If it’s one thing we are proud of here at Lumos Transforms, it is our amazing, diverse staff. Our clinical staff brings a variety of certifications, trainings, and experience into their practices. Each facilitator has a unique set of skills and gifts that extend beyond The Resilience Toolkit.
We’re giving you a more in-depth look at what our clinical staff is up to by featuring a series of Q&A blog posts showcasing some of their recent endeavors. Today we’re talking with Ije.
Q: Hey Ije! In addition to being a Clinical Trainer in our Certification Program and a Resilience Toolkit Facilitator, you’re also a coach who specializes in working with entrepreneurs. Can you tell us what led you to that work?
A: I came to this work because I saw firsthand how stress and trauma can disconnect how you behave from how you want to behave. For almost 20 years I worked at different nonprofits in the gender violence movement. These organizations wanted a more just and sustainable world, but they weren’t working in sustainable ways. Their process didn’t match their vision. We live in a reality where the means don’t justify the ends. In fact, there’s no difference between the means and the ends.
So I work with entrepreneurs to ensure that how they’re working is as sustainable and life-affirming as their vision. We can accomplish this by 1) building our resilience so that we can bounce back from challenges and stress, and 2) developing habits, practices and support systems that align us with our purpose, vision, wants, and needs.
I only learned to prioritize this work after years of experiencing what happens when we don’t. At three points in my life, I’ve had to stop working because I was so burnt out I couldn’t get out of bed. At first, I thought it was just me and I just wasn’t strong or disciplined enough. But then I looked around and saw other people burning out and needing to leave work to recover. Then there were people in the movement who didn’t even have the chance to recuperate and died way too young.
I also saw how our relationships suffered in these organizations. The work environments were often tense and full of gossiping. Sometimes, people in positions of power would yell at members of their team or insult them publicly. Sometimes there were conflicts between co-workers that would escalate into physical violence.
This pattern kept repeating itself at different organizations over the years, regardless of how radical their politics were or loving their mission was. This led me to learn more about how stress and trauma impact us individually and collectively, which eventually led me to the work I do now at Lumos.
Q: You’re different from other business coaches because you include a somatic component in your work with people. Can you explain how these relate and why you’ve linked them together? How did you make this connection?
Business coaching and somatic awareness are related because your body has all the answers you’re looking for. We tend to approach decision-making from a cognitive place and try to come up with solutions intellectually. When we do this, we miss out on all the information we can access from both our body and the environment around us. This leads us to incomplete, unsustainable, and oftentimes fear-based solutions.
I learned about the importance of somatic coaching for entrepreneurs the hard way – through a painful personal experience. About 7 years ago, I moved me and my son across the country to a new city where I didn’t have a support system. I was enrolled in grad school full-time, working on campus part-time, and trying to build a small coaching practice while being my son’s sole caregiver. I felt myself coming apart at the seams. I was so afraid of not being able to take care of my son that I reached for any and every tool I could find to move through that challenging period intact. By far the most effective and transformative tools were the body-based ones.
That’s why I start with embodiment with my clients. This means strengthening both their connection to their body as well as the connection between their mind, spirit, and environment. The more embodied and connected they become, the easier it is for them to make better decisions and then take actions that support their decisions.
I work with both entrepreneurs who are building their own organizations and intrapreneurs who are building projects or ideas within someone else’s organization. Consistently making embodied decisions that will bring you closer to your goals and visions — especially when you’re feeling challenged and under pressure — is a skill both of these groups need to learn. At Turtle Tank, we call that skill: Entrepreneurial Resilience.
“Your body has all the answers you’re looking for.”
Q: What are the special needs or concerns of entrepreneurs or people looking to build resilience at work?
The most common question people have for me is around their productivity. They want to know when they’re supposed to push themselves to get things done and when they’re supposed to stop working and rest.
My blanket answer is that pushing is rarely a good idea.Here are 3 reasons why.
- When people talk about pushing to get work done, they’re really talking about relying on their body’s fight or flight stress response to give them the energy to get their work done. While adrenaline is an effective short-term fuel it’s not a very effective long-term solution because it’s not sustainable. Your body’s survival responses are meant to last from a few seconds to a few minutes. When we rely on this adrenaline-based response for extended periods of time, we’re setting ourselves up for a level of productivity that isn’t sustainable. Over time, it is going to tax our system and eventually lead to health challenges.
- Most of us don’t actually know how to rest. One of the goals of The Resilience Toolkit workshop is to teach people how to rest effectively. For most of us, rest looks like laying on a couch and binge-watching Netflix. Often, the rest that we get isn’t actually restorative. That’s because we’re spending that time either feeling worried about all the work we have left to do, feeling guilty for taking a break, or feeling agitated because we’re watching something scary or violent.
- Stress and trauma live on the same continuum. So if you’re someone with a history of trauma, then stress can overload your system. This is especially important for my clients who are mostly from marginalized and targeted communities. Statistically, this means they experience higher levels of personal and intergenerational trauma and are more likely to experience more chronic stress in their daily lives.
We know from research that people do their best work when they’re able to get into what is commonly called a flow state. You’ve probably experienced short moments of flow over the years. It could look like finding the right words easily when you’re writing or like standing on stage and ad-libbing the perfect metaphor to describe a difficult concept. One of the prerequisites for getting in a flow state is alternating between periods of intense work and periods of real rest. Most of us aren’t able to build this rhythm because we don’t actually know how to rest and recover from our intense work periods.
“I generally say ‘no’ to pushing to get work done because of how that impacts your health and wellbeing.”
Q: How do people who are looking for life or career coaching react when you introduce somatic healing into the equation?
A: They’re shocked. When I initially bring the body into our coaching sessions my clients are little taken aback. Most people are accustomed to sharing the story and talking through what’s happening to them. When I interrupt them and ask them to pay attention to their body, it’s disorienting. But when they begin to make the connections between how stressed or relaxed they feel and how that impacts their work and decision-making, everything shifts. It rearranges their priorities.
At first, my clients tend to be more focused on the results they want to create. Making ‘x’ amount of money or accomplishing ‘y’ deliverable. They tend to put off their self-care until after they’ve created the results they want. Most people think that they’ll be able to rest once they’re successful. When they realize that their ability to reach their goals is dependent on them taking care of themselves right now, they feel less guilty about prioritizing rest and self-care.
The students in my Toolkit workshops often share how surprised they are about how simple the tools are and how quickly they feel the effects in their bodies. They realize that they do not need to block out an entire hour every day or put on a special outfit to relieve their stress. The tools we share in The Toolkit are things that you can do at your desk, or inconspicuously while you’re at the meeting with someone else.
Q: In our Certification Program, you teach the units on habit change. What is your #1 tip for people wanting to let go of habits that create stress?
My #1 tip for helping people who want to let go stressful habits is that it is MUCH harder to let go of an old habit than it is to establish a new one. So, my advice is to focus instead on developing a resilience-building habit first. The more stress-relieving habits you develop, the faster your stressful habits will fall away.
My #1 tip for developing a resilience-building habit is to start small and be consistent rather than aim big and be inconsistent. Most people set habits with what I call ‘New Year’s Resolution energy’. They start out with high hopes and expectations for the BIG change they want to make in their life and make BIG commitments like “I’m going to take a 90-minute yoga class every day” or “I’m going to meditate for 30 minutes every morning.”
Sure… in the beginning, while your motivation is high, you may be able to keep these promises to yourself. But eventually, your motivation will fade — no one has high motivation 100% of the time. And when it does, your BIG habit is going to feel impossible to do, so you stop. One day leads to one week and before you know it, it’s been a month since you even attempted your new habit. Eventually, you revert to beating yourself up and calling yourself lazy and uncommitted.
“People who are able to create new habits and still stick with them 1+ years later, all started by creating a small habit that was easy and doable.”
The truth is, people who are able to create new habits and still stick with them 1+ years later, all started by creating a small habit that was easy and doable. They repeat that habit consistently, every day until it becomes as habitual as brushing their teeth. Once the small habit becomes habitual, you can start to make it a little bigger — do a little more or do it for a little bit longer. You keep repeating the process till you’ve developed the BIG habit you wanted to set.
So, instead of meditating for 30 minutes on day 1. You start with just sitting in your meditation corner for 3 breaths. Then move up to meditating for 1 minute. Then 3. Then 5. Until 9 months later: you’re up to 30 minutes daily. Starting small and being consistent is the key to building habits that last.
My bonus tip is to find a habit that works for YOU. What helps you feel relaxed? Just because your best friend swears by yoga, doesn’t mean that it’s the right tool for you. If dancing is what relaxes you, do that. Hugging your dog? Do that! Going for a walk outside? Start there.