It’s a bittersweet realisation that what we once considered a regular part of our lives now just exist as distant echos.
And I’m sure that if you looked back, several moments in your life would spring to mind.
One such memory that sticks in my mind is “de elf steden tocht” — the Netherlands’ grand ice skating event which was held as often as the weather permitted.
But over the years, the ice conditions have become unpredictable and unsafe, which has meant that the event hasn’t taken place for over two decades now.
For those younger than myself, de elf steden tocht may hold little to no significance. To them, it’s entirely normal not to experience the same thrill and excitement that I once did.
And this is the essence of the Shifting Baseline Syndrome — How each generation sets their ‘normal’ based on their upbringing and experiences.
Which over time, makes us lose sight of how things have been lost and how we adapt to changes and accept new norms, often without fully being aware of the magnitude of these shifts.
Here’s the thing:
The Shifting Baseline Syndrome — as introduced by Daniel Pauly — says that we humans, (being the forgetful species we are) often fail to notice the changes happening around us. We get too used to our surroundings and believe it’s how things have always been.
This isn’t just a matter of not remembering what your hometown looked like before that mall got built — it’s about failing to grasp how much we’ve screwed up the planet because each generation resets the “normal” based on what they were born into.
Just as de elf steden toch has faded into obscurity as a result of the planet heating up.
Essentially, what we see as normal would be seen by our ancestors as abnormal, and what we see as abnormal our children will view as “normal”.
And while the shifting baseline syndrome was originally created as an explanation for the deterioration of our natural world — it’s also true for the way we live, lead and work.
The reality is we live in a world that’s changing at a pace we’ve never witnessed before.
The pandemic and its restrictions accelerated this massively through the use of technology as a tool to work from anywhere in the world, connect with anyone at any time, and essentially run entire businesses without leaving your home — which has undeniably shifted our collective baseline.
And if you wish to put it to the test… just try to explain your late-night Zoom meetings and checking emails first thing in the morning to grandma — she’ll think you’ve gone mad.
The point that I’m trying to make is that as much as technology has enriched our lives, it has also given rise to a culture in which we have normalised working non-stop and operating like machines.
And as a result, 95% of entrepreneurs are left completely unsure of how they can achieve a healthy work-life balance while hitting the lofty goals that they set for themselves.
Which is why it’s never been so important to question if always being on, available and up to date is actually normal, and above all, if it’s healthy and sustainable.
Because now more than ever, the lines have become indistinguishably blurred.
This becomes terrifyingly evident when we pay attention to the statistics, where we can see staggering rises in anxiety, burn-out, depression and suicide, which is a clear indicator that our deep-rooted psychological mechanisms aren’t evolving as quickly as the world around us.
The problem is that our cultural norms and societal expectations have shaped a distorted
perception of what it truly means to be healthy, connected, and alive. And after years of adapting to ever-increasing demands, many of us have come to accept the negative symptoms of doing so as “normal”.
I’m talking about the undercurrent of anxiety, feeling constantly on edge, chronic fatigue, poor focus and the irritability and absence with your loved ones…the list goes on.
I have a lot of clients judging, and even punishing themselves for their bodies failing them, because they have accepted the relentless demands as their norm. And when they aren’t being able to keep up, their baseline has shifted to thinking that there must be something wrong with them.
To challenge their thoughts I often share this quote from viktor frankl; “An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.’ To help them see that their behaviour and the response of their bodies, may actually be a normal response.
And as noted by MD and author Gabor Mate, the notion of normalcy is not established by what is beneficial for people, but by what is required of them to sustain our cultural status quo.
Basically, these self-sabotating behaviours are currently being positively reinforced as what is expected of high-impact individuals, such as yourself, Daniel.
The reality is that, from a standpoint of human evolution and our fundamental needs, our current way of living that we pursue is neither normal nor healthy, and ultimately limiting our potential and profoundly impacting our health and vitality.
I can’t stress it enough, but in order to protect ourselves, we need to come back to the understanding of who we are as human beings, and what we need on a deep psychological level in order to thrive and flourish.
We need to learn that our free time is not synonymous with our availability and that digital interaction can’t and will not fulfil our basic psychological needs.
And one of the most effective ways to break free from this norm is through becoming self-led — the ultimate goal of personal growth and development.
It means you no longer have your emotions governed by outside forces or your actions dictated by someone else’s expectations.
You know who you are outside the lines of what is and isn’t right according to the unspoken rules of today’s conformist culture, and you are empowered to guide yourself towards your highest aims, potential, capabilities and purpose.
Which is an absolutely essential mindset to adopt to be able to discern when you need to become more resilient and push through, or have reached your limit and need to rest.
So, I wanted to leave you with a question:
Is there really something wrong with you? Or are the behaviours and symptoms you experience a normal response to an abnormal situation?
Instead of beating yourself up and thinking that there’s something wrong with you, consider this: perhaps your body is begging you to listen.
Perhaps they’re reminders that you — and your nervous system — are deserving of some much-needed rest & recovery.
Give yourself permission to disconnect, to recharge and to do the things that fill your cup.
Try it; you might find that there’s nothing wrong with you at all — learning to embrace nuances like these is key.