Keep Your Spirits Up During Corona – Simple Exercise

From Somatic Coaching:

It’s natural/normal for each of us to eventually have a ‘reaction’ to lockdown/quarantine. No matter how mentally resilient – in our bodies, the vagus nerve, the longest nerve in our body, is active with two strands: One down along our spine, and one down all the way through our tummy.

The one along our spine is usually for ‘fight or flight’ activity. When it cannot do that – like now – it tends to go into ‘shutdown’/‘freeze’. Then we often just want to ‘hang around’, lie in bed/on the sofa and not do much anymore, going ‘stagnant’. You might feel kind of numb, temporarily ‘hopeless’, or depressed – you might binge-eat, or binge-watch Netflix.

That’s why it’s so important to consciously focus on the other part of the vagus nerve that runs through our tummy. All you need to do is: Focus on your tummy, just above your navel. Bring your breathing there. Repeat in your mind: “I’m keeping my energy in my tummy”. Imagine it there. Keep doing that – also if/when awake at night. Comfortably lie there, eyes closed, direct your attention to your tummy, keep repeating the phrase.

Your mind can’t do two things at once – so you get to choose where to focus it consciously, instead of subconsciously letting it wander! And that’s so relevant, because: Every thought immediately has a ‘psycho-neuro-immunological response’.

So you can ‘self-regulate’ by consciously keeping your energy on your frontal vagus nerve.

A rant for the new year (and decade)

Over the past few days, on Facebook and Twitter, I’ve been sharing articles by George Monbiot and Naomi Klein, from the ‘New Republic’, the ‘Guardian’ and ‘Der Freitag’, on democracy and the climate crisis, and how it’s all related. This morning, it occurred to me that – just as I wrote in my master’s thesis in 2007 – I seem to find myself once again in a ‘parallel process’:

For my health recovery over the past eight years, it was ‘a change consultant tasting her own medicine’ – tasting what it really means when massive change comes on from the outside and is painful; when you’re caught unguarded on the ‘sundeck’ of the status quo; go through the ’typical’ denial; try to go back to the old ways (“but I’ve always done it like that”). When new solutions eventually emerge from where you would never have expected them; when you reluctantly start noticing them and experimenting with them; when you eventually go “oh, this could actually work” and gradually become more confident with adopting and practicing what has emerged. When you fully experience the quite normal ‘messiness’ of these processes, as you keep ‘falling off the wagon’, feel like you will never make it through – but eventually … start seeing some light at the end of the tunnel. You eventually emerge transformed.

Thought this morning how my own eight years of struggling with health and neuro-endocrinological transformation seem so parallel to how societies globally are now struggling – with how ‘the old ways’ no longer work, but large parts of societies still try desperately to cling to them, doing ‘more of the same’. How they are in utter denial of having to come around to the inevitable change and keep doing ‘more of the same’ purely out of habit, although they already somehow ‘know’ it’s not going to work any longer. How intense, long and painful the struggle through from the old to something new will be – that we can’t just ‘snip our fingers’, ‘take the Tarzan swing’ – and at the same time, how necessary and inevitable it will be, no matter how much we instinctively pull backwards, trying to reach out for the railings that ‘held’ us in the past.

How we will see emergence – more movements like the ‘Fridays for Future’ one and like ‘Extinction Rebellion’, and a lot of stuff that we cannot possibly even imagine now. How that emergence will feel so unfamiliar and will require ‘trying out’ and ‘experimenting with’. How messy all of it will be, especially on such a large scale. How it will often feel like ‘jumping off a cliff’ into the unknown, learning to categorically not look back anymore and reach out instinctively for the old railings behind us.


How it might sometimes, or often, feel like we might not ‘make it through’ — and how we actually might not make it. Because that risk is there. It also was for me. Because it’s so hard. And so tedious. And so slow. But then, how in the end, we actually might. Very differently than we initially thought. To our own surprise and amazement.

And how we will need to learn in the process, on our way, ‘building the bridge as we walk on it’, what I also had to gradually learn: humility, patience, perseverance. And ongoing mutual support.

Greta, Jeremy, or – you?

On Friday, September 20, we saw the Global Climate Strike, organized by the Fridays for Future movement as a kick-off for the

Global #WeekForFuture September 20-27, 2019

Also on that day, Greta Thunberg addressed the US congress, powerfully referring to Martin Luther King Junior’s ‘I have a dream’ speech and leaving listeners with the clear message to remember: ‘I have a dream – but it’s time to wake up – this is an emergency!’

The next day, Saturday, September 21, was International Peace Day. On that day on Facebook, I wrote: “You needn’t be 16 and assessed with Asperger’s to start a global movement 😉. More than 20 years ago, in 1998, a young man in the UK had an idea – and three years later, he got the UN to unanimously declare International Peace Day. 👏 His start-up from the time, the NGO ‘Peace One Day’, has gone from strength to strength creating global awareness and mega initiatives, also winning over famous spokespeople like Jude Law and big corporate supporters like Unilever’s Paul Polman. Here’s the story in just 5 minutes on YouTube, if you want to be inspired – so be it Greta now or Jeremy then, be it climate crisis, peace, education or democracy: Just get moving. We all can do this! 👍What’s important is: To get beyond grassroots initiatives, and to institutionalization and systemic #change!”

Today, I’d still like to add: Look at the power of excellent communication! Why do certain campaigns work so well? Jeremy Gilley is a documentary filmmaker – he uses the art of (visual) storytelling. Greta Thunberg’s speeches are so carefully crafted that I wonder who writes them for her – and who trained her to deliver them in such a measured, professional, effective way. Words have meaning, rhetoric is powerful, pictures and video clips speak a thousand words …

In the year 2000, the then cult advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi in London published the coffee table book ‘Social Work: In very creative and provocative ways, advertising was used to really draw attention to critical social issues and address much-needed change of mindsets and attitudes. Innovative and disruptive then – still very relevant now!

Screenshot 2019-09-23 at 11.19.06

Saatchi & Saatchi claimed that they were contributing ‘world changing communication ideas’ – and I think they actually did. And that’s my invitation to you: Be creative. Contribute world changing communication ideas. Get out there with your message – social media are at your fingertips. Cut right to the heart of issues – like Greta. Like Jeremy. Every one of us can do it.

Change, Transition and – Acceptance?

Be it in our personal or our professional lives, #change tends to most often be brought on from the outside – and it can be welcome or unwelcome. If it is welcome, we embrace it much more easily – just like positive change that we choose to bring into our lives ourselves. However, if change is unwelcome, forced upon us, we are not necessarily willing to embrace it – we resist. We find the psychological transition it takes rather unpleasant – we don’t want it.

Yet that change may be inevitable – there may be nothing we can do to avoid it. However, adapting to the new context and situation is a process. None of us can just take the ‘Tarzan swing’ from our previous ‘place in the sun’ to complete new adjustment and fresh ‘flourishing’. Each of us goes through what Claes Andersen so aptly described as the ‘Four Rooms of Change’, with lots of confusion – some do this faster, some more slowly, some get stuck for a while or for good … but we all have to move through, in the exact same sequence.

Being a trained change consultant myself, I had of course thought for quite some time “Sure, I can do this – in terms of personality type, I tend to welcome change and novelty anyhow, and I have learned to sit with uncertainty, too.”

Well – life can teach you some humility there … If the change is big and unwelcome enough, also as a trained change consultant you really get to learn to ‘swallow your own medicine’ …! And then you go “OMG, is that me trying to deny this is happening? Is this me feeling lost? Is this me clumsily trying out different new paths …? And trying in vain to somehow bargain my way back into the old situation …?”

And what, you can proudly sit with uncertainty for … six weeks? Try three years! Really accept a profoundly changed situation and context? Having to notice that you can’t just snip your fingers and be there? That you can’t just mentally ‘teleport’ into a new situation?

In my case, acceptance that external interference changed my health context, which profoundly changed my professional situation, took much longer than I thought. I remember that young doctor who eventually scolded me “I want you to finally stop hoping!” (that you can go back to flying around the world as an international consultant). I remember how angry I was at her for being angry at me. And then … after more than seven (!) years, I suddenly noticed in myself one day “Oh – I think now I have finally stopped hoping. Now it’s okay. I have arrived at acceptance.”

And taking/needing that time is okay indeed. “It is as it is” and “It takes the time that it takes” are actually – deep wisdoms.

Already in 1969, Dr. Elisabeth Kuebler Ross pointed out the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Nowadays, we know that also this is not a linear process – that people might go back in circles to any of the stages of denial, anger, bargaining and depression. That reaching acceptance the first time around may still require reaching it again and again and again, at better and deeper levels. That ‘super-resilience’ and ‘just sailing through’ are rather rare …

Therefore, regarding big changes of that kind – have you experienced a serious illness yourself? A divorce? Betrayal by a (business) partner? A death in the family? Having to care for an elderly parent? Losing your job or your company? Having to move to a city or country you don’t necessarily like because of your partner’s new job (or your home country’s unfavorable political developments), having to leave friends and family behind? Experiencing professional disability? All of these experiences are – normal. Human. May eventually hit us – because we are not different from other people. From everybody else.

And then, what happens is that you do experience the four rooms of change and the five stages of grief, in some form. Lighter – or harder.

Eventually, it helps to actually – mourn enough. Yes, you read that right. It is necessary and healthy to mourn endings. Eventually, you may also have to consciously look at what you may have to let go of in order to adjust to your new context. And yet later at how you can integrate your new experience with your life narrative as it came before – simply because even with disruption, we long for some kind of coherence. So we try to eventually (re-)construct some coherent narrative.

I just want you to know, especially if your ‘big change’ situation is still rather new to you, that all this is normal. And that you are not alone. Feel free to write to me privately if you would like to confidentially share your own story. And feel free to seek support through coaching and/or therapy – it can help hugely to look at everything with somebody well-trained who can competently look in from the outside, so we can now start constructing what we so far used to consider our ‘self’ and our life – slightly differently.

Literature recommendation

William Bridges: Managing Transitions – Making the Most of Change

‚Being Right Is Not Enough‘ – How to Be a #Change Agent as an ‘Invisible Leader’

My then-client Nick Lakin and I wrote and published our Book ‘Corporate Community Involvement – The Definitive Guide’ for Greenleaf and Stanford University Press in 2009/2010. The final chapter was about how to instigate #change and #transformation inside the company towards sustainable business practice.

We were honored to interview for that chapter Dr. Mark Wade, who,

Dr. Mark Wade
Dr. Mark Wade, interviewed on implementing effective #change and #transformation processes

with his passion for developing responsible leadership, had been Shell’s Head of Sustainable Development Policy, Strategy & Reporting until 2003 and then Shell’s Head of Sustainable Development Learning within the company’s Leadership Development Group until 2006. In those two positions, he was recognized internally and externally as a key player and architect of Shell’s Sustainability journey. Until his retirement in 2006, Mark was also Shell’s Liaison Delegate to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and Chairman of the Business Network of the European Academy for Business in Society (EABIS – nowadays ABIS), where he later became a member of the Supervisory Board.

Coaching a client recently on leading intersectoral partnerships in sustainability innovation, I found myself drawing on and recommending this interview again – ten years later, I find it has lost none of its relevance; quite to the contrary. There are so many gems in there; really every single aspect you need to cover for the complete process.

So I am posting it here for the first time as a free excerpt from our book – over four pages of interview, enjoy the opportunity of learning directly, step-by-step and very hands-on from Mark Wade about how he worked a.o. with Scharmer’s Theory U and Wilber’s Integral Model of Change to combine, as he writes himself, “both the ‘hard-wiring’ (reporting, governance, key performance indicators, systems and processes) and the ‘soft-wiring’ (winning the hearts and minds of leaders) to generate the ‘will, thrill, skill of sustainable development’ “.

Lovely Rant by Introvert in Extraverted ‘Dominant Culture’

For once, I’d like to link to somebody else’s blog post:
To a lovely rant by an introverted scientist in an extraversion-oriented culture, where mainly ‘Americans and Dutch’ are simply too loud for that person. Interesting: The observation about ‘more extraverted cultures’ like the American one, in which many introverts – and have I ever heard that before – feel obliged to ‘fake it’ in order to somehow fit in and be as ‘loud and superficial’ as the others, ‘try to behave like they are’ extraverted like the supposed majority around them. (Side note: I confess to having an extraverted preference, but when holding a course in the US a few years ago, coming from Europe, course participants considered me an introvert and even called me out on that – as for what they were used to in terms of levels of ‘entertainment’ also in class, I was simply not loud enough to rise to that expectation! Or to say it differently: Looking at it culturally, an American introvert might still come across as ‘louder’ than e.g. a Finnish extrovert …)

Also look at the comments underneath the blog by people ‘feeling the same pain’ – perhaps us extroverts should/could make a bit more of an effort to notice people with an introverted preference and respect their needs for less noise, smaller groups and meaningful conversation, including the occasional pause for thinking.

Enjoy this post, especially if you have an introverted preference yourself!

Are you a ‘highly sensitive person‘? A little note to you

These days, there is a lot of talk about empathy – and indeed, for quite a few people it would be good to learn and develop their empathetic abilities more. Projects that focus on practicing empathy already with first-graders in school, whose brains still develop, are certainly good and useful. One example here is Roots of Empathy.

However, there is a flip side to that coin that we rarely – basically: never – hear about, and that is: too much empathy. Empathy to the degree that one literally ‘feels’ other people too much or even only other people, but no longer properly one’s own needs.

This can be an issue in helping professions, it can be an issue in coaching and consulting, and it can be an issue in our personal lives. It can go to the point of self-sacrifice.

The medical basis for empathy lies in the number of mirror neurons one is equipped with. Mirror neurons help us with the ability to imagine things/contexts. And yes indeed, some people have difficulty imagining things. They literally ‘lack imagination’, find it stressful to even attempt to imagine things/concepts. They prefer observation of what is, what they can see, hear, touch. Fair enough. Also much needed, especially in hands-on professions.

Some other people though are so richly equipped with mirror neurons that they imagine things too well – they hear somebody talking about a tooth ache and literally feel that tooth ache themselves. They read about somebody fainting from pain or illness and almost faint themselves. They tend to say: “I feel other people too much” or “I’m just a highly sensitive person”.

I have had to learn the hard way that it is indeed much less ‘poetic’ than that: It is simply so that there is too much ability to imagine things. To anticipate: “What would it be like?” In full complexity. You are not actually ‘feeling’ the other person’s pain or emotion or anger. You are just too good at imagining/anticipating things.

So sometimes, it helps to step back, look inside yourself and ask: “So what do I actually feel? And what do I actually want and need right now?” And to stop thinking about that person or that situation that triggers the imagination/anticipation. Literally take your mind off it – let go of anticipation. Switch and return to yourself.

For people with ‘too much empathy’ that can be a necessary exercise. It doesn’t mean that you will lose your compassion. It’s simply about consciously developing ‘good enough’ boundaries, turning away a little instead of turning towards. We’re supposed to be connected – and sometimes it’s okay and even healthy to be a bit separate. Try and find your own good ‘middle ground’.


‘The value of ignorance’ – or who do I trust?

A contact of mine shared a link to this article about that new person being in charge of national education in that big country across the pond ‘teaching the value of ignorance‘.

That title really made me think – first of all about: What is a value? Still not exactly sure how to define it for myself. Certainly a way of looking at things, a deeply-held conviction, something that is very important to someone, a ‘positive attachment’?


I’ve actually heard it from one or the other person here in Germany: ‘I am *proud* to be ignorant.’ Confusing for me. You see, I am hopeless at physics and chemistry and IT (and math, accordingly) – while other people are passionate about those and eagerly pursue the topics (I admire them).

But that does not make me *proud* of being ignorant in those fields. Rather, it makes me humble. Yes, I also avoid the topics instead of attempting to educate myself further, although maybe I should – because I lack interest and find it difficult. Perhaps, if I had an interest, I would find it less difficult? But I am glad other people understand this stuff, and am happy to trust them with it. Otherwise, a lot of things just would not work, like for example housing, transportation, health care, and my laptop, only for starters. And I depend very much on all of those to work; also, I have had *mostly good experiences* with them. ‘Science can be trusted’ – to an extent.

In analogy now: If I was to find politics and/or multiculturalism and/or globalization and/or complexity and/or uncertainty too difficult – plus was not interested in them (can’t blame you, with my own lack of interest in physics, chemistry, IT, math – perhaps you’re more gifted than I in those) – would I also want to call myself ‘proud to be ignorant’ and call ignorance my ‘value’? Would I have a need to be self-protective in that way, otherwise feeling over-extended in front of the challenge? Because I’d have to push and force myself to get interested in, deal with and understand stuff that I don’t have a deep passion for … which I would find stressful, as is human nature?

Would I then rather trust people who I assume know this stuff better? If I had made good experiences with how they took care of these issues on my behalf?

But what if my experiences were bad?? Repeatedly? Would I say: “Who the heck around here can I still trust with this stuff that I don’t understand? Who can take care of it?” If I don’t have sufficient understanding of the subject matter, who am I to know how to choose the right people to take care of politics, multiculturalism, globalization, complexity and uncertainty on my behalf?

If you asked me to choose one surgeon over the other, one person in charge of iCloud security over another, one engineer building bridges or tunnels over another – how would I go about that? I would not have informed criteria regarding their professional competencies, and they could tell/’sell’ me pretty much whatever they wanted – I’d probably go with who I happen to know, who my friends recommended, or who I spontaneously liked better, just in terms of chemistry …

Does this make sense? And do you see my point?

Happy to discuss …

The Times They Are A-Changin’*

The organizational theorist Ralph Stacey speaks about ‚bounded instability‘ – a very useful notion, I find. We need certain scaffoldings, holding structures – and a certain level of flexibility and freedom to move within those structures. Every once in a while, also the structures need adjustment.

Now, if there is too much structure, holding us too rigidly, then we are speaking of an ‘overstructured system’– and that eventually needs some deconstruction.

In turn, when there is too little structure and too much instability, we speak of an ‘understructured system’ – and sometimes it is helpful to re-introduce a little structure to avoid chaos.

In the ‘good old days’ of around the 1950s, there were more rigid structures in place than nowadays – and many of us rebelled. Nowadays, there are a lot of freedoms – too many for some of us, who feel as if, with so many of the old ‘certainties’ lacking, we’re getting lost …

The tricky thing is that not all humans are the same – evolution has created us so that we have different traits and preferences, competencies and skills, so that we can help each other out, and the whole range needed is covered. That makes for some people thriving on change, loving it when things are shaken up, enjoying the freedom to have many choices. It makes just as well for people who prefer caution, steadiness, and a sense of safety and security provided by tradition, experience and routine.

So, we all need some of all of the above – only, some of us lean more towards the ‘instability’ part of ‘bounded instability’ – others more towards the ‘bounded’ part.

The reason: If we love change, we happen to be, by nature, very open to outside stimuli – so we need a lot of them. Too much ‘bounded stability’ is boring for us, for lack of stimuli.

If we prefer tradition, experience, holding structures and routine, we are, by nature, less open to outside stimuli – so if we get a lot of them, that is rather stressful and unsettling. We prefer setting clear boundaries to let less stimuli in, so we can still have our internal structure and order and feel safe and secure.

So – two different ways of thriving and flourishing. Each one necessary, so we can all be complementary.

The challenge now is that we currently happen to be living in unsettling times, where there are very few certainties, where old structures are increasingly abolished, where new structures, especially of work, often appear precarious. All that change feels threatening to some … they miss the apparent order and ‘safety’ of the ‘good old days’.

Plus there is this notion of ‘post-modern relativism’ – promoting that there is no absolute truth, only differences in perception. That does *not* extend to saying ‘the sun is shining’ when it’s actually raining. It does not extend either to saying ‘you can cross the road now’ when a car is approaching at full speed. It does extend to political opinions or to personal preferences, though. In that area, there is not necessarily an ‘either … or’, but an ‘and’. As explained, for example, change itself can be both stimulating *and* threatening – depending from which perspective you look at it. Even temperature can be perceived differently: To Finnish people, 25 C is really warm – to people from the Philippines, 25 C might feel rather cool … It is like looking at this well-known drawing: Can you see both the old *and* the young woman? (I have added this as a YouTube video, so you can indeed see both and don’t need to feel frustrated.)

However, as all that is confusing, some people might be tempted to say ‘If everything is up for grabs in terms of interpretation, why can’t I then say that MY little world is exactly the way that I see it and that I want it to be? And I’m just going to MAKE it be that way!’

Some people feel absolutely over-extended with all the change going on, with all the uncertainties encroaching, with all the cultural interpretations suddenly possible … So now they have taken to saying very determinedly: ‘This is it. The buck stops here. I set my boundaries very clearly, and I want everything to go back to the old ways that felt safe for ME because I knew my way around them’. It is a kind of helpless protest …

Think about it: How long can you yourself ‘sit with uncertainty’? For an hour? A day? A week? A month? A year? Uncertainty about the state of your health, your income, your employment, your children’s future? Think about how much stress it causes you to not know about the state of your health for a month, about the future of your employment for 6 months. Does that cause you sleepless nights? What if you’re forced to ‘sit with uncertainty’ for … years? What will your helpless, stressed-out fear eventually turn into? Depression? Or rage?

Nevertheless – ‘alternative facts’ as a form of defiance might provide a temporary sense of relief against uncertainty, insecurity, all those relativist perspectives out there, and no one apparently knowing the ‘exact right way’ into the future. In the long run, though, that kind of defiance is not going to work …

Increasingly, we are all asked to co-create the future, in collaborative stewardship. Some might not like giving up the control to which they feel entitled by class, income or sense of ‘natural leadership’. Some others might not like assuming personal responsibility, as they would rather like to just ‘follow’ and have some kind of ‘leader’ do the thinking for them and ‘show them the way’ (and that better be THE ‘right’ way!).

Responsibly co-creating our future, though, in collaborative stewardship, while allowing lots of perspective changes as we map out our collective way forward, with the greatest level of freedom, safety and prosperity for *everyone* – it’s the only way ahead.

Questions that remain are: How can we best train ourselves for that?
And: How can those of us who thrive on change and lots of choices help ‘ease the pain’ of those of us who prefer the tradition and routine of our old known ways, who would like to follow a given path rather than engage in co-creation, and who experience stress and ‘social pain’ from all that change, uncertainty, and manifold ways of looking at things?


*The Times They Are A-Changin’ is a Bob Dylan song. You can find the lyrics here:

Watch short film / Kurzfilm ansehen: 21st Century Learning – Lernen im 21. Jahrhundert

The international education activist and creative consultant Patrick Newell lobbies for 21st Century model schooling. He generously gave the German rights for his film ’21st Century Learning’ to Education Y, the social profit organization I currently support part-time. Education Y made a short version of the film (15 min.), adapting it with some added German content. My partner and I had the honor to provide translation from English to German: Education Y – 21st Century Learning

A powerful message in there that I personally took with me: We need to accept that we can no longer necessarily impose our own meaning-making on children, but that we need to allow them their own meaning-making – even if that leads to perspective change for us.

Der internationale Bildungsaktivist Patrick Newell setzt sich für modellhaftes Lernen im 21. Jahrhundert ein. Er hat die deutschen Rechte für seinen Bildungsfilm ‘Lernen im 21. Jahrhundert’ Education Y überlassen, dem Sozialprofit-Unternehmen, das ich derzeit in Teilzeit unterstütze. Education Y hat eine Kurzversion des Films erstellt, adaptiert mit zusätzlichen deutschen Inhalten. Mein Partner und ich durften die Übersetzung vom Englischen ins Deutsche beitragen: Education Y – Lernen im 21. Jahrhundert

Eine starke Botschaft des Films, die ich für mich selbst mitgenommen habe: Wir müssen akzeptieren, dass wir nicht länger unbedingt unsere eigene Deutung der Dinge den Kindern aufoktroyieren können – sondern dass wir ihnen ihre eigene Sinnfindung und Deutung der Dinge erlauben müssen, auch wenn das für uns Perspektivwechsel bedeutet.