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Living Lively, Living Well

September 28, 2011

Even in the relatively staid emergency management sector, which has become rather doctrinaire in recent years as we have attempted to consolidate the lessons of 9/11 and the investments in response capabilities made possible through federal grants, someone comes along from time-to-time that surprises me with their passion, insight and ability to integrate lessons from other disciplines. That happened to me again today at the Washington State Emergency Management Association‘s annual conference.

Shelby Edwards, a corporate business continuity professional with Seattle-based PEMCO Insurance, gave a presentation today that really challenges conventional thinking about what it takes to engage people with the work of improving their own resilience and that of the people around them. Her approach is positive, thoughtful and grounded in cutting-edge research on what makes people tick. It’s also informed by experience in combat zones as an Army Reserve major who serves as a civil-military affairs officer attached to special forces units. And the process she uses couldn’t be much simpler or more powerful.

In a nutshell, Edwards asks people to do little more than shake up their routines by varying their activities, becoming more action-oriented, really engaging others on a personal level and keeping the emphasis and focus of their actions positive. Her individual resilience checklist consists of 10 items, and displays some really savvy thinking and showcases her wry sense of humor:

  1. Do at least one new thing every day — EVERY DAY.
  2. Drive a different route to/from work.
  3. Get honest about those emergency kits.
  4. Park in a different spot every day.
  5. Get some exercise.
  6. Can you really walk in those shoes?
  7. When was the last time you talked to your insurance agent?
  8. Do you know where your IT guy lives?
  9. Where’s your kid? Right now, at this moment.
  10. Go to lunch.

Developing a sense of curiosity and reengaging our sense of wonder through experimentation is a great way to test our capacity to change. Even if we don’t choose particularly challenging adventures, the simple act of favoring variety over sameness gives us a greater sense of what’s possible and exposes us to new ways of doing things.

Varying our route of travel not only helps us expand options for getting from point A to B when things go wrong, it makes us more aware of our surroundings and less apt to operate on autopilot when we’re behind the wheel. Making our brain engage in this way makes us not only more aware of alternatives but more attentive to differences and how they relate to what we think we already know.

Even dedicated emergency managers with a deep-seated geek-streak take their preparedness for granted. How many of us have really looked hard at the provisions we’ve put aside in the event of an emergency? What’s more, who really wants to eat MREs or rehydrated spaghetti or Spam after struggling to get through the trauma of dealing with a natural disaster or even an extended power outage? The smell of this stuff alone is disheartening. Are the arrangements we’re making realistic? Do they reflect our needs as human beings to not only survive a disaster, but to revive ourselves so we can reengage the work required to advance our recovery?

Parking in a different spot, like driving a different route, has the advantage of mixing it up and keeping our senses engaged. But it also has the advantage of sharing the love with others. How many people where you work think they own a parking space even when none of them are reserved to individuals? Forcing them to modify their routines may not only prove irritating but also very worthwhile when they have to face bigger challenges to the status quo.

We all know about the benefits to our physical health that we can derive from exercise. This is equally if not more true though for our psychological health; our brains work better when we get regular, moderate exercise. So, why not have walking meetings? Nothing says you have to conduct every bit of business sitting down or in a conference room. Humans are well adapted to communicating while walking; in fact considerable evidence suggests this capacity helped us achieve a degree of evolutionary superiority well beyond that warranted by our relatively modest stature, speed and strength.

Many, if not most of us — and not just women it’s worth noting — wear totally impractical footwear to work. Imagine having to trudge home or any significant distance in the shoes you’re wearing right now. Image too how you would feel if you became stranded and separated from your loved ones simply because you couldn’t navigate one more step because you were wearing great-looking but totally impractical shoes.

Let’s face it, talking to our insurance agent is right up there with getting root canal surgery for most of us. As Edwards noted, many of us only to our agent only when we want to complain about the latest rate increase or we need help removing a Douglas fir from our living room after a windstorm. In either event, it’s probably too late. Most agents can help us manage our risk if they know our needs.

These days very few businesses and almost all individuals depend on information technology of some sort or another to do their jobs. When our computers and phones don’t work, we don’t work. How many of us know our IT guy well enough to help him help us when we really, really need back online. Right. Now. If you’re allergic to your insurance agent’s personality, you may need help with this one too.

Even if we don’t have kids ourselves, but especially if we do, their needs or those of others who depend on us in any way tend to weigh heavily on us in a crisis. If we don’t know they’re OK, then we’re not OK. People have difficulty doing their jobs when the are worried about others. Telling people to have a personal communication plan or picking a family assembly point is simply not as personal or as apt to get their attention and turn it into positive action as asking them how they would know or find the information they need to know at any given minute to give them peace of mind about their loves ones’ welfare.

We all need to eat. And what we eat can make a major difference in our mood and our capacity to make good decisions in a crisis. But sharing a meal with someone new or at least someone we haven’t connected with in awhile at least once a week can multiply these benefits many times over by fostering positive relationships with an ever-widening circle of friends and acquaintances.

None of these things alone will ensure we will live through a disaster. But together these simple actions can make living and living well both more likely and more lively.

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