One’s reach should exceed one’s grasp

One’s reach should exceed one’s grasp, or what’s a heaven for?

One's reach should exceed one's grasp or what's a heaven for? - Robert BrowmingBased* on a quotation by Robert Browning the sentiments expressed are important for personal growth and happiness. Heaven doesn’t necessarily need to have a religious connotation. We can just take it to mean ‘higher purpose’ or ‘fulfilment of values’. As a coach, one of the things I do is to help people complete MBA application forms. For the top business schools, candidates are required to write a number of short essays relating to themselves. Some people are bewildered by the numerous questions and all the nuances of wording. However, invariably when we break it down, there are often three main questions: (i) What are your goals, (ii) What are your values, and (iii) What’s the relationship between your goals and values.

At the heart of this Browning quotation is the relationship between goals and values. Now happiness may be one of your core values. There’s a strong connection with goals, happiness, and personal growth. Goals need to stretch us. If we make goals too easy, we become bored and lose motivation. If we make them too tough, then we give up and lose confidence. So we need to reach for something we can’t presently grasp but is still within sight. Computer games succeed or fail on this principle. If a game is too easy, it will be cast aside in no time. If it’s too difficult, players simply give up. Getting the balance just right is what makes people coming back to a game. There’s enough progress to maintain motivation.

A common experience of computer game player is becoming so engrossed in a game that we lose all sense of time. In psychological terms this is known as ‘being in flow‘. I’ve mentioned this concept in earlier posts. Coined by the positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, he regards it as a key to happiness. That is, we set goals that stretch us in areas that interest us and usually support our values. Positive psychologist Martin Seligman refers to our strengths as ‘values in action. According to him, this living to our strengths and values leads to Authentic Happiness.

So, the Browning quotation is a useful motto for personal growth. Yes it’s something to be passed on Facebook and Twitter for daily inspiration. It’s also a great principle to live by and work towards.

*Note: The original Browning quotation is ‘Ah! Man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?’ I’ve just de-gendered it.

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Oops! Not Practising What I Preach? (Common Courtesy, Manners & Body Language).

I occasionally do media briefings when it’s a positive story and when it’s well supported by psychological evidence. Recently I contributed to a briefing on survey findings into the decline of manners and common courtesy in the 21st Century. Overall, my take on it, was that manners and common courtesy provide those daily little uplifts that can counter the petty daily hassles. Also, that it’s important to recognise that manners and etiquette change over time. So, for instance, saying ‘pardon me’ when you don’t hear what someone has said is not necessarily relevant. After all, why should we be saying ‘pardon me, oh Lord and Master, please don’t cut my head off for nor hearing you. er. . .especially when you’re mumbling’. It’s perfectly acceptable to say ‘Would you say that again please?’ It’s also not necessarily bad manners that younger people don’t go around ‘doffing’ their baseball caps.

However, looking back on the video (see link below), I notice that my body language is all wrong. I look uncomfortable, which I was. The seating was rather like an ironing board, and if you notice, the presenter has learned to sit in a way that allows him to cling on to the back rest. I also recall the time when working on a morning ‘confessional’ chat show. Uncomfortable straight back chairs were on stage. When I asked why, the producer told me that the chairs ‘forced out the body language’. In order words, it made people less comfortable and changed the body language. People could look shifty and defensive, which thankfully I didn’t on this occasion, but it wasn’t because they had anything to hide. Instead, they didn’t have arm rests, were in front of a studio audience, in a chilly studio with hot lights, and sitting on a chair guaranteed to wipe the smile from anybody’s face. The context was saying far more than their awkward movements. It’s just that the staging was less obvious.

So, now to my next faux pas in the video: I don’t shut up! Now this is down to four things: I was frightened of sliding off the chair and was bunched in a corner; they seated me directly opposite the presenter and he just kept talking to me; we’d just done 15 back-to-back radio interviews and I was on a bit of a roll; and, well, I just love to talk.

My other faux pas was to make a negative comment about ‘shopping channel presenters’ and I’ll let you guess from the fleeting reaction of the presenter what his other job is. Oops! (see link below).

So, I’m eager to point out that body language is all about context, rather than being accused of not practising what I preach.

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Two Minute Stress Buster

So many people complain that they can’t afford to relax. If that sounds like you, the truth is: you can’t afford not to!

We instinctively take a deep breath before tackling demanding tasks and indeed when we are stressed our breathing tends to be more shallow. Deep breathing helps oxygenate the blood, it massages the internal organs and it takes the edge off our stress response.

Here’s a short exercise that only takes about two minutes so no excuses not to give it a go, given the benefits. Try it three times per day for a week and assess the results.

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Adapted from Don’t Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out To Meet It, by Gary Wood, 2008. Published by Capstone.