– habits and liminality in times of corona
Tuesday morning, on the agenda today:
Session about lessons learned from the employee engagement survey Job interviews with applicants for the vacancy for business analyst Official visit to partner-organisation
Right… strike that all. At least in the way you used to do them.
And this is just the list of planned actions.
Never mind all those in-between moments you normally have in the office. The quick glances of understanding during a meeting, the chit-chat at the coffee corner in which so much more is said than just the weekend-update…
Your autopilot is out of office.
The word corona has become part of every third sentence you utter. This is probably one of the few certainties we still have.
At the same time is corona shattering almost all of your habits.
And that is quite something.
Habits play a major part in your everyday life.
According to Duke University, about 55% of your behaviour consists of routines. Daniel Kahnemann (Thinking, fast and slow) raises the bar considerably by stating that 98% of your mental activity happens in your subconscious brain. He calls this System 1. In which everything you do happens subconsciously, automatically, and therefor effortlessly.
Unlike System 2, in which you make conscious choices, make decisions and stop to wonder: ‘How do I actually do this?’ This part takes up a meagre 2% of your brain space.
This uneven division has a very good reason. Your conscious, rational System 2 eats away at your energy like crazy and leaves you drained. This is also why change tends to be so energy consuming.
Now that most of your habits are on hold, you fall back to System 2 a lot more than the normal 2%. Your everyday actions feel like you’re doing them for the first time. You literally have to figure out new routines and adjust your old ones. No small feat.
‘Take care of yourself and each other’ isn’t just an empty phrase, but very much needed.
You miss the majority of all those subconscious clues you normally get in meetings when meeting online. Your attention is directed differently, your brain tries to fill the gaps in the interactions. You have to find your way in how you relate to each other.
When to talk, when not? Who’s taking the lead? Who is being addressed with that remark? Can I share the joke flashing through my head, or will that disturb the flow too much? How can I subtly share my understanding for their position? How to label the lag in responses here? What’s the feel about this topic on the agenda…?
When you see it in this light, it’s perfectly normal that by the end of the day you feel as if you’ve run an Ironman. Untrained. You really. Need. To. Recover. Even though you do much less on a day than normal.
So, give yourself and your team members time to catch their breath. To escape, unwind and recharge. It makes sense that this is a tiring bit of time, even if we don’t understand it.
At the same time, this story has a bright side, too.
Your habits being challenged so much also provides fantastic opportunities.
Every change and innovation starts with questioning your habits. Putting your System 2 in the driver’s seat to take a critical look at the autopilots from System 1.
And this is exactly what just happens now, thanks to the coronavirus, whether you like it or not. Because now you have to think about almost everything you do. Because you are forced to interact with others in a different way. To plan your workday differently, to find a replacement for the usual Friday drinks when not at the office. To look at what can be postponed, what needs to continue and what you can actually stop.
In this in-between, when no one really knows, Chaos is King.
Does this great unknown get under your skin as well?
If you are like most people, you’ll try to get rid of this unpleasantness as fast as you can. Holding on to the familiar, sticking to what you can do or what you can influence directly.
Like buying a truckload of toilet paper. Because you never know…. You’re trying to control the uncertainty.
In these first weeks of the corona crisis, most people are trying to simulate normal life as best as they can. In different ways, if need be.
Online what used to be offline, mostly. Still the same meetings, the same reviews. Newsletters are still being published, just a bit later or less frequently than normal.
But really new…?
That requires a lot more letting go of the old way of doing things. And being OK with not knowing what the new way might look like.
To stop trying to force the good old squares through holes which are no longer square. You’ll have to learn with what presents itself now. Maybe the holes turn out to be round now, maybe an entirely new shape. The only thing you know for sure, is that they aren’t square anymore.
Chaos and not-knowing are necessary ingredients for creativity.
So, take your chance, the time is now!
It’s up to you, as a manager or leader, to help the people in your organisation to deal with the unknown. By giving space and emphasizing that no-one needs to have the answers yet. Check in with people what they need to deal with this chaos, without trying to fix it for them.
In order to do that, you will need to endure the discomfort for yourself and them.
Give each other the opportunity to stay in this liminal phase, this twilight zone, longer than might feel comfortable.
And discover what will emerge. Without straight away making that into a new routine or procedure. Just hold it lightly. You might smother it otherwise.
Become a pro in the balancing act. On the one hand giving support so that people can deal with the not-knowing. And on the other hand by doing that creating space for the yet-unknown.
For this, there is no recipe. It’s making it up as you go.
The crux is to find out along the way what works for you and your organisation.
What works for us, is for example to postpone making long-term decisions. To think in weeks rather than months.
To take time during the day to go for a run or go cycling for a bit.
Participating in a nationwide day-start with complete strangers.
Trying out different tools for videoconferencing.
Experiencing how we can and cannot help our clients in these strange days. And how to stay sane ourselves in the process.
But most of all, to be truly okay with not having the faintest idea of what the world is going to look like in three months’ time.