On April 15th four colleagues and I hosted a call on Leading Through Disruption: A Living Systems Path to Rapid Adaptation. On the call, we introduced some qualities of living systems and the adaptive cycle that nature uses to continue to evolve. We then posed the following question: “What do we need to let go of in the time of the pandemic?”  

Afterward, the conversation moved to breakout rooms where participants could share their perspectives. Here are some of the themes and patterns shared by more than 100 people on the call that day:

  1. Less is More

People are bringing a new perspective to what is essential in their lives. This pause and sheltering in place is giving rise to thoughts that our normal busy lives might drown out. Here is a sample of the themes that people are letting go of:

  • Shedding old ways
  • Shedding old habits
  • Shedding information overload
  • Shedding meaningless activities
  • Shedding my full (no place to think) schedule

I think it is interesting that the language of “shedding” is being used to describe the process of letting go. Shedding in nature has lots of examples. A snake casts off its old skin so it can grow and evolve. When animals shed fur, they are casting off damaged hair. When we shed old ways of thinking, we are also releasing things so that we may evolve.

2.Emotional Cleansing

Emotional cleansing is when we release emotional patterns and feelings that are holding us in place and inhibiting us from moving forward. In this time of pause and reset, we have a chance to step back and mindfully respond rather than react to our feelings. Here are some themes that came up in the breakout conversations that relate to the emotions we are releasing.

  • Fear as a primary reason to not change or evolve. Fear no longer has the power to freeze our actions and thoughts – the power of fear is decreasing.
  • Cleanse old emotions and emotional reactions that no longer serve us.
  • Cleansing emotions from the past that have carried over into our present like emotional trauma. People are using this time to let go of these past emotions.
  • Cleansing from the emotional expectation of being perfect. Many are embracing the humanness in us all, and that we make mistakes and learn.
  • Releasing the emotions that are attached to being on a work treadmill or in the “rat race”. This time of pause has allowed us to experience a different pace to our work and the desire to continue living a different kind of life.

3. Rewards and Results

Another frame that people shared was viewing letting go from a personal lens. How am I changing? What is in it for me? These are some of the patterns from our conversation:

  • More think-time for me.
  • Being present with current project/problem that I am working. I can focus without ubiquitous interruptions.
  • Deeper understanding of my work and my habits of thought and action come with clearing emotions and shedding old ways.
  • Released from other people’s choices. When I am working from home, I am clearer about my own thoughts as opposed to the cacophony of voices from others.

These three larger patterns – Less is More, Emotional Cleansing, and Rewards and Results are part of what can be harvested during our shelter in place and working from home. While it may seem that the wait is tedious, nature would tell us that all pauses and hibernations in nature are followed by new life. The winter creates a pause with rivers icing over, deciduous trees hibernating and plants dying, but it is followed by spring with new growth and the promise of a season that brings plenty.

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