When will you take a real lunch break?

When will you take a real lunch break?

While you might believe that you are saving time by skipping your lunch break, you may end up less efficient, resulting in fatigue and loss of concentration. Taking a lunch break away from your desk forces your body to move and clears your mind. You are likely to be more productive in the afternoon!

So here is a resilience practice we invite you to cultivate this week:
I spend at least half an hour for lunch, away from my desk.

Bounce Forward Fast

Bounce Forward Fast

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

Lockdown for the third time. Calls cancel work booked. Rain pelts down. Businesses are pummelled. We lifted ourselves up, reinvented work and again, we face adversity.

No-one has escaped. Many have worked from home for months, some through long, dark winters. Millions of jobs have disappeared. Families are bereaved and separated. Governments wallow in debt. Climate threats continue to build.

This is our history. Cycles of collapse and growth beset humanity. Often the four horsemen of disease, famine, mass migration and state failure are triggered by climate shifts.

Time and again, we, humanity find a way to makes sense of chaos and despair. We bounce. We innovate, adjust and find new solutions. We reconnect, demonstrate altruism and find our way back to flow.

Acknowledging fully the suffering and insecurity many of us face right now, there are lessons and deliberate actions available to help us bounce.

Lesson 1: Make sense of the downward suck

Resilience fails fast or slow. When the mind is overloaded, we lose focus and then disengage. Creative thinking fades, and the old reptilian emotions activate. Fear, the primitive flight reaction, activates first. We want to run away – go to bed, switch to a screen, drink, eat and procrastinate. If we do not accept and counter this normal reaction, anxiety is the price we pay.

When anger, the fight reaction, triggers, we seek to blame – government, epidemiologists, employers or family members. Filled with the poisonous chemicals of anger, we lash out. Unresolved, this leads to hostility and conduct disorder.

Finally, sadness, the freeze reaction, activates. We withdraw into isolation and ruminate on all that has gone wrong. Again, though normal, we must counter it before we sink into despair and depression.

Lesson 2: Bounce forward fast

Bounce back is delusional. It is a fixed mindset. You cannot go back and reverse change. When we confront adversity we learn, adapt and apply new skills. Adversity can overwhelm but mostly we grow and bounce forward to an improved state of function. Acknowledge the suck, focus on how adversity can motivate for a fresh perspective, learning and constructive action.

Focus on the small things – a powernap, a stretch, a walk, reach out to a friend or colleague, or appreciate the rejuvenation brought by rain. Action is required. Small steps lead to bigger steps. Build your momentum. Tackle bigger challenges.

How resilience fails and the steps to bounce forward fast

Lesson 3: Adversity makes you stronger

Despite our brilliance and resources, we simply fail to recognise and action preventive measures – health, saving, moderation, climate or state abuse. We are the archetypal boiled frog. 

We can learn by confronting the consequence of adversity. When we get a shock and feel pain, we pay attention and are motivated to act. This is how nature has always learned to adapt and prevail. Being too safe and over-protected leads to complacency and fragility. The body becomes weak, destructive emotions prevail, and thinking becomes sloppy.

There are times that we must protect the vulnerable. We can learn to reframe adversity as a challenge to pay attention, be curious, learn and try again. Engaging adversity with wisdom and courage, allows us to strengthen and upskill the muscles of the body, the emotions and the mind. Growth follows.

Lesson 4: Take care of yourself

Basic self-care is most essential when things are difficult. This is the time to be a little ruthless as coach. Make sure you sleep enough, at regular times and with quality. Do some exercise – even a few stretches, push-ups or a brisk walk. Even a minute can make a difference. Maintain good posture.

Slow your breathing. Focus on breathing slowly through the nose. Aim for six breaths per minute. Four seconds in and six out or five in and five out are well-established options. For the more adventurous, ideally with supervision, you can try the breathing and cold exposure disciplines of Wim Hoff.

Lesson 5: Name, tame and reframe emotions

We are slowly learning to master the world of emotion. For most they ‘do not exist’. They are unconscious experiences that take control of our lives. If they are positive, that is fine. But if your emotions are negative, flight (fear), fight (anger) and freeze (sadness), they are wrecking your life and your relationships.

If you don’t feel good, you are in a negative emotional state. Name it. Pause and ask the question: ‘what am I feeling?’ The moment you accurately name the emotion (fear, anger, sadness), the unconscious and ‘reptilian reaction’ becomes conscious. The pre-frontal cortex activates. Accept it, feel it and engage it.

Once you are aware, you are in charge. Now, tame it. Slow your breathing, relax your face, step back, stretch and let the negative emotional reaction settle.

Now you are ready to reframe it. Fear is countered with equanimity and curiosity. Anger is countered with respect and kindness. Sadness in countered with appreciation, gratitude and humour.

Yes, it sounds tricky. Twenty years of neurobiology and positive psychology shows that it works and triggers the broaden and build of growth and connection.

Lesson 6: Stop thinking

Much of your thinking in wrecking your life. A flight reaction in the body and the emotion of fear accelerates worry loops about an imagined future. The fight reaction with anger, accelerates rumination on the sins and failings of someone else. The freeze reaction with sadness, accelerates rumination on your own sins and failings.

Name it, tame it and reframe it. Notice and acknowledge when you worry or ruminate. Exhale and come back to the present unfolding situation (tame). Focus 100% on a constructive action in the present.

Lesson 7: Smile, laugh and do something you love

Yes, these are difficult times. Many are suffering. Yet life lusts for itself. Adversity activates bounce and growth. We learn, we reconnect, and we build better futures. Evolution is on our side. Our genes are resilient. We have the skills. We can watch the experts. Good studies prove the lessons above. They work.

Programme EVE & Octave Podcast #28. Cultivating Your Resilience with Alexia Michiels

Programme EVE & Octave Podcast #28. Cultivating Your Resilience with Alexia Michiels

Originally published on Programme Octave website and their SoundCloud page on October 28th 2020.

Whether it is at work, at home, or elsewhere, life often throws curveballs at us. How can we prepare to face these unexpected challenges?

A professional coach, author and the co-founder of Resilience Institute Europe, Alexia invites us to develop our resilience. In physics, resilience describes the resistance of materials to impact. The term was taken up in therapy, and then in coaching, to refer to the ability to withstand upheavals.

Far from being a simple wellness practice, resilience takes a preventive and holistic approach. It offers tools to develop a solid foundation that integrates body, heart, mind and spirit. In building this foundation, we are better prepared to deal with the difficulties that may arise. We also strengthen the ability to have a positive impact on the lives of others.

Listen now to our conversation with Alexia and discover her insights to cultivate your own resilience.

Listen to the Podcast – 9min

How to beat burnout with a growth mindset

How to beat burnout with a growth mindset

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

A search of “burn-out” delivers 485 million results. How strange to be so attached to a word that has no clinical or biological substance. A year ago, the World Health Organisation included “burn-out” as a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress. This is an error second only to their mishandling of Covid-19.

First, humans do not burn out. Second, there is a better way to understand the experience of overwhelm so that you can recover, bounce and reconnect with life. Third, the term burnout hurts the person labelled and misleads the experts trying to help you.

Surprised? Bear with me and I think you will drop the term.

Why you can’t burn out

A light bulb, an engine and a fire can burn out. Entropy wins and the system has no further use. It must be replaced. That is a poor analogy for human life.

Humans are self-healing and regenerating systems (negentropy). In fact, under pressure we respond with learning, growth and greater resilience. A recent meta-analysis showed that about half of people (77.3% in one study) experience post traumatic growth after severe traumatic events.

What actually happens when overwhelmed?

Our desire is to be calm, connected, playful and effective in one’s life. In this state, the ventral Vagus nerve is active. We feel safe, trusting, intimate and energised to engage. To have this experience through childhood is a key factor for a good life. We can learn to have more of it.

Sudden or prolonged experiences of threat or pressure cause us to lose this adaptive state. The sympathetic system activates and shuts down the ventral vagus system. This is not a decision you take but rather a reaction deep in your autonomic nervous system. It can be sudden, erupting as a panic attack (flight) or rage (fight). It may also activate slowly as a feeling of anxiety or anger.

These unconscious autonomic reactions are selected when the body feels unsafe or threatened. The old sympathetic system will select cues that your mind may not notice. For example: “are those footsteps of a thief in a dark alley?” or “is he looking at my daughter…?”

The sympathetic system can become unstable and overactive. This is what happens in anxiety and hostility disorders. The first questions asked is if I can run away and avoid the situation (flight, fear or anxiety). If I cannot escape, the system switches to attack (fight, anger or hostility).

These reactions do serve a snake or a mouse in in the jaws of a cat. In humans, it is a huge waste of energy, disables thinking and rarely has any positive effects. In any demanding situation – combat, sport, keynotes, performance – the effect is debilitating.

It can get worse. We call it the freeze reaction. If the threat is so severe that neither flight nor fight are options, we simply immobilise. The old, dorsal vagus activates and we collapse. In extreme situations we may void bladder and bowels, faint or burst into tears. This is common in natural disasters, war and abuse. Blood pressure drops and the human brain is deprived of oxygen.

In a more chronic situation, hope fades, we lose energy, give up and surrender our responsibility. Yes, it feels like being “burned out”. It is hard to distinguish from depression if sustained over weeks. Remember, you did not consciously choose it. Your body activated an ancient reaction to protect you.

Polyvagal theory is being successfully used by hundreds of therapists to show you how to reconnect with and master your autonomic system. Deb Dana’s book (see below) is an excellent start.

Even after severe trauma, in autism, anxiety, depression and hostility, this methodology is changing lives. There are some clear learning steps:

  1. Accurately perceive what is happening in your body
  2. Label and observe the freeze, flight, fight and engage signals
  3. Develop skilful state shifts to move in the right direction
  4. Activate calm, connection, trust, and playfulness
  5. Myelinate your ventral vagus nerve fibres (swim or meditate)

When you feel overwhelmed, remind yourself that your body selected protective immobilisation to keep you safe. Relax, notice, exhale, reconnect and reengage. As your ventral vagus response strengthens, you can leave burnout behind you.

Getting past burnout and fixed mindsets

As we become more familiar with how physiology, body, emotion and mind operate, the concept of burnout becomes redundant. When you say it to yourself you reinforce hopelessness. When experts label you with burnout, you feel broken and permanently damaged.

All too often, burnout leads to grievance and blame. This is absolutely the last thing you need for your recovery.

Burnout is a term that no longer serves us. It locks us into the fixed mindset. With patience, understanding, learning and practice the immobilisation reaction can be mastered with many safe and proven techniques. Therapists, consultants, resilience experts, business and you really can do much better with a growth mindset.

  • Polyvagal Theory Exercises for Safety and Connection, Deb Dana, 2020
  • Lost Connections, Johan Hari, 2018
  • Perform Under Pressure, Ceri Evans, 2019
  • Polyvagal Theory, Stephen Porges, 2012
Disconnected

Disconnected

Sustain the messy, transformative work of real connection.

One day last week, like many of you, I spent fifteen hours on a computer. This included four group webinars (one of which was a hundred faceless people), six Zoom meetings, and the normal transactional activity of small business. Closing my screen at 7pm, I felt strangely discombobulated. It felt tired (mental fatigue), listless, unsatisfied and dissociated. I call it “LIMBO”. I think you have experienced it.

This is a symptom of disrupted connection. 

Most of us have been locked down for six weeks. While a few lucky families and businesses share common space, the rest have to make do with digital communication. These virtual platforms are nothing short of miraculous. They have improved dramatically. We now expect a seamless flow of voice, face and digital gimmicks.

The efficiency gain is stunning. One can deliver a half day intervention with a group at 10% of the cost. Taxis, airports, hotels and endless downtime vaporised for multiple participants. Evaluations can match face-to-face. Three hours delivers the same net revenue as a two-day journey.

Organisations are just beginning to realise how effective and efficient virtual meetings have become. It is almost certain that many of us will continue to work from home and that much of our future communication will be digital and transactional. Training, sales, negotiation, planning and coaching will become predominantly virtual.

Face-to-face connection will reduce dramatically.

For millions of years, primates have evolved as social species. We could only survive the harsh ecosystems in small family groups and tribes with periodic inter-group exchange. We communicated in a physical cocoon of smells, touch, eye contact, grooming, posturing, grunting, seducing and dominating/submitting.

In suits, we follow formal protocols to book a time, place, dress-code and still we are close. We shake hands, gesticulate, and dance with our eyes, expressions, vocal tones and postures. Smell and grooming have dropped into the background but still play out.

Together in space and matter, we connect and transform each other.

On screen, it is very different. If lucky, we have an image large enough to detect eye movement and facial expressions. The concentration required to track this instinctive flow of information is huge. Delays in voice and image create interruptions in flow that trigger doubt, irritation and dismissive judgements. Feedback loops and trust fail.

Digitised on screen we transact deprived of meaning.

From a biological perspective, we are ripping apart the very fabric of what makes us human. We must be cautious, wise and deliberate in mastering this inevitable transition that Covid-19 has thrust into warp speed.

Take special care of intimate relationships.

In family and homes:

  1. Create shared daily rituals – meals, walks, games and conversations
  2. Share your daily work plan and respect each other’s workspace
  3. Make time for close, physical and intimate greetings – hug, listen, play
  4. Be tolerant, generous and quick to apologise when boundaries are crossed

In close friendship and work circles:

  1. Maintain your regular digital connections
  2. Meet fortnightly for a walk, ‘distance-compliant’ coffee or park-side chat

In digital transactions:

  1. Take at least 10 minutes to prepare for a call – rest, plan, anticipate
  2. Dress well and present yourself with good posture and comfortable surrounds
  3. Make sure your camera catches your face at eye height
  4. Check your appearance and surroundings before each call
  5. Keep your eyes steady and focused close to the camera
  6. Maintain good posture and breathe slowly through the nose
  7. Instead of interruption raise your hand for a speaking opportunity
  8. Train yourself in facial expression recognition (www.paulekman.com)
  9. Speak clearly and get to the point. Use stories.

Digital business is in the ascendant. We must adapt if we are to take advantage of this incredible opportunity. Remember that it is primarily transactional communication.

Do not forget the critical – albeit messy – connections required to give meaning, context and fulfilment to our lives.

Ride the Black Swan: Part 3

Ride the Black Swan: Part 3

Bounce Deliberately

The stark reality of Covid-19 and its economic consequences are sinking in. This week, most opinions predict, will be hard. The health and life impact flashes red on our screens daily. Little evidence of containment is detectable. The world economy has slowed. Unemployment is soaring. Our lives have lost rhythm. Uncertainty and fear will rise. Anger and depression will surface. Rapid, skilled bounce is required.

Part 1 laid out the basics of caring for yourself and your loved ones. Part 2 urged for calm engagement and decisiveness. We must acknowledge and master freeze (sad/withdrawal), anger (fight) and fear (flight) reactions.

Here, I want to focus on bounce. McKinsey & Co (2020) advocate five leadership phases: resolve, resilience, return, reimagination and reform. It is the first two that are in focus here. In summary:

  • It is normal and natural for resilience to fail
  • Mental health challenges have already tested society
  • Crises can accelerate and compound resilience failure
  • Bounce is normal and natural – it will happen
  • Shock, denial, bargaining and anger slow the bounce response
  • Bounce accelerates when we confront reality with honesty and humility
  • Bounce can be a deliberate and disciplined process of action

Bounce Practice 1: Know how resilience fails

Confront reality, acknowledge concerns and feelings. Recovery starts with you. If you are calm and engaged, you will be able to support others.

Bounce Practice 2: Enforce routine/daily disciplines

Working virtually with leaders through last week, one common experience presented. Testing their daily routines, it became abundantly clear that their routines were chaotic. Working from home, you might expect we have more control. Not true.

Sleep timing was disrupted. Exercise routines were dropped. Meditation and prayer (not all) had stopped. Meal times were irregular. Webinars and team calls had become continuous. Many hunched over calls in the early morning and night. There was scant rejuvenation time between calls.

If you have not already redesigned your daily routines, do it now. This is the perfect time to reflect deeply on what you need to do each day to be the best version of yourself.

  1. Sleep well: at least 7 hours, regular wake up and sleep time, good quality
  2. Exercise every day: secure at least 20 minutes aerobic activity out in nature if possible
  3. Stretch, practice yoga and breathe deliberately every morning
  4. Agree regular meal times; eat well and connect with loved ones
  5. Lock in recovery after every call/webinar; minimum 10 minutes
  6. Make time to relax, read and enjoy a movie

Bounce Practice 3: Maintain your presence

Reality check your physical presence. Notice the stubble, the grey (or dark) roots emerging, neglected hair, dirty t-shirt or slumped shoulders. Without the daily trek into social circuits, you may neglect yourself. At very least, do what you can to present yourself to your mirror each morning. Your family will notice. Your colleagues will see it on webinars. Sit upright and alert or stand through calls and webinars. Most importantly, you will feel better.

Bounce Practice 4: Establish connection rhythms

Prepare well for each connection. Be calm, respectful and gently optimistic. If you are part of a team, try to connect daily by phone or visually. Remember your friends. We have started a regular evening connection with close friends on various platforms. Consider a daily walk with a loved one. Take time to treasure the rebound of nature. Our bird-bath has become a daily joy.

Bounce Practice 5: Work structure and discipline

While many are stretched, others are searching for things to do. Take a good, hard look at your work structure. Use your diary and schedule carefully. Discipline mindless media surfing. Be firm with meeting times. Diarise preparation and recovery time around calls. When you engage in a call, proposal or communication do it with 100% focus for a defined period. Drive for finished product or outcomes. Acknowledge and celebrate them.

Over the next two weeks, your Bounce must be your primary concern. Economic reality will sink in and we will all be impacted. The slowdown will continue and the challenges of restarting businesses, services, jobs and income will come into focus.

Remember there is no ‘bounce back’, only ‘bounce forward’. Post traumatic growth is more common than post traumatic stress (77% of cases). Bounce draws on creativity, resolve and new meaning. Expect and prepare for a new reality. It might be a significant improvement.

Use the Bounce framework to assess yourself daily. Commit to deliberate daily practices as above.

Resources you may find helpful: