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Are you surviving in a reactive cyclone or thriving in a creative one?
Are you surviving in a reactive cyclone or thriving in a creative one?

Do you feel like your efforts are never enough?

Or that you need to be perfect to take care of everyone else and you always need to do more to meet everyone's expectations?

Yet, no matter how hard you try, you feel like lately, all you do is fail?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you may be caught in the whirlwind of a reactive cyclone.

A diagram of the reactive cyclone.

Reactive Cyclone

Know this: being caught in a reactive cyclone is not your fault - your brain has been triggered by threat and has launched you into survival mode.The world is going through a time of unprecedented changes and circumstances that are beyond your control. It is a natural response to attempt to use the techniques that have served you in the past to control what is going on around you, but when the circumstances are so beyond anything that you have seen before, techniques from the past no longer serve you.

As a caregiver and a helper, you are driven to be responsive to external demands - to show up, to do what you can, and to not let others down. But trying harder and harder to get it right and extending yourself over the line when external circumstances are beyond your control leads you to feel as though you are failing, to spiral downwards into a lack of self-compassion and into an inevitable state of burn-out and overwhelm.

‘Relief’ in the Reactive Cyclone

When you get to a place where you are overwhelmed and burn-out by circumstances that are beyond your control, it is easy to turn to relief as the primary way to cope with your pain.

Relief is often found in the habits that temporarily numb your pain and dull the hopelessness that you feel - think a glass of wine or binge eating M&M’s.

Relief habits might serve you in the moment, but over the long-term, they are not helping to get you out of the reactive cyclone that is spiralling you downwards into burn-out. Learn more about relief in our blog post on Relief, Recovery and Renewal.

So how do you get out of a reactive cyclone and back to feeling like you can cope with circumstances beyond your control without descending into overwhelm?

You need to get yourself into a creative cyclone through self-compassion, purpose and building positive internal habits.

A diagram of the creative cyclone.

Creative Cyclone

A creative cyclone is driven by your own sense of purpose rather than being weighed down by external demands and circumstances. When you are in a creative cyclone you choose what you put your time and energy into and you celebrate your progress. You're driven by a sense of purpose and are able to tackle challenges head-on.

The beauty of being in a creative cyclone is that, even in the midst of external circumstances that you can’t control,  you’re able to exert control over something - yourself.

Getting into a Creative Cyclone

Getting out of a reactive cyclone and into a creative one is a journey - it isn’t something that is going to happen overnight or without any effort. You need to be willing to work on yourself and to take the time to develop self-compassion, find your sense of purpose and consciously choose what to put your energy into. First YOU need to make the decision that you are ready to focus on your internal skills and hone your ability to self-regulate.

If you have been saying to yourself “I want to learn how to regulate my emotions better”, “I am tired of burnout - it's time for a change”, or “I am ready to change my habits and get myself back on track”, then you are ready to move into a creative cyclone.

Be Kind to Yourself

When you are caught in a reactive cyclone, there is very little room for self-compassion. You are overwhelmed, burnt-out and constantly feeling like you’re not good enough as external circumstances weigh you down.

In a creative cyclone, however, you have the power to turn the tide of these feelings of self-negativity and doubt and focus on building up the internal skills and habits that will improve your performance capabilities without leaving you feeling overwhelmed.

The choice to be kind to yourself is entirely up to you. You are in control of the story that you tell yourself and whether or not it is one of helplessness or one of hope.

Rediscover Your Purpose

Start with rediscovering your sense of purpose. What is it that motivated you before the pandemic?  What are you still passionate about and what impact do you want to have on the world?

Coming back to or finding your sense of purpose is like a beacon cutting through the fog. It gives you hope, confidence and the drive to move forward while finding a reason to be kind to yourself. When you choose what drives you forward, rather than letting external circumstances dictate your actions, you feel more aligned, more driven and more in control. Your choices, successes and failures are yours and yours alone.

In a study (Keller, Litzelman, Wisk et al. 2012) interviewing people with both high and low-stress jobs, it was found that those who saw their high-stress jobs as a challenge and could connect that challenge to a greater sense of purpose lived longer than even those who worked in low-stress jobs.

The key takeaway? Having a purpose is one of the most powerful tools to pull you out of adversity and set you on the path to success and happiness both at work and in life.

A great example of the power of purpose comes from one of our clients, Trina, a Nurse Manager. Trina worked diligently throughout our Evolution of Thinking program to connect her team to their sense of purpose and a culture of client-centred care. She did this through carefully considered and consistent ways, one of which was emphasizing the team vision regularly in a group email that illustrated, through specific, satisfying and meaningful stories, how staff provided excellent care for patients and for one another.

As the pandemic raged on and staffing shortages started to cause strain in her hospital, Trina noted that her department was suffering less burnout, less turn-over and fewer staffing shortages than other areas in her hospital. In fact, thanks to their shared team purpose,  members of her staff were starting significant projects, completing training, and coming to her with celebratory stories to share, all while working reliably through the pandemic.

As the rest of the hospital struggled and looked to draw staff from all departments to cover critical nursing shortages, Trina worried about burning out her well-functioning team. But the team's shared purpose empowered them to answer the call whenever they could. By aligning her team to a shared vision, celebrating successes, communicating clearly and giving valued team members choice, Trina has created an empowered, effective and compassionate team that has thrived and come together during one of the most significant challenges in decades.

Choose where to put your energy

When you are back in touch with your purpose, it makes it much easier to choose where you want to put your energy. Even when you are exhausted, your purpose will drive you to take just one small step forward.

One example of choosing where to focus your energy comes from our client Dr. Sean Peterson who runs an extremely busy practice out in Sarnia Ontario. By connecting with his purpose and providing the highest quality and responsive care for all his patients, Dr. Peterson has become much clearer on where to focus his time and attention; on activities that align and move him forward with his purpose.

“Providing care to over 4000 patients in an underserved area of the province is extremely demanding on my time and attention. After taking the Evolution of Thinking program and getting clear on my vision for my practice, I became much clearer on where to focus my time and attention. I got better at saying “No” to things that didn’t align with providing the highest quality and responsive care for my patients. As a result, I’ve become more focussed, productive, and responsive.”

Start with just one small habit - something that doesn’t feel overwhelming or too difficult to do and something that can replace one of the pain-numbing relief habits that you have been using. Instead of doom-scrolling in bed at 9pm with a glass of wine on your bedstand, try some of the growth mindset exercises found in our Handbook of Leadership Strategies for High Conflict Situations or put your thoughts on ice by writing down anything that is pulling on your attention and sticking it in the freezer to revisit in the morning.

Remember, being in a Creative Cyclone is a journey and a journey of a million miles starts with a single step. And guess what? By reading this article you have already taken your first step, so pat yourself on the back, smile, and put your positive energy towards the next decision you have to make today.


Checklist: Am I in a reactive or creative cyclone?


I feel like my efforts are never enough

I feel as though I am failing

I feel like I am working harder than ever before yet achieving less

I feel out of control

I feel as though I am letting other people down

I don’t see a way out and I rely on relief habits to numb the pain

Actionable Steps:


My efforts are meaningful and contribute to something

I may not be perfect but I am making progress

I am working efficiently and achieving more than ever

I am in control

I am driven by myself, not by others

I am building small habits that improve my day-to-day

Actionable Steps:

Download a PDF copy of the checklist here.

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