Change, while it is constant, can be truly terrifying. I know this, while also recognising I am one of those people who (mostly) thrives amidst change. Change rocks: there are new horizons to ponder, new pathways, ideas, people and emerging opportunities.
Yet after the last few years of significant change in my immediate world: new business, new baby, new home, house reno’s, COVID-19 lockdowns, teenage sons and working from home; not to mention the overarching crises facing us all of a heating world, collapsing biodiversity and struggling democracy — I have days when I feel a little over it. And let me flag that I know that my life conditions are privileged. Truly.
So finding my mojo again on the change front hasn’t been easy, but I may have discovered some key truths that are now front and centre for me every day.
My Top 3 Tips for navigating ongoing change
1. REST: Take time to rest and restore
2. RECHARGE: Follow your energy to lift your spirits
3. DANCE: Be in the moment and let go
1. Rest: Time to rest
I have learnt this the hard way. Solo parenting for several years, working full time in big jobs and often studying as well — because I could/felt I had to — thriving on the complexity and intellectual challenges. My work self was the major part of who I was — even though family were a big priority too. My own physical and emotional health seemed to rate way below all else. I thought I could power through anything — and the adrenaline really can keep you going for a good while. Delivering great work at all hours and jumping at every call was very much tied to my identity and something I’ve been proud of. But it can take a toll, particularly when the pace of change picks up and I have found myself close to burnout on a few occasions.
Lately I’ve been intentionally taking time out to rest, meditate and ideally get some extra sleep. After years (and years) of practice my sense of value is now happily based much more on internal validation and about ‘being’ than tied to ‘doing’ and extrinsic deliverables. But I still deliver too!
I know that if you’re also a busy, high achieving work is my identity type — acting on these tips will not be easy and my message won’t be welcome. But truly taking the time to reduce your stress load through regular rest/relaxation/meditation, and keeping it down is really a major part of it.
I don’t have much free time — but I have learnt to take snippets — about 20 minutes, in the afternoon or morning. Because even when things seem a little busy — there is always a chance that they could get even crazier! So in a short grab of time I meditate or if I’m desperate have a quick power nap (Yoga Nidra is perfect for this). Working from home makes this easier!
To add to this when I feel I am in a low phase I reduce all social commitments, swap a high intensity excercise session for a long quiet walk and abandon evening Netflix for reading and an early night. Getting into nature is an added boost. We know this. Do read Shinrin Yoku’s The Art and Science of Forest Bathing if you need further proof.
Paying attention to your inner world really helps. If you’re super busy it is unlikely you will even hear that quiet inner voice. Call it spirit or soul, perhaps your higher self. Sometimes for me, the first clue is a real dragging feeling of needing to lie low and to have time for inward reflection.
Everyone is different but heeding these inner calls and taking time out are key to resilience and my ability to adapt and cope with ongoing change. This can be amplified at different points or phases in our life when we need to go within in order to evolve and change. Alice Walker writes:
“Those long periods when something inside ourselves seems to be waiting, holding its breath, unsure about what the next step should be, eventually become the periods we wait for, for it is in those periods that we realise that we are being prepared for the next phase of our life and that, in all probability, a new level of the personality is about to be revealed.”
Without times of quiet we may well be missing the very opportunity for our own growth and evolution.
Now I know several lovely, super talented, high performing peeps that probably think they do rest. But they don’t really retreat. They are truly burning the candle at both ends, on a nonstop mouse wheel with occasional refreshment. You can’t be constantly running. It has been proven that ongoing adrenaline hits from high stress are actually depleting our bodies of health and reducing immunity. In my experience ongoing high stress is truly not sustainable — it will catch up with you and emerge in health or emotional issues one way or another.
Once years ago, I had an esteemed Cardiologist tell me not to worry about drinking 4 or 5 cups of coffee a day. It won’t hurt you he said. And that maybe true in a narrow cause and effect sense. But I am pretty sure most of you have realised by now that we are in our own bodies complex inter-related systems. Coffee will simply push down your need to rest. This is not a long terms sustainable strategy.
Stress is today linked to many diseases and inflammation including cardiovascular dysfunctions, diabetes, cancer, autoimmune syndromes and mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety disorders. Similarly when we take ‘uppers’ like caffeine to get through the day — the likelihood of needing that drink (alcohol is a depressant) at the end of the day to wind down also increases.
Like all life forms on this amazing planet we are cyclical and there is a certain seasonality to our experience and that of change — we cannot always be up/high energy. We need to listen to our body/soul and take time out to retreat.
2. Recharge: Follow your energy
This sounds woo. It isn’t. I’ve been amazed to discover that I have a very clear innate knowledge of what I need to invest in, to be my best self. My early research suggests most of you know too — but you may not be prioritizing these things because of life/work and all that. Not so strangely, these activities also tend to give us a natural energy lift. Recently I found a journal of mine from 15 years ago where I had written — the 4 things I needed to focus on to be my best self — inside the front cover. Although I have managed to forget about these things for extended periods, today they are still the same activities — and these also lift my energy.
So for me following my energy means I commit to regular creative practice (painting + drawing), meditation, exercise (yoga + walking, ideally in nature) and reading. Who would of thought peace and happiness could be found so easily?! It doesn’t mean other things don’t make me happy, it just means that without these things my energy levels will be very hard to maintain. For me these activities are nourishing at a soul/spirit level, skipping one is not useful — all are important and key to my sense of wholeness. They are grounding and uplifting all at the same time and truly help me weather ongoing change.
Now the real trick here, after working out what your energising activities are, is to not push these things to the side or leave them so that they are squished into an hour on Sunday afternoon before you run out to do the weekly shop. It is about designing your week with these activities at centre because these energy boosts are actually what are going to get you through your week/year. Pushing them to last is self-defeating. Design your week around that which energises you. Follow your energy, even if you are resource poor!
I wasn’t going to write more about this here, but I was thinking about this section last night and before I publish I want to add that I know there is something deeply nourishing for me about investing in the process of creative acts. These might just have almost unmatched power for energising our spirits. Perhaps it’s gardening, cultivating the soil in the vegie beds, knitting, woodworking or writing poetry — but the process of investing in creating something of your very own — however small — is inherently grounding and satisfying. The process will often be more important than the outcome. I’ll write more on this soon and would love to hear from any of you if you have found what works for you.
Change is slow — it is nearly always a marathon rather than a sprint and you need to ensure that you are in the best place you can be to navigate and steady the ship.
3. Dance: Be in the moment and let go.
For change leaders this may be the opposite of what they preach as so many seem to invest in heavy planning and locking down of process and procedures. But after years in senior people leadership and transformation roles, I can say I have learnt that that truth is you are better off focussing on agility and that adaptive dance of acting right in the moment and sensing into what is emerging.
Agility allows you to shift and evolve on the go. Letting go in this context is not about abandoning planning, but it is about letting go of a strong attachment to outcome. It is about constantly sensing into what is emerging and planning next steps based on that — not the strategy you developed weeks or months ( perhaps years) prior. So have an over-arching strategy and act with clear intentions in the moment — but realise that there are many things that we cannot control so be ready to change/adapt evolve at virtually any moment. Hold your ideas loosely! The whole world is moving with machinations that have nothing to do with what you want/need or intend.
We know that stress is impacted by our level of belief in how manageable we see the tasks at hand, it depends on the individual perception of its predictability and controllability. What if all you need to manage is you — and let all else be? Now I have tried this multiple times and it actually works. Because believe it or not most stuff just keeps moving with or without you. So just let go — even just a little. In his profound and moving work Michael Singer call us to surrender to the moment. This doesn’t mean you stop doing your best work. You just stop trying to control all the variables.
So can we avoid change fatigue? Probably not. But we can learn to be better to our selves: rest, recharge and dance. Repeat!
My work is all about coaching and creative facilitation / codesign for change. Get in touch if you would like to chat about where you are at, perhaps I can teach you a few dance moves