Which is better for you – Order or Chaos?

Which is better for you – Order or Chaos?

by | Mar 7, 2020 | Balance and Boundaries, Resilience and Equanimity, Self Help

Ha! Trick question. We need both. Like Yang needs Yin.

So that’s it for this week’s blog!

(Or, if you would like the longer answer, please read on.)

This one’s a bit personal and perhaps a little self-indulgent, but it’s true and resonant for me as I write.


The awfulness and awesomeness of Order

Order is explored territory, where structure, place, position, authority and rules provide security; where our expectations are matched by our lived experiences.

But no matter who we are, order is not enough. We can’t just be stable, routine and unchanging. Order without chaos is stultifying and a place where we are underutilising our potential, where lack of challenge and meaning leaves us feeling frustrated, bored or empty, where exploration of potential and new territory doesn’t happen.


The pain and positivity of Chaos

Chaos is new, unexpected and sometimes even undesired and distressing. It can often have a darkness to it. But embracing chaos as a positive in our lives is what helps us deal with the unknowns and the possibilities of how things might be; it’s where and how we learn, explore and find meaning.

Nonetheless, most of us experience times when the chaos is too much – when we feel overwhelmed and swamped, where life is out of control and where we fantasise of a simpler way of being, that takes less out of us. Or, is that just me?


Keeping one foot in ‘Camp Chaos’ and the other in the ‘Land of Order’

Transforming the chaos of potential into the realities of habitable order is no mean feat.

For this article, I wanted to share our thinking on how hard this can be and fix a spotlight on the fact that how we react to the circumstances in our lives – recognising we don’t get to choose all our cards, only our reactions to those cards – can influence our emotions and our brains, both positively and negatively.

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos

Jordan B Peterson’s weighty and hard-line self-help 2018 bestseller has been revered and reviled in equal measure.

Putting many political and theological contentions to one side, this controversial Canadian celebrity clinical psychologist and former Harvard Prof, offers some real nuggets of insight and wisdom. From a wellbeing perspective (not to get too existential on you) he takes a firm stance on the importance of us mastering our vulnerability and the burdens of being, exercising all of our freedoms to make choice and to take full responsibility for the lives we are living. To help us hold it all together, he implores us to mediate between the chaos and order in our lives.

Whilst each of Peterson’s 12 rules has something to offer (I’ve included them all at the end) and could each lend themselves to a blog of their own, it’s Rule #2 that I’m going to muse over this week:

Rule #2 – Treat yourself like you would someone you are responsible for helping

Having been living for a while (err years) with significantly more Chaos than Order, in both business and at home, I found myself dwelling on this rule, thinking what an excellent assertion it was.

In our line of trade, we’re at real risk of dishing out wise advice for others without taking a big enough dose of our own medicine. In fairness, much of the chaos that has ensued for me has been outside of my control (a teenage wasteland), not on my radar nor how life was supposed to pan out at all. But hey, sometimes that’s the despair and cruelty of chaos for you – thanks life!

Meditating on ‘how I could treat myself better’, I realised I could make more purposeful and conscious choices rather than give in (or give up).

I took a long hard look at how I’ve been living recently, starting by reflecting on aspects of my behaviours that are becoming problematic. Here’s the whittled down version:

  • Lying in bed instead of getting up to exercise
  • Eating crap (technical term) in the evenings
  • Keeping my phone next to my bed (I know, I’m a hypocrite)
  • Procrastinating

Pondering some more, I realised that sitting underneath these behaviours are a whole heap of unhelpful thoughts, sabotaging my chances of mediating the struggle between order and chaos.

My body and mind were beginning to object – not enough and poor-quality sleep, weight gain and an unfocussed, racing mind with uncharacteristically low mood.

Time to take back some control!


How things would look if we were practising proper self-care

To treat myself as if I was someone I was responsible for helping is, according to Petersen, to consider what would be truly good for me. Not what I want (to lie in bed) or what would make me happy (to eat chocolate and have well-behaved, healthy teenagers), but what should I be doing with my freedoms to improve my health, expand my learning and growth, and strengthen my body and mind?

So, here are the 3 key strategies I’ve deployed for upping my self-care this week:

  1. Start with the Why (as Simon Sinek implores us). (Nietzsche was a bit more maudlin in the way he put it: “He whose life has a why can bear almost any how”.) One of our GLWS survey questions is ‘I reflect deeply on the meaning and purpose in life’. What we find is that when life is going ok (read: when we are experiencing Order), you don’t have to look for meaning – it comes your way as a byproduct of deep engagement and you can be okay without noticing whether it is or isn’t there.

    It’s when life isn’t going so well that we are prompted to deeper or more frequent reflection.

    Meaning in the dark side of life arises from our relationship with stressful life events. When we develop the willingness to look beyond their negative impact, their true potential for meaning is revealed: suffering can teach us what truly matters in life, reveal our own strength, deeply connect us with others and motivate us to alleviate their suffering and maybe find meaning in it too.

    So, I did this and by embracing recent negative experiences and mental states it’s helped hugely to create an updated vision and direction, transforming my life’s obstacles into something meaningful and with renewed sense of purpose.

  1. Be the captain of my own sailboat (with grateful thanks to the Positive Psychology movement). Know the journey I am on, accept the positive and negative emotions along the way, steer in a direction that uses my strengths and allows me to deal with the stormy weather, accept with greater self-compassion the non-fatal leaks as my imperfections, chart my own path rather than follow those of other captains whilst interacting with them in a warm and trusting manner.

    In more practical terms, what this has looked like for me this week is engaging with friends (I’m good at being sociable), accepting that the weather has been awful in recent times and reminding myself sunnier times are ahead, not beating myself up about the long list of work that is now behind schedule (most of the key stuff did get done), not comparing my life to those parents with teenagers less challenged than mine but simply to focus on making today as good as it can be, and reaching out to 2-3 people for some help. Oh, and I also bought new weighing scales, wrote down my exercise goals and have gone back to the gym.

  2. Pretend my hands are my thoughts and feelings (adapted from Dr Russ Harris’s quite brilliant Acceptance and Commitment Theory – ACT. Promise we’ll make this the subject of a longer blog in coming weeks, but for now – here’s the low down on one of the best anxiety management tools for helping to diffuse and accept negative events and the thoughts and feelings that accompany them).Using this metaphor, I imagine all my problems, challenges and responsibilities that I need to deal with to make my life work are represented in front of me whilst holding my hands like the open pages of a book. I cover my face with my hands and notice how smothered I feel.

    Next, I stretch my arms away from face and to the side as far away as possible, totally out of my line of vision. And notice how falsely in denial this feels, I know the worries still exist and just because I can’t see them, it doesn’t help to pretend they don’t. Finally, I place my open hands in my lap in front of me where I can see them effortlessly and in perspective, shrunk down to size and where I can focus on what is important in this moment.

Like everyone, I am a work in progress.

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