Maintaining Well-Being – Episode 24

In this episode, Beth Cougler Blom talks with Neelu Kaur about how we can maintain our well-being and prevent burnout, particularly as people who do facilitation work.

Beth and Neelu also talk about:

  • Mental health, self-advocacy, and cultural identity, particularly for women who identify as Asian and South Asian
  • Finding support in communities of practice
  • Signs of burnout
  • Maintaining well-being in virtual work
  • Self-care practices for mental well-being
  • Internal and external motivation and their relationship to burnout

Engage with Neelu Kaur

Other Links from the Episode

Connect with the Facilitating on Purpose Podcast

Connect with Beth Cougler Blom

Podcast production services by Mary Chan of Organized Sound Productions

Show Transcript

[Upbeat music playing]

[Show intro]
Beth
Welcome, to Facilitating on Purpose, where we explore ideas together about designing and facilitating learning. Join me to get inspired on your journey to becoming and being a great facilitator wherever you work. I’m your host, Beth Cougler Blom.

[Episode intro]
Beth Cougler Blom
Hello, how are you doing today? This is Episode 24. We’re going to be talking maintaining well-being in this episode, and I will be joined by guest Neelu Kaur. Neelu is a person that focuses on leadership, mindfulness, and burnout management for individuals, teams, and organizations. And Neelu recently published her first book, Be Your Own Cheerleader, which focuses on self-advocacy for Asian and South Asian women. I really enjoyed my conversation with Neelu because maintaining wellness and well-being and avoiding burnout is something I think a lot of us are dealing with these days. I know I’ve really struggled with this from time to time myself. It feels like the thing that I always have to keep reminding myself about when I have a busy business and a lot of work to do. I don’t actually know anyone that doesn’t have a lot of work to do these days so isn’t it more important than ever that we really focus on ourselves and our balance and our well-being so that we can bring our best selves to our work? And especially our work as facilitators, and you know in this podcast that’s what we’re focusing on most of all, those of us who design and facilitate learning. And if you feel like you could use a few extra tips and strategies about how to do that and to prevent going into that negative burnout space which doesn’t serve us, doesn’t serve our clients or the people we’re working with, stick around for this episode. I think you’re going to really value this conversation. I know I did. Enjoy the show.

Beth Cougler Blom
Neelu, thank you so much for joining me today. It’s great to have you with me on the podcast.

Neelu Kaur
Yes. Thank you, Beth. I’m so glad to be here.

Beth
I wanted to start with a little bit about you. I know it’s hard to ask somebody their journey of how they got here from wherever they started, but talking about the issues of well-being and preventing burnout, what was it for you that drew you to these particular fields? Was it one thing that happened or just a number of things over time? Can you tell me a little bit about your journey to getting here?

Neelu
Yeah, absolutely. So I actually – as a teenager had really debilitating panic attacks and just didn’t know – I didn’t have the language to say what I was experiencing and also being raised in an Indian family. Mental health is something that in South Asian cultures it’s just not talked about. So I really had no place to go, so that was really the onset of like trying to figure out what was going on. That was the beginning of the journey for myself is trying to figure out modes of healing for myself before I could even help other people.

Beth
I guess that’s so often where we start, isn’t it? That we need something and we are maybe searching for that externally to support ourselves. And then we realize, ‘hey, maybe we’ve gotten some skills in this over time and we can share this with others’.

Neelu
Absolutely. That’s exactly what happened with me.

Beth
Is there a little bit you want to tell us about where you are situated and maybe where you came from and where you are now? I know that might be relevant. It’s not always relevant, but I think in your case it might be relevant – about your background and, and where you came from and where you are now.

Neelu
Yeah, I’m born in India, I’m Sikh Punjabi. We came to the US when I was a child, I was two years old. One of the things I struggled with my whole life – and sometimes I still struggle with – is sort of dancing between these two very distinct cultures. Asian cultures are very collective and very ‘we’ based and North American culture is very ‘I’ based. A lot of my work and my book, Be Your Own Cheerleader, is sort of the dance between the ‘we’ and the ‘I’.

So, that’s really been my struggle. is self-advocating for myself which led to many layoffs, getting fired numerous times [laughs]. So I really thought, ‘Oh, this is an issue I’m having’, and having coached so many women and especially Asian and South Asian women, I realize it’s a theme amongst us that we were not raised with the ability to self-promote and self-advocate. And so that really has shaped me and has shaped the work that I do now.

Beth
Yes, I’ve seen that in your work, Neelu, and I also think that what you talk about in your expertise areas or in, they relate to more than just South Asian and Asian women, don’t they?

Neelu
Yes. And that was actually something that was really surprising to me is when Be Your Own Cheerleader was published – and since January because that’s when the pub[lication] date was – I’ve noticed that I’ve gotten feedback from men, from introverted folks, neurodivergent folks – anyone who struggles with self-advocacy, I feel like my book has been helpful. Yes, there’s a huge component of culture, but to answer your question yes it applies to a lot of people.

Beth
So self-advocacy, if we think about yeah being our own cheerleader, and I don’t want to say promoting ourselves but just caring about our own needs and what that means for how we live our life and what we do in our work, how does that relate to well-being and I guess maybe the burnout piece?

Neelu
So what happens for a lot of women and a lot of Asian and South Asian people I’ve noticed in my work is that they struggle in speaking up and sharing their needs. For example some of my clients who are have multiple children, they’re taking care of elderly parents, and there’s a fear about talking to their manager that they need to take some time away or they need to have a little more buffer during their day. Speaking up and self-advocating doesn’t just mean raising your hand in a meeting and saying, “no, that was my idea.” It’s also asking for things that you need that are going to prevent burnout.

Beth
Yes, and I was at a networking event last night actually and we did an Open Space activity. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Open Space. Basically we are allowed to put forward something that we wanted to get input on from the group. So I said, “oh, I’m going to have this podcast interview today with Neelu and we’re going to be talking about well-being and burnout and what are the questions that I should ask?” I got three great questions and two of them were basically about that very issue: How does the person who helps others help themselves? People were sharing stories with me, and it’s clearly very top of mind for people just in life but there were a lot of facilitators in the room, too. I think we facilitators – we people who train and facilitate with groups – we deal with a lot of these kinds of issues too, don’t we?

Neelu
Absolutely. Absolutely. And we deal with it. And then usually since both of us are solopreneurs – I think you’re also a solopreneur…

Beth
Yes. I’m a team, but yeah, definitely, you know, started that way too.

Neelu
Yeah. Same for me also. And so we work sort of in this individual space and it’s really helpful to be part of a collective, other facilitators or other people, just for that support so that we don’t burn out on our own [laughs] behind our screens. Right? So there’s this need to have community even if you’re working on your own.

Beth
Yeah. What does it look like for those of us who are in facilitation and training fields? Like, what does maintaining our well-being look like in the kind of work we do in adult education?

Neelu
I think the first word that comes to my mind is community. So finding that community of people that can support you. I’m part of a group called Scaling Intimacy, it’s a school of Experience Design that’s based in the Bay Area in the States. It’s a whole bunch of facilitators. I’ve done a mastermind with them, we’ve learned together using the Scaling Intimacy model, and so it’s just having this community of other facilitators has been so helpful. We bring each other in on different projects and things like that. So not even just from a work perspective, but also just from a mental health perspective. When we’re struggling with working alone or whatever our struggles with so it’s like you have a tight-knit community. For facilitators it’s really about finding that community, whatever that community looks like for you.

Beth
I’ve really benefitted from that myself. I have started and lead communities of practice, but then at more on a personal level too I have facilitator friends that are kind of like the inner nucleus of my connections that – there’s just a few of us that tend to meet and we like each other personally but we also do the same kind of work. And I think we all benefit from that sharing that happens, because it’s –we can get really honest with each other too about the trials and tribulations of the kind of work that we do. I think we all – I certainly benefit from that connection. I think the others of us do as well. But the larger communities of practice even if we don’t know each other very well, we are still able to get together and share and have that community which I think we’re all still searching for all the time.

Neelu
Yeah. And I think the other benefit of being with a community of other facilitators is that you can hopefully have that space to be open about pricing and talk about pricing openly. Because I think in other communities money is not talked about. It’s almost taboo. So when you’re with people that do the same type of work, if you can create that sort of psychological safety with that group it’s also another place that you can talk openly about what you’re charging, what you’re not charging, what you should be charging.

Beth
That’s so true because there’s a certain amount of stress involved with that whole – it’s not just one decision about pricing, but it’s kind of ongoing as you – I don’t know – grow your business and do different types of work or that pricing thing, it keeps cropping up. And maybe it can affect our well-being because it’s just a stress of that kind of decision-making [animated].

Neelu
Absolutely. I think that is for any solopreneur, a big part of stress and a big part of burnout is sort of: “How much should I charge? Can I charge more and work less? Or can I…” You know what I mean? Like, all of these questions that we have. So I think that’s it – I didn’t think about this before the podcast, but really thinking about pricing as a source of stress for those of us that are solopreneurs.

Beth
No, I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about it either that way, it just sort of cropped up, didn’t it? I love that in terms of these conversations. One thing I was thinking about was what are some of the signs – if we’re going along in our work and we’re not really paying attention to things but all of a sudden we realize, “Oh, there might be something going on here.” What are some of the signs of burnout that you think we should be watching out for?

Neelu
There’s so many that I think give us an indication that something’s not right. I think the first one is you’re sitting at home on a Sunday night and you feel that ‘Sunday Night Scaries’ where you’re just like, “Oh no tomorrow’s Monday.” And it’s like this feeling of dread. If that’s happening over and over again – if it happens because we’re in a stressful project or we’re doing something stressful in our work, great. Because that passes. But if it’s sort of a chronic feeling of dread on Sunday nights, that’s an indication that there’s something that I need to do differently. I think that’s one big telltale sign. I think the other is just not being able to complete tasks, where you’re just so overwhelmed that you just have like decision fatigue, and you cannot make decisions and you don’t get anything done because you’re so overwhelmed and stressed.

Beth
Yeah, there’s so much to do that you’re just kind of hampered by all of it.

Neelu
Yes. Yes. And I think a lot of us who are solopreneurs we have to delegate, right? Like as facilitators, as coaches, we have to delegate. But when we’re starting our businesses we’re doing everything. And depending on where you are in that journey, it’s like “OK, I’m not there yet to delegate, but here’s some things that I need to do for myself and my mental health and well-being.”

Beth
I find in my busiest times when I’m over-busy, I’ll notice that what I’m doing is kind of picking off the easiest jobs to do, the easiest tasks, and I’m leaving the more complex or the more brain-heavy tasks. Then that accumulates. I mean it doesn’t go on too long, I still get my work done, but I notice, “oh, I’ll just check email for a while” because that’s just easy to pick off but I’m leaving the more complex work because my brain is saying “I can’t handle it.” So something clearly has to change.

Neelu
Yeah. I have, I used to have a business coach and she called that creative avoidance. So she said the way to address creative avoidance is to look at your task list, your to do list, and put a dollar sign by the tasks that bring in revenue. And those should be priority [Yeah!] … and other stuff is creative avoidance.

Beth
That’s a great, I’ve never heard that term, but that’s a great thing to do to really kind of just smack yourself upside the head or something and go “OK…” [Neelu laughs] Yeah. And so putting a dollar amount to things helps you kind of realize what you’re doing, in a sense.

Neelu
Not to say that that should be your everything but we do have to pay bills. So we have to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves and then we can start doing blogs and podcasts and all of these other things. I thought that advice was so – it always stuck in my head that “yes, I know when I’m creatively avoiding things that I need to get to.” And for whatever reason it’s OK if it lasts for a certain period of time but if it’s going on for long periods of time that’s a problem.

Beth
What about passion levels? Because I was looking around a little bit about common questions that people have around burnout and so on. I think the loss of passion for what a person would be doing is one of the areas, like a warning sign. Would you agree? Like, if we are noticing that we really don’t want to do the work or we don’t want to teach that course – is that something we really have to figure out what to do about? And what do we do?

Neelu
I don’t know if you’ve heard of Marcus Buckingham’s work, [Beth: Yeah!] but he talks about strengths, and leveraging your strengths. So his formula is 70% of things that hopefully make you jump out of bed in the morning, where you’re super excited. And that 30% is like the price of admission. The things that must we must do – maybe they’re administrative, maybe they’re – if you’re in an internal role, it might be performance review, filling those forms out or whatever, but the idea is that if you feel like you’re – for a long period of time – less than 70%, there’s something that needs to change. So you try to assess your bucket of 70/30. And I try to do that every few months where I’m like: “What is going on? Am I closer to 70? Or have I dropped to 50% of things that energize me? What can I do with that other 50% and delegate some of those things?” That’s a formula that live by and I try to do that assessment every quarter.

Beth
That’s great that you’ve reminded me about his work because I think he was impactful for me too. He’s been around for so long. I feel like it was many [laughs] –  I’m not even going to say how many years ago, Neelu! In my 20s, I had done right when I was a student in university, I was doing tape transcribing. I guess they just call it transcribing now. Then we called it tape transcribing because I was literally on tapes. [They laugh.] That dates me a little bit. And when I read his work around strengths, what’s it called?

Neelu
Strengths Finder.

Beth
Yeah. He was able to clarify for me in my own mind that even though I was really good at this thing of transcribing, like I type really, really fast still, it was soul sucking. Like I just was not being served by that work. Even though I was really good at it, I decided, “no I’m getting out of this because it’s not feeding me.” It actually was a weakness then, I think that was the word. It wasn’t a strength anymore. It was a weakness.

Neelu
Exactly. [Beth: Yeah!] I think that’s the misconception. It’s like if if you’re really good at something that’s a strength, but that’s not necessarily the way that he defines it. I think that definition has really helped me. It’s a strength if it energizes you and you’re hopefully going to become good at it because it energizes you. Yes, you can have a weakness and still be good at that weakness. It’s just that it depletes your energy.

Beth
Yeah absolutely. As you think about your own well-being – because of course you have to stay solid in this in order to help and teach others around it – what are the things you think about, especially if you think about the pieces that you do around teaching or training others, facilitating with others, how do you maintain your own well-being in this work?

Neelu
One of the things that I think is a challenge for many of us is meeting after meeting with no downtime in between, no time to process, no time to synthesize information. What I do and what I suggest a lot of my clients do is that on Sundays, if you want to take a few minutes to do it Sunday or Monday early morning, is just look through your calendar and take yourself out of things that are not – where you don’t need to be in those meetings. I think just knowing that I can say no to things, whereas before earlier in my business and my career I felt like I had to say yes to everything. Being able to say no and just create some more space during the day, to be able to take a walk to do other things, to get my eyes off of the screen, has been one of the things that I think really helps me keep myself sane and mentally well during the day.

Beth
I love that. Taking the eyes off the screen. I think I often say that to myself because you’re seeing me here in my home office and presumably you are in yours as well. [Neelu: Yes.] I try to choose activities outside of my work too that are not screen based because I do, I spend so much time here at the computer. So I really have to critically analyze the time I’m spending here, particularly.

Neelu
Agreed. Agreed. I think most people right now, whether you’re internal in an organization or you have your own business, we are fatigued from meetings and screen time. So any chance I get to get away from the screen, I take it.

Beth
Are there other strategies as we think about being online so much? I mean, some of us – I was working online before COVID hit, so it hasn’t changed much for me, but it feels like the lesson I still keep having to learn, around being on the computer so much as I’ve said. Are there other things that you would recommend that we do when thinking about our virtual facilitation or virtual work, particularly?

Neelu
Yeah. So a lot of my workshops are based in Ayurveda which is an ancient Indian healing system that’s 5000 years old. One of the main premise of Ayurveda, that translates to the science of life, is routines. Having some morning routines, having some evening routines are really helpful. One of the routines is device-free for at least an hour in the morning. That is setting yourself up for success for the day. If you reach for your phone first thing in the morning, you’re essentially training your brain to be reactive and distracted all day. And I know a lot of people are like “an hour is impossible.” So if you can’t do an hour, do 30 minutes, and that’s just a way to ease into the day. Whether that’s drinking your coffee, drinking chai, whatever it is, taking 30 minutes to ease in really sets you up for having a more calm, balanced day. The same thing in the evening. According to Ayurveda, the hour before you go to bed is sort of this pamper hour and you don’t want to watch the news. You don’t want to pay bills. You don’t want to have a fight with your partner, right? Like all of these things that impact restorative sleep.

Beth
Oh, I am guilty of all that. Of not doing that, I should say. Yeah. Even though we kind of set those goals for ourselves, and set those rules I think I can be good at it for a little bit and then I fall back into it. Like, why is that the thing that we keep needing to tell ourselves to do? It’s so easy to just pick up the phone, right? Our iPhones or whatever.

Neelu
Yeah, especially if you use it as an alarm or something. But the idea is that there are so many things you can choose to do but just pick one or two things that you’re going to do every day that are just for your mental health and mental well-being. And what you need is different than what I need, right? So figuring out what those things are and just having the discipline to stick to those things that you choose.

Beth
So start small, yeah. Do what’s doable. Don’t say I’m going to do 15 things starting tomorrow. [Laughs]

Neelu
Right. Right. Exactly. Exactly. And that happens to me. I get so so excited about projects and things and then I take on too much. And usually that’s a recipe for disaster for me because I cannot do multiple things at one time. None of us actually can. So it’s really like thinking “what can I do every day that’s a small, simple step that’s going to help my well-being?”

Beth
I think you and I are probably very similar in that sometimes I say I’m a victim of my own good ideas, or something, [sounds excited] that I just have a lot of things and I love what I do and I just get passionate about it and excited. I guess being in the learning field I always have that craving to continue to do new things and keep learning, but there’s kind of a shadow side to that being, as well, because we can tend to overload ourselves then go “Aagh, it’s too much!” What do we do with that?

Neelu
Or just information overload. I call myself a continuous ad junkie because I want to consume so much information so then I can then serve my clients and my teams and my organizations better. But then at some point, it’s like, “OK Neelu, enough, maybe listen to something that’s calming and not informational.” So really taking a step back. The question I always ask myself is “what do I need in this moment?” And usually if I take a moment to answer that question, the answer’s there. It’s like, “OK you need to take a walk!” [laughs]

Beth
Oh that’s a great question. “What do I need in this moment?” I think I do ask myself that sometimes when choosing podcasts to listen to or – yes, trying to make that choice to step outside and go for a walk or drive somewhere beautiful here – Vancouver Island is full of great walks. And yeah “what do I need right now?” Absolutely.

Neelu
And sometimes it’s literally a nap because we’re doing so much [laughs a bit]. So allowing yourself to just take that rest. We are in sort of a hustle culture. At least I can say that from being in New York. It’s very go-go-go. So taking a nap is OK.

Beth
I’ve always wanted to cultivate a napping practice, I guess, for myself, I have not made the effort yet. Are you a napper? Do you benefit from naps?

Neelu
I do not only because I have a hard time falling asleep. And I, because again, my brain is just so active. I’m thinking, I’m very creative at night. So napping would be a disaster for me but I will spend 10 minutes or 15 minutes throughout the day just meditating or just sitting with myself. I don’t nap but I’m just trying to decompress from all of the information that I’ve taken in.

Beth
Yeah. Yeah. So it’s just as good, isn’t it? I like to sit with a cup of coffee and I do that thing – I guess I do that thing where I put the phone aside and just sit there and look out the window, even if it’s just 10 minutes it can make a difference.

Neelu
It makes such a difference. It’s sort of like resetting the nervous system.

Beth
I know some people also go into breathing techniques. Now you are also – you teach yoga as well as part of your practice?

Neelu
Yeah so I teach yoga in my neighbourhood. It helps me stay connected to my community. So community, as you can probably tell, is very big for me. And yeah, so breathing – and there’s so many different – there’s over I think 100. I don’t even know how many thousands of permutations there are of different pranayama or breathing exercises. But I just say deep abdominal breaths for a couple of minutes between meetings will help you reset your nervous system. You can get as advanced as you like, or you can be as simple as possible. There’s even the box breathing that I think is pretty mainstream. Now everyone knows about box breathing. So whatever breathing you’re doing make it simple for yourself. Again those simple steps are what you need to do. You don’t want to make it so unattainable that I need to sit on a cushion for 45 minutes. Not everyone has the luxury to do that. Do whatever you can do for a minute, two minutes between meetings.

Beth
I’m thinking too about – and I never did this – but say we’re facilitating a day long workshop or a multi day workshop, I mean, I never went into a bathroom and deep breathed, you know [laughter] but I could. Especially if it was something that was not feeling spot on – or have you – are there little things that we can do, whether we’re online or in person with a group, to kind of take those – snatch those little moments for ourselves to kind of keep maintaining our well-being?

Neelu
I mean I remember specifically before the pandemic when I was doing a lot more in-person, and when everyone would get a break – so let’s say the workshop was multiple hours and everyone gets a break. A lot of times your participants want to speak to you – and it’s not that I’m saying don’t be friendly and warm but what I’m saying is take care of yourself. So I would step away. I would go to the bathroom and just sort of like decompress and take a few deep breaths. I think at home it’s easier to do because when people are in breakouts, you can then –you’re in the main room, you can say, “I’ll be right back” if you have a tech person helping you. I think it’s easier to do in the Zoom world, and being intentional about it at in-person events is also really helpful. It could just look like a two minute break that you take for yourself to reset, especially if you think things are not going well in the previous part of the workshop that you’re facilitating, or even if it’s a keynote, right? Like the keynotes usually it’s a different aspect because you can’t break in between, but taking those breathing techniques before and even after to sort of decompress and calm your nervous system I think is so important.

Beth
Is there a utility to talking with our participants about that, do you think? Because I mean, maybe we wouldn’t say something if things were contentious or something – a problem was happening – but if everything’s going smoothly should we get better at say at a lunch break, going: “OK I’ll be around for 15 minutes if there are any questions, but other than that I’m going to take off for half an hour just to replenish my own self…” I don’t know, would you recommend just being up front? I’ve never done that, but it feels like as we’re talking about this, that’s a thing I might want to do next time. I mean, especially in person in a group, as you say when they have access to us, and we could say “just so you know I will be taking this to replenish myself” or however we want to say it. Have you done that?

Neelu
Yes I actually have. I find myself feeling more comfortable to do that in different industries, like in tech for example at a Google or a Meta. Part of their culture – I don’t know if they all live by this – but part of the culture is sort of your mental health and well-being.  So I am very overt in those sessions where it’s like, “let’s all take some time to decompress. I know we’re going to sit together and have lunch but taking a few minutes on your own is perfectly OK.” I will do that. And I find myself less likely to do that, say, if I’m facilitating at a bank, an investment bank, because I work a lot with financial services. I find myself – now that you’re saying it I think I feel more comfortable saying it in cultures where it’s very commonplace and maybe I don’t do that enough in financial services, but those folks probably need it more [laughs]. Maybe it’s a good idea to do that in the areas – in the industry that perhaps don’t already do that.

Beth
Yeah just a way that you can help, or we can help, change the culture of an organization really and go: “Hey, this is what I do with other groups and you might find it useful.” It makes me think about the times when – have you ever facilitated something where you’re not quite solid of how long the lunch is going to be or how long breaks are, and the client says something like “Well it could be 45 minutes but we’ll see what the group says” or something. Then we allow the group to overrule and say “oh we’re going to just take 30 minutes.” Like, I’m always thinking, “Well maybe we needed that 45 [minutes] or that hour to go and have that rest or have that recharging time.” But somehow the group is overruling, going “No, no, we just want to get out of here and let’s just make it as fast as possible.” But we’re doing ourselves a disservice maybe in doing that? What do you think?

Neelu
Yeah I’ve been in that situation and I obviously do what’s the best for the group. And if everyone is like, “yes we want to finish earlier and leave earlier,” then sure I’ll do that. But I will still say “let’s take five minutes of that, say, 30 minutes, and just sort of allow ourselves to reset.”

Beth
Yeah. That’s a good compromise to make sure that you have that time. So they’re not just on the entire 30 minutes or whatever.

Neelu
Right. And it’s so funny, when you’re asking me these questions, I’m like – gosh, that felt like so long ago. Because since the pandemic I’m pretty much still virtual. I mean I do some in-persons, but the in-person life feels like so far away still [laughs a bit].

Beth
To me too. Same as you. I’ve had a few requests to do some things in person, you know, this year, maybe last year, I kind of forget which year we’re in almost right now [laughs] how long has it been? We have become so much more virtual, I think and it is slow to come back. But anytime I get asked to do in-person things I just jump at it because – I love my virtual, but I also – we need that balance of being in person as well. There’s something self-serving or self-rejuvenating about in-person work as well, I think.

Neelu
Absolutely. I think there’s just an energy in the room and I think we can create it on Zoom for sure, but I think it’s just different in person.

Beth
Yeah. We do a lot of things to create it on Zoom, but even just what you said when groups go into breakout rooms and there’s kind of that void or when they don’t have as easy access to us on the breaks and the lunch and so on, there’s something there that I realized fairly quickly at the start of the pandemic that I wasn’t necessarily getting pumped up or kind of rejuvenated by the people coming up – you know, how people come up and they’ll be like “Oh thank you, this is really resonating with me,” they’ll usually say good things, right? And it’s an ego boost, but it’s maybe supporting our well-being in that way. The void that happens in Zoom when you don’t really get that – I don’t know, is this really egotistical of me? – when you don’t get that kind of feedback it’s a little harder to continue to be motivated or I don’t know, it affects motivation just a little bit when you don’t get that kind of two-way thing going on as much with the group.

Neelu
Yeah, you know, I don’t know if you’re familiar with motivation patterns but there are internally motivated people and externally. So internally motivated people they intuitively get that sense of validation from themselves. Externally motivated people need it from data or other people. I’m so external that if I’m trying on clothes like I will ask my friends or the people that work there, “hey how does this look?” versus knowing in myself and in my own skin, does this look right? So I’m with you on that. I look to the chat to make sure people are engaged and are they resonating with the content. In person, it is much easier to get that sort of validation. You see people smiling a little more. When we’re on Zoom people may be multitasking. I absolutely agree with you that – I don’t necessarily know if it’s an ego thing or it’s just the way that we are motivated and each of us is motivated differently.

Beth
I’m glad you brought it to that because I did read your article about internal and external motivation and how it relates to burnout so let’s go there next. But my initial reaction was, “oh I’m so internally motivated as a business person, as a learning designer and facilitator.” I’m really, I self-drive a lot. But then obviously what I just said indicates there is external motivation that I’m looking for from groups. It’s the difference of getting it and not getting it depending on this mode thing that we were talking about. So we have a little bit of both, but we probably orient to one more than the other?

Neelu
I think it’s also context specific. In one context, you could be very internally motivated and another you could be very external. There may be parts of your business where you just know within yourself that this is the route you’re going to take. And then there might be things where you’re looking for feedback and external validation. So it’s just context specific.

Beth
Tell me about internal and external motivation and how it may lead to burnout. Because I think you were talking again about maybe South Asian and Asian women, there’s something going on with those particular groups?

Neelu
Yeah. I mean from my research and just lived experience in South Asian and Asian cultures there seems to be this need for group harmony and it’s all about the impression that your family is making in the community. Usually there are multiple voices, multiple opinions. So you grow up thinking that you need a lot of validation from other people. Whereas in North American culture it’s usually just the nuclear family and there’s not sort of a joint family living in the home. So it’s kind of like you’re taught to have an opinion and be an individual. When it comes to motivation patterns, if you grew up with so many voices, it’s kind of like that’s the frame you take into work situations as well. So you’re like, “Oh I need to make sure that the team approves of this, or my manager approves of this.” And those people that were raised in the US or raised – not in the US only but in North America – they might have that sense of self, individually, so they may not need all of those frames of reference, external frames of reference.

Beth
So how can that relate to burnout or potential situations of burnout? Maybe not just for South Asian and Asian women but for anybody?

Neelu
So one of the things I’ve noticed with many of my clients who are Asian or South Asian – what happens is if you are used to many opinions or you are externally motivated, you often feel that you need to collect more data. You need to do more research. You need to overwork. So what happens is someone who’s more internally motivated, they may say “OK, I’ve done my research. I’ve done this and so I’m going to submit it.” But as someone who’s more externally motivated they may spend hours and hours doing the same work.

Beth
Yeah. So they’re kind of burning themselves out because they’re not quite sure when they’re done and they’re looking for this external feedback [Neelu: Exactly.] –yeah, to draw it from other people instead of themselves.

Neelu
There’s a sense of perfectionism also right? In Asian and South Asian cultures – like I remember when I was younger and I would come home and I made a 95 on my test, on an exam, my parents’ first reaction was “What happened to the other five [percent]?” [laughter] There’s this like perfectionist tendency. So what happens for Asians and South Asians specifically is that you’re always reaching for that. It’s subconscious because it’s what you just grew up with. There’s that coupled with being externally motivated. And I think that actually impacts this population more to being burned out.

Beth
Yeah and I’m sure other people who aren’t South Asian or Asian are listening to this going “No, I have that too!” [Neelu laughs: Yes!] So it could be an issue that all of us have at some point and we feel like we could never measure up and it’s an unattainable goal that we’re just still searching for. And then – yeah, how can you keep going sometimes when you feel like you can’t ever reach that goal?

Neelu
Even other cultures that are very collective, like Latin cultures, Arab cultures, it’s the same phenomenon, where it’s like you need a lot of – there’s just seems to be a lot more voices in the room and so you grow up feeling like you need that validation, and then you get to work and you’re like “OK I need to collect a hundred data points versus five.” It’s just this need to overperform.

Beth
So what do we do about that? If someone’s listening to this and they’re thinking [laughs] “Yeah, that’s me. I feel like I’m really resonating with what Neelu is saying right now.” What advice would you give that person?

Neelu
I think it’s repetition. It’s like a muscle that you flex. Maybe the next time you realize you’re doing this, you ask two or three less people. It’s sort of this muscle that you’re flexing. Then you also ask yourself: “How many data points do I need to feel sufficient with submitting this? How many do I need?” And then stick to that number, versus questioning it when you’re about to submit. Like you have a deliverable and say you need to check five sources, like make sure you only check five sources. Don’t let yourself sort of go beyond that because again it’s sort of this – having the self awareness is really where I think it starts. Then keeping yourself – again, it’s that discipline piece, just like we were talking about discipline for routines in the morning and the evening – it’s the same concept of having the discipline to stick to what you say you’re going to do.

Beth
You’re right. The self-awareness piece has to come first, doesn’t it? Because there are people who will not realize that this is what’s happening. They grew up in a culture that was more collective and they’re living in an individualistic culture or what have you and they haven’t realized that this is what’s happening and why they might feel the way they feel. So that whole uncovering for themselves is a necessary first step, and then putting the discipline pieces you’re talking about.

Neelu
Exactly. And I think the first piece is just knowing that it’s not your fault. There’s no right or wrong. It’s just that this is how we were raised. And so let’s take the good out of the ‘we’ culture. I never tell Asians and South Asians to say “you are in an ‘I’ culture so just act and behave like an ‘I’. There are good things that come from the we-based culture. But one of these things is if you are working in North America, these are some things to be aware of.

Beth
Oh absolutely. I would never want anyone to feel like that’s what we were saying either. There are so many things that are fantastic about a we-kind of culture, as you say. I mean, I think actually, if we brought more of those values even into the workplace that would make us more human beings. [Laughs] We’d be able to show up as more holistic human beings if we had some of those values crossing into the workplace [Neelu: Absolutely.] too, no matter where we are. I’m in Canada. You’re in the US, we probably have a lot of the same things going on. [Neelu: Absolutely]. Where should we go from here, Neelu? Is there anything that we haven’t covered yet around maintaining our well-being that you really want to leave everyone with as we think about closing?

Neelu
Whether you’re a facilitator, whatever type of entrepreneur you are, or you’re working internally, the first thing I would say to you is to ask yourself in the moment when you’re feeling overwhelmed is “What do I need in this moment?” I think that’s the biggest takeaway, and that leads to being your own cheerleader.

Beth
Yeah it’s that self-awareness piece isn’t it? If we could only remember to ask ourselves that question then we can do something about it.

Neelu
Right, because in that moment it may not serve you to jump on another Zoom meeting. You may need five minutes of a break, right? So really listening to what you need in that moment.

Beth
Thank you so much. I’ve appreciated learning from you today. I always love when – there are certain things that crop up that we had no idea we were going to talk about [Neelu: Yeah!], and maybe we both learned a couple of new things or had some new ideas today. So I really appreciate that. Thank you.

Neelu
Yes, I appreciate it too. It’s always great to connect with another facilitator as well.

Beth
Absolutely. Thank you.

Neelu
Thank you so much.

[Episode outro]
Beth
I really appreciated my conversation with Neelu. Talking about and actually doing things around maintaining well-being and preventing burnout, these are things that a lot of us actually do know, aren’t they? Because we’ve heard about breathing techniques, we’ve heard about various self-care activities, and we intellectually know a lot of the things that I think we talked about in our conversation. But if you’re anyone like me, hearing this over and over again and getting reinforced that, yeah, we have to pay attention to our mental health, we have to pay attention to our well-being, we have to make sure that we integrate that into our work lives and not just do client work, or not just do the work at our organization. It’s not all about that. We have to serve ourselves to be able to serve others. So, so many things that Neelu and I talked about, yeah we know it, but it does help to hear it over and over again to help make it stick for ourselves. And I guess that’s a [chuckles] learning technique, as well, isn’t it? We are reinforcing learning that you probably already know, in this episode, but hopefully you’ve found some new things as well.

I’m not Asian or South Asian and I did also really appreciate that Neelu shared her personal experience with us around growing up in a South Asian culture and what that means for the things that she’s had to grapple with and become aware of as it relates to her work life. As we said, there’s all sorts of benefits and wonderful things about coming from those cultures but then maybe, as she’s saying and she knows from her work, there are some challenges to that as well. So, again, it was just yet another cross-cultural opportunity for me to hear another person’s perspective. And whether you’re Asian or South Asian or not yourself, I hope you also found value in that conversation and, as we said in the episode, maybe there are things that even though you’re not Asian or South Asian either, but you’ve experienced those things and you can relate to them. Because maybe some of them are still a common human experience.

I did appreciate a couple of things that came up in the episode which I hadn’t really thought of before. The one thing was what she called ‘creative avoidance’. If we can just become aware that we might be avoiding certain things, it’s a potential sign that burnout is coming or has arrived for us. That if we’re trying to avoid certain types of work, maybe there’s a problem there. The other thing was the whole conversation that came up around the stress of pricing. And we don’t really think about something like that, a decision-making experience around pricing could actually be a source of stress for us in our lives as perhaps contract facilitators. You know those of us that have to actually put a dollar amount and get consulting gigs and all that kind of stuff. So stress can come in different directions and I find this conversation helps just bring my awareness to all the many facets of stress that can happen in a job like ours. And then once we’re aware of it we can do something about mitigating it and maybe even eliminating some of those stresses to be able to bring more well-being into our life. So very much appreciating my conversation with Neelu today and I appreciate her for being on the show.

On the next episode of the podcast I talk with Marcia Goddard. Marcia was introduced to me by Romy Alexandra. Romy was a prior guest on the show. And when Romy said, “You should talk to Marcia on the show.” She said, “Her superpower is explaining neuroscience in easy-to-understand terms.” And she told me that Marcia is also an expert in diversity, equity, and inclusion. So that’s what I did, I invited Marcia on the show. Actually, she is Dr. Marcia Goddard. She is a neuroscientist on a mission. Her Ph.D. research centred around the neural development of empathy. She left academia a number of years ago to focus on building between science and business, and her specific expertise is brain behaviour relationships in high performance environments. So Marcia and I have a fascinating conversation around the connection between neuroscience, diversity, equity, and inclusion. We talk about how our brains work and how bias plays into our work as facilitators, and of course, so much more. So, I invite you back to listen to the next episode with Marcia Goddard. We’ll see you then.

[Show outro]
Beth
Thank you for listening to Facilitating on Purpose. If you were inspired by something in this episode, please share it with a friend or a colleague to help them expand their facilitation practice too. To find the show notes, give me feedback, or submit ideas for future episodes visit facilitatingonpurpose.com. Special thanks to Mary Chan at Organized Sound Productions for producing this episode. Happy facilitating!

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