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Starting Strong

11 January, 2021 Reading: 5:37 mins
Sarah Reakes

By Sarah

Like most of you no doubt, I had plenty of time over the holiday period to reflect on how confronting 2020 was...

Starting Strong

Like most of you no doubt, I had plenty of time over the holiday period to reflect on how confronting 2020 was. It was unusually quiet and a welcome moment to contemplate and ask myself what I could do differently this year? I have come back with a fresh perspective, determined to start 2021 strong with an adjusted attitude and a few important changes to how I work and how I interact with the team.

I’m pretty open about the fact that I found late 2020 overwhelming. Besides the challenge of leading a team and a business, I was faced with one daughter starting another year in a university wilderness, one having a ‘gap year’ mainly in her bedroom and a third struggling as Covid took all the fun out of school and more home-schooling loomed. We are lucky so far that we have not seen severe illness anywhere in our wider circle, but just worrying about elderly parents in the UK and relatives elsewhere that we can’t visit meant it all got a bit much at times. And that’s without considering the wider circle of concerns about Brexit, depressing international events and our ongoing impacts on the planet.

I found reading about the six stages of grief enormously useful in explaining what I, and the KISS team are still going through. I don’t think my experience has been different to most people’s: I have moved through the six stages more than once in the last 10 months but I now realise that breaking the pandemic’s effects into specific pieces and reaching the ‘acceptance’ phase for each piece (accepting that something out of my control has occurred and accepting my feelings about that) meant I found some power to move forward.

Obviously, grief includes a sense of loss – for me that includes the loss of normalcy, of typical daily connections with people, of moving around the place, simply of seeing people’s facial expressions and (as I’m quite tactile) of touching people and feeling a connection.

Another useful label was ‘anticipatory grief’ – typically associated with a dire medical diagnosis: a storm of some kind is coming, and it’s life-threatening. What makes this pandemic particularly tough is its invisibility and open-endedness: what does this thing look like, where could it strike, what’s next, and when will this all be over? If you let it, anticipatory grief and so many possible ‘what-if’s could overwhelm you every day. So, it’s completely legitimate that we have bad days, and some people more than others: both the threat and feelings about it are real. Naming them – even if only to ourselves – is part of the process of helping the feelings move through us: ‘emotions need motion’ as Kessler put it.

But what I’ve found so far is the power in the acceptance phase – particularly acceptance of events over which we have no control.

So, as I looked forward to a tricky 2021 wanting to Start Strong, and hopefully inspire that in the KISS team, I found this Covey model helped me get really clear about where I do have full control, where I may be able to have a degree of influence, and the situations where I can do neither.

I asked myself where should I direct my focus and energy – where do I have a high degree of control, or at least significant chance of making a difference? Defining this helps avoid focusing on the huge list of everything that is concerning me right now. Of course, the boundaries between work and wider life are ever more blurry in this remote working world and so one decision usually impacts both spheres.

My behaviour is firmly inside my sphere of control. So how I react to news and events and the positive energy I display every day in personal interactions are my primary focus right now. This may seem small, but what you think and what you do have a drip-feed effect on your subconscious. The right actions from you may also inspire the right actions in others, not just in those you lead but everyone around you. Of course, I try to remain positive and keep any criticism constructive. I strive to always help, provide ideas and solutions and stay open-minded – it’s just basic leadership of course – but it takes more effort because it is harder than ever now. Basic human compassion and kindness towards others matters to me too because today we are all struggling with something, however different our circumstances.

Good habits
It’s obvious but I know how much they can help, so I am really focusing on good habits to start the year strong: sleeping at regular hours, eating healthily, cutting back on alcohol, doing more exercise. As you know it helps to make these goals specific and public (for example I can’t row right now so I have joined the ‘run 100km in January’ challenge). Write them down and post them on the fridge (and maybe also inside, in that space where the wine normally goes, to help with that Friday night feeling…) All that new-year energy can help here, so channel it.

Plain facts
Facts may help some people: the statistics are that for most of us, this is survivable. As a species we’ve been through wars, devastating earthquakes and major flu epidemics and we have come out the other side, sometimes stronger than we went in.

Obviously, I can’t control whether me doing all this influences you or anyone else, but I do see the benefits in myself. No alcohol and more exercise definitely help me sleep better, which means I have more energy and positivity. Covey’s diagram helps me define where I should direct all that nervous energy: defining what it’s profitable to worry about to drive Q1 forward, and the things I need to let go of because they’re outside my control…and when it starts to feel too much, the grief model helps me name and process the very real feelings most of us have about the wider situation, naming and acknowledging it without that sense of overwhelm.

They’ve really helped me define what Starting Strong will look like for KISS and me in Q1, I hope they can help do that for you.

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