Can you hear that sound? That’s the populations collective sigh as New Zealand once again experiences a Lockdown as a result of COVID-19.
Beyond frustrating, isn’t it? Despite the best efforts of “the team of 5 million”, in spite of the plan to “go hard, go early”, and after the hundreds of exhortations to “be kind”, here we are again, right back at Square One.
It’s enough to do one’s head in.
Fortunately, there is an alternative to despair, doom, gloom, and a sense of hopelessness: it’s the ability to determine the difference between what we can influence, verses what we become concerned about.
Our concerns can be overwhelming because they never really have an endpoint. Our influence, however, is much more manageable because it has a much smaller space to move.
In a lock down we can influence our immediate environment, the people in our bubble, and our resources (e.g. time, money, activity) – that’s pretty much it.
Our concerns, however, can reach all the way into the future, be aimed at the highest realms of government, and become focused on people, places, and things that we ultimately have no control over (e.g. the Pandemic Management Plan, the passing of laws, the closing of a country’s borders, and the loss of jobs and businesses).
To keep a clear head, we must focus on our circle of influence, not our circle of concern. A Circle of Influence list may look like this:
a. What immediate health and safety practices in and outside the home do I need to put in place?
b. From where do I trust to secure accurate information about what is actually going on?
c. What agreements do I need to reach with my family / partner to determine a way through this situation?
d. What job opportunities are revealing themselves as being “recession-proof”, and which of these job types might be suitable for me going forward?
e. How should I better prepare for situations like this in the future?
f. What am I going to have to give up in order to get out of this situation in one piece?
Get to work on this list as soon as possible, and add your own influence questions as well, as this will give you an immediate sense of purpose and control.
Concerns are like rabbits, and there is no point chasing twenty rabbits, when you only need one for a meal.
in a post-COVID-19 era
By the time you read this, we will most likely be in a Level 2 (or hopefully Level 0) COVID-19 environment.
Wage subsidies will be coming to an end.
Many businesses will be reviewing their ground lease costs, realising that their operations can be run remotely.
For a significant number of people, there is no job to go back to.
In addition, inactivity over a longer than normal period of time (Lockdown) can have a “lethargy effect”.
Yes, it turns out that getting up and going to bed later, and spending increasing amount of time on “noise” activities (Facebook, Instagram, Netflix) in the absence of regular routine and responsibility can actually poison personal motivation.
In uncertain times, and with no clear direction, the ability to be emotionally and cognitively agile (to “pivot”) is a key life skill requirement, and we have read about people during the Lockdown who have been able to do this:
For example, I have no influence over funding decisions in the Government Cabinet, but I can determine what my personal expenditure will look like, going forward.
While you may not have a job, that doesn’t mean you don’t have transferable skills and experience that is going to be most welcome in other fields.
Agility is both emotional (how you feel about what you can cope with), and cognitive (what you believe about the options available to you).
Developing a “menu of options” is a useful first step, because we cannot select a meal from a blank menu.
Start with what you have, not with what you want.
Zig-zag, dance, side-step, jump towards, and pivot towards the very next opportunity you need to secure, and be prepared to re-learn, re-train, and yes, even possibly re-locate.
Find a cheerleader, be your own cheerleader, or cheer on someone else, but just make sure you are moving.
Because from today, we are in a new world, virus or no virus.
Most of us have seen it, and many of us have done it.
An easy-going, pleasant conversation accidentally strays into an unseen danger zone. The atmosphere gets tense and prickly, then suddenly you’re getting yelled at. And you’re yelling back.
Or you ask what you think is a simple question, and BOOM the defences go up and... you’re yelling at each other. Or you’re yelling at the kids. Or a total stranger.
It’s hard to believe that something so relationally damaging as yelling could also be such a common go-to when a situation breaks down. In fact, yelling is so destructive that it’s like pouring acid on relationship goodwill.
It’s not as though yelling even works; when was the last time you felt grateful and receptive when being yelled at?
There’s usually something else working behind the scenes of a yeller. Sometimes they are feeling overwhelmed, or disrespected, or powerless. They might be feeling undermined or intensely frustrated, or even just exhausted.
While being aware of those feelings can be helpful, awareness is not quite the same as resolving the situation.
Rather than screaming at one another, it is far better to use logic and natural consequences to resolve intense and difficult situations.
Natural consequences occur without enforcement by anyone: the consequence is naturally tied to the event, and is allowed to play out.
For instance, the child who forgets their school jumper must choose between being cold and staying inside at lunchtime; the teen who racks up traffic violations gets their car impounded; the teen who forgets to do their laundry has no clean clothes to wear.
And no one has to say a word.
Of course, it’s only fair to give plenty of warning if you’re changing behaviour that has been ingrained for years, so if you want logical consequences to work, you will need to have a conversation and be sure it’s understood.
These conversations have an “If -Then” theme about them.
If you keep forgetting to let me know that you won’t be home for dinner, then you will no longer be included in our dinner plans.
If you continue to treat me like your on-call taxi service, then as a taxi service, I have the right to go off duty, and you will be walking;
or maybe “If I continue to find your stuff all over the lounge after I have asked you to pick it up, then I will black-bag what I find, take it to the local Hospice shop, and you buy it back from them.
There are likely to be plenty of objections, or even disbelief, but usually a person only need experience the consequences once or twice to realise that it’s within their power to avoid them.
With natural consequences in place, the need for yelling subsides and a more peaceful and harmonious household or workplace is often the result.
... and it's not what you think!
It’s common knowledge that the Number 1 reason couples fight is because of money.
The trouble is, this common knowledge is wrong.
There are three main drivers of conflict in relationships, and unheeded, they can cause much unresolved and ongoing drama, stress, and division.
1 Unmet expectations
I once read about the emotion of anger being described as ‘disappointment energy’, an apt description of unmet expectations.
He thought she was happy with decision ‘x’ that they had reached. However, she was in a ‘pretend agreement’ with him, only he didn’t know it. She was really hoping that he would agree with her, and when he didn’t, she said “yes” to decision ‘x’ to keep the peace.
But then she got angry with him when she said yes but actually meant (and should have said) no.
This is a common relationship conflict dynamic, and occurs when honesty in a relationship has become a trade-off to conflict avoidance. It’s unsustainable, and ultimately futile. Better to tell the truth, and let the natural consequences of the truth play out.
2 Emotional baggage
No-one escapes life without accumulating some emotional ‘bruising’, whereby circumstances or events have left a ‘trigger-point’ of some description upon the soul of the bearer.
This means that a firm ‘No’ can be nominated as someone ‘being difficult’, or a raised voice is labelled ‘you’re being abusive’, or setting boundaries around money, time, or resources is attacked as ‘being controlling’.
Catastrophising everything, just because you have lost any and all perspective of what is and what is not appropriate in a relationship conflict, is not the way to harmony.
Your feelings are YOUR feelings, and no-one is MAKING you feel anything.
How favourably do you view your partner? Do you perceive that they have your back, that they will defend the best interests of the relationship, that they would stand up for you?
Or do you see your partner through eyes of mistrust, bitterness, despair, or doubt?
Is this perception correct?
Is there perception of you likewise?
When was the last time you had this conversation as a couple? Might now be a good time to do so?
Let’s make 2020 the year that couples work to keep a clean slate in their relationships with each other.
As a private practitioner, my client base is primarily comprised of busy, hard-working people from varied circumstances such as double income, single income, sole-parent, blended family and everything else imaginable.
The common denominator among the majority is lack of time to relax, take a holiday, or simply catch a break. For many a common approach to this dilemma involves a “when, then” mindset.
“When work settles down, then I can plan a holiday”;
“When the kids are a bit older, then I will have time to (insert enriching activity here);
“When (insert major task here) is done, then we will head away for a break”.
The trouble is, “then” never seems to come.
There is an oft-quoted recommendation in the budgeting and savings sector which goes “Pay yourself first”, whereby 10% of a person’s income is paid to a savings or investment account, the remaining 90% then being allocated to various financial commitments. The reasoning here is that people won’t be able to train themselves to save if they pay themselves last.
Recently, I have been assisting my clients to adopt a similar reasoning with time.
For some people, the prospect of taking time out, switching off their phone, or even setting some reasonable boundaries with their employers (e.g. “please don’t call me on my day off”) can be a truly foreboding experience.
“But what if….??” questions are usually delivered in rapid-fire succession:
“But what if a client calls me and I don’t answer?”
“But what if my employer needs me?”
“But what if I miss out on (insert FOMO here)?”
It often turns out that these fears are unwarranted, over-exaggerated, or just plain wrong.
To “pay themselves first” with time, I ask my clients to pick a clear weekend in the future on their mobile phone calendar which they then screen out with the words “Not Available, “Holiday”, Break” – anything to forcefully remind them that for that period of time, they are as reachable as sending a text to the interstellar part of the universe (which is where the spacecrafts Voyagers 1 & 2 have just crossed over into, over 40 years after they took off from NASA).
They then enter a four, five, or six week “recurrence” appointment with themselves, adapting the six-weekly recurrence to work in with public holidays.
Suddenly, a minimum of nine free weekends (plus public holidays) materialise in their lives, every year. The relief on their faces is palpable – and will remain so, as long as they exercise some self-discipline in enforcing the holidays.
Try this on your phone – I think you will be delighted by the results.
A South Australian teacher by the name of Christopher Vogel recently presented the findings of a thesis analyzing the “Keeping Safe” programme, a mandatory child protection programme taught in all public schools in Australia from kindergarten, to year 12.
Vogel’s research reveals a systemic bias against boys. The curriculum provides 84 examples of males being aggressive to females (including child rape and abuse) and only one instance of a female being aggressive to a male (looking in his room without permission).
In New Zealand, research from the New Zealand Qualifications Authority shows girls are generally outperforming boys both in external and internal assessment, at all three levels of NCEA, and in University Entrance. Girls are also attaining more merit and excellence certificate endorsement at all levels, although the gap narrows at higher NCEA levels. On this reported outcome, I pause to consider whether lower achievement for boys might have anything to do with the 80% female dominated state schools’ workforce, which includes approximately 85% of female teachers in primary schools and 62% in secondary schools, and the method of academic assessment being more suitable for girls.
In state-funded domestic violence prevention programmes (e.g. White Ribbon), the embedded (and patently wrong) theme of “women = victim & men = abuser” couldn’t be clearer, despite the evidence revealing that female-on-male violence rates highest when alcohol is involved in a domestic dispute, and 44% of females commit acts of domestic violence towards men, as witnessed by their own children.
The rise of the #METOO movement hasn’t been kind to our menfolk either, with multiple examples worldwide of men being accused, without evidence, of sexual impropriety against women, and losing their jobs, families, and sometimes their lives, only for the accusations to be found to be (too late) without merit. No meaningful consequences ever seem to befall the (mostly) female false accusers.
Couple this appalling “moral panic” outcome with a rise in father-absent (or should that be father-dismissed) families, and it seems clear that boys are having an uphill battle trying to claim a legitimate, healthy, and valued place in the world.
If society want to raise good men, then society needs to first stop demonizing boys.
Research reveals that men retain their looks longer than women; are less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than women; are better able to physically defend themselves and their loved ones than women; are overall better at playing games with children than women; attain the majority of senior responsibility work roles than women; and make more money than women.
So parents: love your boys, and grow them into good men, because ultimately – we need them.
Having been working one on one with people for nearly 30 years, it makes sense that over this time I would have accumulated a plethora of information about all sorts of things. I’ve often found when I’m sitting with a client that something of use would float to the surface. It got me thinking: if I was to randomly pick five pieces of information that could be helpful to someone, what might they be? Here’s what I came up with:
School uniforms etc:
If a family is struggling to afford school uniforms, BYOD devices, stationery, etc, Work & Income offer a Special Needs loan to anyone who needs it (i.e. the applicant doesn't need to be on a benefit to get the help). One phone call to their 0800 number, some eligibility questions, and a green card wings its way to the applicant, made out to a supplier. The loan is interest free, and can be paid back for as little as $10.00 per week.
If someone needs legal advice, but would struggle to afford the fees, the New Zealand Law Society fund the Community Law Centre Programme which provides free legal advice to applicants. They have an 0800 service, or applicants can simply walk into their local branch. There is also a very helpful online Community Law Manual on their website:
Teens going through stuff:
The parents and caregivers of young people and teenagers who suffer experiences of grief can have a really hard time sourcing appropriate support. There is a programme called "Seasons of Growth" which runs supervisor-led peer support groups to assist young people through these harrowing times: www.kidslink.co.nz/services-view/seasons-for-growth
Family Services Directory:
When help is needed, it can be a bit of a nightmare for people at times trying to work out who does what, and where. The NZ Govt has compiled an online Family Services Directory that can be searched via area, service, and funding. Not surprisingly, it's called the National Family Services Directory: www.familyservices.govt.nz/directory
When considering engaging in study, the opportunity to secure a scholarship provides significant reassurance and assistance towards this goal. A website called "Generosity NZ" has compiled nearly all of the scholarships available in one place, and information pertaining to the necessary application criteria: www.generosity.org.nz
You never know who a list like this might help - so please drop me a line and let me know if it does!
A lot of society’s problems begin with dysfunctional families, and often this relates to absent or dysfunctional men. So, what might a good father look like? Here is a summary of what some of my clients have fed back to me over the years regarding what made for a good father in their lives, feedback which I think is worthy of a wider audience.
Initially, a good father might well be recognised by his feeding, bathing, burping, and comforting of his child, while going out to work to earn a living for his family and protecting the home and those within it.
He will also most likely be recognised as the bug-killer, and the one who is unafraid of the dark (at least on the outside) when a suspicious noise is heard.
Often, he’s the one who teaches his child how to catch a ball, swing a bat, ride a bike, fight to defend themselves or others, or drive a car. He will be a child’s biggest, best and most physical playmate, promoting independence, action, risk taking and analytical skills in his children.
He’s no slouch in encouraging academic achievement, and features in school activities and events, and extra-curricular activities such as coaching, scouting, or showing up on a Saturday to cheer from the side-line.
A good father displays both physical and emotional toughness, assisting in the development of emotional resilience – he’s the role model for manhood to his son, and the first man his daughter will ever give her heart to.
Dad has leverage when it comes to modifying a boy’s aggression and unacceptable behaviour, and models the good stuff such as being firm and fair, differentiating between right and wrong, working for a living, and punctuality.
As his children mature, he gradually withdraws his power, but is relied on for wise counsel, babysitting, and for encouragement of his child and grandchildren through adversity via perseverance.
In the end Dad will be the one standing as a guide, mentor, guardian, role model, and even knight.
That’s a sure bet, if he’s anything like the Dads above.
The 2019 “Wellbeing” Budget was launched recently with much fanfare, not least because a significant proportion of the budget was earmarked for mental health expenditure.
A $1.9 billion package has been allocated over five years across a range of portfolios including health, education, corrections, justice and housing, namely:
At first glance, this expenditure looks impressive.
However, since 1994 there have been 50 (yes, 50) reports into the poor state of mental health services and outcomes in New Zealand, for no meaningful improvement in mental health service delivery over this time.
No-one is measuring the outcome effectiveness of the money being spent, or the quality of service delivery for people receiving mental health services.
Formal measurement of client feedback is nothing new, but it’s both virtually non-existent within mental health services in New Zealand, and a seemingly unwelcome topic of discussion within the mental health sector.
Apparently, while it’s legitimate for a Denny’s Restaurant to seek client feedback on its $8.50 budget breakfast, clients of publicly funded mental health services don’t get to have a meaningful influence or say on the services that they are on the sharp end of receiving.
The thinking and practice of not formally measuring client outcomes in the mental health field belongs in the dark ages, and needs to change if the above budget figures are to have any reasonable opportunity for success.
Evidence-informed policy is important as well.
For example, some critics of the 2019 mental health services budget claim that it will take several years to train sufficient people to work in the sector.
It doesn’t take “several years” to train someone to work effectively with other people in mental health – the outcome evidence reveals it takes around 50 hours.
But no-one in Government seems to be reading the outcome evidence – mores the pity.
A local restaurant writes a joke on a sidewalk chalkboard; a riding club posts a photo of pony rides featuring a thin but healthy pony; a private individual, away from work, and in their own time, expresses a personal political opinion on a private Facebook page.
These seemingly every-day events get shared on social media, by a minority group member of the perpetually offended.
All hell breaks loose online.
In response to this furore, the restaurant owner publicly tells the critics of the chalkboard joke to get stuffed and lighten up, the riding club moves to close down its business, and the private individual is immediately sacked from their job.
It has been said that ‘power is, as power is perceived’, and the perpetrators of ‘call-out’ culture currently couldn’t be happier, as they are illegitimately assigned power way beyond their actual influential reach, by those fragile individuals and businesses who are seemingly afraid of their own corporate shadow.
In a world of online reviews, ‘likes’, ‘swipe rights’, and ‘comments’ threads, businesses in particular have caught this paper-tiger cold.
So, what did the restaurant owner above know, that the riding club and the employer who sacked their staff member didn’t know?
The restaurant owner had learned that if you didn’t get into the water and try and stop the wave, then the wave would eventually run out of energy, and quickly disappear.
Not so the riding club or the employer above.
They both dived into the water headfirst, then struggled first to meet the wave, then control it, then sympathise with it, and then enable it by doing what the wave ultimately wanted to do – crash into them and take them out.
To make matters worse, they then made sacrifices to the call-out culture deity that they didn’t have to make, the casualties being children who could no longer ride ponies, and an employee who could no longer pay his mortgage.
Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and even the mainstream media - in the main, these digital platforms are simply echo chambers for what is most often like-minded opinion. Too much power is given away to these opinions, especially by businesses who lose sight of what they do well, falling instead into the trap of trying to be all things to all people.
My none-too-subtle response to this online bullying practice is a simple one: it’s time to stand up to the bullies, and not allow oneself to be pushed around by the opinions of other people, online or otherwise.
Steve is the Director of Relationship Matters Ltd. He holds two applied Bachelor's degrees (Counselling & Addiction) and a P.G. Dip. in Applied Social Practice. Steve is married with two children and lives in West Auckland.