Current Issue #479

New Adelaide app helps users choose how to be

When confronted with an aggressive breast tumour, local business woman Trish Hansen was forced to consider ‘how to be’ in the minutes she had available before a family member arrived. The experience led her to develop an app launched last month.

It’s that time of year – when some of us decide to do things differently in the year ahead. Humans have been crafting New Year’s resolutions for millennia: to be the best possible version of our future selves, the person we think we might be capable of being.

It may be to drink less, lose weight, cut back on social media, walk more in nature, get rid of debt or eat more greens . Sometimes we succeed – for minutes, days or even weeks – but mostly we don’t.

As the founder of a consultancy focusing on how we can live better in urban environments Hansen was well aware that change can be threatening.

“Change can , for some, cause overwhelming fear and anxiety and lead to frustration, dis-engagement or, at worst, extreme paralysing despair,” she says.

“Left unregulated, this is often expressed inwardly as depression, self-harm or substance abuse , or outwardly as bullying, aggression and even violence.”

For Hansen , the big question was – how might we reinvent ourselves, for more than a few days?

“In the precious seven minutes after being diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago, my mind was in a complete flurry – frantically listing things that had to be sorted, crashing together with the right things to say to my family. Then it hit me. This was big and I [didn’t] know what to do – it’s too big for a ‘to do’ list or the right sentence. I had to work out how I was going to be in this.”

She began to focus on some words.

“Grace, wisdom, joy, humour, love, beauty – and I knew I was going to need a stack of courage. So, I tried these words on; what does grace look like here? What about humour? Joy?

“It changed everything.”

Hansen managed to shift her mind from a state of uncertainty and panic to curiosity – which , under the circumstances , felt profound.

“Over the following months of treatment, I used this ‘design code’ to cultivate a way of being when things got tough – at times fi nding the grace to surrender, at others the courage to fight.”

Dream Big festival participants

In 2018, Hansen presented a workshop entitled Being Human with a couple of colleagues during the Adelaide Festival of Ideas. When it booked out and people lined up to get in, she realised there could be value for others in her own experience. With the support of partners, the idea was produced and presented as Being in Space for children and families during the Dream Big Children’s Festival at the Adelaide Botanic Gardens, and proved very popular with primary-aged children.

“I wanted to make the ‘Being’ tool ubiquitous, available to anyone who wanted to use it, anywhere in the world – to help navigate life’s ups and downs. It’s very simple and requires you to trust yourself,” says Hansen.

“Life throws challenges our way every day; simple things like trying focus on homework or an assignment, choosing school subjects, having a difficult conversation with a teacher or the boss, caring for others, navigating the more sensitive moments of our friendships and relationships or simply getting out of a car park during peak hour. All of these things present an opportunity to choose how we want to be in that moment.

“Sometimes things are much more confronting – final exams, starting high school, break-ups, a serious diagnosis, physical pain, an unexpected accident or injury or other circumstances beyond our control. It’s all a part of the wild experience of being human.”

Yet, according to Hansen, there is a small space between a happening and our response to it, in which we get to choose ‘how to be’. Hansen, with help from a global design agency , apparent, based in Sydney, has now developed Being. A design code for life as a tool to help capture and amplify that space and help users determine how to be in it.

According to Hansen, the tool can be used in any situation. “It helps us to interact more effectively with others and make decisions that reflect our values and identity; how we really want to be,” she says. “It equips us to better self-regulate emotions, effectively navigate uncertainty and translate ambiguity into curiosity and wonder instead of fear, frustration and anguish.

“There is a subtle but important shift from focusing on ‘what to do’ or ‘who to be’, to determining ‘how to be’ – it provokes us to have a conversation with our future self.”

The design agency has worked with Hansen to develop the Being. tool into a digital app, launched this month and available for download on Apple and Google app stores at no cost and with no data being collected.

Hansen also offers training for health and wellbeing professionals, organisational wellbeing and resilience workshops through her Urban Mind Studio , and works with cities looking to reinvent and shape the identity and feel of their places.

Amanda Pepe

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