Beat the demons

And, stop sending women and children to the front lines.

We can do better as an exceptional civilisation, by setting the right conditions for protection and care.

Over the past few months, I have tried to understand how we got to this situation.

You know, where we seem to be cultivating a context in which we continue to blame children everywhere for being the main causes (and solutions too) to the pandemic, for leaving so many women to fend for themselves and for elders to die alone. While us? Let’s be honest, we mostly (and unfortunately) fall back.

And during this search, I wondered how not to lose love again in the future.

Because that’s what we need to talk about today, in this “leadership of relationships” series.

For this article, I chose to summarize the recommendations coming from a Together-Ensemble session on “Managing Uncertainty”, May 18, 2020 in the presence of David Gurteen, Paul Hearn and Yvonne Verwohlt-Hansen, with around fifty participants from the European institutions.

My goal is to share the solutions to preserve one of our most precious relationships. The one with ourselves.

In order to grow into an exceptional civilisation, we should not leave anyone alone, neither in front nor behind. Including us.

So, these are essential conditions and what all of us must do from now on:

  • Be aware of our default reactions when we are not paying attention. A powerful quote to remember in these times is, “What men want is not knowledge, but certainty” (Bertrand Russell). In a period of crisis and uncertainty, anxiety and fears are fuelled. People feel less grounded, less stable, it is harder for us to navigate. A default reaction is to tend to seek more control. In a way, we are looking to hold the bar tighter. Another default reaction is to avoid the bigger picture. We become more individualistic, inward-focused and feel more comfortable in inertia than movement. The craving for certainty blinds us to the endless opportunities, which lie hidden in uncertainty: such as creativity, growth, authenticity, beauty and innovation. Another tendency is to numb the emotions. We can seek for dopamine hits, through taking more drugs, more alcohol, falling for more unhealthy food, for example. When in fact, everything shows that these practices are detrimental in the long term. And not only to our physical health. It also impacts the serotonin levels, which are key for our well-being and happiness. All this explains why it is more necessary than ever to support courage, creativity and movement strategies in times of uncertainty. As Mark Twain was saying: “Courage is mastery of fear, not absence of fear”.
  • Mobilise the rational brain. In order to mitigate unproductive patterns in times of uncertainty (for instance bouncing or numbing), we need to pay attention by mobilising our rational brain more and raising our conscience of natural default reactions to avoid. For example, if inertia gives a sense of security, it’s also a form of resistance, making us hold to outdated frameworks.
  • Be compassionate with ourselves. Numbing emotions has a widespread effect: we cannot numb fear without numbing joy at the same time. Therefore, more than ever, we need to accept ourselves through openness, curiosity, embracing paradox, learning and growing. Understanding who we are, our beliefs and our biases.
  • Adopt an abundant mind-set. This will protect us from our fears, and allow us to be creative. We have to recognize that new knowledge always resides in what we do not know. So, we need to look at opportunities instead of focusing on risks.  The space of uncertainty, of what we cannot know, is always (will always be) infinitely greater than the space of what we know. It is an infinitely bigger playground for the bold and curious.
  • Strengthen the willpower muscle. If need be, to become bold and curious, we can develop our willpower muscle. For instance, we can strengthen this muscle by doing more sport, using cold therapy, adopting healthy and positive routines, and following a plan, containing small targets and frequent small rewards (the famous little treats).
  • Focus on the here & now. When no one can know the recipe, instead of letting turbulent emotional waves pass, we need to focus on the present moment. Moreover, we have to solve problems one-step at a time. It is the only way to stay grounded, stable, and not dependent on any external condition. Ideally, we need to adopt an internal compass, bases on values, instead of relying on external mirrors (that are never reflecting the reality anyway).
  • Embrace what comes and adapt. There needs to be a fundamental shift to preparedness (accepting uncertainty) and “just in case/just in time” planning, because classic efficiency cannot govern what we do.  While coping with uncertainty implies growing self-confidence and adopting practices and tools to manage all this better, it is clear that we have to adopt an attitude adjustment mindset and the test & learn approach. We have to let go when we feel there is nothing we can do to change the situation or how others react to it. If an approach does not seem to bring any benefits, innovate and try something else that could work better.
  • Keep fooling the brain with more collaboration, conversations, collective intelligence, and solidarity. The only way to respond to complex problems is to find collectively the answers. We are social animals! But in order to fight our protective mindset, we need to reach more people who do not share similar values and interests. We need to look for connections as much as possible beyond the traditional circles, in order to confront more our thoughts with others that do not think like us.
  • Change the narrative. A good tip for all my dear co-leaders. We have to acknowledge the uncertainty and provide sense making, adapting to how the crisis is evolving. A more authentic, humble and vulnerable narrative, as well as more courage to follow-up with appropriate actions will increase trust.
  • Join the movement. This is the last and most important piece of advice coming out of this session. What we have to set up is a virtuous circle to defeat the demons. Because, let’s be be clear, not only can we not beat them alone. But if we are not addressing them, we will continue to send others to the front, depriving us of the many joys of feeling valuable.

So, paradoxically, in order to protect ourselves even more, what we need is to think and, to do more together.

Seeking positive and healthy relationships is the recipe for grabbing all of our individual and collective power.

That’s why we need a global movement towards love, in which we will be invited to play a part.

And the best approach will be to put professional thinkers and professional doers together, in order to create a chain of positive reactions.

It is high time to encourage everyone to make the adaptations, which are needed more than ever.

Now let me conclude by saying that every relationship we see or imagine in this photo is precious and deserves our care. And, finding the best way to do more positive things for each, is what this relationship leadership series is all about.

Do not forget, we are all in the same boat!

Photo by George Becker on Pexels.com

And if this photo makes you want to do some exercise: ask yourself, what is your relationship with yourself?

And begin to assess the quality of this relationship with your head, your eyes, your nose, your throat, your brain, your heart, your lungs, your arms… and continue until you have questioned all the parts of your body. Powerful exercise to make us aware of the need to take care of ourselves. But also to better locate the wounds (mental, emotional and/or physical), and where to remain vigilant.

Short bios of the experts below:

David Gurteen: Inventor of the Knowledge Café.

Paul Hearn: EU Academy Programme Leader.

Yvonne Verwohlt-Hansen: Head of sector in the training unit of the European Commission.

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