In part 1 of this article (Click here), we took a look at some of the challenges and confusion we’re facing as a species, as massive global changes collide to create an uncertain landscape and some troubling consequences – not least an unprecedented rise in chronic psychological suffering. Here in part 2, we explore the challenge – and the huge opportunity – represented by the current mainstream understanding of psychology.
Western society’s mental well-being is at an all-time low. As individuals, we live at a time when our “circumstantial” quality of life is better than at any point in history, but our “experiential” quality of life appears to be at an all-time low. As our attention is increasingly hijacked by an ever-larger flow of information, it seems our minds are increasingly busy. It’s as if our sense of purpose and meaning is being obscured, our sense of connection to others diminished and our fears, anxieties and perceived inequalities reflected and amplified in the limitless digital content at our fingertips. As individuals we seem to be becoming more stressed, more dissatisfied, more lost, with less and less awareness of our innate ok-ness.
This is borne out by numerous studies: more of us are struggling with mental health challenges than in previous generations, and it is manifesting at earlier points in our lives. Children, young people and adults are struggling with stress, anxiety and other mental health challenges to a greater degree than ever before. This is not progress, folks!
Doesn’t it seem like a massive contradiction? Doesn’t it suggest we’ve got something wrong?
It looks to me like what we’ve got wrong is deceptively simple and yet absolutely fundamental: a misunderstanding about how our minds work and who we really are.
Like many of you reading this, my team and I know that, contrary to prevailing opinion, human psychology functions perfectly; that every person is born with innate resilience, clarity, natural motivation, and the capacity to navigate life’s ups and downs. We know that as people start to realise this fact for themselves, they start to ‘see through’ conditioned psychological habits such as stress, worry, anxiety, purposelessness, low self-esteem etc. And what’s revealed as those habits fall away is increasing well being and clarity.
It’s revealed because it was there all along.
As a society, in the main, we don’t realise this yet. And so we’re currently operating with the idea that there could be something wrong with us: that a person can be broken, can need fixing, can be emotionally or psychologically scarred.
We’re labouring under the misconception that feelings and emotions are things that need to be managed or controlled… The misperception that clarity, resilience, well being etc are qualities to be built or achieved rather than pre-existing capacities.
From this misperception, it’s understandable that our response to increasing mental health challenges has been to step up the attempts to protect people from perceived “psychological harm”; from things like free speech, other people’s ideas, trigger words, micro-aggressions and so on. We don’t seem to realise that with these concepts we’re creating a ‘victimhood culture’ and pouring petrol onto the flames of the misunderstanding.
From this misperception, it’s understandable that the list of mental health disorders just gets longer and longer. If you look at the DSM-5 (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the handbook used by health care professionals in the United States and much of the world as the authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders), the number of disorders grows every year. In fact, they’re now increasing the number of “sub-disorders” in order to address concerns about the ever-growing number of headline disorders. We’re currently on track for half of us to develop a diagnosable mental illness in our lifetime. Are we really getting more and more psychologically ill?! Or is it more likely that again, we’re innocently fueling the fire of a misunderstanding?
So where do we go from here?
Well, it looks to us as though it’s already happening: the field of psychology is approaching a tipping point.
Psychology is currently in its pre-paradigm phase.
Thomas Kuhn introduced the term ‘paradigm shift’ in his controversial book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Kuhn explained that scientific fields go through five distinct phases, the first of which is the ‘pre-paradigm’ phase. During this phase, research is taking place, but there is no consensus on any one theory. Instead, there are multiple incomplete theories which conflict with each other. The field of psychology is currently awash with multiple incomplete theories, models and methodologies. There are literally hundreds of schools of ‘talk therapy’, each identifying its own ‘causes’ of struggle (e.g. trauma, loss, neglect) and the ‘treatments’ necessary to restore a person to full health (e.g. psychoanalysis, cognitive behavioural therapy, electro-convulsive therapy). The same goes for the domains of personal development, leadership development and organisational psychology. While research is taking place, there is no consensus on any one theory. This is as we would expect: every scientific field has competing theories and models during its pre-paradigm phase. In fact, the reason psychology is not currently considered to be a ‘hard science’ is precisely because it is in its pre- paradigm phase.
The plethora of incomplete and contradictory models exist because of some simple but critical misunderstandings:
The field of psychology doesn’t yet realise that all thoughts and feelings are normal and healthy. They can’t not be.
The field of psychology is looking at what is transient and ever-changing in people’s experience, rather than looking to what’s constant. In trying to capture, put a label on, and then try and “fix” the infinite range of thoughts, feelings and associated behaviours we all experience, the field is pursuing a lost cause.
The field of psychology is looking for “what’s broken” rather than seeing what works perfectly and accounts for the range of experience in every human being.
The field of psychology in the main, whether it the domain of mental health, business coaching or sports psychology is giving people more to do, rather than help them uncover what’s already and always there.
In summary, the field of psychology is fighting a losing battle to find ways to help us cope with, control and attempt to manage our emotions, perceptions and behaviours rather than understand them to be the infinitely variable output of a universal system that works the same way, perfectly for everyone.
This misunderstanding of who people really are and what they’ve got going for them, is the missing piece for the field of psychology at the moment. While there’s no doubt that in life we all have challenges of one sort or another, the prevailing notion that those things can mean we’re somehow broken, or damaged beyond recovery is actually what’s getting between people and mental well-being right now.
You may have heard that the field of psychology is currently going through a ‘replication crisis’, where many of the experiments and studies that the field has been grounded in can’t be replicated. More and more anomalies are showing up. But rather than being cause for alarm, this looks like good news! It’s normal when an old paradigm is crumbling, and a new paradigm is starting to emerge, and signifies a natural point in the evolution of any field.
I see this as being a time of real opportunity for humanity:
- Psychiatrists such as Dr Bill Pettit and Dr Rani Bora, and clinical psychologists such as Dr Mark Howard and Dr Keith Blevens (all of whom work from the basis of this new understanding of psychology) are seeing extraordinary results with their clients.
- Recognition of our innate well-being is growing through grass-roots programme and events attracting young people and adults from every walk of life.
- The same technological advances that have given us the challenges of AI and social media have also given us the opportunity to share the hope this understanding offers us like never before.
- Interest in the mind and it’s relation to our quality and experience of life has gone mainstream over the last couple of decades. Everywhere you look you find psychology informing our world, whether in the explosion of self-help books and self-help guidance on TV, online and in print; the rise of sports psychologists credited with the success of sportspeople in fields from football to cycling to snooker.
- On a darker note, more and more neuroscientists and psychologists are being employed by certain tech organisations looking to make gaming and social media ever more addictive and compelling. An understanding of the truth of the way our minds work is needed to combat the threat posed by these changes so we all have the chance to engage in a debate that’s become of mainstream interest to the world.
This is an unprecedented opportunity for every one of us who’s seeing this for themselves to point people to the truth of who they really are and what they’ve got going for them.
What we’ve coined as “subtractive psychology” is grounded in an understanding that the truth of who we really are is far more resourceful and incredible than anything we could “add”. Rather than giving people things to practice and do, habits to break or to implement, or feelings and impulses to try and control or to cope with, the objective is simply to glimpse something that’s already there, already true, and already evident, once you realise where to look. The moment that happens it simplifies matters. It takes things off your mind and allows you to connect with the wisdom, beauty and intelligence of life that’s there all the time.
So where do we go from here? People all over the globe are doing what makes sense to them to share this understanding with the people in their world, whether with their loved ones, their clients or their patients, whether in clinical practices, local meetups, corporations, research facilities or parliaments.
The best example I’ve found of another life-changing paradigm shift is the germ revolution of the late 19th century; a discovery that was instrumental in adding 30 years to people’s life expectancy. In his book, The Discovery of the Germ, historian John Waller explained that a true revolution transforms our world and how we see it:
“In just 20 years, the central role of germs in producing illness was for the first time decisively demonstrated and Western doctors abandoned misconceived ideas about the causes and nature of disease that had persisted, in one form or another, for thousands of years.”
Amazing stuff, but here’s the thing: While the proponents of germ theory found scientific proof for their discoveries, it only really made a difference when ordinary people started washing their hands. It happened one person at a time.
One person at a time…
It looks to us like the realization of our true nature will happen the same way: just as the flame of one candle can be used to light many more, your insights into who you really are can spark this awakening in others.
So here’s what I’d love to know…
Are you already sharing this understanding with others? Or would you like to be sharing it with others?
I’d love to know who you’re sharing it with, and who you’d love to see this for themselves.
Let me know in the comments.
Sunday Times Bestselling Author, Speaker and Executive Coach
PLUS: Whenever you’re ready… here are some ways I can help you get the clarity and results that matter to you:
1. Listen to the ‘Get Clarity’ Podcast
If you’re a coach or interested in becoming one…
3. Listen to The Thriving Coaches Podcast
4. Take part in the Thriving Coaches Blueprint, our 90 day, rapid-implementation programme to help you get more clients and grow your coaching or therapy practice (next intake Sept 2020). http://bit.ly/ThrivingCoachesBlueprint
If you’re looking to change job, career or move from FTE to something more fulfilling…