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.

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.

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.

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!

Confidence, Lies and Courage

This post was written by our friend and colleague, Eric Winters. Eric has written a fantastic self-help book based on ACT – Swipe Right on Your Best Self – which we highly recommend.

There’s a question I hear a lot during my workshops and coaching.
 
‘How can I be more confident?’
 
I ask people what they would do if they were really confident?
 
Well, they proclaim, if I was more confident, then I’d:

  • apply for more ambitious roles 
  • begin new relationships that nourish
  • leave relationships that drain
  • ask for what I really want at work and need in love
  • say yes to more opportunities in life
  • say no to crossed boundaries
  • live a bigger, bolder life on my terms

I get why they think more confidence would help. But for most, it’s a misguided strategy. For many people, the problem isn’t a lack of confidence at all. It’s too much confidence.
 
Often people are too confident that if they take courageous action then they’ll:

  • entirely fail
  • look particularly stupid
  • be humiliatingly rejected
  • learn nothing whatsoever
  • suffer intolerably and never recover.

No wonder they hold back! Paradoxically, the solution isn’t more confidence. It’s being less certain. It’s being positively skeptical.
 
The next time you hear an inner voice whisper ‘better not, it won’t turn out well’, remember you have a choice. You can believe these cautious little lies and live small and safe, or you can be positively skeptical. 
 
Actually, you don’t know:

  • how well this might turn out
  • what you’ll discover about yourself or others
  • who might respond positively
  • how others will be inspired by your courageous proactivity
  • how much confidence you may earn over time through experience.

The truth is, you don’t know for sure where positive skepticism and courageous proactivity will take you.
 
Are you willing to find out?

Living with Uncertainty

The VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) environment that we find ourselves in is unsettling, isn’t it? I don’t know about you, but some nights I find myself waking in the early hours with a vague sense of unease, my shoulders slightly hunched against threat.

It isn’t just the pandemic, it is all the existential threats we are facing. The complexity of our highly interconnected world makes it hard to predict what will happen next. And when we can’t easily predict what will happen next, our mind tends to predict threat. Which is, of course, not unreasonable when we read the news.

So what is to be done?

Practice Self Compassion

Be very, very kind to yourself. This is a tough time. It can be hard to concentrate. Hard to focus on anything but the tasks that have an immediate deadline. It is hard to do complex cognitive tasks. If you are like me, it is also hard not to have self-critical thoughts –“I am such a wimp, compared to so many people in the world I am so safe and privileged. Why can’t I just get shit done?”. This isn’t particularly helpful but it is what many of us do in tough moments.

These hard moments are actually times when it is important to treat yourself gently. See if you can talk to yourself with kindness and firmness. Don’t let yourself off the hook but don’t berate yourself either. ‘You do need to sit down and make a start on that report. I know it feels tough but just set a timer for 20 minutes and make a start’.

When harsh and self-critical thoughts come up, respond to them compassionately – they are just trying to help. 

Kristin Neff’s website has many resources to help build self-compassion. I find her self-compassion journal exercise particularly helpful.  And if you can’t even manage to do that, be kind to yourself about your inability to practice self-compassion.

Be compassionate and firm with others

Most of us are a bit under-resourced at the moment, which can make us snappy and irritable and sometimes badly behaved. It is a good idea to be compassionate to each other about these failings rather than harsh and judgmental whilst also gently and firmly setting boundaries. ‘I don’t like the way my boss just spoke to me in front of a client. It hurts. And, I suspect that, just like me, they are stressed. However, it is important that we treat each other respectfully. What would a wise person do right now? Perhaps ask ‘Are you okay? Is something bothering you’ 

Prepare for the worst case scenario – but don’t over-do it 

In volatile environments it is good to build some slack into the system, so you have some resources to draw on if things suddenly get much worse.

Do be careful not to over-do this. Preparing for the worst can be costly and humans tend to be very bad at predicting the future. Which means that it is highly likely that you will prepare for the wrong worst case.

“I have spent most of my life worrying about things that have never happened.”

Mark Twain

The answer to this conundrum is to do things that are low cost and wise even if the worst case doesn’t happen e.g. put some money on one side for a rainy day fund; have some food in the pantry for if you get sick and need to self-isolate; learn how to grow vegetables; build good relationships with your neighbours; get strong and fit.

Think Differently

In VUCA environments you need to think differently. You need to use different strategies to both make sense of the world and choose what actions to take.

Until recently, many of the challenges you have come up against have probably been complicated rather than complex.

Complicated problems have solutions that can be found. You just need to think carefully and logically and draw on the right expertise. For example, when your car breaks down, you have a complicated problem. You work out how to get the car to the mechanic (the expert at fixing cars) and then the mechanic will, hopefully, fix it for you.

If, like me, you have spent a lot of time building expertise in solving complicated problems, it is easy to assume that you can use that expertise to solve the problems you are now facing. But this assumes that the problem is complicated rather than complex. And the situation we now find ourselves in, is complex.

In a complex system, things evolve all the time in unpredictable ways. A good example of how a complex system evolves is to watch a susurration of starlings.

You can’t predict where the starlings will go next. Sometimes they follow the path you were expecting and then, quite suddenly, there is a shift in direction. In a complex system you can’t predict how the system will change and what will emerge. This uncertainty is hard for humans. Particularly when the uncertainty is about things that are genuinely threatening:

Will I or someone I care about become ill? If they do become ill, will good health care be available for them?

Will I lose my job?

Will my business fold?

Is it safe to hug my parents/brother/sister/best friend?

What will bush fire season be like this year? Will the air be smokey for weeks?

So how do we manage this unpredictable and complex world?

Firstly, take a deep breath and go back to the points I started with – 

Be very, very kind to yourself and the people around you

Be gently firm with yourself and the people around you

Do what you can to plan for the worst case scenario without going overboard

Then, use some strategies that are designed for making sense of complexity:

Create a map or a rich picture of the system/problem

Think systemically 

Ask questions in ways that help people think together and come up with new thinking for example:

What has surprised you? And what can we learn from that?

Where did things not turn out as we expected and what did you learn from that?

Look for patterns and exceptions – but be careful not to impose patterns where none exist. Sometimes things are just random.

Look for what is not being talked about or perspective that haven’t been considered.

Design and run safe-to fail experiments

VUCA isn’t easy for humans. Most of us have minds that prefer safety and predictability. Paradoxically, recognising that you are in a VUCA environment and then thinking in different ways about the challenges you are facing, can help you to navigate the ever-changing situation more successfully.

The Marginal Gains Handbook – Practical ideas to survive and thrive in the age of Coronavirus

We are delighted to release VERSION 2 of this free, practical guide of evidence-based ways to survive and thrive in the age of Coronavirus.

DOWNLOAD HERE

This version includes improved ideas for thriving in the age of Coronavirus as well as a new section on parenting in lockdown.

This is from a CEO who’s been using it with his organisation:

Your Covid Marginal Gains booklet has been a great source to help me during this once in a life time roller coaster. It deals with so many layers that we are all going through and gave me confidence in what I was telling my team, give me solace in what I was feeling, and hope for what despair we all go through.

Continue reading “The Marginal Gains Handbook – Practical ideas to survive and thrive in the age of Coronavirus”