At the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, as is typical when a natural disaster hits, people who were not affected or least affected rallied to help those who were hit the hardest. Food pantries overflowed with donations. New food distribution systems emerged and organized to distribute nutrition to students who were out of school and to those who were homebound. Philanthropic funding exploded so quickly that many crisis response nonprofits struggled to keep up with getting grant applications out to all the possible sources. Even federal and local governments have been generous with funds, creating small business forgivable or low interest loan programs, increasing unemployment benefits, and passing laws to prevent evictions.
We can all rally for a cause for a season. But the rally is exhausting.
We are emotionally driven creatures, even leaders. The desire to make significant behavior changes (like dieting or social distancing or generous giving) is often kick-started by a crisis, fear, anger, anxiety, or other “sense of urgency” as John Kotter describes it. We work to escape a negative feeling by changing our actions or our environment. Ultimately, we are hoping for a positive feeling as the result of our efforts. That small burst of good feelings we created will keep us going at it for a while. It feels good to receive a thank you note and learn how my contribution made a difference for a child . . . or to see the number on the scale go down. . . or the number of new virus cases drop.
And then – either the kick-start emotion continues to escalate until we hit a tipping point and anxiety moves us from change mode to self-preservation (fight/flight/freeze). Little is accomplished towards a change goal after that. Or, we reach a plateau in our change effort and we become complacent, returning to our old routines. The number on the scale stops going down or the stories of pain and suffering outnumber the stories of how my contribution helped, or the number of virus cases creeps back up even though I stayed home. The positive reinforcing feelings are fewer and slower to arrive. I do not feel better eating broccoli instead of french fries anymore. So, I eat a french fry! And it tastes soooo good. And I feel relief from the frustration of trying so hard. And I love french fries. And just one bag of fries won’t be that bad, really. And I deserve these fries after all the stress I’ve been under with this pandemic. . . .
Here is the challenge – how to carry on with the change effort? How to resist compassion fatigue? ? How can you be a leader in working for change, even when emotions are escalating or when fatigue sets in?
Check out my next blog post on Leading the Change – Managing Emotions.