take control of your Christmas

Christmas - do your eyes sparkle, your mouth grin, and your heart leap when you hear that word?
Or are you like me, and part of you dreads the Christmas season. I try and live in denial that it is coming as long as possible - but this year I attended my first Christmas event in mid-November.   So I had to start thinking about it earlier than I wanted to.  I always want Christmas to be a relaxed happy time of year with some room for spiritual input and reflection.  But instead it seems to sweep me away in a struggle through preparing for events, attending event after event, the year's end, the end of the school term, winding up all those unfinished work tasks and all the other pressures that come at this time of year.  

What about you? How do you feel about Christmas? Do you enjoy it? All of it? Some of it?

takecontrolofyourchristmas.png

In my coaching work this year, I have spent some time exploring discontent. We often overlook our discontent, it makes us uncomfortable.  Discontent can be challenging and confronts us with our own inadequacy and unmet expectations. It can be easier to suppress our discontent than to examine it.

I have found discontent and dissatisfaction are interesting and helpful things to explore.
 

Discontent is something that we should listen to, it is something that can guide us into new activities and focuses.  Discontent is a  sign that it is time for you to grow, time for you to move, time for you to step up and challenge the status quo.

I have identified three main sources of dissatisfaction, stress or discontent in the lead up to Christmas:

Time Pressures

At this time of year we try to fit more into an already busy schedule, we need to fit in parties, end of year displays, shopping and baking. Our workplaces are often busy and people are stressed and short-tempered.  This creates added stress on our time and adds to the feelings of overwhelm.   

Value Conflicts

If we don’t know our values we may get swept away doing things that others value, that we don’t and we may not realise why we are discontented.  We can also experience conflicts between our own values.  For example, we may value spending time with our extended family, and value creating a relaxed child-friendly experience for our children.  These two values may end up in tension if your extended family want to have a white tablecloth sit down dinner.   Our values may also be in tension with others values, for example, we may value or need simplicity and this may not be in line with our families value of lavish presents.  

Expectations 

Have you ever thought about what your expectations are for this time of year?  Are you expecting yourself to do everything by yourself? Are you expecting a perfect tree and house like you see in a magazine?  Are your expectations realistic? Expectations come from ourselves, from our families and others and from society.  It is good to reflect on what your expectations are and how you may be unconsciously influenced by the expectations created by society or even by our advertising exposure.   

 

To have a more contented Christmas and to feel more in control of all that is happening at this time of year we can take actions to reduce these three sources of discontent:      

Values       

A good first step to take is to identify and articulate your values.  Values are the big abstract statements of things that are important to you, they are the overarching guiding reference points and principles that you live by.  You may find it helpful to spend time reflecting on what you value most at this time of year.  For some people it is spending time with family, for some, it may be getting alone time to recover from workplace stress.  What is it for you?

Simplify

Once you know your values you can start to overcome some of the time pressures you face by simplifying.  It’s difficult to acknowledge, but we can’t actually do everything!  Knowing your values helps you know what is most important and makes it easier to put down those things that are not in line with your values, and yes that will require creating boundaries (eeek!).  But I believe that you will find it easier to introduce and articulate those boundaries if they are value based.   For me, this means that I need to simplify and reduce doing things (cooking, presents, shopping) as I value having time to be really present with people and I can’t do that if I am focused on creating more things.  

Expectations

 It will help you feel more in control if you can create realistic expectations of what you can and will do.  Ask why you do things - why make a Christmas cake? Is it the wrong time of year for dried fruit and the oven on for 4 hours?  So where did this expectation to make a Christmas cake come from? Do you really need one?   Even our strengths can lead us astray here.   My strengths of creativity and curiosity lead me to create expectations of doing new crafts, baking and cooking every year.  But I have learnt that this is not the time of year to be adding complexity to my life, so I try and reduce my crafting and baking - there are plenty of other times of the year where there is plenty of space for experimenting but 11 pm on the 24th December is not the time!

Click here for a pdf of questions to help you reflect on your Christmas season.

I wish you all a great year's end, a lovely celebration and some rest and re-creation time.  
 

ControlyourChristmaspng.png

4 thoughts about leadership

Here in New Zealand we are in the middle of a general election campaign.  I know that my thoughts have turned to the country, policies and the behaviour of the media and of politicians.  My usual pondering on resilience, well-being and creativity have taken a bit of a back seat.  If you are like me the time you used to spend catching up on blogs is now spent following politicians and the news.  Therefore I won’t add to your information flow with a long post until after the election now.  But all the election coverage and leadership churn has got me thinking about leadership so here are four brief thoughts about leadership, in particular how we are seeing leadership change.

 

 1)  We no longer have a shared idea of what leadership is and what it should look like.

As I say often, the world has changed and is changing (fast), there are distinct differences in thinking between younger people and older people (or more traditional people) and added to this mix we also have contributions from other cultures.  There are contrasting threads and ideas about what leadership is. Command and control still seems to be a dominant expectation of leaders from older or more traditional thinkers.  This definition of leadership is not so common among younger people who place more importance on the ability of leaders to collaborate, network, be diplomatic and to encourage and support a team towards a shared vision.  

 
2)    We no longer need leaders who know things. 


In previous eras (industrial era for example) a leader used to be the person who knew things.  They may even have been the only one who knew things or had access to information.  Information was scarce and prized.  We expected leaders to know lots and to know more than their followers.  It seems that although the world has moved on dramatically from the industrial era it has taken a while for the public to grasp how this affects our ideas of leadership.  We are now moving well beyond the knowledge era. We have access to information like it is water flowing from a tap.  A leader can no longer and needs no longer to know everything.  Instead, we need leaders with discernment.  Leaders who know where to get good advice, good credible information and make good sound decisions.  We need leaders who can point to which information is important and to make the implications understandable for us.          

3)    We no longer need solo leaders. 
 

Previously leadership was seen as a solo task. One lone person where the buck stopped.  There is a slow movement away from this model, an awareness that leadership as a solo task is not good for business or countries or individuals.  Letting one person shoulder the responsibility and vision is too much work, too much weight for one set of shoulders.  We are ready to see the growth of leadership teams, where responsibility and vision creation are shared. This allows for more synergy, creativity and a more healthy work life balance.  

4) We no longer need perfection. 

We say that we want our leaders to be authentic.  We want to know that they are like us - fallible, human.  Yet, on the other hand, we are not quite ready for them to make mistakes, we still want to hold leaders to a higher standard than we hold ourselves.  Now I am not sure whether this has come from the media or the public, or perhaps one section of society.  There is a resistance to the idea that people can grow, develop change, become better at things - there has been a pressure to be perfect, to have all the experience you need right now.  In this rapidly changing world no-one can have everything they need now for the unknown tomorrow - instead, we need leaders who can show they are learners, that can show they can develop and grow and adapt as the world changes.  

 

What have you noticed about leadership?

How have you seen ideas of leadership changing?

 

 

the imposter of imposter syndrome

For many of us, self-doubt pops it's unhelpful chatter into our thoughts more often than we would like.  It can come in many different forms and one that seems to be common at the moment is “the imposter syndrome”, several well-known people like Neil Gaiman and Sheryl Sandburg have talked about its effect on their work.   I spent 6 years studying women in the workplace (although that was a long time ago) and I wondered why I hadn’t come across this ‘syndrome’ before, so I set out to investigate.  

Originally imposter syndrome was called the imposter phenomenon.   The original researchers Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes (in 1978) described a certain cluster of feelings, thoughts and ideas that they had observed in themselves and then studied in other high achieving women.  The women who experienced the imposter phenomenon struggled to develop an internal sense of their intelligence and competence, despite many outward signs of success such as degrees, scholarships and promotions. They were also convinced that someone would eventually reveal that they were not actually as bright or competent as others thought.  The researchers found that Imposter phenomenon was maintained by four key characteristics.  Firstly who experienced it explained their success by outward circumstances that were not in their control such as luck, or a mistake.  They also worked very hard and tended to be perfectionists their hard work when acknowledged often resulted in temporary positive feelings, but did nothing to minimise their doubts. Often these women lacked the confidence to share their real views or opinions (especially when they were disagreeing) so they felt inauthentic.  They also expressed a strong need to be liked by those in authority which easily became an unhelpful loop when those in authority gave them positive feedback about their work as they discounted the feedback because the person giving it liked them. 

This particular cluster of behaviours and thoughts resonated with those reading about it and it became popularised and turned into the “Imposter Syndrome”.  Somehow a phenomenon (defined by Merriam-Webster online as “a fact or event of scientific interest susceptible to scientific description and explanation”) became popularised and hyped up and turned into a syndrome.  Merriam-Webster defines a syndrome as“a group of signs and symptoms that occur together and characterise a particular abnormality or condition”.  

On one hand, it is positive that it came to our attention because it makes it easier for people to share their struggles.  On the other hand, I feel like taking it from a collection of symptoms that was of interest to researchers and those working with people and turning it into a syndrome grew its weight and importance. 

 Something minor became a big deal. 

People were able to say I suffer from ‘imposter syndrome.” My concern is that a syndrome with all its permanence and solidness has more power over our identities.  The more we get tied up in thinking of ourselves as a sufferer of “imposter syndrome” the harder it becomes to unhook ourselves from the package of emotions and thoughts that we are having. 

The more we identify with it the harder it actually becomes for us to do something about it.  

More recent research suggests that it might be more helpful to talk about imposter episodes, which they found were widely experienced. It is not unusual to have brief times when we feel like an imposter and we can all experience them from time to time.  This doesn’t mean that we suffer from an ongoing syndrome.   Although some may experience more episodes than others and find it more difficult to cope with than others.  Both men and women experience imposter episodes, and evidence to date is inconclusive that this is more common in women than men.  

Talk to your coach, psychologist or professional supervisor to get some support and techniques for coping well with imposter epsiodes when they occur. 

 

what do you think?

A few incidences of people sharing their opinions in various ways over the last few weeks got me thinking about how and why we express our opinions, and how we feel about doing so.  I am sure you have all noticed similar things.  On the one hand I observed someone arrogantly expressing something inappropriate that they hadn’t fact checked and refusing to back down when it was pointed out that it was wrong.  On the other hand I have observed some quite competent and thoughtful people who feel reluctant or shy of sharing their opinions and views.

 

I have also observed that those people who are more reserved with sharing what they think tend to be more open.  They are the ones who can see that they may be making assumptions from a position of privilege, they tend to be open to other cultures viewpoints and being challenged and corrected on their assumptions and presuppositions.  The tension between confidence and openness is one that I have struggled with for a long time, even back when I was a PhD student. I didn’t have too much trouble writing and expressing my opinions to the three people who read my PhD, but expressing myself with confidence and surety was a bit harder always at the back of my mind was the idea that perhaps there was some new research in some corner of the library (yeah it was mainly hard copy research in those days!) that I had overlooked.  How can I be confident in my opinion, or even my summaries of research when the world of knowledge is so vast and there is so much to know?

I do enjoy sharing my opinion (and I have lots of them!), but it has stretched my confidence to put them right out there on a blog.  Of course, my blog is not just my opinion, I try to incorporate researched information with stories and application ideas. This week I set out to find our more about why some people are more confident in expressing their opinions than others, why some people are more open to other viewpoints than others and whether there may be a relationship between the two.  Well, that proved to be a bit of a rabbit hole that I have been in for some days!  It proved harder to find anything illuminating than I thought it would, the further I delved the more complex it has all begun to look.

I started with personality factors, trying to discover what elements of personality may have an impact on our willingness to share.  I looked into what is known as the five-factor model of personality, as that is one of the most robust.  People who score high on extroversion (one factor of the five) in this model are likely to feel more comfortable sharing their opinions than those low in extroversion.   In the five-factor model, those people high in extroversion are described as preferring to direct their energy outwards towards others, and this includes the sub -factor or facet of assertiveness.  People high in assertiveness express themselves forcefully and there is a small relationship between having high self-confidence and being high on this extroversion factor.  Well that sounds to me like the people who have no trouble sharing their opinions on everything and anything  

Openness is another of the factors in the five-factor model.  It is the tendency to seek out and enjoy new experiences, it includes intellectual curiosity and being open to new ideas and values.  That sounds like it describes people who are open to having their assumptions challenged and being introduced to new ideas. Openness has also been shown to be associated with the ability to listen well to others.  Identifying these personality factors that may be at play in these scenarios is helpful as a starter but it still doesn’t explain why people with openness would struggle to express their opinions, and why women seem to have a harder time valuing their own opinions and expressing them than men seem to.  

So I kept on digging.  Eventually, I discovered that there is a gender difference in what is called intellectual risk taking.  Men are more likely to take intellectual risks than women.  These means that men are also more likely to guess if they don’t know, whereas women are more likely to say don’t know rather than to make a guess.  Men are also more comfortable just having a stab at areas that they don’t know about.  

Expressing your opinions, putting your ideas out there is intellectual risk taking. Your ideas can be torn apart,  you can be attacked personally,  someone can tell you, you are wrong or disagree with your ideas. Men don't let fear of this risk stop them sharing, but it seems women do.  Also, risk-taking is predominantly seen as masculine behaviour.  So as women and men are socialised men are likely to be praised for taking intellectual risks and women are likely to be punished. The result of this reaction is that men get more chance to practice intellectual risk- taking than women, and they get better at it.  Women in the professional sphere also feel the need to perform to a higher standard than a man so may be reluctant to share their opinions, ideas or research until they are 100% sure of their statements.  A man doesn’t have this added pressure to live up to.  

Gender differences in intellectual risk-taking is a nice explanation of why men happily share any of their opinions with anyone, while women hold back until they feel confident and sure of their theories. 

Although it still doesn’t explain the relationship between confidence to express ideas and openness to others ideas.  I am wondering and I have no evidence to back this up,  if the delayed closure that is caused by the fear of intellectual risk taking, allows more room for further investigation and listening.  But that could probably be the topic of another post or PhD.

For your thoughts:

How do you feel about expressing your opinions?  

What experiences and reactions to your opinions may have caused these feelings?

When and how have you had your presuppositions challenged?

How open are you to others ideas?  

How can you create safe spaces to practice taking intellectual risks?

Using our strengths and gifts for our own self-care

Do you know your own strengths, values and gifts? It is likely that you have come across some discussion of strengths and values in your workplace, as it has become a common focus recently.      Most of the discussion of gifts and strengths, focuses on how we use them to interact with the world, how we put them into practice in our work, lives or parenting.  The wellbeing literature points to an association between the opportunity to use our strengths at work as being associated with greater well-being.  So knowing and using our gifts can be an important step in our self-care to increase and maintain our wellbeing.

turnthebestofyourselfin.png

After my last post about self-care, I have had various conversations about self-care including my own.  On one level self-care is easy - most of us know the principles and have some ideas of the things that help us be healthy and feel re-energised.  

It is not lack of knowledge that prevents us from taking actions to care for ourselves.    

Other elements are at play that prevents us from prioritising self-care.  Often it can be that we haven’t developed enough self-compassion, we may not value self-care, or prioritise our needs.   

It is much easier to achieve goals that are in line with our values and use our strengths and gifts. Yet most of the discussion around strengths focuses on their outward expression.  A step in becoming better at self-care is to consider turning the best of ourselves inwards.  Self-care may become easier if we find ways to base our practices in what we value, and to mobilise our strengths and gifts in the service of our own well-being and self-care.   

The first step in this is identifying your strengths, values and talents.  A good place to start is with the VIA survey that you can find here.

Then think about your values and how they can underpin your self-care.  For example, if you value honesty taking time, to be honest about how you feel about your work and your energy levels may be an important self-care practice for you. I place a high value on wisdom and I see part of wisdom as caring for myself well.  Self-care will become easier if you take the time to base it in some of your core values.  

Think about how you can turn your gifts and strengths to yourself and your own care.  We often overlook applying strengths and gifts to ourselves.  The most obvious example comes from those I know and work with who have gifts of empathy and compassion. These gifts tend to be mostly focussed outwards, and it takes an intentional attempt at refocussing for them to turn that same level of empathy and compassion to themselves.  Often people who are strong in communication and humour also tend to focus these gifts outwards, intentionally re-focussing these inwards may include journalling to communicate better with yourself, and doing things just for fun to express your humour rather than seeking to be making others laugh.  I am trying to use my strength of curiosity to become more curious about what is going on in my own mind and to spend more time exploring my own emotional reactions to things as a way of increasing my mindfulness.  

Thinking about our strengths and how we can apply them to ourselves, not just others, is a key component of helping us to prioritise and value self-care.  

I have put together a weekly worksheet (also available as a pdf) to help you reflect on how your are and can use your strengths to care for yourself.  At the end of each day reflect on how you used your strengths for others, what you did (or didn’t) do for your own self-care and think about how you could have used this strength to support and re-energise yourself. 

As always I would love to hear how you are using your strengths as a base for self-care. 

 

is self-care a treat?

It seems that everyone is talking about stress these days, just living in our big cities and being employed is stressful.    After the US election in 2016 google searches for self-care rose to a five year high.  I was surprised to see self-care leaving the domain of the helping professions and becoming part of everyday dialogue.  Once a term leaves the realm of a certain profession and becomes part of everyday life it often becomes redefined on the way.   We are seeing that happen with self-care it’s scope has been reduced, and it has become synonymous with having a treat.  From becoming redefined as a treat it has moved to become a commodity.  Self-care is now a term used to tag products on social media, it is now something that you can pay for a little bit of something that you can purchase and that will make you feel better.  

 

The redefinition of self-care as merely a treat has devalued its importance for those of us who work in people focussed professions.  There is an important distinction that we need to emphasis between self-care and a treat.  I like treats, treats are a great way to distinguish between the weekend and the week.  They can help me celebrate, or provide comfort when I am tired, or sad.  Treats are useful things, it is nice to be indulgent every now and again, it can make us feel special and can be a way of showing that we value ourselves.  In fact, treats may make up part of our self-care practice.  But self-care is much bigger and more encompassing than just having a treat now and then.  

The history of self-care is vague. As far as I could discover it came to the fore with the growing awareness of burnout and vicarious traumatisation that grew in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Self-care became acknowledged as an essential part of professional practice for those who were working in people helping professions, as a way of preventing burnout, compassion fatigue and vicarious traumatisation. These professions (including social work, psychology, counselling, clergy) are characterised by intense interactions that make up the core of the work.  People who work in these types of professions need to pay extra care to their physical, emotional, spiritual, and psychological well-being. It is this intentional attention to themselves and their own wellbeing that enables them to do their job well.  It enables them to fully engage with empathy and compassion to their clients.  

It is difficult to define self-care as specific activities because what nurtures one individual may not nurture another.  It is clear that a good base of physical well-being underlies well-being and resilience so that is an important foundation of any self-care plan.  With that physical base in place, self-care should include regular intentional activity that nurtures our spiritual, emotional and psychological health.  It helps build and maintain resilience, in the face of stressful and emotional client interactions.  Self-care is an essential part of professional practice for those in people helping professions. 

We have to attend to self-care to do our jobs well, it is as essential to our work as attending a staff meeting, or keeping up with our professional development and reading in our field.          

I am concerned that as everyone talks about the stress of living and working, it becomes easy to forget that there are occupations that are more stressful than others.  We need to affirm and validate the experience of these occupations as stressful and emphasise that self-care is so much more than cooking a healthy meal or having a chocolate brownie as a treat every now and again. 

Self-care needs more attention and promotion as an intentional and systematic part of our professional development.   

There are other cautions that arise from the development of this culture of self-care as synonymous with treats.  The focus on the individual can lead to too much emphasis being placed on individual responsibility for health and wellbeing.  Self-care doesn’t have to be all about us, it can include others caring for us, even our colleagues and the organisation that we work for.  Research by Maslach and colleagues (2003) have shown that there are many societal and organisational factors that influence the likelihood of burnout.  Although individuals have a role to play in looking after themselves organisations need to also acknowledge the role that they play in supporting the health of their workers.     

For those of you who are in professions that involve a lot of compassionate engagement with other people it is ok to feel like your work is more stressful than others.  Although everyone is experiencing lots of stress at this point of history it is important to acknowledge that your occupation is characterised by stressful interactions.  It is an important and essential part of your professional competency to nurture your own self, so that you are better able to engage empathetically and well with your clients.  Attending external supervision should be an important part of your self-care plan and a supervisor will help you reflect on and prioritise the things that you need to do to enjoy your work and to stay resilient.  

 

keep your creativity flowing

I spent two days last weekend at the Auckland Writers Festival.  It is a highlight of my year, an event I look forward to and I planned ahead with work and parenting commitments so that I could attend.  I enjoyed being around creative people, listening to them describe their creative process, hearing their passion for their work and their topics.  I discovered new books and authors that I haven’t read yet, I met interesting people in the queue for the bathroom and I heard about new ideas.  I left with my brain buzzing, making new connections and throwing interesting thoughts together.  I left inspired and full of new ideas.

 

If you are in a role that requires you to be creative or innovative it is wise to be thinking about how you keep your creativity flowing. You cannot treat your creativity like it is an endless stream that will keep flowing no matter how much you draw from it.  Your creativity is precious and fragile and needs tending and nurturing with care.  You need to balance output with input, to be thinking about how much you are drawing from your creativity and how much you are feeding into your creativity.  If you neglect the tending and the input you may end up feeling like you are wringing the last drops of water from a dry sponge as you try to come up with your next idea.

Part of my well-being practice is to pay careful attention to the effect that different people, different situations and different types of input have on my ability to be creative.  I have discovered that certain people who have certain ways of presenting themselves and their ideas tend to shut down my thinking, they don’t stimulate my thoughts, and they leave me dry.  Other people leave me bursting with thoughts, feeling inspired and creative, and wondering how I am going to implement all the ideas I am having.  Creativity is a complex mix of personality, ways of thinking and the influence of others (including friends and colleagues). So to nurture my creativity I need to pay attention to the mix that is created around me.  Part of how I nurture my creativity is to make sure that my life is balanced with lots of events and people that fire up my creative thoughts.   Attending the Writers Festival is not a luxury for me but an essential practice for nurturing my creativity, and making sure that my ideas are still flowing. 

reflecting on the weekend

I often get to Monday morning totally exhausted by my weekend. I don’t know what happened but somewhere along the way (I think when I became a mum) weekends stopped being refreshing for me.  They are a chore I need to survive and I have become increasingly dissatisfied with them. Long Saturday afternoons spent reading and watching movies are but a distant memory, and so is the feeling of feeling refreshed and replenished for the Monday return to work.  Now weekends are difficult, they go at a frantic 7-year-old pace with lots of bouncing, wriggling, and cartwheels.  Mr Seven’s behaviour is always at its most difficult when two parents are present. Saturday and Sundays start at 6.15am and are packed tight with activity and household organisation tasks until I collapse into bed by 9 pm.  I find myself longing for the peace, quiet and creativity of my work week.

So I decided to use some of my work tools to apply reflective learning to my weekend, to help me think about what is working and what isn't working.  To be able to sit and ponder how I can use my strengths and values at the weekend and in a way that leaves me feeling rested and ready for the week ahead.  For a number of years in my personnel development and coaching work, I have been encouraging others to use critical reflection in their work and to set regular rhythms of reflection and evaluation.  I have also realised that regular systematic reflection has a lot to offer for reducing self-doubt and building self-confidence too.  However last night it suddenly occurred to me that I have never applied the reflective principles that I apply to my work and teach to others to my weekend.  

It is interesting that the wellbeing literature suggests that getting to spend at least 80% of your work week using your strengths, contributes to feeling that you have an excellent quality of life.  We also talk about the impact on wellbeing and workplace engagement of being able to have work that lets us express our values.  Underlying this research about work is the assumption that work is something that we struggle to enjoy and weekends are all fun and enjoyment.  To be honest (and I think this may be true for other part-time working mums) this is the opposite way around for me.

I love my work, and really struggle to enjoy my weekends. 

Household organisation and physical activity do not let me express my strengths or values.  Our time off is just as important, if not more so than our time at work, but sometimes we can be reluctant to apply work principles to our time off.  I guess it makes us feel like we are working instead of relaxing and can sap our spontaneity.  If we are going to use work tools to help our time off we need to avoid using them to make rules and only use them if they do have positive results

I decided to bring together critical reflection, strengths and values to help me assess my weekends as a first step in finding a way forward to expressing more of my strengths and values. It is also an opportunity to assess the balance between each family member in the opportunities they get over the weekend.  To do this I made a simple worksheet which you can see here.  

I would love to hear your ideas of how you use your strengths to make weekends more enjoyable.

 

taking life micro-pauses

When did you last stop?  No I mean really stop.  Stop to do nothing.  I don’t mean reading this blog on your phone while you wait for your coffee to be made, I mean actually stop.  Life has been pretty busy lately and I was at the supermarket the other day waiting in the checkout queue.  As I realised I was going to have to wait for 2 people in front of me instead of feeling impatient like normal I was actually pleased, it felt like a treat.  You see for that moment all that was required of me was to wait, no-one was requiring anything from me (I do my shopping without my son) all I had to do was stand there.   

Waiting in the grocery queue was freeing and energising. 

This world that we live in cajoles us to keep going, to keep up, to keep thinking, to never quite switch off.  We live in an information-rich age, which ironically increases our expectation to know everything all the time.  Our devices with their dings, notifications, time to destinations, task lists and reminders, keep us aware of time, aware of all that we have to do, and the time that we have to do it in.  Usually when I have to wait I am caught up in this trap, I might be checking on blogs I follow, checking my own blog stats, checking to see if anyone has messaged me, writing a list of things I have to do next, or worrying that I won’t have time to do the next things I am trying to fitinto my stuffed schedule.      

Our brains, just like other parts of our body need care, maintenance and compassion to stay in good condition.  Part of how we care for our brains is to give them some down time. Some time when we stop putting information in and relax, letting our brain roam free.  The downtime allows our brain to process all that we have put in,  may assist it in storing memories effectively and being able to pay attention again when we need to. Downtime also helps us to create innovative solutions to those things we may be stuck on and helps our creativity.  Our ability to think and concentrate is also enhanced by making sure we take regular down times throughout the day.  

Life micro-pauses are those opportunities that we have to take breaks during the day, those little moments in which we can detach from the demands placed on us, and relax our bodies and brains.  The first step is to notice all these opportunities, and then to actually be intentional about using them to stop, as it is easy to fill them up with the noise of our connected lives.  Think about how you can use the small pauses that occur in your day to day life as downtime for your brain.  These can be those moments when you are waiting for the kettle to boil, or the coffee machine to heat up, waiting in the supermarket line, waiting for the lights to change, or in the queue at the post office.   These are all times when nothing is required of you, all you have to do in that moment is to wait, to take a moment to rest your brain and rest your body, and simply be.  You might like to be aware of your body or be aware of your breath, and you will need to be intentional about not filling these moments with your phone, magazines, music, the news of other inputs that you have on hand.  Take these moments as opportunities to refresh and re-energise.  

psychological safety

"I don't feel like I can be myself", or "the young people don't feel safe".  It is something I hear a lot, especially in the evangelical environments that I used to be involved in. There seems to be something about Christian (evangelical) environments that make it very difficult to create a psychologically safe environment.   I mentioned psychological safety briefly on my blog last weekbut it is such an important concept for churches and organisations to discuss I would like to highlight it again.  

A psychologically safe environment is one where people feel free to be themselves, where they don't have to protect themselves by disengaging or holding back, where they don't fear negative consequences if they say what they think, make mistakes, ask questions express doubtor challenge the status quo.  In contrast to vulnerability which is largely an individual’s ability to share on a personal level, psychological safety deals with the actions, attitudes and beliefs on a group level.  For those of us in christian environments the biggest negative consequence of speaking our minds is the threat to our sense of belonging to the Christian community.  There is still an
emphasis on ‘in’ and ‘out’ and the feeling of belonging is very (perhaps spiritually) important to members.  Members may be reluctant to express themselves as the consequence is that they are labelled as non-christian or non-biblical, and their sense of belonging to the community is questioned.  

Psychological safety is necessary to encourage innovation and learning.  If we want to grow the individuals in our churches and our churches ability to keep up with societal changes we need to create psychological safety.  Leaders have a role to play in creating a psychologically safe congregation, but the research shows that the members have just as an important part in creating safety.  Leaders can help by modelling how to value and appreciate diverse opinions, by acknowledging the diversity of opinions within Christianity and within their denominations.  They can admit their own mistakes and doubts, and importantly they can model that the status quo can be challenged, and ask for input and feedback.  Members then need to be taught how to value and respect other's opinions, and how to be accepting of others doubts and questions.   As an individual it can be difficult to create a psychologically safe environment,  but it is possible to gradually make some small changes.  The first step is to take some small risks in sharing your own thoughts and ideas, this may encourage others to share as well.  Here are some questions to get you and your leadership thinking about psychological safety.  


Is my church a psychologically safe environment for me? For others?
Do the people in my church seem different in contrast to when I speak to individuals?
3) What are the ways in which we re-in force belonging over not-belonging and hold it as a threat for those who don't conform?
4) Does the leadership admit their fallibility, not just in their personal or spiritual life but acknowledging their blind spots and asking for input?  
5) How do I express appreciation for others opinions?
6) What are the small risks I could take this week to express myself fully?

 

Staying Positive

As we drove through the grassy fields of the Waikato during our summer holiday, we came to a small town.  I noticed that the town had two churches,  they were both rectangles of concrete block or brick that were popular in church architecture prior to 1970.  I looked at these rectangles and became annoyed with our church forebears.  Why couldn't they see that laying out their churches this way, was going to limit the church in the future.  These long rectangles with hard pews set out in rows, it wasn’t going to be the future of the church.  Why did they lack the insight to build structures that were more friendly, that helped us to develop community, discussion and interaction.  Why couldn’t they see that they were just leaving us with problems.  Of course I caught myself, and realised my annoyance was a little irrational and unreasonable, we can only do the best we can based on what we know today.  

This incident made me aware that once we start a process of critical reflection and deconstruction it is only a breath away from becoming critical.   The frustration with the slowness of change, the difficulty of helping people even see the need for change, the work it takes to help people imagine the future, the weight of it all accumulates over time.  The frustrations can quickly lead to a general attitude of negativity towards the church.  As I try and introduce change and cast critically reflective eyes over the church I need to make sure that I have measures in place that can keep me realistic and prevent me from becoming negatively critical.  If I am constantly negative it has an impact on my wellbeing but it also stops people from hearing the genuine critique that I have to offer.  Here are 6 practices that I find help protect me from slipping into negativity.  

 

  1. Have some close friends and/or family who can be completely honest with you, give them permission to say “that is a bit harsh!, I think you are slipping into negativity.”     
  2. Create a practice where every few months you must attend a service or event and you     must find 3-4 things, that were done well, and have a holiday from offering critique.    
  3. Send some positive feedback or encouragements in a card or e-mail to your faith         community leader.  It can be pretty tough being in leadership today.   
  4.  Make time to read stories of successful change in other communities, these stories can    keep you encouraged, help you believe that change is possible and that it will happen.
  5. Create small goals, you are not going to change the structure of the whole church today, but perhaps you can start the conversation.
  6. Record examples of small changes and small goals that you have achieved, as they        occur and look back over them regularly. Change comes gradually and it is easy to         overlook the gains that have been made.

 

tend your garden


A fresh year lies before us, it's pain and pleasures lie tightly furled and hidden from our eyes and ears.  As we are swept into the year it can be easy to focus on productivity and tasks, questions like, what do I want to achieve? What do I want to do? How many people do I want to reach? May be circling around your head.    Before you get lost in the pressure to create measurable outcomes stop a minute and think about what happens if you view your life as a garden.  If as we enter the year we focus on tending the garden (tending our own being), then a premature counting of the fruit (measurable outcomes) is removed.  Instead we need to think about the seasons, the soil, the conditions and the needs of the plants.  We then arrive at a different set of questions to focus our year.  We can think about who we are and who we want to become, we can think about what strengths and virtues we want to grow and the values that we want to express.  

We can focus on what we want to grow in ourselves rather than what we want to achieve.

Here are some questions to think about  

  1. What character traits or virtues do you want to cultivate? (For me it is patience).  
  2. What needs fertilising or extra energy? What type of fertiliser works best? (I definitely need lots of silence!)
  3. What needs pruning? (Sugar and caffeine for me!).
  4. What is feeling dry and desiccated and needs a watering schedule? (my IRL relationships need some work)
  5. What tiny buds of strengths and character do you see in your children or people you work with that you need to notice and nourish?  
  6. What needs to lie fallow?  Which areas of your life are depleted and need to rest?
  7. What is your watering schedule? How will it change as the seasons change?
  8. What is the Holy Spirit saying about which areas of the garden are full of unnoticed life, that may be going to bloom this year?