I am doing it. I am terrified, but I am doing it. OTR Bristol did a SkyDive last year but I wasn’t brave enough, because last summer I was still unable to cross the Bristol Suspension Bridge. Today I still sweat climbing the attic ladder, but I have conquered the bridge at least. I am obviously really worried about it but I also feel that is it exactly what I need right now to process all my grief connected to the losses of this year and the experience of severe social isolation from the past few years too.
There are a lot of reasons why this project is emotionally challenging for me. Doing the SkyDive is one thing, but I am also managing the OTR project, which means my role is to support others doing it too. I am also fundraising at OTR, which means I feel at least a little bit obligated to meet the fundraising goal – which after a move to a new city seems a bit hard. We do not have many friends in Bristol just yet. Basically for the next six months I will live and breathe the OTR SKyDive.
There is also a good chance that this fundraising event will distract me from a lot of emotional processes going on for me at the moment as I am emerging from the next counselling course and a pretty difficult year of Brexit and loss of both parents. I think that is exactly why I have decided to document my SkyDive journey publicly – to ensure that I am immersing myself in this emotional journey but also remain very kind to myself. Being actively engaged in this, but at the same time taking it easy will be my personal goal. I hope to heal, really. I healed a lot in the first year of our life here in Bristol, so this my next stage. I hope to move away from the anxieties and get back to the more adventurous and opinionated self. I hope to think about my dad a lot and celebrate the best of his legacy.
So here is what I do. I set up my SkyDive page, you can see the plans for the day below.
I set up my JustGiving page where I share updates on my journey:
I was very honest in my story description because I think I owe it to my supporters too:
This summer, a big group of OTR’s supporters are taking part in a skydive! This is exciting but also TERRIFYING!
I will be joining the team in memory of my Father, Hubert Korsak, who died this January. I really wish there was something similar to OTR Bristol when he was young to support him through his difficult marriage. My mother was a narcissistic abuser but their generation did not speak about mental health. They had to “get on with things”.
Despite his times, my Dad was a good man. I was raised by a kind, carrying Father so I appreciate the importance of good emotional support in difficult times. I became a resilient and steady adult.
In the last few years of my life in Oxfordshire however, I have experienced severe social isolation and (for the first time in my life) racism. Few years of that Brexit infused hostility resulted in newly acquired anxieties.
It took me 12 months of living in Bristol to collect the courage to cross the Suspension Bridge. I still sweat when I climb the attic ladder! My relationship with fear is very new and very strong. So this challenge is going to be really difficult. Very emotional. Very difficult. But also very healing.
I joined OTR Bristol exactly a year ago, shortly after my move to the warm and welcoming Bristol. I have started feeling better and trusting people again. Losing both of my parents in that period was extremely complex and difficult but I was held by a wonderful group of people who really were there for me. Who show up for young people every single day.
So I have no doubt that my dad would have liked the idea of the SkyDive and if he was here, he would have donated the first sum. I miss him, but I know he would be proud of what we do at OTR Bristol.
I am hopeful that my father’s legacy will continue in my son and that my son’s generation will talk about mental health openly. OTR Bristol is already making a difference in his school so I am pretty sure he will be open about it and supported.
I set up my Facebook fundraiser with similar updates because many of my friends work in social media so they will find it easier to support me there.
I also set up a YouTube live journal which is here with the first video recorded last Thursday to kick it all off.
I will record my second video tomorrow – which in itself is terrifying, but good. It makes me feel slightly uneasy but also happy to have the technology to openly share my journey. I have lost my voice so now I am thinking this is a great opportunity to let go of my newly acquired anxiety, let go and enjoy the journey.
I hope you will join me on this. I hope you will learn something from my explorations as well.
Thank you for reading!
We all lie. Most of us at least twice a day according to this TED talk. It’s part of being a human. We lie for a reason – to protect ourselves or others. A lot of modern lies related to the digital world are actually not new at all. Studying lies is much easier now that our conversations are actually recorded with the help of tech. And as it turns out, people actually tend to lie less online. I find this fascinating.
So why is honesty so important to our resilience skills? I personally think because it requires a few strong habits we all benefit from:
- Courage – to stand up for our truth in the light of social pressure.
- Empathy – to recognise people’s feelings and adjust our message to those accordingly
- Kindness – having people’s best interest at heart, not ours.
- Honesty with oneself – being clear on what we do, why we do it and who we want to be in every moment in life.
I am having a lot of conversations nowadays about online identity (one or multiple) and about the notion of presenting ourselves differently in different situations. I am personally an advocate of a certain level of consistency in all situations in life, including one honest online identity. I think that the social web is the extension of who we are in real life so it should really reflect our honest self. That is my personal take though. I really like to meet people who read my blog and almost find it surprising just how it reflects who I really am. I think it has something to do with our need to fit in and adjust our presentation to various contexts in life. I just wonder if it is not easier to just be yourself and carry that one central image with us everywhere? I might behave a bit more reserved in a business meeting, but ultimately I will giggle at the same jokes. I might speak slower in the UK than in Poland, but I will respect people of all backgrounds in both countries. I might talk about the positive impact of gaming online but I will challenge the myths of oversimplified Internet addiction in all suitable instances in my life. I find this process fairly easy because my goal is to be true to myself.
It’s hard enough to get that right knowing really well that we all have so many biases. We grow up in the bubble of our heritage, upbringing, social and economical class, education and finally profession. It can be tempting for me as a soon-to-be counsellor to shut off my blog and hide behind a static website but is it going to help my future clients? Is it going to reflect who I really am? Will they get me from such limited and guarded presentation? Or would it make more sense to be genuine and real instead. Build trust before we even meet in person? Sounds more sensible to me.
Going back to the above quoted TED talk – to lie or not to lie is not the question here. To stay true to yourself is. Being honest with ourselves means we can navigate our life lightly and confidently with a clear purpose. This was of living is simply easier and more rewarding. It is harder to get lost in our own translation to which can be really precious during harder times in life (when it is ever so tempting to question
oursevlesanyway). Creating our offline and online identities becomes so much easier if we don’t get lost in lies, but build ourselves through our truths.
I do realise that this is my take and I know many people disagree with it so I would love to know what you think.
For me personally, perseverance is an interesting character strength to write about. I used to think of myself as more of a free spirit and a person who would start a million things and finish a few. I did not stick to my own plan most of the time. I changed directions and jumped from one project to another. I did loads and managed to fit in even more. But I was more interested in innovation than steady, determined reaching of goals.
When I became a mother I was already trained in psychology enough to understand that a certain level of stability is necessary to create a safe space for a child. So I would define perseverance differently – not as finishing what we started but simply by showing up, being there for that small person, standing like a rock when their world was shifting between various stages of their development. Holding them through their illness and personal failures. Holding their hand when they learned to walk. Perseverance to me was then defined on a slightly different level: being reliable and constant, regardless of what life threw at us. (Don’t confuse it with rigid rules, I don’t agree with those as they need to be mutually negotiated). I guess I started seeing my life through the eyes of a small boy who had to learn to express himself, take his few first steps, walk into school on that first day and from there continue on his journey. Perseverance was our way of meeting somewhere in between the lines of our two identities and simply looking out for each other. Not giving up on each other.
At work, it was the challenges that defined my definition of never giving up. Working in the first social media agency in the country meant that a lot of what we did in those early days of a new industry was based on trial and error. The great thing about that, as we all quickly discovered, was the person-centred approach to blogger engagement and online conversations. Those of us who worked in social media back then had to figure it all out together with bloggers and online users, go back to big brands and serve as the voice of people. We were actively defining and renegotiating the rules of online engagement (for example sending trial gadgets to bloggers to review them on their websites or simply get involved in our events and online campaigns). None of it was automated. All of it required a high level of determination and personal ownership of our work on a daily basis.
As I moved on to built a startup agency from scratch, that determination to deliver good services had to be taken to an extreme level. When you start to build a new brand you have nothing but the personal reputation of the people who came up with the idea and their networks. In our case, we were lucky to have enough of that. I knew the agency world already so many usual pitfalls of a starting up company could be avoided. But to persevere in the first few months, years even meant to look out for each other, think really carefully about each step and be patient.
Moving to my own business was my next big step. I did not realise the price one pays for running their own business (as well as the range of benefits, of course). Not giving up this time meant facing my own limitations and slowly, gradually building up my own contingency. Learning parts of the business I was not familiar with. Growing my independent competency. Building new products and marketing them wisely. Learning to balance private and work life, and adding a pinch of self-care to the mix. Actually a lot of it! Working out mechanisms and networks that would hold me through risky times. Learning to trust people and yourself. Learning to manage the company together with my family life too.
When I started my therapy studies perseverance was there in those late evening and really deep and challenging conversations. In the journeys down the rabbit hole of our own mind. In piles of books. More importantly, in the vast amount of touching stories people shared with me. Stories I had to learn to hold for them to help their healing. Learning to clear my mind and move beyond my biases became my new form of perseverance. Not giving up on myself became my priority to ensure that I can support others too.
I cannot even describe how hard it is to find the right balance between social media marketing and counselling. One is historically loud, open, vocal and engaging. The other is quiet, silent even, holding and actively listening. But as I found it now – both depend on deep trust between human beings. Both define our humanity. Both can be conducted unethically and damage us to our core but if done well, liberate and reconnect us with ourselves and our communities.
I am finding a lot of reasons to continue combining both worlds and so perseverance is something I am practising more often. It serves me as a new muscle – one that needs to be exercised but brings great support in times of need.
Perseverance brings results, but not fast. It takes its time. It makes us wait while it matures. It grows around us and within us. In the long run, it really pays off.
This post became a different list, I feel. Today I would like to finish it off with a practical metaphor. About a year ago my family took on a large allotment plot in Bristol. We were very lucky to get it fast but pretty overwhelmed with its size and terrible state. It took us a year of finding time in our busy lives to pop out to the plot and clear it out. It took us a year but we are getting there. It was a bumpy ride at times because we were up against Mother Nature too. Brambles grew faster than our digging attempts. Hot summer made it impossible to dig for weeks altogether. Seasons came and went but we stayed determined and committed. We had a vision from day one. We stayed focussed and hopeful. Bit by bit we worked our way through it.
We had help from other allotment owners who joined in or simply offered their crops just to cheer us up. We had small crops that we cherished. We complained, hated it at times. But we got the work done. It was hard but rewarding. It was challenging but we did not give up. I bet if it was easy we wouldn’t be enjoying the plot as much as we do now. We are excited about this summer in times when in the U.K. the overall feeling is pretty hopeless. We have a place to escape, to work from even, to rest and to stop for a second. We go there to reconnect with Earth, with people and with ourselves.
I do not think perseverance is one thing. I don’t think it is always helpful. I do think however that in difficult times having the skill of not giving up just so easily helps a lot. I feel this every time I sit out on our plot and take a sip of my coffee: We did it. We can do this. We can all do this – we just need to find it in us.
It took me a while to post about this character strength. I really did not know how to approach bravery at first. I do not consider myself brave. In fact, in the last few years, I have discovered the real meaning of the word “anxiety”. The fear which comes in waves of sweat, heat, irrational fears and that sense that something really bad is about to happen – we just really cannot put our finger on it. It’s terrifying. What’s even more terrifying is the reaction of people around us – their inability to relate to our state, or even for a second try to imagine it. I come from an Eastern-European background, from a place where people simply get on with things. A place where vulnerability is not a sign of strength, but still of weakness. I think the lack of validation can be a multiplier of that anxiety and so if you know how to protect yourself, put on a thicker skin on and get over your fears you are seen as strong, brave even.
Whereas in the new, modern world of emotional intelligence, the real bravery lies in opening up and living with a high level of vulnerability. Because it takes courage to open up and risk the pain of rejection or mockery. The real bravery lies in small acts of kindness when we cannot be bothered to stop and help another person. It’s in the time we spend waiting patiently for our kids to put their shoes on or for catching up with that one more butterfly. It’s in the kindness at the end of a terribly tiring day. In a simple act of leaning in when it’s not necessary or required, but ever so caring.
I love Bristol for the daily acts of courage of people who live here. The other day I was walking down my street with my dog to the park. On the street corner, I noticed a little boy on his little bike almost cycling into the road – with no parents around. I stopped to see what the boy would do, searching for parents, just to make sure he would be OK. As I did so a car slowed down and a lady driver nodded at me. I waved back showing I have no clue what was going on, so she slowed down, even more, to find the parents with me. Seconds later the mum of that boy appeared and took care of him but it was so nice to feel connected in that simple act of caring. Was it brave? I actually think that in today’s world in which politicians and salesmen wish to divide us so much, we actually need to make an effort to re-connect with each other. And that does take courage sometimes. Courage to slow down, to stop, to engage with another person, to make time and to care.
There is also a different type of courage – facing our fears by exploring them in more detail. I was always used to doing that, but recently (in the last decade of my life) I got out of the habit. So this year I have put my name forward to the annual charity SkyDive to test my attitude to my new sense of anxieties. The hight of the jump will be quite a symbolic expression of all the new fears I have accumulated in the recent few years. I hope the moment I jump, I will let them all go. But maybe it is not just one step but a process?
I have dedicated a large chunk of my last decade on studying fears and anxieties so today I would like to look at the list of most common ones:
- Fear of death – I would like to start with this one because our inner need for transcendence over death is probably the strongest drive in life. Working in bereavement support I had to explore my own feelings about death in many ways, for quite a long time. I read a pile of books. I talked to many professionals. I worked in therapy on my own multiple losses too. I journaled about it. I explored it with my friends. I have realised that sooner or later all our mental health problems tend to boil down to this very fear. Fear of the finality of our own death, the ultimate end of our own life. Through this journey of facing my own fear of death, I have grown more self-aware than ever before. I have learned to hold space for people in some really difficult points in life – I am told I am taking the holding skill to a pretty impressive level. I am convinced it’s due to all the hard working of looking at my personal fear of death directly – not ones, many times. Thinking about death affects our tolerance levels and escalates to many other areas of mental wellbeing, so it’s really worth considering spending some time reviewing our personal attitudes to death.
- Fear of being alone – so many of us do not know how to do it anymore. There are many layers to being alone, of course, and as I train to become a therapist, I am uncovering newer layers still. I do think many of us really struggle with having time so we fill it up with anything that would keep us busy – busy from thinking, feeling and simply being in the moment. We fear to realise that our lives might be empty (of passions, of people, of goals). As if the emptiness was terrifying when it could actually be healing, steadying and grounding. I think it’s worth practising being alone to cope with this fear better. Being alone allows us to re-connect with our true selves. That can be revolutionary! It can also be scary as it might uncover a pile of other problems so be gentle and kind to yourself. Make time for your own self and celebrate it. Without judgement.
- Fear of people – is something we tend to suffer from more and more, especially in the new world which is trying so hard to divide and isolate us. We are slowly losing the sense of community. Our social groups are smaller. We have hardly any time to maintain friendships or stay in touch with family. In a highly individualistic society, individuals are quite lonely and scared of each other. That makes me sad. That fear is understandable though and so easy to conquer. Just say hi, smile or help someone. That’s all it takes to re-connect with another.
- Fear of failure is a difficult one because the new, elusive and almost impossible definition of success is so embedded in our social structures, in advertising, in fake expectations! We end up beating ourselves up over failures when in reality they are just a path to better understanding. We learn through failure, yet so many of us dread this form of learning. Practice it. Practice failing and giving yourself permission to look back and learn from it. With that new perspective, you might just realise how powerful failing can be.
- Fear of war – is something I have felt for the last few years of Brexit and something many of my peers are living daily now. I can only hope that all those fears will prove unnecessary, but I also notice that they already take their toll on us. We live in a divided society and similar dividing movements are coming up in many European countries – which is worrying. The very thought of war (old, or the new cyberwar) was unsettling enough for me to lose my blogging voice for quite a while. I have no answers to this one, but one: hope. I am an optimist and I hope that we will figure this out too.
I am scared of heights. I dislike spiders. I am not ready to drive. So I have other common fears, but the ones listed above are quite important for me. As I make friends with my fears, as I slowly embrace my new vulnerabilities, I am also becoming braver day by day. Sometimes I think that with my newly discovered anxieties I am growing stronger than I ever was before.
I would love to know what you think about the common fears and about your personal experience of some of the above mentioned ones. Let me know.
Offering good advice does not seem like a character strength at first, but it actually involves a lot of courage. People operate within their own frame of reference which also means perceiving the reality within the boundaries of their own biases. It can be really difficult to point out seemingly obvious better solutions if the client or friend is not ready to accept it. It can take a bit of courage, risk-taking and leaning into their world to share our message effectively. It also means we need to step out of our comfort zone and out of our own worldview sometimes. I can see perspective as a character strength and I think especially in consultancy or therapy work it is crucial for success.
I am quite a passionate and stubborn individual so over the years of my social media consultancy I have discovered a lot of blocks to my own ability to offer people good advice. I am still learning it and so today I will try to list what got in the way for me in the past. Let’s see if you find it helpful.
- Social and economical group – as a little girl I moved from a very well developed part of Poland to the Ukrainian border where my peers would come across as rude (the three magic words – please, thank you and sorry – did not operate in daily language), uneducated and often quite cruel. Some of my peers had to work in the field in summer instead of coming into the school. Others would receive severe, cruel, trauma-inducing punishment for bad grades (getting locked in a cellar for a night, for instance). I lived in a clear realisation that my life was different and that I needed to fit in. But I also had to work out the boundaries of that process. Today I use this skill to adjust my language and my conversations to people from various groups of society. This can be tricky in the UK as it is still a class system. It does help to be genuine and accepting of everyone’s background though.
- National and cultural group – my parents had a student exchange with Danish folk universities so I was able to travel even under Communist regime. Very early in my life, I have experienced a strong dissonance in people’s behaviours at the table, during travels, in their own homes. It was an eye-opener and I personally found it fascinating. Today I sometimes struggle to navigate the British political correctness because it also comes with a certain silence around the cultural heritage. Especially in Brexit years, we have experienced a strong need for language around cultural identity. I wrote a few articles about Brexit and in all cases, I was praised for my ability to navigate the topic in a balanced way but this comes from years of experience of having to discuss national and cultural aspects of life openly. Not talking about our heritage does not mean we respect it. Talking about it openly and respectfully proves that we can handle each other’s differences. I think this is something we are now learning here in the UK.
- Coming from the place of our origin – this is almost the opposite of the previous point, actually. When I moved to Hungary at the age of 18 I was curious and open about new cultures, but not
carefulabout my very own biased, often even racist statement. My problem was something we all share: the need to belong to a group and so to look at the world from our own place of origin, clinging on to it as something that defines everything we do. I would learn about Hungarian culture, cuisine, poetry, history of language and the country through the lens of being Polish. It’s a binary way of operating and it leads to intolerance. It is also an easy trap to fall into because both countries are predominantly racist and so living in Budapest as a Polish girl I felt home but noticed a lot of negativity around other nations. Making friends with international students slowly allowed me to open up my perspective, peel off racist expressions from my vocabulary and move beyond my own need to belong. It’s a process but to notice it in me was probably the most crucial part of it.
- Professional slang – as I grew up and started working in the software industry and in business, my world opened up to flying business class and spending my working hours with people passionate about similar topics. I entered the world of acronyms and databases. I then moved into the world of social media and really quickly joined a smaller group and later masses of people following trends. Because I joined the second wave of bloggers, people who saw many leading social networks coming into our lives, I was really keen and positive about them all. It was only when I worked for a small startup agency which aimed to educate charities on social media when the topic was still new that I have realised my own little box. It takes that one moment when you walk into the room and start training but see that people simply do not understand a world of what you are saying. A good communicator knows it looks bad on them, not on the audience. So I had to stop, get outside of my own tech bubble and learn to speak human language again. So I stopped talking about effective blogger engagement outreach. I replaced it with writing genuine and respectful emails to trusted bloggers. Luckily I did this way earlier than the set up of WhatTheFuckIsMySocialMediaStrategy.com. and by the time Millenials joined this new world, it wasn’t really so new anymore. I learned to run mum tests on everything I do (if you can explain it to your mum, it is good). I learned to question what I say and how I am saying it.
- My parent bubble – this one is fairly simple: assuming that I know better than my son so I do not have to treat him as equal, nor as someone who might be right. When in actual fact he grew up in this reality and knows the world so much better than I do. So as soon as I have noticed his brilliant abilities to navigate the areas that are important today: change, creativity, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, co-production and many more – I simply stood aside, watched and started learning. I developed a new language of mutual agreements and congruent admitting to points where we miss each other. This way my perspective in now enriched by his generation and all the other ones coming after him.
- Binary gender bubble – this one is big for me because I suffered greatly as a woman in the tech industry, but not as much as many of my friends. I grew up with boys, hanging out with my older brother’s gang I was actually “the untouchable” which boosted my little girl’s ego into something which later became very useful in my adult life. I learned how to tell men to fuck off when needed. I learned to stand my ground. I learned to be opinionated even if men did not wish to hear my thoughts or deemed them useless by default. It oftentimes gained me the label of “annoying”, “self-centred”, “200% of herself” but worked in getting me the status men would have served by default. It was only when I lived in a very small town and had my own company that I realised the scale of my problem. When a mum at school told me: “you should be happy your husband lets you run your company in the first place”. It was that one sentence that woke me up to the reality of women around me. Here in Bristol during my therapy studies, I finally understood that our gender identity is not binary but it is formed by the rules of our society. And those rules do not place people who are not clearly men in any favourable places. Allowing for a spectrum of genders also lets go of the strong position of men in society. But just as hard as it was for me to realise my place in society, it is hard for many men to realise the stereotypes they are enforcing. So it’s important to find ways of communicating with kindness and care. I am still learning that.
- Mental abilities bubble – this used to be a clear cut for me as well. I used to think that some people are healthy and others have mental health illnesses or challenges. Until I opened our Minecraft Club and realised that children with seemingly strong limitations like Autism are actually wonderfully skilled in areas that I am poor at. That’s when I started noticing the real courage, kindness and uniqueness of all of us. Again I moved from us and them distinction into all of us and each of us uniquely. We all have special needs (and skills) and we all have similar needs too: to be respected, accepted and loved.
- Resilience bubble – we tend to grow up being told that we are strong or weak but actually life can throw so much at us that no matter how resilient we are, it might just ruin all our defences. It has happened to me at the time when I was actually quite happy and did not expect everything around me to fall apart. I was always a very
resillientand self-efficient person but sometimes we simply need to learn to admit the defeat and ask for help. We are social creatures. We are responsible for each other and it’s ok to not to be ok sometimes.
This list is shorter, but I found it useful to explore each point in more detail. I am sure there is more but those areas are important for my life but also for all my paid and voluntary work. What is important for you?
One of my top character strengths is love for learning. Learning has never been too difficult for me, although in the past I struggled with dry memorising of facts and dates. I needed to understand the causality of things to learn them properly. Before I took the VIA Character Strengths test I did not think much of it, but now I know that learning is actually quite important to me. It actually makes me happy.
I was due to write this post on Thursday but it was the last day of my university course. I started it with my personal therapy, did a bit of work and then met my peer support friend
tosum up the term. The last session was all about endings but also plans for the future. As I was talking about my plans people found me really structured and determined, some nodded wondering if maybe I should take studying a little bit easier. Even though I pointed out that exploring new questions and challenging myself intellectually is a pleasant and stimulating effort for me. We still perceive learning as effort or a chore, it seems.
I think there is an assumption about learning – we are told that it has to be boring, mandatory and hard. We are also told that successful academics know a lot but we never talk about the actual learning process. We forget that the mandatory learning at school was actually good if we had a good teacher, it was the system and unkind and uninspiring teachers who killed our love for learning. We forget that in order to learn effectively it helps to be invested, excited and passionate about the subject – so of course, a lot of mandatory training might be boring. We forget that in order to learn we have to feel a certain level of challenge, put some effort into it, often fail and review how we could do things better. Failure is not stylish nowadays, of course. We are so failure-resistant that we don’t talk about it. We beat ourselves up instead of looking honestly at our actions and learning from the mistakes.
Falureis an important part of personal growth!
I am particularly hard on myself and I do not like making mistakes. Realising that love for learning is actually my strength really helped me. I have learned to accept my mistakes as a part of that process. I embraced the fact that I am an explorer at heart so every learning journey is about the voyage, not about the wrong turns, nor the destination. I have learned to let go of my old Catholic sense of guilt in failure and simply move on. No matter which way we go, we will always find something new, interesting and if embraced: enriching.
This year I have completed a Certificate in Counselling. It was my third year of counselling studies and this one was really hard. I had Brexit and two bereavements to deal with. I had a lot of new discoveries across my private life, work, studies and my active listening practice. I was also in therapy. So it feels like after months of really intense voyages I have arrived at a quiet bay and I am starting to take stock. I am starting to talk to my friends about my adventures and new discoveries – most of which in this case are all about myself and my relationship with people. It’s fascinating and really important in this line of work. It is also fun. As hard as it sounds, counselling studies really teach people to work with our own selves at a deeper level. It’s a never ending journey. Often we are joined by new friends and I am glad to have two new people in my life now that’s to this course. Juggling work, voluntary jobs, family, company and university was to be honest bonkers, but it showed me just how much can be done in a week! I did not feel the effort of this journey as daunting as it could have been because I simply like the process of learning.
Going to university is something unique for me now, but there are many ways to study in the new connected world, so for my list today here are my favourite ways of using social web and Internet in general to learn. Enjoy and let me know how you use the web for learning.
- Online courses – I often sign up for courses on Coursera, MIT and FutureLearn but recently I have also studied over at Oxford University. Some courses are paid, but affordable and you can save all your training materials for later.
- Good newsletters – I could not imagine my week without Brainpickings or Narratively stories, but there is so much more out there!
- Amazon books – I cannot live without books so I spend too much money on them, actually. The great thing about ebooks is the accessibility but also additional highlights (which you can then download with Evernote)
- Audible – audiobooks are so handy on a day when I cannot look at screens or during longer trips. What I love about Audible is their trend to ask authors to read books. Listening to Michelle Obama reading her autobiography is a sublime experience.
- Wikipedia – I know it sounds really basic, but my parents had the full Encyclopaedia Britannica in their living room so I grew up with the idea of browsing through it and so I love the online dictionaries and definitions on Wikipedia (especially when I need to catch up on lives of psychologists or learn more about psychological concepts).
- Twitter – this is still the most open network where we can follow scientists but also see their inspirations so expanding our sources is way easier than elsewhere
- Pinterest – if I look for ideas or specific tips I use Pinterest because their good image recognition leads to fast similar results but it is also open enough to come across alternative solutions. I guess this is a space more used for practical tips (so I use it for gardening) but sometimes you can come across good academic articles and visuals too.
- Podcasts – again easy to use and easy to follow, what I like about podcasts is the intimacy of connection with the author and their unique styles
- YouTube premium – it’s my new channel and I think they need to work on their paid value but I like learning from YouTube documentaries and find older movies there too so using it without adverts is a real treat.
- Medium and personal blogs – regardless of social media conversations, personal blogs still are my preferred destination. They are our personal spaces so we learn a lot about each other there. I love catching up with friends this way.
All the above channels seem basic. However, when interconnected you can jump between a tweet, bio to a blog than to a book on Amazon and to Wiki page on the topic. Finally, you can find a content summary in a good visual on Pinterest. You just need to be open, flexible and curious. I know the above might sounds obvious but I hope it shows just how easy it is to practice love for learning online. What have I missed? Let me know.
Critical thinking is the analysis of facts to form a judgment. The subject is complex, and several different definitions exist, which generally include the rational, sceptical, unbiased analysis, or evaluation of factual evidence. Critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem-solving abilities as well as a commitment to overcome native egocentrism and sociocentrism.
I personally feel really strongly about this one – although to be entirely honest it is not one of my top strengths. I was however raised to make informed decisions so I am still learning and hoping to get better at this. Oftentimes I am noticing people around me forming opinions based on commonly accepted norms and myths, not facts and I tremble – because I know I am doing that too. Sometimes I catch myself on repeating those myths but I am working hard on changing that.
The idea of a fact is quite tricky anyway. Most of us know that even academic research can be political, of course, but the bottom line is this: when we read an article, any article (no matter how academic it is) our inner biases scan it not for facts but our own inner truths. How do we form our own truths? Based on our culture, upbringing, social norms, current trends, our peers even. Oftentimes we navigate our lives with confidence that what we hold as truth is objectively the ultimate fact. That makes sense – that’s what keeps us going.
So let’s go back to the idea that we all have a different, individual version of reality. We all experience the very same event or statement differently. We decode it and assign a meaning to it. We act based on that analysis. But is this process actually critical? Do we examine our topic enough? How do we do it anyway?
Critical thinking definition contains few elements:
- First of all, it is an analysis which implies focused effort to explore a topic.
- Secondly, the topic itself is complex and so it requires deep analysis.
- The process should be objective, unbiased and evidence-based.
- It also has to be self-driven – originating from us, driven by our commitment to this exploration.
- The definition also mentions excellence which implies it is not a destination but a process itself – we can strive to get better and better at it and always aim for higher standards
- It requires good communication skills
- It requires good
- It also requires accepting that our perspectives tend to be egocentric (
self focussed) but those perspectives can be shifted to a more general, universal view on the topic.
Well, that’s a lot! If this is critical thinking than quite frankly it’s a lot of work. I am not sure if critical thinking is required in every single situation in our life, of course. But I am often surprised just how the above-mentioned elements of it are missing from significant conversations in our daily lives. How often we make statements that are quite quick and not entirely thoughtful. However, it is also due to the fact that in social interactions the sense of belonging to a group is important – way more important than being right. Our need to conform can be really strong and that’s understandable. We want to fit in and belong. But since we don’t need to be perfect at everything maybe critical thinking can be practised and developed in line with our need to belong to our group as well?
In my last two posts, I made a list of practical tips. Today I would like to continue with another one. This time I will leave you with a list of assumptions people tend to make when discussing digital technologies with me. I would like to ask you to explore your views on those terms and concepts in a more critical way. Treat it as a simple exercise and let me know how it goes:
- Facebook blackout – blackout is a word associated with electricity, something we deeply rely on, so I personally found myself wondering why some people feel so strongly about this prominent social media network. The term was used in a negative context to implying that we rely on Facebook a bit too much. At the same time, the term resonated with fear of the lost connection with our fellow friends and family. So I was wondering about a few questions: what is the real importance of Facebook in people’s lives? Is this about Facebook or our inner need to connect with others? Was this term also implying access to information? Or was it a term born out of the idea that for some people Facebook is taking over their lives – in which case I am wondering why is that? Why do some people allow for this to happen and actually blame the tool for their own choices?
- Content overload – I hear this one a lot, but as a person born in a generation of people who still had to wait for access to books in the library I personally celebrate any access to content online, I crave it and I marvel when I can learn, study and explore things online for free (or for affordable prices). I can relate to the idea of emotional or intellectual overload, of course, I am just wondering why people use this term. To me personally, it implies the inability to manage your online sources and subscribing to too much. Why do people do that? There is also the idea of “less is more” which I personally really disagree with – I think that most of the time we are just lazy and do not pay enough attention. It happens to me when I attempt to read a book after a long and tiring day – but I do not blame the book for it. So I wonder if it’s the content or lack of time, or maybe our lack of skills in filtering through the content and choosing the right sources and amount of it? I much prefer to stay online where I can choose my content than to watch TV channels full of adverts and have no control over those whatsoever.
- Internet addiction and gaming addiction – here I would really love to know what feelings come up for you when you are reading those terms. Oftentimes, most of the time, to be honest, my clients use them in very negative sentiment. In my opinion, both terms need to be used really carefully as they can very easily stigmatise people who use the Internet and online gaming. Those terms were introduced into the scientific world with a clear note that they both still need more research to be confirmed. Additionally, they are also quite political: I am yet to see a government happy to see its citizens accessing information freely and collectively building strong, opinionated communities without any limitations. So when I hear those terms I always ask: what do we mean by that? Addiction to what (content, networking, information, upsetting content, etc)? The compulsion to do what or to distract ourselves from what? What is the detrimental impact of Internet and gaming on our lives? When it comes to online gaming I also sometimes worry that in the new economies with a lot of pressure on individual and fairly new open conversations about mental health the play, joy of simply hanging out with friends online, having fun and not being productive but simply resting somehow is labelled as bad habit or even failure. Why? The real problem with over-using this term is the fact that when some of us really get into unhealthy habits online, we might not have the courage to recognise it and seek help.
- FOMO vs. the need to disconnect, switch off and go outside – fear of missing out is a well-known sensation. We experience it when we travel and cannot attend our partner’s Birthday party or cannot witness an important event in our child’s life. We also experience it when we cannot access social networks to check in with our friends (now with the algorithms on social media channels this sensation is probably less common – we do not see all our networks in the chronological order anyway). It can make us feel really anxious and uneasy about the technology, but really deep down originates in a difficult truth: we miss something or someone. FOMO is a commercial tactic too so we see it on a daily basis in timed discounts and rushed offers – that can put a lot of pressure on us. On the other hand, we often express the need to switch off and disconnect because we feel overloaded with content and the amount of noise online. We cling on to our mobiles and check them out even if we do not have to and really wish we could go outside. So what is really going on? What is missing? Why do we feel this way? I find the two concepts really important because in my personal experience a lot of my clients actually have the need to reconnect – with their friends, family and with themselves. So I wonder: what happened to the idea of dreaming, hoping and connecting? Why do we blame ourselves for wanting to travel when our reality is suffocating? Why is it not OK to wish to be on that beach with our friends? Yes, it is a heavy feeling but it also means that mentally the moment we feel with our friends we are actually resting too. With a little bit of mindfulness and positive take on their holiday updates, we could simply be happy to them and feel with them for a bit? It’s a great opportunity to connect and emotionally bond with another person. So why do we choose to feel depressed? And if we do, why is that not OK? We are not perfect? Again, overusing this term means that some of us who have severe anxieties (and we know now that online networks can amplify those) might need help but never ask for it.
- Minecraft/Fortnight obsession – both terms are used notoriously by parents who seem to worry about their children’s use of both of those games. In reality, in most cases, the obsession is actually a passion, a hobby shared by masses of other young people who simply find it a fun thing to do. Younger children hang out on Minecraft and build amazing structures collaborating with their friends. Older children and teens hang out on Fortnite and with the help of skins shift between various outfits and vitual identities. They do that at an age when searching for your identity and expressing yourself is an important part of our growth. Yes, Fornite does have addictive and gambling elements. Yes, both games can be taken to extreme levels and can lead to addictive behaviours but most of the time, they simply don’t. But when does that happen? If parents do not put rules, boundaries in place. Sometimes because parents do not make time for their children or do not have that time due to the amount of work and other commitments. Yet, we use the term obsession really lightly. Why do we use it? Are we worried about our children – that’s a good thing, we should care. Are we doing anything about it? I am not sure. Do we engage in open conversations about those games? Do we, possibly, envy our children for having free time and having fun? Or do we know better? Whatever the questions are, we need to ask more of them and find more answers – together with our children. Because most of them seem just fine. And if we replace the word “obsession” with “passion” suddenly the game is just another hobby – one that keeps our teens off the street and away from alcohol and drugs. Someone used the word “passionate” with the word “lunch” at work today and I found myself repeating it. I was thinking about the negative connotation of even that word, but I guess it’s a different topic altogether. It should be a good thing to have a hobby, anyway.
- Social media having a negative impact on mental health – I hear this in every single mental health training and I cringe because the academic research confirms something else entirely: we come to social media with certain attitudes and feelings, they can be positive or negative and so we tend to choose online sources of content and connections that amplify our original feelings. I guess that is why we oftentimes do feel sad, depressed, worried, anxious – because we can suddenly see clearly what is really going on for us and for others. I just wonder if making a negative assumption helps those who struggle. Does it help? Or should we be having more balanced conversations about the technology and focus on helping each other with the actual needs and issues instead?
- The narcissism of selfies – this will be the last of my digital terms but I think it is really important because it touches on the idea of ego. And that in itself can be stigmatised a lot. Whereas in a healthy way of living we would aim for a healthy amount of ego as well. The common visual representation of this is a balloon – a good amount of ego allows us to fly, but too much of it will make us pop, not enough will stop us from thriving. Narcissism is overused a lot in conversations about online identity and it is still often times misunderstood, especially when it comes to selfies. When in actual fact some studies have shown that taking a selfie actually improves people’s body image. I just wonder if we are ready to accept that this can be a good thing? Maybe we should not judge others and ourselves so easily?
The reason why I have mentioned the above terms is that it’s the area I work in. I find it really difficult to correct people around me on most of those assumptions simply because they are now so often shared, repeated and slowly enter our common language. As a person working in digital wellbeing, I meet a lot of people who indeed feel affected by the digital innovation but their problems oftentimes boil down to our basic human needs: to belong, to be loved, to grow and to thrive. The lack of critical thinking in the way we relate to digital technologies results in a worldview which is shaped by fears, myths and opinions more often than facts or even individual experiences. That worldview is heavy and depressing. If we had more balanced and informed conversations about those topics maybe our versions of reality would move towards more balanced experiences too?
I can see how critical thinking can be a strength. It is a very difficult process for me but as I study to become a therapist I am working a lot on my own biases and so I am also starting to benefit from more critical and balanced views. I hope this will be helpful to you as well, but let me know – I would love to hear your
Curiosity is a VIA Character strenght I interpret a little bit differently than the general association of the word. When we call someone curious we tend to think about a person who is asking too many questions, especially here, in the British culture. It is not even appropriate to ask a newly met person about their profession directly – we simply need to be as polite and safe in our questions as possible. I can see how this can mean we are respectful, but for many people, this approach can be really isolating. We miss out so much. We lose a genuine connection with each other.
A general curiosity, the underlying interest in people and the world can be really positive. Being inquisitive about the world around us leads to new findings but also new perspectives. It makes us feel better. It stretches our perception beyond our very own biases, allows us to connect with people in new ways. This process can be so rewarding! In our daily conversations, we navigate between each other with a lot of assumptions about our individual view of reality. We tend to assume how the world looks like for others. We now know however we all have a very different set of skills experience our reality. Even if our lives were similar, we would all perceive and interpret it very differently. We hear and understand words differently. We all have a different definition of sensations and feelings in our bodies. Test it out – as a few friends for their definition of joy, love, awe or sadness, pain, fear. We all have our very own experiences from our past that shape the way we decode and interpret the here and now.
It can be really safe and bonding to assume that we have no idea about the actual experience of another person. If we start our conversations there and ask our questions with pure curiosity and the intent to understand, to connect better, to enter that person’s view of the world, we might discover fascinating ideas. We might learn, get inspired, be moved or find ourselves helping others just by offering more relevant responses. That sense of connection addresses a very basic human need to feel a bond with another person. It touches our inner child and simply feels good.
There is also a grounding element to asking questions. One question especially: why? We know this from marketing, branding and other areas of business. We experience this when working on disorganised, hectic projects. We feel happier at work when we know simply why we do things the way we are doing them. The core purpose of our work sets a direction we can always adjust to. Having that inner compass as an employee, as a business owner, or as a private individual really increases our resilience levels in more stressful times.
Knowing our personal goals can be really empowering. Let’s face it, we all feel that sense of purpose in others. We recognise it in them from the way they walk, speak, connect with us, make their life choices. We see the people who are clear on their purpose. Asking the why question is not a one-off task though. It’s a habit. It is a journey of serious but also courageous explorations. It can be initially quite daunting but trust me: it’s just another habit. It takes about three months to really learn a habit which, if you think about it, is not long. It is worth it too. Asking yourself goal related questions, exploring your dreams and reflecting on your journey helps us feel confident, steady and grounded.
Yesterday I have listed a few personal tips, so I will do something similar today. Here is how I practice curiosity:
- Setting goals – whether it’s short, or long-term goals it is really easy to get into the habit of planning. If you struggle, I recommend the 5 Minute Journal (on paper or as a mobile app). One of its core elements is daily morning goal setting and evening reflective review. It’s a simple task, which when repeated, really starts to become a mental habit fast.
- Understanding the meaning of work – I always ask myself the question: what is the why behind my commitments? Why am I working in specific industries? Why do I care? Why am I willing to spend most of my day working towards a particular mission in my life? Where do I want to be in 12 months or in 5 years time? (Forget about the fear of getting there or failing, just map it out). You do not have to meet your mission but it won’t hurt to at least try to head towards those goals.
- Exploring new ideas and perspectives – looking at things from a different perspective. I would normally ask myself: what else is there? what am I missing? what am I not doing? what could I be doing better or just differently? Two things happen when you do that: you might discover a better way or realise that your original approach is solid and you should stick to that. My dad gave me this tip when I was learning photography: always move the camera to an unconventional angle (place it under a flower, take a selfie of a tree above you, shift your perspective, look behind your subject – explore and experiment). If it helps, do just that – we all have cameras on our phones these days.
- Changing focus – looking closer, closing eyes half way or sharpening our view to see greater depth is another photographic exercise. Imagine sitting on a bus in traffic in heavy rain. What do you see in the window: raindrops, glass structure, dust, the street maybe, a reflection of your friend in the window, trees, buildings, the taller blocks of flats above the landscape, maybe even stars? Work more with this approach – shift between those perspectives and experiment with how quickly you can move between those worlds. How does it feel to realise the real depth of our reality? Can we apply this to other areas of our lives? Can we use this in problem-solving?
- Asking others the “counselling question”: how does it make you feel? Or even: how is this for you? We all have a different experience of the very same event. How is rain in traffic at midnight for your friend? How is it for you? Compare the notes and pay attention to what shapes the answers. Ask yourself the very same question and see what comes up for you.
- Asking orientational and special questions to locate and describe experiences: where is your anger now in your body? Step out of your comfort zone and state the difficult truths – for example after an argument ask: what is in this silence for you? how does it sit with you? Open up new paths for connection and conversation by daring to ask more questions – of course, if you feel it’s appropriate.
- Exploring the opposites – I like this one a lot. People often complain about missed opportunities or mistakes their friends made. I do this a lot myself. But how do we want our expectations to be met? The answers can be really telling. So ask: if you were ignored yesterday, how would you like that person to react better to understand you? What would they have to do to meet your need then?
- Asking about our stories – finding out more about our roots and the experiences that shaped us can be really bonding. Ask: what is your story? This relatively large question can open up a lot but it can also be used around particular experiences – is there something else that shaped your reactions to this now? Why are you feeling this way now? Please remember to ask those questions with care, genuine attentiveness and be prepared to make time for listening afterwards.
- Exploration game – it’s my little fun game. I like browsing for new ideas without a goal to see what comes up. I like bumping into new books in a library, charity shop or a second-hand book shop. I don’t plan particular reads just pick books based on their cover, colour, location on the shelf. The randomness of that act opens me up to things I would otherwise miss.
- Self-reflection – asking yourself questions can be really powerful and healing. Review your actions, events in life, conversations, feelings. Notice how you reacted or felt and think about the deeper meaning for you. Try not to censor, nor judge yourself (we do so much judging in our head!). You can do it in writing or simply in your thoughts – every time you have a moment to yourself.
This became a rather long list, but I would love to hear from you. What are your ways of asking a lot of questions?
I am starting a month of reflection around VIA Character
strenghtsso let’s talk about the first one. Creativity can oftentimes be associated with weaknesses, not strengths. It is however really stimulating and fun to do things in a new way, follow new patterns, do things differently. I often judge myself as “naughty” when instead of following rules, I hack the solution out of my reality. Breaking rules ispart of our human nature. When we do it at the right time and effectively, we arrive at new conclusions. There is nothing wrong about thinking outside of our own box and we really should celebrate it.
I love watching my son play computer games. I got this when he was testing his first Super Mario game a few years ago. Instead of driving directly in the middle of each racing path, he would purposefully bump into the edges of it to find shortcuts. It is a well-known phenomenon in game design: we like to complete a level and then repeat it but this time with additional options of pre-designed cheats. We feel more achieved by completing our small virtual challenges this way.
So why can we not do it in IRL (in real life)? I think we should blame our education and upbringing. We are raised to think that creativity is a starting point of rebellion. My son’s first day at school needed with one significant discovery: he had an allocated spot to sit on on the floor. While I was heartbroken that the school was already on the day one boxing him into an allocated place, my son felt actually special and important. I had to work really hard to explain to him that the real privilege is to have the freedom to move between different places or maybe even run freely without disturbing others.
If creativity can be a strength too and can lead to emotional resilience how can we identify it and nurture it? I think there are many simple ways, but here are my personal favourites:
- Doing something slightly out of the ordinary – something really easy like getting off a stop earlier and walking a bit more on a sunny morning allowing yourself more time to simply enjoy reconnecting with the environment Playing games – we love playing Fluxx because the game itself is about changing rules, but I think any game (offline or virtual) improves our ability to relax into doing new things.
- Getting back to art basics – paper, scissors, flowers, paints or any other traditional art materials. My therapist asked me the other day to make a collage as homework and even though I was initially tempted to use iPad’s Moodboard app, I was advised to use paper cutouts instead. That took me directly to the child in me and opened up a lot of fun memories from my childhood.
- Making new types of food – growing herbs and seasoning your dinner slightly differently is very simple yet can be so powerful to all our senses! Venturing out to a few local stores and buying a new ingredient, making a new meal and simply enjoying the new sensations can be fun for us, and for our family.
- Creating new rituals or changing routine – small silly jokes or home rituals can be super easy on a good day and very useful on a cloudy day. We have a few, for example making a Mexican wave over dinner – just to stop and remind ourselves about the importance of that own evening family meal. If you get into the habit of it you might notice new fun rituals emerging on their own – we humans are wired for viral ideas. YouTube videos are just the tip of the iceberg!
- Using tech and social media differently – setting up or joining an Instagram challenge can be a lot of fun, joining a blogger carnival and exploring a new topic or recording few new street music videos to share with online friends – all of it is easy to do in today’s world. Sharing your experiences with friends can also be really rewarding. I also think doing this time to time helps us reevaluate the importance of social media channels and possibly adjust our habits.
That’s all I can think of now. What are your creativity tips? What is your definition of creativity as a strenght? Let me know!
Today marks a day of a very long journey for me. Since June 2016 I was quiet, I lost my voice. Back then, a few days before the Brexit referendum, I posted a quick note about the meaning of the vote. That post marked an end to an era in my experience of technology. It was also an end of a difficult 6 months of watching the pre-Referendum campaign unfold in front of my eyes and feeling really helpless. Even really social media savvy people took on sharing posts promoting lies about EU not realising that this actually helped the reach of those messages. Discussions about echo chambers only really started when Trump actually won. We have started to learn the truth about social media: its landscape and underlying mechanisms reflect how we work as humans. With the help of algorithms but also very basic human biases, we forgot about echo chambers. We became vocal when some of our opinions should have remained offline. I know many of my friends do not agree with this still up till this day, but I see we are finally learning from Facebook’s scandals. In the recent reactions to Christchurch events, for instance, I have, for the first time, noticed a lot of sentiment around NOT MENTIONING facts not to promote them towards biased audiences.
I call this process resistance. It’s a new word in our new digital reality but I think it works. We do not have to tolerate racism and the divide our political leaders are aiming to cover up their own mistakes. We simply have to resist sharing all our points and think a bit more strategically how our opinions travel in social networks. Do not forget that in social media marketing a mention, any mention (even negative one) is marked as positive for a brand – because any mention is better than none. So the best thing we can sometimes do is…remain silent. Not speaking can be an act too.
Today also marks the day when I am coming back to my more opinionated self. I spent months, years by now, learning more about digital wellbeing. I dived into psychology again to understand our biases. I started figuring out how we communicate online and what is the essence of our digital humanity. Today I know it is the choices that shape us. We all have the ability to act or to remain passive, to speak or to hold silence, to hurt or to protect others. And so as we are going through the really difficult part of the Brexit process I am wondering: what are we learning today? I personally start to see the value in both speaking up and in remaining silent – but both in the right times, strategically. In resistance, but also in active response to abuse and in risking to take a stand.
In the spirit of this new realisation I have visited the Bristol Museum to see the old Banksy work – a very relevant artwork indeed. It was brought back for the tenth anniversary of Banksy’s museum takeover, but it is pretty obvious that it is yet another response to the current political events. I am really glad that some people do take a stand, in a smart way. I really hope that that the next few weeks will bring kindness and unity back to the UK and to Europe, because we are ever so divided. I personally am really fed up with it and will blog on the mental health impact of those events more.
For now I would love to know what you have learned from the last few years of Brexit and the rise of less tolerant movements in Europe and what was the role of social media in this process?