The Chameleon Method

The strength of the Chameleon is that it can adapt itself to its environment by camouflaging. If only it would be that easy for us human beings, don't you think?

Well, believe it or not - it is!

My observations over recent months is a sense of overwhelm and imbalance are affecting quite a few people. Often I see this resulting in choices made on a day to day basis that might be responsible for the exhaustion and confusion felt. Choices, such as: not taking a lunch break, or not going for a walk or continuously working long hours, affect our health in a negative way. There seems to be an awareness about this happening. Somehow, we are waiting for something on the outside to change or other priorities and guilt often get in the way of doing something about behaviour which is no longer effective. Often I hear: “oh this is just a busy period right now, it’ll be ok once project xyz is finished.”

  • How are these choices affecting YOU, your health and your effectiveness? 
  • Or are you able to adapt easily to this current environment? 

These times require us to be able to show some of this ultra-flexibility to change our behaviours thoughts and looks, even camouflage, so that we can stay effective and well.

This topic might bring up a few thoughts in you. It certainly did for me and in the process of doing so, I have explored the elements that might bring about overwhelm and barriers to adapt behaviours. The ultimate intention was to find a way of working through these barriers. I named the result of this process The Chameleon Method.

  1. Stuck in the Jungle

You are probably wondering how I became so interested in this topic.  Let me elaborate a bit:

Since the beginning of lockdown I noticed an increased sense of work ethic in the people around me. Not necessarily more effective but perhaps, on the face of it, more efficient. Are you wondering what the difference between efficiency and effectiveness is? Ok, for example:  workers on a production line need to be fast and get as many items as possible done in their given time. That is efficiency – getting as much as possible done in a period of time. If this worker on the line also undertakes quality control, loves what they are doing and has a great personal attitude, as well as bringing in some great new ideas, which means they are having impact on the long term success of the company, then they are also being effective.

Now, you could argue that this observation might have occurred due to the fact that my own state during that period time was one of recovery, which meant that I was in slow mode. The opposite state of what I noticed on the outside.

Most of the people I talk to seem to feel exhausted, overloaded and overwhelmed with the changes that COVID 19 has brought. I am thinking of things like home working, home schooling, wearing masks, online shopping, increased work load, learning new technology by yourself, getting comfortable with building connections through the lens, not going out or socialising in the known way and most of all not being able to see and hug loved ones just to name a few. I totally empathise with these feelings and despite my different state, I still recognise the challenges and feelings it creates.

To me, the jungle springs to mind as a comparable metaphor. Navigating a way through it and getting stuck in the wilderness of the jungle without seeing a way out. The humidity of the thick jungle or rainforest does not even allow us to see the next tree. So we just keep on frantically putting one foot in front of the other in order to move forward, fulfil the immediate needs of the people precious to us (family, friends, colleagues and clients) and keep up with the pace. Sweating (metaphorically), getting tired, feeling desperate to use all of our strengths and find a way out, while sticking out like a sore thumb. We realise that what we are doing is actually not effective and it is making us sick. Despite that realisation we keep on going.

Why? Because deep down we know: in order to stay healthy and become more effective in finding a way through this jungle, we have to change our outlook, choices and actions. Just like a chameleon does, to protect itself and stay alive.

Knowing this is one thing, and most of you do, but when we actually attempt to make those changes we often get lost, procrastinate or simply forget. What I found out is that the root cause for these barriers to come up is often a feeling of guilt, a sense of being selfish, almost naughty and worry about disappointing others. Thus not feeling a valid part of our systems or society.

On first view, a complex construct, just like the jungle. However, if we care to open our eyes and look at the jungle with curiosity and genuine interest, we begin to see its beauty, its great role on earth and discover many ways through the wilderness. Quite a vulnerable state, I know! However, it is the first step in realising how easy it really is….

Below, I have delved a little deeper into guilt and what it actually is, to help us understand how it can show up. With the purpose of recognising that we are lost in the jungle and help us decide what we want to do with it. If you are clear on this already, then please continue to read the summary in point three.

  1. Guilt: What guilt?

Definition - What is it?

The psychological definition of Guilt describes a sense of regret or responsibility that relates to actions taken. People may feel guilt over things they actually did wrong, things they believe were their fault, or things they had no responsibility for.

Psychology today says:

Guilt is aversive and—like shame, embarrassment, or pride—has been described as a self-conscious emotion, involving reflection on oneself. People may feel guilt for a variety of reasons, including acts they have committed (or think that they committed), a failure to do something they should have done, or thoughts that they think are morally wrong.

It is also known as a responsibility for having done something wrong and especially something against the law: He admitted his guilt. A feeling of shame or regret as a result of bad conduct. Other Words from guilt.

Guilt is a feeling you get when you did something wrong, or perceived you did something wrong. It is often confused with Shame, which is a feeling that your whole self is wrong, and it may not be related to a specific behaviour or event.

How does it show up?

It shows up as a natural emotion following an action.

For example:

  • if we break a vase in someone else’s house
  • if we choose to go for a run instead of picking up phone calls and emails from our clients.
  • Another example would be to procrastinate on finishing a report by choosing to talk to a client instead or work on a different project instead.
  • Secretly indulging in chocolate when we are working on losing weight
  • Having a lie in beyond 8 am on a weekday.
  • Being a people pleaser (I can’t do that! What is so and so going to think of me if I do…?)

According to the latest research from Fibre One, there’s not much we don’t feel guilty about.

Aside from the 16 per cent who claim not to feel guilty about ANYTHING, it seems Britain is a nation racked with guilt on a daily basis. Our feelings of guilt don’t subside for up to five hours on some occasions.

As well as wasting the day with guilty feelings, excessive guilt could be having impacts on your mental wellbeing, suggests Personality and Behaviour Psychologist Donna Dawson. She said: “It can eat away at wellbeing and self-esteem, by making you feel like a ‘bad’ person.

Where does it come from?

Guilt is rooted in the makeup of the filters in our brain.

These filters are established during our developmental years and stem from experiences, the rules of the society we live in (doing things “perfectly and right”), religious believes, what we are taught in our educational systems, what we learn from our family systems and the values we have established  when we decided on who we want to show up as in this period of our life.


The consequences of guilt show up in a variety of daily situations with varying degrees of intensity. They might be positive or negative.

Examples are: performance issues at work or sports, overwhelm with setting the “right” priorities,  health issues like isolation, loss of confidence, self-deprivation through to depression.

This encourages social attitude towards affirmative actions, creates empathy and accountability and acts as a motivator.

We know of a variety of guilt categories. Some of these are:

  • Group based guilt

This is strongly connected with peer pressure meaning it turns up for example if we don’t comply with the behaviours or standards of a group that we belong to.

Bertjan Doosje has written a number of articles around this topic showing how peer pressure creates a level of guilt and what effects this has on a person. These effects are both positive and negative.

  • Survivor guilt

This kind of built turns up in highly competitive situations. Or sometimes also in families when adults feel that they have to earn a particular amount of money in order to survive and if they don’t achieve that the survivor guilt (existential fears) set in.

Joel Brockner Jeanette Davy Carolyn Carter have conducted some research around this topic if you are interested in finding out more about this particular type.

  • Work-family guilt

This is all about work-life balance and living up to ones own and the family’s expectations. For example mothers going out to work and not spending enough time with their children.Work-family guilt may motivate mothers to comply with gender norms in which they prioritize caregiving tasks over their work. Working long hour thus not being able to dedicate sufficient time to their partner.

A study by Lianne AarntzenBelle Derks, Elianne van Steenbergen, Michelle Ryan, Tanja van der Lippe explores this topic further.

  • Interpersonal guilt

This could be related to of harming others, shame, and various measures of psychological distress and symptoms.

It can also act as a positive motivator that allows people to create a certain desired culture in terms of behaviours within a society. This is mainly the type that is created through our educational systems, religious beliefs and cultural norms we grow up in.

Lynn E. O'Connor, Jack W. Berry and Joseph Weiss have conducted further research into this particular type with a focus around the positive consequences of guilt as opposed to shame.

  • Collective guilt (international)

The question that is most prominent to this type of guilt is: Can collectives feel guilt with respect to what they have done?

A great example of this would be how the certain generations in Germany and Austria might feel a personal and collective guilt over the killings that happened during the second world war.

Collective guilt feelings are articulated, in a way that they involve a joint commitment to feel guilt as a body. The parties to a joint commitment of the kind in question may as a result find themselves experiencing ``pangs'' of the kind associated with personal and membership guilt feelings.

Further reading is available in The Journal of Ethics volume 6, pages115–143 (2002) by Margaret Gilbert titled: Collective Guilt and Collective Guilt Feelings

Uses and Benefits of Guilt

From the above extracts it becomes clear very quickly that Guilt also has its uses and benefits.

  • It often acts as a motivator
  • It also shows us when we are overstepping a mark or our boundaries
  • It signals when we are learning to navigate the social scenes we move in
  • We often realise that it helps us with our prioritisation
  • Highlights when we are uncomfortable with being who we are or a given situation (overwhelm)
  • It allows us to focus, carve out our path, make authentic connections with others and
  • its energy is very intensive. That intensity is high on both ends of the scale, the positive and negative impacts of guilt.
  1. Summary

A model to help align thinking and behaviour, even to the point of camouflage, to be effective and cope with the demands of the jungle we currently live in. The method helps decide on changes and to implement them thus allowing to adapt just as easily as a chameleon to its environment.

Essentially, this article highlights one of the most impactful reasons and underlying root issue of finding our way out of the jungle which we are currently living in. It is mainly driven by an underlying feeling of guilt. There are of course other elements that run alongside such as vulnerability and being prepared to stay fully present in the situations we find ourselves in. These elements were already discussed in other articles in my newsletter series.

The Chameleon Method comes in two parts with 4 steps. The first two (Stuck in the Jungle and Guilt: what Guilt) covered here help us identify what is causing our overwhelm, procrastination and inaction to changes of our make-up.

The latter two steps are (Resilience and Healthy Selfishness - a term coined by my lovely coach Katie) tools to help you find your path through this wilderness. You’ll find pointers to these elements in the next sections of this summer’s newsletter and previous issues.

If you find this article I am referring to elsewhere, independent from my newsletter, then please feel free to contact me or visit where you will find a copy of the newsletter.