Mental Health Awareness Week - Adaptability, the secret to less worry?
I have always been a worrier.
People say, 'don't worry', 'what you are worrying about?', it is a 'waste of energy to worry'... I say nonsense. Worrying is part of our DNA, and you cannot change that. It is linked to our primal instincts of knowing when to run or when to fight to preserve life – the fight or flight fear paradox. Add to this the juxtaposition of ‘trust your instinct' and things get confusing; what if your instinct is to worry?!
I believe we should all worry to some degree; the right amount of worry is good for our health. I believe that ‘worry’ pushes us towards an action when we need it. As it is Mental Health Awareness week, I thought it would be a good time to take a moment to stop, reflect and, as a worrier, offer my perspective on how to drive positive outcomes because of your worries, not in spite of them.
You may read this and say, do you know what, I am ok - I can worry. It is perfectly fine. I can use that in a positive way.
I hope that is the case.
As a CEO, there's always plenty to worry about; revenue, sales, cash, targets, profits, staff, clients, people's welfare - the fact that right now, my decisions can impact people's lives, hopefully always for the better.
Sat here today, I am like many others, at home, managing a company behind a virtual wall. When in the office, I can offset my agonising mind by being 'present' - seeing the world play out before my eyes. It anchors me.
I think I have always been a good 'reader' of the room; it has stood me in good stead and effectively worked hand in glove with my emotions. Seeing people, watching their body language, and listening to their conversations are all antidotes to my mind. I tell our people at 26 that agencies live and die by their pace. As such, a key part of my role is to be present and bang the drum, set the tone and keep the pace up - whilst, like all good pace setters, knowing when the right moment is to step aside and let the real talent flourish. My role is not to do people's work for them, but to inspire them to bring their best, every day.
Doing that via Microsoft Teams is hard!
I am not a control freak, far from it. I work to promote the empowerment of people and to offer them psychological safety; a space to make mistakes, but most importantly to learn from them. I now worry that I cannot help catching those mistakes and what this therefore means for our people and our business.
I have been blinded and blindsided - my antidote, being present and reading the room, has been benched. Consequently, in the last 8 weeks, my worry index has been pretty high, I want to be open about that. I, like you, worry about work and I worry about my family, their health, my finances, my career and ability to provide - if you haven't had to consider this since March then you're one of the fortunate ones. I think I am in the majority here and yet despite that togetherness, some days it feels like it is a club I do not want to be a member of.
Opportunely, I believe one of my other strengths is adaptability. Adaptability is defined as an ability or willingness to change to suit different conditions. Covid-19 has tested me to delve deep into my reserves and bring to the foreground various skills which I probably have not had to call upon for a long time. Now, more than ever, I have had to adapt. There's been a lot of talk about pivot, but I think it's more educated than simply changing direction or balance; I think we're learning a new way to live and to work - that's adaptability, not pivoting. This isn't a tight corner, it's a whole new playing field.
I think we can manage the worry caused by this crisis and the general pressures of life by being adaptive. With this in mind I wanted to share with you some of my own ideas and practices which have helped me adapt and stay present and, as such, managing my worrying mind, not stopping it, but making it useful rather than harmful:
1. Stay Present
If you meditate - which I do daily - then you will know that being present is a core part of meditative practice. I only sit for 10-20mins every day. That is all I need, it allows me to stop, breathe and clear my mind. Keeping me in the present. I do it at the end of the day when the kids have been put to bed - it acts as punctuation to my day. It is a healthy habit.
2. Less is more
Worry is often compounded by the feeling of being overwhelmed. Break this chain. I use the Ivy Lee method of prioritisation. Simply, have 6 things on your daily 'to do' list and work through them in priority order. If you do not complete them all, move them to the top of the next day. This has helped me feel that I am accomplishing things daily and accomplishment is a key component to feeling good. You will also learn more about what is stopping you being productive as themes will start to show. A tip from me - do not have more than one 'big task' on your daily list, you will never win otherwise. Like a Countdown number board, go for 'one from the top and 5 little ones.'
A key part of my practice is reflection. At the end of the week, I close off by asking myself 3 questions:
- What has gone well this week?
- What have I learnt this week?
- What will I do different next week?
I write this down, religiously, never writing over the last version. Then on a Monday you can refresh your mind on what you have achieved and what you want to work on. This library of reference points is good to pick up and read when you feel sluggish or unaccomplished. For me, it is about perspective.
4. Shorten your horizons
We've so much to worry about with Covid-19 and most of our concerns are about the future - the what ifs?
I was consumed with this in those early weeks. Then, I had a light bulb moment - why worry about something I cannot control, something that is so far away (the future) that whatever I think today will have changed tomorrow (and as such the worry cycle would start again). I (and we as a business) have shortened our horizons, we are optimistic for the future, but are focusing on what we are doing today with a 90-day rolling plan. This has given us perspective and milestones which we will pass through, and we can stop and reflect on each 30-day period to ensure we are doing what we can 'today' to give us the best opportunity 'tomorrow'.
5. Avoid avoidance
When you are worried, feeling overwhelmed or cannot be bothered we typically shut ourselves down and hope that the mood or moment will pass. Avoid this. I will drag myself up and do the most hated chore, speak to my friend when I really cannot be bothered to, or go for walk even though I have no energy. You will build resilience by doing this, increasing your adaptability, and changing the mind's perspective. Use positive intention in your language – “I will”, “it can”, “let us try that”, etc. Positive energy follows positive intention.
6. Lean on your network
I am fortunate enough to have a great professional network, from a top business coach to a fantastic set of peers across 26 and MSQ (our parents) as well as a loving family. In the last few weeks, we have been more open with each other than ever before. Unashamedly so. If you aren't fortunate enough to find yourself in this situation (which I know I'm incredibly lucky to have), then you can still develop a network of trusted advisors. We all need to let off steam, talk things through in the open and engage in healthy debate. You only get out of this what you are prepared to offer up though; sitting on the side-lines and telling your peers (or family and friends for that matter) that your mind is the picture of serenity is a fool’s errand. Be open, be unashamed with how you are feeling. It is not weak to worry. As noted, it’s in your DNA! Embrace it, share it and learn from it.
7. Change will come
Granted, nothing I have said here sticks after one attempt. In truth, I have battled my habits and practices for over a year (when I made a promise to myself that I wanted to change). There have been plenty of false starts, tears (literally!), tantrums and comebacks, but adaptability wins out. I have adapted, stuck at it and been lighter on myself. Change will come, be kind to yourself and do not expect huge impacts after week 1. A very good friend of mine says you 'can't give from an empty cup' so focus on filling your cup up first! I have had my best impact by using this notebook, it is based on the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. Check it out. It’s not cheap, but it is a superb aid for making your own changes stick. (Note, I have not read the book and was able to make it work by reading a few blogs on the James Clear website, you just need a sensible approach.)
Worry is not a disease, or something to be afraid of; it is a key component of our ability to survive and to move towards those necessary actions. Do not stop it; lean into it, and make it work for you. It is ok to worry. Be kind to yourself and cut yourself some slack. I am finding out more about myself every day, I hope you are to.
At 26, we are serious about mental health. We have two trained mental health first aiders and try to cultivate a culture of openness and acceptance throughout our business. We promote the fact that it is OK not to be OK and actively provide materials through our employee benefit scheme (via Bupa, SimplyHealth, Zurich Health Assured and Perkbox) that gives our people at 26 on demand support from trained Mental Health professionals. The more we talk about Mental Health in the workplace, the better things will be for our employees, allowing them to lead a happy and fulfilling life both in and out of work.
Ryan Scott CEO
Ryan oversees 26’s 160-strong work force across Leeds, London and New York. In his spare time, Ryan is most likely to be found spending time with his wife and 2 children, playing golf or watching Spurs.
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