“ACTing”: A Model for Community Change

I don’t write much about my consultation work on these pages, but I think that “ACTing” is relevant for all of us that are going through some transition. E.G., I am of the age to begin retiring and I have just left the graduate school where I taught for 7 years.

This is a simple paradigm I use in my work with business leaders, community workers and church leaders. I think it for my own changes as well.

A stands for adjustment. The lowest level of change is to tweak what is not going well and hope that this is sufficient. Organizations might create a new logo, or a college might write a document intended to educate about sexual harassment. Even the most modest adjustments are potentially harmful; they lead leaders into the illusion that they and their organizations have changed. Adjustments don’t make change – they stop change.

C stands for change. Every system has a culture that resists change. We love the misbelief that we got it right the first time. Changes in organization are costly, impactful, hopeful and troubling. In changes we discard what does not work and design what does. We might change leadership in an organization; for example change is to design a work-from-home policy for the purpose of valuing parenting and child care costs or the time wasted in commuting.

T stands for transformation. The location of macro change is when we fresh-think purpose, mission and “way in the world.” A church I was consulting with decided to move from a central structure (e.g. Sunday morning at 11 am) to a simpler model where the people were disbursed into multiple “simple churches” of 20-30 people that met at various times of the week in various homes, coffee shops and other public facilities. This transformational change produced radical results and most of them positive.

Here are some ACTing questions for you.

  1. In the changes you are making in your life, are you adjusting, changing or transforming? Think of your partnerships at work, your marriage, how you interact in your neighbourhood.
  2. Most people are intentionally working their bodies. They may hope to gain muscle mass (not me) or lose weight (that’s more like me), or develop new hobbies like mountain biking, etc. How are you approaching your changes?
  3. Imagine a conflict you have that has been eating you up for a while. What changes are you making? How is it working out?

ACTing is a made-up verb. You change when you are in the verb tense.

My New Anxiety Mantra

Anxiety manifests physically before your brain can figure out what’s going on. You might feel it in your gut or in your breathing. But watch yourself to see what happens with you.

Today I was doing supervision with a fellow psychologist and she asks 3 questions of herself when she is anxious. I think that I will try it with myself and I recommend it to you as well.

First question: “What am I anxious about?” and give yourself some time to figure it out. It might surprise you that it is not what you first think it is. If you think a bit deeper, you might find a thread of anxiety that runs throughout your emotional life. And it might not be the current circumstance or tension you are dealing with.

Second, “Whose problem is it?” Most anxious people take on the upset feelings of others in their emotional world (e.g. mothers, teachers, neighbourhood children…) and think it is theirs to worry about. Again, think it through and get to the truth.

And #3: “Is there anything I can do about it right now?” If not, let it go. At least until you figure you need to pick it up again.

Now I have a weird disclosure to make. I use the “Reminders” app on my MacBook to tell me when I should start to worry about something! When I put a time clock beside the thing I am anxious about, my iPhone gives me a ding to remind me to be anxious. I laugh when I see that I have reminded myself to worry. Weird isn’t it? Reduces my anxiety though.

Empathy — When Something Good Is Done

When I am confused or worried, I want someone to listen without rushing or concluding or pronouncing. It irritates me when someone dismisses me with “look on the bright side,” or for those theologically persuaded, “God is doing something good.” I don’t want to be equally dismissive, so I look for the “giver’s” good intent and try to not take it deeply. What do you do?

Empathy is the ability to know and experience the consolations and desolations of another. It is a spiritual discipline, a social skill and a profound respect; it is a relationship and a friendship that matters deeply.

Empathy is not sympathy where the “giver” feels good about the giving. It is not solution focused, or panacea finding, or conversation concluding. Sympathy is a reactive protection from getting involved. It is limbic un-thoughtfulness.

I want you to watch a lovely 3 minute cartoon on what empathy is, what caring is. Brene Brown is the speaker with the words behind the drawings. To hear more of what she has to say, look at “The Power of Vulnerability.” Want to see even more? Check out her genius TED talk.

Appreciative Inquiry for Couples

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Appreciative Inquiry is a theory of change that is used in parenting, marriage as well as lots of businesses and organizations. Unlike theories of strategic planning that focus on correcting faults, Appreciative Inquiry looks towards what is best about what already exists.

It is important in marriage counselling where couples have forgotten how to give attention, affection and approval. And it is important in simple neighbourliness and parenting as well as in teaching.

Couples have found that they grow in their relationships more truthfully in a way that problem-correcting counselling does not permit. Venting hurts is most often a rehearsal for the next conflict or problem. Appreciative Inquiry is a positive rehearsal for positive change.

Here are some questions I typically ask my couple clients to help them focus on what is true, noble and right in their partnership.

1. How are you contributing to ingenious solutions in your marriage by being yourself? And what about your spouse?
2. How are you excellent for your spouse? (How is your spouse “good value” for you?)
3. What one valuable thing are you doing to protect and care for your family while still doing your life and work?
4. Can you describe together a positive practice that you consider important to add excellence in your marriage? (Note, you might not be doing this right now though you could in the future.)
5. What do you currently regard to be the most enduring and secure thing about your marriage?
6. Describe the skills you use to solve problems and resolve conflict within your partnership?
7. How is being “carnal” or “in flesh” important to you and your partner?
8. What are some key factors that keep you in sexually and emotionally faithful?
9. How is conflict essential to making a good marriage for you and your partner?
10. What do you imagine that you will say has been the best of your marriage 5 years from this month?
11. How does your spouse most love to be loved? How do you most love to be loved?
12. Assuming time and money are not current obstacles, what one great thing would you love to do again with your partner?

Note: this is not positive thinking as in ignoring life’s problems; it is upward focusing about the problems. It is solution focused rather than blame / responsibility focused.