When last were you really, completely unplugged? A few years ago, I experienced it for the first time in a very long time around a campfire in Zimbabwe, the land of my birth. 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. What a contrast it was to the traffic I was used to hearing outside my office window. I was truly unplugged!

A place without the internet or a reliable mobile phone connection

It was the first time I’d been unplugged since 1989 when 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. Failing to notice shapes out thoughts and deeds 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 - Schwartz

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 recognize your responses to stress in these quadrants?

I’ve been 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 made that 5000 mile journey to see if being unplugged could help me re-focus and reconnect – with who I am and who I wanted to be. 

With no distractions I was able to fill in Schwartz’s final quadrant.

Schwartz spiritual energy significance Since then, I have been able to take other leaders on the journey to that campfire – I’ve held Campfire Conversations in the Netherlands, Germany and the UK. I’ve been able to help others who wanted 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.

How I can help

Getting away from it all in Africa isn’t possible for everyone, but a facilitated Campfire Conversation in your own country can still 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 would highly recommend journal writing. I joined one of Moyra’s journal safari sessions a couple of weeks ago and have been keeping a daily journal ever since. The main benefits for me is it’s helped me to keep perspective in these times, not to be too hard on myself and be thankful for the things I have achieved.

Justin Ellis

Innovation & Strategy, British retail bank