Time is ticking

In this strange time, where life-as-we-knew-it has been suspended indefinitely, it can be tempting to retreat fully and write the Covid era off as if it were a bad debt.

This is understandable, but it’s also dangerous.

The best case scenario with that approach is that you’ll emerge the other side of the crisis two or three years (hopefully no more) older than you were in early 2020.

But we’ve learned from decades of evidence in arenas of performance that we can’t just turn on and off our best efforts like we might flick a switch.

The further we retreat within ourselves, the stronger the narrative we weave about our inability to perform, the longer we allow our capability to wither away the harder it eventually is to get back to where we want to be.

This is an uncomfortable message. And it may provoke a defensive reaction within you.

You may think, “But that’s easy for you to say”, “Try minding my kids 24/7”, “It’s so hard to make progress in this environment”, etc.

Valid observations but none change the reality of the passage of time and the slipping away of opportunity.

It’s now, when it feels hardest, that we have the greatest need to be at our best, in whatever way we can.

This is as important a time as any to apply the wisdom we have accumulated, to call on the strength we have built up and to tap into the creativity within our nature.

Even in these unfavourable circumstances, we dishonour our own values by turning away from being the person we seek to be.

Time is ticking.

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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 the mood

There’s a larger than usual gap this year between the ideal portrayal of Christmas in advertising and what we are experiencing in reality.

Thanks to Covid, it just isn’t the same. It’s easier, and socially acceptable, to be more downbeat.

It’s also worth remembering that we have more control over our mood than we sometimes realise. And most of that control can be summarised in the axiom ‘mood follows action’.

When it comes to action, we have autonomy and when it comes to behaviour, we have a choice.

And while virus-dampening restrictions have certainly reduced the range of our available options, they don’t restrain us from actions that positively impact our mood. We can still move. We can still act generously. We can still seek to connect with others.

We can act our way into a better mood and we owe it to those who care for us to get cracking.

Wishing you and your family a peaceful Christmas and every good wish for the year 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.

Perfection and compassion

Perfection is rare. It may also be overrated.

The pursuit of perfection can be useful, if it is accompanied by compassion.

Striving for better can create a lot of value but berating ourselves and others when we don’t succeed isn’t likely to keep us doing our best work in the longer term.

The disruption and chaos of 2020 has reminded us that our well-intentioned plans shouldn’t be used as weapons against us when unexpected circumstances arise. Better to focus on our strengths and respond to a changed situation with whatever resources we can muster.

Comparison with others tends to drain us of compassion. When we attempt to assign others to places in a hierarchy, it starts a process of dehumanising which is rarely helpful.

In times like these, you may find yourself wondering how a colleague or competitor can be so productive or polished or outwardly successful. Others may well be wondering that about you. Remember, though, that having your shit together is a transient state.

So as we ebb and flow between nailing it and struggling, what matters most is our overall trajectory. Are we moving in the direction that aligns with our values? Are we giving ourselves the best chance we can by being compassionate, not only to others but also to ourselves?

Compassion opens us to whatever is in front of us and is a form of antidote to indifference and inaction. In this turbulent time, it’s more relevant than perfection.

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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 value of unseen work

Most of our acclaim is given to the results of visible work. But what’s visible is rarely the full story.

Unseen work keeps the show on the road: small sacrifices, no-big-deal solutions to emerging problems and wise interventions that prevent disaster.

Every organisation, business and family unit depends on unseen work for survival.

We often talk about privilege in our modern society as it applies to background or identity. And that’s typically in the context of underappreciation. Succeeding on the back of unseen work of others is also a form of privilege.

It’s useful to spend more time noticing, and acknowledging, the unseen work that’s all around you. Acknowledging that work will allow others to feel more included and that will build a healthier, and more productive, dynamic all round.

Thank you for doing the work we rarely see.

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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 unlikeliest of gifts

Sometimes gifts can come in the most unusual wrapping.

It’s become popular in recent weeks to speak of 2020 in negative terms. Every time something bad happens, the wry comment is soon to follow, “that’s 2020 for you”.

But it’s rare that anything is entirely negative. Sure, this year is ‘net negative’ for many but that also suggests that there had to be some positives.

After the week when Americans celebrated Thanksgiving, it’s timely to reflect for a moment and flex our under-utilised gratitude muscle. Are there aspects of this year that we can appreciate?

Or put another way, what gifts has this crazy year given us?

As you reflect on your answers, you may be surprised to find more gifts than you had realised. Such is our tendency to adapt to a changed circumstance, we all too frequently discount some of the special moments that came along the way.

And best of all, it reminds us that even in an uncertain future, there are plenty more gifts waiting for us.

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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.

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.