Well, fun times! It really is like something out of a movie and occasionally it feels like Armageddon may be just around the corner. Considering that my core business (not to mention what feeds my soul) is getting teams of people in a room together so that they can better “see” and communicate with each other, this chapter certainly is giving me pause for thought! I must admit to having spent the first number of days last week in a stunned-brain space as this new-normal started to hit our part of the world and life changed uncontrollably and irrevocably by the hour. It took me a few days to come out of that stunned state and start asking “what now?”, “what next?” and “what value can I give if we’re all in different rooms?”. Today marks the first day of “Lockdown” where I am, as we follow the rest of the world into one of the biggest social experiments ever held.
Having been in self-isolation with my son for just over a week now anyway because of our return from travel, I must confess I’ve been starting to feel the stress of my envisioned collapse of what lies directly ahead of me. This year was gaining momentum. Great things were happening and were in the pipeline. Now, not only is that momentum slowing like someone slammed the brakes on, but all the plans for 2020 seem to about to drive off the edge of a cliff like multiple cars of a freight train. For a number of days last week, my brain was waking me up in the wee small hours of the morning to try and compute all this loss and uncertainty, needing my involvement in its mourning and my company in its fear. Waking hours have been more manageable, and I’ve never been more grateful to have my nearly-14-year-old son at home with me.
No doubt you’re all running some version of the above paragraph. No doubt your head space has been doing somersaults of its own in various different directions. No doubt, some thoughts about how to compute the next few months, let alone the rest of this year, have felt like trying to get an old resistant truck gearbox into first. So, let’s talk about how to move forward.
Acknowledge (and mourn)
We’re only human, and right now, our absolute worst-case scenarios are running. A question I frequently ask the teams I work with is “What’s our greatest human fear?”. We normally run through a few options before we get to the root of it. Our greatest human fear is being ejected from the group. Being ostracised. This fear is always running in the background part of our brain that deals with our instincts, and we make many (if not most) of our day-to-day decisions based on it. Our other fears, like that of dying, or even feeling stupid, are all connected to this fear of being ejected from the group. For a caveman, to be ejected from the group was to starve and die in an unprotected and unsafe environment. If you’ve ever watched The Croods, you’ll know what I’m talking about. You don’t want to be outside the cave when the sun goes down and the door rolls shut.
Many of our modern world fears are attached to this baseline fear – the fear of our own survival if we’re not part of a group. This current situation of ours requires us to disband every group we have and belong to. If we’re lucky, we have a family group which remains, who we could be holed up with for the foreseeable future. Unless we’re disciplined about our thought processes, being holed up with our family group isn’t going to work well for us if we still have the rest of the base-line fears attached to our perception of being outside the group that helps us earn money and feed ourselves and that family.
Part of gathering a headspace that’s useful enough to move forward here is going to be acknowledging that the plans we had for the success of 2020 are currently on pause at best, and quite possibly no longer relevant at worst. There are going to be some very human emotions attached to that acknowledgement. Stress. Frustration. Sadness. It may even feel a little bit like grief.
Accept your humanness
One of the cool things about this scenario we’re in and all the above that we’re feeling, is that it’s very, very human; and we’re surrounded by other humans feeling some version of the exact same thing. The theory that stress is caused by the presence of one or more of the following factors (Uncertainty, Change, Attention, Struggle) is fully at work here. We have uncertainty in bucketloads. There is no predicting what the changes will look like on a daily basis, let alone in the months to come. Attention is squarely on us as individuals – in fact seldom has our attention been so much on ourselves as it is going to be during weeks of lockdown. And struggle? Well, that’s an unquantifiable factor our brains are running all sorts of scenarios on right now.
As I say, though, the very cool thing is that we’re all in this together. Literally every person you know or see is running some version of this in their heads right now. Which means that, even if we are social distancing, on lockdown, in isolation or even quarantine….we’re together in a scenario where we don’t have to pretend we don’t feel it, and we don’t have to explain it to anyone – they know.
Try to stay sane (ignore the various formulas that take up RAM)
The next thing to do after acknowledging that we’re in a situation where we have little to no control of the things we’re used to having full control over, is to start to guard our mental state. Your base-line caveman brain is going to do all the worrying it can do about your likelihood of survival without you feeding it various different computations of disaster. When we focus on the things outside of ourselves, the things we can’t control, we feel…..well…..OUT OF CONTROL! Funny that! Whether you’ve tuned in to the leading news stations to see what today’s count is, or whether you’re trawling social media for updated thoughts on the progression of the forced-vaccination conspiracies – there is only one way this information is going to make you feel, and it ain’t more empowered!!
Be judicial about what you choose to fill your headspace with, or you’re likely to run out of RAM pretty quickly. If you want to feel calm and in control, then it follows that you focus on the things you can control and that make you feel calm. Focus inward. Focus on the time you’ve been gifted to be in your own space, to enjoy your family, and if and when you need to think deeply, to work on yourself. It’s going to require some letting go to get there…but now’s the time.
Draw a new plan
The next thing you’re going to need is a new plan, and I’ve certainly found some calm and empowerment in this step. In fact, you’re going to need two new plans – a short term one, and a longer term one. You’re going to need a plan as to how you’ll spend your time over the next few weeks. A schedule. A routine. My son and I drew ours up on a whiteboard yesterday – it includes some work, some exercise, some downtime and some simple facts – like being showered, dressed, fed and ready for the day by 0800. It gives us a sense of knowing what to do next. It keeps us healthy mentally and physically, and it makes us productive.
You’re also going to need a new plan moving forward. Whilst none of us has a clue when “normal” will return, and some misgiving as to exactly what “normal” will look like then, that doesn’t mean that we’ve all suddenly become ineffectual and worthless. I remain convinced that each of us is gifted with unique strengths, skills and talents, and that if the avenue you’ve been pursuing suddenly disappears, it’s an invitation towards a deeper purpose, rather than the side-lining of an entire individual.
Gratitude, Appreciation, Compassion, Empathy, Communication
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, especially if you’re a leader in your home, in your team, in your community – once your brain comes back online, and you realise that you still have purpose, is to actively revel in the flip side of the death of our comfort zones and false securities. Whilst all our normal secure go-to’s (finance, food supply, health care etc) seem currently up for grabs – we’re brought smack bang up against our privilege. If you’re reading this right now, you’re privileged to have access to information, electricity and probably a roof over your head. You probably have family, a bed, and enough food for today. Just those few things give us enough breathing space to feel the beauty of gratitude, appreciation, compassion, and empathy. Those few things make us among the most influential people in the world, because we can use our brain for something greater than where we’ll sleep tonight.
One of the greatest things you can do with all those positives, is COMMUNICATE. If you’re part of a team, and even more essentially if you’re the leader of that team – know that every team member is going through all of the above, exactly like you are. The best cure for all this base-line fear is……not to feel like you’ve been ejected from the team. However, you choose to do it, keep communicating with your team – whether that’s work, family or community. Whether it’s via email, whatsapp group, or a Zoom call. Find a way to create a virtual community so that, even in isolation, your people can remember they’re part of a team.
Watching my son participate in Kearsney’s first ever virtual class, with all his classmates and his teacher on the screen together was a wake-up moment for me last week. The realisation that what’s truly valuable still remains, and our sense of community is there to be nurtured. Around the world, people are finding ways to echo just exactly that. Singing to each other from their balconies. Clapping healthcare workers home. Zoom calling for all sorts of things.
If you’d like something on topic, yet more warming and inspiring to watch…..watch this video of a song entitled Everything Will Be Alright.
You may get a few more comms from me than my weekly norm in the near future as I figure my own way forward on how to do “Teams” when we’re not in a room together.
by Christen Killick
March 30th, 2020