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Change Sickness

By AICC Staff

November 11, 2021

width=315I told him to watch the white line. I tried reasoning with him, but he was six years older and not required to listen. He was also a terrible host. He had invited me to spend the weekend and promptly came down with scarlet fever. He was supposed to be my cool older brother who had his own place and could drive and everything. Instead, I was stuck taking care of him in his tiny room while he spent all night talking in his sleep and taking regular breaks for projectile vomiting. He was hallucinating about riding in a car somewhere. He kept talking about the curves in the road, and then he would throw up again. I tried helping, but at about 3 a.m., I gave up and told him to watch the white line. He cursed me the next day because he watched that white line the rest of the night, but he stopped talking and throwing up. So, you’re welcome, bro.

Motion sickness is caused by the inner ear’s reaction to unanticipated change in trajectory. Car sickness is ameliorated by two strategies. First, if you are driving, you choose the course and direction. Second, if you watch the white line, the inner ear can anticipate most changes. No surprises means no motion sickness. Think of stress as the motion sickness of the soul. Unanticipated changes result in stress. Anticipated changes that do not go completely as planned also cause stress. Here are two strategies that may ameliorate stress. First, when you are driving, you will not be stressed. However, there may be stress due to the pressure of taking on responsibility for controlling all variables. Second, watch the road ahead to anticipate and prepare. You did all that, and you are still stressed?

Stress is unavoidable, and some of the unease comes from our mistaken belief that stress is abnormal—that if we were doing it right, we would not experience the discomfort. Stress is an adverse reaction to change—to any change, not just to the negative ones. There is a checklist based on insurance norms that has been around for many years. The Holmes-Rahe stress test can be found many places online (see Take it, and you will see that there are points gained for both positive and negative changes. You get almost as many points for getting married as you do for going to jail (insert your own punch line here). A higher number of points indicates a higher probability of illness or injury due to stress. Because we wrongly suppose that stress is the result of only the unwanted outcomes, we are particularly vulnerable in victory. In truth, victory depletes us as much as loss, so we are often blindsided by a stress reaction.

Our behavior demonstrates a paradigm that mental, emotional, or physical fatigue is a sign of weakness. In fact, fatigue is not a Red Bull deficiency. It is a body, mind, and soul reaction to the changes of a demanding life. Considering the pressures of the last 18 months, those in this industry have been stressed by the COVID-19 pandemic and perhaps even more by the welcome and unprecedented influx of business. To endure and achieve some type of healthy pace for the long term and to gain perspective, I suggest we predict, plan, prioritize, and partner.

Predict. Watch the white line, and anticipate and adapt to changes. Anticipate what you can, and prepare for a reasonable set of positive and negative outcomes. Some people play worst-case scenario to deal with stress. They are not necessarily being pessimistic; they are just reasoning that if they know how they would handle catastrophe, they can improvise on anything less.

Plan. Never stop taking time with your team to check current workloads and capacities as well as the individuals’ and team’s resilience. Busy times do not excuse us from this executive function. Do what needs to be done to keep the team healthy. Do not put off dealing withconflicts, or nonconformances. Insist that people maintain a healthy pace, as there is no natural end in sight to this new level of busyness. Most are painfully aware of what happens when we neglect to do regular preventative maintenance on machines. The consequences for humans are no less troublesome. Our bodies do not stockpile sleep or nutrition. These must be taken in a timely manner, or the self-righting system will result in an illness that requires us to take them in a more inconvenient means. However, with proactive rest, fitness, and nutrition, we can become more resilient to physical stress.

Prioritize. Figure out where your efforts will be most effective. Delegate the things for which you lack the bandwidth or the expertise. Strategically ignore what you and your team cannot address by scheduling it forward.

Partner. We can be accountable, actively engaging with our thinking partners. Few activities help me gain perspective more effectively than explaining the problem out loud to another person using a whiteboard. Asking someone to support or collaborate in this way will help prevent the mental clutter that can result from solitary problem-solving. Of course, it is even better if that person can share responsibility. This will help avoid losing energy, joy, and perspective and is particularly important when things are going well.

When these are habits, perspective and resilience will be the result.

width=140Scott Ellis, Ed.D., delivers training, coaching, and resources that develop the ability to eliminate obstacles and sustain more effective and profitable results. He recently published Dammit, Learning Judgment Through Experience. His books and process improvement resources are available at AICC members enjoy a 20% discount code: AICC21.