As a planner my role involves assisting people to manage uncertainty, by understanding it better, and by inspiring and advising how to act. My recent Compassion Fatigue Educator Training from the TEND Academy (https://tendacademy.ca) has given me additional skills to add to my experiences in trauma-informed approaches to planning. This training has increased my understanding about what happens to people experiencing changes and transitions, and how to address the potential for overwhelm.
Building upon my last blogpost, here are ten tips drawn from what I have been learning through service for myself and others in navigating through change on a personal or professional level. You can download a summary of the ten tips, Tip sheet #1 and consider using it as a compass for your own navigation through change.
1. Understand how you react to change and find balance.
Are you naturally curious and are made more curious by change, or do you get caught in a thinking trap of negativity and find yourself shutting down, or veering away from self-care practices and transitioning into numbing behaviours? Finding what offers balance can involve a combination of simplifying your life, building more mental and physical health, and finding stress relief. Building self-awareness about how different sources of stress act together and affect your responses and resilience can be a complex undertaking. Fisher and Cleghorn (2013) have shown that “health and wellness cannot be compartmentalized.” Finding your balance will require both an appreciation for the stressors in your life and for your sources of support and connection that activate your resilience. As noted by Mathieu (2015), self-care is not enough. Sustained constructive and supportive relationships in your workplace and personal spheres will get you through, as can individualized professional support.
2. Keep it simple: eat, sleep, and manage your energy.
What activity at the start and end of your workday grounds you before you offer of yourself to others? My grounding practice starts with keeping things simple. With the moral distress, work-related stress, and personal challenges, reinforced by the global COVID-19 pandemic, the term “sleep hygiene” is one that I have become more familiar with, as well as answering the frequently asked question from my elders, “have you eaten?” Insomnia and delayed meals have become common for many people who experienced better sleep and healthy meals more regularly before the disruptions to routine brought on by the stress of the pandemic. The forces of capitalism that feed into the culture of overwork is the bigger issue that undergirds different forms of stress and trauma that deplete energy, but I will digress. Warner (2019) reminds us that food and sleep are the two pillars of health that supply energy to the third pillar of health, energy management. I start by examining what I call the “bookends” to my day: how I start it and how I finish it – both need to centre me before I start to help others in my day. Food is linked to this. What I eat for breakfast and what I have at dinner – I start there. I also consider how I start my work week and how I end it – in this case, I make sure I have a strong point of connection with others to end my Mondays and to end my Fridays. And while the content of my weekends is a bit more fluid, the bookends, having a good breakfast and a plan for dinner, and the hours of sleep that I get need to remain the same because I don’t want to feel ‘jet-lagged’ before starting my week again. Sleep – good sleep – restores energy. What is good sleep? I have learned that it differs from one person to the next. I need about 7 hours in the summertime and about 9 hours in the winter season (yes, if you believe in reincarnation, I might have been a bear in my former life).
3. Activate self-awareness rather than self-judgment.
How are you, really? Self awareness is what activates the practices that facilitate recalibration and help you to make adjustments that help with energy management. By contrast, self-judgment activates self-pity and this is when emotional support and reinforcements may be needed. When my self care routine ‘falls off the rails’ and I move into behaviours that are not very good for me and for my purposes of energy management, I have learned to check in with myself. (Notice that I did not say, “if I fall off the rails”, because any change takes effort and time to adjust, so it is inevitable that for most, moving into less optimal behaviours will happen, and so, learning how to recalibrate and get back on track are what matters). Checking in without self-judgment involves a process borrowed from Laura van Dernoot Lipsky who recommends using the “check me out” voice (e.g., “check me out: I just ate a big bag of chips”) to activate self-awareness of our behaviours rather than self-judgement when we deviate from our true intentions for self-care. The “check me out” voice, can also be used when you achieve a goal or shift in behaviour that signifies getting back on track (e.g., “Check me out: I got in my one-hour walk/exercise over lunch time!”).
4. Do a self-inventory to reflect on who you are, what you want, and where you are needed.
What is your why? Doing a self-inventory, is another way to foster self-knowledge, to the plant seeds of self-trust, and to figure out what you need to do next amidst something like an impending job change or effort toward career advancement. A self-inventory covers the pragmatic aspects of what makes you thrive in work and living environments, and what feeds your personal interests, hobbies, and ways of connecting with others. In other words, a self-inventory is more than just a skills inventory. Still a favourite, after all these years, is the book by Richard Nelson Bolles What Color is Your Parachute? (first published in 1970, with new editions every year; I recommend using the versions from 2018 onward). Referred as ‘the parachute book’ by my protégés, this book engages the reader in a rational approach to goal setting, as well as a systematic approach to engaging in self-reflection about their goals and career aspirations. Most folks are intimidated by self-reflection, and do not know how to do get started; this book can help with that. The self-inventory takes time and personal commitment to complete and must be done on one’s own. However, the findings can be assessed with professional or peer guidance to assist you in reaching the point of acceptance of your circumstances and to offer a hopeful, pragmatic, and realistic path forward.
5. What kind of impact do you want to have in your life, your profession, and/or the world?
How do you measure your impact on the world around you, starting with your personal sphere and then, professionally? When I left my full-time job as a tenured professor and began to start the moulting process of change and transition into my consultancy, as a goal-oriented and value-driven person, I needed to develop a new metric by which to measure my achievements. More accurately, I needed a way to know that I was having an impact in my new line of work, because having an impact is important to me. In the academic world of a tenure-track professor, a key measurement of success is achieving tenure and being promoted from Assistant to Associate Professor to the rank of full Professor. However, for me, and likely for anyone really, achieving higher ranks is not the full measure of one’s impact or one’s worth. We find different ways to measure our success in our spheres of influence and in our lives in general. Making a career change invited me to revisit how my values aligned with my work, my projects, and my community relationships, and to find new ways to measure my impact professionally.
6. Develop a personal accountability mechanism.
Who or what do you answer to? When you decide to change your behaviours and follow through, you are being accountable to yourself. But accountability is hard to do on your own let alone foster it in your workplace. Developing a personal accountability system is best when you involve others – even just one person – to help you to initiate action, to take ownership of it, and to follow through. One-to-one supportive relationships can be peer-based or take the form of professional mentoring, coaching, advisory help, familial support and/or therapeutic relationship. I encourage developing accountability mechanisms for workplaces too, when facilitating healthier relationships and fostering shifts in culture and practice that make it easier to deal with stressful times. Learning how to develop accountability mechanisms for yourself and your workplace can initiate ways to structure accountability mechanisms at a larger scale involving systems change too.
7. Develop a community of practice.
Who are your people? Community of Practice (CoP) is a model for relationship-building, learning, and support rolled into one. Schweitzer, Howard, and Doran (2008) have shown how a CoP is a way for planners to build new knowledge through different networks to inform their practice. I have seen CoPs work among graduate students studying similar areas of research; sometimes they turn into collaborative spaces or labs, and research groups. I have seen CoPs work among practitioners who are also trying to shift the culture of their workplaces by working through issues first among colleagues and peers and then through governance practice and policy. I have been in CoPs that have developed organically; however, I encourage CoPs to develop with intention and with an understanding that pooling resources and information ensure that we remain accountable to each other in the actions we undertake.
8. Incorporate strategic foresight to personal and professional spheres.
What is your plan? You may have already heard of ‘scenario planning’ in the professional and organization sphere; it is a form of strategic foresight. As noted by Scoblic (2020), the aim of strategic foresight “is not to predict the future but to help organizations envision multiple futures in ways that enable them to sense and adapt to change.” The author of Farsighted (2018), Steven Johnson offers a variety of examples over history, of how people have developed plans to consider how to map, predict, and make decisions in the short-term while keeping an eye on the long-term, even though uncertainty is the only factor that one can count on being a constant. Johnson shows how strategic foresight can be applied to the professional and personal spheres of decision making too.
When it comes to the stress that is ignited by the volatility of what we are experiencing in the current global pandemic, developing skills in strategic foresight can build preparedness for being present in the here-and-now and having a practice that enables you to act in the future. Having engaged in strategic foresight means that we can also see the warning signs of stress before we are in too deep. Keeping it simple: when it comes to your own stress levels, think in terms of green, yellow, and red zones of coping with stress. The green zone is when you feel like to you have control, and the yellow is when you feel yourself losing connection with your mechanisms for self-care and connection, like when your schedule and workload is getting crowded and you feel the need to recalibrate or to seek help to get back on track. Finally, the red zone is when you find yourself in the space of panic and distress. Knowing when to raise an ‘amber alert’ when you are falling out of the ‘green zone’ is vital, as is listening to your loved ones and your accountability buddies or health professional, when they note warning signs, and see them before you do. The TEND Academy https://tendacademy.ca/resources offers a variety of resources to address work-related stress, burnout, and trauma. You don’t have to be the Coast Guard or be preparing for the next climate disaster to develop tangible steps that involve strategic foresight.
9. Beware of cynicism and “creative U-turns”.
How might you be challenged? From time-to-time cynicism pays a visit and can stymie the journey through change and self-transformation. Cynicism often arrives at my doorstep when my energy stores are low, and I am entering into the ‘yellow zone’ veering closer and closer to the cusp of burnout. Another time it might be conjured is as I get closer to a moment of a creative breakthrough or approaching a ‘first’ after a long hiatus (e.g., first return to the classroom after a long break; first performance with a new audience; first publication to a new readership; first public consultation session). Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way refers to artistic “creative U-turns” as “a sudden wave of indifference,” when we are on the path to change “and the road is scary. We begin to be distracted by the roadside attractions or detoured by the bumps.” A creative U-turn on a journey through change can be when a minor setback leads a person to give up on the journey altogether. It might look like an act of self-sabotage when we create something new and face poor reviews, and rather than reworking the material or creating new work, we give up altogether. Cynicism can be a frequent visitor to the overworked, and for people who were raised or professionally trained, to see problems and deficits before they learned to see possibilities and assets, if at all. Creative U-turns can be tempered by self-trust, and self-compassion. Finding your community of practice, your accountability mechanism, and your mindfulness practices can help when you fall into the pool of cynicism or when you have taken a creative U-turn and need to find your way back.
10. Mindfulness matters, so schedule for it.
How are you connecting to yourself? The benefits of mindfulness practices have been talked about and written about in numerous different sources. Mindfulness practice is as important to me as getting some form of regular exercise. I need it and realize it more when I am doing it, rather than before I arrive at my destination, which in the case of yoga, is the mat on my living room floor. My mindfulness practice involves yoga and meditation. If I don’t schedule my mindfulness activities, they won’t happen. It took me no less than 6 years to develop a consistent daily yoga practice after falling out of the daily practice for more than a decade. This is what mindfulness practice looks like for me: yoga (in the morning 40 to 75 minutes per day or in the evening when my morning is too rushed); meditation (10 minutes everyday and once a week for one hour in a group); and walks, lots of walks (sometimes brisk, sometimes slow, as often as possible among trees, and now, twice a week, with social distance walking buddies). Silence is also a crucial component to much of my mindfulness practice. The small book by Biography of Silence by Pablo D’Ors offers short insights into finding a moment in the day to “stop and catch our breath”. I have brought this book with me on many business trips, back when I travelled a lot, to remind me how to reconnect with my spirit, and create the calm and silence when the hubbub of a conference was too much, and I needed to ground myself and meditate. Of course, there are apps available to facilitate the mindfulness practices into a habit too!
Please do not be too quick to judge whether a change you experience is good or bad (go back to tip #3). Remember that even a change for the good is still change. Besides, some things that are good for us may not feel all that great at first because it takes time to adjust and to determine our next steps.
If any of these tips, some more complex than others, resonate for you, and you want to learn more, please drop me a message in the contact form of the Viswali Consulting website and I will endeavour to expand on them in future blogposts.
As we near the start of a new year, I am asking myself what I can let go of, to make the space in my heart and in my life for whatever opportunities emerge. I want to be open, present, safe, and ready to receive in 2021, and I wish the same for you.
Illustration by Leela Viswanathan from “Birds, Blooms, and Bacteria” https://www.sketchbookproject.com/library/S5864519
Bolles, Richard Nelson. (2020). What Color is Your Parachute: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers. Ten Speed Press.
Cameron, Julia. (1992). The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. Penguin-Putnam.
d’Ors, Pablo. (2012). Biography of Silence. Parallax Press.
Fisher, Patricia, and Cleghorn, Megan. (2013). Addressing Workplace Stress: A Comprehensive Wellness Imperative for Individuals and Their Organizations. Huffpost, The Blog, 07/02/2013 06:45 pm ET | Updated Sep 01, 2013.
Johnson, Steven. (2018). Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions that Matter Most. Riverhead Books.
Mathieu, Françoise. (2014). The Compassion Fatigue Workbook: Creative Tools for Transforming Compassion Fatigue and Vicarious Traumatization. Routledge.
Mathieu, Françoise. (2015). Beyond Kale and Pedicures: Can we beat burnout and compassion fatigue?
Schweitzer, Lisa; Howard, Eric J.; and Doran, Ian. (2008) Planners Learning and Creating Power: A Community of Practice Approach. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 28: 50-60. DOI: 10.1177/0739456X08319203
Scoblic, J. Peter. (2020). How to make robust strategy in times of deep uncertainty. Harvard Business Review. Jul/Aug2020, Vol. 98 Issue 4, p38-47. https://hbr.org/2020/07/emerging-from-the-crisis
Vandernoot Lipsky, Laura with Connie Burk. (2009). Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self while Caring for Others. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
Warner, Mona. (2019). Ayurveda’s Three Pillars of Health: A Map to Health Resilience and Well-Being. www.janatiyoga.com