Boundaries – Physical, Part 1: What’s “social distancing” got to do with it?

Well, this is turning out to take much longer than I had originally anticipated. I set boundaries for myself at the beginning, and created accountability by announcing what they were. I originally intended to finish my exploration of the Boundaries portion of my BASE model in about one month. Two and a half months later I am just past the halfway point. FAIL! (That’s the unkind voice in my head, and maybe in yours too… but we’ll get to that in due time).

Should I be upset about this? Does it mean I cannot practice very well what it is that I preach? Maybe… nah. This is yet another case where the process is much more important than the product. I hope you’ll agree before all is said and done.

At any rate, this time around we will consider a couple of the areas pertaining to Physical Boundaries. As the post title and headlining GIF imply, physical boundaries are, in some way, similar to other foundational (but often overlooked) things in our lives. Like running water and reliable access to electricity, neither seem to make much of a difference in our lives until they throw us a curve ball; at which point they come to matter more than almost anything!

Since Physical Boundaries are so foundational to successful interactions (look at the GIF at the top again if you’ve already begun to doubt), let’s unpack them according to the first two Boundary aspects under the BASE model: Temporal and Kinetic.

Temporal Physical Boundaries really boil down to the question of how you spend your physical time. So much of our daily physical life is dictated by rhythms and routines that are, at least somewhat, beyond our direct control. We suspend our sleep time and get up in the morning most often because it is necessary to do so in order to be somewhere (work, our child’s/children’s school, an appointment of some sort) by a certain time. We eat at intervals that are as much dictated by imposed societal structures as by our bodies themselves. We do social self-care (e.g. the energy replenishing activities with other or within ourselves) in the spaces between because it is considered “optional” or, worse yet, something superfluous. And then, at day’s end, we return to sleep either because our exhausted bodies and minds force us to, or because of some other external factor, like a spouse or partner whose preferred sleep schedule somehow becomes our own, or one of our many screens that lulls us into a state of semi-conscious surrender.

Whatever the specific circumstances around your personal routines and their attendant physical implications, what I am getting at here is that all too often the interactions between our bodies and the passing of time lacks intentionality and/or is largely reactive. We owe it to ourselves to push back against that default state.

So, do you have a wake-up time that is in your personal interests, and not in the name of your job or some other external obligation? What about your bedtime? Sleep is wonderful and necessary, but it does not need to be something that we just passively try to “do,” or that, worse yet, just happens to us. It really can become an activity that we engage in with intention and deliberation. In fact, it has lately become something of a trending topic. So, naturally, there are people making money off of it! Here are a couple of examples:

Dr. Michael Breus, “The Sleep Doctor”

Hal Elrod (author of “The Miracle Morning”)

My intention here is not to hawk either one of these gentlemen’s products on their behalf. They both do offer sufficient free content, and Elrod’s book is hardly a big investment, for you to begin to educate yourself at very little to no monetary cost. That’s my jam. What you do from there is completely up to you.

What about your eating? Does it feel like something that has meaningful boundaries around it, or is it perhaps more like this (disclaimer – If Louis CK is triggering or otherwise upsetting or unacceptable to you, please skip the video):

If this describes your temporal physical boundaries for food, umm… maybe that’s bad?

While I doubt many of us in are the throes of the kind of chaotic eating habits described in the video, I am also willing to wager that we do not all enact intentional boundaries on our food consumption.

Do you have a daily eating schedule or plan? Not just a routine, a plan. Do you think you could follow one? If you have never given it too much thought, but if you also have felt at times that your relationship to food and food consumption is not where you’d like it to be, there are many options to consider that aren’t keto, paleo, or some other highly restrictive “diet.”

For instance, have you given serious thought to simply implementing some temporal boundaries around when you eat and when you don’t? You’ve probably heard of intermittent fasting, but maybe you immediately rejected it because you thought it might just be another extreme, or passing fad. I’m not here to advocate for it one way or another. All I will say is that having a temporal physical boundary for your food consumption could be an effective way to jumpstart a change for you, especially if you are unsatisfied with how you are currently handling this aspect of your physical life.

Have a look at some options and decide for yourself whether you want to learn more or not: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322293#seven-ways-to-do-intermittent-fasting

And what about social self-care? How much time do you set aside for it? How much of it is driven by external factors, like work or school norms and routines, or by plain old inertia? One of the best ways to start to do more deliberate social self-care from a Temporal Physical Boundaries standpoint is to understand where you most naturally fall on the introversion<->extraversion continuum, and then examine whether how you allocate and spend your time matches up well with that or not. Yes, if you think of your “free” time as similar to any other highly finite resource, like money, then you are more likely to budget and “expend” it wisely and deliberately.

Kinetic Physical Boundaries, or the physical/movement activities in which we do and do not engage. In the case of Physical Boundaries, however, the Kinetic aspect also refers to HOW we engage in certain kinds of activities. Let’s look at just two: social greetings and leave-takings, and then body care.

Remember the hug/handshake fail GIF from the beginning? I have found this to be a great dividing line among people who are otherwise similarly sociable. Some of us are huggers, and some of us are handshakers. Some of us, thankfully an apparently much smaller number, are neither of those two, and prefer to avoid direct physical contact altogether. I call these folks head-nodders. You know, the people who greet you from up close or from afar with just a quick upward or downward nod of their heads. It’s also a particularly United-Statesian move, and one that has thrown many of my international friends and acquaintances for something of a loop. But I digress.

As the caption on the introductory GIF asks, if you are more of a handshaker than a hugger, do you literally use your body to enforce it, putting your hand out at arm’s length before those dreaded huggers can get in too close? Let me be clear, I ask because I am a notorious non-hugger and I am curious how others in my category go about their business. I ask because I have managed to avoid unsolicited hugs for most of my life just through the power of my gaze, facial expression, and general demeanor. I have actually stood next to my partner at social gatherings while people come up to hug her vigorously and then, with barely a glance at me, proceed to step back and extend their hands in order to shake mine. In extreme cases I have had people reach out to start to hug me and then, without a word or overt action on my part, pull back for a more “socially distant” handshake.

So, what does “social distancing” have to do with it? In recent days and weeks, we’ve all had to force ourselves to think differently about our physical proximity to, and degree of interaction with, our fellow humans. Has it been comfortable for you? Has it come somewhat naturally? No answer is “better” than another, but it may give you some concrete insight into your unconscious tendencies and preferences around Kinetic (and Interpersonal, to an extent, but we’ll get to that in a different post) Physical Boundaries.

I’ll just close this segment by saying that, wherever you may default to naturally on the hugger<->handshaker<->head-nodder continuum, you are by no means stuck there. Several months back, a trusted advisor of mine and I were talking about my tendency to enforce physical distance-keeping with just my demeanor. We kept going back and forth about the hows and whys of it all, until she finally said, “Why don’t you just put more energy into have a more open, welcoming way about you? Why not just try it and see what happens?!” Well, she was right. I spent the next weeks and months making more eye contact with strangers, co-workers, friends, and family. Not only has it made people more likely to greet me warmly, even just in passing. More smiles, more friendly hellos, and yes, more hugs. Heck, I’ve even started initiating some hugs with people I would otherwise have never hugged before. We can be more conscious and deliberate about our social distancing, even when there is nothing so urgent as a pandemic pushing us to do so. And we can do it not just to avoid illness, but also to pursue wellness. I hope you’ll keep that in mind…

Lastly, what about body care? Do you have an exercise routine? What about simple stretching, massage, or meditation? Have you ever considered chiropractic or acupuncture? Many of these things are costly, no doubt, and all too often are not (fully) covered by insurance plans. The only counter I would offer to those facts is this: the bill always comes due, either way. If you are not building body care activities into your life in a structured, sustainable way, you are most likely just kicking the physical health can down the road.

If you do not yet have a body care plan and routine, I urge you to start making one. Even if it is just implementing a regular 10+-minute walk into your day, five or more days each week. If you only go to see a physician (of any stripe) when there is something acutely troubling you, I would offer the alternative view that ongoing maintenance is frequently superior to sporadic, urgent troubleshooting. If you are already a regular exerciser, do you do enough to give your body opportunities to rest and recover? And, when you do exercise, do you push yourself productively, but not destructively, via varied workout routines with a range of emphases?

These are challenging kinds of equilibria to pursue, much more to achieve. A former fitness instructor of mine used to frequently urge those of us who took his exercise classes to “find that edge” in whatever we were doing. So, whether we were performing the most challenging version of a particular movement, like a burpee or a pull-up, or a modified version designed to help us gradually improve our strength and flexibility, he was coaching us to find the border between comfort and growth, because that is the space where the most productive investment of physical energy is made.

As leaders, we should always be ready to engage in these kinds of considerations about how, when, and where to invest resources. That is the very nature of most Boundaries, and certainly of physical ones. When conceived of correctly, they are not meant to simply hold us back; when conceived of correctly, they are an excellent tool for helping us grow.

oCoC: Initial conditions … … … do you like skiing?

On the complexity of change

I do. Like skiing. So, please bear with me for a minute. This is one of those strange texts where things are only revealed at the end.

First, we are going on a skiing hill. And because we are talking about initial conditions and the sensitivity complex (adaptive) systems have to them, this is a very special hill. For this thought experiment, the hill has been designed by a mathematician. The slope of the hill is homogeneous. The hill has moguls. These are of perfectly identical smooth shape, and they are spaced evenly, both horizontally and vertically. Let’s take the comfortable chair lift and go up. Not to worry, you can come; you won’t need to ski, a ski will do all the work. All we have to do is make predictions, observe, take notes, and then compare our observation notes with our predictions. This way we will know a little more about the nature of complex systems. We are on top of the hill. Take one ski, please. You can also use a snowboard, if you prefer. Place it flat on top of the slope, mark its position, and let it go downhill. We are observing its path, the trajectory of this process. We know exactly how it went down the slope. And we mark its exit position at the bottom of the hill. Just memorize it. Meanwhile, I will go back down and fetch the ski. I am sure you noticed that the one initial condition, to which we are paying particular attention in our thought experiment, is the entry position, where we let the ski go. The end state of this complex dynamic system is the ski’s exit position at the bottom of the hill. Alright, I am back up; let’s do this again. Find the first entry position. Move the ski or snowboard just slightly to the left or right, whichever way you are inclined. Mark the second entry position. Now is the time for predictions! The entry position is minutely different. What trajectory will we observe? Identical to the first one, because minute differences don’t matter because they are just noise in the system? Parallel, because the slope is homogeneous and the moguls are identically formed and evenly spaced, and all we changed a tiny wee bit is the starting position? Or just different in so many parts? How about the exit point? Is it going to be exactly the same distance between exit points 1 and 2 as there now is between the two entry points? Or are the two distances going to be different? Unless you really are on this skiing hill, you will have to believe me: The trajectories are different, and the distance between the two exit points is not the same as between the two entry points. We can let the ski go down time and again. The probability of both the trajectory and end state being different to any one of the earlier ski runs is significantly higher than the probability of trajectory and exit points – the end state – being the same.

Why is this so? Because complex systems have a high sensitivity to initial conditions. To show in our thought experiment that the sensitivity is high we only introduced a minute change to the initial condition, the entry position, and we assumed that nothing else changed. The weather and snow conditions remained the same, the force of letting the ski go is always the same, the ski did not carve into any mogul, … And still, trajectory and end state are different, and sometimes wildly different.

In Chaos Theory, this has also been called the Butterfly Effect. (When talking I am often prone to go off on an – interesting – tangent. Here I won’t do it and you will have to wait for a later post. Or you can look it up in Wikipedia.) It is a good example of how important initial conditions are, because the system is highly sensitive to them, even when many other variables – also of a larger magnitude – interact and change in the process. There is one main reason why this is so: These variables – the initial conditions – are the first ones to impact the process, even if only slightly. When we observe a complex dynamic system, a complex process, we can split it into time segments, iterations. And in one way or another, the variables of the initial conditions impact each iteration. Or as they say: Constant dripping wears away the stone.

Are initial conditions equally important when we want to understand complex social processes, such as work in a team, leading and managing a project, or an intimate relationship or marriage? I think we all know what the answer is, simply from experience: Yes, they are. Once we encounter a complex problem, we are well advised to look for and at the initial conditions of the underlying process(es). How we can figure out what the initial conditions were and how they influenced how events unfolded, we will have to leave for after the introduction of the characteristics of complex adaptive systems. What is important to take away from this brief excursion is that all complex systems are sensitive to their initial conditions. And (not only) because of this sensitivity to initial conditions, complex systems cannot easily be reversed to a prior state. No one steps in the same river twice. Complex adaptive systems have what we can call a history. This is strongly connected to the characteristic of nonlinearity. And that is the beginning of another post.

Boundaries – Professional, Part 2: Addendum!

Image result for challenge your assumptions

In a rush to bring a close to an already overly long post last week, I paid short shrift to the Interpersonal aspect of Professional Boundaries. I wrote a bit about establishing and maintaining clarity on the difference between purely social/personal relationships and those of the professional type, but I left out two essential pieces. I will boil them down in this (relatively!) brief addendum: it all comes down to statements and questions.

In my first real job out of grad school, I quickly found myself in a supervisory position where I interviewed, hired, trained, managed and, yes, fired people. Accountability (another staple of the BASE model) was becoming an ever-expanding part of my professional world. One day (a “casual” Friday at that), in our three-person office, my boss was working from home. That left me and my fellow teacher supervisor to our own devices. A re-hire candidate was coming in for a pared-down interview to determine if she would come in to teach again for us that summer. We had it on our shared calendar and thought that meant that our boss was aware and was fine with it.

Later on, when back-briefing him on what we had accomplished that day, we found out that we had been mistaken. The long and short of it was that our boss would have never approved of us bringing any prospective employee in for an interview if he thought we were going to be dressed casually (Friday or not). He was not pleased, and I realized later that it had more to do with the assumptions that had been made (more by my co-worker and me than by him) and the resulting communication breakdown, than with the actual situation of an employee seeing her supervisors in casual clothes. My boss made me keep “Challenge Your Assumptions” as my computer screensaver for the ensuing 12 months. The phrase, and the lesson it was meant to teach, has unsurprisingly stuck with me.

What it has to do with today’s post is simple. We often make not-so-good assumptions about the importance of differentiating between our statements and our questions in interpersonal interactions in the workspace. The other day, I heard about an employee who will soon be leaving a workplace, and as such is having some responsibilities transferred to other colleagues. When one of those colleagues got together with this person to discuss the details, the soon-to-depart employee at one point exclaimed, “I’m not gone yet and this is still my responsibility!” Their interaction went downhill from there.

As soon as I heard this story, an empathetic smile came to my face. This person has a question, whether they realize it or not. What happened? A statement was made, and to the wrong person at that. This employee, somewhat understandably given the stress associated with leaving a job, failed to challenge assumptions about how the transition would be handled, and as such made a statement to a colleague when a question directed to the supervisor or manager was what was most needed to clarify things. So, to keep this as short as I can, here’s the upshot: do your best to have clear Professional Interpersonal Boundaries around your statements and your questions in the workplace. This is likely to require active challenging of many of your favorite assumptions, but that’s almost never a bad thing. At worst, you come to the conclusion that your assumptions were good. At best, you save yourself (and your co-workers) some embarrassment and grief.

This leads me to the second thing: questions. Everyone knows how to ask them, right? But, how many of us can claim a high level of clarity and confidence that we most often ask the best kinds of questions in the most important work conversations? Count me as one of the people who can’t always make that claim. But, maybe you’re reading this and aren’t even sure what the heck I’m talking about. Let me try to clarify.

In his 2013 book “Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling,” celebrated Organizational Culture/Behavior/Psychology expert Edgar Schein lays out exactly why questions, and being very clear on when to they are superior to statements, matter so much. He writes:

“How can we do better? The answer is simple, but its implementation is not. We would have to do three things: 1) do less telling; 2) learn to do more asking in the particular form of Humble Inquiry; and 3) do a better job of listening and acknowledging.”

Simple, right? No, of course not. Schein already told us it isn’t simple at all. So what does it mean? He says we should “do more asking in the particular form of Humble Inquiry.” But what is that? Well, to paraphrase Schein, it’s finding the opportunity in any given interaction or conversation to be genuinely curious about something that is being said or communicated, and then asking a good question (i.e. NOT one whose answer we think we already know) about that something in which we are truly interested in learning more. Still not simple, I know, but at I hope least somewhat clearer.

So, what now? Well, for this week (and well beyond, if you like), perhaps just try paying more attention to the frequency and type of statements and questions you notice in your workspace, both yours and those of others. If you are a formal authority figure, let me suggest you REALLY pay more attention to this, but I advocate strongly for it no matter your position.

As you pay more attention, look for opportunities to turn a statement (one of your own or one you notice) into a question. Once you have a handle on that, try to turn it into a Humble Inquiry-type question. Want an example? Let’s go back to the situation I outlined earlier: “I’m not gone yet and this is still my responsibility!”

What kind of question can that become? In the moment, talking with a co-worker, perhaps something like “Did (our supervisor) say that you were to take this over effective immediately, and would it be alright with you if we went and asked (our supervisor) for clarification?”

Either or both of those might work, no? I am confident that the interaction would have been less likely to go south (as it did in reality) had either or both of those questions been asked in place of the statement that was made. Especially if they had been asked with an authentic tone of curiosity and interest. I wonder (genuinely) what you think.

Remember, comments are welcome on this blog. Feel free to post a reaction, a question, or an anecdote of your own. Mat and I will be happy to read them and respond whenever we can!

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