Gary Gowers guide to getting past the 6-month wall

A guest blog on getting past the 6-month wall, by Gary Gower, a wire fox terrier that likes to be heard.

A long time has passed since I wrote my first ever blog – my guide to life in lockdown. When I wrote it I didn’t realise that the corona virus would impact us all so significantly or for so long. Last week we hit a 6-month wall.

I’m Gary Gower, a wire fox terrier and I live with my PA Lucy Gower.

At the start of lockdown we were optimistic. I was delighted that I got better walks and the long evenings and the light mornings meant I got the best sniffs of the day. My PA got really busy providing more support and connection for her membership community, the Lucidity Network. We even had Zoom lunches where I got to wear a cravat and cheer people up just by being me! But then we got Zoom fatigue from looking at people and pets on a screen all day and we went into a decline.

That’s when my PA had a panic as her work is mostly training and conference speaking in rooms with lots of people. They stopped happening. She wasn’t going away at all. We were stuck at home alone and I missed seeing my friends at doggy day-care. We both got a bit grumpy and anxious.

I think this was when my PA started baking cakes. She made a different one every week to practice new recipes’, and feel she was learning new things. But that stopped in June when she said the cakes were making her clothes shrink.

Then we worked hard at optimism. My PA appreciated that she wasn’t spending much on petrol. We got lost on the common a lot as (my PA said she had to do 10,000 steps a day) and we appreciated discovering new tracks and bogs. I appreciated the volumes of stinky mud I got to roll about in.

We’ve definitely got to know each other better, and we have adjusted to a different life. My PA always has an online delivery booked in, and the cupboards are better stocked in case we get locked down. We do good walks and don’t get lost as much as before, although there has been less mud. We moved to a smaller house that apparently costs less and I have new neighbours to bark at.

But last week I’ve noticed my PA is back in a slump. I think she hit a 6-month wall. She’s got a kind of disinterested boredom. She said she has brain fog and is finding it difficult to concentrate. She’s talking about wading in treacle. She’s struggling to be motivated to do anything; work, relax, watch TV, read or do the washing up. At least she still gives me dinner and takes me for walks, but even that feels like an effort. I think her mood affects me. I sit on the top of the stairs with a sad face. Even my favourite toy, Christmas Pig doesn’t cheer me up.

I was listening to the radio and apparently there’s a thing called surge capacity.

According to Ann Masten, PhD, a psychologist and professor of child development at the University of Minnesota; Surge capacity is a collection of adaptive systems – mental and physical – that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations, such as natural disasters.

However, she says that natural disasters usually occur over a short period and are visible. If there’s a hurricane or a flood you can look outside and see the damage. And according to my PA (dogs don’t have great sense of time passing) we passed the 6-month wall last week and there’s nothing visible – just an uncomfortable feeling of indefinite uncertainty.

Masten says. ‘It’s important to recognise that it’s normal in a situation of great uncertainty and chronic stress to get exhausted and to feel ups and downs, to feel like you’re depleted or experience periods of burnout.’

Basically we run out of steam. No wonder my PA is feeling it. Maybe you are too? Me, not so much as I’m a dog and I just roll with the punches, but my PA talks about a feeling of loss; loss of ‘normal’ life.

Gary Gowers tips to get past the 6-month wall

The ‘new normal’ is indefinite uncertainty. All the tips to help you adjust to life in lockdown in my last blog still apply. In addition, here’s some things that I’m working on with my PA to help her keep going for however long it takes.

Give yourself permission to feel what you feel

If you feel rubbish, disconnected and disinterested then that’s OK. You don’t have to be brave if you’re just not feeling it. Work on just accepting that’s how you feel. Give yourself permission to expect less. It’s OK if you feel like sitting on the sofa. It’s OK not to feel great. Accept that it is what it is for now. I just go and sit in my bed with Christmas Pig.

You can’t change the situation but you can change how you approach it

My PA said that 2020 had been a ‘sh*t show’. Acknowledge that and then find a ‘yes and’ to go with it. For example, ‘this year has been really tough but me and my PA have got to hang out a lot and go on some great walks with some brilliant mud which has been really great’. Don’t deny how you feel, and in addition to the gloom, see if you can find a positive ‘yes and’.

Make plans

We all need to have something to look forward to. And lots of us have had big plans curtailed by the pandemic. (I was supposed to go and stay with my grandparents, who give me lots of treats and I was super disappointed). Don’t stop making plans for the things you enjoy doing. It helps to have something to look forward to. Even planning a walk with a friend can make a positive impact on your day. Recently my PA and me went canoeing to the pub with some friends. We looked forward to it, and it was a really super afternoon.

What things do you miss – and how can you recreate them?

We’re all missing things, holidays, coffee with friends, playing at doggy daycare. Jot them down. Are there things that you can adapt? For example, many people have told my PA that they miss the informal chats at work while making tea because all they do now are proper meetings. Can you start the meeting 10 mins early and everyone in the meeting make tea first to still have those chats? I miss when my PA used to leave me on my own when she had meetings, so I go and hide on my PAs bed and pretend she’s gone out.

Build your resilience bucket

Humans are resilient. You all have a full bucket and every knock back spills some resilience out of it. So its important to do things to keep the resilience bucket topped up and not let it get empty, because that’s when you burn out. Thankfully I’m one of the things that keeps my PA’s bucket topped up. She feels better after going for a walk or when she fluffs my beard up into funny shapes, or boops my nose. What’s your thing or things that help to build your resilience? And can you do them regularly so your bucket doesn’t get empty?

Stay connected

According to Masten, ‘The biggest protective factors for facing adversity and building resilience are social support and remaining connected to people. That includes helping others, even when we’re feeling depleted ourselves.’ 

I know that when I’m feeling grumpy I just want to sit on the top of the stairs on my own, but I know if I go for a walk, chase a ball, chew a stick and sniff other dogs that I feel much better.

Humans need to stay connected too and make a deliberate choice to do it. It can be easy when you have disinterested boredom to just go inside your own head. Be deliberate about stepping out of your own head and connect with others on a regular basis.

If you’d like help, support and connection to get past your 6-month wall, check out the Lucidity Network. My PA runs it. It’s a mix of training, learning and connection to a network of brilliant people to help you keep your resilience bucket full during the new normal uncertainty. You get to have the occasional lunch with me too. For more information and to join us click here.

Why does coaching work? So you’ve set some goals…..what next?

A guest blog by Jennifer McCanna.

Why does coaching work? This is something I often explore when running coaching skills courses for managers. There are lots of answers: it provides a non-judgmental space for you to come up with your own ideas, solutions and priorities. When you strip back the noise of the emails, the WhatsApp’s and the back-to-back Zooming, it’s amazing how swiftly you can access a way forward.

A great coach will also give you the right level of challenge and support to try the tricky stuff, to make difficult decisions, to stretch and grow. It’s hard to consistently stretch ourselves on our own.

A key part of helping you stretch is holding you accountable for the actions you commit to. You’re much more likely to commit to having that difficult conversation if you know you’re reporting back to your coach about it in a month’s time. That’s another reason why coaching works.

Accountability is crucial to how successful you will be achieving any goal. How often have you set some goals, and how often have they been drowned out by the noise of everyday life and not been achieved? We create accountability in many ways, not just working with a coach or mentor. For example, when we set up a fundraising page for that charity run and send it to our friends, we are creating accountability. We have to do the run now, because our friends have each donated a hard earned tenner to see us do it.

I’ve seen how setting goals and being held accountable to them really helps people make progress.

That’s why I’ve created a goal setting webinar especially for Lucidity Network members. These might be work goals or goals relating to a next career move. It’s a 90 minute webinar that incorporates both space for reflection and some accountability both to fellow participants and to me as a leadership coach.

Thinking about what matters to ambitious managers, I know you want to learn, grow, stretch and make the most of your talents. That’s why we’ll be spending 90 minutes really getting under the skin of what the next 6 months looks like, using some creative exercises and then turning those into really practical actions.

Crucially this goal setting webinar includes a follow up a month later so we can all be accountable to each other and I’ll be setting myself some goals too around helping you to achieve yours. Through this group approach we can all move our work and our careers, forward.

This year has been, let’s be honest, totally weird. But it’s not over yet. If you want to focus on making the most of 2020, and if you want to start 2021 really knowing where you’re going, join us!

To get access to this goal setting webinar as well as training materials, group coaching, a business book club, networking events and connected to an excellent group of people who will help you be accountable to reach your work life goals, join the Lucidity Network today. 

Jennifer McCanna is a leadership coach working with leaders & managers to develop the strategies, confidence and resilience to create a fulfilling and balanced work life, through 1-1 coaching and group programmes.

Follow Jen in her supportive corner of Instagram for coaching tools, models and powerful questions to help build your confidence, skills and influence. 

https://instagram.com/jen_the_leadership_coach?igshid=1exq4de5s5whz

www.mccannacoaching.co.uk

In a crisis investment in your workforce is the key to survival

A guest blog by Alex Marshall.

I’ve spent my career working in the not for profit (NFP) sector. For the last five years I’ve also worked simultaneously for commercial organisations and start ups in the sport, business, and technology sectors. I specialise in helping organisations provide an excellent employee experience to their workforce. One of the biggest differences I’ve noticed between sectors is in their approach and investment in their workforces.

The arrival of the global pandemic crisis has highlighted this difference to me even more starkly. Where NFPs are stripping back all people-related cost centres, many corporate organisations are doubling down on their people strategies and renewing their commitment to their workforce and employee experience.

Why this stark difference in approach?

It would be easy to argue it’s purely down to money.  NFPs run on a tight shoestring at the best of times, with many funders refusing to support core people costs.

Tech start-ups are equally at the mercy of multiple sets of investor/funder demands. However, they choose to take a more people-centric approach. They believe that ultimately the people they employ and the experience they give them are the key to survival and success, not services or products. These will only ever be as successful as the talent they employ. In times of crisis, they believe you need the best talent to be creative and innovative, as well as different perspectives to fight fires and solve problems.

Research data supports this.  Organisations which invest in their people are more resilient in times of crisis and more sustainable in the long-term. Ultimately they are more successful financially because they are better positioned to attract the broadest range of talent.

Where NFP organisations have an innate advantage in times of crisis is they are built on a strong purpose. This provides a strong sense of direction and inner compass when navigating choppy waters.

Many people dedicate their working lives to NFPs because they want to make a difference to society.  They care passionately about the causes they work for. The sector is built on passion and a culture of going ‘above and beyond’, driven by employees’ innate sense of mission. However, when budgets are tight, this can lead to the development of their people being depriotirised because employees will stay in a role because they are passionate about the cause.

Whatever sector you work in it’s easy in a crisis to have a knee jerk reaction to cutting expenditure. This includes cutting investment in recruitment, training, and wellbeing. It’s easy in a crisis to stick with what you know and look for short-term solutions from freelancers, contract staff and consultants. It’s easy in a crisis to focus on your product and services, forgetting the most important element for long term success, which is the experience you give to your employees combined with the quality of their skills, attitude, and motivation to succeed.

Here are my top tips for quick and cost-effective ways to improve the employee experience for your workforce and therefore your long-term success:

  • Recruitment – If you are about to embark on a recruitment drive, make sure assets like your website and social media channels are up to date and communicate your values. These will help potential candidates get a feel for your organisation, especially now that they can’t do so in person.
  • Onboarding new starters virtually can be daunting for both parties. Consider creating a short welcome film featuring different employees sharing some of their top tips and stories about working for your organisation. This is a great way to connect a new starter to the culture and feel of the organisation.
  • Much has changed for organisations in the last three months, so revisit your organisational values. Your organisational values are core principles, which guide behaviour and decision-making; check they still reflect who you say you are and amend/tweak them accordingly.

Alex Marshall runs Spot The Gap, supporting individuals and organisations to be more inclusive and impactful, through better employee engagement, campaigns, and communications. Twitter: @lexymarshall

 

 

 

If you’re looking for cost effective ways to engage and develop your workforce, check out the Lucidity Network – a friendly professional community, that together with online training and coaching, gives members the tools and support to work remotely, manage uncertainty and achieve success at work.

Get out in nature for good health and resilience

A guest blog by Ellen Fineran.

I regard spending time in nature as one of my top priorities for feeling good about myself and staying resilient. That’s been even more relevant since the COVID-19 restrictions.

I grew up as a pretty feral child of the 1970s but then a career in the motor trade with long hours and a daily commute, combined with being a single parent, left little time for nurturing my soul through nature.

It wasn’t that nature wasn’t still all around me; more that I tended to ignore it and didn’t see its importance in my daily life. Then, in my early forties, I began working for Derbyshire Wildlife Trust as Head of Commercial Development. Being around so many people who were passionate about our beautiful wild spaces reawakened my need to connect with nature and I now feel the healthiest and happiest I’ve been throughout my adult life.

And don’t just take my word for it – there is plenty of evidence that the natural world is the foundation of our health, wellbeing and prosperity. So if you’d like to feel the benefits of exploring the nature that’s on your doorstep, here are my top tips:

Don’t be scared – you don’t need any PPE or specialist skills to get out into nature. Find a local park or green space near your home where you can social distance from others, take a stroll and enjoy exploring. Personally I love spotting a Public Footpath and seeing where it leads to!

Really notice – nature is everywhere, no matter where you live, and very often we just don’t see it. Listen to the blackbird singing on the neighbour’s roof or notice the wild flowers growing on the roadside verges. I love to watch the seasons change and I enjoy the different colours, textures and sounds that each season brings.

Nature can alter your mood – find a space somewhere green to stop, sit and think. Take deep, conscious breaths and use all of your senses to experience it. If you can let yourself relax into this, it really will empty your mind and give you a new perspective on things.

You don’t need to be a wildlife expert – I don’t care that I don’t know the calls of all the birds or the names of the plants, but I know that I love the sound of birdsong and I take joy in looking at lush green leaves. As humans, we have a natural curiosity to understand everything around us (which is great if that’s your thing) but needing to know can take the joy out of simply enjoying nature and wildlife and feeling connected with it. So be blissful in your ignorance and enjoy the moment.

Build being in nature into your daily routine – make daily choices which bring you closer to nature. For me, that was getting a dog and taking a morning walk before work. If that’s not for you, find your thing. For example, you might take a stroll with a friend at lunchtime or have your post-work glass of wine in the garden.

Have fun – I love taking part in The Wildlife Trust’s 30 Days Wild each year in June and it starts next week! The idea is to carry out a simple and fun Random Act of Wildness every day throughout June and share it with your friends on social media. It can be anything from spotting a bee in a flower to having a cuppa in the sunshine.

And finally, my best advice really is to just get out there and enjoy the natural world around you. Wherever you live, whether that’s in a city, the countryside or somewhere in-between, exploring the nature on your doorstep will help you stay healthy and resilient in these difficult times. I know that the days when I’ve started off with a mindful morning walk across the fields are the days where I feel energised and productive and ready to take on this crazy world.

Ellen Fineran is Head of Commercial Development at Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, a member of the Lucidity Network and in her spare time she can be found baking amazing cakes and exploring the countryside with her dog Beano.

Here’s your link to take part in 30 Days Wild and get your free pack of goodies to help you to plan your wild month. We’re looking forward to seeing what you get up to.

Take one lockdown day at a time

Now I’ve experienced lockdown, I absolutely promise never to absent-mindedly muse about ‘having time to binge on box sets, or ponder how great it might be to just do nothing and stay in.’ (Has anyone else in the past ever wished for that?)

Turns out that in week 4 of lockdown, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. The days have merged into one. I’m scared of my own reflection. I’ve taken lounging about to a new level and must remember that the dog licking my face does not count as ‘washing’. Groundhog day doesn’t’ even come close.

Lockdown is like we’re living the most boring movie storyline of all time where nothing happens. Or possibly we’re living amidst a conspiracy theory. Climate change activists have created a (fake or real) virus to stop all human activity until the planet is on the road to recovery. These are the things that chatter away in my fretful mind at 3am as I lie awake and wonder what will happen tomorrow (nothing), next week (probably nothing) and next month (unknown).

What would the movie be called? Stand Away From Me, Honey, We’re Home Schooling The Kids, 12 Bored Men, Nothing Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Sound of Coughing, Eternal Sunshine of the Bored Mind, or Pandemic (oh Netflix already took that).

I’ve been reflecting over the last few weeks and I’ve learned that;

We all have good days and bad days Whatever our personal situations, we’ve all got a lot going on in our brains. We’re isolated and worried about friends and family, yet crowded out from being locked in with family. We’re anxious about the uncertainty of the future. We don’t know when the situation will end or what ‘end’ looks like and our lives will never return to ‘normal’. Some of us don’t know how we’ll pay our rent, or if we’ll have a job or if our loved ones will be OK. All of us are on our own unique journey. We’re all at different places at different times. Emotions come in waves. One minute it’s fine, you’re making the most of the lockdown situation, enjoying Netflix, cleaning out that cupboard under the stairs and doing an online Pilates class, the next minute you question the point of your own existence. When you’re OK someone else is not. Sometimes (mostly) it can help to talk and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s a gamble. When you’re trying to hold your shit together talking to someone who is having a super day can make you feel terrible (or good). And talking to someone who is not doing as well as you can drag you back to (or help you out of) the dark place you’ve been trying so hard to escape from.

It can feel constantly overwhelming I know that I’ve felt overwhelmed by lockdown and the big picture situation of changing our way of life entirely for an indefinite amount of time. I’ve also felt overwhelmed with the day to day, for example the panic of the supermarket cheese aisle getting too crowded and the few people who don’t get the concept of social distancing brushing past others (me) who are patiently waiting to get their cheddar supply. I’ve felt overwhelmed by so many webinars, catch up calls, check in sessions, WhatsApp groups and Zoom conferences. I feel like I’m constantly multi tasking to keep up with correspondence (which I’m failing at), then I feel bad about failing to check in with everyone and also frustrated at not getting anything else done.

I appreciate and value very much the invitations to connect, but I can only manage so much per day before feeling like crawling under the carpet until it’s all over.

Concentration seems to be a thing of the past I just can’t think straight. Part of that is due to the constant connecting. Turning off all my notifications and hiding my phone has helped so I can do some tasks without consistent anxious checking and scrolling.

In the ‘normal’ world I work really hard to break my day into chunks. I have a schedule and lists to help me be productive working from home. I’ve been doing it for years and the processes and systems I have work for me. Check out my free webinar with my tips for being happy and productive working from home here.

But something has happened.  With lockdown a brain fog has descended making it really hard to think properly about anything. Maybe its because it’s a paradox of nothing to think about combined with the immensity of what this pandemic means that my brain just kind of shuts down and can only manage one day at a time.

So I’m sticking to the tried and tested systems and processes, including writing a realistic list and plan for each day and diligently working through it. Yes, it does have things like, clean teeth, get dressed and drink coffee on it. It is helping though. This blog has still taken me about a week to write.

Busy is a construct of our own minds and time speeds up and slows down I’ve been saying this for a while. I help individuals, teams, and organisations drive change and the biggest barrier to innovation, or doing things differently is ‘too busy’. Busy is a badge of honour. We’re too busy. Now what? I know some people are busier than ever as colleagues are furloughed. However, I have a hunch that those of us who objectively have nothing that they have to do are still too busy to get the boring things that we don’t really want to do done. Like cleaning the house from top to bottom, sorting out paperwork or painting the spare room.

If your work defines you (which for many of us it’s a significant part of our lives and who we are), not to have to go to work can feel like a bereavement. We’re all experiencing a wide range of emotions and like the press keep telling us we are living through ‘unprecedented times’ so we don’t have a blueprint of how we should be feeling and how to respond to those feelings.

My lockdown learning over the last few weeks, is that to manage, you’ve got to tune into you, and what you need to keep yourself as well as you can. You have to put your oxygen mask on first in order to be able to help other people. I don’t know what the ‘right’ thing is for you to do. Take one day at a time. Listen to yourself. Accept that how you’re feeling is how you’re feeling. Acknowledge if you’re feeling dark. Think about what you might do to help yourself edge towards the light. And also trust that those feelings will pass.