you on your mirror or somewhere you can see them regularly.
Identify your values: Recognise the things you really care about. (One way of doing this is writing down the names of 3 people you admire and identify what it is you love about them...these will reveal what's fundamentally important to you). Think about how those values look in practice - and every day allow yourself to engage in at least one of them.
Know with whom you feel most authentic - and spend time with them: We will play many roles in our lifetime, as you engage with them, be aware of when you feel most at ease and at your best...then try to spend more time doing that if you can.
EXERCISES TO LOVE THE "OTHER" (relationships/environment)
Practice Gratitude: Every morning voice your gratitude for one thing you love about the significant people in your life (you can pick a new person every day); and Every morning do the same for something you have in your life - that makes your life better, or easier, or more enjoyable. The more we appreciate, the more we are likely to look after what or whom ever it is.
Learn more about what you don't know: Ask loved ones questions about themselves, read more widely, reach out to or volunteer with different community groups, learn more about the world around you - recognise that we are part of something bigger. One little tip that works for some of my clients is going for a walk and taking a moment to appreciate the vastness of nature to bring a sense of perspective, and a recognition that we are all part of a greater whole.
Take a moment for the Loving Kindness meditation: A commonly used meditation where before you meet someone - or you can use it on things you love or yourself - repeat "May you be happy; May you be loved; May you be blessed."
As soon as we find value in ourselves and the things or people that we cognitively "know" we "ought to" protect, the act of doing so becomes intrinsically driven, a great deal easier - and rewarding beyond measure.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the practical "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; or her Radio Show "The Wellbeing Lounge", and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt Order The Leader's Guide to Resilience or The Leader's Guide to Mindfulness or Be A Great Manager Now