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  • Stephen Scott Johnson

Agility - Riding the black swan


Greetings from my Iso haven. The days are getting colder here in Melbourne, and today I’ve got the fire burning and the heady wafts of a tobacco and vanilla candle fill my apartment. The gift of my isolation is an abundance of time to ponder the extraordinary people I work with; ever grateful I get to live my purpose every day. 

In my 52 years on the planet I’ve learned a thing or two about people and relationships. I am convinced a person’s inner world and micro habits is what ultimately determines their capacity for change; the ability to transform and realise potential. Since the onset of coronavirus and imminent shutdown I’ve been mindful of people’s cognitive and emotional strain, potential for self-sabotage, and the importance of having a mental health plan and well-being measures in place to protect ourselves and each other. 

We are all under extraordinary pressure to become something else, a forced phoenix event, so to speak. The truth is, in the crucible of change even the most agile among us scramble to prioritise and determine the actions needed as the severity of scenarios unfold. Go easy on yourself. Transformation is painful, uncomfortable. Will we be reborn from our ashes into a more resilient and evolved species? The signals are already here: in the wake of Covid-19, decimated livelihoods and businesses, virtual working, and redirecting of efforts to essential operations – our ways of working are outmoded, and people need a new essential set of skills and support to survive and thrive in this pandemic.

History teaches us if a broken system is allowed to fail, it can actually strengthen it against the catastrophe of future negative events. Conversely, a system that is propped up and insulated from risk ultimately becomes more vulnerable to catastrophic loss in the face of rare, unpredictable ‘black swan’ events. The term 'black swan' is given to unforeseen or unpredictable crises that often have extreme consequences, made popular by finance professor and former Wall Street trader, Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Taleb argued that because black swan events are impossible to predict due to their extreme rarity, yet have catastrophic impacts, it is important to always assume a black swan event is a possibility, and for people to plan accordingly.

What protocols do we need to establish to keep people safe and equip them to emerge from this experience as better humans?

Here’s 5 things you can do:

1. Design a routine (and stick to it) – Remote working requires specific skill sets that don’t usually come naturally, so having a routine with clear distinctions between personal and professional time is essential. Establish a healthy sleep pattern, eat regular well-balanced meals, and maintain a reasonable exercise routine. Work in short bursts with clear breaks to stay focused and on-track.

2. Be kind to yourself and manage expectations – Whilst intended to fuel productivity, motivational content tends to ignore the cognitive and emotional toll of isolation, resulting in feelings of disappointment and distress. Yes, grant yourself permission and ignore it. Adapting to ‘life in Iso’ is no mean feat and establishing a new working rhythm takes time. Practice self-compassion, set realistic goals, and be kind to yourself. 

3. Know your triggers – Many people’s emotions are heightened due to the uncertainty of how long we will be in lockdown. Being aware of thought patterns and behaviours that fuel anxiety can diffuse negative emotional spirals and help you regain control. If you feel overwhelmed, or find it difficult to focus, ‘box breathing’ is a powerful meditation technique I use to ground and reduce stress (breathe in four counts, hold four counts, breathe out four counts (repeat).

4. Stay connected – Maintaining a sense of connection and belonging to the people who really matter to us is essential for mental and physical wellbeing. Identify your ‘go-to’ channels for communication and sharing of resources with colleagues, family and friends and participate in virtual forums. Depending on your context and focus, consider learning and development, online book clubs, virtual dinners, movies, drinks, and hangouts with friends. Don’t be a stranger, be proactive and participate.

5. Focus on things you can control – Right now, we are each playing a role in and collectively experiencing one of the most catastrophic global events in our history. With obvious extremes of impact, some are worse-off than others. In all of this we get to choose how we show up. We can’t control closure of businesses, travel restrictions, the health of our loved ones, impacts on the local economy, and irrational fears of others. However, we can control acts of service, washing our hands, daily exercise, eating healthy, supporting small businesses, and courage in the face of challenges.  

Ultimately, with love and optimism we can become the champions and innovators of context. Who will you choose to be?


Until next time,


Stephen

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