Guest blog by Becky Harmon, Zingela Ulwazi.

Over the past year, I have observed the members of the Changing Practice group growing and maturing as they have moved through the Changing Practice modules, by seeing them at meetings and reading their posts on What’s App.  They are all very courageous and effective environmental activists, standing up to some powerful corporate and government officials, on behalf of their communities.  I was honored to be asked to work with these incredible people on transforming three important areas of their lives and how they function as leaders:  Time, Money and Agreements. 

The discussion on Time Management quickly morphed into a deeper exploration of Attention Management. We traversed the continuum of attention from distraction to flow.  

We reviewed the latest brain research on how we can change how our brain functions and how we feel through our attention, We learned that when you master attention management, you’ll do better work, more meaningful work, and avoid burnout. 

We then experimented with a couple of tools for practicing attention management:  giving your full attention to whatever is in front of you, no matter how trivial, and the “3 Breath Break”. 

The topic of Money started with a more personal look at “the flow” of money;  a balancing of giving and receiving. 

I shared some of the principles about transforming our relationship with money that have been important in my life and work.  Then we looked at how the participants make decisions and handle relationships (with donors, community members, staff) when money is a factor.  We then talked about the key elements of budgeting and they worked with their own budgets for their final Changing Practice project and presented them to the group.  It was very interesting to see the different decisions the groups made in how they would spend their money, and what informed those choices. 

Our final topic was about Agreements.  All concurred that the basis of any agreement is the relationship between parties.  We acknowledged that as leaders at the forefront of the environmental social justice movement, how they show up is as important, if not more important, than what they do.  The participants spent some time drawing their image of themselves as an ideal leader and considering the qualities they feel aligned with, so they were aware of what really matters to them. 

We covered the brain research that shows that 60% of all conversations are people talking about themselves.   We looked at how important communication is, and “the flow” of balancing listening and speaking. 

We talked about the many different types of agreements they would need to be aware of in their work as leaders, and the importance of being very clear about what their agreements are with others, when working in a cooperative or a collaborative. 

To close out our time together, we looked at one more piece of brain research from Dacher Keltner, the founding director of the Greater Good Science Center, that addresses why it is so vital to pay attention to the quality of our social interactions: strong connections add 10 years to our life expectancy; strong connections are a powerful predictor of happiness. 

The research shows the four most critically important things we can do that determine the quality of our social interactions. 

  1. Practice Kindness—Our brain is wired to “make it feel good to do good”.
  2. Be generous—research shows when we share money with another person we feel happier than when we spend it on ourselves. It doesn’t have to be a large amount of money or even money alone. There area many ways to be generous with others that do not involve money—giving compliments, helping someone by giving your time to help them, sharing the harvest from your garden…
  3. Practice gratitude
  4. Seek awe and beauty