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.

Preparing for the season ahead

Facing into the autumn/winter of 2020, we’re well resourced for what lies ahead.

We’re certainly better off than we were heading into this year’s spring and summer. We have valuable experience of living, and working, through a pandemic. We’ve learned a lot of lessons, and have the benefit of the wisdom that accrues from making many mistakes.

However, that wisdom only becomes valuable when we apply it. Here are some reminders to get us moving in the right direction.

1. Different game, different rules
If we approach the months ahead in the same fashion we did last year, we’re setting ourselves up for suffering. The game has changed so we need to play by new rules. Old routines need to be shaken up. We need to be proactive in designing our days and weeks for the reality we’re in now. Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it has to be worse. We have the agency to make it work.

2. Overcompensate with joy
The universe provides us with a lot of spontaneous joy during the summer months: longer days, better weather, more pleasant outdoor experiences. Knowing that it doesn’t fall into our lap as easily for the next while, it’s time for us to make an investment in joy. You may not have a more useful question in the coming months than asking, “What will I do today to generate joy?”

3. Align expectations to your own values
Comparison with others has limited benefit. At times like these, we need to reset our expectations to fit our own individual reality, not anyone else’s. By getting clearer on what we value and then honouring those values consistently, we can avoid the trap of feeling like we’re doing this wrong.

4. Apply those learned lessons
It’s possible you’ve forgotten a lot of what happened earlier in the pandemic. That’s ok, we’re not machines. But much of what you’ve learned about what works for you (and what doesn’t) is still valid – as long as you make the adjustments now to apply those lessons. Take time to take stock on your experience. Then act accordingly.

5. Be your own best friend
This isn’t the time for tough love. More than ever we need compassion, especially in our self-talk. Rather than being hard on ourselves, we can work to set ourselves up for success. We can adjust our lighting. We can celebrate the small victories. Do the same for others, if you can.

Remember, preparation trumps worrying. Every time.

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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.

You are not your plans

“You are not your ____________” is a useful template.

Most commonly used in relation to thoughts or emotions, this reminder is worth repeating.

Over the years, I’ve observed many business owners, startup founders and ambitious professionals fall in love with their plans. Big ideas, grand ambitions and high hopes.

Sometimes those dreams were realised, but often they weren’t. Circumstances changed. Contact with reality meant adjustment was required. And for most, Plan A went in the bin and focus moved to Plan B.

But for some, the transition away from Plan A was too painful. Attachment to the original plan became a problem. Identity and sense of self had merged with these stories of a better future.

The result? Unnecessary suffering and a reduction in capability.

Plans are just plans. Helpful for aligning effort to a specific mission, but they aren’t defining, and they aren’t made of DNA or etched in the landscape.

In this year of unexpected upheaval, it’s worth remembering you are not your plans.

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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.

 

Wearing our Sunday Best

In an age of ‘fast fashion’, the concept of wearing our Sunday Best feels almost prehistoric. Or at least, quaint.

There we were, at our cleanest, with our smartest clothes. Looking the part, as it were.

In recent years in my coaching work, I’ve used the term Sunday Best to label the phenomenon of holding back our best effort for the ‘right’ occasion. It’s surprisingly prevalent.

Over the course of our lives, we are continually accumulating wisdom, but rarely applying fully what we are learning. We seldom wear our Sunday Best.

Instead, we act out of habit, we conform to our environment and social pressures, we succumb to the story that this moment isn’t as important as a future one.

The alternative is to mindfully embrace each day for what it can bring. And to show up with everything we’ve got, whatever that looks like on a given day.

Why wait until the ‘right’ time?

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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 Great Avoidance

We’re getting a lot of messages these days that promote avoidance. We need to avoid contact, avoid risky behaviours, avoid touching our faces, and so on.

The overriding instruction is clear: you need to retreat.

The problem though is avoidance can become contagious, spreading from the useful towards the counter-productive.

The dilemma for us as professionals is that we can’t afford to be on the back foot. Our important work (that high-value work that requires courage, and for us to be all in) won’t get done if we let the habit of avoidance take hold.

As Mark Freeman has written, “Trying to avoid difficult things makes difficult things more difficult”. Might sound convoluted, even paradoxical, but it’s true.

So, it’s in our interest to develop our skill at discerning the usefully avoidable from the kind of avoidance that will slow us down in the short term, and over time greatly diminish our capability.

Developing that skill starts with raising our awareness of what we might be avoiding. It’s highly likely you’re now thinking about what you’ve been hiding from, just because of reading these words. Make that realisation a habit.

We need a safer version of you, not a lesser one.

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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.

Same storm, different boat

“We’re not all in the same boat, but we are all in the same storm”.

Recessions, even the more severe ones, tend to impact the professional world in predictable ways. But this pandemic has cut into our established ways of working in different places: restricting human contact, accelerating technological trends and forcing many sectors into an uncertain paralysis.

If you’ve been glued to the news for the past six months, you may be surprised to hear that for some this has been a year of improved opportunity and greater business.

Some are reporting that they are doing better when working from home and are hoping that this continues for the foreseeable future.

Two points:
1. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that others are in your boat. Most are likely to be experiencing this pandemic differently from you.

2. Your capability to cope with your own situation will benefit from developing an empathetic understanding of how others are doing. Seek to learn what it’s like for them, rather than looking for validation of how good/bad your own circumstances are.

Compassion mightn’t pay the bills or open the pubs, but it does open us up to a path of less suffering.

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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.

Hitting the target

We don’t always hit the target.

As professionals, the essence of what we do is to hit targets. It feels great when we do but the nature of hitting targets is that sometimes we miss.

And the whole point isn’t to hit the target every time. What counts is that we aim and fire. And do it again.

Collectively, we lose more not from the targets that were missed but from the attempts that were never made.

Please continue to aim. And to fire.

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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.

A better type of mistake

A better type of mistake is one you haven’t made before.

A better type of mistake allows you to learn from what just happened.

A better type of mistake raises more questions than it provides answers. The kind of questions that are worth investigating.

When we’ve had a bad run, we tend to prioritise avoiding mistakes. We retreat, shrink and play it safe. We’ve lost the stomach for the process of growth.

Over the long run though, retreating is a worse type of mistake. Temporary shelter to rest and recover is fine but permanent bunker-building will diminish who we are and what we can contribute.

So, rather than avoiding all mistakes or just making the same ones over and over, maybe a more useful move is to find better mistakes to make.

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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.

A time to celebrate small victories

When the going gets tough, we tend to underestimate the value of a small victory.

If the bigger picture stuff seems chaotic, just like we’re living through with this pandemic, then we can get derailed and lose our focus. Understandably. It’s entirely human to be swayed by the emotional impact of hazardous circumstances.

It’s easy to lose hope, to stop believing in the value of progress and to become apathetic. This can interfere with our capability to perform at a basic level, which quickly creates an unwelcome feedback loop as our underperformance aligns with the negative mood music.

The antidote is to keep notching up small scores on the board.

As an example, in recent weeks I’ve worked with clients who are struggling with their inability to get ‘deep work’ done while they share the same space as their children. I feel their pain.

Faced with this dilemma, there are two broad options. The first is to abandon the ambition and retreat into struggle mode. The alternative is to shrink the target and try to hit it more consistently, in this instance finding ten to fifteen minutes of deep-ish work whenever possible.

A previously insignificant achievement now becomes a small victory. And these are victories worth pursuing and celebrating.

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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.