Jul 032021


For many years, the discussion around emotion was pushed aside. As the world and society industrialised, we began to glamorise the “tough hustler” whilst scoffing at the “new age hippies” who spoke openly about their emotions, spirituality, and the mind. But the reality is that, as humans, we are hardwired to be reliant on emotions. Fear, for example, is a primal emotion that can trigger the physiological flight-or-fight response first identified by psychologist Walter Cannon in the 1920s who described this as a rapid, emotionally triggered chain reaction. This response allows the body to deal with threatening circumstances. In ancient times, this would have resulted in a hunter sensing a wild predator. Today, that could be a voice that tells you to walk faster in dark alleys. In that context, emotions don’t seem as silly now, do they?

Why Should You Care About Emotional Well-Being Anyway?

During much of human history and in parts of the world today, conditions have been, and are truly awful to the extent that survival is almost the only issue. But for more people alive today – partly due to the sacrifices of our ancestors – conditions are, happily, far better. This raises a different class of issue in our co-existence with others and gives the fortunate choice of what kind of life you want to live. Actually, having that choice can create much stress too.

Hitherto, emotional wellbeing has been put on a lower rung than physical or mental. We would now see this as quite ironic, considering that emotions are deeply intertwined with both. For instance, a positive example of this happening would be when you “dress for success”. This physical act subliminally uplifts your confidence, affecting how you think, and may also have an impact on how others perceive you. On the flipside, a negative example is a cluttered home. Studies have shown that in the UK, 82% said that their moods have been affected by clutter, with some even reporting depression. Another study noted that cluttered spaces caused cortisol levels to rise (and not naturally decline) throughout the day.

Not only do emotions affect you more than you think they do, underlying this, your emotional state is affected by the environment you are in far more than you may realise.

How Your Surroundings May Be Hijacking Your Emotions

Society Can Be Sabotage

When you think of environment, it’s important to also include the people and societal issues around us. In communities where crime is rampant, for instance, it is common to hear people say they are stuck in a “cycle of violence”. Some of crime’s effects include feeling anger, confusion, and even getting physically ill. This causes many to feel like as if the only way they can survive is to emulate this same violence. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, if you will. It is, however, shocking that simply tidying the environment reduces criminal behaviour, as in the criminological theory called “Fixing Broken Windows” approach.

pexels-photo-185801At work, one in five Brits has credited a toxic workplace culture as their reason for resigning in a Culture Economy 2020 report. They cited feelings of isolation and alienation due to bullying or harassment amidst a competitive industry. Such negativity is believed to cost the UK economy a staggering £15 billion a year. Perhaps more concerning than that are the very real long-term PTSD that you, as an employee, may experience. Over the past two decades, more evidence is coming to light that unhealthy workplaces cause trauma. As a place where you spend at least 40 hours a week, it’s not surprising that your personal life begins to be affected by your professional one.

In today’s digital age, you must also consider the social media environment that you interact with. Over 53 million people in the UK are currently on a social media platform, spending almost five hours a week online. While this can be a chance to detach from reality’s stressors, a growing number of people find themselves distressed online. Researchers from institutions around the world have shown that consistent social media use can result in depressive symptoms, heightened anxiety, and mood swings.

Workplaces Can Be Woeful

Although many aspects of our contemporary world have been designed to underscore convenience, that doesn’t mean it satisfies our basal needs. This can result in feeling detached, lacking, or akin to being on autopilot. Take for instance, office workers. Though humans are not bred to stay hunched over a screen all day, that is what we do. That is modern day survival. But then, if this act serves an important purpose (allowing us to provide for ourselves and our loved ones), then why do three-quarters of UK workers feel burned out and unproductive? Could it be that their surroundings dilute the importance of what they do? Absolutely! Even with your best chums, a dull workplace will dim your performance. That’s why more employees are asking for wellbeing initiatives that include ergonomically outfitted work setups to be made available.

Even the fact that we spend most of our time on gadgets and indoors can affect our emotions, and in turn our bodies. For instance, natural sunlight has been proven to recalibrate our circadian rhythms and improve moods. On the other hand, prolonged exposure to blue light from gadgets inhibits sleep, and that can cause anxiety and chronic illness.

Building Back Your Emotional Well-Being

Our emotional well-being is a complex state that requires a delicate and deliberate effort. Though it’s impossible to change the entire world, you can control your personal surroundings, and that in turn can lead to creating optimal conditions for clearer thinking.

Practise What You Preach

pexels-photo-7125604As the saying goes, “Be the change you want to see”. It may be difficult to break old habits or peel away from the comfort of chaos, but it will benefit you and those around you. As humans, we imbibe positive traits that we see are working well for others. In a Forbes article, business leaders said that by modelling the behaviour they want to see, they can send positive non-verbal cues. This is often a lot better received than outright telling a person off. If you wish to be surrounded by positivity, start by being positive yourself rather than just demanding it. Like begets like, after all.

Prioritise a Positive Ambience In The Workplace

The retail and hospitality industry have long utilised the power of ambience. If you’re greeted with a good sensorial atmosphere, your body and mind will take this cue and react accordingly. Even if all you can afford to adjust is your immediate vicinity, the gains will be tremendous. As mentioned earlier, utilise as much natural sunlight as you can. Along with this, try playing with colour. You’ll find that colours have an effect on your psychology and can influence your decision making. For example, orange can give you a boost of energy. Some people find aromatherapy and music to be equally stimulating, too. The best part here is that an environment with an ambience that is good for the mind doesn’t have to cost much. You can start small with a few adjustments (a small desk plant, perhaps?) and go from there.

To sum it up, having an awareness on how the environment affects our emotions is crucial to being holistically sound. Our emotional well-being deserves the same attention as our physical and mental wellness. Rather than perceiving it as a weakness, we must begin to view it as a powerful tool that enables us to feel, think, and do more.

Submitted by Queenie Hanson for fellowshipofmind.com

Image credits: Pexels

Jun 122021
 Posted by  Change Tagged with: , , ,


What should be, or ought to be, is different from what is” (the error of ‘speculative thinking’ as defined by Robert Thouless).

What can we do to make sure the future we want happens?  Is that even possible, when so much is unpredictable and beyond our control – especially if knowing what we “want” isn’t actually that straightforward?

Reality is Contingent
Much of what happens in our careers (and lives) is outside our control – however strong and single-minded our visionary belief. If you ask academics (or anyone) what chance events had a big positive impact on their careers, you always get interesting and surprising stories. Scientific laws define the boundaries of what is possible, but what actually happens is largely down to historical chance happenings: the “contingent” nature of reality as Stephen Jay Gould put it. If you apply for positions, fellowships and so on, the outcome will depend at least on who else happened to apply for the same positions – for example.

designing_future_CoMDo Something!
Yet it’s also true that you can “make things happen”. This is easy to see if we consider the alternative: if you do nothing at all it’s far less likely that much will happen! You can be confident and make Herculean efforts…that come to nothing; and you can make a tiny nudge that topples an empire. But in both cases you learn a lot along the way and create new possibilities – if you’re not so blinded by self-belief that you are able to see them. “Doing something” has a power – “problems” of any significance require us to start solving them just to understand what the problem actually is.

Capacities for success?
Taken together, those points advocate a strategy for success that is a combination of energy, action, wisdom, playfulness, persistence, courage, and common sense – as you might expect. It doesn’t say “what” to do, but it does indicate why those obvious qualities are, in fact, important.

What to Actually “Do”? (and Why We Don’t).
The common problem is to have a rather fixed view of what we want ‘next’, which at the same time is (perplexingly) rather vague: “some sort of fellowship”; “some sort of intermediate academic position”, or “I don’t really want to think about it”. Which are hard things to execute on.

But, maddeningly, other concrete things do have to be done ‘now’ and within our immediate focus – an experiment; writing a chapter; teaching tomorrow; a meeting…so it’s very difficult to put serious energy into the more vague, further away, futures. The difficulty of a task isn’t so much the technical challenge, it’s more about emotional resistance to doing it, or a lack of clarity about what exactly to actually “do”. We’ll definitely need to master this “managing the present, while creating the future” if we end up responsible for other people.

A Trick
Have big ideas to move forwardThe trick is to make the vague definite; the fixed flexible; and the not-doable long term, into short-term things we can easily “do” today. As a caricature, let’s use the ambition of becoming a “Star Researcher” for example. You can find out what you’ll need to have achieved by, say, five years from now. Then you can work backwards to identify steps you can actually execute on today. Time is shorter than we think; but you can achieve more than you imagine you can by making steady small steps of useful progress, from which we will at least learn, and perhaps therefore adapt our plans and goals as we progress. You will end up way ahead of people who never quite got around to it – which may include your ‘old’ self.

One Way to Get Going
Pushing and motivating ourselves can be lonely, hard and delusion prone. Many of us are more effective when working in a team towards a goal we all believe in. For people who enjoy collaboration and find the above relevant to their future, one way is to create a team exercise, where each “topic team” or “research group” is in friendly competition with the other teams, to achieve the most progress for their individual members.

Practise Skills; Build Capacities
Anthropologists tell us that the unique human capacity isn’t intelligence, but imitation. As a species we’re stunningly good at it, unknowingly. Think of language, civilisations, religions, cultures, skills, and professions. It is why humanity has made the unique kind of progress that is has. That being so, you’re perfectly adapted to transcend evolution because you can consciously make choices about what you ‘imitate’, and practise those to acquire abilities and capacities, and hence shape what you become. We’re less ‘fixed’ than we think we are, which is reassuring really.


Adrian West

Dec 142013


We’re running a workshop, Adrian is in full flow delivering our “Practical Thinking” programme. I set up my laptop on a side table and to make the most use of down time as it occurs, I decide to write a piece for Fellowship of Mind

At this point  I hear a light knock on the door and go out to answer it. A construction worker in a high-viz jacket tells me he was just passing and points to a bag that has been left in the corridor and could I take care of it? I carry it quietly, intrigued and a little anxious about finding its owner, back into the room, as the delegates grapple with critical thinking exercises.  Prompted by the mystery parcel, my storytelling imagination weaves a metaphorical tale…

Continue reading »

Nov 242013

St George’s Park – venue for “The Creative Leader”

We wanted to invigorate a leadership development programme, and had some ideas about how we might blaze a trail for our people to be “thought leaders”.  How that situation came about was recounted in our last post. When we tried to figure out what it was we needed to introduce, the words that hit home most were “Creative Leadership”. Here, we want to say a little more about the thinking we engaged in to come up with a sequence of five elements for our programme and what those were. And we hope these may be helpful to you, as a template that can be applied and experimented with in different ways. Continue reading »

Nov 182013


You know what they say: “It’s been a journey”. I say it glibly, with my tongue firmly placed in my cheek.  This saying, (familiar to most for all the wrong reasons) has become very clichéd since the likes of X Factor and other similar Saturday night TV talent shows have claimed it for their own.  Never one to want to run with the crowd,  I hold my breath and say instead: “Maybe, I have grown – no that’s not it…hmmm – I think I have learnt a lot!

Let me set the scene.  It is mid-May 2013.  Imagine if you will, my thought processes. I am trying to bring to life an idea that has been germinating in my mind for more than a year, about how to invigorate the core Leadership programme for developing the managers of our organisation. There seemed to be something missing from our development mix, some skills these people needed that we hadn’t covered, but I couldn’t put my finger on what these were. Continue reading »

Nov 042013


“There’s mental inertia – my favourite  – which is a whole bunch of philosophies and attitudes and beliefs – about yourself, about other people, about the world we live in, about groups of people. This – all – must – go! “  Gabrielle Roth,  (1941-2012)  Founder of the world-renowned movement practice “5 Rhythms” Dance

Loosening up
We’re  in a high-ceilinged hall. There’s fourty five or so of us, male and female. We’re at the start of a 5 Rhythms dance class, loosening up minds and bodies, rousing physical and mental energies to overcome inertia, getting present, clear, and creative.

Warming up, we’re moving in all directions to flowing music as we begin to collectively inhabit the empty room. Walking barefoot on the warm, wooden, well-worn floor, we’re  shuffling, strolling, striding, as befits our mood while traversing the space. Sensing those around us as we do so, we catch each other’s eyes, self-consciously or in recognition, notice each other’s form, movement and demeanour. Continue reading »