Author Archives: Rob Kendall

How To Deal With Feelings of Anger and Anxiety

From the age of eight, I went to school hundreds of miles away from my home. Sometimes I was a whole continent away. As each school term approached, feelings of anxiety – and then dread – would settle on my soul, wrecking the final week of my holiday.

It wasn’t so much that I hated school, although I mostly did. Nor was I failing in any obvious sense. The issue was that I didn’t know how to deal with my emotions. To my young mind, expressing sadness, loneliness, fear and anger would have been a confession of weakness in front of my peers, and was unthinkable. To make matters worse, I felt ashamed that I felt this way. Hopefully it’s easy to see how this state of mind, if it persists, can wreck a life.

I tried running away from my feelings, at least metaphorically, but the more I did, the more they seemed to control me. Anger and anxiety were not only running my life, they were ruining it too. Too often I became someone I didn’t want to be. I was prone to fits of anger followed by retreats into shame. I remember starting a fist-fight at the age of nine with a friend over our place in the toilet queue. I couldn’t tell him that our fight had nothing to do with him or the queue. Around that time, one of our best friends had died in a plane crash. Having been told the news in assembly, the matter was closed. What was I supposed to do with my confusion and my anger?

At the peak of my unhappiness, a benign tumour the size of a golf ball appeared on my left leg. The doctors couldn’t explain it and said it was ‘one of those things’. Looking back, it seemed like a metaphor for my state of mind in those days.

It was years later, well into adulthood, that I began to understand that I held misconceptions about my emotions. The most damaging of these was the idea that I shouldn’t have the feelings that I did. Looking back, it’s obvious that my feelings were entirely normal, even healthy, for a young boy who missed his family. In other words, the issue wasn’t the presence of my emotions but my relationship to them.

My second misconception was the belief I should be bigger than my feelings. But my behaviour told a different story. Too often, when I wanted to speak up, I couldn’t find my voice; and when I wanted to suppress my emotions, they would burst through my fragile defences and cause havoc.

Many of us carry the belief throughout our life that uncomfortable emotions are somehow wrong and should be overpowered or switched off. This is a futile endeavour because emotions are wired into our physiology and have played a central role – possibly the central role – in our development as a social species. Not only did we evolve to feel everything from fear to anger, and sadness to happiness, but we evolved to feel what another person is feeling. The study of mirror neurons proves that empathy is deeply rooted in the most ancient corridors of the human brain.

So, is there any good news when it comes to uncomfortable emotions? The answer is yes, but it starts with the understanding that emotions will always come and go. Through the process of observing them, we have the chance to accept them without being defined by them.

Dame Judi Dench, one of the world’s most revered actresses, has been practising this approach her whole career. Now in her mid-80’s, she claims that the more she acts, the more frightened she becomes. So how has she managed to win one Oscar, two Golden Globes and 10 BAFTA awards? In contrast to aspiring performers who are waiting to overcome their anxiety, Dame Judi sees it as being essential to her success. She understands that the battle to suppress or banish negative feelings simply can’t be won. ‘I have the fear,’ she says. ‘I wouldn’t be without it.’ To her it’s more of an accepted and appreciated companion than an enemy.

My own version of Dench’s story happened in my early twenties. At the most inconvenient moments, I would suffer from crippling embarrassment and my face would turn a shocking shade of red. On this particular occasion, instead of resisting my embarrassment, I said to the surprised young woman in front of me, ‘I’m blushing, but I’m fine. It will go away soon enough.’ My soul delighted in the possibility that I could live with my emotions rather than seeking to get over them, and I discovered a new freedom to be myself.

Dr. Paul Ekman, the world’s leading expert on the study of emotions, describes it this way: ‘In order for us to be able to moderate our emotional behaviour, or to choose what we say or do, we have to be able to know when we have become, or better still, are becoming emotional. When that happens, we will feel more in touch, and better able to regulate our emotional life.’

As the years have passed, I’ve started to appreciate that my thoughts and feelings can be highly paradoxical. It’s perfectly possible to feel thankful and guilty, exasperated and determined, hopeful and discouraged, irritated and anxious – all at the same time. These contrasts are the reality of human experience, whatever our background and walk of life.

Perhaps this is what the poet Mary Oliver meant when she wrote, “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”

When we can observe our darkest feelings, without having to become them, the light of our humanity and self-expression can stream in.

 

Reference:

Ekman, P. (2004). Emotions Revealed. W&N.

Latest work

I’m exploring the skills and habits of values-based decision-making in collaboration with Dr. Rob Archer, a brilliant occupational psychologist.

This is the focus of our research:

How can we reliably take actions that move us towards our values, even when we’re under intense pressure?

Drawing on empirical findings from clinical psychology, neuroscience, and professional sport, we’ve tested our models, tools and programmes in high-pressure environments that include major construction projects, global financial institutions and Formula 1.

Please be in touch for more information.

Clients

Over the last 25 years I have worked with leaders, managers and staff in over 70 organisations on five continents. My job is to support you in delivering on your commitments, without losing yourself in the process.

Areas of focus include:

  • Helping you invent a bold future and strategy for your team or organisation that people are passionate about delivering
  • Developing strong and resilient leadership teams
  • Turning around relationships and projects that are failing
  • Designing bespoke programmes that equip your people to lead and manage in an environment of continual reinvention
  • Individual support for leaders faced with challenging commitments
  • Creating leadership meetings (often globally) that mobilise the commitment of your leaders
  • Working alongside teams who are delivering critical projects that will define your future success

Clients include:

  • Abbott World Marathon Majors
  • Alliance & Leicester
  • American Express
  • AT&T
  • BAA – Heathrow Terminal 5
  • Bank of Cyprus
  • Bank of Ireland
  • BBC Worldwide
  • Bovis Lend Lease
  • BP
  • British Gas
  • BRITs
  • Burberry
  • Capita
  • Chillimint
  • Citi
  • Crossrail (BFK)
  • Direct Valuations
  • Directgov
  • Egg
  • Ferrovial Agroman
  • First Rate Exchange Services
  • FTSE Group
  • Heathrow Airports Ltd
  • HS2 (Fusion project)
  • Jellyfish Pictures
  • Jones Lang Lasalle
  • Kent County Cricket Team
  • Lagan Construction
  • Laing O’Rourke
  • Line Up
  • Liquid Capital
  • Lloyds Register
  • London 2012 Olympics
  • London Marathon Events
  • Lucent Technologies
  • Manchester Metrolink
  • Mercury Communications
  • Met Office
  • Morrison
  • Mortgage Force
  • Nationwide Platforms
  • Old Mutual Group
  • park run
  • Penna
  • Planet Payment
  • Premier Farnell
  • Prudential Assurance
  • Prudential Banking
  • Saatchi & Saatchi
  • Scholl
  • Scottish Water Solutions
  • Selfridges
  • Shell
  • Skandia
  • smile
  • Société Générale
  • St James’s Place
  • Sweatshop
  • The Institute of Financial Planning
  • The Post Office
  • Unisys
  • Virgin Money
  • Virgo Health
  • Vodafone
  • VOICE
  • Warwick Schools Foundation
  • Zopa
  • Zurich Banking

Wider team

These people are outstanding in their respective fields of expertise, and can contribute to specific projects or initiatives:

Rob Archer began his career working for the Foreign Office and as a consultant before re-training as an occupational psychologist. He has founded the Career Psychologist and co-founded Bloom Psychology, and is a frequent speaker at international events. Rob’s career highlight was teaching a dog to dance on Channel 4’s Faking It.

Sally Kendall has a background in media, television and PR, supporting the delivery of global music events. She worked in all aspects of production – including liaison with artists – and post-production.

Simon Wilsher co-founded the Wilsher Group in 1989. Since then he has worked with Richard Branson and many other innovative thinkers and leaders. The Wilsher Group have developed an outstanding set of tools that enable leaders to understand their strengths and bring the best out of their people.

Nick Andrews is a co-founder and partner of Great Performance Group and has worked in a highly diverse mix of businesses including mining, engineering, oil and gas, aviation, insurance, shipping, construction and logistics.  He’s worked extensively throughout Europe, North America and South Africa.

 

Background

The route through my life has not been traditional or linear. Having lived on four continents during my childhood, I worked with amputees in India when I was 18, returned to the UK to complete a degree in English at the University of York and then announced that I wanted to be a professional artist. Somehow my first ever painting commission ended up being published and sold in every IKEA store in the world.

My longest-standing passion, which I’ve explored for 30 years, is the art and practice of conversation, mainly because I grew up thinking I was terrible at it. Having turned this into a career, I’ve had the good fortune and privilege to work with over 70 organizations on five continents, including the 2012 London Olympics, Virgin, the Post Office and BBC Worldwide.

My first book Blamestorming: Why Conversations Go Wrong and How to Fix Them was published by Watkins in September 2014 and is available in 5 languages. The follow-up is Workstorming: Why Conversations at Work Go Wrong and How to Fix Them which was published in September 2016. The techniques referred to in my books have been developed from working with thousands of people, including business leaders, sports professionals and teenagers.

I  am represented by Robert Kirby at United Agents.

I’m a Non-Executive Director at BAFTA and EMMY-winning visual effects company Jellyfish Pictures, based in Soho, London. Have a look at www.jellyfishpictures.co.uk

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