UCL Alumni


UCL Wellbeing Blog #9: 'How to… Practice Self-Care' recap, video and transcript

In July, we hosted the first in our virtual series of UCL Connect professional development events: ‘How to… Practice Self-Care’. Here, alumna attendee Zoya Ali shares what she learnt from the session.

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At a time when working from home has become a way of life, many of us have been struggling to find a healthy balance between the personal and professional.

Self-care has almost become a thing of the past – and for me, attending UCL Connect’s ‘How to… Practice Self-Care’ session with Ingrid Facius and Nicole Brigandi (and guest speakers Maira Karakatsani and Dimple Khagram) was a real eye-opener.

In the space of an hour, I realised I was putting my needs on the back burner and risking burnout in the name of productivity – but I also learnt that there are ways to avoid that outcome.

Firstly, realise that self-care is particularly important right now. As we are all surfing the corona waters, it’s easy to lose control and get caught in the deep end. The feeling of lacking control over the situation and an uncertain future is what is pushing us to achieve more.

It’s crucial to be positive and focus on what we can achieve as opposed to fixating on what we can’t.

We all have a choice: to sit back and be complicit or to get up and take small steps towards our goals. Setting targets and schedules is a great way to keep on track, but it’s important to remember to create a structure with some flexibility to deal with new opportunities and challenges. Give yourself the time to unwind and take a break – schedule them if needed – and make yourself a priority.

It’s also okay to be vulnerable, to take time off or ask for help. However, a useful tip I picked up from this session was to take time before offering help of our own. Prioritise your assignments, see what you can take on and what can be put off for later. It’s alright to say “no” from time to time.

It’s necessary to distinguish between resilience and endurance and to understand that we can’t take on everything that comes our way. Nor should we feel obliged to because we feel pressure or because we’re scared of being deemed unproductive.

What is truly important is to be resilient and try to be better versions of ourselves – no-one else. This webinar, which you can view in full or read the transcript of below, was a wonderful reminder of that and full of useful tips and tricks on how to take care of ourselves in this ever-changing scenario.

We’re all different, and so is our approach to challenges. There is no right or wrong. So, try different ways to achieve a balance between professional and personal lives and remember to priorities your needs – and don’t be afraid to ask a supportive shoulder to lean on if you feel like you’re losing control.

Watch the webinar

Vimeo Widget Placeholderhttps://vimeo.com/457020447/265b948732



Hosted by Chantelle Scott (CS)
Facilitated by Nicole Brigandi (NB) and Ingrid Facius (IF)
With Dimple Khagram (DK) and Maira Karakatsani (MK) 

Hi everyone. Hi, welcome. I’m Chantelle, lovely to see you all here to join us for our UCL Connect professional development event: ‘How to… Practice Self Care’.

It’s being facilitated today by our hosts Nicole Brigandi and Ingrid Facius, and we’ve got our guest speakers here today as well. This event is part of a wider series of events, our UCL Connect: Professional Development, and this consists of webinars, podcasts, blogs, case studies, and it’s alumni created resources for our alumni community.

Our UCL Connect series launched in 2013, and we have events – not during social distancing – in-person on UCL campus as well as in our regional areas, and we are really looking at expanding our online offer to make sure that everyone all over the globe can access our events as well.

Our guest speakers today – our event facilitators – are Nicole Brigandi and Ingrid Facius, who are both coaches with a wealth of experience. Nicole has 15 years of cross-industry experience, specifically thinking about leaders, teams and workplace culture, and Ingrid has over 30 years’ experience in organisation transformation and change. They’re here today to talk to us about self-care, which is a really important topic, particularly at this time. So, I’m going to hand over to Nicole and Ingrid – thank you very much.

Thanks, Chantelle, and thanks to the UCL team, it’s a pleasure to be here. I appreciate the introduction – I’m conscious that even just looking through some of your faces in gallery view that we’ll have a lot to learn from each other, so by all means, Ingrid and I, our intention is to facilitate a bit of a dialogue and I’ll explain how that’s going to go in a second but really we’d encourage you to use the chat and submit your questions as Chantelle was saying, because I think that there’s a lot that we can learn from each other’s experience.

So my role in today’s webinar is I’ll be going over a little bit of theory and some ideas when it comes to practicing self-care, and we’ll spend about 15 minutes on that. Then I’ll hand over to Ingrid – Ingrid, do you want to say hello?

Hello, and thanks Chantelle for finding a pre-Covid hairstyle there – it’s all gone a bit different today – but my job today will be to host our guest speakers and we’ll have a conversation with them a little bit later on. There we go!

There we go, thanks for the cue! And we are lucky enough to be joined by Maira and Dimple – also UCL alum – so we just have so much richness in this community that we’ll try and draw out throughout the session. We’ll have about 20 minutes of a kind of fireside chat and then we’ll allow some time for breakout and for questions at the end. So hopefully that format makes sense, and the idea is to provide you with some tips and tools for role modelling some self-care and resilience, giving you the opportunity to actually consolidate your learning, have some discussions, and meet other people in our community: hear some stories and some perspectives and then obviously hopefully get some answers.

So, I thought that I’d just start with this little egg diagram, because I think it pulls together the whole workshop or the series that we’re doing on navigating uncertainty. Ingrid and I work together a lot and work in many different types of organisations, from schools, to big corporates, to start-ups, and there are many layers to how uncertainty can affect organisations. So the core of that, that’s the individual, the leader, and in other sessions we’ll get on to how you build a high performing team in this layer of the group context, and the outside kind of shell is the organisation and we’ll talk about that on the 13th in terms of how you engage in a virtual environment.

Now, these different levels are constantly being influenced and pushed and pulled in lots of different directions, and when it comes to uncertainty some of the powerful tools and dynamics that are going on at each level of the system involve how we influence norms and communicate change. So today, we’re primarily going to be talking about how leaders at any level can influence and role model behaviour that encourages resilience when facing uncertainty. So I’ll use the term leader a lot in this session, and I’m using that really broadly, so I’m very much of the school of thought that everybody’s a leader in their own context, right. So, if you’re a parent you’re a leader of your household – in some households sometimes the children are the leaders, no judgement here! – but there are lots of different ways to show up as leaders and even in our home lives, so as I use that maybe just consider how you show up as a leader and how this applies to you.

So, at this individual level, we are all subject when it comes to uncertainty to this survival response. Right, so many of you have probably heard of this fight or flight – we get triggered when there’s uncertainty. Our brains are kind of designed to be as efficient as possible. We try to programme routine behaviours, it kind of saves us energy. The thing is that that part of our brain isn’t necessarily sophisticated enough to distinguish between complexity or different levels of threat – so it’s for us, in order to become more resilient leaders, we have to equip ourselves with the strategies, with the tools, to kind of override that kind of embedded system so we can distinguish how we want to respond in uncertainty. So, we’ll be going through a few tips for that today.

So, just to start off with and get us warmed up to engage in the session, what’s one thing that we all have in common when it comes to leading in uncertainty? I’d like you just to consider that question for a second and pop whatever thoughts come up – the first thing that comes to mind – into the chat. What’s the one thing that’s the same for everybody – we’ll all have been experiencing this latest crisis, this pandemic, differently – but what’s one thing we all have in common?

This is a little bit of a test to make sure the chat’s working for everyone. Great, thanks for getting us kicked off, Steven. Fear. Fear, apprehension. Failure. Feel we can breathe, great one. Change, yep. Things are going to change. Why show up, confusion, possibly. It’s all new. These are all true. Fear, confusion, self-reliant, resilience, so we’re seeing lots of different ideas in a few different corners – be it, kind of, the fear end of the spectrum versus the “what’s within our control” possibility, fantastic. Feel free to keep popping them in there.

Those are all really great suggestions. The one that came to mind as we were preparing for this today for me was: whether you like it or not we have limits, and I think this relates to some of your responses. So, all of those things are true and, in addition to that, whether we like it or not there comes a point in time – actually – too much is too much and you can’t pour from an empty cup.

So, what our goal is today in terms of what we want to role model for others is around role modelling what’s in your control. Acknowledging your vulnerability, practicing your resilience and shifting your mind-set around what’s possible. So, I’m going to move on to our first tip so we can’t start getting stuck in.

Okay, tip number one is focus on the can-do. So, if any of you saw the video that was shared on our Alumni Network or saw the article that went out yesterday that I wrote for our Alumni Blog, I will have mentioned this concept of what’s within your control and known-knowns. So, it’s really common when we’re uncertainty – this won’t be new to you, what some of you put in the chat – so anxiety, despair, this feeling like ‘Ugh, everything is out of our control.’ You know, how am I going to be able to make progress in anything and if any of you have been, like me, riding this Corona-coaster of emotions, day-to-day it can shift. How we show up and what we’re even capable of. So, our brain is subconsciously working away, resulting in this feeling of threat. In particular, it’s important to kind of acknowledge: you know what, in a crisis – in uncertainty – and a crisis can be a pandemic, that’s definitely a crisis, but it could be something that happens at work. Or it could be, you know, not being able to get shopping in time to put food on the table for your family. It could come up in lots of different ways. But the whole thing is to accept that we’re going to have good days and bad days – and particularly when it comes to those challenging days is when we need to remember to focus on our locus of control.

So, Julian Rotter coined this term and developed it in the 1950s and ‘locus of control’ is all about the degree to which we feel, or people believe that, they as opposed to external forces, have control over the events and the outcomes that happen to them. So, in that, personalities do dictate whether we may tend towards or have a preference for an internal or an external locus of control. However, our behaviour will be influenced by both. So, this isn’t one of those things where you’re born into either an internal or an external of control – we all have both baked into it. It’s more a matter of which one we choose to exercise. So, when we believe that we can change and influence our situation this is the internal locus of control, we’re able to improve our physical mental and our mental quality of life and in the long term, we increase our self-efficacy or our belief in our self which then increases our motivation, our independence and our confidence. These are all really important to be able to kind of settle the inner gremlins that are trying to get us worked up over the fear and anxiety.

So, I came across this – Dr Jacinta Jiménez – you can follow her on LinkedIn, she’s an absolutely brilliant coach and doctor of psychology, and I thought that this was a really great reference point. So, when you think about the things that are in your control, these are the things like your actions, your goals, your values, it can be different to distinguish sometimes what’s going on in the external world and the internal world. But some examples are things like focusing on self-care and I saw we already had a question from before the session that’s: “How can we even make time for that?”, right, so finding ways to become aware that sometimes you need to give yourself permission to start that. I’ll leave it to our brilliant guest speakers to talk about more tips for that.

Other examples are things like practicing gratitude. You don’t need anybody else to sit there and think about, actually, “what am I really thankful for?”. Facing your fears, replacing negative thought processes with more positive mind-sets. I don’t know about you but this one definitely I find one of the hardest things when I’m trying to get myself back in control. Penny said in the chat here the focus on circles of influence. Yes, this absolutely relates to that and particularly with internal locus of control is focusing on what you can impact.

So, how do you do this? So, acknowledge that first you have a choice. So, I’ve definitely – you can hear people walking down the street where they say: “Oh, it’s completely out of my control.” So, in those situations what I normally suggest is accept that actually, I have a choice in this, and maybe sometimes that choice is hard, but I can choose whether I’m going to be complicit to the situation or not, and then you can start to distinguish which parts of this choice are there for me to take. Review your options, and the resources and the strengths that are available to you. Ask for ideas from friends, from other people, get different perspectives. Decide what’s right for you in that moment, what’s the right approach right now? And be aware of your mind-set. So, am I coming from a place of scarcity – there’s not enough – or am I coming from a place of abundance? How can I create this sense of possibility in this moment? So, those are some ways to think about sphere of control.

I’m just checking out the chat. Any thoughts? Okay, so with anxiety – and this might be one that we pick up on later Christina, but I’m not a specialist in anxiety or a therapist or anything like that, so I’m not going to speak to any anxiety disorders. But what I would say is from a coaching perspective, there are a lot of similar practices used in coaching and in therapy and in organisations that when it comes to even just starting to identify what’s actually bothering you or what things are inside that circle and outside of that circle can be a useful place to start, potentially we’ll come on to this more later.

And I think to add to that, Nicole, you’ve always advised – whenever I’ve faced a difficult time – you know, what one thing can you do first that you have in your control, so I’m about to make a house move, I’m really anxious about it, I’ve never done a house move. What thing could I have in my control? Well, I started speaking with the estate agent and, reassuringly, shared my worries and they reassured me in terms of what it was that was going to happen and how it was going to happen. At least I had a plan, I knew where I was heading at that point.

Great example, thanks for sharing that, and absolutely, that’s one of the things in my daily practice as well – particularly on bad days – is, okay, if everything else falls apart what’s the one thing that I can do right now? The other thing that I tend to ask myself – and a coach asked me this once and I was really offended by the question actually – and they said to me, you know, “how could the situation be worse right now?” And I thought, what do you mean? I’m falling apart, I’m crying, everything is going wrong, and he said: “But can you imagine a worse situation? And what would that look like?” And it made me stop and actually reflect on the possibility that existed in my current situation.

So, we’ll keep moving so we have time to hear from our brilliant experts. So tip number two is about creating structure that allows for flexibility. So, I love this image as well – this is the Hong Kong Ballet and they’ve got some brilliant stuff on their 40th anniversary if anybody’s a ballet fan. But this part is about structure and flexibility. So, particularly I see this a lot in high performers who have a tendency towards perfectionism, also people who really crave certainty and structure. It’s tempting to kind of say: “Okay, I’m going to take everything that I can from this webinar and I’m going to put it into practice, I’m going to come up with a whole thing, I’m going to write it on the board and tomorrow I’m going to start this whole new way of, you know, self-care, or whatever the initiative is. And it’s really useful to have structure – in fact, it can be a powerful tool for mental health and wellbeing to have a sense of routine. So, the key here though is trying to figure out how much – where do you have structure and where can you allow for a bit of flexibility which will give you the opportunity to respond in uncertainty: when new opportunities come up or when there are new challenges to deal with.

So, one of the ways that I start doing something like this – figuring out which parts do I need structure in and which parts flexibility – is to actually identify the things that help me stay at my best. So, for me, I did once keep a journal when I was really having a string of bad days and I realised that the thing that was the common theme in everything is I wasn’t getting enough sleep, wasn’t eating right, I wasn’t exercising, and I’d only seen fresh air or felt fresh air on my skin for maybe an hour in the whole week. So, I know for myself, having done some of that work that I need those things to be at my best. So those are the things that I need to create structure around. I see the question, I’ll come back to that, so thanks for that.

So, the first thing is, figure out what you need structure around. So, I used the example of my personal life. In my professional life, I know for instance that I am better at my job when I make a little bit of time for planning at the beginning and end of each week. When I leave myself notes on a Friday so when I come back on Monday I know what to pick up. I know that makes me better, and the weeks that I miss that is when I feel more out of control. So, it’s trying to find these little practices that keep you at your best. Then what you do is you choose one that feels most in your control at that moment, and you start to think about what is a healthy routine that I can start. Not eight different behaviours, or a bunch of new things. Just one. Start with one. And when you do that, I’d highly suggest watching BJ Fogg’s Ted Talk on how small change can lead to really big outcomes. If it’s possible and we can share that in the chat, that would be great.

So, it’s a little bit – I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a little bit cheesy, American cheesy – I admit that. But he’s got some really great tips for starting to embed small changes and habits. So, all these tiny little changes can make a huge difference and once you’ve got those structures – and you can even structure flexibility, so structuring time for not having any particular thing to do – so that can look like a break in the middle of the day, even if it’s a five minute break where you can decide, okay I’m going to stretch my legs, I’m going to put my head out the window, I’m going to get a snack. Creating those opportunities for you to be able to react and respond to what you need in the moment is really helpful and will start to fine tune your sense for what you need, right, and what your body is telling you that you need.

I’m just going to pause. Ingrid, I see something’s going on in the chat – is there anything that you think we should address now before we move on to tip number three?

Oh, just a couple of other things. I mean my own experience of structure and flexibility – especially with looking after a ten year-old at home and an eight year-old who want their dinners on the table at 7pm – squeezing in work has been particularly hard. So for me, I’ve been rigorous about time management and having two hour slots at work and making them really productive and then allowing the flexibility for the family around those two hours. But I’ve had to set them tasks in those two hours to keep them out of the way! Yeah, so I think the structure and flexibility top tip certainly has helped me and accepting also that I’ve had really bad days where it’s not just worked. And forgiving myself, giving that permission to myself to say: Okay, having a bad day. Do you know what, does it really matter? What is the deliverable today? What will I deliver, even if it’s just one thing, at least I’ve achieved something.

Right. Yeah, absolutely, and that’s a little bit of both kind of the discipline to have that mind-set, to catch yourself, to stop yourself, before you continue to beat yourself up, and having the flexibility to say “Alright. It comes back to what’s in my control, what’s possible for today, the person that I am today and the energy that I have?”

Oh, and one last thing – I don’t know whether you remember that conversation we had where, I mean, you’re a perfectionist, you’re going for 100%, and we had that chat where I said: “Hey, hang on Nicole. Does 100% matter right now? What about the 80-20 rule? What are you going to go for? What can you forgive yourself in terms of not needing to have to deliver at 100% all of the time?” 

Right, and the 80-20 – so the Pareto Principle – can be super liberating and as a recovering perfectionist I admit, I think I share this with you Ingrid, when I first heard about 80-20 rule I was offended. In fact I spent a year being offended by the whole concept of, you know, I’d walk around and mutter under my breath: “Well if you don’t want 100%, why did you hire me? What’s the point?” And actually, the Pareto Principle for those of you that might not have heard of it, is the whole idea that 80% of the outcome is attributed to 20% of the effort. So, actually, if you could just give yourself permission to chill out a little bit and focus on the things that are important to you and what you want to achieve, you can channel your energy towards that, you’re going to get much more out of it than spreading yourself too thin, which leads us on nicely to the last point, actually.

Okay, so we’ll flick on to that and then we’ll open up to some more conversation. So, the last one is: don’t be a hero. And this is multi-faceted, so there are many of us – how I should talk about this is I think society and particularly Hollywood have given us the gift of a reinforced image of who the hero is, so whether this is a Marvel comic hero or this is the mum whose able, if any of you have seen Bad Moms, who can kind of drop the kids off, and do this, and have a clean house, and look great, and exercise, and all the things. And what this image of hero does is say we can do everything, we can be strong, but doesn’t actually acknowledge the cost that comes to the self and the people around them. So, when Ingrid and I were preparing for this I couldn’t help but think about Brené Brown’s work, so many of you will probably have come across her Ted Talk, it’s been viewed millions and millions of times, so she’s a researcher and storyteller from the University of Texas. She studies shame and vulnerability, and her work really preaches the value of leading with vulnerability and despite the fact that society sends us these signals that encourage wellbeing, right, we put on these webinars, we say: practice self-care, and you go back to work and they’re like, yes, do all the self-care things. That’s great. But also, can you make sure to deliver X, Y, Z, A, B, C, 1, 2, 3. All of the other things. And it puts us in a position where we’re not sure sometimes what to do, and sometimes that means we can take on too much.

Where the vulnerability point comes in that I think is helpful is that as leaders, in whatever context that is for you, it’s important for us to set and reinforce the boundaries that keep us healthy even if it’s in small ways. So, when it comes to showing vulnerability, for instance: I’ve been coaching a lot of team leaders particularly over this Covid period. And I’ve been hearing a lot, you know, I can see my team struggling. I don’t to really share how I’m experiencing this, but I feel like there’s nobody there to support me and I’m having to put on the happy face and support everybody else, but here I’m drowning. I’m drowning. And there is something to say – or there is space here to allow a little bit of vulnerability to share actually what’s going on for you as a leader, to say: “Actually, yeah. This has been really hard. Yeah, connecting on Zoom is not as exciting or as easy as it is to be in the office.” And for people on the other end of the spectrum, who are getting hammered with work right now because you’re in healthcare or you’re in education or something else, being able to actually take a breather and be honest about what your situation is, what you need to be able to make it through those hard times. What it does is that it presents the idea that things being hard, and being hopeful, can actually exist in the same space. You can actually be able to demonstrate, you know, it’s okay to say when things are hard. And at the same time, it’s also okay to try and make things better.

So, it takes a lot of courage and strength to do this. The other element of this is being able to say “no”, or taking a pause before you say “yes”. So let’s just think about that for a second: so, saying “no” can be hard and there are different ways that we can kind of practice this, by saying “no” to small things that won’t have so much of an impact maybe on our role or our reputation. But the other side of that is waiting and pausing before you say “yes”. So, if you’re one of those people who wants to please, wants to kind of show that they can take it on, you can often jump in and say: “Great, we’ll sort out the details later, but I can take that.” And instead, taking that pause – asking a few more questions – and distinguishing between what are the things that you do actually have capacity to take on and what are the things that can be re-negotiated for later on. I’ve had to practice this becoming a business owner myself. It can be tempting to say “Yes, I can take that project!”, “Yes to that one!” particularly in a period of COVID where work has been kind of interesting – and if there are other entrepreneurs on the call then you’ll know what I mean – but actually you do need to step back and consider: how much capacity do I have right now? How can I make sure I contribute my best to this?

So, in preparing for this I was reminded actually by a quote – so this balance between this hard and hopeful – this quote by New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. She said, and some of you may have seen this, “one of the criticisms I’ve faced over the years is that I’m not aggressive enough, or assertive enough, or maybe somehow because I’m empathetic it means I’m weak. I totally rebel against that. I refuse to believe you can’t be both compassionate and strong.” And I believe that this tip about being a hero is exactly that. Finding that point of balance between caring for yourself and being able to show strength and be there for others. So, the key things here in terms of how to do this is be clear about what’s important to you, distinguish between your primary and your secondary priorities – so when a new request comes your way you can help to navigate whether your energy should go to A or B. Ask for help, encourage your teams or the people around you to do the same. Particularly in households this can make a big difference – you as parents will know that children are always looking at you, they’re going to learn from those behaviours, so being able to demonstrate asking for help is a big deal. When you share, better outcomes can happen. So particularly in times of uncertainty, many of us want to hold on to what we’re doing instead of delegating. We don’t often have the time, other things can get in the way. But actually, when you share, and open up, and involve more people, it can lead to better outcomes. And using the opportunity to top up your energy more frequently, and I think this links to some of the other tips. So, instead of waiting until you have nothing left in your cup, find those little micro-ways to top up your energy based on what gets the best out of you. Ingrid, over to you.

I was just really picking up on your point about getting the balance right, and both you and I are working with leadership teams and CEOs and I notice that those CEOs – you know, they’ve got an awful lot on their plate, they’re trying to survive, they’re trying to keep a business going, or shape a business in a new way – and the work hours are just huge at the moment. But the leaders that stand out for me are those that have asked for help, and people love being asked to be able to help, especially if a CEO comes to you and says, you know, “Nicole, how can you help me here? I’ve got this really big, tangled issue and problem,” and when people start to build solutions they come from the knowledge and the heart. Them asking for help – they usually get more impact because they a) get the help and b) people sign up and own solutions that they have contributed to, so the change becomes an owned change by everybody in the organisation.

Yeah, absolutely. Couldn’t agree more. So, thank you for that, we’re going to keep being able to kind of discuss this – and actually, keeping an eye on time, potentially let’s try and incorporate some of the Q&A questions into our fireside chat. Before we move on to that, we want to give you the chance to meet some of your fellow UCL alum and staff, the people in our community, and also consolidate the nuggets that resonate with you. So, Claire’s going to send us into breakout rooms of five people – four or five people – and what we want you to do is quickly introduce yourselves to one another because that’s part of the value of being in this wonderful community, is getting to know each other, share what resonates most for you. Pick one or two things. And what’s one small action that you’re going to take on the back of this webinar? So, the whole idea of, you know, how do I start? You start by starting. Just identify one thing. So go ahead into breakouts and we’ll head into our guest speakers. 

Attendees in breakout rooms 

Welcome back, everybody.

Time has absolutely flown – so I’m going to get us back on it, so what I’d love for you to do whilst we’re all kind of coming back into the room, is if you’ve got your one thing that you’re going to do, if you could share it in the chat, that would be really helpful. We try and promote learning from others so it might give somebody else inspiration, so if you could go ahead and I’m going to turn over to Ingrid to facilitate a discussion with our guests. Ingrid, are you happy to maybe pull in some of the questions that we’ve had come up in the chat and on Slido?

Yeah, though we have been hopefully answering most of those questions. I’ll go back through them. A very warm welcome to Dimple and Maira. Maira, you and I studied together in 2015/16.

Correct! Feels like a long time ago now.

I know. Back in the work world, so both of you, very, very lovely to have you. Dimple, when did you study?

2014/15, so I was doing an MA in Education and International Development at the Institute of Education – the IOE.

Can I ask actually, Dimple, first of all, why is this topic important to you? Why did you sign up to be our guest speaker?

I think it was, you know – I sort of reached out to the community because I really wanted to sort of help out. And I think Chantelle and myself, you know, that’s the formal sort of side to it, but I think this topic was really sort of important to me because I’ve been a serial entrepreneur for the last 25 years. I’ve worked for other organisations very, very briefly – probably about eight years in my entire career – and I think along with, you learn, you experience a lot of things and you learn a number of things, so in 2016 I started experiencing burnout but at the time I didn’t realise this and in 2018 I kind of experienced full burnout. And one of the things that brought me back is that I took nine months – I took a nine month sabbatical. It was as a result, I wasn’t really looking after myself, I was giving from the completely empty cup. It was going at sort of negative levels. You know, it became really key for me that something I was going to continue looking after myself but also within my new business that I set up last year, it was going to form really a key part of what I was going to do with my teams, with people I work with, so that’s how I got really kind of passionate about it. Because I didn’t really recognise, I think, earlier on, the importance of self-care, the importance of really taking time out for yourself. I used to say my superpower is being a workaholic – very proudly I used to say this, because you know it was this whole obsession around being a perfectionist. You know, earlier you talked about the 80/20 rule and Nicole said she got really offended by this whole 80/20 rule and, you know, I would probably be in that camp as well. How can you do that? But I think as you experience burnout I realised how important it was and it’s something I made a choice by taking forward into my life from then on.

Can I ask what did you first experience – what were the first signs of burnout for you?

So it started kind of coming on, I would say 2016. It was this whole chaos, confusion. I was constantly anxious. It was, you know, I couldn’t see the wood for the trees and I felt I was really unproductive, I was constantly getting exhausted, and I was just not prepared to listen to anybody. It was this bodily feeling – I think I was so out of touch with my own body as well – that I kept feeling this sense of, you know, absolute frustration that I was just not able to explain, so it continued and it got progressively worse by 2018.

Something happened in my life in 2018 that was a really big, quite traumatic event and I think that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. You know, stopping at that point and reflecting and, you know, travelling and doing meditation, yoga, just all of these practices kind of brought me in touch with what I was feeling, how I was feeling, why I was feeling that way. I think for me it was kind of the confusion, the chaos, it just all seemed really blurry, there was this whole brain fog for me.

And what was – you talked about that trigger, that traumatic experience – but what was the very first thing you did when that realisation happened for you?

For the first few days, I just kind of – I just stopped.

Right, a pause.

Complete pause. Complete pause. And I slept, I suppose I disengaged – it was, you know, I realised the importance of support. Luckily my friends and family were there. But I didn’t really – I just needed to stop. I just needed to make sense of it. And then I also spoke to a professional. So I think all of those things, and again, I think one of the things that really helped me was spending time in nature. I spent a lot of time in nature. That was for me the biggest – one of the key things – because I’ve always loved nature and since 2015, 16, I’d just stopped spending time in nature, so this is ongoing. I think it took years to get to that point where it all just exploded.

Yeah. Thank you, thank you Dimple. You’ve shared with us – and many strangers on this call – your vulnerability, as Nicole would say, and we really appreciate that. But Maira, can I go to you, your work allows you to work with a lot of leaders and leadership teams. What are you noticing about how leaders are prioritising their self-care?

So I think there is a difference in the landscape – when I started working and throughout my journey working with leadership teams – and as Nicole said, I do consider a leader to be someone at every grade depending on how they are looking after themselves, their teams, and the contribution that they are having within the organisation, so each one of us is a leader in what it is that they are doing.

So, I think there is quite a few things that changed the landscape and the first one would be that we all appreciate that success and the sense of leadership is a social construct, so we all have a sense of what it means to be successful, how this is interpreted, but I think the dial is kind of changing. From someone who was the lone wolf to someone who is just more of a multiplier, a connector, a coach. That is now what we think is a good leader. Someone that can actually connect you with others, can make sure that you have the right response but doesn’t feel the burden of having all the responses, doesn’t feel the burden of being perfect. So, this has actually allowed leaders to be even better, to become even more relaxed, to become even more vulnerable to the points that you have raised previously. And I think another thing that I have noticed being in discussion with leaders in the business is that previously, a) they didn’t realise that it is accepted to show this vulnerability – every leader, every CEO, is going to share with you that it is quite lonely at the top. It does feel lonely at the top. So, the more we are discussing about wellbeing, resilience, the more we are discussing about these terms, the more it’s rationalised and the less people are expecting from them to be the heroes and have all the answers.

So, this has also actually changed the dial and now they feel more comfortable in demonstrating self-care, setting the example for everyone else, their teams, and also just the more information we are providing in this space, people feel that they have the tools in their back pockets because it doesn’t necessarily mean that someone that didn’t previously used to attend to others’ needs for self-care, or for resilience, didn’t want to do it. Maybe they didn’t have the chance to do it. So many of them had actually told me in confidence, like: “I didn’t feel comfortable having a discussion like that. That’s a very deep discussion to have, so how can I have it when I don’t have the tools?” So these are the few things that have been changing along with, I think diversity and inclusion, we are much more open to diversity and inclusion and that means that we are allowing for people to bring their honest and authentic self to work and by doing that we are allowing them to practice self-care and practice resilience. And resilience is not the same as endurance, so we used to think that the more you can go ahead without anything interrupting you, the more you’re exercising resilience. Well, it’s not the same. Resilience is being able to identify what you really need to do in order to bounce back or proactively look after yourself, whereas endurance is a different thing, it can get you to a very different road. So, I’m happy to share more, I’m just conscious of time, so I’ll be led by you Ingrid.

Yeah, conscious of time and thank you Maira, I’ve a feeling we’ve got another speaker here and another topic to talk about, Nicole, in terms of resilience and bringing that into our conversation. Can I just wrap this up Nicole with one question we’ve spotted, that’s come through from Slido: what one piece of advice would you give someone struggling to stay positive when things aren’t going well?

Hmm, I think – can I jump in? I think the one thing that has actually supported me in the case that I didn’t feel very well is the conviction that I can stand on my own two feet. The conviction that I am looking after myself and I am the best version of myself. So if everything else is falling apart, if the world is changing, if other people do not appreciate me for who I am, at least I am doing it for myself. So I continued doing things that mentally, physically, physiologically, were good for me, so as to be able to say for myself I do have the conviction and the confidence that I am the best version of me continuously. So, when no-one else is actually admitting it, I think about this and about myself.

I love that, so being the best version of yourself and not somebody else has come through the chat very much in terms of we all have our own personal journey and Dimple, you’ve kindly shared yours, but it is about being a first rate version of yourself. Not of anybody else.

I think this is what we, because of the social constructs as well, and you know this is where a sort of self-awareness kind of comes in, and you know just being okay with your version, whoever you are. And I think one of the other things is also sort of being grateful almost for the little things, you know, almost for the little things you have in your life. That’s in your life, you know, as we go back to the locus of control, so what is in my control? And I think that also, to me, has supported me a lot and shifted my perspective.

Thanks, Dimple. I’ve got to end us there, we are exactly on time. Nicole, any closing words, very briefly?

Just a huge thank you from me to the UCL team for making this happen, to our wonderful guests, to my fantastic co-host Ingrid, and to you all who have made time. This is a great example of, actually – one of the questions: how do you start making time for self-care – you’ve already done it. So, thank you, hopefully you do take those actions away, feel free to continue talking about them on our alumni community, and I think Chantelle’s got one last thing to bring us home.

Yeah, I’d love to say just thank you so much for that session, it was so useful. I think when you said tip three: don’t be a hero, you were speaking directly to me so I’m going to take notes there and apply that advice to myself as well. Thank you so much to everyone that joined us – I hope you had a great time talking to each other, I hope you learned a lot and may want to take stuff away from that.

If you’re really interested in joining our next events in the series, please look out for your follow-up email. We’ve got another event on 13 August and we’d love to see you there so please do spread the word. We’re going to – I’ve set up a link in the chat so if you’d like to provide us with feedback we’d love to hear what you think, we’re always on a quest to learn and improve and make sure we’re providing you with content that you absolutely love. So I just want you guys all – you can’t do a round of applause because we’re not in person but you can send reactions, smiley faces, thank yous, but just thank you so much for your engagement, your enthusiasm, for all of that, and thank you so much to our amazing alumni who have joined us, and hope to see you again soon!

Thanks, everyone.

Thank you. Thank you, everyone. Thank you, take care, bye.

To sign up for future UCL Connect webinars, visit our Events page. You can also read more of your peers’ wellbeing tips as we navigate COVID-19 on the UCL Alumni blog, or register your interest in sharing your own experiences via our Volunteer Now opportunities