- Book: Life Changing: A Philosophical Guide. Tim Rayner, 2012.
"This is a workbook with transformative exercises that show readers how to cultivate resilience, agility, and vision. In order to deal with change in an active, creative way, we need to be psychologically prepared for it, have the agility to treat it creatively, and the foresight to discern unexpected opportunities."
Listen to Tim Rayner talk to Sophie Longdon on ABC Radio, Australia.
Table of Contents
1. Seize the Day: Question the Meaning of Life
2. Check Yourself: Nurture the Power Within
3. Power Up: Celebrate Your Unique Potential
4. Diversify Yourself: Cultivate Friendship and Agility
5. Change Time: Trigger Damascus Road Experiences
'This is a book about change and how to deal with it. It is a practical book, written for ordinary people who are tackling change, whatever sort of change this may be. Moving to a new town or country. Having a child or dealing with the death of a loved one. Starting a new job or career, or facing the prospect of retirement. Sooner or later, we all have to muddle through change. We struggle with change every day at work, and we worry about the changes that are taking place in the world about us. Yet for all our experience of change, we are novices when it comes to dealing with it productively. Change trips us up as often as it hauls us to our feet, and blocks our path as often as it speeds us on our way.
This is a book of philosophical lessons for change. Don’t worry if you’ve never studied any philosophy (or even if you are wondering what the word means): the book is written for the unschooled. It is written for people who are more interested in living than in philosophizing about life. To make things easy, I have embedded the philosophical lessons in simple exercises, one at the end of each chapter. By doing these exercises, you’ll learn how to take a philosophical attitude to change. You’ll learn how to confront change creatively, and cope with its shocks and blows. You’ll learn how to use change to expand your sense of capacity and potential. You’ll learn how to see new opportunities in change – how to tap into the adventure of change and use it to forge into the future.
Life Changing is an introduction to the art of reflective change. Philosophy – real philosophy – is life changing stuff. If this is what you are after, read on.
The world is changing and the pace of change is speeding up. This should be clear to anyone living in hi-tech consumer society. Since the invention of the microprocessor in the 1970s, the pace of technological change in society has increased exponentially. Each year brings the roll out of a new generation of computers, phones, gadgets and games, each generation more innovative and multi-functional than the last. As more new technology comes onto the market, it increases the pace of change in life generally. A few years ago, an author could reasonably expect their reader to be consuming these words tucked into a chair with a copy of the book in their lap. Chances are you are reading this book on an iPad or Kindle, fielding emails as they pop into your inbox, and surfing Facebook and Twitter as you break between sections.
This connectivity comes at a cost, and it is not only financial. Thanks to smart phones, Wi-Fi and mobile broadband, it is now possible to connect with people all over the world anytime and anyplace. The positive benefits of this are enormous. But mobile internet makes us information-rich and time-poor, exposed to myriad prompts and interruptions that we are expected to respond to in real time. For many people, this is too much. Just keeping up with the flow of information is an exhausting proposition. Technology can tire us out as much as it empowers us. If we can’t see or make use of the opportunities that it provides, a rich web of connections is so much noise.
The same technological changes are changing how we work. Change has been a constant in the business world for decades, where it is often confused with progress. Many managers have come to appreciate the toxic effects of continuous workplace change. Meanwhile new technologies have transformed the workplace more radically than Joseph Schumpeter (the father of creative destruction) ever imagined. Conversations that used to happen around the water cooler now take place via Facebook, LinkedIn, or hashtag-denominated Twitter-feeds. Increasingly, the information that circulates in an organization comes from outside the organization, through the flexible channels of new social media.
Thanks to social media, the boundaries dividing the inside and outside of business organizations are rapidly collapsing. Information is constantly flowing in and out of organizations through SMS, Skype, Twitter, and Facebook. A common response on the part of managers is to try to shut down these flows by banning the use of social media during work time. Saying ‘no’ is the easy option, but it is not very creative. A more forward thinking response is to affirm these changes and embrace the role of new social media in the workplace. By opening their organizations to ideas and influences from outside, smart managers are tapping into the wisdom of the crowd.
Technology is not the only driver of change in the twenty-first century world. When we step back to take in the volatile and uncertain nature of politics and economics in recent years, we see that global society is on the brink of incredible changes.
Our global financial predicament will have escaped no one’s notice. The global financial crisis triggered by the US subprime mortgage crisis in 2008 morphed, in 2011, into a series of sovereign debt crises in Europe and elsewhere that have severely damaged public and investor confidence in the global financial system. Middle class citizens have been racking up debt for decades on the assumption that economic growth would continue forever. With the US in decline and the Greek, Irish, and Portuguese economies in tatters, it seems increasingly likely that this assumption was false. We are entering a dark and uncertain period of economic volatility and recession. While Australia (this author’s home country)is in a good position to weather the storm on account of the export value of its mineral wealth, its close economic ties to China(which carries a substantial portion of US debt) means that we are not shielded from the crisis. With the cost of living continuing to rise and over a quarter of household spending financed by credit card debt, the worsening of the global financial crisis is bad news for ordinary Australians, particularly the Baby Boomer generation who face an austere retirement. Our political leaders seem to have no plan for getting us out of this mess short of pressing on with business as usual.
When we look ahead, the picture doesn’t get much sunnier. Indeed, things become dark indeed. Among the many challenges that human beings face in the twenty-first century, we confront the cataclysmic problem of climate change. We are caught in a pincer grip between our systems of energy production and global ecological disaster. The scientific consensus on climate change gets stronger every year. By burning fossil fuels, we are pumping record amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This is trapping solar radiation close to the surface of the Earth, driving up the temperature of the planet and playing havoc with climate and weather systems. Left unchecked, climate change will cause major disruption across the planet this century, challenging the life-support systems that human beings have forever taken for granted. It will imperil water supplies, triggering local, regional and international conflict over these scarce resources. It will drive up the costs of agricultural production, placing stress on our collective ability to feed ourselves. The combination of ecological and economic body blows will place a colossal strain on our institutions and crisis management systems. Climate change will ultimately challenge the ability of states to govern their territories and the stability of the world as we know it.
There has been much political bickering and shuffling of feet in recent years over how best to deal with climate change and all it entails. Judging by the levels of inertia we’ve seen so far, the period of transition ahead will be difficult indeed. We know that massive cultural, economic and infrastructural change is required to prepare our societies to cope with climate change and its effects. We have been slow to set about making these changes – too slow. It is hard to believe that the rules of the game could have changed so suddenly and dramatically. Yet this is where we stand today.
We should admit that we are unprepared for it. As individuals, we may be used to dealing with change in the workplace and elsewhere. But as societies, we lack the courage to make the decisive changes that we need to make today – game-changing moves that could transform our crises into twenty-first century opportunities.
James Martin, the founder of the 21st Century School at Oxford University and author of The Meaning of the Twenty First Century (2006), has a powerful analogy for thinking about our contemporary situation. We are, Martin says, like a group of canoeists paddling down a broad, deep river. For a long time, the current has been steady and slow. We have relaxed into the ride, hypnotized by the flow and the canopy of blue overhead. Suddenly the vessel quakes. We look up and see a bottleneck canyon ahead. The mighty river is being forced through the canyon. When a river runs through a canyon, things change quickly. The water turns to rapids – indeed it is already churning into foam about us.
No one knows how bad these rapids will become. We don’t know if we can make it through the canyon. Still there is only one way ahead. Into the rapids we go.
When the river of life gets rough, there is only one thing to do. Put on that helmet, strap on that life-preserver. It is time to get ready for change.
Life Changing: A Player’s Guide
Philosophy can tie you in knots. The simplest ideas can take your mind and twist it mercilessly before releasing you onto a new plane of insight. This is exhilarating but it can be tiring as well. If you find that you are struggling (or just getting bored) with the ideas in this book at any point, skip straight to the exercise at the end of the chapter. The exercises contain the core content of the chapters. Each exercise begins with a short vignette that crystallizes the idea that is explored in the chapter. Each exercise takes you deeper into the world of philosophy. By doing these exercises, you’ll learn how to muster courage like an Existentialist philosopher; how to control yourself like a Stoic sage; how to cultivate your Nietzschean will to power;how to use Spinoza’s philosophy to open up a world of social possibilities. You’ll learn how to tease out the implicit opportunities in change and take a visionary approach to the future. You’ll learn how to take adventure from the heart of crisis and fulfilment from the struggle with adversity.
I want to teach you to affirm change. I want to show you how to leap into life, seize on the changes that are happening about you and unlock their every opportunity.
Life Changing has its roots in a seminar that I taught at the University of Sydney called ‘Philosophy for Change’. The exercises in this book were originally included in a workbook for seminar participants. My breakthrough moment in designing this seminar came when I realized that what I had assembled was a playbook as much as a workbook. Any kind of exercise takes discipline and this means work. Thinking philosophically calls for a kind of self-discipline that takes mental energy, focus, and concentration. To this extent, the exercises in this book do take work. Ultimately though, the work that is required for these exercises is negligible. What is crucial is not so much that you commit to putting work into the exercises, but that you find a way of integrating the exercises into your life in order to make them work for you.
To achieve this, you need to be playful with the exercises. I’d like you to think of these exercises as philosophical games that you can play out in pretty much any circumstance. When you run into an unexpected situation, take an exercise and apply it. Plug it into the real life situation and explore the insights that come out of the mix. The more that you play out the exercises, the better you’ll become at dealing with change. The better you become at dealing with change, the easier it becomes to benefit from it.
Change isn’t a game but you can gamify it. This is how you make change an adventure.
Life Changing shows you how to take a resilient, agile, visionary approach to life and change. It shows you how to pick out new opportunities in change – opportunities that may not exist for other people. Most people walk through life in a dream. When the path of life changes, they find they don’t have the resources to deal with it. You don’t need to go through life being continuously bowled over by change. Life Changing shows you how to prepare for change and use it. It shows you how to develop the resilience to deal with change, the agility to be playful with it, and the vision to exploit it by forging new paths into the future.
Philosophy can’t change the world. But philosophy can change the way that you see the world, and this can make all the difference, especially in times of change.
It is possible to flourish amidst the worst kind of change. All that you need to dois to identify the opportunities. Resilience, agility, and vision are the essential qualities and skills werequire to achieve this shift in perspective. They are qualities and skills that we all require as we prepare to ride out the twenty-first century canyon.
These qualities and skills don’t come easily. You need to apply yourself to the exercises in this book in order to develop them. Consider setting aside some time each day to reflect on changes that are happening in your life and how you might apply different philosophical approaches to them. Just as an athlete needs to train in order to keep her body in peak condition, you need to practice the exercises in this book in order to develop a finely tuned philosophical mind.
It is not easy but it is worth it. Stay with the program, deepening your insights and correcting mistakes. Build on your achievements until the practical wisdom of the exercises becomes second nature and you find you are thinking like a philosopher.
At the back of the book, you’ll find examples of the worksheets or ‘charts’ you should use to do the exercises. Draw up a copy of the relevant worksheet on a sheet of paper before you begin each exercise. This will give you someplace to record your thoughts and insights as you complete it. Once you become familiar with the exercises, you may no longer need to use the worksheets in order apply the ideas to change. Still, it helps to use the charts in order to really get inside problems and sound them out. If you use the charts effectively, you’ll be able to return to the exercises for repeat meditations on your problems – not so as to wallow in them but to explore more creative solutions. Learning to think in a philosophical way is not like learning to solve a crossword puzzle, where finding the answer marks the end of the process. It is more like learning a language, where mastering the medium opens up new worlds of possibility for you to identify and explore.
Change for Change’s Sake?
Am I affirming change for change’s sake? Absolutely not.
Human beings have a deep instinctual need for order and control in life. Our desire for order and control is, on the whole, a positive force that can be put to work in helping us deal with change. Imagine that while you are reading this book, the kids are going crazy in the other room (perhaps you don’t need to imagine this). You can’t concentrate. So you take a moment to focus and relax. You breathe deeply, close your eyes, and try to order your thoughts. You recite a comforting mantra.
This may seem like a straightforward thing to do. It is, in fact, an ancient technique incorporating centuries of cultural wisdom. Taking time to chill out and focus the mind is a strategy that human beings have developed over millennia to satisfy their need for order and stability. It is one of many tools and techniques that we can use to help us deal with the chaos of change.
Life Changing is a collection of techniques that help you become better at change. Instead of celebrating change, it celebrates the tools that we can use to help us deal with change, to ride out the turbulence of change, and to turn times of change into an adventure.
This book is a toolkit for change. It is a ‘how to’ book for people who want to learn to change reflectively for the better."