Why Mental Health is About Going Back to Basics

When you invent the ship, you invent the shipwreck. Paul Virilio

Ever since humans started rising up the food chain, our progress as a species has made our lives both easier and harder.

Sure, we have electric tin openers. But how many giraffes forget to buy batteries for their child’s toy cherry picker on Christmas Day?

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Take the invention of farming roughly 12,000 years ago, suddenly we were able to support much larger families, and a huge explosion in population followed. 

But farming was also a trap.

Compared to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle it was harder work with longer hours. But with more mouths to feed there was no going back…

Language is another example. Perhaps the great human invention, it allows cooperation at scale and turned us from frankly quite puny apes into the planet’s most deadly predators. 

Yet at the same time language is a double-edged sword. 

Unlike say, wombats, language allows us to ruminate on the past, to worry about the future and to compare ourselves unfavourably to others. 

Language allows me to write this post in the conscious certainty that one day I will have to leave everything and everyone I love in this world. 

Wombats don’t think like that, or if they do they’re being very stoic about it.

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Finally, let’s take modern inventions like smartphones, videoconferencing and social media

These are all astonishing achievements that bring many benefits. But on balance, would you say these inventions have made us happier necessarily?

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When you invent the ship, you invent the shipwreck.

The point is that our progress as a species has not always been good for us. 

And this is why improving mental health is so often about going back to basics… 

Five mental health basics

Most of us know this stuff, but the problem with knowing something is that this is not where the battle is won.

Like it or not, humans evolved with a basic set of needs which we need to make happen. And unless we do them, we will not be happy, healthy, or perform at our best.

Here’s the 5 most important:

1.      Social relationships. The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness month is loneliness. And quite right – our ancestors simply did not survive without the support of a group.We’re wired for connection, and that’s the real, face-to-face, full-fat kind, not the online, semi-skimmed kind. 

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2.      Daylight. Our internal body clocks require daylight in order to recalibrate each day. Without this daily recalibration from light, we start to slip out of sync with our own biological rhythms and we become less happy and healthy (this is a great 3 min video on the subject).

3.      Movement – our ancestors only rarely got stuck at their desks for 10 hours a day. In fact, it is estimated they walked around 15,000 steps a day (according to Fitbit’s early data). We evolved to solve problems on the move, not sitting at a desk. (I like this clip about the perfect anti-learning environment).

4.      Work in pulses – our hunter-gatherer ancestors rarely engaged in frenzied, all-out continuous berry hunting. Humans work best in pulses; activity followed by rest. A bit like, err, everything else in nature. 

5.      Set boundaries. Our ancestors weren’t being messaged at 11pm about this amazing berry tree their old school friend just found in Italy.  Unless we can find a way to place some boundaries around our working hours or commitments, none of us is going to be happy or healthy. 

I know you know this stuff. 

But knowing is not where the battle is won. 

So now I’m off to take that walk, and I hope to see you there.

Do you need a high-performance routine? (Plus: FREE quiz…and hedgehogs!)

So, for today’s serious analysis of the modern workplace, I want you to imagine you’re a hedgehog.

There you are, snuffling about in the forest, doing all of your normal hedgehoggy things. 

Yes, you’re covered in fleas, but you look adorable!

Then one day you reach a strange bit of the forest which feels a lot harder underfoot, and then there are these two strange bright lights coming at you…

Now, we all know what you should do, which is probably run for it.

But we also know what you (as a hedgehog) are likely to do, which is roll up into a ball. 

Now, this doesn’t make you a bad hedgehog.

You’re an excellent hedgehog, you just weren’t evolved for the particular environment you’re now in.

This is what is known as an ‘evolutionary mismatch’. 

Now of course we humans aren’t like hedgehogs. We are way more advanced! We’ve even developed flea powder!

But in some ways we are a lot like hedgehogs, in that we didn’t evolve for the environment we are in either….

Why it is so hard to be human

For 99.9% of our evolutionary existence, humans would gather in small groups, forage and hunt for food, we were active in the day and slept when dark, our lives shaped by our environment. 

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Our ancestors moved a lot (over 15,000 steps per day according to Fitbit’s early records), and ate a wide variety of food. 

In his book Origins; How the Earth Made Us, Lewis Dartnell shows how evolution and our environment are not separate events – our biology was shaped by nature. 

Every cell in our bodies evolved in sequence with a daily rhythm, (primarily driven by exposure to light).

Yet fast forward to today and everything has changed.

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Far from being tethered to nature, we now work in a way which is independent from these daily rhythms.

Where once we were connected to the earth and to each other, today we feel more connected but also more isolated.

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For many of us, we hardly see daylight, we are largely sedentary (most of us now walking closer to 5,000 steps per day), and we work more or less constantly. 

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No surprise that work feels a daily grind… 

Biologically and psychologically we evolved to work in a daily rhythm, and disrupting this rhythm leads to a kind of dysregulation, affecting everything from sleep to mental health.

This is another evolutionary mismatch. 

Covid as the great accelerator

And Covid has accelerated these trends.

I first met Annette, a senior manager at one of the major airlines, in Spring of 2020.

She told me how when the Covid crisis took hold she and her team had moved into ‘emergency mode’, working round the clock to try and save the business, but

 ‘now it’s 16 months later and it feels like we’re still in the same pattern’.

From speaking to 1000s of people in many different industries last year, I know many can relate.

Many of us have been drawn into routines which we didn’t consciously design, and which have become unsustainable.

The issue is not whether we can carry on – most of us are good at soldiering on – but whether this is the best we can aim for.  If you look at the statistics on mental health since Covid, I would argue not. 

But what can we do about this, and where should we start? 

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Understanding high-performance routines

The first step is to build awareness that we are working in routines for which our brains and bodies were not evolved. 

We are working out of sync with the rhythms that shaped our entire biology.

Arguably we don’t even notice the cost we’re paying, because it has become the water we swim in. 

Yet by operating in a way which is divorced from our biology we create huge challenges to health and mental health. 

There is hope, though.

Unlike hedgehogs, we can do more than just roll up into a ball.

In the next article I will explain what a high-performance routine looks like.

But in the meantime you can build awareness of your existing routine by trying this quiz, which will give you feedback as to whether you might benefit from strengthening your routine. 

It is freely available to anyone, including hedgehogs (though admittedly you might need a mouse).

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What will it take for you to define this year as a success?

What will it take for you to define this year as a success?

Is it about what you achieved?

Is it about getting a promotion or an increase in salary?

Is it about whether you felt happy?

What if we expand to a larger scale? What would it take for you to define your life as successful? Would it be whether you became a CEO? Or made a million dollars? Or got married and raised some children?

It can be easy to focus on these external markers of success or failure and believe that this is the route to happiness. One problem with this is that the research suggests that we over estimate the impact of these events (Wilson & Gilbert, 2003). We think that if we get the good job and nice house, we will be happy, so we pursue those goals. But happiness actually seems to be much more about:

One of those habits of thinking is psychological flexibility.

“Contacting the present moment fully as a conscious human being, and based on what the situation affords, changing or persisting in behavior in the service of chosen values” (Hayes & Smith, 2005)

Psychological flexibility seems to be a key factor in well-being (Kashdan, T, 2010) even helping people to cope better during the Covid-19 pandemic (Dawson, D. L. & Golijani-Moghaddam, N, 2020).

Psychological flexibility invites us to define success differently. It involves developing an internal yardstick for measuring success. Choosing your values and then intentionally putting those values into action based on the needs of the situation.

Using this yardstick, external achievements start to matter less. What matters more is: How much am I showing up as the person I want to be?

And paradoxically, measuring success by whether you’ve lived your values and whether you were the person you wanted to be, is actually more likely to create richness and meaning in life (Aaker, J, Baumeister, R, Garbinsky, E & Vons, K, 2012).

This year, try using these three questions to define success:

  • Was I present?
  • Did I show up as the person I want to be?
  • Did I notice with kindness those moments when I wasn’t being the person I want to be and adjust my behaviour accordingly?

References

Aaker, J, Baumeister, R, Garbinsky, E & Vons, K. (2012). Some Key Differences between a Happy Life and a Meaningful Life. Stanford Business. https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/faculty-research/publications/some-key-differences-between-happy-life-meaningful-life#:~:text=Happiness%20was%20linked%20to%20being,higher%20meaningfulness%20but%20lower%20happiness

Archer, R. (2022). The Great 2022 Reset: You don’t need new habits, you need a (high-performance) routine. Working with ACT. https://workingwithact.com/2022/01/19/the-great-2022-reset-you-dont-need-new-habits-you-need-a-high-performance-routine/

Archer, R & Collis, R. (2013). What is Psychological Flexibility? Working with ACT. https://workingwithact.com/what-is-act/what-is-psychological-flexibility/

Collis, R. (2021). How to Choose Your Values and Why it Matters. Working with ACT. https://workingwithact.com/2021/12/27/how-to-choose-your-values-and-why-it-matters/

Conkle, A. (2008). Serious Research on Happiness. Association for Psychological Science. https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/serious-research-on-happiness

Dawson, D. L. & Golijani-Moghaddam, N. (2020) COVID-19: Psychological flexibility, coping, mental health, and wellbeing in the UK during the pandemic. Journal of contextual behavioral science. [Online] 17126–134.

Gilbert, D & Wilson, T. (2003). Affective Forecasting. Harvard. http://wjh-www.harvard.edu/~dtg/Wilson%20&%20Gilbert%20%28Advances%29.pdf

Hamzelou, J. (2010). Daily Choices Can Affect Long-Term Happiness. New Scientist. https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn19545-daily-choices-can-affect-long-term-happiness/

Hayes, S & Smith, S. (2005). Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life. https://www.newharbinger.com/9781572244252/get-out-of-your-mind-and-into-your-life/

Kashdan, T. (2010). Psychological Flexibility as a Fundamental Aspect of Health. National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2998793/

Kurts, J, Lyubomirsky, S & Nelson, K. (2012). What Psychological Science Knows About Achieving Happiness. http://www.sonjalyubomirsky.com/files/2012/09/Nelson-Kurtz-Lyubomirsky-in-press1.pdf

Slatcher, R. (2021). Speaking of Psychology: How close relationships keep us healthy and happy, with Richard Slatcher, PhD. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/news/podcasts/speaking-of-psychology/close-relationships

The Great 2022 Reset: You don’t need new habits, you need a (high-performance) routine

It’s January so psychologists like me are legally obliged to write about habits, resolutions and the like. 

If that’s what you’re after I heartily recommend the work of Katy Milkman, BJ Fogg and James Clear.

These people have undermined the idea that habits are about repetition (“21 days to build a new habit!”) and introduced the more accurate idea that it is how we feel during any given behaviour that creates a habit.

Yet this conversation also misses some key variables. 

The first is that how we feel is often not within our control. We are usually better off trying to control the context around a behaviour instead. 

The second is that it is sometimes not the habit itself that is key, but the timing and sequencing of a behaviour that matters most.

And this is why I believe what people most need in 2022 is a reset coordinated not by habits, but by high-performance routines.

What is a high-performance routine?

Well, let’s start with the opposite. 

At some point in the last 20 months many of us have fallen into routines that we didn’t really choose or design. 

For whatever reason, what started off as a sprint became a marathon and we became locked in routines where we worked harder and longer, became more sedentary, and days all blurred into one. To assess your own routine, how many of these bullets resonate?

  1. Everything feels like a priority
  2. You hunker down for hours in front of your screen, taking few breaks
  3. Some days you hardly move from your desk (a good indicator is less than 5,000 steps per day)
  4. You feel constantly distracted, pulled between different priorities
  5. You reach midday and realise you’ve not been outside
  6. Work often bleeds through into the evenings, weekends and holidays
  7. You find it hard to switch off and / or sleep
  8. You often feel tired in the morning
  9. You feel guilty that some areas of your life are being neglected
  10. You worry about the impact of all of the above, but are anxious that if you work less you will feel even more overwhelmed

This is what I call the ‘flat line’ way of working where we work in a continuous, often dysregulated way, without any real structure or boundaries.  In this way we ignore our own body’s need for recovery and instead ‘push on through’.

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The ‘flat line’ can work for a while, but over the longer term it becomes an insult to high-performance and dangerous to mental health (primarily because it’s a very unnatural way to work).

Worse still, in this context potentially helpful new habits can seem like an extra burden. 

For example, imagine telling someone who is overburdened that they need to start doing meditation. Even though meditation might help, in the short term it is likely to feel like another burden; one more thing to do (and possibly fail at).

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Meditation – just one more thing to fail at

High-performance routines are different for 3 reasons.

1.      Routines create their own rhythm, with one part of the routine enabling the next. Habits are easier to stick to when part of a routine.

2.      Individual behaviours become much more powerful when part of a routine.  What was an isolated behaviour becomes a meaningful pattern, linked to our biological rhythms as well as our long term values and goals.

3.      Routines create a sense of control; of everything having a time and a place. And this creates the positive feelings for change to be sustained.

In the next few weeks, I will be publishing a series of posts on high-performance routines as well as giving away my new e-book on the subject.

In the meantime, I would encourage you to consider what an ideal daily routine would look like for you. 

You could start by downloading the template below and seeing if you can identify what your ideal daily routine would look like if you had complete control over each day. 

I did this for myself and with many clients last year, and the results were always revealing.

The future of work: Why Psychological Flexibility is a Key Leadership Skill of the Future

A few years ago in the UK, a Panorama investigation uncovered systematic abuse of elderly care home residents who were ­being routinely pushed about, belittled and ­humiliated by their so-called carers.

Worse, when whistleblowers drew attention to the abuse it was they themselves who were disciplined by senior management. Empathy for the victims seemed in short supply as it took a TV investigation for action to be taken. 

This is just one example in a long line of depressing stories about toxic leadership.  From MPs to journalists, and leaders in organisations from Big Tech to oil, the modern era seems one where empathy, care and values in leadership can be in short supply.

Values and leadership

Theorists like Bruce Avolio have argued that we need a more authentic form of leadership, which connects leaders to what really matters to them.  This acts as a kind of compass for leaders, which is especially useful in times of uncertainty (read; now).

Connecting leaders more powerfully with their values is also important because it has been shown to generate positive psychological outcomes in followers.

And yet…

There is one slight problem with these ‘authentic’ forms of leadership: they are bloody difficult to do.

Leadership values easily get derailed by circumstance and expedience as well as by existing organisational cultures.  It takes a special kind of courage to execute values in practice.

Yet most modern leadership theories (and training) deal with values as though all that remains after identifying them is to go off and do them.

Good luck with that.

Understanding our values is only half the battle.  Values have a flipside – an admission price.

Put simply, pursuing our values makes life psychologically harder, not easier.  We tend to hurt where we care.

It is much easier to avoid this psychological discomfort – something that psychologists call experiential avoidance.  However in the turning away from our discomfort, we often turn away from our values. 

This is why experiential avoidance is perhaps the biggest driver of substandard leadership behaviour (as well as in clinical contexts, poorer mental health). 

After all it’s far easier to avoid that awkward but important conversation than to have it.

how can we help our leaders live their values in practice?

Psychological flexibility is a concept which started in the clinical context (over 850 randomised control trials show its effectiveness in improving mental health) but is now gaining traction in organisations. 

Many of my organisational clients are introducing this training, not least because psychological flexibility is so practical, and especially effective with difficult situations involving ambiguity or uncertainty – what Todd Kashdan ‘calls the messiness of human life’. 

Psychological flexibility is important in leadership for three reasons:

  1. It helps people clarify and understand their values in practice, not just in theory.
  2. It helps people stay more aware of the present moment, which means that they are more likely to notice opportunities to be empathetic and engaged with other people.
  3. It gives leaders the skills to move towards their values and deal with the psychological cost of doing so.  By building willingness to have difficult thoughts and emotions, it reduces the natural human tendency to avoid them. 

Too many leadership training programmes focus on values and forget to train people in the skills that help them live their values. 

Yet unless we do this, leaders will continue to run from the pain that empathy brings them.

How to choose your values and why it matters

There is compelling evidence that spending time thoughtfully choosing your values is a good idea (Cohen & Sherman, 2014).

Research suggests that spending even a few minutes considering your values has some significant benefits, including:

In this post, I want to give you some strategies for how to choose your values.

Steve Hayes (Professor of Psychology at the University of Nevada and one of the founders of ACT) defines values as

 ‘…intentional qualities of action that join together a string of moments into a meaningful path’

(Hayes & Smith, 2005)

So values are qualities. Words like: curiosity, kindness, courage, compassion, generosity.

Take a moment to think about this. What words would you want your friends to use when they describe you to someone who hasn’t met you? What qualities would the best version of you express so consistently, that this is how people describe you to others?

This is what I would want people to say about me:

‘Rachel is really kind and wise. She is incredibly non-judgemental. She loves to learn and is very curious about what makes people tick. She is easily moved to laughter or tears. She enjoys the simple things – a lovely cup of green tea; a beautiful flower; spending time with the people she loves.’

This is aspirational. It is who I want to be in my relationships with others. Some of the time I display those qualities but others I don’t. My intention, over time, is to be more and more like that person. And when I am not the person I want to be, I hope that I can notice those moments with curiosity (I wonder what is going on for me here?) and self-compassion (It is disappointing that you … but you are human, aren’t you?).

It is helpful to repeat this activity for different areas of life. You might consider how you want to show up at work. How you want to approach your own self-care and health. What qualities you would like to express in your relationships with your loved ones.

If you are struggling to think of the ‘right’ words. Russ Harris has a good list of suggested values in this free handout (go to page 23 & 24).

Spending time deeply considering what you value actually helps you to live those qualities more consistently, as it makes it clearer what you’re aiming for.

It may be that considering how you want show up, freaks you out. If it does… that is okay. Take a breath and don’t panic. You don’t need to nail this in one sitting. You can try different values on for size and adjust them. And remember, this is aspirational – you don’t have to be expressing these values currently. Just give yourself some time to consider – What do I choose? What qualities matter to me?

If you are feeling stuck, try taking the VIA Character Strengths test, designed by positive psychologists, Martin Seligman and Chris Petersen. That might give you some clues about which values give you a sense of flourishing.

If you would like some more suggestions for defining your values, these worksheets are really good:

Once you have chosen about 8-15 qualities that you feel describe the person you want to be, then you can use them as a compass to guide your behaviour.  Remembering that you don’t have to do this perfectly – you are human and you will have many, many moments when you don’t show up as the best version of yourself. Do be kind to yourself in those moments.

In this very moment, will you accept the sad and the sweet, hold lightly stories about what’s possible, and be the author of a life that has meaning and purpose for you, turning in kindness back to that life when you find yourself moving away from it?”

(Wilson & Dufrene, 2010

References

Association for Psychological Science. News Release July 22, 2008 Reflecting on values promotes love, acceptance

Cohen, G. L., Garcia, J., Apfel, N., & Maste, A. (2006). Reducing the Racial Achievement Gap: A Social-Psychological Intervention. Science 1, 313(5791), 1307 – 1310. 

Cohen, G.L & Sherman, D.K. The Psychology of Change: Self-Affirmation and Social Psychological Intervention Annual Review of Psychology 2014 65:1, 333-371

Creswell, J. D., Welch, W. T., Taylor, S. E., Sherman, D. K., Gruenewald, T. L., & Mann, T. (2005). Affirmation of personal values buffers neuroendocrine and psychological stress responses. Psychological Science, 16(11), 846-851.

Crocker, J., Niiya, Y., & Mischkowski, D. (2008). Why does writing about important values reduce defensiveness? Self-affirmation and the role of positive other-directed feelings. Psychological Science, 19(7), 740-747.

Hayes, S. C.,  & Smith, S. X. (2005). Get Out Of Your Mind & Into Your Life: The New Acceptance & Commitment Therapy. Oakland, CA, New Harbinger Publications

Nelson, S. K., Fuller, J. A. K., Choi, I., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2014). Beyond self-protection: Self-affirmation benefits hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40(8), 998-1011.

Wilson, K. G., & DuFrene, T. (2010b) Things Might Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong: A Guide to Life Liberated from Anxiety. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger

How having a messy car might actually align with your values

Do you have some activities that you just avoid? You never quite get them done and you feel bad about not getting them done?

It could be cleaning out the kitchen cupboards; sorting out your email; exercising; updating your LinkedIn profile; cleaning your car…

We know we should do it, but we kind of don’t choose to do it.

And that would be okay, but if you are like me, your mind sometimes uses this lack of action as evidence that you are lazy, disorganised, neglectful…

I drive a 5 year old car. I almost never wash it. It is usually messy on the inside too. Hats, sunglasses, shoes (including, I am embarrassed to admit, a pair of red Crocs), sundry shopping bags and wrappers from chocolate bars are scattered around the seats and floor. Discarded bits and pieces that found their way into my car but never seem to find their way out.

Why is my car like this?

The logical reason is that having a clean, tidy car is low on my list of priorities. Now and again I write ‘Clean out car’ on my job list for the day, but other, more interesting (Write blog post) or more urgent (Invoicing) tasks crowd it out.

Even though I often have ‘good reasons’ for not cleaning out my car, when someone else sees how messy my car is, my ‘I am not good enough’ story pops up. I worry that they will see me as lazy and disorganised. (Which sometimes I am, but I don’t want other people to know that!)

I could use this concern to motivate me. I could clean my car to avoid the pain of other people’s judgment. In ACT terms this is an avoidance move. An avoidance move is where a behaviour (e.g. cleaning the car) is about avoiding painful internal stuff (e.g. fear of other’s judgement). There is a lot of research to tell us that a life that is organised around avoiding unwanted emotions isn’t healthy. It is clear that repeated avoidance doesn’t lead to a rich and meaningful life. So, perhaps, for me, having a messy car might just align with my values?

This is where is gets tricky. Just because cleaning my car could be an avoidance move, it doesn’t mean that ‘not cleaning my car’ is a move towards my values.

It depends what I do instead of cleaning out my car. If, instead of cleaning my car, I engage in activities that link to my values – writing a blog post; spending time with people I love; learning something new – then, over time, those choices will likely help me to build a rich and meaningful life.

But if, instead of cleaning out my car, I obsessively watch videos of Beyonce, trying to figure out if she and JayZ are happy or not. Then it is likely that I am caught in avoidance, which is usually a bad idea.

So what do we do, when we are in the grip of avoidance? The first step is to take a breath and notice. How are you feeling in this moment? When you pause, see if you can notice, with curiosity and kindness, the whole range of thoughts and feelings that show up. And then, pause some more and see if you can notice what thoughts or feelings you might be avoiding.

For me, as I pause my YouTube video, I could notice that I don’t want to feel:

  • Bored whilst I clean out my car, or,
  • Anxious whilst I write a blogpost ‘What if people think it is stupid?’, or,
  • Challenged and a bit stressed as I try to master a new piece of theory.

Could I make room for those thoughts and feelings? And, if I did make room for them, and chose what to do next based on what really matters to me, what would I do?

Sometimes, just now and again, that might even be to spend ten minutes cleaning out my car.

Step 1 for Success: Choose What You Value

If you were completely free to make your life about things that truly matter to you, what would they be?

Pause and let that question sink in. Let the words settle within you….

If I was completely free to make my life about things that truly mattered to me, what would I choose?

Your mind will likely come up with all sorts of limitations – “But I am not free…

Remind yourself that you are just thinking thoughts – you don’t have to act on those thoughts.

If you could just let yourself answer that question, what would the answer be?

If you have a moment – jot down your answers to that question.

I encourage you to sit with the question slightly longer than feels comfortable.

See what bubbles up for you.

Now ask yourself the opposite question:

If I was completely free to make my life about things that truly mattered to me, what wouldn’t it be about?

If you were to let the answers to these questions run your life, what might change?

If I was watching you live this life – the life where you give time, energy and attention to what really matters to you and you don’t give time, energy or attention to what doesn’t matter to you – what would I see and hear you doing?

Some time ago, I was suffering from writer’s block, feeling stuck. Finding myself avoiding writing, even though I wanted to do it. I talked with my friend, Paul Atkins, a wonderful coach, and it became clear that I had got myself in a muddle. The joy of writing (something I value) had got mixed with an unhelpful focus on whether others would approve of my writing. Paul helped me to come up with a phrase to remind me what really matters to me:

‘I choose a life where I value writing and learning and connection rather than chasing approval, materialism and prestige’.

I keep reminding myself of this. This is what I choose. I get side-tracked. I get hooked by what others want of me or what the world tells me is important…and then I remind myself:

‘I choose a life where I value writing and learning and connection rather than chasing approval, materialism and prestige’.

Go back to what you wrote earlier, give yourself some time to mull it over and then choose your own phrase.

A phrase that describes the life you would choose, and perhaps also what you wouldn’t choose. Don’t stress about making it perfect – you can adjust it whenever you want to.

Once you have a phrase, then, with deep curiosity and kindness, notice what you do. Notice the moments when you are aligned with your own definition of success and moments when you aren’t.

“In this very moment, will you accept the sad and the sweet, hold lightly stories about what’s possible, and be the author of a life that has meaning and purpose for you, turning in kindness back to that life when you find yourself moving away from it?”

(Wilson & Dufrene, 2010)

Humanising the workplace; Two practical tools to help teams working remotely

Since March last year I’ve run well over 300 webinars with tens of thousands of people from all around the world, and everywhere the themes were similar.

After the initial burst of excitement of working from home, people talk about how relentless work is, and how much they miss some of the more informal, human sides of working in teams. 

For many the past year has brought a kind of empathy gap, where work has become more transactional and less human, with many of the informal 2-minute conversations replaced by more formal hour-long Zoom calls.

There is therefore a need for teams to adapt and to think of new ways of protecting the ‘human’ side of office life. 

Building on this idea, here are two tools that you can download and use with your teams; The Life Compass and The Key to Me.

Below you can find a brief explanation of each, as well as free templates to use. I hope you find them useful!

Tool 1: The Life Compass

This tool is to help people to understand what really matters to them (even in adversity); what kind of actions move them towards their values, and how stress can sometimes ‘hook’ them away from that direction. It is designed to help guide people through tough times, just like a compass.

How to use the Life Compass

Step 1: Have each person in your team complete their own Life Compass for themselves.  You can download the template here.

Instructions for completion are here.

You can see a compass that I completed – and which I sometimes use in workshops – below.

Step 2: Then, the group can complete a shared compass, to help them navigate through the project together.

You can download the Team Compass template here. We’ve also created a template in Mural here.

As with the individual compass, work round each quadrant to identify what matters, how the team gets hooked away from what matters and what course correcting might look like.

Tool 2: The key to me

This tool is useful for helping to build understanding and empathy across distributed teams. It’s also quite a fun exercise to do which can bring people together really well and remind everyone that we’re all just human beings doing our best.

The idea of The Key to Me is to create greater understanding of what gets the best out of each individual, as well as what kind of constraints and limitations homeworking brings. 

It is an especially great tool for any team which is newly created or has new members (so long as they feel sufficiently psychologically safe to do so).

Here is a template in Mural for using The Key to Me.

And here is my own example created in Mural:

I really hope you enjoy using these tools – both of them have helped me. Let me know in the comments anything you would add or any questions you have.

New E-book: Thriving in Uncertainty

I am happy to release version 2 of our e-book, Thriving in Uncertainty.

In this short guide, we cover the two key issues related to uncertainty:

  1. How to make effective decisions even when outcomes are hard to predict
  2. How to deal with the negative emotions (like stress and anxiety) that come with uncertainty

As with all our e-books we have packed it with links to free tools and resources, ideas for further reading and TED talks that illustrate key points.

We have also included a range of templates and interactive PDFs that can be used either by individuals or groups.

This is version 1 – we would love your feedback about how we can improve it.

Enjoy!