What I Learned the Week of April 1st, 2022

From a Podcast – The Value of Regret

Another one from Armchair Experts, this time with Daniel Pink diving into fifty years of social science on the topic of regret. Everybody has them (except for 5 years olds and sociopaths). And at the end of the day regrets make us better. In his research, he gathered about 16,000 regrets from people in over 100 countries. And he found the same four core regrets were found around the world. These are:

  • Foundation Regrets or not building a foundation to stability (i.e., not eating well, saving money, taking care of my body, etc) which sound like “if only I had done the work …”
  • Boldness Regrets or not taking a chance or a smart risk – “if only I had taken the chance…”
  • Moral Regrets or not doing the right thing (i.e., not speaking up for others, cheating, etc.,) – “if only I had done the right thing…”
  • Connection Regrets or not reaching out to someone you care about or keeping the connection. – “if only I had reached out..”

Daniel went on to share that by reflecting on our regrets we begin to understand what we value the most. From Daniel’s research, he found that collectively we have these four common values that are tied to the four core regrets: stability, the chance to take risks, doing the right thing, and having people that love you and you love in your life. Reflecting on regrets gives us direction to a life well-lived.

3 step process to remove some of the negative feelings that are commonly tied to regrets

  1. Treat ourselves with self-compassion and kindness. Recognize that what we are going through is part of the shared human experience
  2. Disclose our regret which relieves some of our burden and gives us a space to talk about our regrets and begins the sense-making process
  3. Extract a lesson from the regret. 

You can also check out Daniel’s TedTalk on this topic.

From a Book – Tools of Oppression

Atlas of the Heart, the latest book by Brene Brown,  is by far my favourite of the many books that I have read/listened to. The short summary of her latest research is about identifying key emotions that are important for us to understand so that we can better understand ourselves. The analogy Brene gives in the book for why is to imagine you go to the hospital with a broken arm but when you attempt to communicate with the doctor you do not have the words for the arm or how it hurts.  You can only grunt in pain. Having the full range of language allows us to communicate our pain and our needs. 

My favourite learning from the book is the section that covers humiliation and shame and the relation they have with violence. Brene is well known already for her work on shame, as seen in her 2012 TedTalk.   In the book, Brene references several researchers who helped to uncover new insights in the field which I have summarized here:

  • Ten violent school shootings from 1996 to 1999 identified that  “In every case, the shooter described how they had been ridiculed, taunted, teased, harassed or bullied by peers because of their inadequate appearance, social or athletic behaviour; spurned by someone they were romantically interested; or put down by a teacher or administrator. All events that lead to profound humiliation.” 
  • Correlations between peer rejection, humiliation, depression and anger clearly exist and show an increase to suicidal and homicidal ideation. 
  • Key to all of this is the notion that bullying alone does not lead to aggression but bullying + humiliation do. 

Profound to me was the connection Brene makes to bullying within organizational and community cultures. We are become more “woke” about the systemic issues that exist in cultures, particularly work cultures, that do not pay close enough attention to psychological safety, or worse, create systems that allow, possibly even encourage, the behaviour of belittling others when they do not meet what are likely unreasonable expectations. “Humiliation can trigger a series of reactions, social pain, decreased self-awareness, decreased self-regulation, and increased self-depreciation. “ It’s not bad enough that the humiliation occurs at all but adding to it the psychological impacts that occur it is clearly another form of oppression. 

The antidote to shame, per Brene, is empathy. Both for the victim and the perpetrator. Clearly, for the victim, it is important to make that connection so they do not feel alone as that is a key ingredient to growing feelings of shame. But also for the perpetrator. Why? I, like most people, want to punish the perpetrator for being such an asshole and often that punishment looks a lot like shaming or humiliating them. What is needed is to hold them accountable for being better. None of us are perfect. I can definitely remember moments when I have used shame and humiliation as a form of punishment. I let my own anger get the better of me. It’s OK to be angry but not to humiliate. Accountability is the key.

A final bit of learning from Brene were the steps to get out of shame, straight from the book:

  • Recognize the triggers that put us in shame and name them. We can’t pretend that shame is not happening and then get swept away with it. Notice you’re feeling it and name it. 
  • Practicing critical awareness, which I think is particularly helpful in organizations and team relationships. Reality checks the expectations for potentially driving shame if we do not meet them.
  • Reaching out to others and sharing our story of what’s happening and what we are feeling. We can’t experience empathy, the key antidote to shame if we aren’t reaching out.

From Social Media – Stay Curious

This one I am still reflecting on to complete the learning. And unfortunately, the tweet that this learning originated from seems to have been removed so I suspect I will need to engage with others on this topic. The net of it was there were conversations going on amongst a specific cultural group, criticizing a very public situation that involved members of that cultural group, and people not in that cultural group were sharing their POV as well. The non-members of the cultural group were told, in so many words, to stay out of it as they did not appreciate the cultural sensitivities at play. That person respectfully did, which quite frankly is unusual for social media communication but not for this particular person. 

In any case, I was a bit confused by it all as I did not think the public situation itself had anything to do with the culture each person was from. My perspective about the incident was regardless of the culture they were from. Yet clearly others did not feel the same way. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to read the thread in detail before it appears to have been removed so I feel I have missed an opportunity for learning. But now I’m curious and that is the first step to learning. Regardless my learning is simply a reminder that there will always be different perspectives on any situation and one to continually ask myself is there a unique cultural perspective here as well. And be thankful for the emotional labour any individuals from that culture so graciously share. 

From a Real Person Interaction – Don’t Jump

This is a little connected to the 5th learning topic around fears. My husband has had a long-standing fear of heights which I’m remorse to admit that I have not always been the most compassionate about. After my fear incident (see below) I asked him what does it feel like when his fear is triggered. I was quite surprised by his answer which was he feels like he is going to jump off. 

I did a little research and uncovered that there are lots of different reactions to fear of heights including some of the same symptoms I experienced with my fear of tight spaces. One of which is the fear of being trapped in a high position which I can see how might lead to the thought of jumping off, which would clearly be an illogical thing to do. Our brains really do work in the most mysterious way. 

Going forward, when he and I are in a situation that could trigger his fear, I will remember to reassure him that we will be out of this situation very soon and not to jump. 

From Myself – Facing Fears vs Adapting

Late in life, I realized that I had a fear of small spaces also known as claustrophobia. I was out with friends on a sailing trip around the Georgia Straight. It was all very relaxing until nighttime and I climbed into bed with my husband. Our cabin was actually a decent size as far as sailboats go (sorry I can’t tell you how big of a boat it was only that it slept about five as I recall). In any case, at some point early in the night, I realized I could not sleep and so I moved into the main area of the boat, the galley, and slept uncomfortably on a bench. The 2nd-night sleeping had the same experience. I did not really connect that it was the smallness of the space and attributed it to the heat or my husband’s snoring or possibly the wine. 

But then about five years later I was only another sailboat (big enough for eight) and the experience was even more heightened. This time the space was slightly tighter and what I remember most was having this feeling that I could not breathe. So I got up and moved on deck, where I slept for the rest of the week. I have even more recently had a similar experience sleeping in a very normal size bunk bed. The feeling of panic, unable to breathe, heart pounding so much I had to turn all the lights on, open the door and be able to see “space” before I could calm myself back down and try to sleep.

Thursday this past week I had what is by far my worse experience. My doctor had ordered an MRI which required me to be inside that machine for almost an hour while they did imaging. It hadn’t actually dawned on me consciously that this might be a problem until she asked was I claustrophobic. I answered mildly and she offered medication I could take to provide some sedation. 

I arrived feeling calm and a little curious about what would happen. I am not a person who “can’t” do things and typically push through, so the thought of potentially not being able to do this was nowhere in my brain.  The MRI technician came out and instructed me to take a dose of my medication. Twenty minutes later she brings me into the room and proceeds to put me on the table and very methodically takes me through everything she is doing and will be doing during this process. I feel calm. 

Then she moves me into the machine. My head is almost going in and she pauses to put the headphones on me for music to distract from the very loud noise an MRI makes. Still calm. Then the final slide in and now my head is fully immersed with about 5-inches above me I see the hard shell of the machine. I immediately panic. My heart starts pounding. I can feel the fear of not being able to breathe. I try to listen to what she is telling me but my brain can longer concentrate. The thought of pushing through is so beyond me at this moment and I ask to be pulled out. 

A second technician came in and they started to work on ideas for supporting me. At this point, I hadn’t given up but thought maybe another pill would help as I knew they were supposed to take effect immediately. They offered to remove my face mask and put a cloth over my eyes which I readily accepted both options. In we go a second time. Again heart-pounding and immediate panic. Now I’m at the point of wanting to completely give up and feeling ashamed that I can’t do this. They pull me out and I am just lying there saying to myself out loud “I can’t believe I can’t do this” while they continue with suggestions. Could I think of tasks I have to do – i.e. worry about something else. No Thanks. Could they put me further into the tube where it was slightly bigger? I looked up and down the tube and thought no freaking way. 

I was ready to leave when finally the last suggestion of would I be able to lie on my belly instead was given. WHERE WAS THIS IDEA 15 MINUTES AGO! Yes of course I was! While on my belly I could look out through the opening of the machine which I could not on my back. I could see the floor or even raise my eyeballs up to see the technician on the other side of the window. This was brilliant! My neck was a bit uncomfortable but so very worth it in the end.

I certainly believe it is important to face our fears and do our best to overcome them. However, I now have a much better appreciation for the utter panic one might feel in these situations and appreciate the difference between the value of facing versus simply adapting. It is important to understand when is a fear reducing the quality of your everyday life or just occasionally getting in the way. Sleeping on the top deck of a sailboat can get a bit uncomfortable and hard. But it’s not like I’m doing it every night. 😉

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