You’ve probably all heard the saying, “never waste a good crisis” which was originally attributed to Winston Churchill and has now been recycled a million times (particularly in the world of business where one person’s ‘crisis’ is another person’s ‘opportunity’ – e.g. no one is quibbling about the cost of vaccines right now . . . ).
I think a global pandemic qualifies as a crisis and while that is largely a bad thing, one upside is that it creates a climate of change – the status quo gets a non-negotiable slapping.
There are big meta challenges to solve – global vaccination, redistribution of food resources as economies struggle, and a world supply chain that is creaking badly.
At the next level down countries have to change how they support (or not) people who can’t work, how their borders will operate in the future, and how to keep their people safe.
Below these lofty change needs, deep in the system called public education, is you.
And it’s very likely that you need to change something too – not necessarily something forced on you by the pandemic, but something that will make you both sustainable (better) as a school leader and as a person. The pandemic just brings with it a general sense of the cosmos shifting, and with that feeling, change seems more possible.
While I know that the science of change management is a well researched field and that many clever people have created excellent models to guide us through the process, I’m currently just focusing on a very simple little tactic – the interesting fact that changing something small somehow creates momentum towards bigger things.
Strange as it may sound, by tweaking a couple of small daily habits, I definitely notice my ability to consider bigger change is easier. Couple that with the ‘opportunity’ of a crisis (a general feeling of change) and now becomes an excellent time to work towards better.
What I’m doing:
Getting up 45 minutes earlier than usual.
I’m not doing a full Power Hour as Saira Boyle has shared, but instead have focused on only a couple of elements at this time. Firstly, I don’t look at any screens. I open up the curtains and let the day share its light. As it’s getting warmer I’m going outside and I’m the only one there. Once I’ve spent a couple of minutes being still (is that meditation?), I head inside, get a coffee and read a section of a thought provoking book (currently Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris). Then I journal a few thoughts that link to what I’ve read.
I know that sounds incredibly low key and simple but I can promise you it sets a different tone for the day. And I think that’s the key – it’s different. (The other small change I’ve made is to swop my habit of listening to news channels with listening to music. A sense of FOMO made that tricky for the first couple of days but now it feels really good.)
We’ve talked lots about habits and the relentless pull towards the status quo in other posts, but by making the really simple changes above, I think I’ve moved my figurative wagon wheel out of it’s constraining rut just a little bit. Once free, even just a tiny bit, it can start to take a new path.
If you too have some important things to improve, I think a great way to get started is to just change something small in your daily routine. You may be surprised at the mental shift that comes from this, and combined with the general sense of change in our world, things can happen.
A couple of weeks ago Saira Boyle wrote a great guest post about what she called the “Green Focus Power Hour”. In a nutshell she described an early morning routine that energises her – you can read about it here.
When I initially considered her method, a seemingly random thought popped up, “I’m guessing she has a good heating system.” This left field thought is not quite so crazy when you understand that where I live, the morning temperature is consistently sub-zero at this time of year – it’s cold at 5am!
The thought crossed my mind because I was mentally picturing doing what Saira described and attempting it in my house, before dawn, would have required an impressive number of thermals. The cold would be a real buzz killer for me.
And right there I had the perfect excuse to avoid something new.
. . . . .
We humans are creatures of habit and subconsciously we don’t like change to our routines – even if objectively the change is good for us!
Don’t get me wrong, routines and habits are not ‘bad’ things. In fact, we rely on them to stop us having to make a thousand decisions every day – it’s way more efficient to have the majority of things in our days on auto pilot. It keeps us sane and avoids exhaustion.
But, and it’s a significant ‘but’, habits also make it difficult for us to change.
Well known author, James Clear, talks about this subject in his book, “Atomic Habits” (an essential piece of reading for school leaders).
James discusses tactics to creating better habits. He breaks the habit forming pattern into:
CUE – CRAVING – RESPONSE – REWARD
You can read more about this in a previous post here. But today I am only focusing on one part – how to make a start, that is, making it as easy as possible to make the desired change. In Jame’s model we are discussing the “cue”.
The recipe is simple enough; identify the barriers, then deliberately do something that removes them.
In the example of Saira’s routine, in a sub-zero 5am start, it is not the time to go out to the woodshed, fumble around for some matches and light a fire that will take an hour to make any difference. But how about setting the heatpump to turn on an hour earlier the next day? That’s pretty simple the night before. That would guarantee the house was nice and warm when your subconscious is looking for excuses the next morning.
Another example could be going for a walk after work. We all know it’s good for us but by the time we get home it’s late, the family needs us to be present, tea needs to be sorted, and we’re tired. But how about we make it a lot easier. How about we throw some comfortable shoes, a beanie, and some gloves (still in winter mode!) in our school backpack? At the end of the day, before we head home, there they are, accessible and hard to ignore. Pull them on, head out the office door and walk for 30 minutes. Then go home.
Or you are finding yourself sitting for way too long each day. How about investing in a permanently ‘up’ standing desk (set up with a screen and keyboard) positioned alongside your sitting desk. That way when you come into your office it is very easy to just stop in front of the standing screen and start working. Without the hassle of moving things, another barrier is gone.
Some other examples are:
Leave a visual reminder (like a little 40 Hour dinosaur!) in the middle of a workspace where you have to notice it.
Leave that book you want to read on top of your pillow when you head to work.
Put a recurring note in your daily calendar that says “visit a class now!!”
Download a “get up and walk” app to your phone.
What’s in the pantry at home gets eaten – put better stuff in it.
Get a friend to agree to meet at a specific time each week – non-negotiable (and agree to nag each other).
Set the “do not disturb” function on your phone so it goes quiet early in the evening.
Schedule ‘hard’ stuff earlier in the day so you are fresher when needed.
This week we are sharing a guest post from a fellow principal in New Zealand, Saira Boyle from Willowbank School. As an experienced principal, Saira has been become increasingly conscious of the demands that our leadership roles make on us, and has generously shared some thinking and tactics that are worth considering.
In our work as principals we’re bombarded on a daily, if not hourly basis, with a diverse range of challenges, each one creating a stimulus inside of us; some physical, some emotional and others a combination. At the start of 2018 I developed a life threatening unprovoked blood clot in my leg; the cause – layer upon layer of work related unreleased stress stimulus as a direct result of ‘the job’ (which don’t get me wrong I LOVE, and am slightly addicted to!)
On and off for the last three years I’ve unsuccessfully dabbled with a range of different things to help deal with impact of the work stress; healthy food, drinking water, walking, gym memberships, early nights, leaving work before 6pm, leaving the laptop at work, taking email off my phone, and so the list goes on! When I say unsuccessfully I mean I started different tactics and strategies, usually at the beginning of a new term and as the pace and mahi picked up or the winter months kicked in, each one fell by the wayside. I mean, after a vexatious parent, a playground fight, an overwhelmed staff member and a pile of non NZ trained applications to read for a teacher vacancy, toilets to clean, grumpy neighbours, a teacher in tears due to the pressures of an under resourced child with non-typical needs, a board report to write and a late night PTA meeting to attend (in one day!) who can resist a sausage roll or two, binge watching Netflix until the early hours and an extra hour in bed in place of a morning walk, right? Snapback into old and trusted habits was strong and fierce, time and time again. Sound familiar?
Believe it or not it doesn’t need to be this way. A couple of weeks ago Steve’s blog made reference to a Stoic quote about responding to pressured situations by, “firstly not getting worked up and then by doing the right thing; being a good human being and speaking with kindness, modesty, and sincerity”. A fabulous outcome of living by this mantra is personal growth and wellbeing – the ever illusive holy grail. When I posted in the comments of Steve’s blog and he invited me to share with you, I have to say I put my new learning into practice, silenced the mind and responded with gratitude for the opportunity. So, here I am, and here goes.
. . . . .
I’ve been practicing something for around two months now, on a daily basis, which helps immensely to make that space between stimulus and response a space where one can manage the emotion to ensure reaction doesn’t occur, keep the brain out of the red zone reaction and develop stress mastery. It’s simple, effective and takes only one hour each morning. It breaks down the stronghold of mental models which lead to our ‘reactions’ (becoming worked up) to certain situations and in this space the ability to respond as a good human being – our purpose!
The brain is programmed from birth to around 7 years old and those programmes, (or cages) shape and set the stage for our five life categories ~ health, finance, spirituality, relationships and career. Our subconscious is strong and in many of us it is the boulder blocking the light to shifting habits which prevent our growth and stress mastery. This daily practice gently chips away at the boulder and develops in its place new pathways in the brain, which result in the ability to take perspective, remain calm, manage our emotions and respond in kind ways. It is AMAZING!
When you wake in the early hours, instead of spending time aimlessly ‘scrollaxing’ try this and watch the results. Set the day the right way with the Green Focused Power Hour (*Bill Cortright);
Ten minutes of reading ~ something for yourself; self growth input. If you want to master stress then daily commitment to self development is essential!
Ten minutes journaling ~ if you are taking in new information, then you also need to journal to make sense of and release the old thought patterns
Ten minutes affirmation ~ decide what you want to achieve and repeat out loud for ten minutes eg I am healthy, I am strong, I am inclusive, I am present, I am joyful
Ten minutes of visualisation ~ think of your ideal day in 3 years time and imagine it in detail
Ten minutes of meditation ~ to centre the mind and build new brain pathways
Ten minutes of physical movement ~ stretches, walking, yoga, running, putting the brain in the green zone
In the evenings I sign off the day with around 15 minutes of reflection on;
Triumph of the day
Challenge of the day
Idea to explore
Feeling of the day
Memory of the day
Within two to three days I noticed a difference! Joy, ease and lightness entered my life from all angles, it was remarkable! My teenagers started smiling at me, my husband made me laugh and danced with me when I arrived home from work, a vexatious interaction was greeted with calm and generosity and my team began to feel less bombarded! When a meeting became volatile, I was able to remain calm and respond effectively. When a child decided to slam his head into the window my presence was able to calm his anger. When an employment issue resulted in ugly action, rather than allow the what ifs and overwhelming thought patterns to invade my mind late into the evening and weekend, I watched my thinking and put it to one side, later responding with kindness. When I would usually be exhausted and counting down to the break, I am more energised than ever!
Catching the Habit!
I think the reason I am able to make this a habit is down to a few things, the first being my why. During lockdown in 2020 I noticed a dull ache in my right arm, which over the months resulted in my shoulder seizing up, permanent pain and limited use of the arm. Around the same time my Apple watch started telling me my heart rate would occasionally flutter it’s way up to 170bpm for no apparent reason. Then there were the usual female gripes for women of a particular age and then the big one, a beautiful member of staff in her forties was diagnosed with pancreatic and liver cancer. Just like that, her life changed forever! She decided to eat clean and her surgeons explained to her the importance of daily exercise. I bought a book for her on food and read parts of it myself and that coupled with the podcast mentioned below made me realise we need to start with inside out. Suddenly my why was no longer about looking good, maintaining my youth and hanging onto the past.
My why was about being strong, in body and mind for me! Find your why.
I engaged a spiritual counsellor and then a personal trainer (only one or the other now!) and because I was investing in me and paying for this, it was also a motivator to stick to the plan! Having someone to hold you to account is essential! You invest in others every single day. Invest in you! You’re worth it. A coach of some sort is essential. If you want it you may need to give up something so the budget fits, but it is worthwhile!
Understanding how the mind works; getting through the first thirty days is the crunch, and then the next thirty, then the six month milestone and then the year! (I’ll let you know when I get there!) Make a plan and chip away, a little each day. When you wake in the morning your brain is in theta state; the most receptive state to change. So, if you can, set that alarm an hour earlier (go to bed an hour earlier – what’s going on at 10pm that’s so important?), let’s face it, many of us are awake and mindlessly running through the day before we begin the day anyway!
My crazy hormones and busy mind were waking me around 4.30am-5.30am and I would lie there trying to force myself back to sleep, or start ‘scrollaxing’ through mindless FB or Instagram feeds until it felt like an acceptable time to rise. So I decided to reframe my perspective and put this time to good use and now I wake excited to enjoy the process.
If you aren’t a natural morning person, why not just pick twenty minutes to start with and try the reading (self growth material) and journaling to start with? Maybe the affirmations could be said during your shower? Your visualisation during your commute and your mediation during a morning tea break? The other day I opened my curtains and watched the sunrise as I yoga stretched – what a way to put the brain into green and what a blessing to start the day in the green zone!
If you miss a day, don’t panic, just keep going. Consistency is key!
As part of living into our Mindfulness – Pause, Breathe, Smile programme (which is now funded in all schools) we meditate at the start of all meetings – our Catholic colleagues out there are blessed to begin with prayer. Whatever the name, it’s about stilling the mind, the endless stream of thought, throughout the day. This sets the foundation to create your new habit.
Love the process and notice the little things each day that change – this, in short is what keeps me motivated! It works. It works because it’s chipping away at the subconscious mind and changing the pathways to support new habit formation. It works because it’s little and often. It’s neuroscience. It works because it brings joy and emotion is contagious! Make sure you get hooked on the right one! Oh, and by the way, my arm is now moving again, my palpitations under control, my migraines less offensive and relationships deepened at home and work due to a new found headspace. Accepting the process as the goal is more important than an ‘end goal’ for me. The process is bringing daily joy in incremental measures. Starting the day with a daily reading from The Daily Stoic is a great reminder of the action we should take each day to bring us closer to ‘home’.
“Well-being is realised by small steps, but is truly no small thing” – Zeno, quoted in Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, 7.1.26
I have learnt the importance of;
Watching my thoughts and when a negative thought arises, reframing to the positive
Sitting with and feeling the emotions which arise from the daily challenges, excited that they give me an opportunity to explore where the emotion is coming from, in turn breaking the boulder
Observing the reactions and being still in my thinking mind, enough to create space to plan a calm and good response
If you are ready for human centred leadership in all areas of your life then give it a go! Remember growth is a continual process and when challenges come our way, it’s an exciting opportunity to practice smashing up that boulder, creating new habits and allowing the light to shine in and through our subconscious!
I’m sure so many of you have your own amazing ways to grow and lead the right way, this is simply something that works for me! If you’d like to know more about this and share experiences if you embark on the ride, be welcome to be in touch. Having a champion is always a bonus! Meanwhile remember, what you think you become, what you feel you attract and what you imagine you create!
“You could enjoy in this very moment all the things you are praying to reach by taking the long way around – if you’d stop depriving yourself of them.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 12.1
Freedom – that’s easy. It’s in your choices.
Happiness – that’s easy. It’s in your choices.
Respect of your peers? That too, in the choices you make.
All of that is right there in front of you. No need to take the long way to get there. (Holiday and Hanslem, 2016, The Daily Stoic)
Fabulous readings to get you started:
The Daily Stoic – Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman
Grit – Angela Duckworth
The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle
What Happened to You? – Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey
Stress Mastery – Living Right with Bill Cortright (podcast)
So you’ve got a fitness device that tells you how many steps you’ve done today. Awesome.
But have you got a sitting widget that tells you how long you’ve spent on your principal butt? In fact, have you ever counted? Well maybe it’s time to start.
There’s a lot of scientific data that links your future personal misery to the amount of time that you spend enjoying the seductive embrace of the swivelly chair.
But just how long is too long?
In a large study of Australians, Kansas State University researcher, Richard Rosenkranz, (summarisedhereon ScienceDaily.com) has reviewed data from over 60 000 Australian men that shows those sitting for more than 4 hours were significantly more likely to report having a chronic disease such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure. The risk periods were categorized as less than four hours, four to six hours, six to eight hours, or more than eight hours. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was a direct link between the length of time spent sitting and ill health.
(There are multiple other studies (including ones that also study women!) and the conclusion is fairly simple – the longer you sit on average, the less healthy you become over time.)
. . .
4 hours . . . pause for a moment and add up your usual tally. Don’t forget to add; breakfast, driving to work, lunchtime, driving home, work at home, watching a bit of Shorters . . . 4 hours doesn’t actually seem that much to me.
Perhaps a more interesting question is; have your average sitting hours increased over time?
My subjective, gut feeling is that mine have. As time and career progresses, there seems to be more and more work that is linked to a computer and by default, a desk.
Even if your own reality is different, a slight increase will build up over time. We wrote a post about this before and used the compounding power of time to give a real look at what was happening to our future selves. Using time to gain clarity is part of a tactic that Tim Ferris calls “fear setting” – you can read about it here.
So what to do?
My solution was to firstly become conscious of what was happening. Once I started to noticemy usual default habits, that alone helped me make change.
Secondly, I made a couple of deliberate decisions:
whenever someone came into my office I stood up and if it was a short conversation, stayed standing.
I organised an easy standing desk option.
I confess that the standing desk idea didn’t really work the first time. I got one of those units that sit on your desk and which can be raised up or left down.
The problem was that whenever I came into the office it was usually down and so of course I just sat down in front of it. Net gain – zero.
The game changer for me was getting a second (actually third!) screen that was always up. That way when I walked into the office I just stopped at the standing screen. So easy I actually do it.
Here’s my current setup –
When working on docs I sit down and use the two screens because it’s usually much more efficient. When I am mainly reading, I stand.
These simple tactics are making a tangible difference to me. If you have some of your own tips to share, we’d love you to add them below or over on the 40HP Facebook page.
Emotions are there to help us understand the stuff we’re going through. But it’s not always helpful.
Emotions also help us convey to others what we are feeling. Jacinda Ardern being labeled by the Press as being “angry” about those not sticking to COVID-19 restriction expectations is a classic recent example.
Who knows if she is angry or frustrated, bemused, or simply pissed off, but the use of the word angry lets everyone else in on the “secret” of how she is feeling. And of the message that she wants to convey.
In this case it’s used as a warning, and quite possibly, a weapon.
There’s nothing really quite as easy and complicated as emotions. Easy because everyone has them. Complicated because no one really knows what everyone else is feeling.
Often we think we know, and often it is assumed that we know.
Humans are notoriously bad at interpreting what their own emotions actually are let alone anybody else’s. No wonder, researchers have identified up to 27 different kinds of emotions. You’ve got to quietly wonder if the world was a simpler place when, in the past, researchers suggested there were only 6.
This makes our role in Principalship and Leadership very tricky. We are expected to be experts in knowing what people are feeling and at the same time being able to suppress our own.
The first of these is a completely unreasonable expectation and we spend way too long spending energy on it. It comes well and truly in the “worry only about things that you have control over” camp of thought.
And the second, well, how healthy is it really suppressing your feelings over a long period of time?
Imagine in a school setting, for example my school. There are 360 students, and 40 adults running around on any given day. That’s 400 people within the confines of the school gates all running through 27 researched emotions every second of the day. As Principal you are essentially overseeing a mass of emotions. No wonder some days you’ve felt that you haven’t gotten it anywhere near right!
Of course the ability for you to have control over any one of those emotions that others have is highly debatable and negated by many other factors both externally and internally. And the extent to which these emotions are shown in behaviour also changes from person to person and situation to situation. Some seem to jump to extreme behaviours at the drop of a hat. Others face the same situation and you have to wonder if they’ve even got a pulse, let alone care.
In our language we talk about the two terms, emotions and feelings. So what’s the difference?
There definitely is a difference. I googled it and found a heap of useful references. The one that I liked, from www.6seconds.org states the following;
“The short answer is: Time. Emotions come first, then feelings come after as the emotion chemicals go to work in our bodies. Then moods develop from a combination of feelings.
Emotions are chemicals released in response to our interpretation of a specific trigger. It takes our brains about 1/4 second to identify the trigger, and about another 1/4 second to produce the chemicals. By the way, emotion chemicals are released throughout our bodies, not just in our brains, and they form a kind of feedback loop between our brains & bodies. They last for about six seconds – hence the name of our organization.
Feelings happen as we begin to integrate the emotion, to think about it, to “let it soak in.” In English, we use “feel” for both physical and emotional sensation — we can say we physically feel cold, but we can also emotionally feel cold. This is a clue to the meaning of “feeling,” it’s something we sense. Feelings are more “cognitively saturated” as the emotion chemicals are processed in our brains & bodies. Feelings are often fueled by a mix of emotions, and last for longer than emotions.”
I like this because it helps me understand a process that I have been working on recently.
It’s quite simple, and it might sound just a little odd. It has a technical name that at the time of writing completely eludes me – sometimes we don’t need to know the official name, but the strategy is currently working for me.
It runs a bit like this. When I have an emotion I also have a sensation. That’s normal, and that’s what I understand to be the emotion chemicals being released in my body. I guess in many ways it’s your body saying, WARNING WARNING!
This is where I PAUSE. And I go searching just for that sensation, and I let myself feel it as it waves through my body. For me it feels like it starts in my head and then builds up in my shoulders and down through my body (for some strange reason I also feel it in my ears!). I told you this was a bit weird! The key is just to concentrate on that physical feeling; on that wave. Actually feel the sensation.
I didn’t know that these waves lasted for about 6 seconds as the website says, but if I timed it then that would be about right. So, PAUSE and feel that wave. Don’t give it a feeling name like anger or frustration or one of the other countless names. When you name it you’re just giving it a language term for you to understand and then that takes you on a completely different tangent. If the wave starts again, roll with it and just concentrate on feeling that. This might happen once, or it might happen multiple times. But the key is not to name it, just physically feel it.
I used to get these waves a lot on a Sunday evening before the week was about to start, or before an important staff meeting. And to be honest, I still do, but I’ve been able to lesson the intensity of the waves over time. This has helped me pinpoint what is actually bugging me.
During my PAUSE I then give myself time to consider the trigger – e.g. thinking about the important staff meeting; thinking about starting the new week. Identifying the trigger without thinking about how that makes me feel means I can get to the source of the wave without any baggage. Yes I can tell myself, “oh, I’m feeling something about that staff meeting ….. I wonder why that is”.
And then I BREATH. Deep deep breaths, and hold them in. (Don’t forget to exhale, or you might have another problem on your hands, lol)
Now I identify the emotion or the feeling. It might not actually be the anger that you originally thought it was.
And then I SMILE. The smile at the end is important. You’re telling yourself you’ve got this.
The process might take all of 10 to 15 seconds.
You can’t do this for everyone else in your school, and let’s be honest, many will think you’re a weirdo for even mentioning it, but you can do it for yourself.
However, this gives you time to think a bit more rationally and logically before deciding what to do next.
It’s your emotions and feelings that give you the impetus to do something. You may still feel angry, but take time to consider how angry you are and what’s the best way for everyone around you for you to show or share that you feel angry?
This article isn’t about suppressing your feelings. It’s far from that. You can’t beat biology! It’s the same with positive feelings as well. Take time to enjoy the feeling and sensation when you’ve got those positive emotions running as well.
What I’m saying is if you give yourself a little time PAUSE BREATHE SMILE before letting your next step be dominated by a feeling or emotion then maybe, just maybe you’ll be able to save yourself the stress of dealing with extreme behaviours, especially if they’re yours!
I like Post-it notes. I like the way they let me capture a task then park it until I’m ready to take action.
Way back at the beginning, I had a principal who carried a small notebook in their top jacket pocket. Anytime you started talking to them they took it out, ready to make a note if needed.
This principal prided themselves on following up, not forgetting, doing what they promised, and in their pocket was a system to make all these things happen.
Post-it notes are my version.
Sadly, while they are an awesome fluro coloured tool, the reason they are in my thinking right now is that they’re multiplying – very quickly! And lots of notes means lots of things to remember and do.
Welcome to the end of Term 4!
This is the time each year where a myriad of tasks and looming deadlines make it very possible that your waking hours are consumed entirely by knocking off task after task. Those of you who have followed the 40 Hour Project for a while, know that this is the time when the ‘busy’ can obscure the ‘important’.
Even the students seem to unwittingly contribute. There are more plasters given out and more social interactions to manage than at any other time through the year – people are getting a bit frazzed.
I spent precious time this morning helping 3 great young boys resolve an issue that started with someone holding a door handle and ended in tears. None of them planned the debacle, and all regretted it, but it does sum up the vibe of late Term 4 – stuff happens.
In amongst this end of year race is your opportunity to be a leader. To focus on people first, spread the calm, and to deliberately aim to finish the year with energy left over and feeling well. We have talked about this before – Madvember Doesn’t Have To Be – but this time I want to focus on the power of calm.
To impact your team positively a key is to manage perception. I like the duck analogy where they are paddling like hell under the water but up on top all looks serene. It’s the bit on top that your people will notice.
A personal strategy I use to try and spread a sense of calm, is to deliberately move slower the busier I feel. This may sound simplistic but it absolutely helps – body language is the language that people notice most and if you are moving around your site in a rush, it sends a message. So slow down and breathe. Stop to talk with kids and adults, volunteer to cover someone’s duty, and at all times move slowly. And it’s not all acting – research shows slowing down and breathing properly changes your mental state. A win/win for you and your school.
. . .
Which brings me to where I started with the Post-it notes.
I realized that when they’re plastered all over my desk/laptop/office, they tell a story to all who see them. They visually create a similar effect to walking quickly everywhere with no time to pause. They create the impression that I am busy.
So here is my cunning plan – I’m not going to stop using them, I’m going to hide them.
At the very least I get great pleasure from screwing them up and chucking them in the bin when actioned. I’m not willing to forgo that goodness. All I am going to do is stick them inside a plain manila folder. The folder will sit on my desk closed. The notes live on but the story my desk tells will be different. A small, but deliberate action in the face of the run to the finish. Dare you to try it.
Here in New Zealand we have just launched into Term 4 – traditionally a time of high intensity and looming deadlines. A time when things can get a little bit crazy more often than we would like. So right now is a time when you need to manage your energy.
We’ve all probably heard the story of famous comedians who, once the stage lights are off, are “flat“, even depressed. They light up for the performance then crash afterwards.
How many of us do the same?
This scenario raises an interesting question about energy – where does yours come from?
. . .
There are plenty of things that feed into whether you are feeling ready for the push towards Christmas. Sleep, food, exercise, workflow management . . . they all play a part, but today I want to consider this question through the lens of personality – specifically, are you an “introvert” or an “extrovert”?
There are whole psychological theories dedicated to explaining these two terms, and anyone wanting to take a deep dive in the subject will have plenty of reading to do for many years to come.
Happily, in this short post there’s only one simple part that I am dwelling on – the different ways introverts and extroverts maintain energy. Of course, no healthy person is completely one or the other. It’s not a binary condition, rather each of us have portions of both.
But we’re also very likely to tend more towards one end of the spectrum than the other and that’s useful to acknowledge, (or work out), because the research shows that each personality type recovers differently. In our energy hungry profession, knowing this could both help us recover when we have been stretched a little too far for a little too long, and then help us stayenergised for longer periods of time.
“Fun fact: approximately 52 – 60% of people are considered introverted.”
So slightly more of us will be on the introverted side of the continuum. The reason why knowing where you sit is important is that each type needs different energy building strategies. In simple terms:
Extroverts gain energy from being around and interacting with other people.
Introverts are the opposite, they recover by spending time alone or quietly with well-known familiar people.
So, which are you?
Quiz – If you are serious about this question, you are going to have to invest in something like the Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicator assessment oryou could take a fairly lightweight short quiz like this one here just for fun .
Given that we are all somewhere on the continuum between the two extremes, it’s likely that most of us need some peace and quiet and some social recharge to find our balance, but when you’ve had a tough week, are you more likely to crave an evening in with a good book or a catch up with friends?
As the run towards the end of the year picks up pace, it will pay to deliberately schedule opportunities that you know are effective energisers for you.
Being a sustainable leader requires smart energy management and knowing yourself can definitely help with this.
PS: If you are mainly an introvert, but you need to (or believeyou need to) regularly act in an extroverted way, could this be a reason why you are often tired?
It’s great that we are in a Term break at last (at least for those of us in NZ). This year is proving to be anything but business as usual and the challenges just keep coming. We’re been operating in a “hoping for the best, but ready for anything” type mode. This is a tough way to live long term!
Something that has helped me stay energised and well through the ongoing adventure of 2020, has been to get very clear about what matters most. I’m coming from the perspective of a statement we often use in the 40 Hour Project –
“being a school leader is part of who we are, not allof who we are”.
From a work perspective, there will always be things that are more or less important. There will be periods when more time and energy need to be committed to particular tasks. Bearing in mind the statement above though, alongside the work requirements will be other things. A misalignment between these two competing needs is a common problem. And misalignment happens easily unless you have clarity.
A statement to describe this idea could be:
“People are more resilient when they are clear about what matters most.”
One of the gifts of having space to think clearly (time for a sabbatical!), is that you can really consider what matters most to you. The absolutely fundamental items will almost certainly be personal – things to do with family, health, relationships, finances . . .
As school leaders, it’s very easy to let the urgent parts of each day take priority, and maybe that’s OK short term – but if you apply a longer term lenses to what it means to work/live as you are, priorities will change.
I’d like to suggest that until you do this exercise, you will often feel tension between what you need personally and what your work requires.
For example, if you haven’t done any exercise in a month, yet you woke up this morning worrying about school data targets, you are probably confused (about what matters most) and need to create space to get things straight.
. . .
And it’s not rocket science! Here is what I strongly recommend you do:
Find some uninterrupted space. Ideally this will be somewhere you don’t usually go and will be away from the people who you usually interact with. In duration it needs to be long enough to allow you to sense the approach of boredom. No devices at all. Zero. Zip. Nada. Somewhere naturally beautiful is ideal but a quiet corner in the back of a Library you don’t visit often will work too. Find your space.
A blank piece of paper and a pen (I actually use a notebook, but start on a blank page).
Now just make a list. A list of the things that really, really matter. Don’t be shy or driven at all by what others might think – this list is for you and you alone.
This is the perfect time to use some “fear setting” so that you build your list past the immediate.
Sort the list so that the very most important thing is at the top.
Job nearly done.
The final, crucial remaining step, is to accept that you haveto work in a way that allows you to address the items at the top of your list. If you can do this consistently, you will be aligning your needs with your work and when the pressure comes on, you are now positioned to make choices that are sustainable and energising. Just do it.
You probably know the metaphor of “the carrot and the stick” where a stubborn donkey needs to be encouraged to move. There are two basic options (as donkeys are hard to push around). You can dangle a carrot just in front of its nose and, if hungry, the donkey will move forward. The other option is to whack it on its hind quarters with a stick (no donkeys were harmed in the creation of this metaphor). If the “stick” hurts enough, the donkey again moves forward.
However, the ultimate donkey moving tactic involves both the threat of the stick and the promise of the carrot used at the same time. It’s more likely to work than either option individually.
In the 40 Hour Project we usually focus on the good things that you can expect by making healthy leadership/lifestyle choices – the carrots.
The problem is that human nature seems to predispose us to take a short term view of any possible rewards. If the reward is immediate, we are more likely to buy in than if the reward is several months or years away.
For example, if we buy a lottery ticket each week we get the immediate thrill of possibility, but we could save the $20 and at years end have a guaranteed $1040. Not many people take option two (even though it is almost certain to be a better reward).
It’s the timeframe that stops us being smarter.
So today, I want to mention a motivation technique that’s all about the stick rather than the carrot.
This tactic is one that Tim Ferriss uses regularly to help make uncomfortable changes (he calls it fear setting). Tim argues that if a change needs to be made, staying with the status quo is not a neutral position – it comes with a cost.
He starts by asking the tough question, “if I don’t make a change, what will it cost myself, those I’m responsible for (e.g. my school) and those who care about me?”
Some examples are health costs, financial costs, family costs, and happiness costs.
To expose the costs more, you put a timeframe on them. What will the status quo cost me in 6 months, 12 months, 3 years, 10 years?
Here’s a simple example using a health cost:
Let’s pretend you love donuts and you regularly buy them from the awesome bakery conveniently located just down the road from your school. When you’re feeling generous (or guilty!), you buy them for your team as well. This is fun, until you visit your doctor and she points out (annoyingly) that you’ve gained 3 kilos since she saw you last year.
We can plot the future pain using Tim’s method:
Weight change in:
You can see that the timeframe magnifies the reality of notmaking a change. 1.5kgs worth of “stick” might not be enough to move you at all, but somewhere between that and 30kgs it becomes a lot more compelling!
You can apply this method to a whole range of other areas. The only initial self-discipline needed is to ask the uncomfortable question of yourself and to plot out the “costs” so you can clearly see the situation evolving in your future.
A work example that I have used is around time spent sitting. It seems the longer I’m a school leader, the more time I spend on my butt. I’ve seen the media reports about what this means to the future me and I don’t like it!
I used this “fear” idea and worked out that I was sitting approximately 30 minutes longer each day than I did a couple of years ago. This was of course just a guess, but I then plotted it on a timeframe. You can do the maths but it looked bad to me!
The bit of this process that stirs some worry (the stick) is the way a negative thing amplifies over time. This little exercise has meant I’m way more conscious of how much sitting I do – I now try to stand up if someone comes in when I’m sitting down, I have an easy to use standing option on my desk, and I make sure I go for regular walks around our site ‘just because’ (which is easy to do in a school!)
Have a go, pick something that in your gut, you know is holding you back as a person (and of course as a school leader) and ask yourself that uncomfortable question – “what will it cost me/my family/my school if I don’t make a change?”
I’ve found it even more compelling when I write it down.