Are you an ‘under’ or ‘over’ functioner?

by | Apr 30, 2020 | Emotional Intelligence, Leadership, Mental Resilience

It’s been a couple of weeks since my last email, as I made the call to take an extended break over Easter. Originally, I intended to go away, but, like many of you I’m sure, felt that taking the extra time off to staycation was a little pointless. So, I really had to have a word with myself and give myself permission to take the time off. If I’m really honest with myself, it was very much needed, as I was feeling a little burnt out, flat, and demotivated. 

Then I listened to Brené Brown’s podcast on day-to-day anxiety, which COVID is inducing a lot of right now. She talked about how we show up at these times and how to tackle anxiety. It was like a light bulb going off for me, so I thought I’d share it.  

Are you an ‘under-functioner’ or ‘over-functioner’? 

Brené references Harriet Lerner’s work on under and overfunctioning. She notes that there are generally two ways to cope with anxiety: 

  1. An overfunctioner moves quickly to give advice and to rescue, micromanage, or get into other peoples business rather than looking inward. 
  2. An underfunctioner becomes less competent, invites others to take over, and is seen as someone who is irresponsible, fragile, or unable to handle the pressure. 

She explained that these behaviours are patterned responses to anxiety that enable us to cope and they are not deep truths about who we are. When we become aware of this, we understand that we can change how we react. 

In my case, I was a shameless over-functioner. I fired up my stress hormones to get busy by being busy. I pivoted plans with clients, communicated and reached out to my community, and ran support sessions. I got up into my partners business and cracked the whip with him around marketing, sales, pivoting – you name it!  

I was like a giant wave that, when it receded, left behind a whole lot of debris. It impacted my health and my relationships. I was coming from a place of control and I was masking how I was really feeling.  

I wonder if you can recognise which mode you have been in or are in right now. 

So, armed with this knowledge what did I do?  

  1. reinstated self-care as a priority. For example, activated more of the relaxation response, reduced my working hours, powered down my laptop at night, and took more walks in nature. 
  2. reached out to my coach to get some insights that would allow me to take a step back and develop clarity on what I did want to be creating during this time in my life and business. 
  3. put some much-needed energy and focus back into my relationships.

Getting back to who we want to be 

Now, I’m not saying I have the above nailed. In fact, changing tack feels very unfamiliar, and as if I’m not doing enoughBut that’s the point. Right now, I believe our loved ones, teams, and community need us to get back to being our best selves and that’s going to mean slowing things down, being more strategic, and taking care of ourselves. It’s also going to involve consciously coming back to the kind of leaders, partners, parents, and friends we want to be through this time of crisis. 

So, for a moment ask yourself:

  • Am I taking good care of myself right now? 
  • Am I prioritizing reaching out for support to the right people? 
  • Am I showing up in the right way right now for myself, my loved ones, my team? 
  • Am I creating the results I want in life or at work? 

Coming back to you 

If the answer is ‘no’ to any of these, know there is no judgment here. This might just be an opportunity to create awareness and come back to the basics of what you need to support yourself in the right way right now.  

Here are some questions that may help:  

  • What would you like to be different? 
  • What do I need to focus / re-focus on right now? 
  • What are the next couple of actions I could take to start moving back in the right direction? 
  • Who could I talk to about this that could hold me accountable to take some actions? 

I would love to hear how you go…

To your health and happiness,

Clare Robinson,
Founder & Head Coach, CLARETY

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