Lessons from a Changemaker: How to Prevent Burnout while Living Your Passion

Lessons from a Changemaker: How to Prevent Burnout while Living Your Passion

As a changemaker, you are passionate about making a positive difference in the world. You may have chosen a career as a helping professional, work for a non-profit or an international development agency. You may be an academic doing research focusing on improving the health of women and children or you may be CEO of a socially-responsible company. Whatever line of work you’re in, you feel “called” to it.

One of the challenges of being a changemaker is that we experience much joy from giving and sometimes may overextend ourselves by sitting on a number of volunteer boards, or by continually pushing through fatigue to finish that one last thing, rather than taking a break and listening to our bodies. Do you relate?

I understand. I’ve almost burnt out several times in my life. When we continually push ourselves without listening to our bodies, we run the risk of experiencing adrenal fatigue or burnout. Dr. James Wilson in his book Adrenal Fatigue The 21st Century Stress Syndrome notes that:

“adrenal fatigue occurs when the amount of stress [physical, psychological, emotional, infectious, environmental or a combination of these] overextends the capacity of the body (mediated by the adrenal [glands]) to compensate and recover from that stress or the combined stresses. Once this capacity to cope and recover is exceeded, some form of adrenal fatigue occurs. “ (p. 11)

While working in Afghanistan with the Ministry of Public Health, supporting them to develop their first strategic plan and building the capacity of internal teams to do planning, I got pneumonia twice within the first 6 months of living there. I recall being at the front of the room facilitating a national multi-stakeholder workshop with my team and feeling an incredible burning in my chest as I wrote on the flipchart. It wasn’t until I arrived home for a short break a week or so later and I felt really low in energy and on my husband’s suggestion I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with pneumonia the first time.

So how can you as a changemaker stay healthy, happy and grounded while making a positive difference in the world?

  • Connect with and learn to listen to and trust in your body’s wisdom. Our bodies are amazing receivers and transmitters of information. They always let us know if something is wrong. Body scanning is an excellent tool when we wish to increase awareness of our body and the messages it sends us. Tara Brach in her book Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of Buddha, walks you through a detailed body scan and explains its power.
  • Spend regular time in nature. Go for a short walk at lunch or walk in the park after work. Go for a hike with a partner, friend or family member. The Japanese have done longitudinal research to show that when we walk among trees it reduces our heart rate, reduces our blood pressure and increases the number of natural killer cells our bodies produce (e.g. strengthens our immune system).
  • Set strong boundaries. If someone asks you to participate in a new community activity (e.g. fundraise for a local charity) or add an extra project to your already “full plate” at work, learn to say “no”. As givers we often say “yes” without thinking about what we already have on our “to-do” lists. I encourage you when asked to do something new, to take several deep breaths, go inside your body and ask yourself the question: Will this bring me joy? Do I really want to do this? Do I have time for this? And if the answer is “no” practice saying “no” without feeling guilty.
  • Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. Sleep heals and replenishes our bodies.
  • Unplug from digital devices for 60 to 90 minutes before going to sleep. Artificial light from screens increases alertness and suppresses the hormone melatonin by up to 22% negatively affecting sleep, performance and mood. [1]

If you’d like to learn more proven strategies for preventing burnout and staying healthy, happy and grounded while living your passion I invite you to check out my #1 best selling book on Amazon Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women. FYI, men find it useful as well J.  In the book I share 7 keys to what I call Creative Living. 7 keys to “consciously cultivating improved health, happiness, fulfillment and inner peace in your life.” Each key has powerful strategies and proven practices backed up by research from neuroscience, Eastern psychology and the health-promoting and healing benefits of the arts.

I’d love to hear from you what strategies you’ve found useful to prevent burnout and reduce the stress in your life. I welcome your comments and suggestions below.


[1] http://digitaldetox.org/manifesto/

Change & The Changemaker: The Importance of Understanding Change

Change & The Changemaker: The Importance of Understanding Change

I so relate to this definition from Ashoka (https://www.ashoka.org/) that “a changemaker is someone who is taking creative action to solve a social problem.” They go on to say:

Not every changemaker needs to launch their own start-up or be the president of an organization; changemakers can find opportunities to make a difference in any number of roles. They may have no ties to an organization; they may take action as an individual or as part of a group; they may organize as a part of broader community or they may work within a formal organization. “[1]

Are you a changemaker? If so, it is critically important that you understand change and how you respond to it. Here are a couple of questions I encourage you to think about and write down your responses to:

  1. When you think about change what words or emotions come up for you?
  2. Rate yourself on a scale from one to ten related to how you typically respond to change; “one” being “scares me to death” and “ten” being “I thrive on it’.

Many of us who declare ourselves as changemakers, including those of us who are leaders of teams and organizations, respond to question #1 positively. For example, when I think of change, words such as: “excitement”, “adventure”, “opportunity”, “creativity” come up. Based on my experience with other changemakers and leaders they respond similarly. In terms of question #2 many changemakers and leaders typically rate themselves as a “nine” or a “ten”. That said, when they ask the same questions to members of their teams or groups, responses to question #1 may be “fear”, “uncertainty”, “anger”, “overwhelm”. And for #2 their responses may be closer to “five” or “six” on the rating scale.

It is important to acknowledge that how you respond to change when YOU initiate it is quite different than when it is imposed on you. If change is imposed on you, your reactions and how you rate yourself on the scale from “one” to “ten” typically change toward the negative.

So how do you as a changemaker and/or leader, effectively navigate change and support others around you to embrace, rather than resist change? Learning some facts about change and openly exploring how you and your team respond to change is a good starting point.

Some Facts about Change

  1. Our bodies are hard-wired to react to change, to protect us and keep us safe

Our amygdala (part of the brain) is constantly scanning our environment for potential threats including things that are different. When it notices something it perceives to be a threat, it sends messages to our bodies that put us into fight, flight or freeze.  When we are angry, feel like running away, or our minds freeze, we are NOT in a good position to make any decisions, or to positively influence others.

2. Our past experiences with change affect how we respond to it. For example, if when you were a child a relative you were close to died and no one let you see the person at the wake and didn’t discuss the person’s death with you, as an adult you may fear death and not feel comfortable speaking about it. Similarly, if when you were a child and when changes happened, you typically learned to “get on with things” and to not express your feelings about leaving a particular school, relationship, home … , then this will likely affect how you respond to endings as an adult.

3. We store beliefs and emotions in our bodies. Dr. Bruce Lipton, a stem cell biologist by training, in his book The Biology of Belief, documents research conducted by himself and others that all the cells in our bodies are affected by our thoughts. Dr. Candace Pert, an internationally renowned researcher and biochemist in her landmark book Molecules of Emotion, shares evidence of the biochemical links between the mind and body. That being the case, if we have had negative past experiences with change, that will negatively impact how we respond to change in our personal and our professional lives moving forward.

4. The good news is that we can change the physiological structure of our brains (create new neural pathways) with our thoughts. [2] The implications of this body of work to us as leaders and changemakers, is that we can learn, model and teach others how to embrace rather than resist change.

Why am I so passionate about this?

If we don’t learn to embrace change we:

  • keep repeating the same patterns in our lives and remain unhappy & unfulfilled
  • Feel constantly under stress leading to chronic health issues and negative impacts on our relationships & our businesses
  • Expend a lot of energy resisting change

The bottom line is if we don’t learn to embrace change, over time it negatively impacts both our personal and our professional lives.

How can we reduce our fear of change?

We can:

  • Better understand how and why we respond to change
  • Learn a proven model and tools to help us reduce resistance, and embrace and successfully navigate any change

The more you understand change and the more self-aware you are about how and why you respond to it, the more easily you can embrace and move through it.

What has been your experience with change? How have you effectively dealt with change in the past? I welcome your comments below. Feel free to share this with people who you think might find it of interest.


[1]

https://www.evansville.edu/changemaker/downloads/more-than-simply-doing-good-defining-changemaker.pdf

[2] Doidge, Norman, The Brain that Changes Itself. London: Penguin Books, 2007

How to Make Friends with Uncertainty: Valuable Lessons & Strategies for Your Personal & Professional Life

How to Make Friends with Uncertainty: Valuable Lessons & Strategies for Your Personal & Professional Life

Our world today is characterized by uncertainty. Our economies, our relationships, our jobs, our futures … . Uncertainty is ever present in our lives. Learning how to change your relationship with and to “befriend” uncertainty reduces stress and has a number of other benefits.

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).

Recently, I came to a point in my business where I was extremely tired and feeling little passion around what I was doing. I knew I needed to make a change but I wasn’t sure what that change was. I had launched a new website and had rebranded less that one year ago. What was I thinking wanting to change things up yet again? Perhaps I just needed to take a break; to relax and “recharge my batteries”?

It was an unusual situation for me to be in, as in the past when I’ve no longer felt “juiced” by what I was doing or felt that an organizational environment was toxic, either I would leave a position, or change my direction in business, and I nearly always knew what I wanted to do next. This recent experience was different. I did NOT know what to do next and felt uncertain.

What happens when we feel uncertain?  

We often experience fear and go into fight, flight or freeze – the stress response – as we feel unsafe and our body wants to protect us. When stress hormones are coursing through our bodies we often don’t make rational decisions.

We may “jump” at the first solution that presents itself so we feel more comfortable. This can be a position that we aren’t suited for because we need the money, or a relationship with someone who comes into our life so we won’t be alone.

We may be influenced by a well-meaning friend or person whose opinion we value, and choose a career or position we have the aptitude for; however one that we are not passionate about, instead of taking the time to figure what really “makes our soul sing” and following that path.

I’ve coached a number of clients who were extremely successful accountants, lawyers, engineers … in their late thirties and early forties, who were dragging themselves out of bed every morning, feeling no passion at all for their work. When asked to reflect on when was the last time they felt passion about their work, many admitted that they never really had any passion for their careers; a well-meaning adult had influenced them in their late teens to; for example, “be an accountant because you’re good at Math.”

There was a time in my life when I became a workaholic because I didn’t want to face the uncertainty of what my life might look like if I left my husband. If I kept busy all the time, I didn’t have to think or feel and I numbed out. Possibly you relate.

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.

What does uncertainty look and feel like for you?

Do you typically feel fearful when you experience uncertainty? If so, is your typical response fight, flight or freeze?

Do you react differently if the uncertainty is in your personal life than in your professional life?

From experience I know that we often don’t make the best decisions when we feel uncertain. I also know that for those of us who are used to always “doing”, being busy, and having lots of structure in our lives, it can be challenging to NOT DO, but instead to slow down and BE STILL. Many of us believe that to be valued and loved we need to be “doing” and accomplishing important things. Being what I call “in the void” or “in the space between” is quite foreign to us. That said, it can be an interesting journey and valuable experience to learn to feel comfortable with uncertainty.

So how can you change your relationship with “Uncertainty” and perhaps even make it your friend? 

Here are some lessons I’ve learned (often the hard way) to “befriend” uncertainty.

  • Acknowledge and Accept that you don’t know what to do and that is okay
  • Trust that everything will work out for you and the greater good
  • Believe that in time things will become clear
  • Know that you can’t force clarity
  • Remember that creative processes require time and space
  • Learn to listen to and trust in your body’s wisdom; it always knows what is best for you.

Below are some strategies to assist in integrating these lessons into your life.

  • Learn to listen to and trust in your body’s wisdom. A good place to start is to begin to integrate some mindfulness practices into your life. These practices help take you “out of your head” and “into your body”. They also focus on “being” rather than “doing”. One example is body scanning. On awakening scan your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. Notice if there is any tension, discomfort or pain in any part. If you sense any of these breathe into each part and visualize the tension or discomfort releasing or melting away. Another practice is mindfulness walking meditation[1] that I recommend you do three times a week for 15 to 30 minutes each time.

 

  • Spend regular time in nature. This can be going for a walk in a nearby park at lunchtime, hiking, running by the ocean. Finding your special nature place and going there when you feel stressed or would like some guidance.

 

  • Do yoga regularly. Find a style that works for you. I recommend you do it at least three times a week.

 

  • Communicate with others who are close to you. They will then understand how you are feeling and often “cut you some slack”.

 

  • Reach out for support from family, friends, a coach or a health professional.

 

  • 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

 

  • Move your body. Put on some of your favorite music and dance around your kitchen or living room.

 

  • Connect with your inner child. Do something you used to do as a child that “filled you up” (e.g. painting, drawing journaling) OR try something you’ve always wanted to do but never took the time for (e.g. dancing, learning to play a musical instrument, singing)

 

  • Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks. Remember that when you follow your heart and acknowledge how you feel, you give others permission to do the same.

I’d love to hear from you about your experience with Uncertainty and what strategies and lessons you have found useful to help you deal with it and perhaps even make friends with it. I welcome your comments below.

[1] A mindfulness walking meditation enables you to get out of your head and into your body. When you walk outside in nature, slowly press one heal and the toes of one foot on the ground followed by the next, being totally present with your movements rather than thinking about all you have to do or reviewing a recent argument with your child or significant other. Focus on all of your senses. Notice the wind on your cheek, the sound of birds chirping, the smell of the salt sea air, see the beautiful vistas that surround you. Notice how you feel while doing the mindfulness walking meditations and after. Over time doing these walking meditations on a regular basis, notice what you notice.

 

What Are Healthy Organizations & Are They Possible?

What Are Healthy Organizations & Are They Possible?

In many organizations regularly working overtime is still a badge of honor.

I have a number of close friends who have been high achievers in academia, brought millions of dollars into their institutions, and who have been harshly mistreated by certain “higher ups”.

I have also experienced colleagues who have been undervalued and made to feel they are in jeopardy of losing their positions because they have proposed a creative solution in an organizational culture where maintaining the status quo is the norm.

Increasing numbers of high performing younger and younger women (e.g. in their late twenties and early thirties) are coming into my life having been diagnosed with breast cancer, mono, and/or on stress leave and antidepressants. Burnout and adrenal fatigue continue to be rampant and yet are often “kept under the covers”.

Since I launched my coaching business in 2009, I’ve coached a number of high achieving women and provided them with tools and support to change their lives from constantly driving and striving to healthier, happier, more balanced lives. I’ve recently realized that this is not enough. It is one thing to provide a person with tools and support, but if they return to a work environment that does not enable them to put those tools and strategies into action, it is rather like sending someone on a training and having them return to a workplace that doesn’t enable them to apply the new skills they’ve learned. It is frustrating, unsatisfying and doesn’t address all of the issues.

I realize that it is only part of the solution to provide high performing women and men with tools and the vision of a healthier, happier life. The other part of the equation is to change our organizations so they are healthier. 

I would like to start a conversation on this. What is a healthy organization? Is it possible to create healthy, successful organizations?

To start “the ball rolling”, here are a few characteristics of what I believe constitute a healthy organization. A healthy organization:

  • Treats their staff and management with respect
  • Is clear on their values and “walks their talk”
  • Values creativity and innovation and creates space to enable this to happen
  • Values and fosters collaboration within the organization and with outside partners
  • Is lead by balanced and mindful leaders ( See –https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/balanced-mindful-leadership-time-new-type-leader-pamela-thompson/ )
  • Recognizes that many of today’s issues are complex and require multiple disciplines and ways of thinking to address them
  • Embraces change and supports its staff and management to better understand and embrace the change process
  • Provides a physical environment that supports well-being; for example, a meditation room or garden, indoor plants, on-site gym, yoga and childcare
  • Makes a healthy profit
  • Gives back to the community

These are a few of my thoughts. I welcome yours in the comment box below.

 

 

What Nature Can Teach Us as Leaders and Changemakers

What Nature Can Teach Us as Leaders and Changemakers

My husband and I recently returned from a long weekend kayaking and camping on the Broken Islands off the west coast of Vancouver Island. It is truly a magical place!

For many years I was a driven professional woman with a packed agenda involved in work I was passionate about. My mind and my body were constantly “on the go”. At this phase in my life, I’ve made the decision to take some time to reflect, spend more time in nature and notice what I’m “called” to do. Here are some of the lessons Nature can teach us based on thinking about our recent weekend “off the grid”.

Lesson #1 – Relax

Have you noticed when you’re in nature how much more relaxed you feel? The Japanese have done longitudinal research to show that when we walk among trees it reduces our blood pressure, reduces our heart rate and increases the number of natural killer cells our body produces. In other words, it strengthens our immune system. As leaders and change makers it is important to “get off the treadmill” and take some time out of our busy lives to truly relax, and nature is the perfect remedy.

Lesson #2 – Trust

One morning when I climbed out of our tent I noticed that the fog was down to the ground and visibility was extremely limited. I’m not keen on kayaking in fog and said to myself, this will burn off. I trusted that the sun would burn off the fog and the visibility would return, and it did! As leaders it’s important when things aren’t going the way we wish to trust that things will work out, and that we will learn something from the experience.

Lesson #3 – Presence

Last weekend I noticed that I was truly present much of the time. I was focused on what was in front of me while kayaking and when speaking with my partner. It is important to notice changes in the wind, clouds, tides and currents when you’re kayaking on the ocean. Likewise, as leaders it is important to be present in our work and personal lives and also to be alert to change or the need for it.

Lesson #4 – Playfulness

When I watch birds flying on air currents and humpback whales jumping, it reminds me of the importance of taking time to be playful and to connect with my inner child. It gets me thinking: How can I inject more playfulness into my life? What about you?

Lesson #5 – Courage 

Most animals have predators. While off the grid, we saw an amazing array of creatures; from bears to whales, to dolphins, mice and tadpoles. When these animals show themselves, it takes courage, as not only do we as humans see them, but they open themselves up to being seen by their predators. How can you be more courageous in your life and work?

Lesson #6 – Creativity

We experienced an amazing sunset while camping. When gazing at a sunset and watching it change, it reminds me of someone taking a paintbrush and constantly adding and changing colors and tones. In our work, it is important to take some risks and come up with creative solutions to those issues that arise.

Lesson #7 – Beauty

When spending time in nature it’s difficult not to appreciate the beauty that surrounds us and to be amazed by the diversity. In our lives as leaders and changemakers, it is important to recognize and appreciate the diversity among our teams and also the beauty in how we “dance” together

Nature is such a powerful teacher. To relax, trust, be present, playful, courageous and creative, are a few of the lessons we can learn from nature. These are powerful reminders for us as we navigate our lives as leaders and changemakers. I encourage you to spend more time in nature and to notice what YOU notice.

I’d love to hear from you. How does nature inspire you? I welcome your comments and invite you to share your experiences below.

 

 

 

 

 

The Art of Change Framework: Part 5

The Art of Change Framework: Part 5

The Art of Change Framework is a proven 5-step model for embracing change be it in yourself, your relationships, your workplace/organization. In a previous post I outlined the 5 steps in this model – https://pamela-thompson.com/strengthen-impact-world-dance-change/. In subsequent posts I identified the powerful practices associated with each step in the process. This article will focus on step 5 in the Art of Change Framework entitled Consciously Share Your Dance with the World.

We know that when we change, others around us notice these changes and either choose to follow us or resist the changes we are modelling. An example is personal growth work. If one partner in a relationship wants to learn and grow and begins reading about personal growth and attending workshops or receiving coaching to learn and grow, and their partner is not on the same wavelength, the partner who wants to maintain the status quo may feel threatened by the changes in the other’s behaviour. For example, having a spiritual connection when your partner is an atheist or becoming more assertive in conversations instead of not saying much or always acquiescing to the other partner’s wishes. Does this sound familiar? When we change, we influence those around us.

During step 5 in the Art of Change Framework, it is important to observe the positive changes in yourself, how others respond to you, and the positive impact you are having on your family, friends, communities and workplaces.

As a leader in an organization, you will notice the difference among people who either resist or embrace changes that you initiate. The tables below identify the typical differences between those who resist and those who embrace change.

What happens in Ourselves, Our Relationships and Our Workplaces when We Resist Change versus Embrace it?

OURSELVES

Resist

Embrace

We view change as a threat

We view change as an opportunity to learn and grow and as a creative process that opens us up to new opportunities

We feel:

o   Angry

o   Depleted

o   Low in energy

o   Victimized

·      The increased stress over time negatively impacts our health; can lead to chronic illness and negatively affect our career paths

 

 

We feel:

o   Open

o   Excited

o   Energized

o   Nonjudgmental

·      Over time we are more relaxed, more flexible and open to creative ideas

·      Our health may be positively impacted as we feel supported by those around us and that we are contributing to something greater than ourselves; may positively impact our career paths

In our interactions with others we:

o   Are not totally present

o   Are judgmental

o   May be argumentative

In our interactions with others we:

o   Are present

o   Are mindful

o   Seek to understand and support others

 

OUR RELATIONSHIPS

Resist

Embrace

o   Strained

o   Reactive

o   Judgmental

o   Characterized by increased conflict

o   We feel alone, victimized and that others don’t understand us

 o   Open

o   Responsive

o   Curious

o   Characterized by increased understanding, creativity and compassion

o   We feel part of something and supported

 

OUR WORKPLACES

RESIST

o   Increased conflict – “us” versus “them” mentality

o   Reduced morale

o   Reduced engagement

o   Little innovation

o   Increased illness and absenteeism

o   Negative impact on the bottom line

EMBRACE

o   Increased cooperation, collaboration and synergy

o   Increased morale

o   Increased engagement

o   Creativity and Innovation

o   Reduced absenteeism

o   Positive impact on the bottom line

 Learning how to embrace change and understanding how we respond to it, is critical to positively influencing our families, friends, communities and workplaces. Learning and implementing the 5-step Art of Change Framework helps you understand how you respond to change and is a tool to support you and your team(s) to embrace it. In these challenging and uncertain times, now more than ever, we need proven processes to support individuals and leaders in communities and organizations to make a positive difference in the world.

What have you noticed in yourself, your relationships and/or your work environments when they are characterized by embracing versus resisting change? What aspects of the Art of Change Framework have you found most useful? Any new insights? I invite and welcome your comments below.