Jeremiah, the senior vice president of engineering at a mid-stage, mid-size software-as-a-service startup, was talking with Rose, his coach.
“I’m really struggling to maintain my momentum,” Jeremiah told Rose. “Some days, I’m raring to go from the outset. On other days I don’t even want to get started. Yet other days, I start out strong and then run out of steam during the day. How am I supposed to lead my team through this massive change we’re attempting when I can’t even keep focused long enough to lead them through a single day?”
“That’s a tough place to be,” Rose responded. “You must be able to sustain your movement before you can help everyone on your team sustain theirs. Do you have any sense of what is stopping your momentum?”
“Not at all,” Jeremiah said morosely.
“That’s fine,” Rose reassured him. “I find that when someone is having difficulties sustaining their movement, three factors tend to be involved. Today we’ll focus on the first one.”
1) Identify your easeful environment
“First,” Rose began, “your environment might not be easeful.”
“It definitely isn’t,” Jeremiah jumped in. “I’ve never felt so stressed in my life.”
“Your easeful environment isn’t about how stressed you are or anything else you may be feeling,” Rose said. “You will always be feeling one emotion or another. The more your environment promotes a sense of ease, however, the better able you will be to handle those emotions as they occur.”
“Easeful environment == better emotional flow,” Jeremiah wrote in his journal.
“What comes to mind when you imagine a space that perfectly supports you, that instantly calms you down?” Rose inquired.
“Samba music,” Jeremiah said instantly. “Bright sun. A few plants of many different colors. And the office chair I bought myself last year.”
“Anything else?” Rose asked. “Any smells or flavors? People about? Other details?”
Jeremiah pondered this for a bit. “No people within my immediate area. I sense scents from the plants and other surroundings, but they aren’t important. What is important is the light breeze I feel. That’s everything.”
“Is the size of the space important?”
“Only insomuch as I have space to lean back in my chair, stretch out, and not hit anything.”
Jeremiah added this last detail into the sketches he’d been making of his perfect place.
“Great,” Rose said. “Now, how much of this do you have in your office today?”
“Well, I have some plants, and I can play music if I want. And my chair, of course. My office faces north, so I don’t get much sun. My windows don’t open, so I never have a breeze. I do have a door, so I can block everyone out.”
“How can you get some sun in your office?”
“My dad uses full spectrum lights to get through the winter. I could add some of those. Maybe I could even replace my overhead lights with full spectrum bulbs,” he mused.
“And a breeze?” Rose queried.
“That’d be easy to do with a fan or two,” Jeremiah said right away.
“Imagine you have all of that,” Rose said. “Imagine feeling drained, coming back to your sunny office, closing the door, and turning on some samba. Lean back in your chair and feel the breeze. How do you feel?”
“I feel all my cares draining away,” Jeremiah said with a sigh of pleasure. “This is so refreshing! Time spent here will hardly feel like work at all. If only I could have all my meetings here….” he trailed off, smiling happily.
2) Identify the signals that state your environment is off
“Come back to me, please,” Rose requested with a chuckle. “We have more aspects of your easeful environment to identify.”
“More?” Jeremiah questioned. “What more? What I just described is perfect.”
“As you said, you can’t spend all your time there. So, what signals tell you that you’ve been away too long?”
“Like, that I’m feeling drained?” Jeremiah proposed.
“That might be a signal,” Rose agreed. “Does it feel like a primary signal?”
Jeremiah reflected on this, then reported, “No. It’s a lagging indicator. Long before feeling drained, I feel antsy. I don’t want to be doing whatever I’m doing anymore. Going back to my easeful environment as soon as I feel antsy would bring me right back onto an even keel.”
He drew a traffic signal next to the sketches he had been making of his easeful environment, then wrote antsy next to the yellow light.
“Any other signals?” Rose probed.
“Maybe?” Jeremiah responded uncertainly. “Let me ask my guidance group.” He took a few deep breaths, focused out into the distance, and sat quietly for a minute. Then, he wrote a few more words by the yellow and red lights of his sketched traffic signal.
“My heart pointed out that I’m always sad when I’ve gone too long without hearing music,” he reported. “That’s another warning signal. My body reminded me that, along with feeling antsy, I start feeling thirsty. I don’t know what the connection is there,” he said with a shrug. “Sometimes the thirst is more obvious than the antsiness, though.”
“These are perfect,” Rose affirmed. “You want signals you can easily recognize even when feeling off. Signals that back up each other, like how your thirst and antsiness often go hand in hand, tend to increase people’s confidence that they won’t miss an important signal.”
“Also, my mind noted a danger sign,” Jeremiah continued. “When it starts feeling fuzzy, I’m in dire need of a change in my environment.”
Rose said, “That’s a perfect segue into mitigations.”
3) Identify ways to mitigate exhausting environments
“When you’ve been too long away from your easeful environment,” Rose continued, “or you’re not able to get there, what can you do to remedy that?”
“I can bring it with me,” Jeremiah declared. “I can tape to my notebook a photo that reminds me of my easeful environment. Then, if I keep that at the top of the page I’m using, it’ll always be there in my peripheral vision.”
Jeremiah paused a moment, thinking. “Maybe I can get all the conference room lighting converted to full spectrum bulbs,” he mused. “I’ll need to ask everyone on my team if they’re ok with that….”
He continued, “I’m not going to inflict music on everyone in my meetings. I can, however, always play some in my mind. I’m not going to inflict fans on them, either. I think I can live without the breeze when I’m out of my office.”
“One of my team already brings their office chair with them everywhere they go,” Jeremiah said with a chortle. “Maybe I’ll start doing that, too. We could have chair races between meetings. That would be a hoot.”
“That’s quite the mental image you’ve given me,” Rose laughed in response.
Optimize your environment for ease
“How are you feeling right now?” she asked Jeremiah.
“I’m feeling confident and relaxed,” Jeremiah answered. “I know how to modify my office to make it my an eminently easeful environment. I know the signals that tell me I’ve been away from it for too long. And I know how to bring it with me so that when I do need to be away from it, I can thrive and not just survive.”
“I’m happy to hear it,” Rose declared. “Any last questions?”
“Want me to send you action shots from my next chair race?”
This is part one of a series: