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.
Anyone who knows me or my children will know that I am definitely both a relationship and parenting expert.
For example, before I proposed to my wife I felt I need to list all of my imperfections (which took a while), and only this morning I dealt with my two-year old’s tantrum by swearing at the top of my voice and then storming out of the room.
I’m available for paid consultancy.
However I am a reasonably enthusiastic consumer of parenting strategies and have lots of clients who are asking for ideas to help deal with the pressure of lockdown.
So here are some ideas which I like, even if the implementation for me is still a ‘work in progress’.
If you have any of your own (especially ACT-consistent ideas and resources) please let me know in the comments below.
The Executive Summary
For all you lazy layabouts who have no time to read another long winded concise and excellent post written by me, let me save you the trouble by drawing your attention to The Blessing of a Skinned Knee in which Wendy Mogel rejects the idea of making things easy for our children, of praising them constantly, of them to be somehow unique and ‘special’ – all of which loads pressure on to both them and us:
In order to flourish, children don’t need the best of everything. Instead they simply need what is good enough. This may include good enough (but dull) homework assignments, good enough (but uninspired) teachers, good enough and good enough (although bossy and shallow) friends.
Consider that “good enough” can often be best for your child, because when life is mostly ordinary…your child won’t end up with expectations that can’t be met on this worldly plane.
Or how about this little beauty:
My advice to parents is to tolerate some low-quality time. Have a little less ambition for yourself and your children. Plan nothing—disappoint your kids with your essential mediocrity and the dullness of your home. Just hang around your children and wait to see what develops.
Disappoint my kids with my essential mediocrity?
Now THAT is a parenting approach I can get behind!
Nothing I’ve read comes close to relieving the pressure on myself and my children during lockdown than this, so I urge you to read the full summary here.
Here are some more ideas:
1. You need respite
It doesn’t matter what you are doing, you need a break from it. In a study mentioned on the excellent Psychologists off the Clock podcast, soliders in the military had the lowest rates of burnout even when the break was going to war. In other words, what we need is a break from what we are doing. Do anything for too long with too little respite and we start to mentally fray. And here’s a powerful image to illustrate this point:
Ideas for implementing breaks will obviously vary but here are a few:
Enlist others. If there is another adult in your house, work in shifts to cover short breaks. If not try to enlist a Granny to read a story or an Uncle to make your kids laugh, even 20 minutes’ respite can work wonders.
Do what you must:
Manage your energy. When you have brief periods when the kids are occupied, do your low-attention tasks (like admin, most emails). When you get a break from the kids, tackle high-attention tasks (like problem solving). Or just take a break and do nothing. You decide, but do one or the other.
Deadlines work. For parents and children alike.
Turn housework into a game. The tidy up song is good for this, but giving kids proper, grown up tasks to do on a regular basis (and rewarding this) can be an effective way of lightening the load.
Routines are powerful because they reduce fatigue. So try to at least create a ‘shape’ to the day that everyone understands. Things like bedtime stories, a specific time for homework, meals; all of this will reduce your levels of shatteredness (technical term).
2. Beware perfectionism
We all need to lower our expectations a bit, particularly in terms of how we should be feeling and what we should be achieving. As Brene Brown says:
When we hit that wall, sometimes courage looks like scaling it or breaking through it. AND, sometimes courage is building a fort against the wall and taking a nap.
Set small targets. You are living in a GLOBAL PANDEMIC. Survival is good! Anything extra is a distinct bonus. For example, today I changed my pants.
Find a way of noting all your achievements (however big or small) and create meaningful ways to celebrate them.
You cannot do it all. Think back a few months and consider what you would have advised other working parents to do during A GLOBAL PANDEMIC? What springs to mind? Let me guess, is it ‘you should definitely seize the chance to teach little Ernesto Mandarin?’
Remember the sound of learning. From the Psychologists Off the Clock podcast, a story about a music teacher who put sign outside the music room that said: ‘This is the sound of learning’. In other words, learning is often not very smooth or beautiful, so don’t expect things to feel or sound great along the way.
3. Reframe this as a chance for your kids to learn
Before the pandemic I feel like the biggest challenge my 2 year old had faced was that time when I cut his toast in squares, when in fact he wanted soldiers.
In other words, the biggest risk for many (middle class) children is that life was too easy. Well now we can put that right!
After all, we don’t build a child’s resilience by making life perfect for them.
Let’s also remember that when we step back it gives our kids the opportunity to step up.
If we expect them to do nothing they will do precisely that. But if we expect them to step up they will do that too, and this has the bonus of building resilience and confidence.
4. Stay present
One of the reasons that burnout occurs is because we are not mentally in the present very often.
By constantly worrying about the future and ruminating over the past, we drain ourselves of energy and deprive outselves of the little fragments of joy which still appear with children in lockdown, especially if we look for them (the joy not the children).
And of course our kids notice when we’re not paying attention, when we’re scrolling on phones, when our laugh is hollow or a few milliseconds too late. Under what heading will they file that experience away?
So what percentage of the time are you present?
When I applied this question to myself I noticed that I’m often not very present and that’s usually because I was trying to avoid some kind of emotion (something called experiential avoidance).
Here is an example:
Before bed time we have the habit of watching a few short videos with both kids sitting on my knee. The videos are really tedious, so I often found myself scrolling on my phone. This has the function of relieving the boredom, but it was not exactly building joy or connection.
So now I put my phone down and try to get present to my children’s reaction. I smell their hair, fresh from bath time, and then suddenly this evening I noticed this:
I know this is a tiny example, but how much will I crave just one more of these moments once they are gone?
5. Create buffer zones
For me one of the toughest aspects of parenting in lockdown is that the small buffers between work and family interaction are squezed.
For example – and you must understand this is purely hypothetical – if I have a difficult work call and then walk out of my office straight into my 2 year old, who is asking me to be a horse, but
“NOT THAT TYPE OF HORSE DADDY NO – NOT THAT HORSE!”
Then it is fair to say that – hypothetically – I often don’t handle it well.
There is an emotional hangover with all things, and if we remove natural buffers it is inevitable that things start to go less well. At least, that’s what I’m telling my wife.
The things that work for me are:
Trying to build a minute or two buffer before leaving the office, and tap into the type of Dad I want to be when I re-engage (i.e. loving, active, joyful); and
Giving myself a time out if I get hijacked by my own emotions.
6. Connecting to values
Notice those values above: loving, active, joyful.
When I first had children I was terrified – convinced – that I would not know how to do parenting. I felt like I had no ‘Dad’ template and would really mess it up.
But actually the thing that has helped me the most is to orientate myself, again and again, to a set of values that I try to model.
It is the most enormously helpful idea for lots of reasons. Firstly, I find it impossible to eradicate the bad bits of my parenting. I’m impatient and swear too much, for example. But I am able to put positive stuff in there too. I am able to go downstairs, right this moment, and chase my children round the garden pretending to be the Coronavirus. I can tickle them until the 2 year old says
“Dop Daddy, dop!”
This moment can be all about crisis parenting, or it could be about connecting enough of these tiny moment so it becomes about something more meaningful or even joyful.
By connecting to our values, again and again, we can transform the pressure cooker of lockdown into an opportunity to connect with what matters to us most.
Further resources from actual experts
I’ve been listening to podcasts on the topic and can recommend a few here now – please see below and please let me know any that you’d add.
Steve Jobs once said that Apple’s mission was to ‘dent the universe’. That is, he was driven to affect or make a difference in the world above and beyond profit.
Yet many people seem to have far more of a ‘self-related’ purpose, in that their primary objective seems to be to make as much money and to be as personally successful as possible.
In my research I decided to test the idea that there are two types of purpose – ‘self-related‘ and ‘transcendent‘. I also wanted to test if either type of purpose would predict meaning in work more strongly.
Using a measure of purpose originally developed at Stanford, my factor analysis found that there are indeed two broad types of purpose. Most people have self-related purpose (after all we need to eat), but some people also seem to have a transcendent purpose as well, which is broader and more outward looking.
Now, self-related purposes are not ‘bad’ nor are transcendent purposes ‘good’. For example, it is perfectly possible to have a self-related purpose of making money to provide for one’s family. Conversely you could argue Hitler had a transcendent purpose.
The difference is simply in terms of how people interact with the world.
Those with a stronger self-related purpose will focus more on their immediate surroundings and have less need to understand the world more broadly.
They may also try to ignore extraneous information from beyond their immediate context, especially if it is uncomfortable or unhelpful to their purpose.
However those with a transcendent purpose need to affect the world around them through their work.
Therefore over time they must learn more about the world and their place within it. As they learn more they comprehend more, and this is what eventually generates meaning in work.
I hypothesised that those with a self-related purpose would experience less meaning in work than those with a transcendent purpose.
In a sample of over 500 working participants, I found that those with a self-related purpose do indeed experience less meaning in work than those who also have a strong transcendent purpose. In fact, high levels of self-related purpose negatively predicted meaning in work – something I had not even dared to hypothesise.
Interestingly, not only did the item ‘My purpose at work is to make money’ negatively predict meaning in work, it was also associated with lower engagement at work. Money can’t buy you love, nor it seems employee engagement.
There was also no association of making money with psychological wellbeing. However, the transcendent purpose scale did significantly predict psychological wellbeing.
If you want to find greater meaning in your work:
Work on understanding yourself first; explore your strengths, values and personality preferences. This is the kind of thing coaching can help with.
Then think about the kinds of contexts or organisations that you thrive in – something psychologists call this ‘organisational fit’. What kind of culture, colleagues or organisation do you work best in? Do you value autonomy or structure? A formal or informal culture? Be as specific as possible.
Finally, think about causes you believe in. What is it that you want from a job, or want to achieve through work? If it is money and not much else – fine – but what is the money for? Again, be specific.
In my study my additional conclusion was:
“Those seeking meaning in work should try to identify and nurture a transcendent purpose. By identifying a life goal that extends beyond one’s own immediate experience, people could be encouraged to think in terms of how their skills uniquely meet the most pressing and important needs of the world.”
If you want meaning in work, then you need to work out how you can ‘dent the universe’ in some way that seems important and relevant to you.
Then go out there and learn how to do it. Meaning will follow.
So I did want to reflect on what I learned during these past few years because so much of it is Working with ACT-relevant.
But I am wary of writing one of ‘those‘ type of posts, or one of those ‘it was tough but I am so glad I did it!’ things.
Fact is, I am not sure I am glad I did it. But I’ve done it now, so here’s what I think I learned:
1. Make every session count
If there was one principle that stood out, it was this. Every time I sat down to work, I focused on taking one step forward.
Sometimes this was impossible, or I even went backwards (the climbing a mountain metaphor helps here – i.e. sometimes you have to go down the mountain to go up again). However, by accepting the tiniest step as progress, including correcting one typo, I can’t think of a single instance where this didn’t work.
And one day, I woke up and it was done.
2. Create deadlines
There were days when I felt totally overwhelmed and my mind would wander to all the things I wasn’t doing / couldn’t do. If this resonates you need deadlines. The pomodoro technique is good for this. So are children.
I would often work during my children’s nap times, which created an exquisite sense of urgency. Sometimes – agh! – one of them would wake before I’d made any progress. To my surprise I was still always able to find one thing to do before running off to the bedroom. It’s amazing how deadlines focus the mind, and a crying child is a very good deadline*.
* My children are for rent on an hourly basis.
3. Intensity beats time
I placed intensity front and centre of my strategy. This led me to do seemingly strange things, like working for around 60-90 minutes on the Doctorate even when I had more time available and getting involved in kanban, which sounds like is a cult. I also learned the value of 5-minute runs as a way of breaking things up and thinking things through.
I had ‘TAKE A BREAK’ stuck to my laptop and made it a rule never to stare at my screen defeated.
4. Remember it’s a choice
One especially dismal day I shared my pain on Twitter and got some lovely responses – ‘hang in there’, ‘keep going’ etc, which I was grateful for.
But Mat Rawsthorne said ‘give it up and walk away if you choose’, which felt liberating.
‘Do I choose to do this today?’ was a far more helpful question than ‘Do I feel like doing this today?’, because the answer to the first question was generally yes, and the answer to the second was always no.
5. Ditch social media
Although Twitter etc can be helpful (see above), in general it is DEADLY* to a deep work project such as doctoral research. I basically had to cut it out altogether. What’s interesting is I grew to dislike Twitter much more during this time, as I came to see it for what it is. And if I can’t convince you, let Cal Newport have a go:
* not in the Irish sense
6. I had a lot of help
The fact is I couldn’t have done it without a supportive partner, and I had one who protected my sleep, too.
I literally fantasised about the words of thanks that I would give my family once it was all over, so here they are:
So each one of these principles of committed action really made a difference. But to be honest, they only tell half the story…
Going where you mind says you cannot go
“Where does your mind say we cannot go?”
Steve Hayes, A Liberated Mind
I completed my final write-up in a long, hot London summer with my little children playing in a playground opposite my office.
I can still see them; 2-year-old Orla pretending to be an airplane whilst bouncing on a trampoline. And tiny Sam, toddling and falling about like a gorgeous, drunken penguin.
I have a place in me, perhaps stored in my body more than in words, that remembers the feeling of my own Dad vanishing at about the same age. It’s like a feeling of permanent emptiness where a hug should be.
And so of course that summer it felt like I was doing something similar to my children. Almost at a cellular level, I had a feeling that I’d been here before somehow, and that this struggle inside my office was not where I should be.
At the time, I wrote:
The brutal truth is, there won’t be another summer where my daughter pretends to be Mo Salah or when my little boy is learning to run and talk.
There won’t be another summer when, at bath time, my babies scream with laughter when I shower their toes.
And there won’t be too many summers when they both shout ‘DAD!’ and jump into my arms when they see me.
In 10 years’ time what will I give to have even one of these moments back?
It’s fair to say I had some low points.
And this led to the final thing I learned.
7. Hard choices need self-compassion
My heroes in life aren’t Buddhist monks who meditate on hilltops or Silicon Valley CEOs whose incredible ‘life hacks’ spare them the need to make difficult choices.
My heroes are the ones who struggle and fight for something, and who live all of their values fiercely and imperfectly.
I care for my children, but I care for evidence-based psychology, too. To fight for only one of these would be a shallow victory. Yet to fight for both meant the fight of my life.
So what will I want my children to do when faced with a similar situation?
I want them to care for their kids of course, but I want them to struggle and fight for what matters to them too. Otherwise, what’s the point?
From this perspective – and only from here – I reach a place where I can finally grant myself some compassion.
Because this was the summer where I stared at one of my most powerful demons and didn’t flinch.
And this was the summer my kids saw their Dad doing that.
And maybe this was the summer – who knows? – that their choices expanded a little.
And many summers from now, when the time comes for them to fight for something, maybe they will have a feeling stored in a place beyond words that they have been here before, and that this struggle is where they are meant to be.
I was describing the frustrations of running a small business to a friend who works in venture capital. In my mind I felt like the kind of dysfunction I was describing would shock her. Far from it – she seemed surprised at my surprise.
What’s odd is that as an ACT practitioner I am used to the idea that our own thoughts and emotions can frequently be unhelpful. Yet somehow I’d allowed myself to believe that organisations – built by dysfunctional humans like me – should be run in an entirely functional way.
The Dysfunctional Beatles
In early 1967 the greatest band in the world were in trouble.
John was behaving even more cynically than ever, only really coming alive when working on his own material. His relationship with Yoko was also causing resentment among the others.
Ringo was convinced he was surplus to requirements and considering his options in other careers – photography and furniture making. George was also feeling cut adrift, thinking that the others were deliberately excluding his songs.
Whilst Paul may have appeared the happiest, he was himself only a couple of years from his own breakdown. The author of Yesterday aged 26, was beginning to doubt himself. The Beatles were pulling apart.
The Dysfunctions of World-Leading Companies
In 1982 Tom Peters wrote his seminal book In Search of Excellence, looking at some of the best run companies in the world.
It’s a compelling read, until you realise that nearly all of the companies chosen as ‘excellent’ have since either underperformed or gone bust (think Atari).
Phil Rosenzweigh called this the “delusion of connecting the winning dots“. Yet we still do this. We pick the most successful organisations and then buy the myth that their success is down to their culture and leadership. Think Laszlo Bock from Google, pretending their success is to do with culture; Sheryl Sandberg lecturing on work-life balance, or anything to do with Steve Jobs.
Take a look at this clip of Microsoft in 1995 and ask yourself if that can possibly have been a functional place to work:
Think of investment banks, family-run businesses, the NHS…pretty much everything is dysfunctional.
It’s funny how the idea of acceptance – particularly accepting my own difficult thought and emotions – has freed me so much in my own personal life, yet when it comes to the places I work I expect organisations to work exactly as I think they should.
I’m not suggesting that working in dysfunctional organisations is easy or that we shouldn’t try to fix them. But I am suggesting it’s not the only way of assessing whether our jobs or careers are right for us.
The Dysfunctional Beatles (2)
In May 1967, amidst their heightening dysfunctions, the Beatles released Sgt Pepper.
It was a staggering achievement, made all the more remarkable by releasing Stawberry Fields and Penny Lane earlier that year, neither of which made the album.
The Beatles were overflowing with creativity and inspiration whilst growing increasingly frustrated with each other.
The following year, with relations at an all-time low, they released the incredible White Album, having earlier released Hey Jude, which was also not on the album (!)
Finally, in 1969 they released the mighty Abbey Road and in the death throes of the band, Let it Be (which was released after they had split).
In other words, some of the greatest music of all time was recorded amidst some of the most stressful and dysfunctional working relationships.
It’s the same everywhere. Dysfunctional companies run the world; they power things, finance things, change the way we work and live, and in the case of the NHS they save lives and give dignity to people when they need it most.
What Are You Building Amidst Dysfunction?
In ACT, one of the key ideas is that we can move towards our values and goals in the presence of difficult thoughts and emotions.
The test with our own careers, therefore, is not just how dysfunctional something feels, or how frustrating your colleagues are, or how undervalued you feel. (Of course, this is not an argument to just put up with these things – that is not what acceptance means). It is just not the sole measure.
The other part of the equation is what are you building in return? How often do you get to move towards your most important values and goals, amidst the dysfunction?
When I was a management consultant the answer to that was ‘almost never’. But as a psychologist, it is every day – my most meaningful contribution to the world ever.
In the same way that mental health is more than an absence of disease, your job’s worth is more than an absence of dysfunction.
Instead of buying the story that dysfunctional organisations leave us helpless to make a difference, we can learn to hold our stories lightly, and find room to create something of value, amidst the dysfunction.
Right from the start, the ACT model made sense to me, and made so many things clearer.
Apart from the bit about values.
That bit left me confused, but I let it go, thinking it would all work out.
But it never did really. I still get stuck on values really easily. I think my mind loves the idea that I have a set of values, and jumps at the chance to know EXACTLY what I SHOULD be doing. Finally!
Next thing I know I’m treating values like they are a real thing. I conflate values (how I do things) with decisions (what I do). I mix up values (how I want to be) with my own needs. I look to values to tell me what the ‘right’ answer is, and when I get stuck, I blame values conflicts.
I don’t think it’s just me. Values are brilliant for bringing vitality and purpose to life, especially when options are limited. But in coaching we are often dealing with people with too many choices. Values can add to this sense of overwhelm, at least in my experience.
Yet at the same time, I feel like values have changed my life. How the hell did that happen?
How I understand values, when I understand values
The other day my two-year old daughter told me her name was ‘Orla Archer’ and I simply burst with pride. The words caught in my heart. Orla Archer.
Up to the age of about 7 or 8 I was called Robert Davies. Then my Step Dad arrived, married my Mum and on the day of the wedding they asked me whether I wanted to be called Robert Davies or Robert Archer. I was never in doubt.
Since then I’ve always been proud of that name, without ever really knowing why. Now I think it was all about choices.
I chose the name, but I also began to choose other things. I chose all the best stuff; sport, Liverpool FC and of course, The Beatles. I also chose organisation, determination, anger, softness, self-reliance.
As Robert Davies I’d never really chosen anything for myself. I was in survival mode too often. But from ‘Archer’ onwards, I started to choose things.
Crucially, I didn’t have to state in advance what my values were. If anyone had asked me whether I was ‘living my values’ I’d not have had a clue. They weren’t the ‘right’ choices necessarily, or the easy choices.
But looking back, this choosing was the beginning of the essential ‘Archer-ness’ that feels like the most worthwhile bits of me, even today.
This is how I understand values.
Values help with hard choices
Values, therefore, are different from decisions, and from ethics and morals. With values it is the choice that seems key. What am I valuing rather than what are my values.
My favourite all-time TED talk is by Ruth Chang. In it she argues that values are about ‘hard choices’; situations where there is no right answer. Those situations are tough! But from another perspective they can be liberating, because this is our one chance in life to properly choose stuff….
Avoiding stuckness with values
I still don’t really know what my values are. Or at least if I cling to the idea that I have a stable set of values for all situations, then I quickly get stuck.
But if in a given situation you ask me what my ‘values move’ is, or how I would choose to respond to a situation, or how I behave when I feel like a version of myself I can be proud of – generally I can do that.
So right now, in this moment, I try to focus on the choosing.
And one day – perhaps long after I’ve gone – Orla Archer will tell you what my values were.
Suddenly, like an eclipse, gloom descended and the birds stopped chirping.
I shouldn’t have been surprised I suppose. The end of a long-awaited holiday, dark January days, lots of travel, the death of my Step Father. I should have expected the black dog’s appearance.
But these days I know what I have to do. I reach for my trainers, and run.
I’ve learned that I can outrun depression, especially if I get a head start.
I am not sure why running works.
I guess there’s the obvious physical effects – endorphines and the like. But it feels more than that.
Running feels like an assertion of my values over my emotions. I never want to run, but I run. If that sounds easy, it isn’t. When I’m running the battle can feel quite elemental, like I’m in a fight for the direction of my soul. But if I can hang in there running starts to reconnect me with a version of me that I like, or at least find harder to hate.
In his seminal book ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’, Haruki Murakami says:
“Being active every day makes it easier to hear that inner voice.”
I think that’s true, even though my inner voice often says FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP AND EAT CAKE!
But to have a thought and not be pushed around by it….running helps me know where to draw the line. Over time my sense of self becomes defined less by what I think, and more by what I do.
It’s not just thoughts though. I also experience emotions more strongly when I run. Today I found myself choking up mid-run to Time to Say Goodbye.
I felt a bit stupid, but it occurred to me that running is the only time I allow myself to properly feel my emotions.
Maybe this is the difference?
When I started to get depressed in my 30s, I really would run from my feelings. But not by running – more often it was alcohol.
Today I run, but running doesn’t feel like running away from anything. It’s more like running towards my emotions. And even when sadness shows up – big gulps of it – I keep running towards them, like old friends greeting each other at a train station.
In this context sadness almost begins to feel like joy. A kind of reconnection with the best part of me.
The depression gains no traction.
It is just me, running in a forest, taking care of the person who sometimes hates himself.
I am writing this whilst sitting comfortably on a plane, powering through a brilliant autumn sunset towards Helsinki. I have everything I need, and the work will be great.
And I don’t really want to go.
This has nothing to do with Helsinki you understand. Who couldn’t be excited by the land of sauna, summer cabins and err, Moomins?
I don’t want to go because it’s going to be hard work. And lots of travel. And above all I’m sad because I’m going to miss my family. I feel like I just want to stop and go home.
Using Values When You’re Somewhere You Don’t Want To Be
This classic ACT move is easily forgotten, but when I remember it always helps:
Ask the cabin attendant for an extra gin
Take a moment to consider why I am making this trip in the first place:
What values are at the heart of my choice to be here?
This question tilts my attention towards the purpose of my being here. And purpose is the great generator of meaning.
So, why did I choose to be here?
Meaningfulwork. I am here because the workshops I run often help people shift in a positive direction. The data we’re collecting supports this.
Learning. I hope to learn something from the people I meet, and their reaction to the training. And it’s exciting to learn something about the countries I visit; Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland.
Security. I want to provide for my family so that they have the stuff they need to thrive. It is not the sole purpose of being here, but it is a factor.
Psychological Flexibility. Deep down, I know that without moments like these, my capacity to experience joy in life would diminish. As Kelly Wilson said, happiness and sadness are twins that either grow strong together or die together.
Tuning into my own values doesn’t get rid of the sadness, but it provides a different context for it.
It mixes something in with the sadness. Something richer.
And now I’m flying in a different way.
I am not so consumed by thoughts of wanting to go home.
My sadness feels like it has been dignified somehow.
It is the admission price for a life I have chosen, and I am grateful for it.
I use the ACT matrix a lot in my workshops and with my coaching clients… and on myself! It is a tool that helps to build mindfulness, self-awareness and valued living. It is based on contextual behavioural science and is very easy to use.
I have made a video explaining how I use it:
You can download a pdf handout of the ACT Matrix here.
Kevin Polk (who is one of the people who developed the ACT matrix) has lots of free resources relating to the ACT matrix at his website.
What if your greatest successes are more a reflection of your small, everyday choices than of the big decisions you make?
In his book, ‘How to Choose’, David Freemantle suggests that it is our micro-behaviours that make the difference between success and disappointment. By micro-behaviours, he means the ‘nuances and minutiae of our observed behaviours’. We tend to remember big choices we have made and think they have determined the course of our life. Whilst it is true that these larger choices are important. Freemantle suggests that it is actually our micro-behaviours that ultimately determine our success in these larger events.
For example, a ‘macro-behaviour’ might be to apply for a secondment to a project that interests you. Making this choice and taking this action certainly matters, but all sorts of micro-behaviours impact on how successful your application will be. When you apply for the secondment, do you go and see the person in charge of the project and engage with them in a way that makes them feel confident that you would be a pleasant and conscientious team member? Do you take the time to write a well thought out application? Have your tiny, repeated behaviours over the last 2 years, built you a reputation as someone who is helpful and effective? All of these frequent, small choices will impact on the outcome of your application.
Our natural tendency is to consciously choose the big things but to let our habitual style determine our micro-behaviours. For example, if my family and cultural background encouraged a blunt and straightforward style of communication, I will tend to do that. If my background has trained me to be compliant and avoid conflict. I will tend to do that.
In order to succeed in ways that are meaningful, we need to do something different. Instead of letting our history determine our micro-behaviours, we need to choose these behaviours consciously based on three key factors:
What is happening in this moment?
Which of my values are most important to express in this situation?
What do I want to achieve both in the short and in the long term?
This assessment of what each moment calls for involves the capacity to be really present. To really see what is going on.
It requires that we have a clear sense of who we want to be (our values) and a broad sense of what we want our life to stand for (our purpose).
And, finally, it requires the capacity to unhook from impulses to act in reactive or unskilful ways.