Nassim Taleb wrote aboutBlack Swanevents 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 keepcalm, 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.
Discipline your attention: sip cautiously and sparingly on information
Maintain or reinforce your daily disciplines of self-care and growth
Exercise every day and make sure you get out in fresh air and sunshine
Lock down your sleep discipline: consider stretching it to 8 hours
Eat fresh foods & eat sparingly: lose unwanted weight if you can
Stay calm and relaxed: a daily relaxation practice has multiple benefits
Be present and savour the moment: catch worry, focus on breath and body
Stay connected to your family: consider co-locating while you can
Be positive and seek out optimistic positions: don’t catastrophise
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) andJohns HopkinsUniversity & 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.
The beginning of the year is a natural time to set goals, but it doesn’t appear likely that a new year will miraculously bring a new you. Be aware: New Year “Resolutions” can apparently do more harm than good (Amy Cuddy, 2017).
So how about first, a recap of the last 12 months? Celebrate what you achieved in 2019, what you learned, what you wouldn’t do again. What did you do well?
Slow down, recollect, then turn to what you want next.
Be honest. You don’t have to tell anyone your goals. They can range from light-hearted to critical, and be as long or short term as you need.
The key is to make the decision about what you do and don’t want.
Six quick goal setting tips:
It is better to make small, achievable changes than pledge to act like a whole different person because it’s January. Try not to let your goals start with “I will never…” or “always”. Cuddy suggests “self-nudging” – setting incremental goals that will bring you closer to large milestones.Consistency is key.
2. Get physical
Write out your intentions, get a wall planner or make a vision board – whatever suits. In the digital age, words on paper provide more connection and intimacy with your goals. A word document is just too easy to lose.
3. Give it your best
Do you feel a little fear? Good. Entering theflowstate is only possible when the challenge engages your skill. Without proper challenge, you’re just relaxing. Sometimes the fear of trying is all that stands in the way. Imagine the worst case scenario. You fail? You try again. No one is judging you as much as you think.
4. Everything has a price
Every experience, behaviour, interaction, relationship… can cost. You may or may not be on a financial budget, but no one has limitless time and energy. Five minutes of a destructive behaviour can be energetically expensive. Carefully consider what you can afford to spend time and emotional energy on.
5. Get over last decade
A study found participants who wrote down their regrettable decisions and sealed them in an envelope reported “feeling significantly better about their past decisions”. Physically symbolic closure can lead to real emotional closure. Learn from your mistakes, then leave them in 2019. Look forward.
6. Keep it simple.
Simply saying no to destructive behaviours and yes to constructive action is often all that is needed to reach your goals. Deep down, you know what is good for you and what isn’t. Strive for delayed gratification. Actioning that is a matter ofimpulse control:
We have worked in the field of resilience for over 20 years. We have helped our clients understand how resilience fails, how to bounce, and how to sustain an effective integration between work and life. Dealing with our mental illness reality demands a specific, tailored response.
In 2017 we launched our first programmes to help leaders and managers increase their skill and confidence to support mental illness and recovery in their businesses. The original article ishere.
Find out more about our mental health training programme options and toolkit.
Our conclusion is that a basic understanding of the key concepts that underpin mental illness is necessary. Further, we recommend that every leader and manager can recognise the key signs of common conditions. Let’s start with the common conditions:
Depression, diagnosed as unremitting sadness, loss of confidence, confusion, appetite and sleep disturbance for two weeks is the most common. Suicide takes 800,000 lives per year and depression has a massive cost to productivity. Sadness prevails and it is a form of “freeze” reaction
Physical signs: loss of energy, disturbed appetite, sleep disturbance
Emotional signs: sadness, despair, tears, joyless and loss of hope
Distress first presents with physical symptoms such as tension, respiratory, cardiac, abdominal or skin disorders. When overwhelmed by pressure, we experience anxiety and worry. We all feel anxiety (fear) at times. It is a “flight” reaction.
Given the apparent increase in anger in society, this is an important condition. This is the “fight” response and may present as:
Angry outbursts, shouting, swearing and calling out others
Passive aggressive resistance and resentment…..
Clearly, no mental illness suddenly presents. It is almost always a process of progressive failure. It starts in the mind, progresses to emotion and only then presents as a diagnosis. Leaders who can recognise the process can intervene skilfully and prevent illness. This means being alert to overload, attention failure and withdrawal as below.
Leaders skilled at noticing how and when resilience fails are powerfully placed to intervene and prevent risk.
For example: at Confused, simplify priorities and give people a clear goal. At Disengaged understand how to establish rhythms, breaks and rejuvenation disciplines. At Withdrawn, reach out to a person and be sincerely interested. However, a leader’s job is not to be a psychiatrist.
While a better understanding and skilful bounce reinforcement is effective, it is important to know where skilled help can be found. That may be through human resources, EAP, coaches, psychologists or medical specialists. Our experience is that many leaders do not follow up. When someone is referred to expert help it is important to know that the event actually happened, how it is followed up and preferably some measures on how things have improved.
When one of your team is struggling with a mental health issue it can be unsettling. Be brave and meet with confidence. You are an important aspect of recovery.
Always be sincerely respectful. If you are concerned, reach out to someone in privacy and in a supportive environment. Sometimes simply showing your care can begin recovery.
Secondly, know your limits. Your job is not to be a psychologist. In conjunction with your people team make sure you work towards an appropriate referral.
Thirdly, be present for the recovery process. Part of the leader or manager’s job is to facilitate return to work. Let someone who needs help know that you expect them to recover and come back to work. Most people do.
We are seeing increasing distress amongst leaders who, while dealing with demanding roles, are taking perhaps too much of a supportive role with team members who may be suffering. The world of work is tough. Leaders must remain strong and resilient themselves. If we become too involved in the suffering of others we may suffer what is now termed empathic distress (compassion fatigue). The leader takes on the suffering of the team member. This will render you ineffective as a leader and will compromise both effective empathy and skilful support.
As we deal with more distress in the workplace, leaders need to step up to and take much better care of their own physical, emotional and cognitive resilience. Implementing a daily routine to support and sustain resilience is essential.
Work-related mental health conditions are overtaking physical safety as a critical risk in the workplace.
The World Health Organisation says anxiety and depression increased globally by 50% between 1990 and 2013 (Lancet, 2016). In May 2018, the American Psychiatric Association announced another 5% increase.
Leaders are scrambling to address the issuebutit is so complex that many choose to turn a blind eye. They feel incapable of creating change.
The starting point is to be clear on definitions. When the term “mental health” is used, it is often thought of as a person’s level of depression or anxiety and their ability to bounce back from these conditions.
Mental health definitions
Clear definitions can help us address and solve the challenge:
Mental distress= distressed, anxious, depressed, hostile, withdrawn or delusional.
Resilience= a learned ability to recognise risk, bounce skilfully, and secure robust physical, emotional and mental well-being.
Confusion Indecisiveness Pessimism
Fatigue/Apathy Sleep Disturbance Digestion Issues
Worry Catastrophising Indecisiveness
Tunnel Vision Blaming
Immune Compromise High Blood Pressure
Resilience interventions deliver a 30% reduction in “mental distress” symptoms
At the Resilience Institute, we measure the impact of our resilience interventions using theResilience Diagnosticassessment. Our latest global report reveals that training interventions deliver an average 30% reduction in symptoms of depression (with results up to 82%) and a 32% average reduction in anxiety symptoms (with the highest result of an 86% reduction).
With antidepressants having a 3% impact, and sleep 6%, it is clear that people need an integral and practical solution to their mental distress.
Factor-level results from a sample of over 3000 participants include:
Enabling leaders to have more effective conversations about mental health
Our program,Mental Fitness, has been developed to help leaders understand mental health, have effective conversations and improve productivity.
Core components of the program:
Understand the impact of mental health at work
Taking care of themselves
Have effective conversations about mental health
Creating resilience in their teams
Available both as face-to-face workshops, webinars and video training delivered via theResilience App, the content includes:
Defining mental illness
Symptoms and Signs
Taking care of yourself
The leader’s role and boundaries
From Distress to Flow
Mental Fitness introduction
Dr Sven introduces the Leader’s Guide to Mental Fitness program.
We are waking up to the suffering and cost of mental illness. TheWorld Health Organisationestimates that 1 in 4 of us will suffer from mental illness at some point in our lives.
Affecting 450 million people today it is the leading cause of illness. The cost to business is USD $1 trillion.
Simple mental health initiatives at work return $4 to $10 for every $1 invested.
Each one of us – if personally concerned, as a caring family member, or as a colleague at work can apply these 10 steps to secure mental wellbeing and rediscover our joy.
1. Understand where mental illness comes from
Genes, early environment, adverse events and our personal behaviours all contribute in complex ways. We have much to learn. It appears that a positive, nurturing early environment is protective even when we inherit recognised gene patterns (1). Learning to deal with adversity early in life is helpful. Learning the practices of resilience is definitely protective and part of recovery. In tragic or traumatic events, it is normal to feel anxious or sad. In most cases recovery starts within two weeks. Extreme events can have long term consequences including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress (PTSD).
Destructive childhood experience, social media time (greater than 2 hours/day), sleep disturbance and increased temperature are thought to be causative. Heat, weather events and human conflict increase the risk of violence, anxiety, depression and PTSD (2). Anxious parenting, excess sensitivity, reduced activity, limited outdoor time and isolation are correlated (3).
2. Recognise distress as a normal part of dealing with adversity
Every organism needs to know what is good and what is dangerous. This is how life has been so successful. In overwhelming threat, it is appropriate to withdraw, collapse or burst into tears. This is called the Freeze reaction and is associated with sadness. In conflict, it can be appropriate to shout, bite or hit. This is called the Fight reaction and is driven by anger. When it is possible to run away or avoid a conflict we trigger the Flight reaction driven by fear. These reactions can save our lives in acute and serious events. If repeated, such as war, regular weather events or natural disasters we can be left with PTSD.
Our fast-paced, digital modern life assails us with small, continuous threats and has reduced the time we have to recover, sleep and reconnect with loved ones. Some experience sadness as they feel worn down, dominated, isolated or abused. This can become depression. Some experience fear under continued threat or risk. This can become anxiety. Other get angry as they flail against difficulty. This can become hostility and rage.
While freeze, fight and flight force a reaction, the feelings of sadness, fear and anger can linger. Sadness is telling us to seek safety and reconnect with love and joy. Fear is telling us to move toward safety and calm. Anger is telling us to disable the threat.
These are normal emotions designed to protect and support you (4). We can learn to notice them and respond skilfully to the message. We can get stuck in in these destructive emotions. Unpleasant and repeating physical, emotional and thinking experiences dominate our being. When they become inappropriate to the context and inhibit normal function, we have to consider clinical depression, anxiety disorders or hostility disorders.
3. Know that we can recover and treatment is effective
Recovery, over time, is the normal outcome. Even in the case of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder sensible life management and treatment is effective. In the case of depression, anxiety and hostility, firm and caring support, lifestyle improvement, counselling, meditation, positivity and thinking skills can be curative. Medication should not be the default treatment (5).
4. Recognise, understand and counter anxiety
Address through the three lenses of body, emotion and mind. The body wants to run; heart rate increases, blood flows to legs (from skin and gut), breath rate increases, adrenaline in the body, nor-adrenaline in the brain and eventually cortisol increases. We feel this through the emotion of fear (nervous, anxious, terrified or horror). The mind is caught in loops of worry about future consequences.
Understanding this allows us to move about, relax our muscles, slow our breathing and seek safe, reassuring spaces – gentle music, nature, touch and sleep help. We can watch carefully for the first signs of fear and immediately remember calm, safe and peaceful images. This counters the fear with calm. Finally, we can watch for worries, write them down and challenge them. As we get better we can redirect our attention to the present moment.
5. Recognise, understand and counter depression
In depression the body wants to withdraw, collapse and be supported; posture slumps, head and eyes drop downward, fatigue increases, tears and early waking may occur. Cortisol increases. We feel disappointed, sad, isolated and hopeless. Our thoughts are trapped in personalising blame (“everything bad always happens to me”). We ruminate on negative thinking about the past. Optimism fades.
Understanding this allows us to sit up, look up and seek comfort from others. Exercise, fresh air, nature and a good sleep can help. We can acknowledge our sadness and push firmly toward happy thoughts, appreciate small things like sunshine and beauty, and seek joy and a smile. We counter sadness with appreciation, gratitude and joy. Counter the negative rumination by remembering that you are not alone, there are things to appreciate, and nurture hope and resolve that you will feel better soon. Being present to the moment helps.
6. Learn the practical steps of rapid bounce
Mastering bounce is your key to resilience – both sustaining your optimal life and growing from adversity (post-traumatic growth). Use the diagram below to help you recognise how resilience fails. Learn how you experience each level. Then practice specific practical actions that you can do to reverse the downward spiral.
7. Take care of your body
Your body and your physical wellbeing is ‘ground zero’. Thoughts and emotions have been designed to help the body deal with adversity and seek a positive state of living. Taking good care of your body is the core of a good life, prevention, resilience and recovery. It is proven to treat mental illness. Secure enough sleep at the right time. Be physically active every day. Eat well – less sugar, more vegetables and more Mediterranean. Get out in nature and sunshine most days. Stretch every morning. Slow your breathing and relax for at least eight minutes per day.
8. Cultivate positive emotion
Positive emotions activate vagal tone, improve health, increase happiness and improve our thinking. Stimulating happiness (even a chopstick between your teeth) counters depression. Calm relaxation counters anxiety. Kindness and compassion counters hostility. Gratitude, appreciation, contentment, passion, joy, serenity and enthusiasm are others. Every time you find a way to take time for a positive feeling you are more mentally fit.
9. Notice and direct your thoughts
Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) has proven to be as effective as medication in depression. It can be applied to all forms of adversity. In essence, it is simple:
Pay attention to the content of your thoughts – write them down
Challenge your thinking – test whether the thoughts are accurate
Reframe the thoughts in more constructive terms
For example, in depression you may notice the thought “everything bad always happens to me”. Counter with: “Well, not everything. Yesterday was a good day. Others have challenges too.”
In fear, you may notice “how will I ever meet the deadline”. Counter with: “If I don’t, we will get by. If I turn my focus to what I need to do right now, we might get there. No point in worrying.”
10. Be kind and considerate to others
Seek joy and fulfilment by doing good things for others. Altruism (thoughtful, genuine kindness to others) helps you as much or more than those you help.
Start by being kind to yourself. Many of us are self-critical and hard on ourselves. Be gentle on yourself. Remember your goodness. Take time to enjoy and celebrate. To get started, sit quietly breathing slowly. As you inhale bring kindness inward. As you exhale let your goodness radiate out.
Use your altruism to be involved in a charity, helping someone in need, or choosing a job that does good things for others. Even sitting quietly and radiating out peace, love and joy to everyone you can think of has a powerful positive on every aspect of wellbeing – even the structure and function of your brain.
Robert Sapolsky, Behave, 2017.
David Wallace-Wells, The Uninhabitable Earth, 2019
i-Gen, Jean Twenge, 2017
Antonio Damasio, The Strange Order of Things, 2018
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 youembrace the change rather thanbrace for it:
Identify the source of your resistance. Understanding the underlyingreasons for your resistancerequires a high level ofself-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 ultimatelychange 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, butstudies showthat 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 yourselfWhere 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