Will we ever see a year like 2020? I bloody well hope not!
Being stuck in a Co-Vid lockdown has offered a few silver linings. Spending way more time with my wife and children, learning how to adapt and pivot my business, getting even more used to delivering online and offering a chance to reflect on life in general.
These strange times have brought out the best in some and the worst in others. I have witnessed from afar, and at close quarters, how some people have gone out of their way to help others in need and while some have gone about looking to break people down.
These are 6 superpowers which I have experienced and witnessed in the last 12 months. 3 toxic and 3 incredibly productive. In some way, the 3 productive powers are an antidote to the toxicity. This has not been easy for me to write but I am sure you will see similarities in yourself and can find a solution within this blog.
Thankfully, we have reached a social tipping point where people are speaking openly about their mental health. So, in a way, this has been my experience of proactively developing healthy strategies for my mind and body.
So here goes….
Superpower 1 – Passive aggression
Passive aggression is a pattern of behaviour indirectly expressing negative feelings instead of openly addressing them.
Ever heard of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon? This is the strange experience of being made aware of something for the 1st time and then you start to see it everywhere you go. Typically, you may experience it when you are looking for a new car. You begin investigating an option never previously considered. Before you know it, every time you drive, you see dozens of those cars. I had heard of passive aggression but never really understood what it was. Once I read up on it, I was seeing it every day, in emails, zoom meetings and WhatsApp groups. This was not the healthiest of revelations for me as I see it as a form of subtle bullying and I was taught to deal with bullies in a very direct way. More about that later.
In the last year I have witnessed, first hand, someone being passively aggressive towards an individual. At first, I couldn’t see the subtleties but, just like Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, once I did, I could see the pattern consistency rear its ugly head. Being the recipient to passive aggression is like having someone prod you with a tiny needle. At first, you feel the sting of the needle and quickly disregard it but every time it happens the pain builds until it becomes unbearable. It is a poisonous skill and can see the recipient snap at, what most people consider, the tiniest thing. There is a reason for the expression ‘that was the last straw’.
Superpower 2 – Negative labelling
This is an interesting trait. Research is suggesting it is not healthy to stick any label on a person, positive or negative. However, when someone is consistently, and subtly, picking away at you, it is so easy to start to wear these labels. For example, if you get told you are lazy enough times, you may just start to live up to that perception. It makes my list of underestimated superpowers because of the subconscious process. Just like being passive aggressive, the deliverer may not even realise they are doing it. I have always been curious as to why people want to put negative labels on others. One of my conclusions is it could be an attempt to elevate ones self. By calling another person lazy, it infers you work harder than them. By suggesting someone else is not productive, it says you are more productive than them. I see labelling as an extension to being passive aggressive. Ones status is not elevated while putting others down. You stay on the same run of the ladder while attempting to push people down a run or two. In essence, it lowers the bar in whichever environment it takes place.
Superpower 3 – Negative self-talk
This is the largest of the negative superpowers and is a huge challenge for me. I believe it may be for you too. I am my own worst critic. I am consistently having the most ridiculous conversations with myself. I can go round and round in my own head for hours at times, convincing myself of the most ridiculous things. The most common time for me to do this is just before I go to sleep. It doesn’t take a genius to work out where that leads. Lack of sleep combined with negative self-talk can be a crippling superpower. There have been many mornings where I genuinely feel I’ve not slept at all. This creates a negative spiralling effect on the following day. When I suffer this several nights in a row I feel like I am walking around like a zombie but only my head. To the outside world, they wouldn’t see any difference unless they really know me. Our loved ones and best friends know when something is not quite right.
The other time I experience it is when….. I have lots of time to sit and think. You know, as well as anyone, how much time we’ve had to sit and think during lockdown so negative self-talk has occurred a lot in the last year.
Combine these 3 superpowers, you get a poisonous cocktail. Drink enough and it can be deadly. When you have that gut feeling someone may be looking to pin negative labels on you and realise they are doing it in the most subtle of ways, you will start doubting yourself. Before you know it, you will be having the most ridiculous poisonous with yourself. In some cases, you may even start to believe what the other person is saying.
Now for some positivity. I’m going to share how I have personally dealt with this cocktail in the last 12 months and you may be surprised at some of my revelations during this process.
Superpower 4 – Exercise
6 weeks before lockdown began, I made a vow to do 1 minute of exercise every day for the rest of my life. Doesn’t seem like a lot or enough but the time was immaterial. The frequency of ‘every day’ was the angle I was looking for. Physically and mentally, I had hit rock bottom. I was travelling a lot for work which typically means eating out every night. I was doing virtually zero exercise. I fell ill and carried it around for 8 weeks. I was overweight, unhappy and mentally in a dark place. I have always invested in my mind but I had never invested fully in my body. Therefore, I wanted to create a healthy habit of exercising every single day. What I didn’t anticipate was the knock on effect this would have on my mind.
I discovered movement cleared my mind. When my mind is clear, I fill it with creativity. When my mind is full of creativity, I am happy. The revelation of, when I am moving, I am not thinking about that ‘other stuff’ was like a weight being lifted off my shoulders. It also provided me with the opportunity to think deeply about what could be happening with those ‘other people’.
Solution – when I start to think or feel negativity, I exercise. Simple solution to a very complicated problem.
Superpower 5 – Outdoors
If you are from the UK, you will remember the strange experience of lockdown beginning and us having the most incredible spell of brilliant weather. Typical huh, stay indoors when the weather was astonishingly good. However, what this lead to was us appreciating our gardens more than ever before and looking forward to the one hour of outdoor exercise we were allowed each day. This process was like having a turbo boost. I live in a tiny fishing village in the NE of Scotland. We have a harbour literally 200 yards away from our house. We have miles of coastline on our doorstep in both directions. Walking, running and cycling by the sea was like food for my soul and energy for my mind. It was also a huge relief for me to discover my feeling of being outside was not weather dependant. In fact, there was something quite liberating about going out for a walk or a run in terrible weather. This provided even more time for me to reflect on ‘those people’ and the reasons for their devious behaviours.
Solution – when my mind feels heavy, get outside in the fresh air.
Superpower 6 – Kindness – the ultimate power
Exercising outdoors was the catalyst for freeing my mind up and providing the opportunity to become creative with my work and my problem solving around toxic people. Some solutions were very obvious and instantly productive. Deactivate twitter!! Done! No more reading hate and way more space in my mind for healthy thoughts. All done by pressing a button.
I then had to investigate ways to create healthier thoughts and conversations in my mind. Funnily enough, it was a series of Instagram Live sessions I did with Dr David Hamilton which had the biggest impact on this superpower. I made another commitment to myself. Look for opportunities to be kind. I decided to call this passive kindness.
Kindness is the biggest superpower we have. It is free, we have endless supplies and it benefits, both, us and the recipient.
Passive kindness is such a simple process. All you do is look for every small opportunity to be kind. This can be as small as opening a door, asking how someone, thanking someone sincerely or looking for opportunities to praise work or attitude. This has 3 benefits. Of course, the first benefit is it makes the recipient feel nice for a second, a minute or maybe longer. Secondly, they will be more likely to pay that kindness forwards to others in that following timeframe. The final benefit, and the one which lead to my biggest lockdown revelation…. it makes me feel GREAT.
This may seem obvious to you but the biggest lightbulb moment is still to come.
When people are being mean or hating on someone, it really is an extension of how they feel about themselves. Therefore, the solution is…. be kind ESPECIALLY when you have the urge to be mean. Feel sorry for the haters and you will, not only, take away their oxygen, you will also feel better in yourself. Don’t get me wrong, it is hard graft to be nice to people who are being nasty to you. The easy thing to do is be nasty back. However, like anything in life, the things which are most beneficial are often the hardest to obtain. Believe me, this process is worth investing in as it will have the most monumentally empowering effect on you and others around you.
Through this process, memories of my dear old grandmother (nanny) came flooding back. She had the most amazing way of communicating to get you really thinking. I vividly recalled moments where she would say ‘what on earth makes you think that?’ or ‘what made you say that?’ I started to think this when reading passive aggressive emails. I would take a second and reflect, why are they thinking this way? Why have they typed this? That question would kickstart an empathic process and I would reply with as kind and respectful a way as possible. More often than not, that would be the end of the thread. Before this revelation, I would have wasted so much time going back and forth, wrestling on a thread which ended with zero productivity and me feeling incredibly frustrated. With this new approach, I save time and I feel empowered.
I recently expressed this approach to a friend and he said ‘ah yes, kill them with kindness’. As much as I understand the sentiment behind this expression, I don’t like it. I would prefer ‘save them with kindness’. I don’t believe a person is inherently evil because they exhibit passive aggression and attempt to put others down to elevate their own status. I feel sorry for them. I want to help them. They have issues which require attention. It is not for me to bring those issues to their attention, and let’s face it, they definitely wouldn’t listen to me if they are choosing to pick on me in the first place. However, if I can show kindness towards them there’s a chance I could help open their minds to reflect on their behaviour. At the very least, they will realise that I am not a worthy target as they will not get the bite they clearly want.
I was brought up to defend myself when attacked. The reasons sold to me were ‘you must let bullies know they cannot mess with you!’ I was taught this 43 years ago by my father before my 1st day at school. Here I am, 48 years old, saying exactly the same thing but my advice has evolved from fighting to being kind to the bully. For me, that is quite the transformation in attitude from my earlier years.
Of course, there will be times where you have to speak bluntly to someone about their actions or behaviour but this could be likened to communication in a health and safety situation. I’ve been taught many times, it is OK to be very blunt with people are when they are in danger. You don’t try and reason with a person when they are about to hurt themselves. You could scream STOP right in their face and they would accept this once they realise you did it to protect them. The same goes for situations where the other person is ‘in danger of hurting themselves’ with their behaviour. You can be blunt and honest with people if you are smart in selling it was for their benefit, not yours.
Now I wear kindness like my favourite outfit. This makes me feel impervious to labels and leads to me having healthier conversations with myself. I genuinely feel sorry for mean people, and in some cases, start to care about the person who is being mean to me. They may not know it but I do and it makes me feel better in myself. Bottom line, me holding any bitterness, anger or hate towards anyone does not serve me in a positive way. We need to focus on human nurture instead of accepting human nature.
If you have resonated with any of this, I urge you, try adding more exercise to your day. Get outside and empty your mind. Look for opportunities to be kind, especially, do people who are not kind to you. They are struggling with their own issues. The minimum benefit you will experience is feeling better within yourself.
Take a note of how you feel in yourself when you practice it. If you feel it helps, please get in touch with me privately and share your feedback. I don’t want names or stories…… as that would be unkind 😉