During these times of intense change, why is it important to be able to “manage uncertainty”? Let’s first define “uncertainty”.
Uncertainty arises when change comes to us “out of the blue” or is imposed on us by someone or something that is outside of our control. This could be when we receive a “pink slip” and are laid off from a job with little or no previous warning. It can be when our partner says they no longer love us, have found someone new and asks for a divorce (when you have no inkling of it). The added intensity of the current pandemic is that usually there is some sort of predictable timeline on a change that comes to us “out of the blue”; whereas with this pandemic we have no idea when we will return to our “new normal” and what that will look like.
What happens when we feel uncertain?
We often experience fear and anxiety and go into fight, flight or freeze – the stress response – as we feel unsafe and our body wants to protect us. This response is meant to happen for short periods of time; however, if we live in constant uncertainty, the stress hormones keep coursing through our bodies and over time can lead to burnout and adrenal fatigue, auto-immune disorders such a fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis, and various types of cancer.
When we feel uncertain we may “jump” at the first solution that presents itself, so we feel more comfortable. This can be a business decision that isn’t well thought through, a position we aren’t suited for because we need the money, or a relationship with someone who comes into our life, so we don’t feel alone.
When we feel uncertain it is often difficult to focus; when this happens over time our productivity goes down and then it negatively affects our bottom lines.
When we are under the grip of uncertainty we often feel “on edge” and more easily “snap” at those close to us at home and at work.
So, if we don’t learn to “manage uncertainty” it has a number of negative impacts on our bodies, our minds, our relationships, our work, our businesses and our bottom lines.
What do I mean by “Managing Uncertainty”? To me it means understanding how I respond to change that “comes out of the blue” and having tools and processes to support me to move through it with courage, clarity and confidence.
If you have your own business or are a leader in an organization, it means becoming aware of how others on your team respond to change that “comes out of the blue”, and supporting them with tools and processes to help them move through and “manage intense change” and develop creative solutions to address issues and situations related to that intense change.
A helpful framework to support you and your team to “manage uncertainty” is my “Art of Change” Framework.(See https://pamela-thompson.com/strengthen-impact-world-dance-change/ for an outline of the framework.) It is underpinned by the belief that “embracing change (and uncertainty) is a creative process that opens us up to new possibilities”. Using this 5-step process, you identify an uncertain situation you want to work on and through the process gain increased understanding and awareness of that situation and how you and your team respond to it, explore and let go of old patterns and ways of functioning that are no longer working, envision a new way of working, and develop an action plan to move toward the new vision.
The “Art of Change” Framework is based on over 25 years of living and working on 5 continents (including in conflict zones) as a consultant, facilitator and project manager. It is underpinned by evidence from neuroscience, organizational development, the health promoting and healing benefits of the arts and eastern psychology.
To learn more about the workshops on “Managing Uncertainty” I offer to groups and organizations, contact me at email@example.com to set up a discovery call and explore how I may support you and your team.
For centuries, people from different cultures around the world have shared their lessons and knowledge through the oral tradition of storytelling. With the introduction of the printing press, the possibility of writing stories down and sharing them far and wide become a reality. Now with the internet and social media, we can share our stories, blogs, insights and ideas with people from around the globe from a variety of backgrounds and cultures.
So why is storytelling so important?
Stories connect us
When we read Bridget Jones’s Diary or Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella, we realize we are not alone and are not the only ones who have certain personality quirks and are dealing with life challenges.
Stories promote understanding
When we read someone’s biography such as “Becoming” by Michelle Obama, we gain insight into what it was like to grow up as a black woman in the US during her time, in a family without a lot of financial resources and also what it’s like to move into the White House and become the First Lady after living a relatively private existence. When we read “Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree” it helps us understand what it could be like to be kidnapped as a young woman and enslaved by members of the Boko Haram, a radical Muslim group in Nigeria.
Stories help us heal
Many of us have stories of our past that we have locked away and not shared with anyone. An example is stories of childhood sexual abuse which need to be acknowledged and shared in order for us to heal and move on in our lives.
Stories give us hope
When we think of Martin Luther’s historic speech “I had a dream”, that dream and story laid the foundation for a different America.
Stories inspire us
When we read about someone who has faced tremendous odds and rose above them to be an amazing leader and changemaker, we are inspired by how resilient we can be as humans. Women or men who have come from poverty and risen above it to make the world a better place serve as role models for others in similar situations. They help us believe that anything is possible.
What story are you longing to tell?
A few months ago, I was given the opportunity to share a story as part of Female Wave of Change’s storytelling project. We were invited to submit a story that we thought would be helpful for others; one of 1000 words or less.
I’m excited to share that the “Stories Matter” E-book was launched at Female Wave of Change’s (FWoC) Global Conference on September 26th. This is a collection of stories contributed by women and men from all over the world: “stories of hope, of resilience, of courage, vulnerability and wisdom.”
What are you doing to contribute toward building peace in your family, community, workplace, the world?
Today is International Day of Peace (“Peace Day“) a day that is observed around the world on September 21st. It was established by a United Nations resolution in 1981 “as a shared date for all humanity to commit to Peace above all differences and to contribute to building a Culture of Peace.”
You may be thinking “how can I contribute to building peace in the world?” How can I really make a difference?
I believe that we all have a role to play in helping build peace in the world, and that each and every one of us CAN make a difference.
Building peace starts from the inside out. When we find inner peace and model it for others, we then help build peace in our families, our communities, our workplaces … the world.
What do I mean by peace?
I’d like to share a poem that for me describes inner peace (source unknown).
It does not mean to be in a place
where there is no noise, trouble
or hard work.
It means to be in the midst of
these things and still be calm
in your heart.”
What do you do to find inner peace?
Here are a few proven strategies and powerful practices that I use to help stay calm, focused and grounded.
Starting the day off right:
Rather than leaping out of bed and “hitting the ground running” make a conscious effort to quiet your mind and scan your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. Notice any tension or discomfort; breathe into these areas and consciously release and let of the tension.
Do some conscious stretching. I incorporate some yoga stretches with crunches to awaken my body before I do anything else. Mindfully massaging different joints of your body from head to toe is also meditative.
Meditate for 10 to 20 minutes. There are a number of digital products available to help you do this. I have found Deepak and Oprah’s 21-day meditation experiences helpful as they focus on a key theme, and each day, break down the theme. In addition, beautiful nature sounds and music play in the background to assist you in relaxing and staying focused.
Ground yourself. Being centered and grounded helps you to be more responsive rather than reactive when interacting with others. “For example, with our family members, when we are centered, grounded and at peace we truly focus on each individual and connect with them at the heart level. They then feel listened to, understood, accepted, and loved. Likewise in the workplace if a colleague gets upset or angry we can show empathy and understanding rather than reacting to them with frustration or as if they are a threat.”
Here is a tool I have found extremely useful in helping me to get centered and grounded. I do this exercise at the start of every day and also before I head into an important meeting or go “on stage” for a speaking event. I go somewhere quiet (depending on the venue it may be a washroom stall), then close my eyes and take several deep breaths to get into my body. I imagine I have roots growing out of the bottom of my feet going deep down into the earth. Then I imagine drawing the earth’s energy coming up through my feet, legs and into my heart. I then imagine I have branches reaching up to the sky to access the universal or source energy (or whatever you wish to call it) and feel that energy coming down through my head and neck and into my heart. I imagine that I am grounded to the earth and to the sky. This enables me to be much more powerful in the work I do and to be less reactive and more responsive in my interactions with others at work or at home.
Throughout the Day:
Spend regular time in nature – Being in nature is therapeutic. Walking among trees (e.g. in parks and forests) releases stress in our bodies. After several decades of research, the Japanese have demonstrated that walking among trees decreases our heart rate, our blood pressure and increases the number of natural killer cells our body produces. Being in on or by water clears our energy field and helps ground us.
Be grateful for what you have. On awakening or at the end of the day write down 3 to 5 things you are grateful for. There is mounting evidence on the benefits of gratitude:
“With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives.
In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness
lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also
helps people connect to something larger than themselves
as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.”
For additional tools to support you to find inner peace and also to help build peace in your family, community, workplace … the world, check out my book “Learning to Dance with Life” that is underpinned by evidence from neuroscience, eastern psychology and the health-promoting and healing benefits of the arts.
I’d love to hear what tools you use to start your days off right, and to find peace amidst the chaos of daily life and work. I invite you to share your thoughts and experiences below.
Here’s to helping build peace in the world one person at a time!
 Thompson, Pamela, Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women, p. 144
COVID-19 has created much upheaval in our personal and professional lives. Those of us who love routine and tend to resist change, were totally knocked off balance. If you are an empath, someone who feels deeply, you may have felt almost incapacitated at times; as if you were carrying all the worries of the world on your shoulders and like you were on an emotional roller coaster, one day up and the other day way down. Others pivoted quickly, their creative juices flowed, and they were able to quickly adapt and adjust to an ever-changing new reality. Why and how is this so?
I believe it is partly due to personality, partly due to previous life experience and partly due to environment and mindset. If you believe that embracing change(and uncertainty – which is change that comes “out of the blue” that you didn’t invite into your life)is a creative process that opens you up to new possibility, the way you feel and act during times of uncertainty is quite different than if you fear and resist change and uncertainty.
If you live in a beautiful natural environment and can easily get out in nature on a regular basis (and at the same time maintain social distance), these past months have not been near as difficult for you as for those who live in densely-populated areas or concrete jungles with little or no access to nature.
A number of women leaders and colleagues I have spoken with have shared their experiences of what it has been like to live and work during these uncertain times. Many have found it challenging to deal with a number of their direct reports who are stressed and having difficulty dealing with working at home. Previous emotional tensions have been aggravated. Working at home with a spouse in close quarters, while at the same time trying to manage young children, is not easy. Many report having to work more hours than normal and having difficulty separating work from life. A number of women leaders are feeling “burnt out” and are also seeing burnout in their colleagues and employees.
So how can we prevent leadership burnout? Based on my own experiences of almost burning out several times in my career here are a few practical tips.
Set clear boundaries between home and work. If you used to leave work at 5 pm, turn off your computer at 5 pm and, if possible, go for a walk outdoors.
Establish clear expectations of your direct reports or colleagues. Let them know your hours of work and model work-life balance for them.
Take a 5-minute stretch and walk around every hour, if possible, to release the tension in your body and give your eyes a break.
When fears and worries about the future come up, take 3 deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth and notice how your body responds. When you take such breaths the hormone oxytocin is released which calms your body and your mind. Share this strategy with your colleagues and direct reports.
Spend some time getting clear on what is really important for you in life and in work and then create an action plan to move forward daily in those priority areas. Let go of people and activities that do not nourish you.
Communicate with others who are close to you. They will then understand how you are feeling and often “cut you some slack”.
Get lots of sleep. If you’re feeling really tired experiment with going to bed earlier.
Pamper yourself; have a bubble bath, massage, pedicure, make time to read a favourite author
Begin integrating mindfulness practices into your life. For additional strategies on how to prevent burnout and thrive in uncertain times, I invite you to check out my #1 best-selling book “Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women”(which is also helpful for men) and emerged from my experience of almost burning out.
Over to you, what strategies have you found helpful to prevent burnout during uncertain times? I invite your comments below.
 Mindfulness practices help you “get of your head” and “into your body”. An example is mindfulness walking meditation which can be done indoors but is more powerful when done outdoors in nature. Rather than thinking of our upcoming meeting or the recent argument we had with our partner, we focus on all of our senses. We feel the wind on our cheeks, smell the salt sea air, hear the crunch of leaves underfoot and see the beautiful vistas that surround us.
Many of the critical issues we are facing in the world today are due to holding on to old paradigms and belief systems that no longer serve us. These include: valuing logic over intuition, leading from our heads and egos rather than from our hearts, rewarding individuals over teams and undervaluing collaboration and teamwork, believing that we are different from others based on religion, race, country of origin …, and acting and believing that our planet’s natural resources are infinite.
I believe that “authentic” feminine leadership holds the key to addressing these critical challenges and to creating a world that works for everyone.
What do I mean by a world that works for everyone? In a nutshell I mean a more equitable, humane, just, sustainable and peaceful world.
Why feminine leadership and Why Now?Why the time is right for women’s leadership and active participation in creating a world that works for everyone:
Lessons from history; when women are involved in decision-making and politics, outcomes are more inclusive and positive
Lessons from COVID-19 and women political leaders’ rapid and effective responses using their feminine energy and feminine values; (e.g. New Zealand’s Prime Minister, British Columbia’s provincial Medical Officer of Health)
Recent demonstrations against the police and anti-black racism around the world and the acknowledgement of systemic racism in our societies and institutions by leaders worldwide.
The world is ripe for change. We are at a point to examine lessons from the past, let go of old beliefs and structures that are no longer working, explore new paradigms and focus on creating a better world: a more equitable, humane, just, sustainable and peaceful world.
The difference between masculine and feminine energy– Female Energy (Yin) is associated with BEING and GIVING whereas Male Energy (Yang) is associated with DOING and RECEIVING.
Our organizations and societies have been focused on DOING and RECEIVING and it is time to create a balance between Female and Male Energy. When people feel pressure to continually drive and strive (be in their masculine energy), it creates chronic stress and negatively impacts their bodies, their minds, their relationships, their productivity and their bottom lines.
It is time for more women to step into leadership positions and for feminine leadership qualities to replace the dominantly masculine ones that our systems and organizations have been built upon.
What are Authentic Feminine Leadership Qualities and Why are they Important to Creating a world that works for everyone?
An authentic feminine leader is:
Compassionate – “feeling and showing sympathy and concern for others” (Oxford dictionary). “Compassionate people often have other positive traits like generosity, kindness, and understanding. People who are compassionate feel the need to impact the world around them in positive ways.”
In order to create a world that works for everyone this quality is essential. To better understand and deal with critical issues such as systemic racism and gender-based violence, we need to learn and model compassion. To be compassionate has been perceived as weak and not what leaders typically do; however, as Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, so thoughtfully commented recently:
“One of the criticisms I’ve faced over the years is that I’m not aggressive enough or assertive enough, or maybe somehow, because I’m empathetic, it means I’m weak. I totally rebel against that. I refuse to believe that you cannot be both compassionate and strong.”
Intuitive – uses their body as well as their mind to make decisions e.g. heart and gut.
When I reflect on my life, all the decisions I have made by “going inside” and listening for the answers, have always been the right decisions for me; whereas those made solely from making the ‘pros and cons’ list and only using left-brain logic have not always been the ‘right’ ones. Did you know that our heart and our gut have nerve endings that send signals to our brains, and that our hearts and intestines contain neural tissue? The HeartMath Institute has done research to show the powerful influence our hearts and guts have on decision-making and strategic thinking. I encourage you to think about how you typically make decisions and the impacts of those decisions.
To remind us of the importance and power of intuition I offer this insightful quotation from a brilliant man:
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift. We will not solve the problems of the world from the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” (Albert Einstein)
Creative – As a leader is important to create a shared vision to lead and inspire others. I’ve experienced first-hand the power of creating a shared vision among various levels of an organization while doing strategic planning and also when designing and implementing international projects that involve different disciplines, cultures and religions. A well-designed and facilitated process has the power to create understanding and ownership and to change attitudes and beliefs. To encourage creativity and innovation it is also important to foster a culture that encourages experimentation and learns from its mistakes (e.g. annual Failure Report from Engineers without Borders).
In the words of Ashley Good in Engineer’s without Borders 2017 Annual Failure Report:
“We hope this report serves as an acknowledgement that systems change is complex and therefore some degree of failure is inevitable. … we need to create room for ourselves to try new things and experiment in pursuit of figuring out what might work to shift the system towards our vision. Therefore, the best thing we can do is be willing to take the risk of trying something new, and at the same time, get really good at detecting where our efforts are failing early, analyzing effectively, and applying our learning to continuously improve 
Collaborative – believes in and models collaboration. This is important when dealing with complex situations and issues. Barbara Gray, an organizational theorist and veteran mediator, has written extensively on the importance of involving multiple disciplines and sectors to solve complex problems.
Inclusive – recognizes the importance of different races, religions and ethnic groups being represented “at the table” so their voices are heard, understood and included in the process and outcome.
Emotionally Intelligent (EI) – capable of recognizing their own emotions and those of others, discerning between different feelings and labelling them appropriately, using emotional information to guide their thinking and behavior, and managing and/or adjusting their emotions to adapt to environments or achieve their goals … Studies have shown that people with high EI have greater job performance, mental health and leadership skills.  Leaders who are not emotionally intelligent often surround themselves with people similar in thoughts, beliefs and actions to themselves, do not see their blind spots and also are challenged with differing points of view and in being creative.
Authentic – “walks their talk”; clear on their own values and beliefs and lives and leads aligned with these. As a leader it is important to consistently “walk your talk” so people feel safe, trust you and are aware of what is expected of them
What can you do to help create a world that works for everyone?
Practice Regular Self-care. Do yoga, go for regular walks in nature, have a bubble bath.
Listen to and trust in your body’s wisdom.
Some tools to help you connect with your body’s wisdom are Mindfulness practices. Such practices help us get out of our heads and into our bodies. They help us to live “in the present moment”.
Think about someone you’ve hired in the past, who on paper looked great, but you had an uneasy feeling about during the interview process. You let your left-brain logic rule your decision-making, and within a few months had evidence that this person was NOT a good fit for your organization. For tools to assist you to learn to make decisions using your body’s wisdom check out chapter 4 in “Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women” available at: www.amazon.com/dp/B0145ZGDO2
Tap into and express your creative side (right brain) on a regular basis.
Is there something you enjoy doing that when you do it you become immersed in it and lose track of time? It could be film editing, painting, writing, gardening, cooking … . Chances are when you have this experience, it is one of your passions, and when you tune into it you are tapping into your creative right brain. Usually you feel energized and positive while engaging in a passion. When you are filled with childlike wonder you also get out of your head and into your body. Regularly taking time to do something you enjoy that is creative helps reduce the stress in your body and takes your mind off work.
Believe in yourself and that you’re here to make a positive difference in the world.
Build your leadership skills from the inside out. Get clear on your strengths and weaknesses; identify your passions. A valuable resource is Female Wave of Change’s “Women Leading in Change” online leadership development program. The next “Women Leading in Change, a Female Wave of Change Transformation Journey”, “to guide women to awaken the leader in them” and prepare them to lead change and create a better world, starts in September 2020. To learn more and to register visit: https://femalewaveofchange.com/reshape-the-future.
Choose an area of focus that you’re passionate about; e.g. climate change, women’s health, gender equality … and get involved with a group that is advocating in that area of focus; a group that you feel aligned with.
Here’s to You and to working together to create a world that works for us all!
Do you agree or disagree with the statement: Feminine Leadership holds the key to creating a world that works for everyone? I welcome your comments below.
 Note that men can also have and learn these qualities
COVID-19 has certainly put us all in touch with what it’s like to live with uncertainty. It has given us the opportunity to reflect on what uncertainty means to us, how we typically respond to it, and to unearth lessons from the past to support us during such challenging times.
What is uncertainty? To me uncertainty arises when change comes to us “out of the blue” or is imposed on us by someone or something that is outside of our control.
The Cambridge English dictionary defines uncertainty as: “a situation in which something is not known, or something that is not known for certain” and “the feeling of not being sure what will happen in the future” (https://dictionary.cambridge.org).
Uncertainty means different things to different people. I invite you to take a few minutes to think about your responses to the following questions. You may wish to journal about them.
How do you define uncertainty?
When you think about uncertainty what words or feelings come up for you?
I invite you to rate yourself on a scale from 1 to 10 in relation to how you typically respond to uncertainty; 1 being “scares me to death” and 10 being “I thrive on it.”
What have you learned from past experiences with uncertainty that you can apply to your experience during these challenging times? What life experiences have prepared you to be less anxious and less stressed during this pandemic?
What I’ve noticed about myself, friends, colleagues and clients is that those of us who have had previous experiences with uncertainty and processed them positively, have coped better with the current situation than those who have not.
Here are a few examples:
Living and working in conflict zones and environments with restricted movement:
I’ve had the opportunity to live and work in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. In Afghanistan I was driven to work every day in a bullet proof vehicle by an armed Afghan driver. We were followed by a “soft skin” vehicle with 3 Afghans holding AK- 47s. The first week I was rather “taken aback” by all of the military presence, but soon I relaxed and realized that “came with the territory”. Each day I didn’t know whether our vehicle would be pulled over by the police and be questioned about our papers and then taken to a nearby police station, or not. I lived in a state of constant uncertainty.
One day I was sitting in the rose garden of the Ministry of Public Health where I was working and having lunch with one of my female team members. All of sudden there was a huge explosion. A number of suicide bombers had attacked the military hospital across the road from the Ministry and killed numerous Afghan medical students, patients and their families. Immediately I received a text from my Head of Security advising me to stay where I was and that a vehicle would come for me soon/when it was safe to do so.
I lived in a small compound with 2 large houses and a small building that housed our guards and drivers. The compound was surrounded by high walls and barbed wire. There were 3 men with AK-47s guarding the inside our walls at all times. I had to sign a waiver and commit to not walking in the street or outside of the compound due the security situation. Sometimes after work I would walk in circles inside the small compound as I so craved exercise and being in nature. Thankfully, we did have a small rose garden on the property.
How did I deal with the uncertainty of living and working in a conflict zone? Here are some strategies I found helpful:
Did yoga every morning before heading out to work (sometimes with a colleague and sometimes on my own)
Skyped with my Sweetie almost every morning; connected with someone I cared about who also cared about me
Grounded myself every morning before heading to work
Worked out in the on-site gym on a regular basis
Often listened to music
Surrounded myself with beauty; e.g. created a bedroom that had some beautiful local art including several small carpets and a water-color painting I purchased locally
Started a gratitude journal and wrote down at least 3 things I was grateful for at the end of every day; Also journaled regularly about my feelings and experiences
When I noticed some anxiety coming up, I took three deep breaths in through my nose and out through my mouth (releasing oxytocin, the hormone that relaxes your body and helps you feel at peace)
Almost every Thursday night, I connected with my colleagues; other technical advisors and consultants who were working on various projects with the Afghan government. We considered this our weekend as Friday was prayer day and the only day we had off every week. We sometimes had a bonfire, roasted marshmallows; often we sang to the guitar music played by one of my colleagues. Sometimes we danced. We laughed and shared experiences together. Sometimes we drank a bit too much!
What I learned from these experiences was that I could live with uncertainty. I found that rarely was I anxious. I learned that I could live in a contained environment and still be happy, focused and do good work. I also learned some coping strategies that I can now apply to future times of uncertainty.
Over to you. What past experiences with uncertainty can support you during this challenging time? It may be that you were laid off from a job you loved “out of the blue”. It could be that a partner one day told you they no longer loved you and had found someone else.
If you have chosen to move and lived in many places or changed your work or career a number of times, this may also have made you more flexible and able to cope with uncertainty and change. Whereas, if you’ve worked for the same company for 30 years or lived in the same town you were born in, you may have more challenges dealing with uncertainty.
What I know to be true is that it is not enough to have had challenging and uncertain life and work experiences. We need to have processed them in a positive way. A helpful framework and tool to do this is my 5-step “Art of Change” Framework. Using this tool, you identify a change or uncertain situation you want to work on and where you are on your “transition journey”. You then do the work associated with the phase of the transition journey you are in; such as letting go of negative emotions, beliefs or behaviors that are no longer serving you, envisioning how you would like your life or work to look and feel like and then taking action to make it happen. This framework is underpinned by the belief that “embracing change (and uncertainty) is a creative process that opens us up to new possibilities”. To learn more, you may access “The Art of Change Framework” at: https://pamela-thompson.com/.
I believe that times of intense change and uncertainty provide us with the opportunity to learn more about ourselves, to dream big dreams and create new possibilities.
What previous experiences with uncertainty have helped you cope during this time? What tools or strategies have you found helpful to deal with uncertainty? I invite your comments below.
Due to the uncertain and stressful times we are currently living in, and also because of research I’ve recently read on the importance of a “playful frame of mind” as we evolve as authentic leaders, I decided to resurrect and share an article I wrote three years ago. …
Many of us learn that after a certain age, it is not appropriate to play. We get messages that we need to become serious and act like an adult. More and more research has shown how important play and laughter are for health and wellness throughout our lives.
You may have heard that laughter is the best medicine. When we laugh, we release endorphins and encourage energy to move throughout our body. In the words of Candace Pert, a neuroscientist and pharmacologist who has spent much of her scientific life studying the mind-body link:
Play and laughter are vital to feeling good. Recreation isn’t merely a frivolous addition to life or a hard-earned reward for work…I believe that in a society driven by a strong work ethic, with so many individuals burdened with workaholism, people aren’t getting enough endorphinergic surges through the bodymind on a regular basis. For you to not be laughing and playing during some part of every day is unnatural and goes against your fundamental biochemistry.
Everything You Need to Feel Go(o)d), 2006
Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, has conducted research that shows play is not only energizing and fun, but also important for human physical, emotional and cognitive development, and intelligence. Addictions, depression, stress-related illnesses and interpersonal violence have been linked to the prolonged deprivation of play –http://www.nifplay.org . Brown’s TED talk outlines different types of play and provides evidence of the importance of play throughout our lives –http://www.ted.com/talks/stuart_brown_says_play_is_more_than_fun_it_s_vital.html
Based on research by Brown, Pert and others, it is recommended for the health of our minds and bodies that we engage in play and laughter every day.
Types of Play
Research on animals and humans has identified a number of different types of play including:
Body Play – when we move our bodies in different ways; for example, jumping, running, skipping or moving our bodies to real or imagined music.
Object Play – when we make an object (e.g. a snowball) and play with it, or play with an object such as a soccer ball.
Imaginative Play – creating an imaginary friend you interact with (you may have had an imaginary friend when you were a child); creating and sharing a fantasy story with a child; playing “dress up”.
Social Play – playing tag or playing house with others
Transformative Play – through digital and other types of “structured” play we learn creative problem-solving.
Strategies for Incorporating more play and laughter
Travel back in time and identify and write down types of play activities you enjoyed and engaged in as a child.
Reflect on how many of these activities you currently engage in as an adult and how often you engage in them.
Rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how energized each of the above activities makes you feel – 1 being “not at all” and 10 being “full of energy”.
Identify several play activities you would like to begin integrating into your life. Experiment and notice how they make you feel.
Commit to engaging in some form of play and/or laughter on a daily basis. Ask friends and family for support (perhaps make it a family project to laugh and play at least once a day), and encourage play and laughter in their lives as well.
Your Inner Child
Another way to incorporate more play and laughter into your life is to connect with your inner child. According to Wikipedia “our inner child is our childlike aspect. It includes all that we learned and experienced as children, before puberty.” Others say that your inner child is your “true self” … the small child within you that never grew up. Your inner child is naturally fun, playful, and creative. It is also fragile and vulnerable.
Many of us have buried or rejected our inner child, and it takes some time to reconnect with and nurture it. The process may be challenging and scary for some, especially if you’ve experienced trauma. Connecting with our inner child helps us love, accept and nurture ourselves.
Strategies for Connecting with Your Inner Child
Write a letter to your inner child saying that you want to reconnect. It can be a letter of apology or one expressing that you want to strengthen the relationship with her.
Notice and acknowledge the feelings that come up when you connect with your inner child. Rather than “pushing them down” or rejecting them, allow any fears, sadness or insecurities to surface. Notice what you notice.
Express those feelings by writing them down in a personal journal or through painting, finger painting or drawing.
Picture yourself as a 3, 4 or 5 year old and reassure your younger self that they are safe, secure and loved.
Reorganize your living space. Make it more fun. Bring out joyful childhood pictures, stuffed animals and trinkets and put them on your mantle. Paint one or several of your rooms with guidance from your inner child.
Buy a coloring book and color several times a week.
Spend time with children playing children’s games. These could be “hide and seek”, or imaginary games, and creating and telling your own stories.
On awakening everyday ask your inner child what fun activity they would like to engage in today.
Research shows that bringing our inner child out to play and incorporating laughter and play into our days is essential to be healthy and happy throughout our lives. I encourage you to try some of the strategies and to notice what you notice.
I’d love to hear how you connect with your inner child and what you’ve noticed from that experience. Please share your experiences below so we can all learn and grow from each other.
With all of the recent events, protests and discussion around anti-black racism, it is has made me reflect on some valuable lessons I learned from Dr. Vern Redekop while studying at the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution in the early 1990s. At that time, Vern was working on his PhD and I was honored to be part of a social experiment he was conducting as part of his dissertation. Vern was researching what would make people who had been discriminated against and harmed on many levels forgive their perpetrators and move forward, as well as increase understanding between the “victim” and the “perpetrator”.
To that end, Vern researched a number of different disciplines and conducted seminars that he invited a mix of people from various backgrounds, cultures, religions and ethnicities to participate in. At the beginning of each seminar he would share the research related to some aspect of the conflict process. Then we were divided into small groups to work on questions Vern provided. Following that we debriefed with the larger group.
There were many participants who shared horrific experiences based on religious, ethnic, and cultural differences. I recall a black man from Rwanda who had seen his family cut up in front of him as part of the genocide that took place in that country. There was an ex-policeman from Northern Ireland who had left the country due to death threats. There was a Sri Lankan woman who had been held hostage by the Khmer Rouge. So many stories and heart-breaking experiences were shared. As well, many of those who shared the horrific acts that had been perpetrated against them, also shared that they had learned to forgive their perpetrators.
There are several things that stand out for me from that experience that I believe can increase our understanding of anti-black racism and other prejudices and horrific acts. One was that in order for “victims” (those who had experienced atrocities and discrimination) to forgive their “perpetrators” (those who had committed the atrocities), the perpetrators had to acknowledge what they had done and issue a formal apology to that person or group. What also was useful in terms of process was for the “victim” or “victims” to sit in a circle with the “perpetrator” or “perpetrators” and for each to share how they were impacted by what had happened. This created increased understanding on both sides and also enabled the “victim(s)” to decide what type of punishment they felt was due to their “perpetrator”. This is how restorative justice is practised (for example among some indigenous communities in Canada) and it is interesting to note that the punishments that are decided upon by the “victim(s)” in a restorative justice process are usually much less harsh than typical sentences arrived at in court.
The other learning that stands out for me was some research Vern shared that demonstrated that the need to belongoutweighs many other human needs, and historical events have borne this out. This is important when we think about racism and other forms of prejudice and acts of violence, because it helps us to better understand why people do what they do. It also helps us recognize that it takes a strong and courageous person to step away from a group he/she belongs to and take a stand that is in opposition to that group as they run the risk of being criticized, punished and ostracized.
These two “lessons” from conflict studies and from research on history, human nature and culture I believe are important, particularly at this time when the light is being shone on anti-black racism and other forms of racism worldwide.
Understanding and awareness are important for change to begin. It is also important to understand that there are many layers of belief and cultural conditioning that we need to “peel away” in order to truly forgive, heal and create a better world.
“(A) world free of war and violence;
One where all cultures, (races) and religions are accepted;
Where all people are respected and treated with respect;
Where people live together in communities that model
The values of contribution, collaboration, caring and connection …
One that believes in the power of groups and synergy,
That the whole is greater than the sum of the parts;
A world where women and men stand together as partners.:”
Based on these learnings what actions can we take to move forward and create a better world? I welcome your thoughts and suggestions below.
 Professor Emeritus, Conflict Studies, Saint Paul’s University, Founder of the Social Reconciliation, Just Peace and Development Research Group and author of From Violence to Blessing: How an Understanding of Deep-Rooted Conflict Can Open Paths to Reconciliation
 “Restorative justice is commonly defined as an approach to justice that focuses on addressing the harm caused by crime while holding the offender responsible for their actions, by providing an opportunity for the parties directly affected by the crime – victims, offenders and communities – to identify and address their needs in the aftermath of a crime. Restorative justice is based on an understanding that crime is a violation of people and relationships. The principles of restorative justice are based on respect, compassion and inclusivity. Restorative justice encourages meaningful engagement and accountability and provides an opportunity for healing, reparation and reintegration. Restorative justice processes take various forms and may take place at all stages of the criminal justice system.” (Source: https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/cj-jp/rj-jr/index.html)
 Excerpted and slightly modified from Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women by Pamela Thompson, pp. 153 & 154