VUCA

I came across a new word this week, a new acronym to be precise (an abbreviation formed from the initial letters of several words and pronounced as a word). Say it with me, VUCA!

What does it stand for? Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity,  Ambiguity. I like the broad definition of what it implies: ‘it’s a crazy world!’

It turns out it’s a word that has been around since the late eighties. It is most often used to describe (and categorise) challenges in business and military arenas. But it seems to me it’s a fair description of the conditions and situations we all find ourselves in right now!

Think it through with me.

  • Volatility means there are unexpected happenings and perhaps for an unknown duration
  • Uncertainty means that changes are possible but not a given – they may or may not happen
  • Complexity means there are many different parts or elements which are interconnected and generate endless variables
  • Ambiguity means things are unclear – we face unknown unknowns!

Leaders may often use VUCA to identify challenges in only one or two areas but I reckon we each – as individuals and as communities/organisations –face them across the board.

I like learning new things when they have a practical use. It seems to be VUCA reminds me of the need for being aware (let’s recognise we are all facing big challenges) and for preparing ourselves for those challenges as best we can.

I liked a chap called Bill George’s take on what we need to respond to the VUCA challenges – we need to respond with VUCA solutions! (Bill is a senior fellow at Harvard Business School.) Italics are my own interpretation on his acronym, making it a practical exercise for each of us today.

  • Vision: picture the future you want to move towards
  • Understanding: proactively seek knowledge of yourself, others and the world around you – be curious
  • Courage: listen to the ‘bold you’
  • Adaptability: be flexible – cos change is here to stay!

Being aware we share a VUCA world is useful. Recognising we can move forward with VUCA solutions is empowering.

Is there one of the four solution areas that you want to reflect on particularly in the week ahead? Which of these is for you?

  • What do I want my future to look like? (vision)
  • How can I know myself/others better? (understanding)
  • What actions can I take? (courage)
  • Do I need to be more flexible in my thinking or my behaviour in a specific situation? (adaptability)

This is Mindful Monday on 12 October 2020.

There is a virtual mindfulness session on zoom on Monday 26 October
7-8.15 pm (UK time). To join, send an email to hello@essencecheltenham.org.

Childlike

I sat on a bench today that was too high for my legs to touch the ground. I enjoyed sitting and swinging my legs – as I would have frequently done as a child.

We may sometimes use and hear being childish as a criticism. Here I want to celebrate and encourage moments when we can be childlike.

Do you have memories as a child of being totally focused on or immersed in what you were doing – lost in the moment?

Maybe you have memories like me of sitting and swinging your legs, simply enjoying being.

Maybe you too have held onto the child in you that loves to kick autumn leaves.

I realise each of us will have had our own unique experience of childhood, positive and otherwise. I hope as you read this you can recall positive moments like those I have described.

Let’s celebrate being childlike.  Today and throughout this week, welcome moments when you can be childlike – and (once again) be curious and open to fun. Enjoy emerging refreshed.

As I sat on the bench today, swinging my legs, I knew again that I am a child with a heavenly father, a child of God. That is a good place to be, whatever the happenings around us.

Sensing

Sight is an amazing sense. To be able to look and see what is around us is a gift. But what we see can become our ‘dominant’ sense, reducing our use of our other senses.

Whether outdoors or indoors  – in a safe place – take a few minutes to be still and nurture your other senses. Shut your eyes.

Listen. Notice the sounds you can hear.

Smell. Notice any smells – you may be surprised what comes to your nostrils when you are intentionally noticing smells!

Taste. This may sound strange, as this is not an eating meditation, but is there any ‘taste’ in the air? Classics for me are walking past a clump of wild garlic or being by the sea. It is ‘as if’ I taste them.

Feel. It is likely your fingers are in contact with something. Notice the texture of what they are touching. It might be your other hand, the clothes you are wearing, the arms of a chair. Pay attention also to any feeling on other parts of your skin, such as the sun or wind on your face.

This is just a few minutes of your day but it will awaken your senses, helping you to ‘sense’ more widely through the activities of the rest of the day.

This practice will also make you thankful for the gift of all your senses, so precious and yet all too often passing us by.

This is Mindful Monday on 7 September 2020.

Making a choice

Be well Make choices

There are plenty of definitions of mindfulness, each seeking to capture the essence of a practice. (Feel free to add a favourite of yours in a comment on this post.)

Here are two definitions I have often used: “being in control of our thoughts and feelings, rather than being run ragged by them” (Ruby Wax); “learning to pay attention and becoming fully awake” (Jon Kabat-Zinn). Two good definitions.

I loved coming across a new definition this week and it is this: “to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances”. It wasn’t in a book on mindfulness. It wasn’t intended to be a definition of mindfulness! And yet it serves well as a definition.

It is from a holocaust survivor who was also a neurologist and psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl. Here’s the context in which the definition appears:

“Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

It’s easy to go into ‘auto-response’, especially when a situation we are in is difficult (even if no where near as difficult as Viktor Frankl’s experience). It is great to be reminded that we can be intentional – make a choice – in our responses to all the happenings of life.

Let’s notice where we might make ‘auto responses’ this week. Let’s turn these into opportunities to make choices.

This isn’t easy to do but it will reward you. You will be the healthier for it.

For me, I also find getting on my knees and seeking divine assistance on what’s a good choice is part of the journey.

This is Mindful Monday on 31 August 2020.

 

Unsettled?

Unsettled or serene

“The only constant in life is change.” This is a theory attributed to a philosopher 2,500 years ago. I had to look up his name and just in case you can’t recall it either, his name is Heraclitus (and yes, he was Greek).

It’s a theory that seems to have stood to test of millennia – and that is because it is relevant.

In the south of the England in the last week, we have been experiencing big weather changes. – and it looks like we may have unsettled weather for a while to come.

Waking up one day, none of us would venture to change the weather – even if we utter the odd grouch about it! We know we need to accept it as we find it.

I am a natural ‘do-er’, task oriented and keen to make a difference. I find it easier to bring about change than accept things I cannot change. But in the last week I have needed to ‘let go’ of events happening that I am unable to influence but need to accept as they are, just like the weather.

I have used a well-known prayer – written about 90 years ago – by an American Reinhold Niebuhr and still relevant today. You will probably already know it, the beginning bit at least.

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen

In the week that has passed and the week to come each of us will experience change of some kind, some which we can influence and some of which we can’t. It is inevitable.

Whatever the week has in store for you in terms of change, reflect on what you need to accept and what you need to influence. Being mindful opens up choices. And for me, opening my spirit to the wisdom of the one who created me is also a vital part of the journey.

All weathers

 

Whatever the weather . . .

In many cultures – and certainly in the British culture – we love to talk about the weather. It comes up naturally and is often a fall back for conversation when passing a neighbour in the street.

We are great at observing the weather. We dress differently according to how we perceive the weather to be. We freely discuss it.

We are sometimes not so great at observing our emotions. We may seek to hide how we are feeling from others. We fail to share.

We can be intentional about observing our emotions, taking time to identify our dominant emotion i.e. how are we feeling? Happy? Sad? Annoyed? Angry? Calm? Peaceful? Disappointed? Hopeful?

Sometimes it is helpful to express our dominant emotion. When our dominant emotion is very strong we can hardly not express it! When we are really happy – or really angry – it bursts out! Even strangers will probably enjoy sharing in our happiness but our anger might be less welcome. Whether it’s a welcome or difficult emotion, going through the process of observing it and labelling it helps us to be appropriate in our next steps.

Identifying our emotion is key to understanding it. If I identify I feel annoyed, I can then reflect on why I am annoyed. As I do this, I may be tempted to blame someone else for my emotion. But the way I feel is actually determined by how I think about the situation, not necessarily someone else’s action.

Here’s an example:

Activating event: someone pushes into a queue I am in.

Belief: I believe joining the end of the queue is the right thing to do.

Consequence: I feel annoyed.

So I identify my annoyance. I recognise it is because someone ‘pushed’ into the queue (it’s a strong emotion – someone pushed in!).

Armed with this information, I can question my belief, perhaps crediting the person with a reason for their urgency that I might not be aware of. Or I can challenge the person, pointing out politely where to join the queue. Or I can smile at my belief, recognising that others may not share that belief and – after all – the difference in time to me at that moment is inconsequential. There is no ‘right’ in this situation – all of these choices are open to me and all of them reduce my annoyance. Identifying my emotion gives me choices on the outworking of that emotion.

Life throws up far more complex situations and emotions than a queue jumper and the resulting annoyance. Let’s observe them. Let’s label them. Let’s be open to sharing them. Let’s understand our own beliefs in the situation. Let’s open ourselves up to having choices.

And if it makes you more comfortable, you can even use metaphors relating to the weather to identify your emotions. It’s a cultural thing I know!

This is Mindful Monday on 10 August 2020.

How are you today?

emotions

Heavy hearted. That is the best way I can describe how I feel about a situation I am in. It is valuable to label the emotion and accept it. And yes it will pass.

It reminded me of how we associate different emotions with bodily sensations – as well as with different colours and even the weather. We might describe ourselves as light hearted or sick to the stomach; we might say we are feeling blue or green with envy; we might say we are feeling sunny or grey.

I love this image in an academic journal showing how people mapped 13 different emotions to the body, including using colour.

I don’t believe my feeling of being heavy hearted has physically impacted my heart. But there are times when our emotions do have a physical impact. When we are afraid, for example, our ‘fight or flight’ response causes an increase in adrenaline creating a host of physical reactions. Or when we are feeling pressured, we may develop a headache and hold tension also in other places.

Let’s embrace language that helps us describe how we are feeling. Let’s take a holistic approach to ourselves, acknowledging that how we are feeling will at times impact us physically. It is a beginning of self understanding. It is also a good basis for knowing when we need to ask for help from others.

So what’s your prevailing emotion today? And does it help you to understand it by associating it with a part of your body, with a colour  or the weather?

This is Mindful Monday on 3 August 2020.