Ride the Black Swan

Ride the Black Swan

Take care of yourself, your family and your teams

Nassim Taleb wrote about Black Swan events in 2010. A Black Swan is an improbable event with massive consequences. We are in one right now. Every one of us is facing unknown unknowns. Our savings are impacted. We are concerned about family, friends and business as borders start to close. Many can no longer go to work. Am I well enough to survive an infection?

Leaders walk a blurry, dangerous edge between under and over reacting. The consequences of closing a border, a store or a business are huge. We are facing decisions under an overload of information and unclear guidance. There is little certainty.

Activate Centripetal Forces

There are disruptive centrifugal forces at play. Centrifugal forces pull things away from the centre. It feels uncertain, scary and threatening. Centripetal forces hold things together. They keep calm, control and connection. Now is a time to focus on the key centripetal forces that you can apply to guide yourself, your family and your team.

10 Centripetal Forces

These recommendations are aimed to maintain your physical health and immunity first, and second to support your mental and emotional wellbeing. 

  1. Discipline your attention: sip cautiously and sparingly on information
  2. Maintain or reinforce your daily disciplines of self-care and growth
  3. Exercise every day and make sure you get out in fresh air and sunshine
  4. Lock down your sleep discipline: consider stretching it to 8 hours
  5. Eat fresh foods & eat sparingly: lose unwanted weight if you can
  6. Stay calm and relaxed: a daily relaxation practice has multiple benefits
  7. Be present and savour the moment: catch worry, focus on breath and body
  8. Stay connected to your family: consider co-locating while you can
  9. Be positive and seek out optimistic positions: don’t catastrophise
  10. Keep cash on hand and set yourself up for remote work

No one can predict how this will turn out. Focus on what you can control and change. Fretting over provocative media hype is futile. Stay informed but focus on respected authorities like the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) and Johns Hopkins University & Medicine.

Focus on Physical Health

Reduce inflammation, fatigue and poor health. Experts warn that that age, obesity, diabetes, smoking and chronic conditions increase risk of infection and consequences. Now is the ideal time to put in place a good daily discipline that nurtures fitness, sleep, relaxation and wellbeing. A fresh-food diet and relaxation will keep your gut bacteria healthy.

Master Anxiety (and worry)

Anxiety is a key risk. Uncertainty and risk trigger the emotion of fear. Fear will stir and stimulate futile loops of worry. It is essential to discipline your thinking. When you notice the discomfort of anxiety or loops of worry, breath out long and slow. Bring your attention forcefully to your breath, your body, and the feeling of being alive right now. As your attention learns to stay present on the unfolding moment, anxiety will dissipate.

Build Hope, Optimism and Joy

Hopelessness and depression must be countered. We may lose money, jobs and opportunities. Isolation can fragment the connections we need for emotional wellbeing. Humanity is brilliant at rapid bounce. We will find a way. Be active and practical. Do useful things like keeping your home tidy and lovely, cleaning your car, or reading a good novel. Be alert to rumination on losses and what could have been. Create a positive story with your situation. Spend time with loved ones and help each other build optimism and hope.

Know that things will eventually get better. Humanity will learn. We will come out wiser and stronger. When things are shaken up like this, it is a great time to reflect on what really matters to you. Perhaps let go of some things that no longer matter quite as much. It may be an opportunity to make a much needed change.

Bounce, grow, connect and seek flow.

OPTIMISM

OPTIMISM

Research Highlight: Optimism is a super skill

95% of the most successful 10% of people scored “I think and communicate with optimism” with ‘very often’ or ‘nearly always’ (in a sample of 21,000).

The human mind is Velcro for the negative. Based on a high threat environment, a negative and threatening explanation might have been advantageous. Today, pessimism disables you.

Only 9% of the least resilient people score optimism with ‘very often’ or ‘nearly always’.

Question: How can I explain this adversity in one enabling sentence?

Condition: Notice but reject the easy negative self-talk

Discipline: Think and express yourself with positive language

Caution: Our times are testing. This will take courage.

What you can do right now?

  1. Ask someone close if you are optimistic or pessimistic. Explore an example
  2. Watch the content of your thoughts. Notice the words you choose to make sense of a situation. For example: “This always happens to me”
  3. Explore different ways to express the situation. For example: “What could I do differently” Notice the shift from blame to responsibility.
  4. Be alert for positive news.  Some suggest that we aim to express at least three positive observations for every complaint.

In the background:

  • Fatigue, isolation and distress will reduce optimism
  • Sleep well, be social, relax and play
  • Nurture your positive emotions – joy, gratitude, appreciation, hope, kindness

Note: With the current social instability, political malaise and climate risk, the value and importance of optimism will increase. It is well proven that optimism can be learned and has wide ranging personal and economic benefits. Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is proven an effective solution to depression. We use the term situational agility to describe the healthy and adaptive use of the optimism in key situations.

Own your joy!

FULFILMENT

FULFILMENT

Research Highlight: Fulfilment is a super skill

Of the most successful 10% of people in a sample of 21,000, 91% scored “I am contented, joyous and fulfilled” with ‘very often’ or ‘nearly always’.

Sadness (disappointment), fear (anxiety) and anger (frustration) are easy emotional traps to fall into. Far too many indulge in these destructive reactions. They will leave you in perpetual freeze, flight and fight states. This is deep suffering and ineffective.

Only 4% of the least resilient people score fulfilment with ‘very often’ or ‘nearly always’.

Question: What is the constructive emotion for this moment?

Condition: Be intolerant of complaint, frustration and blame

Discipline: Actively seek positive emotional expression

Caution: When necessary, tell your truth with courage and empathy

What you can do right now?

  1. In every moment – even the darkest – there is a positive response. In sadness there is learning and growth. In fear there is courage and calm. In anger there is tolerance and altruism. Be assertive in searching and expressing the positive response.
  2. Complaint spreads discomfort. Reject it. Frustration disables you. Reject it. Blame steals your power. Reject it. Respect, experience and name these negative reactions. They are real. Use the signal to say “NO”. Seek the positive angle.
  3. Learn to strengthen your positive emotions. If sad, seek the lesson learned. Be grateful. If afraid, seek calm presence. Be content. If angry, seek kindness. Be compassionate. If fatigued, seek energy. Be resilient.

Positive emotions are like muscles. If you work on them, they will get stronger. Even the toughest moments can be fulfilling. Enjoy your discomfort. Appreciate the moment. Strengthen your joy.

In the background:

  • Secure your sleep
  • Stay physically fit
  • Relax, breathe or meditate
  • Work on connection with those who matter to you
You can Embrace Change Using Emotional Intelligence : discover how to do it

You can Embrace Change Using Emotional Intelligence : discover how to do it

You can Embrace Change Using Emotional Intelligence : discover how to do it

Have you ever reacted to organizational change by rolling your eyes and quietly saying to yourself, “Here we go again”? Or by not so quietly telling others, “Haven’t we tried this before?

Changes at work can be emotionally intense, sparking confusion, fear, anxiety, frustration, and helplessness. Experts have even said that the experience of going through change at work can mimic that of people who are suffering from grief over the loss of a loved one. Because change can be so physically and emotionally draining, it often leads to burnout and puts into motion an insidious cycle that leads to even greater resistance to change.

No one wants to be an obstacle to change, instinctively resisting any new initiatives or efforts. It’s not good for you, your career, or your organization. Improving your adaptability, a critical emotional intelligence competency, is key to breaking this cycle. Fortunately, this is a skill that can be learned. In fact, in our work as coaches, it’s often a priority for our clients. They’re tired of feeling frustrated and angry about changes at work, and they want to be seen as adaptable rather than resistant.

Next time your organization introduces a big change, consider these four emotional intelligence strategies to help you embrace the change rather than brace for it:

Identify the source of your resistance. Understanding the underlying reasons for your resistance requires a high level of self-awareness. For example, if you’re resisting because you’re worried that the change will make you look incompetent, you can create a learning plan for the new skills you will need in order to be successful. Or, if you’re concerned that the change will interfere with your autonomy, you can ask the people leading the effort how you can be involved in the process. Even if you don’t like the direction the organization is moving, being involved in the implementation may help you regain a sense of control and reduce your urge to resist.

Question the basis of your emotional response. Our emotional reactions to change often reflect our interpretations – or “stories” – that we convince ourselves are true. In actuality, our stories are often subconscious and seldom in line with reality. Ask yourself: What is my primary emotion associated with this change? Is it fear, anger, frustration? Once you identify the emotion, ask what that’s about? What do I believe to be true that’s making me angry/fearful/frustrated? This type of questioning helps to illuminate the stories driving our emotions and influence our perceptions.

As an example, a senior executive in the transportation industry identified her intense emotional reaction as anger. As she continued to question the basis of her anger, she discovered an underlying story: she was powerless and a victim to the impending change initiative. With this new awareness she was able to separate her emotional reaction and “story” from the actual events. This allowed her to identify several options to take on new leadership responsibilities for a major aspect of the change initiative. With these new opportunities to take back her power, her mentality shifted from thinking that the changes were happening to her, to focusing on how she could take on a leadership role that would create new opportunities for both her career and the organization.

Own your part in the situation. It’s not always easy to fess up to the part we play in creating a negative situation. A self-aware person reflects on how their attitudes and behaviors contribute to their experience of the change. For example, let’s say that you’ve noticed yourself becoming increasingly and more immediately tense each time you hear of a new change. Practicing mindfulness will allow you to examine your feelings and how they are affecting your attitude. Any negativity or pessimism is going to impact your behavior, performance, and well-being (and not in a good way). By reflecting on how your initial reaction contributes to a negative chain of events, it’ll be easier to adjust your attitude to be more open to considering new perspectives, which will ultimately change the way you react to everything.

Turn up your positive outlook: Things may feel a little bleak when you don’t agree with a new change, but studies show that having a positive outlook can open us up to new possibilities and be more receptive to change. Asking yourself a few simple questions will help you think more optimistically. First, ask yourself Where are the opportunities with this change? And then, How will these opportunities help me and others? 

For example, one of our clients recently went through a major organizational change. Over the previous 18 months, he had led the turnaround and sale of a division for his former company and had just accepted a new role as President with a new firm. He knew this wasn’t something he would’ve been able to do a few years earlier. But he had worked hard to move from being a “problem solver” to an “opportunity finder.” He explained how our work together prepared him: “I was always playing defense, focusing on how to minimize our exposure or losses in any situation. As we began to shift my focus from how to minimize losses to find opportunities, everything changed. I shifted from playing defense to offense. I began to see opportunities that were invisible to me before. Now, it’s hard-wired into how I think.”

The ability to quickly and easily adapt to change is often a competitive advantage for a leader. Next time you feel yourself resisting, use the four approaches above to build momentum and psychological energy for you and others. Make the intentional choice not just to embrace change but to positively propel it forward.

HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW-Kandi Wiens & Darin Rowell

See the article 

Safetyism, Snowballs and Fragile Youth

Safetyism, Snowballs and Fragile Youth

Originally published on www.resiliencei.com and reproduced with permission.

By 

Book Review: Coddling of the American Mind, Lukianoff and Haidt, 2018

We parent, teach and support. We want the best for young people. What we are seeing is a collapse of mental well-being. At the same time, events of intimidation, violence and witch hunts increase.

Lukianoff and Haidt take us on an evidence-based and carefully considered journey through modern parenting, teenage mental illness and education. They describe how we are losing the pursuit of truth and growth. Society is being pulled apart by partisan politics and intolerance. Young people are not coping well with this.

Most importantly, the authors detail what we can do to improve this situation. What they describe is American but the signs are global. The solutions are practical and immediately applicable in families, schools, universities and societies.

The book is excellent.  Three ideas:

Safetyism

Overprotective society, parenting and education is depriving young people of growth. They are missing the opportunity to engage skilfully with truth, diversity, risk assessment, empathy and situation agility (the authors use Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)). The i-Generation, born after 1995, suffers rapidly increasing rates of anxiety, self-harm and depression. They are poorly prepared for the challenges of work, relationships and politics.

The authors recommend using safety for physical risk only. They encourage us to help our youth take risks through free play, debate, conflict resolution and respect for truth. Social media must be limited – particularly for young women.

Snowballs

A school demands that student never touch snow because it may produce a dangerous snowball. Similarly, we have invited and expanded the concept of threat to include diverse views, free speech, “micro-aggressions” and “avoiding triggers”. Thus universities have, since 2013, experienced an alarming increase in mental illness and campus violence. Research from left-leaning perspectives is all that remains. Moderate views have been silenced. Social media helps us name and shame those who voice disquieting views. If that does not work, students increasingly resort to violence. All because someone touched the snow.

Fragility

Young people are complex adaptive systems. Genes create a rough template upon which the challenges of life – most specifically play and direct social interaction – work. We must play and practice to develop our neural wiring and the skills required to thrive. Jean Twenge shows that teen development is now delayed by three years. They are physically safe but mentally vulnerable.

The authors recommend that we rethink and look for proven wisdom. Treat our youth as antifragile. They have specific suggestions for parents, junior and senior school and universities. Much is based on teaching young people to own and master their emotional and cognitive responses. “Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.”

Bravo!

The Safety – Play Paradox

The Safety – Play Paradox

Originally published on www.resiliencei.com and reproduced with permission.
By 

Leaders must balance innovation with safety and disruption with predictability. Growth is not possible without risk. Zero harm will secure zero innovation. Too much risk and we bet the farm.

  1. When we feel unsafe we default to flight, fight and freeze reactions
  2. When we cause others to feel unsafe, we collapse their contribution
  3. When we feel safe and “play” together, we flourish and teams succeed

Safety is complex and can be unhelpful. The issue is confounded because safety perceptions and reactions are not conscious. They take over our conscious systems before we know it. The consequent behaviour is sub-optimal. No safety = no growth and innovation.

Stephen Porges recently published The Pocket Guide to Polyvagal Theory(2017).  We reviewed his work several times. He makes a complex neurophysiological concept coherent and practical. There are two powerful leadership ideas.

 

1.  Unconscious neuroception drives behaviour

We swing from relaxed parasympathetic tone to reactive, distressed sympathetic tone.

The sympathetic (“stress” system) gives us our FIGHT (anger and violence) and FLIGHT (fear and avoidance) reactions. These reactions are based on adrenaline (epinephrine), increased heart rate and blood pressure. They mobilise us for action – attack or defend. The reactions are automatic and not conscious. While helpful in early evolution, today we generally regret them (modern presidents excluded).

Parasympathetic activity is mediated by the Vagus Nerve (10th cranial nerve). It has two layers – ventral (new, myelinated and above diaphragm) and dorsal (old, unmyelinated and below diaphragm). The ventral (new) vagus slows the heart, increases heart rate variability and allows calm, curious and connected behaviour. This activates health, growth and empathy. This is the foundation state of good relationships, collaboration and team flow.

The dorsal (old) vagus collapses the vascular and digestive system. We collapse or pass out and may void bowel and bladder. This is not voluntary but it may save life in a violent or abusive situation when you are the prey. This is the FREEZE reaction.

Wild animals have well defined zones that programme behaviour. Furthest out is FLIGHT. When we approach this zone, the animal will run away. Next is FIGHT. If we enter this zone we can expect to be attacked. Closest in is FREEZE when the animal will play dead.

The lion’s FLIGHT zone is 35 to 50 m and the FIGHT zone is 15 to 20 m. This is for a human on foot. In a vehicle, the lion will allow you to come within a few meters. If you then move or stand up, it will attack you. You are in the FIGHT zone.  Knowledge that can save life in an open game-viewing vehicle.

When safety fails

Porges argues that FREEZE is common for those subjected to abuse or with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Afterwards they feel guilty that they did not fight back. In actual fact, the body (dorsal vagus) was protecting them from further violence – just as a mouse in a cat’s jaws will play dead. Understanding this facilitates recovery.

He shows how simple steps can build an understanding, sense of safety and recovery:

  • Long exhalations to increase heart rate variability
  • Prosodic voice (lullaby) or music (Johnny Mathis love songs), and
  • Counselling with prosodic voice and expressive faces

Porges claims to have improved the lives of over 200 children with Autism by using this as part of treatment.

Safety finds itself in direct conflict with health, growth, innovation and collaboration. Obsessive worry about missing a process, inappropriate connection or adverse consequences can push us toward FLIGHT (avoid), FIGHT (vote right) and FREEZE (give up). What is meant to protect can shut down our better selves.

Business success today needs risk, innovation, intense collaboration and disruption (not safe at all). These behaviours are much more like edgy play. They require both sympathetic activation and strong ventral vagus activity.

How does a leader balance innovation with safety and disruption with predictability?

Growth is not possible without risk. Zero harm counters innovation.

 

2.  Play as a platform for transformation

What might happen if we activate the ventral (new) vagus and the sympathetic system together? We will be highly activated and mobilised (sympathetic) while feeling calm, curious and connected (vagus). This is play. Watching young animals charge after each other, pouncing, posing, yelping and wrestling gives us great joy.

Play accelerates learning. It prepares the young animal for the challenges of hunting, defending and mating in a dangerous world. Without play survival is compromised. Play is facilitated by regular eye contact, prosodic communication and an expressive upper face – crinkles in the outer corners of the eye and centrally raised eyebrows. Play builds high trust community, family, and team.

Play is the state of an exceptionally high performing team. It is respectful, open, honest, provocative, demanding, pressing the limits, empathic, forgiving, and joyous. This is also found in the intimacy achieved in a loving partnership. Embracing risk with this attitude of play is the foundation of trust and the better world we know is possible.

Porges points out that the more we play the more effective adults we become. This is obviously true for physical skills. Far more importantly, this is how we develop our emotional intelligence and social skills. Play is a critical component of healthy childhood and adulthood. Working parents, anxiety about intimacy, and devices have dramatically dropped the time we spend in play. Play may be a cost effective solution to the suffering caused by mental health.

Sadly, our youth grow up with play on a device. This is not play and it does not activate the dorsal vagus. There is none of the direct reciprocity of eye contact, vocal resonance and facial expressivity. Nor is there movement and physical skill building. In most mental health disorders, play is absent or limited.

Leaders creating a better world must balance caution with high risk play. Breathe out, hold eye contact, smile, sing and play.