Life is defiantly unpredictable

Our resident psychologist ponders how to thrive in this high-pressure life.

Dr Nick Baylis: PRWeek's resident psychologist
Dr Nick Baylis: PRWeek's resident psychologist

Life is naturally high pressure, peppered with situations that make intense demands upon us.

And we tackle these challenges because we're hard-wired by our DNA to want progress... progress in our relationship with life. It's our number one priority because a good rapport with all parts of ourselves, and the world around us, allows a creature to survive and thrive.

What makes our mission particularly tricky is that life is defiantly unpredictable. This is well illustrated by the US National Academy of Sciences which, in 1937, enlisted its most eminent brains to predict the biggest game-changers of the coming decade.

That A-team entirely failed to anticipate computers, antibiotics, the jet engine, nuclear fusion and even the Second World War that was just 18 months ahead.

But before we poke fun at their folly, let's just remember we can't even forecast ourselves, let alone life. We humans are inherently poor at judging what will motivate us just two weeks hence. You may have noticed how this makes choosing a life partner or profession something of a lottery.

It's a fundamental law of nature that a personality evolves and so do events around us, and the colliding factors are just too many to calculate. We're only fooling ourselves to think we can spot the cards coming.

Faced with the unforeseeable, how can we prepare ourselves?

"Duck'n'weave, kid! Duck'n'weave!" is how Baloo the bear puts it to the man-cub Mowgli when teaching him to box in Disney's fabulous take on The Jungle Book. Psychology's most convincing research would completely support that wisdom: practise being versatile in everything we do, so we can adapt to create something beautiful from whatever life throws our way. Here are just four 'versatility tonics' to get a mind and body started:

Do things differently, and do different things. Vary your commute; clean your teeth with your other hand; take up a brand new evening class or weekend workshop. Get good at the impromptu and the improvised.

Be a Renaissance all-rounder, using all of your four dimensions. Use your artistic, logical, athletic and social abilities, because this balance will help you reach further in all directions. Note how Nelson Mandela was a good heavyweight boxer and keen footballer; while Beryl Markham, the first woman to fly solo from England across the Atlantic in 1936, was also a champion with horses; and age just 40 wrote her stunning memoirs, West with the Night, which Ernest Hemingway described as "bloody wonderful".

Move in slow motion. Move at one-fifth of your usual pace when breathing, talking, exercising, eating and even thinking - calming the chatter of internal thoughts to one patient word at a time.

Engage this gear for 'tai chi' speed, several times a day. Slow motion is a fabulous aid to relaxation and together they make everything in life go so much better by allowing you fluid flexibility.

Dare to embrace by being, literally and metaphorically, hands-on, close-up, eye to eye. Whether through partner- dance, martial arts, massage or a hug, such 'benevolent touch' is a vital vitamin for our wellbeing. Group singing has equivalent benefits.

We're deeply social creatures and all of life goes far better for individuals who learn that kind of close-quarter know-how. Hands-on activities teach us to be versatile because warm-blooded humans in the real here and now are wonderfully unpredictable and the perfect antidote to the plastic, linear distance of all things digital.

Descartes missed the point. The best proof we're alive is our rapport with the world around us: "I share, therefore I am."

Visit Nick's website at

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