How has 2021 started for you?
Do you feel the past few weeks have been a blur? Did you hit the ground running and feel like you haven’t stopped?
Or, perhaps you started the year more tentatively, preferring to move slowly, doing what you know and feel comfortable with. Wanting all of the uncertainty, stress and sadness associated with 2020 to disappear.
It’s interesting how each of us deal with uncertainty. Some of us stay busy and don’t take time to slow down so we can’t think too much. Others take it slow, really feel their emotions and proceed cautiously. Which category do you fit into? Or are you somewhere in between; some days moving at top speed and others feeling emotional and moving more slowly?
I’m one of the folks who “hit the ground running” and feel like I’ve “had my roller blades on” since January 4th.
Yesterday my body felt tired and stressed. I felt “wound up”. I finally listened and went for a walk in nature. I walked to the ocean’s edge and lay on a rock, soaking up the winter sun and feeling the tension in my body melt away into the rock, or so it seemed.
“Nature connects me with my soul.” That’s part of a faith statement I developed at a personal growth workshop years ago. Nature is such a great teacher and healer. I’m amazed when I walk by water or in a park or forest how relaxed I begin to feel. My stress just falls away. Do you relate?
There is a lot of evidence regarding the healing benefits of nature. This was brought home to us during COVID-19 when we saw air and water pollution levels go down within the first 6 weeks of lock-down.
How are you dealing with this ongoing pandemic? Are you able to get out in nature? If so, I encourage it and when you’re there, notice how you feel. Perhaps journal about it afterward. After the year we’ve all had, it’s important to be kind to our bodies.
Thinking of you and sending much love and healing energy your way!
We are almost 9 months into the pandemic. How has it been for you? It is useful to reflect on what you’ve learned from a life change/period of uncertainty/transition.
According to William Bridges, author of “Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes”, in order to move successfully from one life transition to another, it is important to let go of any negative emotions associated with it, to celebrate the positive aspects and lessons learned from it … and to get clear on your vision for a new life, relationship, career, business.
Bridges differentiates between a life change and a transition. He states that a life change is situational and external to us, whereas a transition is internal and psychological. It is the internal work we do to adapt and reorient ourselves to our new external reality.
Research and life experience show that if we don’t do the internal transition work, then we often recreate the same patterns in our lives. An example is someone after 3 marriages realizes that s/he has married 3 men/women who are similar having dealt with the same issues in each marriage, never resolving them but instead recreating them and remaining unhappy and unfulfilled or moving on to the next.
In my personal life, work with clients, and interviews with leaders, I’ve discovered that people have reacted in many different ways during the pandemic. Some were initially knocked off balance and found it really challenging to deal with all the changes in their work-life, family life, and personal life. They had difficulty focusing and were unproductive. Many have been “up and down” in terms of their emotions and focus during the pandemic. In contrast, others after the initial shock, found their creative juices flowing and dove into new projects. They continue to feel energized and optimistic.
No longer having to commute to work, many have taken time to reflect and realized the work they were doing was not fulfilling. They have been preoccupied thinking of how they can transition out of a “real” job and start that business they’ve been dreaming about.
Others are reeling from the loss of a loved one or loved ones who were sadly taken from them due to COVID-19. Still others have recovered from COVID-19 with negative impacts on their health that have forced them to change their lifestyles and adapt to their “new normal”.
The pandemic, in the context of change and uncertainty, has caused much upheaval in many of our lives. It has also put us in touch with how we typically respond to change and why. Do you typically embrace or resist change and uncertainty?
Here are a few questions to ask yourself to reflect on and provide you with insight into how you respond to change and uncertainty. I encourage you to take some time and journal your responses to the following questions: What have you learned from COVID-19 about …
your workplace/who you work for/your team?
how you work best?
Inequities happening around the world?
Learn from and embrace life transitions is one of the 7 keys in my book “Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women”. Several years after writing it and coaching a number of business and professional women, I realized that out of the 7 keys, it is the master key that “unlocks the door” to a life of increased health, happiness, fulfillment and inner peace.
Working further with leaders and changemakers, I created the Art of Change Framework: A Guide to Personal and Organizational Change. If you’d like to learn more about how to embrace change, I invite you to access “The Art of Change Framework” on my homepage at: https://pamela-thompson.com/
What have you learned about yourself and others since COVID-19 began? I welcome your thoughts and comments below.
Why is tapping into and expressing your creative side important for leaders today?
Let’s clarify what I mean by “tapping into and expressing your creative side”. As you know, we have both a left and right brain. The left brain is associated with logic, structure, language, words and rational thought; whereas the right brain is associated with creativity, emotion, “big picture” thinking and intuition. We tap into both sides of our brain for a variety of our daily tasks; however, we are usually right or left-brain dominant. Someone who is right-brain dominant is more adventurous, creative and emotional. An example of someone who is left-brain dominant is a person who is orderly, logical and analytical. When we tap into and express our creative side we are tapping into our right brain.
Since the Second World War, our organizations, educational systems and what we value have largely been structured around and based on left-brain logic and values such as “doing” more than “being” and valuing “competition” over “collaboration”.
Faced with increasingly complex issues such as climate change, systemic racism, and the rapid rate of technological change, authors such as Daniel Pink (in A Whole New Mind) and Sir Ken Robinson (in The Element) have made the case that we need to shift our emphasis away from valuing mainly left-brain traits/functions. They encourage us to change our organizations and educational systems so they encourage, stimulate and reward the right-brain functions of creativity and innovation.
Today’s leader needs to have a vision and inspire others based on that vision. Visioning a desired future involves tapping into your right brain. During these times of intense change and uncertainty it’s important to let go of old ways of thinking and acting and explore new paradigms and ways of thinking and acting. A creative leader encourages innovation and new ways of thinking and acting.
An example is rather than the senior management team in an organization sitting in a room on their own with a consultant developing a strategic plan and then communicating it down through the layers of the organization, there is much value in facilitating the creation of a shared vision where people throughout the organization are part of the process and can see themselves in and have ownership for the strategic plan.
From my own experience consulting with organizations in various parts of the world, I have experienced the power of facilitating a shared visioning process and enabling people through various levels of an organization to participate in that process. While working with the Ministry of Public Health in Afghanistan to develop their first strategic plan and build the capacity of a planning team I was assigned, we conducted group consultations across the Ministry. The findings from these consultations fed into a process that included a national level workshop where other key stakeholders were engaged to identify the Strategic Directions and key activities they believed were important to move them toward their shared vision.
Shared visioning is also powerful when designing a new project or program. I have used this strategy; for example, while leading a design team for a donor-funded project in Nigeria, where we facilitated a planning process in the 2 states where the project was being implemented, one in the Muslim North and one in the Christian south. Key stakeholders from each state created a shared vision, identified the key challenges and opportunities in their current situation and key areas that needed support to move from their current situation to their desired future vision. These 2 visions were shared by state representatives (selected by their peers) at a national level workshop with other national level stakeholders. The power of this process led to increased understanding among the two groups and laid the foundation for them to work more effectively together over the 5 year project.
In order for shared visioning and the exploration of new ideas and solutions to occur, you need to believe in your people and create a safe environment/culture where new ideas are encouraged, and mistakes are accepted and viewed as learning opportunities. Engineers without Borders is an excellent example of an organization who have created such a culture. A number of years ago they instituted an Annual Failure Report. As part the process, Project Managers from their various projects around the globe were interviewed and asked to openly share their lessons learned (what worked and what didn’t) in the previous year. These lessons were then built upon and fed into the next year’s planning process. Rather than only report on the positive outcomes of the year, they were encouraged and supported to share and learn from their mistakes. This is the way to improve; to create and share with others the challenges you have faced and explore how you can learn from and prevent them in the future.
As a leader in your community, workplace, business … , you know that change begins with you, as you are a role model for others. So how can you learn to cultivate and tap into your creative side? One way is through the following exercise.
Sit down in a quiet place, free from distractions. Take a few deep breaths to relax yourself and close your eyes for a couple of minutes if you feel comfortable doing so. Ask yourself the following questions and write down your responses to them. Write down the first thing that comes to mind without judging or editing it.
- Do you consider yourself a creative person? If yes, why? If not, why not?
- Are there any creative pursuits you did as a child but haven’t done for years? If so, what are they?
- Are there some creative or artistic pursuits you would be interested in exploring?/trying out?
- Commit to either starting to integrate a childhood “passion” into your life or choose a new one such as “learning to play the piano” that perhaps you always wanted to do as a child but never had the opportunity to pursue. Identify the next steps for taking action to integrate a new or “old” creative or artistic pursuit into your life. It’s helpful to use a two-column table with “activity” heading one column and “timeline” the other.
- Support is important for many of us when starting something new and continuing with it. Enlist the support of a friend, colleague or family member to encourage and support you in your new endeavor or invite them to join you in doing it.
There are a number of other practical strategies for “tapping into and expressing your creative side” in Chapter 5 of my book Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women.
What tools and strategies have helped you get in touch with your creative side? Do you agree that creativity is an important leadership quality for these constantly changing and uncertain times? I welcome your comments and experiences below.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a discovery call and explore how I may support you and your team.
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.