Creating the Narrative for the Stay At Home Directive

Several girlfriends encouraged me to write a piece on some of my strategies for the Stay At Home directive. I begin with deep appreciation and gratitude for the blessed life I am living and recognizing that social distancing is a privilege, staying in my own home with my family is a privilege, having nature out my front door is a privilege, internet and online schooling is a privilege, safety is a privilege, and soap and food are privileges that won’t be afforded to so many in the US and around the globe.

Still, the day-to-day challenges that come with social distancing and self-isolation are real, and what I’ve decided to focus on is Steven Covey’s Sphere of Influence vs. Sphere of Concern, and put energy toward where I have power- with myself, my family and those connected to me. While there is a lot of uncertainty, for now I’m holding that I get to create the narrative for my family and me. What is my intention for holding all of this? Here is a poem that resonates with me:

Don’t Hesitate

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.
–Mary Oliver

In the martial art Aikido, one of the main principles is to move where you can, rather than where you can’t. If your opponent has your arm, don’t focus there and resist it, but rather bring your awareness to all the other places that are open and make your next move there.

This is how I have been feeling about the “Stay at Home” directive. I could spend my energy resisting and being angry and sad about what is so–  that my girls aren’t going back to school this year, I can’t visit with friends, our April vacation to a warm beach is off… all of it. But to help me move through this grief (please check this out On Grief), my next move is to focus on what I can do, rather than what I can’t do. In many ways, boundaries are crucial for creativity. The structure of a Haiku is what makes it so powerful, brainstorming can be helped by setting parameters of time, and “Stay at Home” boundaries give me new territory in which to focus– the four walls of our home.

I believe I can have huge influence over the narrative I create for my family on how they will later look at the Covid-19 crisis. What do I want them to remember? Certainly not just the sibling squabbles, boredom, and frustrations. I’d actually like them to look back at this and say there were some fun things we did, and it was a special time in some ways (though they’ll probably never admit it until they’re adults).

So here are a few examples of what we’re doing in hopes that it might spark some ideas that feel doable for you and the loved ones in your life.

  • Family Fun (or Forced Family Fun as it may be). Each member of the house is responsible for leading one  evening family activity per week. It could be as simple as choosing a game of Scrabble, or more creative– one of my daughters came up with an Aubrey (our dog) trivia game on Aubrey’s birthday. (Our younger daughter won, as Jon and I had no idea Aubrey had a favorite color). I had a fancy dinner where everyone dressed up and spoke in bad British accents all night. (Our elder daughter surprised us wearing her prom gown as it seems that’s off this year). And Jon has been using his evenings to show old family videos when the kids were little, which we all love. We take lots of photos of these events- it will help with the memories later on.
  • “What I wouldn’t have done today if it weren’t for Covid-19”- Each night at dinner, we write down one thing we wouldn’t have done if it weren’t for the pandemic. They can be simply be a record of where in the pandemic we are, from “Had first zoom class” to “Saw a raccoon, a fox and a deer” (Younger daughter as she spent much of the day doing homework in our cozy chair that looks out toward the forest).
  • Physical Challenge- We have a pull-up bar that’s been used more for hanging laundry recently- so Jon had us do a baseline pull-up contest, and now everyone gets money for each additional pull-up they can do. We’ve got a weekly mandatory hike (with lunch and treats on top, taking photos when they’re smiling) and I am trying to learn one hard yoga pose. 
  • Individual goals-I relooked at my Sabbatical List (as I wrote about here) and realized I had quite a few things that I still want to do but didn’t prioritize last year, and which don’t require me going anywhere: reading, gardening, cleaning out the garage, etc. There are new opportunities as much of the world has opened its doors to take online courses, watch a Broadway show, etc. And then there’s the opposite- your goal could be to do less, to sit with a cup of tea more frequently. It’s up to you. Putting intention to it can be powerful. The thing that I learned from my sabbatical, though, is that you can’t do them all.  Pick one that really interests you right now, and keep the others on the list as a “could do” for the future. No added stress needed, the intention is to just offer a little focus.
  • Relationships- We all know how important this is now: Regular phone call check-ins, virtual happy hours with long-distance friends, walk and talks with friends (where we’re each in our own neighborhood taking a walk and talking on the phone), help me feel connected. And having a couple of coordinated family activities like movie night where things are positive helps to counter the moments of friction.

At work, we can also influence the narrative:  it is about what we pay attention to and highlight. I am working with an ER Nurse Manager at a hospital and we spoke about the importance of highlighting the wins and small positive moments that make it worthwhile. At work, to recognize the effort people put in to make one’s office go virtual. In The Power of Moments, by Dan Heath he speaks about the importance of creating or noting peak moments as what influences how things are remembered. How can you create a couple of peak moments in your work now? 

To close, I remember the first time I saw footage of the Italians out on their balconies singing, I was moved to tears. Such an simple, amazing example of turning toward what they could do in the boundary of the four walls.  While it may be bumpy and difficult at times, I believe it is in our power to create our personal narrative and to find meaning in all of this.

Moving From Theory To Action

To support you in identifying some life priorities:

Creating a Life List- Could Do:

In 2018, a year before my sabbatical, I created a document titled “Could Do Sabbatical 2019” – throughout the year, whenever something came to me that I’d like to do someday –making dandelion wine, singing in a women’s chorus, taking a pottery class, trying taiko drumming, etc., I’d just add it to the bottom of the list. On January 1st I sorted the list into categories to see what arose. These categories then became my focus areas (e.g., relationships, adventure, travel, spiritual).

From there, I highlighted a few of the things I think I’d like to take on this year. The list shifted over time. I thought I wanted to learn guitar but after investigating it, realized that I didn’t want to put in the time, and would prefer to bike instead. Life is full of choices, and I realized that this list is for a lifetime, so at the end of 2019 I renamed my list to “Life List-Could do”. It is there as a repository for things that I could do- and I don’t feel obligated to complete them all, but it’s fun to review from time to time. I invite you to try it out and see what happens for you.

Pause: Harnessing The Life-Changing Power of Giving Yourself A Break

By: Rachael O’Meara

While I did read several sabbatical books, what I like about this one is that is defines “pause” more broadly- whether that’s a daily, extended, a few breaths or even a digital pause. It speaks to those who know that they need some downtime and can take some leave, as well as those who may not have the ability to take an extended formal break from employment. 

It’s pragmatic in its step-by-step process — identifying whether you need a break, how to take the pause plunge, and specific ways to build pause into your life. I love the last chapter, “Pausing as a Way of Life”- to actually rethink how we integrate pause into our life. This is the part I’m working on now.  It’s a great book to help you reflect for yourself on what regular pauses might do for your life.

The Importance of Taking a Pause: Lessons From a Year-Long Sabbatical

It’s good to reconnect! As you may remember, I took a year-long sabbatical in 2019 from work. It was an amazing gift and I am truly so very grateful for it. People have asked how I spent my time, and I thought I’d share a bit about my experience.  While the time could have unfolded in many ways, for me and my style, I thought a lot about how I would know if I used this time well.  I created an intention “to feast on the wonder and love in life”. From here I identified several areas of focus that included:

1. Slow down and reset to be more present rather than reactive

2. Cultivate a daily personal relationship with spirit

3. Deepen important relationships

4. Feed my strength of curiosity and interest in the world

5. Reflect on the past, assess the present, and plan for future.

As someone who prefers structure, from here I reviewed my sabbatical list of things I could do (see the reflection exercise) and starting prioritizing actions in my calendar while trying to be careful of being no more than 80 percent full, and holding a balance of planning and space for spontaneity.  I had a daily journaling practice and a weekly sabbatical check-in with myself to help keep my priorities in focus. I’m now on the other end of it, and entering the new phase of transition and integration. How do I process and carry forward the important learning I received to inform my life going forward?

Personal Lessons From a Year-long Sabbatical

Taking a break is important, and I get that not everyone can take significant time off from work. But with the belief we can learn through others- I thought I’d share some reflections. To try to keep it brief, I’m just bulleting out some major thoughts, each which has a whole story behind it. Perhaps something will spark you to reflect on what a pause of some sort might offer you.

1.I shaved my head bald. (It was something I have always been curious to do- and a bit afraid). I felt strong, vulnerable, and curious about the positive reaction I had from so many people (especially women)

2. I was often told I looked younger- I attribute this to lower stress levels. This got me thinking about what would we all be like with less stress in our lives?

3. Even though I had no work challenges to deal with, my mind still got hooked by stuff, which made me realize the nature of the mind is to be a meaning-making machine. Keep with meditation.

4. I’m a “doer,” and I’m inclined toward filling the calendar regardless of what I have to do, so I need to be mindful that “just because I can, doesn’t mean I should”.

5. De-cluttering my physical environment created calm and space for new to come in. I love opening my drawers and seeing organized shirts.

6. As an extrovert, while I was initially nervous to spend so much of my day alone, I learned to really cherish the quiet. A five-day solo backpacking trip on the Long Trail was a highlight.

7. It was actually a gift to have a finite amount of time- it helped me sort what was important to attend to now versus in the future. There is more in life than I will ever experience, and checking in with my head, heart and gut was essential to my discernment of how to spend my time.

8. Relationships take time- and if my head is filled with too much stuff it’s harder for me to be present. The next challenge for me is how to maintain presence when the workload increases.

9. I am joyful in my body and love to move. I’m in the best shape I’ve been in since my gymnastics days and was thrilled to experience my body’s strength and ability with training. (One of my goals was to ride 100 miles in a day which Jon and I completed in September in NYC.)

10. When I am quiet there is more space to connect with spirit. Having a life grounded in spirit is essential to me. Sharing this about me with others is vulnerable and authentic.

11. It is rare to have quality time with each of my daughters separately, and so planning a trip to travel individually with each of them helped us relate in new ways, and created amazing memories to look back on.

12. Novelty is energizing to me and helps me feel alive. I gave the gift of a “novel date night” to Jon once a month- and it was fun to get out of our regular routine. I had the space to follow my nose a bit in topics that I became interested in (for example: learning some Spanish before traveling, trauma and epigenetics, how to keep backpacking food bear-proof).

13. Thinking about my own death is also a way to feel alive and present to the wonder of life. I wrote down my wishes for my funeral, and wrote letters to Jon and my daughters in the event I should die unexpectedly with no time for goodbyes.

What would you be curious to learn about yourself in a pause?  

Book Review: The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life (Before 8AM)

By: Hal Elrod

This is a rock-star book on the topic of morning rituals. What I appreciate is the thoughtful approach when considering beginning something new by starting with core questions of who do you want to be? What is important to you in your life? This is the anchor to identify the purpose for the morning ritual. From here the author offers six practices he calls LIFE S.A.V.E.R.S. S=Silence, A=Affirmations, V=Visualizations, E=Exercise, R= Reading, S= Scribing (writing). He goes into depth on how to employ these habits and supports it with inspiring stories. It’s a good book to jump start your commitment to creating positive morning rituals.

Moving From Theory To Action

To support you in reflecting on creating a positive morning ritual, here are some reflection questions:

– Why would creating a morning ritual be important to you?

– Which of the suggestions above most resonated? Are there any subtle shifts that could have a big impact for you?

-How much time are you willing to dedicate to morning practices? Are there any practices you are already doing that you could put more intention toward? (i.e. you already shower- could you practice setting an intention or saying something your grateful for?)

-What do you need to shift in your evening routine in order to have time for your morning routine? With whom do you need to communicate with?

-How will you track your morning routine successes? Who can be your buddy? (Tracking and having someone support you increase the likelihood of accomplishing ones goals).

-When will you begin?

The Importance of Morning Rituals

Fall is always a get-back-into-the-routine kind of season. The more relaxed feel of summer fades as kids go back to school and work projects ramp up. For me, morning rituals are an important part of starting my day off on the right foot, and it’s something that I strongly encourage my clients to consider. Everything we do each day is a practice whether we’re conscious of it or not, so if the first thing I do is check email even before getting out of bed, that’s a practice. And unfortunately, research shows that that practice will likely negatively impact your whole day. At the same time, if I take the first moments of my day to engage in positive rituals such as reading an inspiring quotation, meditating, gentle stretching, and/or setting an intention for the day, I’m setting a foundation for a more positive day.

If you do an internet search you’ll find lots of suggestions on the best rituals to start your mornings. The intention is to create a routine that gives you energy, creates a positive mindset, and sets a successful tone for the day. I’ll offer a few that resonate with me.

Practice gratitude: There is a great deal of research on how gratitude increases well-being, relationships, optimism, physical and mental health and overall happiness, so practicing gratitude is a no-brainer. In my life, Jon and I wake up and cuddle for a few minutes then share something we’re grateful for. Another option suggested is to write in a gratitude journal.

Read something inspiring: Whether it is as short as reading a powerful quotation or a chapter of a book, daily learning and reflection is important. About a year ago, Jon and I started a practice of sharing a morning reading together (one of those books that has 365 days of wisdom) and we really enjoy it.

Be silent: Actively meditating, praying or breathing can be helpful in this fast-paced world. Most mornings, I light a candle, say my personal commitment to myself and then sit for 10-20 minutes. In the summer I do a walking meditation in my labyrinth outside.

Set an intention for the day: “What good shall I do this day?” is the question Benjamin Franklin asked himself each morning. I often ask clients to say their leadership commitment in the morning as a way to remind themselves of what they care about and what they want to pay attention to. You could also reflect on something you’re looking forward to or plan for possible challenges.

Make your bed: In the Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg claims that making your bed is a “keystone habit” correlated with better productivity and a greater sense of well-being. It’s an initial positive action that starts a chain reaction for other good habits take hold. We use a duvet cover to make it quick and easy!

Exercise: Exercise improves blood circulation, builds energy and improves your cognitive skills. I typically do the 7-minute workout and my physical therapy exercises before breakfast. Some people (e.g., Barak Obama) swear by doing their exercise first thing in the morning as a way to make sure it happens.

Connect with loved ones: Research shows that people who have positive relationships live longer- a kiss or hug before leaving for work is good for us. For myself, in addition to the morning kiss goodbye to Jon, I also try to be in the kitchen for the fifteen minutes when the girls are eating breakfast as a way to be available and have a little conversation before they go back into their rooms to get ready for the day. (They’re no longer into the hug and kiss goodbye like they were when they were five.)

Cup of coffee or tea: One can’t deny the popularity of a morning beverage as a worldwide ritual. The familiarity, the comfort, the small joy it brings can be an important way to start the day. For me, after the kids are at school I enjoy my first cup of coffee while preparing for the day at my computer. Other people may use morning coffee as a time to connect with family, a quiet, reflective individual time, a pleasant treat while driving to work, or as a way to say hello to neighbors in the coffee shop.

Eat breakfast: The book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, recounts a research study where a group of children were told to skip breakfast, and then at school, half the students received breakfast and half did not. Guess what happened? Those children who got breakfast learned more and misbehaved less, and then after all the children got a snack, the differences dissipated. Think you’re above that as an adult? Think again.

Worst thing first: We tend to have more self-control in the morning, so before getting on email, Facebook, etc. spend the first 20-30 minutes of your day doing your most important task that you’re likely to procrastinate on. I find that when I choose the task the evening before and write it down, the next morning when I get to my computer I jump right into it (sometimes I even open the document the night before) and it creates enormous positive momentum for the day. Mark Twain called this, “Eat your frog.”

Delay getting on email: What you don’t do can be as important as what you choose to do. Studies show that email is a stresser and negatively impacts productivity– so by staying off of it, you’re helping to manage your mood from the start.

Here are a few other things to consider: brush your teeth right when you get up, make your bed, drink a glass of water to rehydrate, get outside even for a few minutes, set your intentions before bed the night before, put your alarm clock across the room to avoid the “snooze” button, get dressed right away, end your shower with a blast of cold water (invigorating!), say a daily affirmation, journal (“morning pages” as described in “”The Artist’sWay” by Julia Cameron is an exercise many people love),

Clearly, there are a lot of choices on ways to start your day.  Join me in reflecting on what intentional morning rituals you want to try out.

Moving From Theory To Action

To support you in reflecting on your “no”, here are some reflection questions:

-How did my background (culture, gender, race, socio-economic status, education, work history, personal experiences, etc.) influence my relationship to saying no?

-To what extent can I appreciate how this perspective was trying to keep me safe?

-What are the risks and costs to saying and not saying no generally?

-From the voice of my inner wisdom, what do I want to remind myself the next time I want to say no?

To say no to a specific request:

-What is the yes, behind the no? For the sake of what do I feel I need to say no to this?

-What do I want to say/have them understand? (although “No.” is a complete sentence, so you may choose not to say more.)

-What might be my opening lines?

-How can I prepare your body to be centered (vs. tense, rigid, collapsed, etc.)?

Why Saying No is Good

This time of year always seems particularly full: work projects to be completed before summer begins in earnest, end-of-school activities, yard work and planting that needs tending and gorgeous weather that calls me to go outside for a bike ride, walk, or a casual drink with a friend. “Can-do” attitudes are admired at work and at home. Saying “yes” when someone asks you for something makes you a team player, an ideal employee, and an all-around productive human being. But in deeper reflection, maybe it’s doesn’t?  Taking on too much, losing priorities and trying to be something to everyone can not only leave an individual exhausted, but can compromise our personal capacity as well as the capacity of an organization.

This year at the Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility conference, I co-presented a workshop on “Why Saying No is Good for Business.” Learning how to successfully navigate a “no” and communicate more honestly and effectively when given a request is an essential skill for everyone wanting to create balance and focus both in work and in life generally.

The first distinction I want to offer comes from Fernando Flores, an Argentinian professor, entrepreneur, politician and management consultant. He created a model on types of conversations, including Conversations for Action. In it, he asserts that there are five possible responses to a request, not just two, “yes” or “no”. (And many people, especially at work, may think that no isn’t an option, so there isn’t really much choice).

Responses to a request:

Request for clarification -For many of us this step is critical. I think I’m not alone in having said yes, and then realizing I don’t really understand what was asked for me, or it turned into something much bigger or different than I expected.

Ex: “I’m not completely sure what you’re asking for. Could you give me more specifics of the changes you want to see in this month’s report?”

Accept – The tricky thing here is for your “yes” to truly be a “yes.” Align your word and actions. When we say “yes” and then don’t follow through, it breaks trust and puts our integrity into question.

Ex: “Yes, I can do that by 4pm today.”

 Decline -Many people think that a “No” isn’t allowed or appropriate, but if we don’t say no to active requests sometimes, then we may be saying no to things that are actually more important to us. If I say yes to every non-profit board request, I’ll be at meetings most evenings, and then I’ll in effect be saying no to family dinner. Getting clarity around your “yes” behind the “no” can give you the grounding and energy to be willing to give the uncomfortable “no”.

Ex: For a tech-savvy person who gets asked to solve everyone’s computer problems: “I’m sorry, I know I’ve helped you with that before, but I really think you need to ask someone in IT about that.”

Counter Offer -This is helpful if you want to say yes to at least part of it, but you have other constraints or considerations. What I appreciate is that it’s more honest than making a promise you can’t keep. People would rather have the truth than to have you say yes, but then not fulfill. Counter offer is stepping into a negotiation to find common ground on what works for both of you.

Ex: “Sorry, I can’t get that to you today. However, I could get you a draft before my meeting starts at 2pm. Or alternatively I could get you a finished draft by 10am tomorrow.”

Promise to commit -For those situations when you just need a bit more time to process and consider the request, promise to commit offers a pause button to center and consider what you really want and can do. I often invite people who tend to be “automatic yes’s” to master this strategy.

Ex: “I need to check in with my supervisor first. Can I give her a call and get back to you in an hour?”

What I appreciate about this model is that if offers me more choice and agency in responding to a request.

That said, applying these strategies isn’t necessarily easy. Social context matters. This is the deeper aspect of understanding why no can be so difficult and why we all won’t just go forth with the above-mentioned suggestions. We need to recognize that our backgrounds and experiences are going to have a profound influence on how much agency we think or we have to say no. As an example, generally speaking, women are “supposed” to be helpful and kind- and saying no goes against the norm, and thus may carry greater negative consequences. One’s positional power (boss makes a request of subordinate) or social context-cultural upbringing, race, social status, education, etc. will all influence our relationship with “no”. What is the fear behind saying no? All of this comes into play. It makes it more complex than we’d probably like, but it needs to be considered when we enter this topic. See below for some more reflection questions.

Book Review: Change Anything

By: Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler

 This award-winning team of writers does it again. What I like about Change Anything is that it breaks down how we make change happen from six main sources: 1. Love what you hate- learn to like the changes you make; 2. Do what you can’t- learn the skills through deliberate practice in order to make the changes you want; 3&4. Turn accomplices into friends- we all have people in our lives who sabatoge our best efforts- turn them into supporters. 5. Invert the economy- by bribing yourself and raising the cost of bad behavior you can actually get yourself to act in ways you want 6. Control your space- use the environment to become an ally for the change you want rather than a barrier. It’s an engaging book, with good examples and really breaks down the change process which will increase your likelihood of success! (Their book Influencer does the same thing in an organizational context).

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