How to improve virtual connection

How to improve virtual connection

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.

Seek and Savour Joy

Seek and Savour Joy

Make time to discover and savour joy. Every day. Especially now.

We wallow in testing times. It is not easy to be locked down at home feasting on fear and gloom. As the world and all of us find ourselves disrupted, make time for joy.

This morning, on the Waitemata Harbour, I rediscover the power of joy.

I feel so much better. Lighter. Hopeful. Focused. Energised. Calm

Acknowledging Coast Guard advice, I decide to head out on my surfski. It is cold and wet with a brisk nor-wester. Ski on shoulder, I wander across Tamaki Drive without bothering to stop. No traffic. One person on the beach.

Paddling into the wind across to North Head is grim. Cold water sloshes over with each wind swell. It is slow, tough work agains the tide. Am I slowing up with the first signs of corona virus? No boats. No one on the harbour.

Pressing further north across Cheltenham towards Takapuna the sun comes out and I warm up. The wind comes up as I turn at the south end of Takapuna. Brisk tailwind and an incoming tide. My boat speed increases from 8-9 km/h to 14-16km/h. It felt a lot better. Not so much virus fear. Empty sky. Just one cargo plane through the 90 minutes out there.

Downwind paddling requires feeling and surfing the small swells pushed along by the wind. Today was an optimal mix of tide and wind. Just enough wind to raise white-caps. I started to feel the lift in the back of the boat. Digging the paddles in hard and increasing tempo, one could ride long, easy swells. Short burst of pain. Long, cruisey surf at 16km/h.

Birds diving. Surf past a little blue penguin.

I feel a smile slide across my face and jaw. Crow’s feet crinkles signal a true Duchenne smile. Mood lifts. I am having fun. The surfing is playful. My body is alive. There is absolutely no-one out on the harbour. The sky is empty. Tamaki Drive has one fire engine and one bus.

Heading across the abandoned ferry lines, the wind is energised. The surfing is delightful. Easy to catch the wave. Feel the lift. Quick strokes. Paddle into the dip. I am laughing and whooping for joy.

Bizarrely conscious of total isolation, I am giggling with pleasure. I feel so damn well and so happy. All is right with the world.

Where will you seek and savour joy today?

Ride the Black Swan

Ride the Black Swan

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

A Resilient 2020

A Resilient 2020

Originally published on www.resiliencei.com and reproduced with permission.
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Well done! We made it to 2020.

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:

  1. Be realistic
  • 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 the flow state 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 of impulse control:

Discerning Minds: take in the good

Discerning Minds: take in the good

Originally published on www.resiliencei.com and reproduced with permission.
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There are four levels of ‘positive experience’ that we can focus on:

The Reptilian and Limbic systems have a focus on survival. The Amygdala (limbic) sifts experience for negative stimuli and prepares us to deal with threats. As a result we are often locked and loaded in the reactive mode as opposed to the responsive mode.

Threat Reactivity

We have two options in a dangerous world:

    • Think there is a tiger – there is not one – get anxious
    • Think there is no tiger – there is one – get eaten

Those biased to option 1 survived as our ancestors. Bias for 2 was ‘deselected’. Hence we have a tendency towards ‘Paper Tiger Paranoia’ where we:

  1. Overestimate threat
  2. Underestimate opportunities
  3. Underestimate inner and outer resources
  4. Update our appraisal of situations with information that confirms our bias and ignore/ devalue/don’t notice information that doesn’t
  5. Avoid ‘cost’ and ‘play small’

This Negativity Bias sets the brain up to be Velcro for negative experience and Teflon for positive experience.

We focus longer on things that trigger the reactive mode – more communication between the Limbic system and Cortex burns this into long-term memory.

Positive is plain vanilla for memory – makes it to short-term memory but doesn’t as easily make it into long-term memory.

Hanson’s Responsive mode of being:

Avoid: (Calm = Reptilian)
Approach: (Contented = Limbic)
Affiliate: (Caring = prefrontal cortex)

Versus the Reactive mode of being:

Avoid: feel threatened or harmed
Approach: miss important goals
Affiliate: feel isolated , disconnected , unseen, unappreciated, unloved

Mindfulness skills allow us to focus our attention, emotion and memory on the positive. Hanson used two phases:

‘Neurons that fire together wire together’ to describe how stimulation causes the brain to develop new cells (neurogenesis) and new connections (synaptogenesis).

‘The brain takes the shape of what it rests upon’ to describe how what we attend to shapes brain structure. Good experiences, thoughts and memories enable a virtuous loop. This is similar to the positivity ratio of Barbara Fredrickson.

Turning on the ‘Cooling System’

Core modules of our Resilience Training include calming, focusing and generating constructive emotion or coherence. This enables effective thought and behaviour in complex and risky situations.

Hanson describes a heating system that activates, and a ‘cooling system’ that restores homeostasis. The heating system is associated with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPAA), which in turn is associated with sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activation – including amygdala hijacks.

This system over-rides our Pre Frontal Cortex (PFC) mindfulness, pushing our attention, emotion, thought and memory in a negative direction. We call this the Death Spiral.

The Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) has a downward influence on the structures below it. It is closely connected to the PFC part of which focuses on problem solving and decision-making. It is also the source of empathy and our connections to others. The ACC is able to turn on the cooling system and allows action aligned with our values and intentions. This system is also connected with the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).

Hanson reinforces the value of our focus on diaphragmatic breathing, Heart Rate Variability (EmWave/HeartMath), and mindfulness meditation.

Taking in the Good

Because the brain is Velcro for the negative and Teflon for the positive – the positive must be made to stick! (think about privileging the positive – introducing a personal affirmation of the positive).

We can use the mind in a conscious way to wire the positive in – to burn it into long-term memory. This implicit memory influences our behaviour without conscious awareness of these previous experiences. Hanson encourages us to engage with positive experiences actively to weave them into the brain.

Discerning Mindfulness

There are four levels of ‘positive experience’ that we can focus on:

  • Small pleasures of ordinary life; the satisfaction of attaining goals or recognising little accomplishments; feeling grateful, contented, and fulfilled.
  • Being included, valued, liked, respected, loved by others; the good feelings that come from being kind, fair, generous; feeling loving
  • Things are alright; nothing is wrong; there is no threat; feeling safe and strong; the peace and relief of forgiveness
  • Recognising your positive character traits; spiritual or existential realisations

Steps for allowing the Positive to ‘burn in’

  1. Turn positive facts into experiences
  2. Savour the positive experience, sustain it for 20 seconds, feel it in your body and emotions, and intensify it
  3. Sense and intend that the positive experience is soaking into your brain and body – registering deeply in emotional memory.

Unfortunately, our brain has an evolutionary ‘tilt towards the negative’…  View and Download PDF