Goals and Dreams
"Reach as High as You Can Day" has found its way today in the US onto the ever growing calendar of things we might celebrate or notice on an annual basis. Its origins not only lie in the probability that athletes competing in the high jump might set themselves particular goals today, its wider resonance is reminding us that setting goals and pushing to achieve great things that we might aspire to is important. Today is that day and this is your reminder.
This got me thinking about the goals that we might have set before the UK wide lockdown, and how these might be reshaped or abandoned right now. It is likely that many of us did not have global pandemic on our personal and business risk registers. Many of us may have been working on our career development plans and looking to build networks, grow our businesses, reach new customers or markets or generally take better care of ourselves and our lives.
I have seen evidence of two mindsets just now, one that looks to keep the head down, and re-ignite the plan after lockdown has finished. The other seizes the opportunity to use the time differently, realign the goals for a period of physical isolation. There are no limits on the extent to which we might use the time to catch up with the work and personal development tasks that we might have pushed to the back of the mind. Sorting, clearing out and filing can be therapeutic, and in doing so, we might just rediscover the email that we meant to send or respond to that could set you off on a new adventure. Low priority "might do someday" lists suddenly become worthy of attention.
Isolation also brings for some of us, the realisation that we can take back the feeling of a lack of control only through our own actions. I had cause the other day to dip into "The Chimp Paradox" by Professor Steve Peters and was reminded of the clear difference between a dream and a goal and why the distinction is really important. "A dream is something that you want to happen but it is not fully under your control... goals are something that you can set and achieve because you have full control of them. Goals increase the chances of dreams happening."
It is important that we continue to check in on our dreams and on the goals needed to support them if they are to happen. Wherever you are working today, take time to reach high and set a goal or two.
Stress Awareness Month
April 30th marks the end of national stress month for those of us that were not stressed enough to notice. In reflective space I have been wondering what Covid -19 has done to your stress levels. Press and social media reports give an interesting range of perspectives.
For those of us worried about our own health or those of others, this is a stressful experience, the daily reports of death and hospital admissions make grim reading and don't reduce the stress and worry. If you are on the front (or even back line) of the response, the adrenalin required to perform well, the healthy stress response might be tipping over into the unhealthy.
On the other hand, some report that they have been using the opportunity presented by lockdown to notice the absence of the usual routine of appointments, commitments, and events and see this as somewhat reluctantly welcome and their untypical loss has led to a new freedom and a new awareness of what is important. Have we been forced into a new state of mindfulness by accident rather than by design?
Anecdotal evidence suggests part of our national response has been to eat and drink more, those taking daily walks might have recognised the overfilled glass recycling boxes and the growth in prosecco zoom parties. These are what the clinicians would call the unhealthy responses to stress, so what is the alternative in a routine now firmly set within our living space and shared physically only with those we live with. Keeping active is a significant strand to the public health advice, will the Covid coping daily stroll become a part of the new routine? Gardening is blossoming for those with the time and commitment, a substitute for the trips to the gym or the golf club. Online exercise classes clutter our social media and the dusty yoga mates in the loft are being dusted down. There are reported waiting lists to purchase turbo trainers. Mine is dormant in an unwelcoming garage if anyone is brave enough to face the temperature.
So, as April closes, lets rethink our stress busting strategies that are working, and celebrate our resilience, our bounce back - ability, and how even in lockdown, we have a lot of choices about how we take care of ourselves.
The experience of the last few weeks, with the lockdown measures imposed as part of managing the global pandemic have led many of us to reflect that most days very much feel the same. Our normal routine, interrupted by meetings, events, leisure activities and interaction with others feels like a distant memory. "It feels like Groundhog Day" is a phrase I have heard often.
That led me to remind myself about the origins of "Groundhog Day". This is a tradition from the US, but some argue has its roots in an ancient Christian tradition of Candlemass, where clergy would bless and distribute candles needed for winter. The candles represented how long and cold the winter would be. The Germans expanded on this concept by selecting an animal - the hedgehog or a badger as a means of predicting the weather.
Groundhog Day is a popular tradition observed in the US, on 2nd February, and is founded on the belief that if a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day, and sees its shadow due to clear weather it will retreat to its den and winter will persist for 6 more weeks.
A further definition of Groundhog Day is a "situation in which a series of unwelcome or tedious events appear to be recurring in exactly the same way." This would appear to describe very well our current experience. The longing for change and for a more dynamic state of being is strong at a personal, community and society level. I wonder if we might think about the prospects of returning to our den for a further 6 weeks until spring. What would we truly long for, what would be our plan if we had 6 more weeks before the routine of life returned? As the prospects of some easing of restrictions is now underway, what tedious and repetitive events in your life need reassessed when you get out of your den?
Choose Your Guests Carefully
I was struck by the news this week that couples who have planned weddings during the lockdown period are having plans stopped in their tracks, delayed or severely restricted. Whilst the marriage itself (the legal bit) can be done relatively easily and with only 2 witnesses, the wedding (the party bit) has been hit hard. I myself was due to attend a wedding in July.
In Northern Ireland, weddings can now take place, but only 10 guests are allowed to attend. Many families might heave a great sigh of relief as the normal stress and etiquette of who to invite and which cousins can be excluded are going to be avoided. However, the job of deciding on 10 people could also be a challenge.
I have been struck by what went through my own mind, as a couple of weekends ago, I was able for the first time to meet people in another household, and had a choice about who I might spend those vital moments with, as I emerged from isolation. Those people know who they are, and despite the geographical limits, there was a choice.
In romantic relationships we are used to the idea that people might get "dumped" or couples "split up". It is interesting that we rarely take the same chance to dump our friends or family. Now is a good time to reflect on who drains you in your life, who demands your time and energy for little return? With whom do you have to split up?
Take a little time this lockdown to clear out the contacts and remember to choose your guests in your life carefully.
The Hair Fixation and Avoidance of Colour at Home
The world in lockdown became rather interested in hair and hairdressing. Not to undermine the significant health risks presented by Covid - 19, the closure of hairdressers and barbers has been the subject of much social and printed media traffic. The sale of hair clippers, do it at home colouring and associated paraphernalia has gone up considerably. Facebook posts and YouTube videos of how to cut hair have been noticeable, in our home, there was a clipper purchased and my son has a "done by dad" affair. I am looking forward to the array of home colours gone wrong, and the wonky fringes as we increasingly mix with others, even at a distance.
The state of our locks is clearly an important part of our self-esteem, our self-image, our confidence. Friends have suggested they would not be seen out without a hat. Others are embracing the growing greyness, the slightly longer than usual waves, or the swept over fringe. Myself, I have been trying to embrace what my hair would naturally do, but am struck at how much the opportunity of a trip to the hairdresser is on my list of priorities. I have been pondering this, as I am not someone who is hugely obsessive about my looks, so why is this so important?
Clearly at a psychological level, how we look is an important part of how we feel about ourselves, and how we want to be portrayed to others. Given lockdown, I wonder if it is actually about much more than that. Usually we have considerable freedom in how we look, we make choices about our clothes, which shoes to wear, and what make up we want to apply. However, we have little choice about the length and colour of our hair, given there is not much we can do about it without professional help (in my case anyway). I wonder if going to the hairdressers also represents the characteristics of that freedom. Choice of whether and when to go, being part of a routine day of pleasure, meeting up with others in the salon and beyond, and showing off our tamed locks. It can be part of a decadent day out in a prestigious salon with accompanying treatments and pampering, or a quick short back and sides in a local barber.
Irrespective of financial or social standing, we can't stop nature taking its course. This virus is impacting on the clients I work with, and those whom they seek to serve. It is challenging us all to think about the things that are fundamental. How is your organisation looking these days?
No Problem Madam
We have all been impacted by Covid -19 restrictions in different ways, some of these have been good and some not so. How we engage with others professionally and personally has changed and might do so for a while. Some of us will have been making use of existing and well tested models of remote engagement, ordering online, weekly grocery deliveries, and online banking. In other cases, those on whom we rely have been delivering what we need in a new way for the first time. This was their response to ensuring physical distancing, and continuing to serve but keeping customers and staff safe.
My vet now takes orders for vet food on the phone, the pharmacist delivers my prescription without asking, I am engaging with my GP via an online portal, and now on first name terms with my Tesco delivery driver. Not wanting to be too hairdresser obsessed (my last blog), my hairdresser phoned me to ask if I wanted to make an appointment. Don't get me wrong, there was good reason for that. They are surely keen to secure slots for regular clients, get the business back up and running and manage the (likely high) demand on their online booking system.
There are questions about the extent to which the customer service offered in lockdown should be a permanent feature of the landscape. Why should the delivery of medicines, food, and veterinary products be confined to the vulnerable? Surely, this way of serving the population should be part of a mix going forward as businesses reopen. Personally, I did not purchase any takeaway food during lockdown, but I know of cafes and restaurants where this is their only way of generating income just now, and might be for some time to come until social distancing rules change more dramatically. If this model works in part, how might it feature in the future. I am getting used to things coming to me directly and businesses saying yes, we can deliver. The job market is changing as a result, with delivery drivers as one of the key growing occupations.
Amongst the charities I work with, the initial Covid -19 was one of immediate risk assessment and closure and moving of services to a different model. Now, charities are looking to embed the new service delivery model as "business as usual". If there is no going back, what does the future delivery landscape look like? If charities want to say "yes we can deliver that for you?", what does this really mean in terms of our physical presence, the leadership and the infrastructure of service design and delivery.
A Risky Staycation, Fleet of Foot
Growing up within reach of the sea and enjoying the evidence on its benefits on my health and wellbeing, being denied a day at the seaside during lockdown has made me envious of those within a 5-mile access. On a related matter, my planned holiday to Florida in the summer didn't happen for obvious reasons and like others I enjoyed the offers of a "staycation". I am also intrigued by that term as it implies you stay where you are, when in fact it means going away, but just doing so in the UK. That is when my mind turns to the idea of going to the seaside. What is it about the sea that we find so alluring?
I find a solo walk on the beach peaceful and rejuvenating, in Scotland, it's not always the kindest of weather, and a walk on the wet sand, in howling gales can replace the need for any high-end exfoliation products on the face and feet. A doctor told me once that the healthiest thing for your feet is to walk barefoot (I might have imagined that). The sea is powerful, timeless and endless. I find being near it reassuring, and provides a connection to nature that I find harder to replicate elsewhere. I have happy memories of many childhood holidays by the sea that I think brings a familiarity and comfort when I reconnect.
At the moment, there are risks associated with travel, even when it is permissible. The news is still featuring local hotspots where the coronavirus continues to take hold, and prevalence is not faltering and on the rise. Journeys by public transport still feel hazardous as someone who has not left home since March. Car journeys feel safer, but the inevitable stops on route involve mixing with an array of different families with different vulnerabilities and exposure. Not all hotels or communities will be welcoming. Self-contained accommodation is already going for a higher than normal premium.
Many comment that it's hard to plan anything right now, that brings benefits as well as frustrations. The best way to deal with uncertainty some say is to make as many things certain as possible, be in control of only the things you can control and try not to worry about the rest. For charities that I support during these odd times, planning is now "in the moment" drawing on what is now, and being fleet of foot enough to go back and forward as restrictions change. Where are your "feet" right now?
If, like me, the news of a further lockdown has left you with a heavy heart, you will be keen to get out and about for your daily walk, as prescribed by HMG. Social media and mainstream networks have been reporting the significant rise in visits to accident and emergency as a result of falls on the ice. It feels like a cruel world, that as soon as lockdown hits, the pleasure of a daily stroll has been replaced at best by small and tentative steps, with bodies tensed and preparing for a fall. Dog walkers have gone up in my estimation.
I have to declare that I have taken a couple of tumbles, bruised limbs and pride only. It has brought home the extent to which we are vulnerable to our environment. Vulnerability is something that I speak about in leadership with mentees and those leaders I support. Do we admit it if we think we are about to fall, or have fallen? To be on the ground, helpless and stunned, even for a moment, awakens a deep need in us all to be picked up, nurtured, and soothed by a mother figure. To accept the hand of a friend or stranger is an act of vulnerability in itself, or is it just being human?
The cure for injured limbs I learned in an elementary first aid course, with the acronym ICE (ice, compression, elevation). If no bones are broken, then the healing of sprains and tears will take time. How many of us just carry on with the busyness of life, and don't give ourselves that time to heal. The ICE approach is designed to enable the body to heal itself, but elevation does demand patience, sitting still and avoiding using the offending limb for a while. I observe from afar, those around me for whom resting is not part of their vocabulary of life and for whom healing will be hampered, prolonged and hard. Is this principle not true of all aspects of life, including our working life? Taking a metaphorical tumble at work can take time to recover from. I firmly believe in the value of mentoring, a safe space in which you can rehearse the fall, take a safe pair of hands to help get you back up again. No apologies, no explanations, just a presence in times when it feels hard to get up. A place of healing.
Please do reach out for this kind of help in these most difficult of days to keep you upright.