Category Archives: Resiliency

Finding Neutral  

d-holmes-132627By Lara Gates, Managing Editor, Simple Intentions 

Working in a newsroom can be a rush. You spend all afternoon stacking and writing your show with one eye on the clock. And then, without warning something happens. And usually that “something” is not good news. It starts with accelerated chatter on the scanners, followed by phone calls to gather information while “launching” crews toward the activity. It could be a wrong way driver, or 19 “hotshot” firefighters gone missing or an active shooter. The team in the newsroom shifts gears and as the energy rises, every member moves into a place of efficiency and high alert. Each one has an important job to do, whether it be coordinating, reporting, shooting and editing video, writing and rewriting, fact-checking or graphics-building. In scenarios like this, we always work quickly to deliver as much information as we have confirmed to be true, in a way that is fair and informative to the audience. To do this job you need to move instantly into a place of “neutral.” 

Whether it is a devastating act of nature or hideous atrocities that human beings do to one another, witnessing news at arm’s length can be tough. After the terrible 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, designer and tsunami survivor Nate Berkus said that when he was trying to find a way out of the aftermath of the storm he called a TV producer. You see, problem-solving under pressure is what we do.  

Professionals like ER doctors and nurses, surgeons, hospice workers and first responders live with this need for neutral daily as well. In today’s climate sometimes even watching the news brings on feelings of anger or disbelief or even numbness. Finding neutral is a skill that can serve us all, no matter what our background or workplace or role. (It’s also a great parenting tool.) 

When we are in a place of neutral it’s like taking a step back. We are watching and comprehending but breathing through the knee-jerk feelings. Perhaps most importantly, not finding neutral is an astronomical risk. People who struggle to find neutral fall mainly into two camps: Reactionary (angry) or Numb.  

Reacting without pausing can bring about regret very quickly. When we say something in reaction sometimes we don’t actually mean what we say. And perhaps more often, what we say in reaction is laden with emotions and sometimes a hurtful tone or destructive language. We’ve all be there. And there is a simple fix. (Simple yes, but not easy.) Just pause. That’s it. Pause to process and let the emotions settle before responding. 

The biggest danger to not navigating your way to neutral is the risk of going numb. Standing outside a home where a baby was pulled unresponsive from the pool happens in Phoenix all the time. And every time it breaks my heart. But for the first responders and news crews who have to report on the tragedy, it is sometimes a survival mechanism to “flip a switch” and report without emotion the facts of the story. But the most authentic and well-adjusted officers, firefighters and journalists I know remember to grieve the story afterward so that they don’t go numb. 

“Feel the exhaustion, pain, and sadness later in private,” an anchor friend whom I admire said. “And you must make yourself feel it and process it or you will stop “feeling” going forward. You’ll become jaded professionally and emotionless, distant and walled off personally. In other words, it’s good to cry it out sometimes.” 

I encourage you to practice awareness the next time you have your feet swept out from under you. Whether it be a deadline missed or a contract broken or a call from your child’s school. Step one is to take one beat, be aware and shift into neutral. And then wrap it up at the end of the day (or sometimes hourly) with allowing yourself to process the feelings. The more times I practice this shift, the more quickly I can make it. And best of all, I find my “neutral” self is my most productive and helpful contributor in all my relationships. 


Choosing Equanimity

By Chelsea Elkins, Program & Marketing Manager


I’m not normally an angry person. Really.

But I’m also no stranger to the emotion. In a world rife with inequity, bias, and realities that can make the most patient of us want to scream, anger is not uncommon. When I’m in the throes of it, I can focus on nothing else (including effective solutions to the issue) and find that my productivity and longevity suffer.

I’ve been pondering the benefits of anger lately. How it can be a wakeup call. How it can create needed boundaries. Anger can be the spark – to start a revolution, to fight injustice, to say “enough”. But it cannot be the whole flame or we will burn out. While anger can trigger productivity, anger itself is inherently not a productive emotion. And for sustainable change to occur, I’d argue that anger must evolve – into whatever is needed: passionate organizing, relentless activism, a resolute boundary – because anger alone is not enough.

So how then do we turn our anger into something useful? I believe the answer is equanimity.

I recently spent a precious Saturday attending a dharma talk titled “Fierce Equanimity” through The Lotus Institute with Dr. Larry Ward and Dr. Peggy Rowe. The talk discussed how to relentlessly, fiercely display equanimity (or a calmness and evenness of mind and emotion) regardless of life’s circumstances.

This concept states that one can address and overcome challenge and injustice with equanimity in lieu of anger. Instead of rage, determination and perseverance may better serve us. Rather than shouting, a calm but resounding “no” can be just as effective. In exchange for riots, nonviolent protests can mobilize a community. Our middle fingers can be playful instead of aggressive (kidding). This way of being suggests we can combat hate with a fierce and stubborn gratitude.

Still with me?

I heard a powerful idea at The Lotus Institute regarding the non-personalization of experience. In other words, anger is not ours to possess. It’s not a toy, cell phone, or piece of clothing that we can claim as belonging to us. It is an unfettered, volatile (and hopefully transient) response that everyone from all walks of life has experienced. This means that since we can’t actually own anger, it doesn’t own us either.

One of the many benefits of equanimity is that it encompasses inclusivity. It transcends “otherness”. It’s an encouragement to try to understand the “humanness” that is always present behind an act of hateful rhetoric. Inclusivity is one of the most effective ways to deflate an anger bubble – because it does away with the us vs. them notion. Equanimity means objectively asking yourself, “What in my life needs to be nourished? And what needs to be de-nourished?” It’s critically looking at societal systems and asking “What here needs to be legitimized? What needs to be de-legitimized?” And based on your answers, acting accordingly.

I want to go on the record and say that letting go of anger and embracing equanimity does not mean succumbing to passivity. Quite the opposite – equanimity often means being part of a slow-moving force, but one that is startling in its power and lasting in its effect. In Stride Toward Freedom, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. says, “I can’t turn back. I have reached the point of no return.” Dr. King is in my mind a model for equanimity. Though he had a lifelong dedication to nonviolence (an important component of equanimity), not one could call him a passive force. Rather, he heeded the call to remain collected and compassionate in the long fight for social change – to powerful results. If anger is the blinding flare, then equanimity is the slow burn that drives us day in and day out.

Passivity in the face of injustice is the opposite end of the spectrum. It is often the companion to apathy and ignorance, and enables the normalization of inequity. Passivity often stems from exclusivity, us vs. them. The funny thing is exclusivity (and therefore passivity) is illogical when accompanied with the awareness that most people desire the same things. We are all on a quest to find happiness, to find fulfillment, to find peace. But, as Dr. Ward asked that Saturday, find peace to do what? Find happiness to do what in the world?

I believe deep down we all know the answers (which are different for each of us). With equanimity, perhaps we can start to ask the right questions.


Risk-Resiliency: How To Talk About ‘It’

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

[Note: This post originally appeared in Huffington Post]

How many riskRisk-Resiliencys do you take each week? If you are like most people you take a lot of risk just by being human. Driving in traffic you could get in an accident, in relationships in and outside of work you could be rejected, seen as not good enough or not loveable. You might mess up a presentation at work or school, and the list goes on. The thing is there is risk in the world – you are not going to change that – what you can do is alter your relationship with risk by building risk-resiliency.

Risk is interaction with uncertainty, and there is a lot of uncertainty in the world. Resiliency is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulty. Risk-resiliency is the capacity to intentionally interact with and recover from the difficulties related to living with uncertainty. Developing this skill involves two key factors – the ability to have awareness around risk you are facing, followed by the ability to have conversations about it – with yourself and others.

Most of us are pretty good at seeing the risk – where the common struggle lies is in having the conversation. People tend to avoid “risk conversations” not because they don’t want to talk about the risk being faced, but mostly because they don’t know how to begin the conversation or what actually needs to be said.

Many times it’s our fear of not being good enough or the idea we might fail at what we want to do that paralyzes us from starting these conversations. If we demystify and remove the drama, we can see the risk for what it is and break the conversation into 5 stages or series of smaller conversations.

Start at the beginning and develop awareness around the circumstance for yourself. This stage is to have a conversation with our self to create awareness around what is occurring, “This is the risk I am facing and this is how I feel about it.”

Now that you are clear for yourself on the risk you are facing, the second stage is to have the conversation (even if it’s uncomfortable) with others that need to be in the know. It’s likely talking about risk won’t ever feel totally comfortable, but with practice it can feel more normal to say, “Here is the risk I am / we are taking by doing xyz.”

In the third stage, the conversation purpose is to set expectations with the necessary people who will be impacted by the risk you are taking. “Here is what might happen if xyz does not come together in the way we expect.” This is where talking about risk gets real – as most times we want to avoid talking about or even acknowledging the possibility that what we are working on might fail. It is when we don’t talk about it that we stay in fear and the risk begins to “own” us. (This might be a few different conversations with different people depending on the type of risk and the type of stakes involved.)

Now in the fourth stage, it’s time to ask for support. What do you need from your key stakeholders to support you in taking this risk? “Here is what I need from you in order to move forward with this risk.” It’s common to struggle at this phase as many times we are not clear on the support we need because we get stuck in the fear associated with risk. By talking about the fear in setting expectations, it becomes easier to understand the support we need to move forward. Many times the support we need is just someone to listen to us or be patient with us while we learn something new.

This is where most people think risk-resiliency ends – we named it, we talked about it, set expectations and asked for support. But there is one more stage – close the loop. One of the most important parts of building risk-resiliency is to close the cycle and call out when the risk is over and debrief on the experience. Complete and acknowledge the cycle – especially when the stakes were high, it becomes really important to share in the success or understand what can be improved. All too often this step is missed and we are already on the next set of risks. The conversation here is “This is the risk I (we) took, and here is what happened as a result and this is the impact and here is where we go next.”

For some risks you face you may be able to cover all the stages in one conversation with a single person or just with yourself. For other higher stake risks, like the ones we face in workplaces, this cycle may be months long and involve many stakeholders at different levels. Regardless of the number of people involved, the stages of how to talk about risk are the same. The path to building risk-resiliency is one conversation at a time.