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Dealing with stress: Africa unplugged

Dealing with stress: Africa unplugged

by Moyra Mackie on September 1, 2014

In a few days’ time I will be sitting on that seat, by that fire.

In a few days’ time I will be back in Zimbabwe, the land of my birth.

As I listen to the traffic outside my office window, it’s almost impossible to imagine sitting round a campfire in a place that is only accessible by boat or plane.  A place where rush hour means the dawn and dusk ritual of animals coming down to the river to feed.

A place without the internet or a reliable mobile phone connection

I realise that this will be the first time for a very long time that  I will really and truly be unplugged.

In 1989 I spent six months backpacking through Africa, from Cairo to Cape Town.  No phone, no web, no social media.  There were weeks at a time when my family back home had no idea who I was travelling with or even which country I was in.

In 1989 I took that freedom for granted.  Now I worry about not being able to speak to my kids or check my email for a few days.

Which got me thinking about what being connected and available 24/7 does to me, does to us

“In most organizations the expectations of instantaneous responsiveness pushes everyone into reactive mode, making it difficult to stick to any agenda.  In the race to do more, bigger, faster, what gets sacrificed are boundaries, stopping points, and finish lines. Organizations settle for our continuous partial attention – to their detriment and to ours.”

Tony Schwartz ~ “The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working.”

Being reactive, permanently connected and frequently distracted are sources of stress

The expectation that we should respond instantly and the way that we allow technology to intrude into our lives in a way that causes us to “multi-task” has an effect on us, whether we notice it or not.

Daniel Goleman | Failing to notice

Tony Schwartz in  The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working identifies four energy needs that we need to pay attention to in order to operate at our best:

  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Mental
  • Spiritual

He links these energy needs to corresponding needs for:

  • Sustainability
  • Security
  • Self-expression
  • Significance

Schwartz’s findings are supported by the research of Richard Boyatzis, Daniel Goleman and others who have spent the last decade looking at what differentiates great leaders from average ones and how people can remain resilient in the face of continued pressure and challenge.

They found that:

“even the best leaders can find it difficult to sustain effectiveness over time.  This is, ironically, particularly true for good leaders – people who take their roles and responsibilities seriously…people often lose their capacity for resonance – they get caught in the Sacrifice syndrome.”

~ Becoming a Resonant Leader

Schwartz uses a four quadrant model to show how we all move between activity and renewal in each of these areas.


Energy Quadrants

We’re all giving out energy all the time

Maintaining a balance between short fix (empty carbs and caffeine) forms of energy and slow release, renewable energy (mindfulness) builds our capacity to generate more and more value over time.

But as Schwartz says:

“The problem is that few of us intentionally address each of our four needs on a regular basis and organizations often ignore them altogether.”

Can you recognise your responses to stress in these quadrants?

I know I can see that I have got caught in activity and sacrifice.  I started my own business in 2008, just as the financial crisis took hold.  I managed to hang on and grow my business and juggle the responsibility of being a mum to two young boys.

I love what I do, but it’s easy to over-commit and over-work.  It’s easy to get trapped in that sacrifice syndrome.

So I’m making that 5000 mile journey to see if being unplugged can help me re-focus and reconnect – with who I am and who I want to be.  With no distractions I may be able to fill in Schwartz’s final quadrant.

Spiritual energy - significance

Then I hope I would be ready to take other leaders on the journey to that campfire, to help others who wish to examine how they lead as well as how they live.

All the research shows that the key to sustainable performance and a healthy life, is to take moments to reflect, to consider what really matters and to visualize how small changes might make a big difference.

Getting away from it all in Africa might just provide a unique and powerful opportunity to slow down, fully engage all of our senses and reconnect with what matters to each of us.

I’ll let you know how I get on.

Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie helps leaders and teams to work with courage, compassion and creativity. She is an executive coach and consultant and the founder of Mackie Consulting.

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