Facing up to the truth

A vital stage of growing into adulthood (for some a lifelong journey) is accepting that we’re not always right, or that we mightn’t be the best person for the role, or that we just don’t have enough votes.

If we’re never wrong, and others are rarely right, then we’ve either retreated into a tiny zone of competence or we’ve lost a functioning relationship with reality.

As professionals, we generate both waste and suffering when we prioritise saving face over solving problems. 

When we feed the mythology of our own superiority, we’re using up valuable time which could otherwise be applied to improving our craft or serving those who need us.

There’s an old line from ice hockey coaching that tells us “if we play for the name on the front of the jersey, then everybody will remember the name on the back”. And it’s true for us too, in the important work we do as professionals. We often get this the wrong way round.

When we are fully in service of others, it helps to disarm our own ego and frees us up to work at our best. Recognition tends to follow service, even if we sometimes wish for the opposite.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

In praise of patience

I’ve noticed a new feeling emerge in coaching conversations and in general discourse in recent weeks. We’re getting more impatient.

It’s understandable, of course. People are tired of Covid even if most, thankfully, haven’t had to deal with its symptoms. And with optimism over vaccines and the beginning of the holiday season, many are eager to move past the discomforts of lockdowns and restrictions.

In coaching work, I’ve noticed that the impatience has two dimensions. The first is the desire for normal human experience again. To socialise, to interact, to embark on adventures. To live life at its fullest.

The other component though may not be as helpful: impatience to move away from discomfort. At its least useful, this kind of impatience prompts us to seek new forms of distraction and stimulation. Anything novel that allows us to avoid answering hard questions or facing up to challenging truths.

Maybe we’re asking a lot if we’re expecting a post-Covid world to be free of such discomfort?

Developing the practice of patience allows us to see more clearly, to embrace discomfort and to act from a place of greater wisdom.

While impatience is understandable right now, maybe patience is more useful.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

All we can do is our best

Despite the promise of great reward, we often underperform when we become obsessed with desired outcomes.

Thinking big can be useful. Being ambitious can be helpful. Having a clear target can be energising. But over-identifying with a particular outcome can derail us faster than we might think.

One of the lessons I’ve learned from years of coaching is that superior performance comes more reliably when we focus on what I call ‘best effort’, rather than desired outcomes.

The essence of best effort is distilled into four elements:

  • Showing up as best we can, as regularly as we need to..
  • ..embracing the most important work that requires our attention…
  • ..in alignment with our values,
  • and in a sustainable fashion

Of course, ‘best effort’ isn’t merely a matter of good intention. Or just about working hard.

In many ways, it’s a commitment to knowing what best effort means, to be willing to make sacrifices to allow our own full expression and to be compassionate enough to ourselves to allow us the prospect of long-term improvement.

And the best news of all is that it’s largely within our own control.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

If Trump wins..

This isn’t a piece about politics. You can find plenty of those elsewhere.

I am interested in what we do when planning for what we might fear as the worst case scenario.

All too often, we get over-attached to desired outcomes. Along the way, something that we would like to see happen morphs into something that must happen or else...

When we have minimal, if any, influence in determining those outcomes, becoming over-attached builds up the potential suffering if things don’t work out our way.

Of course, politics is on the extreme end of attachment as it strays into identity. Strange things can happen when we lose our sense of self within a tribal set of expectations.

You can test your attachment by completing the sentence, “If Trump wins, I will ……………………”

Possible reactions might range from indifference to delight, from despair to life-threatening angst, from frustration to fury. It’s worth reflecting upon.

If you can sense some struggle, then it may be useful to reframe this as advice you would give to someone you care about. Imagine if a loved one was about to sit an exam that they really wanted to pass, or interview for a job that offered them dream employment. What would you say to them when things don’t work out?

You’re likely to provide encouragement, to remind them of their worth beyond any one-off event, to add perspective and remind them of many other opportunities that are open to them. You’re unlikely to tell them to be angry, or to take to the bed, or go online and abuse anyone they disagree with.

So, what advice can we give ourselves as we prepare for a worst-case scenario? Do we want to be compassionate to ourselves? Do we want to be a best friend to ourselves when we might need it the most?

If we do, then we prepare for the worst. We plan actions that allow us to continue to function, that nudge us towards what is good for us and away from what would bring us regret.

And this is true for all attachments, not just election outcomes.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

The incredible shrinking world

Can you remember what you were doing this time last year?

If you still have access, it might be useful to look at your calendar from October/November 2019. It’s highly likely your activities were more varied than they are right now.

As you reflect on where you were and what you did, it’s worth comparing how you felt about your opportunities in the world then vs. now.

The pandemic has dramatically shrunk the size of our world.

Our options are fewer. Our movements are restricted. Our interactions are limited.

I don’t need to remind you of the downsides. Our perspectives can become narrowed. Our reactions tend to lose appropriateness. Our belief in ourselves can become diminished.

Our #1 job in the coming months is to push back against this powerful shrinking force.

For sure, we need to do what we can to limit our movements and interactions in alignment with the best available public health advice. But we don’t need to turn in on ourselves and compound the problem.

Small decisions can have a big impact. Minor tweaks to our responses and approach can break the cycle of habits that shrink our perspectives and beliefs. Just a couple of percent of an increase in our ‘expansion’ week to week can accumulate quickly.

That our world has shrunk is not a reason to beat ourselves up further, or to act out on our frustration. But we can’t deny that this is happening, nor that we have the agency to respond more usefully.

Our world will expand again. Maybe sooner than you might fear. It’s time to prepare accordingly.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

 

The alternative Budget update

My inbox was full of budget updates this week. I noticed increases in some levies and activities, reductions in others and the introduction of certain initiatives. The world keeps turning.

Maybe an alternative budget might be useful for us?

Increases:

  • A 25% rise in commitments to spending time outdoors
  • A 50% improvement in planning our most important activities, especially in uncertain times
  • Doubling in social instigation – if you reached out to say hi once last week, do it twice this week
  • A tripling in investment in joy-generating activities – essential to offset the downsides of imminent lockdowns

Reductions:

  • A 50% reduction in agitated news following and doomscrolling
  • Cutting back the practice of over-filling our calendars with video calls (min. 20%)
  • 25% week-on-week cumulative reduction in practicing avoidance – time to reverse the trend and embrace what needs to be grasped
  • Move to eliminate the habit of assuming worst intent when communicating online – to be eradicated by EOY20

New Programmes:

  • Commitment to at least one project that will hold value a year from now and requires consistent and regular effort
  • Allowing ourselves to experience an entirely new hobby/practice/activity to ensure we are counteracting the forces of psychological contraction

I could go on. I trust you get the idea.

Even though we have common needs, we find ourselves in different situations. Do what you can to prepare for the eventualities that lie ahead.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

The light at the end of the tunnel

We speed up when we see the light at the end of the tunnel. Our ‘freedom’ is imminent and we advance with excitement.

Right now in the world, we’re facing into a prolonged period of uncertainty. We’re not sure what’s going to happen with Covid-19 and we don’t know how long-lasting the impact is going to be on our economy and our working lives.

As of now, the end of the tunnel is out of sight.

What can we do?

First off, we need to ensure we keep moving forward through a tunnel and not retreat into a cave. It’s tempting to give up when things are going pear-shaped and the mood music is relentlessly negative. But those who need us are out of luck if we choose to down tools. They need us now and they’ll need us when the world looks a lot better again.

If the end of the tunnel is too far in the distance, the least we can do is illuminate the stretch ahead of us. There are two useful ways of doing this: first, by maintaining a longer-term focus, committing to projects that stretch into a timeline of months and years. This allows us to look past the daily setbacks or latest gloom, knowing we’re on a more substantial mission.

And we can generate light by pre-committing to activities that we know will lighten our mood and allow us to be at our best. If we miss social interaction, we can send three invitations to reconnect with friends/colleagues every week. If we’re burning out from staring at screens, we can head outdoors or read a paper book. If we’re bogged down in career uncertainty, we can revisit our areas of greatest interest.

It’s time to light our own way, and keep moving forward.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

Playing to the whistle

You’ll hear this reminder at field sports of all ages: play to the whistle!

Sometimes players stop, believing that a foul has been committed, expecting the referee to intervene. But the whistle never comes. The game is still going on. Now they’re playing catch up.

This metaphor is apt for those of us trying to work in this pandemic era. It’s easy to get distracted, to down tools and lose our focus when we hear of worsening case numbers or imminent changes in restrictions.

It seems like the whistle is about to be blown. But often, it isn’t. We need to play on, and do whatever we can until we know for certain that we cannot.

In uncertain times, make sure you play to the whistle.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

Second time round

It’s easier second time round.

There may be some exceptions to the rule. Many report that their first marathon is their best. If you’ve hit a hole-in-one on your first day out, then you have a long wait for lightning to strike twice.

But in general, we do better when we have experience of a previous attempt.

This is useful to remember as the world moves towards reimposing greater restrictions on activity in an attempt to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

Second time round, you’re in better shape to take this on. You’ve learned many lessons and you can prepare accordingly.

It’s also useful to remember that media coverage of the pandemic isn’t primarily concerned with your performance or your mental wellbeing. It’s designed to be compelling, dramatic and addictive. It’s helpful to be informed but you’re unlikely to be at your best if you’re continually hooked to an evolving horror movie.

Second time round. You’ve got this.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

Combatting the Covid craziness

I’m sure you’ve noticed it too.

More than half a year of living our lives in a different way has changed how people are reacting and relating to each other. And it’s not all good.

Almost every coaching conversation I’ve had in the past couple of months has referred to increased levels of conflict, and even aggression, in everyday interactions. Shortened tempers, inability to gain perspective, assigning too much importance to insignificant stuff – these are all classic signs of a lack of emotional balance and regulation.

Here’s the thing: none of us are immune from this. Bad behaviour isn’t inevitable but when we reduce the level of positive stimuli in our environment, this can result in an atmosphere that tends towards the negative.

If it’s not immediately obvious yet in your personal circle, just have a look at how people are interacting online and on social media platforms (pro tip: not for too long!). We were on a longer-term arc of anger pre-Covid but this has now moved up a level or two.

So, how do we combat it?

Most of the solution is in awareness and acceptance. This is the environment we are in. We’re human, prone to these tendencies. We will cope better when we’re able to notice what’s happening and then choosing our response, rather than immediately engaging in an aggressive or defensive fashion.

And it’s useful to be proactive about this too. Some groups are starting video calls with a couple of minutes of mindful meditation, even if it’s just taking a few breaths. Some leaders are owning this and explaining that these tendencies are with us, helping us to de-escalate rather than digging in.

A deep breath is invariably better than a sharp bite.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.