Live to fight another day

‘Strategic capitulation’ is a term used in behaviour management programmes to refer to the technique of giving in to whatever is being demanded by someone who is being aggressive and potentially violent. It is intended as a last resort. The way it works is this: if you have someone (child or adult) who is behaving in a hostile, aggressive or threatening way, there are various methods that can be used to handle the situation (distraction, for example). But, if those techniques don’t work (no technique is guaranteed to work), then it can be safer and wiser to give in and give them what they want than to risk being assaulted.

Unless you work in a setting where aggression and violence are a feature of the work, you may never come across this type of situation. However, the notion of ‘strategic capitulation’ can be extended to apply to a much wider set of circumstances. It is a useful concept that can help us to realize that sometimes we just need to give up, to accept that we are not going to be able to win the day.

This is captured by the saying of ‘live to fight another day’, although it does not necessarily have to be a fight, literally or metaphorically that we are talking about. Persistence is generally a good thing. There are many positives in life that people would not be able to achieve if they gave up too easily. Sticking it out is generally a good strategy. However, there will be times when it makes more sense to opt for strategic capitulation.

The key work here, though, is ‘strategic’. It is not about capitulating just because you are tired or there is some other reason why you don’t want to be persistent. It is about making a well-informed strategic decision that the wisest option is to give up on your efforts – which is exactly how the technique is intended to be used in a behaviour management context. So, we have to have our wits about us, rather than just choose this option without thinking it through carefully.

This idea is likely to be of most use to people who are very determined and may even take a pride in being so. This is because, at times, the desire to be successful in whatever you are trying to do can mean determination crosses the line and becomes doggedness and the signals that this situation is not going to work out are being missed. We have to know when to quit.

Basically it is a matter of balance. There are those people who are likely to have problems because they give up too easily, they are too easily discouraged or disheartened. At the other extreme, there are people who put their heart and soul into what they do – something that is very positive and helpful as a general rule – and can therefore run the risk that they don’t (or won’t) recognize when the time to let go has come. So, once again, what is needed is a healthy balance between the two potentially unhelpful extremes.

Of course, this may not always be an easy balance to achieve, but it will certainly be worth the effort, given that putting more and more effort into something that is simply not going to work out will involve a significant waste of time, effort and energy and, in some cases, money or other resources too. As with so many other things, the more often we are able to achieve that balance, the easier it becomes and the more benefit we can potentially gain from cultivating this approach.


Don’t be a fashion victim

When anyone mentions fashion, we tend to think of clothes, the latest designer trends and so on. Indeed, there is a huge, multi-million pound business based on fashion in clothing. But, fashion is not restricted to clothes or other relatively superficial matters. There are also fashions in thought and, because of that, fashions in behaviour. For example, think about how certain ideas have changed since your childhood. Changes in people’s thinking about same sex relationships is a clear instance of what I have in mind. With the changes in thinking have come changes in attitude, changes in behaviour and changes in how we relate to one another.

These changes were in large part due to years of campaigning and political pressure being brought to bear to tackle the injustice of certain people being discriminated against. There were therefore reasons for the changes. This is often how changes in our thinking come about. However, it is not the only way. Ideas also follow trends, just like clothes and popular music do.

This reflects a tendency to value the new, to see novelty as a good thing in its own right, while well-established ideas can be seen as dusty and old fashioned, to be abandoned on the scrapheap of history (even though they may be very valuable and useful ideas). The fact that an idea is perceived as new can make it appear exciting and give it extra appeal. Novelty brings a degree of glamour. It gives it some sort of extra standing, as if the very fact that something is new and different makes it valuable.

However, if you have been around long enough, you will be aware that ideas come around for a second or third time, generally with a different name, spin or gloss (but basically a well-established idea) and get a new lease of life until another ‘new’ idea comes along to take its place as the height of fashion. We often laugh about ‘that old chestnut’, when an old idea makes a reappearance in a new garb or in a slightly modified form, presented it as if it is an exciting new way of thinking.

This is not to say that we should disregard new ideas just because they are new (or appear to be) and value only ideas that are well established, as that would stifle innovation and limit our options for moving forward constructively. Valuing something just because it is ‘traditional’ can be just as misleading as valuing something just because it is new. Whether an idea is new or old is not (or should not be) the issue; what is important is how useful the idea is in helping us understand whatever it relates to and that it is a valid idea worthy of our attention.

So, the important message is this: don’t allow yourself to be seduced into thinking that an idea has value just because it is new. Many ideas that appear new are anything but, and even in those circumstances where an idea is genuinely new, it doesn’t mean that it is necessarily any better than the ideas that preceded it. We need to be able get past fashions in thinking and be prepared to weigh up ideas in their own right, evaluate their legitimacy and what use they are, regardless of whether they reflect the latest ‘in’ trend or ideas that have been around for centuries or even millennia.

Adopting ideas just because they are perceived as new and exciting can lead us astray, distort our perception and leave us in some difficulties in various ways. Uncritically following fashions in ideas is therefore not a wise move.


Find ‘flow’

Athletes will often talk about being ‘in the zone’, by which they mean achieving optimal performance, with body and mind operating to the full. That is when they get the best results. Similarly, psychologists have talked more broadly about finding ‘flow’, by which they mean getting to a state of mind where you are, to use the modern idiom, ‘cooking on gas’. It refers to feeling that things are ‘just right’ and you are achieving your best. This can apply to any aspect of life – not just athletics – where the conditions are right.

Flow happens when we are fully immersed in an activity, when we are free from distractions, interruptions or anything else that can stand in the way. When the state of ‘flow’ is reached, our concentration level is at its maximum, our creativity is enhanced and we produce our best work. Strange though it may sound, it is as if we have reached some sort of higher plane. By its very nature, it can only ever be a temporary state, but it is one that we can revisit whenever possible.

Have you ever been so fully engaged in an activity that everything else is blocked out? A situation where you feel things are going really well, you are making great progress and it all seems to be coming together. Time can pass very quickly and you are surprised at how long you have been engaged in that activity. That is ‘flow’. That is when you are in the zone – the zone of optimal creativity and effectiveness.

To achieve flow we need to be doing something we want to do and are committed to doing well. We need to give it our full attention and not be trying to do something else at the same time (like checking our email or phone texts!).

We also need to be free of distractions and interruptions. This can be very difficult in the modern ‘always on’ world. Open plan offices, hot desking and other features of contemporary working life can be major obstacles to achieving flow, so you may need to think carefully about how to create the right conditions that you will need. Just trying to achieve flow in the wrong place or the wrong circumstances is almost certainly doomed to failure. You will be wasting your time and may become cynical about ever achieving flow.

Of course, we cannot expect achieving flow to be an everyday occurrence, although creating the right circumstances to facilitate flow will help us to concentrate and achieve better results anyway. The closer we can get to flow conditions, the more productive we can be – and the more satisfaction we can gain from our activities.

You may find it helpful to think about what activities are most likely to achieve flow, what the things that really stimulate you are. If you match those activities with the right circumstances (no distractions, no interruptions and so on), then you are maximising the chances of achieving flow.

It can also help to think about the activities you are called upon to perform and consider what you could potentially do to make them more appealing and stimulating. There is no easy or simple formulas for this, but there is certainly much to be gained from giving these matters some careful thought.

There is also much to be gained from examining other people’s experiences of flow. What do other people do that enables them to achieve flow? Do they have any specific strategies, or does it just happen? Is there anything you can learn from what other people do that can increase your chances of getting ‘into the zone’ more often?