Fear-Setting: A powerful exercise for making major life decisions.

Beware Fear Disguised As Optimism.

“There’s no difference between a pessimist who says, ‘Oh, it’s hopeless, so don’t bother doing anything,’ and an optimist who says, ‘Don’t bother doing anything, it’s going to turn out fine any way.’ Either way, nothing happens.”

— Yvon Chouinard

Most of us don’t call fear out for what it is. We often dress it up as something else. Many of us will even rationalise our fear as optimism.

We entertain thoughts that our situation will magically improve over time. This is common for someone working a job they dislike. 

But the truth is – if you feel the same way you did several months or years ago – things probably won’t get better by themselves. Unless you do something about it, the chances are you’ll remain just as unhappy as you are now.

This is what’s happened to me. 

Right now I’m standing at the edge of the precipice about to take a leap of faith. All of my gremlins have come crawling out of the woodwork. 

They’re whispering in my ear. Telling me this is a massive mistake, that it will end in disaster, that I have no idea what I’m doing… 

Of course fear wants us to play it safe. It wants us to choose certainty over happiness. That’s because the ego isn’t interested happiness. It’s only interested in survival.  

But that’s why it’s important to understand just how dangerous that leap of faith really is.

But to do that, you first have to embrace your demons. You have to give them the time and space to air out their concerns. So that you can really examine them. So you can hold them up in the light and see that fear for what it is:

  • False. 
  • Evidence. 
  • Appearing. 
  • Real. 

This helps us understand where our fears are really coming from. It helps us see what we can do to mitigate those concerns. Which fears are worth listening to and which really aren’t.

This in turn can give us the strength we need to take that leap of faith.

Fear-Setting: A powerful exercise for making major life decisions.

“You have comfort. You don’t have luxury. And don’t tell me that money plays a part. The luxury I advocate has nothing to do with money. It cannot be bought. It is the reward of those who have no fear of discomfort.”

— Jean Cocteau.

With this in mind I have an exercise you might consider. It’s an exercise I ran through the other night in an attempt to gain more clarity on my impending decision to divert from Hong Kong and my career in aviation.

It’s called fear-setting – an exercise that Tim Ferris called, “the most valuable one he does every month.” If you’re interested his article breaks it down in greater detail.

In a nut shell, here’s what you do:

  1. First, you write down the major life change you’re considering. 
  2. Second, define the worst case scenario in pain staking detail. Ask yourself if it really would be the end of your life? How permanent would it be? How likely is the worst case scenario?
  3. Third, ask yourself what steps could you take to repair the damage/deal with worst. Would you be able to get another job? What if you were fired from your job today? What would you do? How would you cope?
  4. Forth, ask yourself what the outcomes/benefits of a more probable scenario are. What are the definite positive outcomes (including for your self-esteem, mental and physical health etc)? What would the impact of these more likely outcomes be? 
  5. Fifth, ask what the cost will be if you do nothing? What is the cost of inaction? What will it cost you financially, emotionally & physically if you postpone this difficult choice?
  6. Finally, ask yourself what you’re so afraid of? What are currently putting off out of fear?

Perhaps It’s Better the Devil You Don’t Know?

“It’s not that we fear the unknown. You cannot fear something that you do not know. Nobody is afraid of the unknown. What you really fear is the loss of the known. That’s what you fear.”

– SJ Anthony de Mello

After running through this exercise the other night I came to a number of important insights.

I realised the nightmare scenario I’d been envisioning was one in a million. And the benefits – the positive outcomes – were much more likely. Even if the worst did come to pass, I realised that much of what I felt I was giving up was reversible.

But I also considered what the longer term costs of inaction might be. This presented me with another picture. One that was every bit as scary as the one that had been causing me to hesitate.

So I asked myself, ‘what I am really afraid of here?’ 

After giving it some thought it occurred to me that I what fear most – isn’t what the future might hold – but losing what I know.

I fear losing the gremlins that have kept safe for so long.

People often say it’s better the devil you know. But what if the devil you don’t know isn’t a devil after all?

After all, you don’t know.

What if it’s not an angel sent to save you? If only you had the courage to reach out to it – if only you had the strength to take that leap of faith and leave the shoreline behind.

The truth is, change is the only inevitability in this life. To cling to what we know only provides us with a false sense of security.

I would argue, to embrace change – to embrace the unknown – is to embrace life itself. 

***

You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://pointlessoverthinking.com

You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

Or on Twitter at: @AnxiousPilot

3-2-1 Flying Fridays

Hello lovely readers and welcome back to 3-2-1 Flying Fridays! The only weekly post that believes embracing uncertainty is the only sure way to live…

Following a 3-2-1 approach, it contains 3 thoughts from me (that you should ignore), 2 quotes from others (that you should read), and 1 something special (maybe). 

As a bonus I’ve finished with one joke that’s so bad, it’s good!

Let’s begin!


3 x Thoughts:

1) A relationship without conflict is doomed. We must challenge each other if we want to grow together. We need a person who will contend with us, not someone who will only worship us. We need someone who is courageous enough to tell us the truth, even if it hurts.

2) If you want to conquer fear you have to define it in pain-staking detail first. You have to hold it up in the light and examine it to see it for what it really is:

  • False.
  • Evidence.
  • Appearing. 
  • Real.

3) Change is the only certainty in life. To cling to what you know only provides you with a false sense of security. To embrace change – to embrace the unknown – is to embrace life itself. 


2 x Quotes:

Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: “Is this the condition that I feared?””

— Seneca

What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do. 

Tim Ferris.

1 x Thing:

This Tim Ferris article: Fear-Setting: The Most Valuable Exercise I Do Every Month. I highly suggest giving the article a read – especially if you’re currently challenged with making a major life decision. The article goes into greater detail but, in a nut shell, this is what you do:

  1. Write down the major life change you’re considering. 
  2. Define the worst case scenario in pain staking detail. 
  3. Ask yourself what steps could you take to repair the damage/deal with worst. 
  4. Ask yourself what the outcomes/benefits of a more probable scenario are
  5. Ask yourself what the cost will be if you do nothing? What is the cost of inaction? 
  6. Finally, ask yourself what you’re so afraid of? 

1 x Joke:

Did you hear about the rock that faced his greatest fear?

He is now a little boulder.


PREVIOUS NEWSLETTER:

3-2-1 Flying Fridays – 11/03/22

***

You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://pointlessoverthinking.com

You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

Or on Twitter at: @AnxiousPilot

Diversion

We don’t always end up where we intended in life. Sometimes, we are made to divert long before reaching our final destination. Other times we may complete the journey only to find the airport is closed on arrival, forcing us to divert at the last moment.

Whether it’s some kind of emergency or our own health that forces us to come back to earth, the reasons are often out of our control. Sometimes, however, we divert because we realise the flight we’re on isn’t taking us where we want to go. We admit the journey itself isn’t what we wanted after all.

This can be a difficult decision to make when you’re already cruising at a comfortable level. A level that you worked hard to reach. The thought of coming back to earth and climbing back up again can be off-putting. Any decision to divert – especially if the possibility of continuing exists – shouldn’t be taken lightly.

I’ve had thoughts about diverting from my profession for a while now. A decade of long-haul flying has taken its toll. I realise that another decade in this job might cost me significantly – if it hasn’t already. The risk to my health is something that plagues my mind. 

I haven’t left yet because, well, I’m also scared of what might happen if I do. I’m scared about what a career change might mean for my children, for the quality of life I can provide for them. I’ve also been comfortable. 

My job – pre-pandemic, at least – has been decent. It’s not only paid the bills but allowed me to have a wonderful lifestyle. I have traveled the world many times over. Outside of work, at least, it has given me everything I wanted. Although I despise flying through the night, I do enjoy flying aeroplanes. 

For all of the above, I told myself to keep going. To grit it out and get my command first. Achieve that, collect my four bars, and then move on. That way, I’ll have achieved everything I wanted and still have time left on the clock to pursue something else.

I figured this would also allow me to work towards a second career in my spare time – to make for an easier transition before I close this chapter of my life. 

That was the flight plan. 

Unfortunately, things have changed. The journey has become much more turbulent. The ride is approaching unbearable. The forecast at destination is looking increasingly dicey too. 

Hong Kong’s strict zero cases policy has come at an extreme cost for the aircrew. The government has handed us a prison sentence. If we break that sentence – for so much as going outside to get some fresh air – they may well send us to prison. 

The burden on our mental health has been immense. To give you one statistic: our crew body spent over 73,000 days in isolation last year. That’s the equivalent of 200 years in prison. 

The truth is, there is no life here for aircrew at the moment. So long as this madness persists, there is no escaping it either. Getting home is an impossible task because of the quarantine restrictions coming back in. 

We’re boxed in. The choice is to either stay and endure or leave for good – to divert sooner than intended. At the moment, I’m weighing the cost of security in the form of a pay cheque against my mental and physical health. Also, against the cost of not leaving a place I feel an increasing dissonance towards.

But what is the cost of one’s aliveness anyway? What is the price of feeling free? Must we not make enormous sacrifices for it? Do my children not need that more? Do they not need to see me make those sacrifices even? To understand if you value freedom, a pay cheque can often work against you. 

The truth is – you know it – the decision in my heart has already been made. Right now, I’m in the process of formulating a plan before I execute my diversion – just short of the destination I had in mind. 

I am scared. 

I realise it’s ok to acknowledge that. But, like Winston Churchill once said, you have to be willing to leave the shore to explore new oceans. Of course, that’s going to leave you stranded at sea for a while. 

But, that’s exactly what an adventure is. The human spirit can only be made in adventure. Provided I back myself to navigate the tricky waters ahead, I believe I can teach my children something that no amount of money ever will: what it really means to live. 

There is no greater reason to divert than that.

***

You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://pointlessoverthinking.com

You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

Or on Twitter at: @AnxiousPilot

Escaping the Emotional Rabbit Hole

The Parable of the Second Arrow

According to the Buddha, any time we suffer misfortune, two arrows fly our way. The first arrow is the bad event itself, which certainly can (and often does) cause pain. The second arrow is our reaction to the bad event, the suffering we attach to our pain. This secondary pain, he tells us, is always self-inflicted. 

What you might not have been told, however, is that there’s often a third arrow in response to that second arrow! And, sometimes, even, a fourth arrow in response to that one. In fact, every now and then, hundreds of them start raining down. So much so that you end up feeling like this:

(That feeling when someone criticises your blog post)

To give you an example, let’s say I step on my son’s toy lego (first arrow), but instead of accepting this pain, I react by getting angry (second arrow). But then, I get mad about the fact that I’m angry (third arrow). So now I’m really angry. As a result, I lash out at my children for failing to put their toys away, and also my wife, who I decide (because I’m über pissed) is too nice to our kids (fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh arrow). 

Eventually, in a moment of ever-so-brief clarity, I realised that I was being unfair and regret shouting at my family (eighth arrow). But then, guess what? This makes me angry (ninth arrow). So now I’m mad about feeling guilty because I got angry, about my anger, because of my pain, and then taking it out on my family. I think I got that right. Anyway, you get the point. 

You see, there is suffering, and then there is suffering. The first kind of suffering, as Buddha taught us, is equal to pain times resistance. The second kind of suffering is equal to pain times resistance to the power of arrows fired. (That’s real maths!)

Of course, the emotion doesn’t have to be anger. To use a real-life example (I swear I made the last one up) earlier this year, I started to feel sad because of the pandemic. As a result of not being able to get home to see my family, I began to feel isolated.

But I didn’t just feel sad; I felt bad that I felt sad. I did this by painting a picture of what I thought life should be like. Then, eventually, I felt bad about doing that. So, I told myself I shouldn’t feel sad because other people have it much worse. Then it occurred to me that I should be happy even though I’m not. Therefore, I concluded, something must be wrong with me. 

And this sent me down the emotional rabbit hole. 

Secondary Emotions = Suffering

Now, there’s a psychological name for these kinds of secondary emotions, and that’s, well, secondary emotions. These are the feelings we have about our feelings. Naturally, we’re the only animal on the planet who has these, and, naturally, they have a tendency to mess everything up (thanks consciousness). Basically, there are four major ones. Those are:

  1. Feeling bad about feeling bad (think self-loathing)
  2. Feeling good about feeling bad (think self-righteous)
  3. Feeling bad about feeling good (think excessive guilt)
  4. Feeling good about feeling good (think narcissism/ego) 

Of course, many complex reasons contribute to these secondary emotions, including our upbringing, cultural beliefs, past traumas, etc. However, to give you a simplified answer, I believe the essence of the problem stems from a belief that because an emotion feels good or bad, it must mean it/us/the world is good or bad, instead of seeing the feeling as just, well, a feeling. 

Now, how much of this has to do with what, exactly, is up for debate, but (to give you a few examples) one suspects telling boys things like, “men don’t cry” has something to do with it. One also suspects certain helicopter parents who worship their children’s feelings (instead of allowing them to struggle and fail in order to grow) might have something to do with it. The role of social media broadcasting everyone’s perfect airbrushed lives 24/7 can’t help either. 

“How come everyone else is so happy? Why am I not happy? Something must be wrong!

Feeling Bad About Feeling Bad Makes You Feel Bad

At any rate, this belief that something is wrong with us, in particular, is central to the issue of feeling bad about feeling bad. This is because that belief brings up more negative emotions (go figure), which we then see as confirmation that something is wrong with us. So, we end up in this emotional rabbit hole where we fire arrow after arrow after arrow – feeling bad about feeling bad – and on and on until, well, we have depression, or anger management issues, or an anxiety disorder.

Aside from forming a habit that becomes very hard to break, that first arrow pain is still there. So long as we keep firing second arrows, it will continue to do all manner of push-ups, pull-ups, and sits ups in an attempt to get out. That mother is getting ripped! Unless you give it the space it needs, eventually, it will break free and tear you (or someone else) apart.

Unfortunately, if you’ve been firing these secondary arrows for a long time, you may be unclear what your first arrow pain is really about. If standing on a piece of toy Lego turns you into the Hulk, for example, you can bet your bottom dollar that your primary pain has little to do with that piece of toy Lego, or your kids failing to put their toys away, or your wife being too nice. 

On the surface, we may believe our suffering is because of these things, but it’s rarely true. That’s simply the narrative we’ve written over the top of our emotional pain because we believe we shouldn’t (or should) feel the way we do. Of course, we need to drop this false narrative to escape the emotional rabbit hole and process our pain. 

To come back to my previous example, I felt sad for some very understandable reasons earlier this year. However, my belief that something must be wrong compounded my misery. The truth is these difficult emotions brought up secondary emotions related to low self-worth. This is a common reaction that has to do with past trauma rearing its ugly head. I wasn’t resisting my sadness so much as I was resisting my habitual response to that sadness. 

It’s at this point things started to unravel.

Escaping the Emotional Rabbit Hole

Having a clear understanding of the false beliefs/traumas driving our secondary arrow of choice is important for this reason. Not because it will stop that second arrow, necessarily – unless you’re a Buddhist monk, it probably won’t – but because it will, at least, prevent you from firing a third arrow. If not a third, then a fourth, fifth, or, in my case, twenty-seventh arrow. This awareness gives you an out. It allows you to transcend the false beliefs masking your real pain. 

Baruch Spinoza once said,Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.” 

If you’re still suffering – if you’re still firing arrow after arrow – then you don’t have a clear picture of it, despite what you might be telling yourself. For some, it might require therapy to untangle the web of secondary arrows and see that picture clearly. For others, it might simply need a period of quiet introspection. Happily, there is a well-touted meditation that I’ve used to great effect on many occasions called RAIN. I like to think of it like this – when it’s raining arrows, I need to:

  1. Recognise it (become aware that you are firing arrows or experiencing difficult emotions)
  2. Accept it (allow your pain to be as it is/don’t judge it)
  3. Investigate it (look into it with curiosity)
  4. Not identify/Nurture it (understand you are not your pain/practice universal compassion)

After torturing myself for longer than I care to admit, I sat down and did this meditation. I soon understood what I was resisting (it’s always the same). Of course, it had nothing to do with my pain about the pandemic, but what I believed those emotions said about me. When I saw through this false belief – when I could see my demons in the light – the whole web of arrows I’d been firing crumbled to the floor. 


You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://pointlessoverthinking.com

You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

Or on Twitter at: @AnxiousPilot

5 Simple Tricks For Overcoming To-Do List Anxiety

“Procastination isn’t caused by laziness. We don’t postpone tasks to avoid work. We do it to avoid negative emotions that a task stirs up – like anxiety, frustration, confusion, and boredom.”

Adam Grant

Do you know that feeling, after you’ve written out your to-do list, despite how it’s suppose to make you feel, when all you want to-do is crawl under a rock and die? 

You know, when a slow and painful death seems preferable to confronting the mountain of tedious work you feel you have to-do?

And so you slowly put down your to-do list, walk over to the couch, gently sit down, carefully pick up the remote control and turn on NETFLIX. Which you then proceed to binge watch for several hours…

A bit like a psychopath who completely disconnects from all his or her responsibilities and emotions? 

I’m sure you do.

Anyway this got me thinking.

Why exactly does writing out our responsibilities on paper cause some us to run away from them faster than a teenage boy climaxes?

After all we know this kind of behaviour doesn’t help us, yet we can’t help ourselves. Sometimes all we want is to tell life to go fuck itself and so we do, even if that means fucking ourselves in the process.

The real question, of course, is how can we stop our to-do lists from making us feel like shit and help us get shit done instead?

Well fear not my fine readers for I’ve complied 5 simple tricks – as partially backed by science – to help you not only write a to-do list that doesn’t make you want to tell life to go fuck itself, but carry it out as well!

You’re very welcome!


1 – Do the thing that scares you the most first.

“The task you’re avoiding isn’t always the one you hate. Sometimes it’s the one you fear. The one that’s most worth pursuing.”

ADAM GRANT

The science shows that making a plan to complete a task provides the same mental relief as completing the task itself.

Which is exactly the point. Writing a to-do list is suppose to make you feel better so you can actually get started with something.

It’s suppose to get you in the mood… (Yeah baby!)

The problem for me, and I suspect countless others, was never a matter of productivity, but what it was I actually chose to accomplish during the day. I now realise I used my to-do list as a way to constantly defer the shit I was most afraid of.

I’m not talking about homework assignments here of course. I mean things like confronting my depression by asking for professional help or having certain difficult conversations with certain family members about shit I really don’t want to talk about…

Yeah, you know, the shit you really need to be doing first!

It was pointed out to me, in Adam Grant‘s excellent worklife podcast episode – ‘the real reason you procrastinate,’ that it wasn’t the tasks I was avoiding but the emotions I’d attached to said tasks.

The problem with ignoring these tasks is you inadvertently give those emotions (the thing that you’re actually afraid of confronting) greater hold over you. Thus the longer you leave said tasks undone the harder they become to-do.

Unfortunately there’s only one solution.

However scary they are, the tasks that you fear the most are exactly the ones you should be pursuing first. Not tidy the apartment!

Why?

Well it’s a classic Catch 22. By doing the very tasks you’re afraid of, you’re helping to confront and resolve those emotions that caused you to avoid those tasks in the first place.

If you don’t want to live with those emotions any longer, then you have to stop avoiding them. You have to rip the bandaid off. If you don’t it’s only gonna hurt more later on. Believe me!

Of course I realise this might not be what you want to hear so I thought I’d offer a few more tips that can help you do what’s necessary by putting things into perspective.

2 – Ask yourself, “What would I do if today were my last on earth?

It’s important to be very clear about what your most important tasks are on any given day. Often we’re not. A great way to do this – something I do every morning as part of my journalling routine – is to ask yourself the following question: “What would I do if this were my last day on earth?”

I’m guessing your to-do list would look markedly different.

Things like telling your family how much you love them. Apologising for any major wrong doings or forgiving those that wronged you would also probably appear. Remaining as present as you possibly can be. Paying attention to every waking moment for the truly precious moment that it is! Sitting with and observing any difficult emotions. Allowing those emotions to come out (instead of watching NETFLIX). Taking a walk outside to feel the elements – wind, rain, hail or shine! Simply being…

You get the point.

Of course you shouldn’t take this question too seriously otherwise you’ll probably bin your to-do list altogether and tell your boss to-go fuck himself. Perhaps not in the best interest of your future self…

Still, this is a great question because it helps align your to-do list with the values you hold closest. It helps to prioritise the things that you really should. It also puts thing into perspective.

The truth is you don’t have to-do anything. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment and self-loathing by thinking so. You don’t have to-do anything if you don’t want to.

You get to do those things.

Which brings me to my next trick for reframing your to-do list. That is…

3 – Write a GET to-do list instead

Put that at the top in big bold capital letters: GET to-do.

Not only does this set yourself up to be more grateful for what you feel you might have to-do, it also helps to take the pressure off.

You get to do it, you don’t have to do it.

Keep reminding yourself of this important fact.

I’d add another small tip.

Write out 3 things you’re grateful for today before you write out your get to-do list. I could show you some science that shows just how beneficial having a gratitude practise is, but I don’t want to bore you.

You know all this.

The point to label is YOU GET TO-DO THESE THIHGS. One day you’ll be dead and you won’t get to.

It helps to keep that in mind.

4 – Keep it modest and specific.

How much do you really need to-do today?

So many of us put everything down we’d like to complete and then burn out after realising we’ll never be able to achieve all those things.

You’ve got make it manageable.

Don’t say I’ll write one blog post or go for a 10km run or finish reading that book. Say I’ll write one paragraph, jog for five minutes and read one chapter.

Simply taking a step in the right direction is enough.

So what if you didn’t quite get everything you wanted to-do done?

The most important thing is that you enjoyed it. You’re never going to enjoy it if you’re always racing towards the finish line.

And if you really don’t manage to complete much, if anything, of what you intended, then please refer to point number 5.

5 – Show yourself show compassion.

‘You can change some of those emotions by showing yourself compassion. We procrastinate less when we remind ourselves that it’s part of the human condition. We’re not the only one suffering from it.’

ADAM GRANT

A tough one to finish I know. The truth is I’m awful at being kind to myself.

This is why, every morning as part of my meditation routine before I do anything else, I practise a loving kindness meditation for everybody including myself.

After all it can’t be called universal compassion if it doesn’t include yourself.

It’s important to remember we’re all fallible humans at the end of the day. Things like confronting our demons aren’t easy. It takes time to find the courage.

Go easy on yourself if you don’t do that scary task.

Who honestly get’s everything they mean to-do in a day? Really? I certainly don’t.

That said, I tell my wife I love her every night before bed without fail. I make sure I spend a couple of quality hours with my boys – laughing and playing with them every afternoon before dinner. I meditate every single morning and take every opportunity to practise mindfulness whenever I can. I always go for a walk outside as a way to remind myself that I’m alive and how fucking amazing that is!

Quite frankly the rest can fucked. Occasionally it does!

The older I get the more willing I am to say, so the fuck what? Tomorrow’s another day right? If you fall off the horse today, simply get back on it tomorrow. Falling down is inevitable. Getting back up is what matters.

That’s life!


SOURCES:

https://doist.com/blog/todo-list-tips/

WorkLife with Adam Grant episode on ‘The Real Reason You Procrastinate.’

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/tech-support/201310/why-your-do-list-drives-you-crazy

https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/zeigarnik-effect

A C.L.E.A.R. Model For Problem Solving In Everyday Life.

Are you lacking direction in life? Not sure which way you should turn?

Do you have a big problem with no idea how to proceed? Like whether you should quit the job you hate?

Or perhaps you’ve lost your job and have no idea what the hell you should do next?

Maybe you’re simply having a bit of trouble processing difficult emotions?

Whatever it is, dear readers, fear not – for I have something that can help you formulate the ultimate solution (no promises).

Introducing the CLEAR model! An outstanding structured approach for decision making and problem solving in everyday life!

(Is it just me, or did that sound like a 90’s television commercial?)

Let’s get into it.

The CLEAR model stands for:

C – Clarify what the problem is.
L – Look for information and ideas.
E – Evaluate options.
A – Act on your decision.
R – Review how it is working.

Simple yet elegant I think you’ll agree.

“Wherever did you come up with such a brilliant formula?”

A great question Bob, thank you for asking. The answer is… I stole it of course!

We pilots are taught it as a way to deal with problems we might encounter outside our normal day-to-day operations. It achieves this by providing a series of defined steps to work through in order to (hopefully) achieve a safe outcome.

As the brain is a single channel processor that can only do one thing at a time (yes multi-tasking is a myth), this helps prevents it from being overloaded during periods of high stress and/or workload. (And I think we can all agree that it’s a time of high fucking stress Bob!)

The problem with high levels of stress is it may overload your very simple single channel processor (I know it does mine), which can result in one or more of the following:

  1. – Tunnel vision (or fixation) – focusing on one input to the exclusion of other vital data.
  2. – Unconscious rejection of conflicting data.
  3. – Slowing down of your decision making or, in the extreme, inability to make any decisions at all.
  4. – Impulsiveness – the desire to restore control makes you leap into action too early.

I think you’ll agree those aren’t very helpful responses Bob, especially for pilots.

“But why, exactly, do you think a model designed for flight crew to problem solve on the flight deck of an aeroplane would be of any use to me?”

Another great question Bob! I asked myself the exact same one and let me tell you the answer I came up with: Why not?

But don’t just take my word for it Bob, let’s examine a working example completely unrelated to the realm of aviation. Let’s examine how we might apply the CLEAR model to someone who is dealing with depression and/or anxiety – hardly the sort of problem flight crew look at solving on a aeroplane I think you’ll agree!

The Clear Model As Applied To Depression:

1 – CLARIFY

People who are depressed will often state I am depressed or I am anxious. However no one is depression, no one is anxiety. These are merely things one experiences.

One of the big problems many people with mental health issues have is this kind of identification. They believe it is part of who they are. But this isn’t true.

Already we can see the importance of clarifying the problem.

A much more accurate thing to say would be, ‘I am currently experiencing feelings of depression or anxiety.’ This is a very significant shift in terminology that can help you to step back from your emotions.

If you want to go a step further by introducing some deep Buddhist wisdom (and I know you do Bob) you might say in third person, ‘James is experiencing feelings of depression or anxiety.’ So as to introduce the idea (and reality) that you are not your ego. That the I is not me. (Wow, my simple single processor is on fire!)

Anyway we could go on about how to properly clarify the problem but I don’t want to bore you Bob. At any rate, I think you’ll agree, we’re off to a winning start!

Let’s continue.

2 – LOOK

Observe. Simply be with whatever it is that is arising. Obviously this will work best if you can find somewhere quiet to sit without distraction. Yes Bob, that means you’ll need to put away your phone.

Once you have, be sure to take a few deep breaths and settle yourself. Maybe run through a quick body scan – place your hand on your heart if that helps – and then simply sit and observe.

Remember you’re not trying to achieve anything at this stage. You’re simply trying to observe what is going on from moment to moment. Run through your five senses if that helps. Use this time to gather information about what your emotions really feel like within the body.

If a thought arises, simply note it then come back to feeling your bodily sensations. Ultimately you want to go toward your negative emotions so you can observe them in fine detail.

Don’t resist them bob! Trust me.

This won’t be easy of course, especially if you’re new to the game of meditation but I promise you the long term benefits of having such a practise whenever faced with difficult emotions will pay off handsomely.

Anyway I’m sure you don’t need me to run through a meditation routine with you on here. You get the point Bob. Sit and look.

Next!

3 – EVALUTE

This is the part of the session where we introduce some curiosity. Maybe you can ask some questions such as, What triggered my emotional state today? What was it that caused my reaction? What false belief or narrative are driving these feelings? Moreover, what emotions am I trying to avoid that I need to feel? What are those feelings trying to tell me that I don’t understand?

After asking these question sit back and see what arises. I find this kind of exercise extremely useful for deriving insight whenever I have a reaction to something I don’t fully comprehend.

There are, of course, many different kinds of meditation practises you could apply to dealing with such emotional states, but once again I don’t want to bore you Bob.

Moving on!

4 – ACT

Now this will depend on what responses you derived from part 3 of this exceptional CLEAR model and how bad you suffer from said emotional problems.

It goes without saying that the most obvious thing to do if suffering from any kind of depression or mental health issue is to seek professional help.

Are you a therapist Bob? No?

Worth a shot.

Anyway, the next best thing, if you can’t afford a therapist or don’t feel you’re ready to face your demons yet (I won’t judge – it took my simple single processor a long time to pluck up the courage and ask for the help it needed) is to talk to your loved ones.

You’re not burdening them by opening up. If they love you they’ll want to know. Trust me Bob. It burdens them more not knowing.

Aside from those very obvious actions the next thing you can do is practise self-compassion. Place your hand on your heart and tell yourself, it’s ok. I’m here for you. Let me feel you. Whatever kind language speaks or works for you.

It’s important to state that you don’t fight depression or anxiety, you’re meant to accept it.

As Carl Rogers once said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

Moving on!

5 – REVIEW

This brings us to the final part of this most astonishing CLEAR model. Review or reflect.

Some questions you might consider: How did that work out? What can I add to the practise next time that might help me? Maybe I can add journalling as a way to write down what arises during such a practise? Am I still suffering from the same issues and thought patterns that I have for years on end?

If that last one is true then maybe it’s time to concede that you really do need professional help. I strongly encourage all with such issues to do exactly that. At the end of the day all these tools are helpful at managing your mental health but if you have some deeper issues it’s imperative you seek the professional help you need. There is absolutely no shame in this. Remember it is never too late to get the help you need. Never.

That’s all from me today Bob.

I hope this helped.


OTHER SOURCES:

https://studyflying.com/clear-model-human-factor/

http://aviationknowledge.wikidot.com/aviation:clear

HELPLINES, SUICIDE HOTLINES, AND CRISIS-LINES FROM AROUND THE WORLD

Why Crying Like a Little Girl Might Be the Manliest Thing You Can Do

Why is it always said he cried like a little girl? We never say, she cried like a little boy, do we? For that matter, we never say she cried like a little girl either. 

Of course, I forget that’s because it’s acceptable for girls to cry! Silly me. It’s just boys who don’t cry!

Except that’s not true, is it?

Last I checked, little boys cry too. In fact, I know it’s not true because my two-year-old boy cries every single day. And let me tell you something, he’s the happiest person I know. 

The. Happiest. Person. I. Know. 

It’s odd, don’t you think? How happy and peaceful children can be, yet we adults have such a hard time accessing those same emotions? It got me thinking as to why that might be. 

I wondered, “It couldn’t be related… could it?”

As one example of allowing ourselves to feel and process negative emotions, do we need to cry in order to access positive emotions like peace and joy?

I decided to do a little research.

The Benefits of Crying

My first findings confirmed what I suspected. It turns out that crying from time to time, contrary to popular chauvinistic belief, is a pretty f*cking good thing for you to do.

This article from Medical News Today on the benefits of crying noted,

Research has found that in addition to being self-soothing, shedding emotional tears releases oxytocin and endorphins. These chemicals make people feel good and may also ease both physical and emotional pain. In this way, crying can help reduce pain and promote a sense of well-being.”

In addition, the article also noted that crying reduces stress, boosts your mood, aids sleep, fights bacteria, and even improves your vision.

Jebus! 

I figured it must help, but I had no idea it helped this much. I wonder then, does this account for why we adults (and men in particular) have a much harder time accessing feelings of peace and happiness? 

Do we not allow ourselves to cry enough?

Thinking about my own life, it makes sense. Years of depression were a direct result of repressing my emotions. 

After facing those demons during months of therapy, I finally allowed myself to break down (or ‘break open’ as my therapist referred to it).

It was such an enormous relief to finally let go of what I’d been fighting for so many years. Afterward I’d felt an inner peace I’d not felt for years. I remember sleeping like a baby that night. Now I understand the science behind why that was.

More importantly, the harmful narrative I’d clung onto for years finally began to shift. My life has been immeasurably better ever since. 

Of course, this wasn’t because I simply allowed myself to cry. Still, I believe I’d never have been able to process that pain without doing so.

Recently I’ve been allowing myself to cry more often. I can tell you that it’s not easy for a man who has been conditioned to keep his emotions under lock and key. Yet, in doing so, my life is now filled with far more beauty and meaning.

I cried the other day when holding my son simply because I realized how precious it was while he hugged me during a quiet moment. I let myself cry in front of him. I wanted him to know that this is both a normal and healthy thing to do.

I wonder if any of you thinks this makes me less of a man? Did crying when my son was born make me less of a man? When I first held him in my arms?

Did crying on my wedding day make me less of a man? When I stood in front of my friends and family as I read my vows to my wife? These were some of the happiest, most meaningful days and moments of my life.

If the answer is yes, then I formally request to be a female. Because allowing yourself to cry, allowing yourself to feel your emotions, is what makes life beautiful. It’s what allows your difficult emotions to pass. It’s what allows you to find greater peace.

Luckily I don’t have to go through a sex change to allow myself to cry. As it turns out – newsflash everyone – men can cry after all! 

Not only can men cry, but I also found out that it doesn’t result in your life falling apart or your penis falling off.

Unbelievable news, I know, but entirely true! I can confirm this, you see, because last I checked, it was still there. Just to be extra sure, I’ll double-check… Yep, still there!

Phew!

Do you want to know why men cry? Because it’s not a female thing to cry. Shock, horror… It’s actually a human thing to cry. It’s in our nature to cry.

I mean, of course! Evolution wouldn’t have up with crying pointlessly. Think about it.

Why are we the only species on the planet to deny our nature? I believe this is what turns all of us into a bunch of lunatics.

Anyway, I’ve gotten sidetracked. Let me come back to some research.  

A Hard Truth About Male Resilience

When I dug a little deeper for this post, an extremely bizarre statistic stuck out like a sore thumb. I assumed that men, being more prone to bottle up their emotions and “do it alone”, would almost certainly have higher rates of depression.

WRONG. 

Women have higher rates of depression by a factor of nearly two. There are several reasons for this, including gender inequality, but studies suggest biological factors to be the primary determinant.

At any rate, without getting sidetracked into another important debate, that wasn’t the bit I found weird. What I found particularly bizarre was that men are three to four times more likely to take their own lives than women.

Why would men be three to four times as likely to die from suicide if they are half as likely to become depressed in the first place?

Assuming my very rough maths is correct and assuming that those who commit suicide have first developed depression, then a man with depression is 6 to 8 times more likely to kill himself than a woman who develops depression does.

Of course, you have to take that with a large pinch of salt, but even so.

Wow! 

Talk about being a man, hey? Or, “manning the f*ck up,” as some of my friends might say. Talk about the tough, emotionally resilient men we have built as a society. Clearly, we’ve done a great job at giving men the tools they need to process their own emotions, right? 

Or maybe not.

Maybe, instead, we ought to rethink our narrative. Maybe, just maybe, telling our boys not to cry isn’t such a smart move.  Maybe, just maybe, telling our young boys to “man up,” or “grow a pair,” or “stop being such a pussy,” actually hurts both sexes, especially men. Maybe, just maybe, we need to redefine what it means to be a man in the first instance. 

What do you think?

That Time I Cried

I’ll tell you why I decided to bring this subject up. I overheard someone we had hired to babysit our son tell him not to cry. It was a woman, by the way, in case you thought it must be a man. She didn’t mean any harm, but I had to say something. 

I asked her if she’d have said the same thing to a girl or whether she would have picked her up and comforted her? 

(FYI Research shows that mothers talk more on average with their girl children, including sharing and identifying emotions, as opposed to their boy children.

I let her know how damaging I believe telling children not to cry is. I told her that I hope my son always allows himself to cry if he feels the need and that I will never let him be shamed for doing so in my household. 

Never.

After going away and giving it some more thought, I realised something else. A deeper problem that many of us might have with other people crying. 

I suspect many of our distraction techniques aren’t about helping the child so much as a strategy by adults to avoid issues they have about how crying makes them feel. 

Whenever my child cried early on in the weeks shortly after he was born, it brought up intense feelings for me. I felt like a failure every time I was unable to settle him. On occasion, when he’d cry for long periods, I would get very angry with him (not historically an emotion I’ve had a lot of trouble with). I would get so mad that I had to leave the room. Now I was never going to hurt him, but that anger was new to me. 

It felt very intense. 

Whenever I gave up by leaving him in another room, what quickly followed was intense feelings of remorse. “How could I treat him like that? How could I abandon him in his cot when he’s crying? Why am I taking an infant crying so personally? What the f*ck is wrong with me?”

Clearly, I had some serious stuff to work through. Yet, in a typically male way, I didn’t seek any help, didn’t talk about it, nor did I let myself cry. 

I just beat myself up.

(FYI  – All of these can be explained as reasons why men have a harder time dealing with depression and why they are more likely to commit suicide – see this article for more details)

It wasn’t until one day when I saw my son playing on the living room floor after I got home from work. At that moment, I felt nothing but an overwhelming repulsion to get away from him. I didn’t want to be with him. I didn’t want to father my son. My gorgeous boy. 

This time the remorse that came flooding up was too much. I went to the bedroom, closed the door and started to cry. 

I cried like a little girl. 

No. 

I cried like a man. I let really myself cry. When I finished, I remember seeing with such clarity. There was no doubt about what it was I needed to do. I reached for the phone and spoke to someone. I finally asked for the professional help I knew I’d needed for years.

Crying was the final straw that broke the camel’s back. It gave me the clarity to see what I needed. It gave me the courage to ask for help.

I can’t emphasise that last statement enough. 

Crying gave me courage.

Some Closing Thoughts

To all men who feel conflicted about their need to cry, it’s important to understand that crying doesn’t mean you’re not capable of dealing with your emotion. It means you are dealing with your feelings. Please understand it’s perfectly ok to do so. 

Equally, don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. There is no shame in this. There is nothing unmanly about asking for help or showing emotions. We all need help from time to time. That’s part of the human experience.

Don’t think you need to “man the fuck up” or to “stop crying like a little girl.” If it helps, consider the phrase, ‘man the fuck up and cry.’ 

In doing so, you might just shatter the bullshit stereotype of what it means to be a man. In doing so, you might just have a greater understanding of what it is to be human. In doing so, you might give this world something it needs more than another macho man incapable of accessing his own emotions. 


ADDITIONAL SOURCES/FURTHER READING:

BBC Article: Why more men than women die by suicide

Medical News Today Article: Eight benefits of crying: Why it’s good to shed a few tears

Happiness is here blog post: 10 things for parents to say instead of ‘stop crying.’

Janet Lansbury’s blog post: No Bad Kids – Toddler Discipline Without Shame (9 Guidelines)

This study examined gender differences in emotion word use during mother–child and father–child conversations.

This study explores why depression is more prevalent in women

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