Butterflies and Transformation

In the last episode of my 21 day challenge recording for my YouTube channel Performance Cafe I looked back on the challenge of starting Performance Cafe.  This comes very timeously as South Africa is coming out of lockdown and has been upgraded to level 2.

As a sense of coming back to life, so to speak, starts infusing the country now is an opportune moment to reflect on the learnings and opportunities that this presents. I realized that despite the challenges, it was a very rewarding experience which taught me much and also created new opportunities. As the saying goes, there is no growth in your comfort zone.

Much like the butterfly, who needs to force his way out of the pupae, we have had to force our way through the COVID epidemic, lockdown and all the related trials we have faced, not only as a country but globally. Just like that butterfly, I would like to challenge everyone to take the ugly and the awful and see how we turn it into something beautiful and majestic.

It is very easy to get sucked into the negativity of the lockdown and become incapacitated by the negativity that is all around. And in some ways maybe we even feel guilty for being able to see the positives in this situation, but it is important to celebrate the wins and see the positives as we need to look at rebuilding what was torn down. The only way to do this is by seeing the opportunities.

I love the quote attributed to Nelson Mandela, which says: “There is no passion to be found in playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” I love quoting the airline safety briefing to clients who lack self-care, especially the piece that says that should cabin pressure drop one should first put on one’s own mask before assisting others. In this case the example takes on new meaning. If we can find opportunities, if we can learn and grow through this pain, then we can find ways to help others and hopefully start mitigating some of the losses others incurred during the lockdown. By playing small, not only do you therefore hurt yourself and risk your own future, but you also risk the future of others.

As I have often mentioned before, this has been an enormously trying time for many people and I do not want to disrespect that. However, I do believe at the same time we have a choice, we can sit in discomfort, while staying in our comfort zone, or we can push though the discomfort of change and find something better. Not just for us, but for many people around us.

COVID BLUES – Values in Action

As we near the end of the lockdown in South Africa I wanted to leave you with a final article on dealing with the pressures of lockdown. Recovery will no doubt take a while for most and I wanted to share with you a piece on values as, sometimes counterintuitively, they can be a source of procrastination. We associate values with our true north, our guiding principles. They are something to be proud of and are a large part of who we are. And that is exactly the point. If we set targets or goals that do not align with our values then we are unlikely to work towards them.

A fairly frequent example is someone who goes through a health scare and despite the doctor’s advice does not make the necessary lifestyle changes. This does not seem rational looking from the outside in, however, it is important to understand that there is a difference between intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. Extrinsic rewards come from the outside and while they can work they are short-lived. Intrinsic rewards come from our internal processes, such as values, and last longer. To follow the example above, if the individual is overeating it would be obvious that the individual needs to control their weight and should diet and exercise. However, if that person was raised in poverty where they did not know where the next meal would come from, they may place a high value on having food around, or eating whenever they have access to food. That is a value-driven behaviour and the value, and the cause of it, needs to be addressed to adjust to a new value.

While most people feel they “have values” not very many people have a good idea of what they are, and what their effect is in their lives and therefore cannot plan with them in mind. The easiest way to start identifying your values is to check your “should haves”, “would haves” and “could haves”. These words indicate a lack of action even though the apparent rational course of action would have been to do as you intended. The reason is that what you intended to do did not align with your values and it is important to investigate these. For example if you know there is a room in your house that needs to be cleared out and cleaned out but you never get around to it. You can ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What about dealing with this challenging activity do you find demotivating?
    What is it about the activity that presents so much pressure?
    How will this activity make you feel while you are doing it?

  2. What pleasant activity would you rather be doing?
    Is this activity something that you would repeatedly be doing instead?
    Do you have something new you would rather be focussing on?
    How does this activity feed you?

Reflecting on these questions will show you what you consider to be important in life. The ideal solution is to find a way that you can reframe your values to include the activity. So in the example of the room, the work may be boring and overwhelming and therefore not align with your need for diverse and interesting activities. However, if you have a value on family and you know the family needs the extra space you may be able to find the intrinsic motivation to clear the room.

While aligning goals to our values sets us up for success, we may not always be able to do so. In those cases, here are some alternatives to try:

  1. Is there a way that you can use other mechanisms to get the challenging activity done?
  2. Can the assistance of a friend make the challenging task easier?
  3. Can you outsource the task to someone else (remember self-care)?
  4. Is there a way that you can break up the activity over a couple of sessions so that you conquer it bit-by-bit?
  5. Is there any subpart of the activity that you will find rewarding and can use as motivation to keep going?

Understanding our values and the way they affect our thoughts, decisions and actions are very important in understanding our levels of motivation. I hope these pointers help get you closer to achieving your goals to recover from the impact of the lockdown.

Covid blues – Ooops, you procrastinated!

I am hoping that about a week ago I had you all motivated and ready to roll on conquering your fears and the dangers you had identified from my earlier posts. There is nothing like that feeling is there? When you are feeling motivated to do something. That you are going to take control of a situation. That the sheer strength of your will is going to carry you to success. And then it doesn’t, and procrastination sets in…..

Along with procrastination we also fall into a judgement-infused guilt fugue which further breaks down our self-esteem, motivation and general ability to even try and move forward. Now I have already said my bit around these emotions in my blog “Managing the COVID Blues – Looking at Emotions” so I will say no more. But I am sending you a virtual (and suitably social distanced) hug and again reminding you as I did in the first blog in this series, “Covid-19 – Why we Feel so Bad” that we are under extraordinary pressure right now in a world that is fairly unsure of itself. So it is time to exercise some self-care again.

This week I want to look at one way that you can increase your self-care by being aware of your gifts and what you bring to the world.

What makes difficult tasks even more challenging is when we don’t have the skills to complete them. Logical, right? Then why is it that when things get difficult we try and take on more, and do more without evaluating whether we are the best person for the job? Why would someone want to build a wood cabinet, having no tools or skills to do so, when they can have one built for them? Now, if the person had an interest in learning, that would be a different kettle of fish, but they are unlikely to take on such a huge task under pressure.

This is where gifts come into the way we plan to address issues or achieve goals in our lives. So often during coaching, where clients are assisted in setting and achieving goals, there is the need to stop and ask ourselves whether the action steps are practical and viable in this person’s life? For example when someone who has a spontaneous nature and enjoys arts, creativity and constant interactions with others want to become an accountant in a small business then we have to ask whether this is feasible? I am not saying it is not possible but it simply does not seem to align with the person’s strengths, and therefore is not setting them up for success.

As a bit of background, research has shown that when we work within our strengths, we enjoy the tasks more, find it easier to learn about what needs doing, can be energized by the tasks – instead of drained, remain happier and more productive because of it. You can see therefore why we would be concerned about the example above.

This is why it is important to ask, as we set out dealing with COVID-stressors, what strengths we have that can be used to achieve our goals. According to the CliftonStrengths profiling tool, from Gallup, there are four major domains that strengths fall into and while it is possible to have a strong preference for one of the domains, it is also possible to tend to more than one of them. These domains are:

  • Executing Domain – “How do you make things happen?”
    These strengths may help you turn ideas into reality.
  • Influencing Domain – “How do you influence others?” 
    These strengths may help you take charge, speak up and make sure others are heard.
  • Relationship Building Domain – “How do you build and nurture strong relationships?”  
    These strengths may help you hold a team together.
  • Strategic Thinking Domain –  “How do you absorb, think about and analyze information and situations?” 
    These strengths may help you make better decisions and create better outcomes.

When planning your goals you can do the following to find ways in which your strengths can be used to make achieving your goals easier. Reflect on the following:

  1. Which of these four domains do you enjoy being in the most. Think of previous successes and see if there are any clues in there. Be honest, it does not help choosing a domain in which you have no strengths, you are setting yourself up for failure.
  2. Take one or two of your biggest goals, as defined previously if you were following this blog series, and see which goals, and subsequent actions, align to these strengths.
  3. For the same goals see where you have actions that do not align to your strengths. Notice how those are the areas you managed to procrastinate on?
  4. In order to set yourself up for success, see whether you can apply some of your strengths, in different ways to make the actions you didn’t take align more with your strengths.
  5. “Call a friend” as they say in the game shows. You may have a domain that you do not have any strengths in and that is when you find support and ask for assistance from someone who does enjoy those tasks. Remember, in my previous post I pointed out that asking for help is one of the least used tactics at this time. Much to everybody’s detriment.

As a Strengths coach I realize that the list below is an extremely simplified approach to strengths work but at the same time, I do hope that it takes you one step in the right direction so that you can use the best of you to succeed in these challenging times.

Managing the COVID Blues – Don’t think outside the box

I am hoping that the blogs I have posted over the past few weeks have helped you gain a better understanding of the impact of the COVID lockdown on you, your emotions and the way you may be viewing the challenges you are facing. The old maxim states that if you fail to plan you plan to fail and so I think it is time to use all the reflection from the past few weeks and turn them into an action plan.

In order to do this, it is time to start solving problems. However, before we get there I want to talk about innovation and creativity. As is the case with the concept of leadership people often identify as lacking in innovation and lacking on creativity. I believe that it is part of our schooling system which not only assigned labels as “analytical” or “creative” but also made value judgements about it, such as that analytical is the same as clever and creative is not.  We need to get into a growth mindset about these labels we have. What does creative and innovative really mean? Is a maths genius solving a difficult equation any less creative than an artist creating a masterpiece? Is a musician creating a harmony any less analytical than an engineer ensuring that enough components of specific types are built into a piece of machinery? It is time to accept that we can all be innovative and creative, just in our own way, with our own talents.

Albert Einstein is credited with saying that our problems cannot be solved with the thinking that created them. So in order to solve the problems we are having at this incredibly difficult time, we need to think differently. The term thinking outside the box is not relevant anymore, we need to throw away the box and think as if it never existed. Now more than ever it is important to be innovative and not fear trying new things. It is also a good idea to bounce ideas off of others, and even have them brainstorm with you to harness their unique creativity and ability to innovate.

Understanding this it is time to put together an action plan for a way forward that works for you. Before we get there though I want to provide you with the tool, the table below, for discerning which one of your potential solutions will be the most appropriate to go forward on. For each problem (called the problem statement below) use your creativity to find three solutions (preferably very divergent from each other) to solve the problem. Then complete the columns below. By doing this for each problem you should be able to find the best approach available to you at this point.

Problem statement:  
Potential Solution OptionsWhat do I need to get this done?Who do I need to get this done?By when do I need to get this done?How long will it take to get this done?What are the long term implications to this option?
Solution A       
Solution B       
Solution C       

When looking specifically at the “Who do I need to get this done?” column there are a few important aspects to take into consideration.

·       It is very seductive, especially when facing challenges, to try and do everything by oneself. It is important to note though that no one has the time, talents or energy to do everything themselves. This is even more so in this time where we are facing so many challenges we and motivation is at an all-time low.

·       For some individuals interaction with others is a major motivator and therefore having someone helping actually energizes and motivates them. Again, as we face some stringent lockdown measures that are causing isolation this may be an even bigger factor than would normally be the case.

·       During a crisis, especially when resources are limited, it is often the case that saving money becomes a key factor, however, we do not calculate what it costs to do things ourselves. As an example, amongst my coaching clients, the tendency has been for highly experienced and technically specialised individuals to take on their own admin work in order to save money. The irony is that it takes them longer to do than it would an experienced PA and removes some of their focus off of their core business. If I ask them to calculate the costs it is amazing to see how much of their billable time gets sucked into admin. While I use the example of admin, mentors, coaches, outsourced financial management, outsourced HR and the likes are all places where experts can help us so we can focus on getting our own work done.

·       Also, remember what I said about having someone to bounce ideas off of, or who can brainstorm with you?

My hope is that in applying this thinking to each of the major dangers facing you, which are real and imminent, that you will be able to find a way forward that will help you keep focussed through the overwhelm. Good luck! I hope that by my next blog you will be progressing in your solutions.

COVID-19 – Why we Feel so Bad

Over the past couple of weeks I have experienced the same scenario over and over again with a variety of people. People reach out feeling overwhelmed, concerned, afraid, confused and helpless. The person just isn’t sure why they feel that way. The cause is society’s need to compel everyone to stay positive even in these times.

Even more serious are those individuals who, during these discussions report feeling guilty because they cannot cope with the effects of lockdown on their personal and work lives. Again there is so little self-care in this, it is sad that we live in a world where we are David facing Goliath and it is expected that we will take this in our stride without a hitch.

Then there is the prevalence of Covid boredom. People are tired of masks and sanitizers and a lack of good company and good coffee. They are not really bored, in fact they may be feeling the pressure more than ever, but as with positivity and guilt this is a form of denial and denial is often one of the first phases of grieving. And yes, we are grieving, but we either don’t know it, or we don’t want to show it.

The link between grief and the COVID crisis

Before I get into theory let’s take a look at grief. It is a construct that we so often fob off because what we are going through is “not that bad” especially when “no one has died”. Grief however is prevalent wherever there is a sense of loss. So being retrenched, losing a home, getting divorced (or ending a long standing relationship), big changes in physical or mental abilities, and the like all can bring on grief. Let’s take a look at what exactly what we are grieving right now.

As always I want to dust off Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. For those of you who don’t know Maslow’s theory, here is the CliffsNotes version. Maslow identified five stages of human motivation, and they need to filled in a linear progression, from the bottom of the diagram to the top, to best meet human needs.

The first two levels, at the bottom, are inward looking and refer to physiological needs and safety needs. At level 3 and 4 Maslow holds that humans have a need to belong and to be appreciated for their contribution. At level 5 humans start to self-actualize and their contributions become more significant as they focus on fulfilling their potential.

If we take a look at the impact of the Covid-19 and the lockdown on the average family we see the following:

  • Physiological needs
    People losing their jobs, their, homes and their ability to sustain the most basic of needs.
  • Safety needs
    Security is being lost as people are losing jobs, being forced to take unpaid leave, having salaries reduced. Along with this is the constant fear of themselves or a loved one getting ill and having the resources to care for them, get them hospitalised when healthcare resources are scarce.
  • Love and Belonging
    The most benign threat here is our inability to spend time with loved ones, which is in itself causing mental health issues. At worst the threat ranges from a loved one having to die in isolation to not being able to honour cultural and religious practices for fear of infection. Humans are social beings and without serotonin and oxytocin we are at risk of developing mental health concerns due to a lack of input from others.
  • Esteem
    There is no part of this facet of motivation that is not challenged. For those that are infected are stigmatised and ostracized from their communities.  For their families there is the guilt of not “doing enough”, even when freedom was sacrificed for the hope of avoiding infection. 
  • Self-actualization
    With so much uncertainty it is challenging to focus on self-improvement and further eats into self-confidence.

In short, what most of humanity is experiencing is an attack on every level of human need and in many cases multiple people in the same group, household or family are under attack at a variety of levels at the same time. This is why there is so much tension within relationships right now, and due to social distancing and isolation we have no escape physically from these tensions.

So has this article contributed to the fear-mongering and the sense of helplessness? I certainly hope not. I hope that I have shown you why you feel the way you do right now. That the way you feel is not due to your own shortcomings, and that there is a very real external threat that is putting unreasonable pressure on you. I hope this awareness helps you feel less helpless, guilty and inadequate. In my next post I will look at ways to deal with the emotions in a constructive way and use them to build solutions, albeit it short term