Seek out awe and wonder

The demands of everyday living mean that we need to spend a fair amount of time doing fairly mundane things like earning a living and managing a household. These can be quite enjoyable, of course, and offer us some degree of fulfilment, but we have to be wary of the danger of allowing all the mundane stuff to squeeze out opportunities for those things that go beyond the day-to-day basics.

The literature relating to spirituality (whether religious spirituality or not) uses fairly obscure terms like transcendence, exaltation and the numinous, often without offering any explanation of what they mean. It’s worth considering each of these in turn because, despite their obscurity, they are important ideas.

To transcend literally means to go beyond. It is therefore used in a spiritual sense to refer to going beyond the everyday, to finding something more meaningful than day-to-day activities and concerns. It is linked to the idea of ‘connectedness’, the notion of connecting with something bigger than ourselves, whether that be a cause, a belief system, a set of people or whatever. Such connectedness can be an important part of what makes our lives meaningful.

Exaltation refers to the experience of joy, a sense of stepping beyond (transcendence again!) our everyday feelings, rising above them to a higher plane of happiness. The reason I am mentioning this here is that getting bogged down in everyday matters can stand in the way of any such exaltation. We can become so focused on our mundane challenges that we lose sight of the things (and people) in our lives that can bring us joy.

The numinous is used to describe those experiences that are distinctive and meaningful in some way, things that stand out as very special and awe inspiring. It could refer to natural phenomena, such as a splendid sunset, a beautiful forest, a magnificent mountain range. But it would also include a wider range of experiences, such as giving birth (or being present at a birth) and other special, emotionally intense moments where we feel our humanity acutely. For religious people this could be equated with those aspects of life that are thought of as ‘divine’, but experiences of the numinous are not restricted to people of faith.

The theme that unites these three ideas is that of not allowing day-to-day pressures (however important and pressing they may be) to leave little or no room for the more special aspects of life. And, underpinning that is the importance of awe and wonder – the ability to rise above what the textbooks call ‘normalcy’.

It is important to emphasise that I am not advocating that we should abandon or neglect our everyday concerns. Rather, it is a case of not limiting ourselves to those concerns and to make sure that we are open to the many opportunities for awe and wonder that are around us if we know how and where to look.

Awe and wonder can arise at any time, sometimes when we least expect them, but there is no need to sit back and wait for them to happen – it is also possible to seek them out. You may struggle with this at first, but it is worth persevering with what is involved, as the longer you do it, the more successful you are likely to be. You can also learn a great deal from seeing how other people make use of awe and wonder, how they manage to rise above the daily grind and get the benefits of doing so. Or perhaps you are already very good at it, in which case you can perhaps help others to learn how to do it.

Feelings are real, but they don’t always reflect the reality

Many people adopt a very ‘rational’ approach to life and relegate feelings or anything to do with emotions to a secondary position, as if they are somehow less important. In reality, of course, feelings are generally much more powerful sources of motivation than reasoning or rationality, and emotions are so often a key factor in decision making, however hard people will work to make the basis of their decisions appear entirely objective and rational, uninfluenced by such subjective matters as human emotions.

Consequently, if we pay no attention to emotions, we are leaving a major part of the equation out of the picture. However, this does not mean that we can let emotions rule the day or be given free reign. Emotions are a vitally important element of what it means to be human and, as such, they can be incredibly enriching and powerful. Unfortunately, though, they can also be highly problematic – for example, by leading to very unwise decisions or reactions.

Another way in which feelings can be problematic is when they are an understandable and justifiable response to a situation, but in those particular circumstances they do not reflect the reality of the situation. For example, imagine a situation in which a misunderstanding occurs. Person A feels that they have been insulted and demeaned by Person B, and understandably become very angry about it. But what if it is just a misunderstanding and no actual insulting has taken place. The feelings of anger and hurt are real, even if the grounds for them are not. Sadly, a common mistake in such circumstances is for those feelings to be played down because it was ‘just a misunderstanding’.

Strong emotional responses involve strong biological reactions, such as adrenaline being pumped into the bloodstream (the renowned ‘fight or flight’ mechanism). Finding out that no insult actually occurred does not make the adrenaline disappear all of a sudden or return the body or mind to their pre-emotive state. In addition, there are psychological factors to consider. For example, a strong emotional response can easily ‘open old wounds’, bringing back powerful memories of other times when they have felt slighted, disrespected or worse. Those memories will not disappear all of a sudden either, once they have resurfaced. In addition, the person concerned can feel embarrassed when it emerges that they became angry and/or upset ‘for no good reason’, especially if one or more people is not handling the situation very sensitively. These will all be real, valid feelings, despite the fact that the actual trigger was not ‘real’ in the conventional sense.

Another way in which feelings can be real, but not actually reflect reality is when people become very anxious. It is not uncommon for anxiety to lead to a vicious circle in which a small amount of anxiety (quite appropriate in the circumstances, given the level of threat involved) leads to more anxiety and then more again. What can easily happen is that this process leads to a level of anxiety that is excessive for the degree of risk or threat involved. Ironically, at times knowing that this position has been reached can make the person concerned even more anxious, recognizing or fearing that they are losing control. The level and intensity of emotional response may well not match the reality of the level of threat, but that does not make the feelings (and their impact) any less real. Nor does it make it any less unhelpful (or potentially harmful) if the significance of the feelings involved is not acknowledged and handled appropriately.

We would do well, therefore, to keep in mind the fact that a disparity between feelings and the reality of the situation they are a response to does not make the feelings any less real or any less significant.

The journey is more important than the arrival

It is, of course, a very common experience to have a great sense of excitement as you look forward to something, only to have a sense of anti-climax once what you have been anticipating actually comes to pass. This is one of the ways in which the idea that the journey is more important than the arrival has a degree of truth.

In a similar vein, Buddhist thought includes the idea that it is wise to disengage from worldly pursuits, as the acquisition of one ‘prize ‘ or reward, one achievement of a goal, simply leads to our formulating the next goal and anticipating the next achievement. Perhaps it is not realistic to expect such disengagement on a mass scale, so we are likely to continue to face the challenges involved in what amounts to reaching what we think is the top of the hill, only to find that there is a another summit beyond it (and quite possibly another one beyond that).

What is particularly important about this is that, if we are relying on reaching that summit, whatever it may be, for our well-being and happiness, then we are limiting ourselves to relatively brief moments once an achievement is gained. We are missing out on the satisfactions to be gained from enjoying the journey; we are letting our lives pass by: the present moment becomes dominated by future aspirations, many of which will never come to fruition, of course, however skilled, committed or fortunate we may be in our endeavours.

This is partly what mindfulness is about – savouring the present moment, rather than allowing ourselves to get bogged down in the past or sacrifice today’s joys to tomorrow’s hopes.

I am not suggesting that we should not have goals or aspirations. On the contrary, I see them as very important. What I am suggesting – quite strongly – is that we need to be aware of the common danger of being so future oriented that we lose sight of what the present offers. To return to the journey analogy, we can so easily be focusing so much on the destination that we miss the spectacular scenery along the way.

As in so many things, it is a matter of balance. We need to have a balanced ‘temporal sense’, by which I mean not losing sight of our past and its importance, but not allowing it to dominate or distort our present either (as will often happen when people have been traumatized); equally, not losing sight of the future and our hopes for what that will hold for us, but also not letting that anticipated future steal the precious moments of the present.

On the surface, this sounds simple and straightforward, but in reality, it can be quite complex and challenging. The pitfalls involved are not only of significant proportions, but also relatively common. So many of people’s life problems will stem from this existential challenge of a balanced approach to time. There will be those who are ‘living in the past’, struggling to get beyond old hurts, for example (hence the use of the word ‘trauma’ which means ‘wound’ – it is as if certain life experiences can leave a scar) and who therefore face an emotionally and spiritually impoverished life. There will also be people who are ‘living in the future’, as if there is some sort of personal utopia they are working towards, a utopia that will never materialize, of course (not as a utopia, anyway). For example, those who are bitten by the bug of ambition will often find that achieving their ambition was not as wonderful as they had envisaged (and it is likely that they will very quickly formulate another ambition anyway).

‘Savour the moment’ is too simplistic a slogan, but it is helpful in alerting us to the need to get our ‘temporal balance’ right.

 

Grief and trauma can bring learning and growth

Despite the common strong association between grief and death, grief is a reaction to a significant loss, and not just to a death. This means that we can have a grief reaction to any major change in our life, even positive ones. For example, someone excited about moving to a new job or promotion may still grieve for aspects of their old job. Gains will always also be accompanied by losses of some sort.

Grief reactions are perfectly normal responses to loss and change. They are part of our way of adapting to new circumstances. The impact can range from minor and insignificant to devastatingly major. When our reaction is at this latter end of the spectrum, we will often talk of a trauma – a psychological or spiritual wound, parallel with the physical wounds or traumas the medical profession deals with. A traumatic loss is therefore one that harms us in some way, unlike the type of grief that, although painful, exhausting and frightening, is actually a positive process of healing.

Non-traumatic losses will generally produce levels of grief that can be handled with everyday support and with time, although some levels of grief may need some form of professional help at times. However, with a traumatic loss, the impact can be so great that the disruption it brings to our lives can be of major proportions and require intensive help and support.

But, despite these problems and challenges, there is also a positive side to this. That is because grief in general and traumatic loss in particular can be sources of personal learning and growth. These highly distressing experiences can be valuable lessons from which we can learn a lot. They can also make us more resilient and better prepared for any future such experiences.

Over the years I have come across many people who have suffered greatly as a result of a loss or trauma, but who have none the less been able to grow personally in one or more ways as a result of it. Common themes include people becoming more appreciative of the positives in their life; feeling more confident about dealing with adversity in future; and having a greater sense of self-awareness and self-understanding – all things that can be of significant benefit in a number of ways

It may seem strange to think that such difficult and debilitating circumstances can also have a positive side, but that is the reality. Of course, not every loss or trauma will produce such growth, but it is always a possibility – the potential is always there. There is no simple or straightforward formula way for realising that potential, but, if we are aware of – and tuned into – that potential, there is a much greater chance of making the best of the positives.

This is not to say that the positives will outweigh the negatives or even make the negatives easier to bear, but it would be sad, in a time already characterized by great sadness, for certain positives to be missed out on. As with all matters relating to loss and grief, such situations need to be handled carefully and sensitively, but the positive potential is certainly there to be realised when the time is right.  And timing is important, as these things cannot be rushed.

 

So, the important lesson to be learned from this is that grief and trauma will continue to be extremely painful and challenging, but they will also offer opportunities for personal growth if we are sufficiently aware of this and sufficiently sensitive to capitalise on those opportunities – and, again, I emphasise: when the time is right.

Look back, face forward

‘Learn from the past’ is an oft-quoted piece of wisdom. ‘Don’t look back, focus on the future’ is another one, despite the fact that the latter totally contradicts the former. So, where does that leave us? Well, as is often the case with slogan-type advice, they both oversimplify a complex situation.

Time is something we generally take for granted as a common sense issue. However, philosophers have long debated the nature of time. For example, in a sense, there is no past or future, there is just the present moment. The past has gone and the future isn’t here yet. You could even argue that the future won’t come, because every day we wake up it is the present moment again and the future is still out of reach. However, this does not mean that past and future are not real.

The past lives on in our memory (the subjective element) and in our surroundings – physical and institutional: buildings, organizations and so on (the objective element). Its influence continues to affect us in a number of ways. There are also many ways in which we can learn from what has happened in the past and what continues to happen because of that past.

The future also exists, not as something that we will ever reach (now will always be now, the present), but as a set of hopes, aspirations and fears that will be shaping our present. Every time we do something, we normally do it for a reason, to achieve something, to make something happen or to prevent something happening. In this sense, the present is constantly being shaped by the future.

So, in reality, the present moment is all that we have as time, but that does not mean that there is no past or future, that they are not real – they exist as powerful influences on our lives, powerfully shaping our experience, our thoughts, feelings and actions. To put it in slightly poetic terms, today is tomorrow becoming yesterday. In this regard, there is much we can learn. Yes, we can learn from the past, as is well recognized, but we can also learn form the future, in the sense that, by being clear about where we are trying to get to, what we are doing with our lives, we can better understand what we are doing now and what we need to do – and that will not only put us in a stronger position for creating the future we want, but also enrich our lives now.

For a long time it was believed that, when we experience a major loss, we need to put that behind us and ‘move on’, we need to ‘let go’ so that we can grieve properly. However, it is now recognized that this is not helpful. Trying to artificially disconnect from the past is not likely to feel real, and is therefore not likely to help. The much more helpful idea of ‘continuing bonds’ means that we can continue our relationship with the person we have lost, but recognize that the relationship will now take a different form. The past is still meaningful for us, but we move forward towards the future understanding what has changed, understanding that the present is now different, and so will the future be.

So, the past is something we can learn and benefit from, and in many ways it remains with us. But, we must also look to the future, because that too is constantly guiding our choices, influencing our feelings and shaping our thoughts. The past and the future are not alternatives to the present; they are very much part and parcel of the present, and we will be much worse off if we lose sight of that.

Suffering can be positive

It is understandable, of course, that we will seek to avoid suffering whenever possible. We look dimly on people who seek to impose suffering on others and regard wanting to inflict suffering on ourselves as a form of pathology. Clearly, suffering Is not something that tends to get seen in a positive light, and quite rightly so.

However, this is not to say that suffering cannot also bring positives in some ways. There are, of course, lessons that can be learned from suffering – not least in relation to how to take steps to avoid such suffering in the future. However, it is important that we approach such lessons in a balanced way. For example, if we have suffered because we have been hurt by someone we thought we could trust who has let us down, we may be tempted to draw out the lesson from this that we should not trust people in future. That sort of reaction would be understandable as a response to the pain we have experienced, but – understandable or not – it would not be a helpful lesson in the longer term, as it would simply not be practicable.

It is a heart response, whereas what we need to do by way of drawing out the lessons to be learned is to make it a response that balances head and heart. So, rather than over-reacting by saying: ‘I am not going to trust anyone ever again’, the more realistic conclusion we can come to is: ‘I am going t be very careful about who I trust in future’.

But it isn’t just by learning how to avoid future hurt that suffering can be positive. It can also help us to appreciate other positives, to tune in to what we have going for us, rather than just get bogged down in what we have going against us. To put it more figuratively, a light will shine much more brightly in a context of darkness than it would in broad daylight. Suffering provides the contrast that highlights the positives.

In these consumerist days where the potential for happiness is so often equated with purchasing power, suffering can help us be more fully aware that material goods mean relatively little in the overall scheme of things. The negativity of suffering can highlight the non-materialistic positives we have in our lives – our relationships, for example.

In this way, we can see suffering as a spiritual matter, a contribution to our sense of who we are and how we fit into the world. This is why it can be so hurtful if someone belittles our suffering, it strikes it the very heart of our being and undermines us.

Suffering can also be a great motivator. Consider, for example, how many people have committed themselves to good causes because of their own suffering. Hospices generally have lots of volunteers who give up their time to help others who are suffering, because they have been there, they have trodden that painful path.

This is not to say that we should seek out suffering or use its positive value as an excuse to inflict it on others – life is such that suffering is never far away, so there is no need for us to create it artificially.

 

Don’t run away from conflict

Over the years I have run very many training courses on conflict management and a common theme that has emerged right at the start has been a strong tendency for participants to bring with them the idea that conflict can be equated with hostility or even fighting (physically or otherwise). Of course, there is a significant potential link between conflict and these other issues, but it would be a big mistake to see them as one and the same. It is better to understand that hostility is not the same thing as conflict; rather, hostility is what emerges when our efforts to manage conflict have not worked out as we would have hoped. It is perfectly possible to have conflict without even the slightest hint of hostility, aggression or violence – in fact, it is quite normal for this to be the case.

Conflict is where, in a sense, people get in each other’s way. What I am trying to do is being blocked by what someone else is trying to do, or vice versa. It is an everyday occurrence for people to disagree or have conflicting aims or intentions. But – and this is a key point – in the vast majority of situations, we will handle such conflicts very skilfully and effectively. It is only on relatively rare occasions that we will actually fall out about such matters. This is testimony to the fact that we tend to be very effective conflict managers in our everyday lives – just look around you as people interact and it won’t be very long before you see people demonstrating exactly what I mean.

Unfortunately, though, because conflict can cause tension and there is always the potential for it to escalate into hostility and beyond, many people have developed unhelpful defence mechanisms that involve avoiding conflict – running away from it in effect – that can cause significant problems. These problems include the following three:

  • Smouldering If we try to turn our back on conflicts instead of facing them and dealing with them constructively, there is a very real danger that they will smoulder over time, creating considerable ill-feeling, lowering morale and generally being very counterproductive. And, as so often happens, when things smoulder, there is always the risk that they will burst into flames at any moment and do even more damage – often at a very inconvenient moment.
  • Festering Again, it is a matter of failing to face up to conflicts causing significant problems over time. But what differentiates festering from smouldering is that, in this case, there is no bursting into flames, no clearing of the air that allows you to move on and put the conflict behind you. Conflicts that fester rather than smoulder can carry on for weeks, months and even years – causing untold harm throughout that time.
  • Destroying credibility Imagine a manager, say, who is aware of harmful conflict between two members of their staff; everyone knows they are aware of the conflict, but everyone also knows that the manager is doing nothing about it. Just consider for a moment how that manager’s credibility is going to be significantly undermined by their unwillingness to grasp the nettle. And, of course, it is not just managers that this applies to.

Consequently, anyone who runs away from conflict, rather than deal with it, runs the risk of doing great harm through smouldering or festering and is sabotaging their own credibility (and thus their ability to influence people) into the bargain. They are also losing out on all the benefits that come from developing your conflict management skills to the full.

Learn from success as well as failure

It is widely recognised that there is much learning to be gained from reviewing our mistakes, looking at what went wrong and how and why it did. However, what is often given far less attention than it deserves is the immense learning to be gained from what goes right. If we are being successful in most of what we are doing, then we can learn a great deal from asking ourselves what it is that we are doing that is so effective. This can then give us the opportunity to look at how we do it even better, to build on our strong points, rather than just build up our not so strong points.

Mistakes are quite rightly seen as a good source of learning, but focusing too narrowly on the negatives of a situation or our response to it can put what went well out of focus, hidden in the shadows. For example, in a fraught situation involving conflict, the anxiety I feel in such tense circumstances may lead me to say something unwise and ill-considered that unwittingly inflames the conflict, thereby creating the possibility that the person I spoke to may become aggressive or even violent. Making sure that I do not make such unwise comments in future would be a good example of the important learning to be drawn out from getting things wrong. But it can also mask the fact that the person concerned did not become aggressive or violent because I was very skilful in handling the situation, very effective in defusing the additional tension that I unintentionally caused through my unwise comment. Feeling bad about getting something wrong can easily dominate our thoughts and thereby filter out what went well and how our own contributions to that figured so significantly.

This can often be linked to self-esteem too. Someone with low self-esteem is likely to be prone to focus on the negatives, on what they did not do as well as they could, while paying little or no attention to the positives of the situation and what was done well. Equally, some people with high self-esteem may be reluctant to focus on their mistakes, as that creates a conflict with the positive image they have of themselves. It need not be like this, of course – it is perfectly possible to have high self-esteem and still recognise that you are not perfect and will get things wrong from time to time. It is about balance, and at times our own self-esteem issues can knock that balance out of kilter.

This process of learning from what we do well is part of reflective practice, the ‘reflective conversation with the situation’ that Schön wrote about: asking ourselves what is happening, why it is happening and how we can steer things in a positive direction. Through reflective practice we can look at what works and learn about what other situations we might be able to apply that success to. For example, we may realise that what works well with adults won’t work with children or vice versa. But we may also learn that by adapting what works with one group, we can extend it to other groups. Success can then breed further success over time,

It is also important to recognise that sometimes things go well, despite our part in the situation, and so we might be wasting time and energy by focusing our efforts on things that will work out well anyway. Increased awareness of not only what works, but also why it works can therefore be very helpful, so that we can be clear about what our own contribution has been and how we can build on that in future.

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.