As a coach, I work with people in positions of leadership who want to make the world a better place. One of my clients wants to transform the world of medicine to be more heart-based. Another of my clients has developed a plan to clean up the Mediterranean ocean. Another wants to support people to be more bold and to take risks in a conscious way.
The reason people enter into a relationship with a coach like me is because they are experiencing some kind of gap: between their vision of what they wanted to bring into the world, and their capacity to make it happen. On the surface, what seems to get in the way is unique and different for each and every person: not enough money…troubling relationship with an employee…health concerns…government regulation…It seems there are as many issues to address as there are people, but drop just a little deeper, and each and every person is dealing with exactly the same issue, and in each and every case it is this issue that I am called into solve. Chaos.
How do we recognize chaos?
The subjective experience of chaos is felt in almost the same way for everybody. The scenario and characters may change, but the plotline remains pretty identical. Here is what above-average chaos looks and feels like.
1) Feeling overwhelmed by short-term immediate fires to put out. This is often characterized by unexpected phone calls or email, unexpectedly upset people, or things breaking down in a way that requires immediate attention and that may cause other plans to be put aside.
2) Experiencing there is not enough time to get everything done on “the list,” with an accompanying sense of panic around missing deadlines.
3) Feeling the need to sacrifice time for rest and self-care. This often means getting inadequate sleep, meditative practice, exercise, good nutrition, and time to think and reflect. If you are familiar with the Radical Brilliance cycle, this means excessive time spent in the “3 to 6 quadrant,” and little or no time spent in the “6 to 9 quadrant.”
4) Feeling predominantly at the effect of circumstances beyond your control or deliberate creation, such that things are happening “to you” rather than observing the unfolding of things which you deliberately put in place. This is often characterized by the statement “All day long everyone wants something from me.”
5) Experiencing extreme difficulty to sit still for very long. Once you get hooked into a spiral of above-average chaos, it can feel extremely uncomfortable to sit for any length of time with the body still. The fight-and-flight response caused by stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol generates the feeling of jumpiness, such that not doing anything for a little while can evoke feelings of panic.
6) The repeating habit of making bad decisions, which are later regretted, and then spending even more time trying to fix mistakes that were generated from an artificially created sense of emergency. This might include being abrupt with people while making high-risk impulsive choices, and then needing to make amends, or spending money impulsively.
7) Experiencing a significant gap between the life I want to create, and the things I know I need to do, and feelings of pressure and compulsion to “have to do things now.” People often tell me “I really know I should take better care of myself/my body and that I would be much more effective if I did, but there are just so many things that have to be done each day.”
8) Shame, Isolation and Dishonesty. Hiding in the perception that “This situation is unique to me, I’m along in it, and for everyone else, things go much more smoothly.” This creates a feeling of shame and hiding and makes it more difficult to get out of the trap.
The Cost of Chaos
The experience of living in heightened chaos is highly undesirable. It takes a negative toll on your health, and deteriorates the quality of relationships with the people you work with. Turnover with employees, coworkers, and partners is much greater with a high level of chaos. Chaos also has a negative effect on your bank balance. It leads to impulsive and often unwise decisions, and initiates projects with inadequate preparation time. The heightened level of stress and need to deal with last-minute emergencies also causes us to overlook simple, easy opportunities when they arise, which could have caused maximum results with minimum of effort.
But most important, the greatest cost of chaos is to the unique gift you could otherwise be giving to the world. The Great Spirit, which in my opinion has no name and no form, does not run on emergencies. With a calm, detached, and amused disposition, it waits for the right moment, and then — with a feather stroke — injects a wave of genius that sets everything back on the right course. To be aligned with this mysterious Great Spirit, (which, by the way, belongs to no religion or philosophical framework but smiles on all of us equally), requires us to learn to take a breath, to sit back in the saddle, and to cooperate with the very force that gives us all life. [That last sentence is woo-woo nonsense to the pressure-driven, and basic common sense to the wise.]
The Skewed Thinking that Creates Chaos
Running on chaos is the direct result of several fundamental misconceptions about reality. As we correct these misconceptions, chaos diminishes and alignment increases. Here are a few of these primary misunderstandings. I am sure you can add more of your own.
1) Chaos is peculiar to me. Almost all my clients see their chaos as the result of their particular childhood conditioning, or as the result of unwise decisions, they have made personally. They assume that other people experience greater order. Because I hear exactly the same story over and over again from everybody, I have the benefit of recognizing that the problem of excessive chaos is systemic and societal, not individual. Living in chaos is the direct result of our economic system: the marketplace is competitive, it runs on the feeling of rare opportunities which, if missed, will not come again. Our economic system breeds a sense of emergency.
The atmosphere of the marketplace also equates survival with growth rather than with balance. If you want to do well in the world, you need to make sure that you are always making more money, you have a bigger market share, and you are employing more people than you did the year before. The only biological equivalent for this way of thinking is cancer. Consequently, this never seems like an opportune time to take a break. The cost of doing so is too great in terms of missed opportunities and deadlines.
2) I am a Coherent Entity. All-day long I hear people saying “I believe in this, I want this, I want to prevent that.” People use language as though they are one coherant unified entity, with all parts in alignment. For all of us, this could not be further from the truth. In fact, some of the most important and useful work I do with coaching clients is to help them recognize that we are, all of us, inherently fragmented. Whenever you say, “I want to do this,” you can equally rest assured that there is an equally strong part of you that passionately wants to do the opposite.
One part of you wants to be successful, famous and in demand. Another part wants rest and peace and to be left alone.
One part wants to experience love and attraction with many different people. Another part wants to go as deep as possible with The One.
One part wants to be a warrior for the planet and create a sustainable future. Another part wants a piece of the action, to get ahead and make profit while I can, whatever the cost and impact.
The list goes on and on.
Most of my clients are shocked to discover that there are also hidden, buried parts whose original good intention has become lost or perverted and who appear to have a destructive agenda. If you want to reduce the element of chaos in your life, the most important step is to become aware of these internal conflicts, and find ways to create outcomes where all parts can get their needs met in different ways.
3) Things are happening to me outside of my control. The repeating chorus I hear from almost everyone in positions of leadership is this. “I’ve got a great plan, I’ve got the resources to accomplish it, I have the experience and the capabilities, and everything would go well if only…all this crazy stuff would stop happening to me that I didn’t choose.”
One of the most helpful influences for me in setting this straight was the 12th-century teacher Atisha, an influential figures in the development of modern Tibetan Buddhism. Atisha left behind him a small treatise, probably one of the most important collection of words available to us as human beings. It is called The Seven Points of Mind Training. The first line of Atisha’s great work simply says,
Consider all phenomena as a dream.
Bear in mind he is not saying that everything is an illusion, which is only true in a quantum-physics-meets-metaphysics kind of a way. He is simply advising us to consider all phenomena as a dream. It is useful advice.
If you have a dream at night and someone attacks you with a knife, and then you wake up in the morning, you might ask yourself, “Why was this man attacking me with a knife?” If you forget that it was a dream, the answer might be, “he is angry, he is violent,” maybe “he is insane.” These are all things completely outside of your control and your creation. If, on the other hand, you heed Atisha’s advice and recognize that this was a dream, you will understand that the experience of being under attack was maybe because of some disowned anger within yourself, or because you ate too much cheese before going to sleep, or the bedroom was too hot.
The difference is that when you consider the man with the knife as a dream, (which in this case he actually is), the remedy lies within things that are within your control, and therefore things that you can change.
One of the most effective ways to reduce chaos in your life is to assume that everything that is happening to you, every tiny component of your life, was in some way created (consciously or unconsciously) by a part of you. If you innocently follow this assumption and trace it back, simply trying this idea on for size, your capacity to deliberately reduce chaos and increase coherence will improve dramatically.
Remedies for Reducing Chaos
I generally work with coaching clients intensively for nine months. One of my teachers once said to me, “It took nine months to create you in the womb. It’s going to take another nine months to recreate you as you would ideally like to be.” At the beginning of these nine months we set a list of outcomes, and generally we are successful in accomplishing all of them by the end of the contract. Deeper and more enduring than the accomplishment of measurable outcomes is the gradual and irreversible reduction of chaos, which is replaced by deliberate, calm decision making that is aligned not only with the deepest part of yourself, but also with your long term vision and with the mysterious force that gives us all life.
Here are the five most important keys to reducing chaos that I have discovered.
1. Pause. In one way or another, it is important to develop a conscious practice that makes the world disappear for short periods, while you remain completely conscious and awake. In the disappearance of the world, with all of its sounds and moving shapes and challenges, you also temporarily disappear as a localized entity. It is something like rebooting a computer every morning. When you can cause the world to completely disappear at will and then to recreate itself, it comes back into form with significantly greater freedom of choice and less apparent chaos out of your control.
2. Develop Long-term Vision. I encourage my clients slowly and deliberately to create clear visions of how they would like things to be, not only in 2 years, and 5 years, and 10 years, but also in 20 years, 50 years, and even 100 years. We do this through a method I have been using for more than 30 years, called “The Future Self.” We go into a light hypnotic relaxation and float into the future to a time when specific difficulties have been resolved. Then it is possible for the client to patiently ask their future self how he or she was able to resolve things and to create a more coherent life. The benefit of including a 100-year vision is that you will almost certainly be dead by then, it is a vision of the kind of future you would like your children and your grandchildren to inherit. The longer the vision extends into the future, the deeper and more profound your actions will be today.
3. Develop Increasing Sovereignty. Each and every day, after you have taken some time to cause the world to disappear and to recreate itself, write down five small actions which you can commit to completing that day. You can start with tiny things like send an email to Joe, or pay the electric bill, but slowly you can increase to being a little more ambitious. It is important to make sure that at least two of these action steps for the day are firmly and unambiguously connected to your long term vision.
4. Seek out reflection. We are always better when we collaborate. Your chances of reducing chaos and increasing intentionality in your life will be immensely improved through seeking out a peer group (men’s groups are great for men and women’s group for women because of the different biochemistry involved), creating a board of directors, or ideally working with a state-of-the-art coach… like me! I work with my clients for 60 to 90 minutes every week. Even more important is that every client has my cell phone number and is welcomed and encouraged to text me or call me each and every time a pivotal decision arises. I never tell anyone what to do, but I do invite my client to pause, to recognize and to let go of chaotic thinking and reactive emotional states, and to relax into calm knowing. Better decisions get made, and the creation of additional chaos is avoided.
5. Learn from Mistakes. If you are familiar by now with the Radical Brilliance Cycle, you will know that taking some time devoted to reflecting on mistakes, and inviting increased parasympathetic nervous system activity, is essential to becoming a more coherent person. As long as we stay in emergency mode, our capacity to integrate learning is dramatically impaired.
This has been a longer than usual post, but I have given you the very, very best of what I have to offer here. I hope it is helpful. If you are a leader of an organization and you want to make the greatest possible contribution to the world, I would be glad to talk to you — on my dime — about how the Radical Brilliance Model can support you. Equally, if you know someone who has devoted their life to collective evolution, share this article with them and let your friend know that I am happy to talk to them too.