How to keep your head in turbulent times


The networks come alive with news of unexpected change via emails, text messages, phone calls, and corridor catch-ups. The disruptors are at work and we are distracted, again.

When our attention flows outward to the sights and sounds of the latest scoop, we can so easily lose our focus and our footing. So what we do next is critical to our mental health, professional profile and personal relationships. How different might your experience of this next season  be if you were to see change as a process of negotiation?

Use your head to find your feet

We spend 47 percent of our time thinking about something other than what we are doing according to a Harvard study in 2010. Finding focus is relatively easy, it’s staying focused that’s more difficult and takes practise. Here are three excellent tools to help steady the mind, which can be used independently or in combination:

  • Mindfulness practices have been around for thousands of years and are recognised as a foretaste of meditation. Mindfulness helps us stay focused by anchoring the mind on an object of interest and gently bringing it back from its wanderings. In this way, people have learnt to focus for extended periods, without interruption on the task at hand.
  • Reflective practice is a form of action-learning that helps us to understand what’s going on around us. Whether practised alone or with others, we describe (usually in writing) what we see, consider its implications, and reflect on its meaning. In its most accessible form, reflection can be honed down to three familiar questions: What went well? What didn’t go so well? What will I do differently next time?
  • Coaching supercharges reflective practice by introducing a few volts of strengths-based energy and a focus on results. Solution-focused coaching helps you to explore options, make wise decisions, and monitor progress. Importantly, an effective coach can support you through setbacks and help you gain insight into self-limiting behaviours.

Regular reflection steadies the mind and calms the nervous system. There is plenty of scientific and experiential evidence to support these claims. You can feel less agitated and potentially lighter on your feet. A steadier mind leads to clearer action.

Take time out to check in

A major difficulty in dealing with unexpected change is that there may not be a clear communications strategy to rely on, at least not at the start. Try to remember that your colleagues are also trying to make sense of what’s happening.

Consider the facts. Review and revise the roadmap. Priorities may change rapidly, so confirm true north and be prepared to address emerging risks. Now would be a good time to check in with your leadership team, project sponsor or mentor about short term priorities.

Your willingness to clarify expectations at this time will stand you in good stead. Not only does it remove an enormous burden of doubt and/or anxiety from you and your team, it does the same for your manager.  Further, it sends a powerful signal that you are focused on what matters, ready to engage in strategic problem solving, and willing to reprioritise workloads in the interim.

Conspiracy theories run rampant during times of change and particularly in a leadership vacuum.  While workplace gossip may be amusing, facts will help you and your team make practical decisions and steady progress. A reputation for reliability, resilience and teamwork is both a mighty asset and a soothing balm in turbulent times.

Do what energises you

Wellbeing fuels performance. Unanticipated change can be confusing, which in turn is exhausting. Take some time out to reflect on your strengths and like any other modest, modern-day hero, put these superpowers to work!

Refuel your energy because your wellbeing is more important than ever. Shift the emphasis from driving yourself to investing in yourself, acknowledging the cost of self-defeating behaviours and taking responsibility for changing them.

Strengths-based coaching can equip you to deal with change and its stressors in ways that improve your wellbeing and performance.

Focus on solutions 

Keep your values in mind. Unless you know what success looks like, you won’t recognise it when you get there. Your interim purpose is to overcome obstacles so your ultimate goal must be clear.

In the social science of change management we explore and hope to improve our experience of change. But even this is not new. Early scholars assured us that change is certain, and that it can be both helpful and unhelpful. Importantly, they advised us to look inward and negotiate its impact or suffer the consequences. Good advice!

Experiential evidence over thousands of years confirms that mindfulness meditation works in different ways for different people, depending on their intention.  Only through practise and reflection can the practitioner judge its effect on their personal happiness, professional satisfaction,  or on some other indicator that is important to them.

In organisations today we are more likely to look outward and manage the impact of change on our environment as a way of mediating its impact on ourselves. Choosing and using the right approach for any given circumstance takes practise.

In the Harvard study noted above, the researchers were able to measure the extent of distraction (46.9%) for contemporary audiences.  And, by asking upfront about how respondents were feeling at the time of their participation, they were also able to confirm that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.  Yes, you heard right; our minds like to be focused on what we are doing and to build that capability through practise.

So the next time you wonder whether you should finish what you are doing or go out to play, do yourself a favour: finish what you are doing then go out to play!

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