Find a balance of challenges

A life without challenges may seem appealing when we are under pressure, but in reality it would be bland, boring, unstimulating and a recipe for a miserable life. However, going to the opposite extreme of having challenges that are too difficult or too numerous can be very problematic. It can be a recipe for stress and worse.

So, what we need to find is a balance of challenges, a level of challenge that does not leave us bored, but nor does it overwhelm us. This is not always easy, but it is certainly worth the effort to achieve that balance whenever we can.

It won’t be a one-off job whereby we achieve that balance and everything is fine thereafter. Life isn’t that simple, of course, as things will continue to change. That balance should therefore be seen as a dynamic one that needs to be managed over time, rather than a fixed point that we have reached.

So, what counts as a suitable balance of challenges will be different at different times. This will depend on a number of factors. For example, our health can make a big difference. What we can easily take in our stride when we are well can prove to be too much when we are under the weather. There will also be emotional factors to consider – for example, someone who is grieving may find even straightforward day-to-day challenges too demanding for a while at least. And, of course, there will be social factors to consider. Someone struggling with poverty may have far less room for manoeuvre for other challenges (although that is not to say that people living in poverty cannot cope with huge challenges, as that is often precisely what poverty brings).

We also have to take into account that what counts for a significant challenge for one person may be nothing of the sort for someone else. An example of this would be public speaking. People who are used to this may find it not the slightest bit challenging and may actually relish it, while people not so accustomed to it may find it one of the most challenging things they will ever do in their lives. Others will find it so demanding that they will never do it, refusing to even consider it as a possibility. Consequently, we have to think carefully about what each of us finds challenging (and how challenging exactly), as what applies to one person won’t necessarily apply to others.

We should also consider the positive side of challenges – they have payoffs as well as pains, benefits as well as costs. Rising to a challenge can boost confidence, earn respect and credibility and open doors for us. It can also give us a sense of satisfaction and real achievement – provided, of course that we are able to keep that balance: not too little, not too much.

A lot will depend on how much support we have access to. Do we face our challenges alone or together? This is also a factor that make a huge difference. Sadly, some people see accepting help or support as a sign of weakness and therefore struggle on alone unnecessarily, missing out on the major benefits of working together and supporting one another.

At the heart of balancing our challenges is self-awareness, being able to tune in to the circumstances we find ourselves in at any given time and weigh up what it is safe to take on and what will risk overloading us. To do that we need to be aware of what our capabilities are and very aware of what is involved in the challenges. We need to have clarity about where those boundaries lie: (i) between too little and just right; and (ii) between too much and just right. In effect, self-awareness should bring us a Goldilocks approach to balancing the challenges we face.

Beware of vicious circles

The term ‘vicious circle’ is one that is often used, but its significance is not always appreciated or fully understood. This is a pity, as it is an important and useful concept, and vicious circles are far more common than people generally realise.

So, what exactly is a vicious circle? Basically, it is when one thing (let’s call it A) has a negative effect on another (B), and then B has a similar negative effect on A, leading to an exacerbation of A and its negative effect on B. And so it goes on, from bad to worse, the negatives of A and B reinforcing each other. The technical way of putting this is that a ‘feedback loop’ has been set up. Some feedback loops are fairly minor and trivial and do relatively little harm. However, some can be very serious and highly destructive. For example, personal or professional relationships can break down, leading to a range of significant ‘knock-on’ problems. Imagine Sam gets annoyed with Chris, so becomes uncommunicative, rather than dealing with whatever the problem was. Chris is annoyed that Sam has become uncommunicative, and so becomes equally uncommunicative in return. This makes Sam even more annoyed, creates a tense and difficult atmosphere and makes life difficult all round. The result is the classic outcome of a vicious circle: the situation not only goes from bad to worse, but also becomes entrenched – with each round of response it becomes more difficult for either Sam or Chris to break out of the cycle. It can therefore continue for weeks, months or even years, doing more and more harm. Long after the original source of annoyance has been forgotten, the vicious circle is continuing to do a great deal of harm.

One of the harmful effects of a vicious circle is that it can affect not only the people directly involved, but also those around them. For example, if Sam and Chris were family members, their vicious circle could have a detrimental impact on all the other family members, and may even lead to family breakdown. If they were co-owners of a company or senior managers in any organization, the net result could be highly problematic for staff and indeed for the organization as a whole and all its stakeholders.

Being able to ‘tune in’ to vicious circles (preferably sooner, rather than later) is therefore a highly desirable attribute to have. So, there is much to be gained from thinking carefully about vicious circles and doing whatever we reasonably can to address them. For example, in situations where there is a conflict, working out whether one or more vicious circles are involved (and it is highly likely that there will be) can be a very useful way forward. This is a skill that can be developed over time, but it begins with making sure we are – and remain – aware of how vicious circles arise and operate.

What can be even better than resolving vicious circles is to find ways of turning them into ‘virtuous circles’. This is where A has a positive effect on B that in turn results in a B having a positive effect on A. instead of going from bad to worse, things go from strength to strength. Of course, creating a virtuous circle is not always possible and rarely easy. However, we should be careful not to rule out the possibility. It involves the same skills as addressing vicious circles, but taking them to a more advanced level – again something that can be achieved over time. The key, of course, is ‘tuning in’, being sensitive enough to work out what is happening, rather than just letting things pass you by.

Connect with music

There are very many people who love music and count it as an important part of their lives. It brings them considerable joy. However, there are far more people who never seem to ‘connect’ with music – it plays little or no part in their lives. This may be because they have yet to come across the type of music that really suits them. For example, somebody who would love smooth jazz who has only ever come across bland pop music and a few bits and pieces of classical music may never fully appreciate what music can offer if they have never encountered what suits them. Similarly, someone who is brought up in a household where smooth jazz is widely played may never come across Mahler’s fifth symphony, even though that may be far more to their liking than what jazz has to offer.

Horses for courses is one way of looking at it, but it is actually far more complex than that. Different types of music work in different ways, but their effect can be different at different times too. For example, there may be times when you could really enjoy something energetic and strongly rhythmical, while at other times, that would just give you a headache. At other times, you may welcome something infused with powerful emotions and be uplifted by it, while, on another occasion, that type of music may be just not what you are ready for at that time.

Part of the problem is that, in our commercialized, materialistic world, music tends to be presented as an entertainment, and often a superficial one at that. But, what if we were to see music as more as a spiritual matter, something that brings meaning to our lives, something that gives us a sense of awe and wonder? What if we were to see music as something that is part of what it means to be human? ‘Soul’ music is on particular genre of music, but perhaps all music is about soul or spirit, albeit not necessarily in a religious sense. Think, for example, about how music can ‘raise our spirits’.

Much will also depend on our cultural background. What is considered beautiful in one culture will not necessarily be so highly valued in another culture. This applies as much to music as to other forms of aesthetics. Similarly, there will be musical subcultures related to different genres. What a regular folk club attendee loves for its simplicity and direct musical appeal may be precisely what someone who loves complex multi-layered music finds decidedly unappealing. In addition, cultures and subcultures change over time. Early rock music that at the time was seen by many as ‘just a noise’ and rejected as ‘not proper music’ is now described as ‘classic rock’ and highly revered by a wide range of people, including many who rejected it first time round.

Cultures bring people together, but they also create barriers and boundaries. What musical cultures can do is isolate us from other types of music. A blues aficionado may not even consider listening to progressive rock, while a lover of the classics may be closed off from what the blues can offer. There is therefore much to be gained by being open to new musical experiences and not just sticking to what we know best and feel most comfortable with.

And, of course, what is really important is that we actually listen to the music, giving it our full attention. In these days of bland muzak in the background, for far too many people, hearing music is a superficial exercise – it is indeed a matter of hearing, rather than listening.  Some forms of musical expression are acquired tastes and need to be listened to carefully before they can be appreciated. Sadly, in our hurried, pressurised world, many people will never know the beauty and value of music, because they will never fully connect with it. The great irony here is that what music offers can, to a large extent, be an antidote to the dissatisfactions of that pressurised world.

Avoid the money trap

Capitalist economies work on the basis of constant consumption. To keep the wheels of the economy turning people need to keep spending money. So, companies need to keep coming up with new things for us to buy, new fads and fashions, new technological gizmos and so on. Alongside this is the tendency for success in life to be measured in material terms – not just the size of one’s bank balance, but also signs of what has come to be known as ‘conspicuous consumption’. This involves displaying symbols of wealth and standing: expensive cars, designer clothes, being seen out in the most expensive restaurants, and so on. Of course, these two phenomena are not separate. This is because all this conspicuous consumption keeps the economy going, and, in turn, much of the media message put across is that wealth can bring happiness: spending money is good for you, so the more money you have, the happier you can be.

The reality, of course, is very different from the rhetoric. While having lots of money can no doubt bring many advantages, there are at least two flaws in the consumerist logic. First, as human beings, we are highly adaptive creatures. So, the more money you have, the more you get used to it, the more you adapt. For example, if you occasionally have a treat of the finest foods, you can really appreciate what they offer. But, once the finest foods become your staple diet, you soon find that they lose much of their appeal. We have adjusted to the new situation; it has become normal. This is part of the reason why wealth can bring greed. Once you adapt to the new situation, you want more, you want something new and exciting – something more expensive perhaps.

Second, there are many important things in life that money can’t buy, of course. Focusing all our attention on material rewards can not only give us a distorted picture of what is likely to bring happiness, but also stand in the way of that happiness. What I am thinking of in particular is the way in which materialist ambitions can create problems. Consider, for example, the marriage that breaks up because one or both partners is focusing so much on promotion and career success or on building their business that they are neglecting their family life. Consider also the children who grow up not feeling loved because one or both parents struggle to express their love except in materials terms – gifts, holidays, expensive meals out. Nice though these things might be, they are, of course, no substitute for a genuine, heartfelt expression of love.

Sadly, there are also many people – far too many, in fact – who are well paid, but who gain little or no satisfaction from their work. I have always respected a friend of mine who was promoted and was therefore paid more than before. However, she got far less job satisfaction in her new job and therefore returned to her old, less well-paid job at the earliest opportunity. I wonder how many people would be much happier in a less well-paid job that brings them more job satisfaction. Very, very many, I suspect.

There is much talk these days of spirituality, although much of it is superficial and simplistic, not doing justice to the complex issues involved. ‘Spirit’ is linked to the idea of breath, what keeps us alive and, by extension, what gives our lives meaning. If all that gives our lives meaning are money and materialism, then, however financially rich we may be, we are in fact very spiritually impoverished. Some people are so fixated in financial gain that they cannot see the benefits of so many other things that can offer far more than money in the bank or a flash car on the drive.


Give (and allow others to give)

When people are described as ‘selfish’ there is usually an element of having a preference for receiving over giving. That is, they are seen as much more interested in taking than giving. In a very real sense, selfishness is the opposite of generosity. From a moral point of view, being regarded as generous would normally be perceived as better than being seen as selfish, giving as morally superior to taking.

Indeed, much of the appeal of certain jobs will be down to the opportunity to give – jobs in health care, social services, education and so on. Making a contribution to others can give us a sense of satisfaction, can boost our self-esteem and even provide a sense of spiritual fulfilment. It could be argued that many people’s lives are spiritually unfulfilled because their work does not give the opportunity to give, to contribute and to help – or perhaps the opportunities are there, but the culture, circumstances or leadership style stand in the way of capitalising on them.

Not much debate then: giving is good. But, is it that simple? Is that all there is to it? A firm ‘no’ is the short answer. The reason I say this is that there is a very real danger that focusing on our own giving can actually stand in the way of allowing others to give and to feel useful. For example, older people are often denied the opportunity to be helpful, and this can reinforce a sense of being useless, of having nothing to contribute. It is well captured in the phrase ‘killing with kindness’. Consider this (real) example from my experience that is sadly reminiscent of many such situations:

A community nurse visits an older woman in her own home. The older woman wants her guest to feel welcome, and so she says to the nurse: ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ The nurse gets up and heads towards the kitchen, saying as she goes: ‘It’s all right love, I’ll do it. Where do you keep your teabags?’ The older woman sits fuming at the way her effort to be a welcoming hostess and to feel useful has been snatched from her. No doubt, the nurse had no intention of causing a problem. She thought that what she was doing was being helpful. It was not.

The technical term for this is ‘reciprocity’, the importance of giving as well as receiving, helping as well as being helped. Denying someone reciprocity is not helpful, even when people are doing it with good intentions. Many older people face this all the time; finding ways to feel useful becomes harder the older we get.

But it isn’t just older people that this applies to. I have come across managers who micro-manage their staff, telling them what to do at each step, rather than allowing them to work things out for themselves, grow and develop, become more confident and feel proud of the contribution they are making. There is not much pride, confidence or job satisfaction to be gained from simply doing what your boss tells you. Unfortunately, this style of management, what I call ‘backseat driving’, is common in cultures that have become risk averse. Instead of having a balanced attitude towards risk, many workplaces now have an unhealthy level of anxiety about risk. This is one of the main driving forces for ‘backseat driving’ behaviour. The irony is that ‘playing it safe’ about risk is a dangerous approach, as it means that having a balanced view becomes impossible, and that then introduces new risks because of the distortions involved.

And, of course, one of those risks is that reciprocity is denied, with all the problems that entails. So, while giving is certainly good, allowing others to give is also good, and we have to be careful that we are not unwittingly blocking this in our attempts to be kind or in our overly cautious approach to risk.

Slow down

Life can happen in a blur if we let it. Doing things quickly can easily become the norm, adding extra – generally unnecessary – pressure to our already fairly pressurised lives. As is so often the case with life’s challenges, what can easily arise is a vicious circle that we can get trapped in. We feel under pressure so we do things quickly. Our lives then become less satisfying, so we try to squeeze more in (rather than relish what we already have); to fit more in we have to do things more quickly, and that makes us feel more pressurised. The more pressurised we feel, the greater the temptation to do things quickly. And there we are, locked in, and we will then find it a struggle to get out.

A clear and important example of this is eating. Most people do not savour their food, they do not get maximum pleasure and satisfaction from it. People grab something quickly for breakfast, perhaps, in a rush to get to work or school or to get to the day’s tasks. Similarly, for many people, lunch is a quick sandwich, often while they are doing something else at the same time. And evening meals are often not as leisurely and enjoyable as they could be.

But things are beginning to change. More and more people are appreciating the benefits of eating slowly. More people are recognizing that there is little point having tasty food if it disappears from your mouth without your having had the opportunity to appreciate the flavour. Food can be swallowed without being chewed properly, which is not only a recipe for indigestion problems, but also a waste of culinary pleasure.

But food is just one example of this tendency to do things faster than necessary, just so that we can rush on to the next thing we are going to do quickly. I have earlier pointed out that rushing is not generally a wise strategy, but this does not mean that we should go to the opposite extreme of wasting time dawdling. It is, of course, a matter of achieving a helpful balance.

If you are one of the people who tends to move swiftly from one thing to another, thereby denying yourself the opportunity to savour the moment, whether that is savouring the food or any other aspects of our lives, slowing down can make a big positive difference. How often do people put music on, but not actually listen to it, because their minds are already racing on to the next thing? How often are people involved in conversations that they are not actually listening to?

Many people will claim that they have to do things quickly, because they do not have time to do them slowly: ‘I don’t have time’ is the common refrain, but, of course, in reality, time is the only thing we do have. And so the wisdom of not savouring that time is therefore very questionable. Indeed, if we ask ourselves what it is that we are so keen to get to that we can’t savour our lives in the process, the answer must be – stark though it may seem – death.

So, should you spend your life hanging around ‘savouring the moment’? No, of course not, that is certainly not what I am advocating. That would involve going from one unhelpful extreme to another. It is more a case of asking ourselves: Do we have to be doing things quite so quickly? Should we perhaps be better tuned in to the idea of ‘more haste, less speed’? Enjoy your food more; enjoy your life more. Ge the balance right.

Avoid drift

Drift is the term used for when we become unfocused, when we lose sight of what we are doing or what we are trying to achieve. Ever gone upstairs and, when you get to the top of the staircase, you have no idea why you went upstairs; your mind is blank? That’s drift. Ever been on the way to a meeting, got distracted then found yourself wondering where it was you were going? That’s drift.

But there are more serious versions of drift. For example, an important meeting can get bogged down in detail and lose track of what was supposed to be discussed. A worker can lose sight of what they are trying to achieve or what their role is. The result can be, at the least, wasted time and energy or much more serious in terms of important, perhaps crucial, things not getting done.

Drift can happen in any circumstances, but I have been able to identify three main types of drift that can so easily arise:

  • Bureaucratic drift This is where administrative requirements and procedures take over and become the most important thing. Instead of admin systems being there to support the main work of the organisation, it can easily become the case that the cart gets placed before the horse. What I mean by this is that bureaucracy becomes the main focus. For example, I have come across situations where supervision sessions have become reduced to a process of simply completing the supervision recording form. Instead of a professional process of helping the worker to be the best worker they can be, it is reduced to a series of questions being asked and the answers written down. The bureaucratic requirement has been met, but the actual benefits of supervision have been lost.
  • Pressure drift A second type of drift arises when people are under a lot of pressure. They find themselves rushing around, not taking time to think, plan or focus. Unfortunately, this tends to create a vicious circle. People under this level of pressure are likely to make more mistakes, act rashly and, importantly, lose the plot – lose the focus of what they are supposed to be doing. That then adds to the pressure levels, and so it goes on.
  • Culture drift This can be, in part at least, a result of the first two types of drift. It refers to when a culture develops where it becomes the norm to lose focus. This can be, for example, where there is a lot of unresolved conflict in a team, so the main focus becomes managing the conflict, or at least trying to avoid it. Similarly, a culture of low morale characterised by negativity and defeatism can distract people – and demoralise them – to such an extent that the main focus of the work gets lost.

So, what can be done? Well, from an individual point of view, an important step is in the direction of critically reflective practice. Drift occurs when people switch off and allow themselves to become distracted. They stop concentrating and thereby lose focus. A more mindful, reflective approach can therefore make a very positive difference. It can create a virtuous circle in which a clear focus makes us more effective, which improves morale, and which then helps us to focus and concentrate.

From an organisational point of view, this is where leadership has a role to play. Effective leaders should be able to shape a culture where reflective practice is the norm and where team members are supported in keeping a clear head and a clear focus. Drift is very costly in various ways, and so an individual and collective approach to tackling it is likely to prove most effective.

Be clear about what you value

People who suffer from depression often feel as though nothing matters any more. It is as if life has become so difficult or painful that they just want to be cut off from it. And yet, ironically, it is generally because something we value – something that is really important to us – has been offended, undermined or even destroyed that people become depressed.

This raises important issues about what we value, about what really matters to us. Values are often seen as abstract, and therefore disconnected from real life to a certain extent. However, seeing values that way is a big mistake, a very big mistake. This is because our values influence:

  • Our thoughts What we think will, of course, be shaped to a certain extent at least by our values, by our sense of priorities, for example. This isn’t just ‘abstract’ – what we think will have very concrete consequences for our lives.
  • Our feelings Likewise, our emotional reactions will depend a great deal on our values. For example, if dignity is important to us, if it is part of our value base, then witnessing somebody not being treated with dignity is likely to make us feel angry. However, if dignity were not part of our value base, then witnessing indignity would probably not evoke an emotional reaction – it would not matter to us.
  • Our actions Of course, both our thoughts and our feelings will influence our actions, so, at the very least, our values will indirectly influence our actions. However, there will also be ways in which what is important to us will also influence our actions directly. For example, if we value learning and personal growth and development, we will seek out and capitalize on learning opportunities.

 Having a clear picture of what our values are can therefore be a very useful step in the direction of developing self-awareness, such an important capability when it comes to working in any field that involves a concern for people and their problems. It can make a very significant positive difference in this regard.

Having an awareness of other people’s values can also help us to understand them, to be able to tune in to what matters to them. This can be a great asset in trying to help or support people, whether in our private or our working lives. It won’t make us mind readers, but it will give us some insights into what makes people tick.

What we also have to be aware of is that there will be times when we are in danger of losing sight of our values. These would include:

  • When we are tired, run down or under the weather At times like this we can be not thinking straight or be emotionally knocked out of our stride. We may then find ourselves behaving or speaking in ways that are not consistent with our values. For example, we may value the importance of listening to people, of paying attention to them, but find it difficult to do so when we are not feeling one hundred per cent.
  • When we are busy, overworked or even stressed This is when we can be focusing on just getting through the day – in effect, going into ‘survival mode’. This can mean that we act ‘out of character’ (although it is actually about values, rather than character). This can lead to a vicious circle in which our actions or attitudes can actually increase our workload – for example, by creating unnecessary tensions.
  • When we feel threatened At such times we are likely to focus narrowly on returning to a situation of safety, and that can, understandably, mean that we lose sight of our values, temporarily at least.

So, what is important to you? What are your values? The more aware of these issues you are, the stronger a position you will be in.


Celebrate getting older

We live in a society that seems to value youth (although not necessarily young people!). A fortune is spent on various ways of trying to make us look and feel younger. Whether or not that is money well spent is questionable, of course. Is it mainly another way of consumer capitalism getting us to spend our money? Well, it certainly fits with the idea that, if you want to make a lot of money, sell people things that they have to keep coming back for more of.

Trying to hold back ageing is like Canute trying to hold back the tide. Wouldn’t it make far more sense to just accept that every day we create a new yesterday and therefore have one less tomorrow? Is it ageing we fear and want to fend off or is it death? Or perhaps it is both? Fearing ageing reflects to a large extent our ageist society that devalues old age. Even though people are often much happier and settled in old age than in earlier life, old age tends to get stereotyped as a time of infirmity and inability. The reality, of course, is far more complex than this and, while there are clearly problems and challenges associated with old age, we hear far less about the pleasures and the achievements of old age.

Ageing is part of living, and so if we are afraid of ageing, we are afraid of living. And perhaps that is where the fear of death comes in. The idea that we live in a ‘death-denying’ society is not a new one. This again reflects our tendency to value youth so highly. And this is a pity, of course, because trying to pretend that death is not part of life is a pretty fruitless undertaking. It means living a lie and, more than that, losing out on the benefits of valuing our days, of making something of our time – as time, in the end, is all we have. Knowing that life is finite can help us treasure the time we do have, rather than fritter it away under the illusion (delusion?) that we are immortal.

Some people oversimplify this message. They try to work on the basis that you should live every day as if it your last. ‘Try’ is the key word here because, of course, you can’t live that way. Partying every day, making no plans for the future, living as if there is no tomorrow is not a recipe for quality of life. You will soon find yourself in considerable difficulties if you take this simplistic advice seriously.

What is much wiser, of course, is to be realistic. Accept that ageing is part of living and don’t let ageist stereotypes fool you into thinking that only younger people can be happy, productive, vibrant and living worthwhile lives. Ageism is, in effect, a self-fulfilling prophecy. If, as a society, we devalue ageing and older people, we create discrimination and make old age a less positive time of life, which then fuels the ageist stereotype that ageing is something to fear (hence the futile attempts to defy ageing through all sorts of pills and potions). Futile for the people buying them, but lucrative for the people selling them.

Sadly, a lot of people never reach old age. What this means is that we should celebrate getting older, because every day that we get older is a day that we have lived. The alternative to ageing is, of course, not one to be recommended. If we are constantly trying to hold back the flow of time, then we are not appreciating that time – we are wasting precious moments. Old age is supposed to be a time of wisdom, but perhaps we need the wisdom sooner than that to realise that worshipping youth is a mug’s game.

Security is the ability to cope with insecurity

It is quite common for people to be rated according to how secure they are, especially people who are perceived to be low on any such rating scale – that is, people who are viewed as ‘insecure’. But what does it mean to refer to someone as ‘insecure’? Or as ‘secure’, for that matter?

The world is a very insecure place, in the sense that, as the old saying goes, the only certainties are death and taxes. No one knows what is going to happen next. Our lives could potentially be turned upside down at any moment, with horrendous consequences. Disaster could be just round the corner.

But it probably isn’t.

Yes, it is true that many people will face disaster every day, but then there will be literally billions who do not. So, it is important to get things in perspective. We are constantly surrounded by risk. Some form of danger is ever-present. But most of the time, in most situations, we are quite safe. No one is ever going to be totally safe in all situations. The technical terms for this are ‘contingency’ and ‘flux’. Contingency means there are no guarantees – things can change at any moment (for the better or for the worse). Flux means that things are constantly changing, albeit generally at a very gradual pace. But what do these technical terms mean in practice?

Contingency means that we can’t be 100% sure that things will go according to plan. So, we need a Plan B; we need to take account of ‘contingencies’. Depending on how important and/or complex the circumstances are, we might also need a Plan C at times. Flux means that we need to be ready to adapt to change – an attitude that assumes that the way things are now is the way they will always be is one that will set us up for heartache sooner or later.

This does not mean that we should go to the opposite extreme and start panicking or over-reacting. While we don’t have much by the way of certainty to go by in our lives, probability is a very helpful friend and ally. And, just as change is all around us, so too is continuity. Indeed, change and continuity can be understood as two sides of the same coin.

So, what is called for is a balanced approach to risk – one that is realistic about the dangers we face, but also manages to keep anxiety in check. People who tend to be described as ‘insecure’ are generally the ones who focus more on the risks and less on the wider context. There is therefore a tendency to adopt a distorted approach, one that overemphasizes the dangers and thereby creates unnecessary anxiety. And, of course, anxiety has a nasty habit of creating a vicious circle in which it makes people more sensitive to risk (‘risk averse’ to use the technical term), and that it turn generates more anxiety.

So, what it boils down to, in a sense, is that a genuine feeling of security comes from being well equipped to deal with the very insecurity of life – avoiding the two extremes of being complacent about potential threats to our well-being, on the one hand, and being overanxious and over-reacting to such threats on the other. This calls for a calm and careful consideration of the risks we commonly face. What can also be useful is a degree of self-awareness, a degree of insight into how effective we are in balancing our sense of danger and ours sense of safety – in other words, how realistic we are in assessing the risks we face.