Category Archives: Sunday Wisdom

So, who am I now?

In almost every coaching conversation I’ve had in recent weeks, I’ve heard some version of “I’m not sure why I’m finding all of this so hard”.

What’s interesting about that observation is that I hear it across the spectrum, no matter how well, or badly, coronavirus has changed our circumstances.

One factor that’s worth exploring in this regard is our identity – how we see ourselves and how we present ourselves when we show up in the professional world.

This crisis has shaken our belief in who we are. Most dramatically, if your job has disappeared or your business has evaporated then your role in the world isn’t the same as it was two months ago.

Even for those of us with less obvious displacement, the nature of our working lives has altered significantly. Maybe you were used to spending several weeks a year traveling internationally? Maybe you spent most of your time out and about meeting clients and colleagues? Maybe the time you spent up close with others was what brought you most joy?

If we’re to believe what the scientists are telling us, then that world is gone – either for a long while or for good.

So, who are we now?

As the answer to that question begins to unfold, it’s important for us to acknowledge the loss of who we used to be. We need time and space to process that loss.

If a colleague recently lost a loved one, we wouldn’t encourage them to shake it off and try harder. Yet, that’s what we seem to be doing to ourselves and others right now.

All forms of loss generate grief and more suffering is inevitable if we try to ‘hack’ or suppress the grieving process.

We will still work. We will still thrive. We will continue to serve and to create value. But we’ll do it best when we acknowledge our humanity rather than deny it.

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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.

Two months in…

As we begin our third month of pandemic-related restrictions, there appears to be a change in the mood music.

The feelings of freefall have diminished. A sense of growing horror has evolved to a weary acceptance of a changed reality. And finally, a chink of light has opened up as some extra movement and operations are now being permitted.

So it’s a good time to take stock of how our behaviours have been affected by the lockdown, as we navigate our way to the next phase.

In particular, it’s worth looking in more detail at our daily practices and habits, as some of these have become established a little under our awareness radar.

Four useful questions to answer:

1. What habits, or ways of being or thinking, have I developed during the lockdown that I want to bring with me as things begin to move towards something close to ‘normal’?

2. What habits, or ways of being or thinking, have I developed during the lockdown that I want to leave behind as things begin to move towards something close to ‘normal’?

3. What habits, or ways of being or thinking, from pre-lockdown times do I want to re-establish again and sustain into the future?

4. What habits, or ways of being or thinking, from pre-lockdown times do I want to never go back to, and leave in the past?

Some tips to get the most from an exercise like this:

  • Write your answers down, you’ll be surprised what flows out when you do.
  • Go easy on the judgement. We all have a bunch of things for #2 that don’t appear in any ‘high performance’ list but we’re all working through a major trauma. It’s important to cut ourselves some slack as we look back.
  • And finally, ask a loved one or colleague for some observations – you might be usefully surprised.

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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.

 

An investment in joy

We feel better, and perform better, when we create joy.

Joyful experiences are enlivening, encouraging and energising. They are like rocket fuel for us to express ourselves fully as we really are.

During a pandemic, though, we have a couple of obstacles between us and the generation of joyful feelings:

1. We are swamped with negative inputs: the news is bad, our lives are restricted, much of what we love to do is unavailable – it’s like gravity has been ‘turned up’ and everything feels heavier.

2. We feel guilty if we’re joyful while others are suffering. “How can I feel good when my friend is in hospital?”, “How can I enjoy my job when many have lost theirs?”, “How can you laugh when the news is so grim?”

So, it isn’t easy. But, finding joy has never been more important.

If we allow circumstances to diminish us, or choose to disable our own responses, then we are committing to a lesser version of ourselves.

Investing in joy delivers a high return in happiness and performance.

For me, simple things like dancing with my daughter, going for a run or spending some peaceful moments in nature can make a massive difference to how I spend the subsequent hours.

We all have different tendencies and passions but we can find joy in the mundane, the simple and the inexpensive. It’s an investment worth making.

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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 counter-cyclical utility of mood

When it comes to our professional performance, our mood doesn’t always help.

After a good day, or a run of good days, our mood can become so high that it tends towards giddiness, which can lead to delusion and over-extension.

At the other end of the spectrum, when results are going against us, it can be hard to shake off of the negative emotions that ultimately impair our performance.

The key here is to realise that our mood is often most useful when it runs counter-cyclical to the rhythm of our performances.

It turns out the time we most need to “feel good” is when the challenge seems greatest, and maybe the best time to be more level and reasoned is when the metaphorical champagne corks are popping (not in a joy-sucking way, mind).

Armed with this wisdom, we can help ourselves by preparing for the inevitable ups and downs by building the means to tap into a certain mood when we most require it. Knowing who to involve or what to do, or what to not do, to stimulate the most useful mood is the kind of intelligence worth investing in.

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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 practice of being yourself

The biggest shift in opinion that I’ve noticed in my eleven years of executive coaching practice is our attitudes to the concept of mental health.

Back in the day, most of the non-useful attitudes and judgements fell into two main categories: weirdness and weakness.

The diversity movement has encouraged us to celebrate that which is different, but we’re still prone to harshness when noticing a struggle in one of our colleagues (and we’re absolutely our own harshest critic when we’re struggling ourselves).

So, despite significant progress, we’re not there yet. As an example, in my work, and this is also true of many of my colleagues, I tend to refer to mental fitness and mental strength rather than mental health. This is for a variety of reasons, mostly to lower our resistance to self-examination and to making progress without unhelpful judgement.

My favourite mental fitness/strength/health quote is from Canadian author Mark Freeman:

Mental health is the practice of being yourself.

Of course, the key word here is practice. Acting in alignment with who we are and who we want to be is useful in the moment and allows us to build strength in different arenas.

The opposite is also true: acting out of alignment with who we are creates greater suffering for ourselves and others.

Mark’s book is called You Are Not A Rock and I’ve given this to many clients, and recommended it in talks, since it came out.

It’s far more useful for us to realise that all of us are on a continuum of mental health, just like physical health. So, rather than wasting time creating judgements about good or bad, strong or weak, we shouldn’t lose sight of our ability to improve our mental fitness through our own choices and actions.

Go practice being yourself. ❤️

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. This extract is part of a summer series sharing great quotes from great books. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

If selected

If you ever listen to sports people with a humble disposition, they’ll often qualify a preview of a forthcoming contest with the words, “if selected”.

Not everyone can be picked on the team. There are only so many spots. So, all dreams are contingent on being selected.

But you and I don’t have that dilemma. We can select ourselves. We can stand up, and enter the arena.

We can choose our own path, we can pick our sport, we can change our team. The full expression of who we are requires us to select ourselves.

It might feel more comfortable to hide and tell yourself that the rules of the game mean you have first to be selected to play.

Do you want to be the person who looks back and says, “I coulda been somebody, if selected”?

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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.

 

On giving up

“Never Give Up” was the slogan of the week in the football world recently.

It turns out, though, that giving up is often a wise strategy.

Sometimes we realise that we should have given up sooner. Think of dysfunctional projects that dragged on too long, jobs that didn’t fit, toxic relationships, habits that suited a younger version of ourselves (the list is longer than you think) – for all of these we clung on a bit too tight. Shoulda given up.

Here’s the twist: never give up on yourself.

By all means, let go of activities and beliefs and involvements that are past their ‘Best Before’ date, but never give up on the project that is you.

You deserve your own backing. You deserve the best chance you can give yourself. You deserve your own compassion when it might be in short supply elsewhere.

When it comes to being the best version of you, never, ever give up.

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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.