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.

Carrots and sticks are so last century

Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us, by Daniel H Pink was the first book to be reviewed by the Lucidity Network Book Club. Overall the group enjoyed the book and whilst some of the concepts may be easily recognised, it was acknowledged that implementing all of them into a work environment may not necessarily be that straightforward. It was agreed that the use of examples and provision of toolkits for various scenarios at the end of the book provides a useful resource to draw on in the future.

What motivates us

Using science and research, Pink presents a very clear argument as to why current business/working systems are outdated. Pink states “Carrots and sticks are so last century. Drive says for 21 st Century work, we need to focus on what really motivates us and upgrade to autonomy, mastery and purpose”, before going on to explain that, when it comes to motivation there is a gap between what science knows and what business does. The current operating system, built around external reward and punishment motivators, doesn’t work. The book provides examples of the types of work that can be motivated by carrots and sticks and those that can’t, highlighting that a ROWE (results only work environment) is needed. The challenge is how to implement this concept in diverse work environments. Fundamentally what motivates us is about trust and management shifting their attitudes to trusting their staff, this aspect resonated strongly within the group discussion.

The main points the book makes is that:

1. Times have changed but companies are slow to adapt to that change.

To illustrate Pink posed a question: in 1995 which encyclopedia would people have expected to survive, MS Encarta or Wikipedia? Few people would have imagined a Wikipedia world back then.

2. We have moved from a Motivation 2.0 world (carrots and sticks) to a Motivation 3.0 world (inherent satisfaction in the work itself).

Explaining that for routine tasks incentives may still work, but for more creative tasks these can have a limiting or event sometimes damaging effect, causing people to stop an activity previously enjoyed, or encouraging some to take shortcuts. Examples included research with primary school children, those that would choose to stay in the classroom and make drawings in their play break, when offered a payment stopped doing so.

3. There are 3 elements to Motivation 3.0 – Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose

  • Autonomy is our default setting, people need autonomy over task, time, team and technique to be high performing. Companies that offer autonomy, sometimes in radical ways, outperform their competitors. One well-known company that ‘gets’ autonomy is Google. Creation of 20% time, where people are free to work on projects of their choice, has enabled products such as Gmail to be created. The book talked about reward not just being about money, which raised concern in our discussion that it could be used as an excuse not to pay enough. However, Pink clearly states that salaries must be at a reasonable level for everything else to flow from, i.e. removing salary from the motivation conversation enables the important aspects of Motivation 3.0 to be explored. We also discussed the need for tools, having autonomy over how, where and when you work is limited if you don’t have the appropriate tools or support to carry out the task at hand.

 

  • Mastery is an interesting concept. According to Pink it is i) a Mindset – requiring you to see your abilities not as finite, ii) a Pain – it requires effort and grit and iii) it is Asymptote – it is impossible to fully realise. Pink’s example of learning French helps to illuminate this idea. Learning French to pass a test is not the same as learning to speak French fluently. Both can fuel achievement but only one achieves mastery. Mastery happens when people are in the ‘flow’ which is the optimal experience when the challenges we face are matched to our abilities, however Pink cautions that “the path to mastery is not lined with flowers or rainbows….if it were more of us would make the trip”.

 

  • Purpose is no surprise, it is something that all humans seek, ‘a cause greater and more enduring than themselves’. Through the use of language and policies, Motivation 3.0 allows purpose maximisation to take its place alongside profit maximisation.

Our conversation ended with us looking at aspects of the book that we could apply to our own areas of what motivates us in our work. Use of the toolkits to analyse where ‘flow’ happens for each of us, or possibilities to explore what autonomy and mastery means to our teams were starting points. Finally, we asked what our personal motivations are and common themes emerged around working with great people and improving peoples living and working circumstances. No carrots or sticks required!

Guest blog by Sam Mills is Head Of Projects at Changeworks and Lucidity Network member.

Interested in joining our book club? Take a look at the Lucidity Network – a place for people pushing to make change happen, a place to learn, a place to share and a place to connect. Check it out and join us here.

Do you work in cycles?

Do you work in cycles?

At the last Lucidity Network event, Productivity Ninja Grace Marshall gave a thoughtful and fun talk on how to be less busy and more productive. She was great, and as always got me thinking. I’ve written before about not leaving your personality at the door when you arrive at work and about being your best self. Grace spoke about the human experience of work. How with technology, automation and remote working the work environment is changing. But we are still human beings doing jobs and whilst we can adapt to change (albeit slowly sometimes) we are still people and we have certain needs and limitations. And our customers are people with needs and limitations too. Sometimes an automated response simply isn’t adequate when we need to connect with another human.

I took three key things away from Grace’s talk.

1. Cycles – everything in nature has a cycle. In a year we have four distinct seasons, each with a different purpose. Do humans have cycles too? I certainly feel low energy at this time of year and much better when we’re fully into spring and even better in summer. I think I do have a yearly cycle. In a day we have cycles too. Everyone is different – some people do their best thinking in the morning, others in the afternoon. Taking regular breaks is important for productivity too. The art is noticing when you’re at your best and planning the difficult work that you really need to apply brainpower to then. And if you can, do this on a daily basis, and if you can a yearly one too.

2. Efficiency and effectiveness are different. You might be very efficient at say, stuffing envelopes, but if sending an email will get the same result in quicker time the most efficient envelope stuffer in the world is not working effectively. I suspect this happens a lot in organisations where things have always been done the same way, no one questions the status quo and there is little appetite for change.

3. Human capacity – this is how much we can take on. It’s not about having a full diary, it’s about knowing what your own capacity is. For example, just because you have a space in your diary, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have the capacity for another meeting. If you’re tired, it’s hard to concentrate and time without attention is useless. Linked to this, is your emotional capacity to do things. We only have a certain amount of emotional capacity and some days require more emotional capacity than others. We need to keep our emotional capacity at a healthy level. Become more aware of how you’re feeling emotionally, for example, do you feel like you’re on a knife edge or that you can cope with anything that the day throws at you? Notice the people who build your emotional capacity and those that drain it. Spend more time with people who build you than people who drain.

If you’d like the opportunity to listen to great speakers at exclusive events and get help and support to be less busy and more productive then check out the Lucidity Network. For a regular dose of food for thought and to stay in the loop with our upcoming events, sign up for insights. You might also like the free Lucidity Facebook community – a place to get help and support as well as access to expertise and advice. Join here.

When did you last feel really confident?

when was the last time you felt confident

When did you last feel confident? Now? Earlier today? Yesterday? Last week? Last month?

Over the last 6 years I’ve worked with individuals, teams and organisations to help them to think creatively and develop their ideas to get better results. I’ve learned that regardless of role, seniority or sector, the two biggest things that stop people achieving the results they want, are lack of time to think and lack of confidence.

I do not believe that some people are born confident and others are not. I’ve noticed that people who are more confident deliberately work at maintaining their confidence.

Dips in confidence can affect both individuals and whole organisations. When the pressure is on it can be easy to lose our nerve to push forward with a new way of working, product or idea. I’ve noticed that lack of time and lack of confidence are connected.  When we’re busy, stressed out, juggling many conflicting priorities our attention to detail can slow. We drop balls. The odd dropped ball doesn’t matter, but if several balls drop at once it can knock us back. That often knocks our confidence. And when we’re busy we don’t take time out from our packed schedule to regroup and put our confidence back on track.

In her TED Talk, Angela Duckworth tells us about ‘grit’ – the ability to persevere in the face of setbacks. Her research shows that when it comes to achieving success, grit beats talent every time.

Whilst we know that we need to dust ourselves off and keep going, it can be much easier said then done.

Our setbacks are emotional.  Whilst rationally we know we must pick ourselves up and keep going, we have to wait until our emotions catch up with our rational thought process.  Only then can we move on. We need to allow ourselves time to do this. And if you are in any doubt about these two different thinking systems check out The Chimp Paradox.

Working on confidence can feel intangible but focusing on it is part of looking after ourselves along with eating well, getting enough sleep and exercising regularly. When we are taking time to look after ourselves it helps us keep our confidence in check. When we feel good we feel more self-assured and more confident to tackle whatever situation working life throws at us.

If you’re keen to be more deliberate about building and maintaining your confidence here are my top three quick and practical tips. Do them daily.

Log your achievements Get yourself a notebook or create an online file and log your achievements. Log them all, especially the small ones because they add up. Keep the good feedback you receive from other people; a thank you from a client, the well done good job email from a manager or the time your team went the extra mile for you. Write them down. Writing them down helps you to acknowledge them, which makes you feel good. In addition, seeing your achievements written down helps you realise how far you’ve come, the positive impact you have every day and how much you’ve achieved overall. Instead of your ‘to do’ list – it’s your ‘I did it’ list.

Call out Imposter Syndrome The nagging voice that tells you you’re not good enough or are going to get found out is a thing. Its called Imposter Syndrome and 70% of people are affected at one time or another. When that little voice tells you that you’re not good enough and anything good that happens to you is luck – call it out. For example, I acknowledge that it’s happening and disconnect that annoying voice from the real me and tell it to pipe down. Your task is to find your own way to change the negative story that your inner critic is telling you. Look for evidence to deny the things that your inner critic is saying. For example, if you think that you’re a failure, ask yourself, “What evidence is there to support the thought that I’m a failure?” and “What evidence is there that doesn’t support the thought that I’m a failure?”

Build your troupe This is your trusted network of friends and colleagues, the people you go to for help, the people you can talk though problems with, the people who help you to dust yourself off and keep going. You need people who listen, challenge and ultimately you trust are on your side, people who have your back. As well as building your troupe of people who build your confidence, disengage from the people who put you down and shred your confidence.

When it comes to achieving success, who you know is so much more important than what you know, yet I notice that many people don’t invest much time and energy in deliberately building their trusted networks.

So I’ve set up the Lucidity Network, to help you fast-track your networking and your route to great results. The Lucidity Network is a  ready made troupe to keep your confidence up when you need a boost as well as offer expertise and connections to others that can help you. Members also get exclusive content on relevant topics as well as webinars with experts, a confidential Facebook Community and regular events.

Click here for more information and to join the Lucidity Network. 

A version of this blog first appeared on Optimum Living’s website.