47 – Live Boldly in a Busy World – Alison Hill

Author - Stand Out

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In a world where ‘busy’ has become a badge of honour, the emotional state of overwhelm has spread like a virus.

Alison Hill is here to help.

In her work as ‘Australia’s coolest psychologist’ Alison has noticed in our work environments that some people are coping with the era of perpetual change much better than others.

What’s the difference? Why do some survive and thrive in the face of restructures and disruption – while others drown emotionally.

In this episode of the podcast we explore the reasons for overwhelm. We break it into 3 common cognitive states – not all overwhelm is the same!

And, of course, we share some practical advise for moving forward in your life with clarity and purpose.


Lessons Learned

Here’s what I took from the episode:

Own up

It is the leader’s role in a team setting to show vulnerably – e.g ‘I don’t have all the answers’. It breaks the ice and brings a truly human element to group dynamics – rather than an artificial environment of perfection

‘Leadership is defined by the ability to step people through uncertainty’

As a society we are not great at owning up to our mistakes – often our reflex is to look for someone else to blame.

Equally, we are not great at owning up to what we are good at – the stuff that gets our engines revving. The type of work we find enjoyable and rewarding.

This is a huge lost opportunity – we are all different, so it makes sense for leaders to know what floats the boat of the people they work with so they can engineer work assignments to meet the preferences of individuals.

Owning up to strengths is important in the pursuit of authentic leadership – to become the best version of yourself – you need to deeply understand your talents and strengths


As organisations find themselves in an era of constant change – restructures, disruption, the need to do more – there is some serious collateral damage. Individuals are exhausted and losing a sense of who they are. There is a feeling that there is no end in sight.

As human beings we have never worked in this way – at this pace of change.

‘It’s like we haven’t built up the right muscles yet’

Cognitive States

In observing organisations in a state of constant change, Alison noticed that some groups and individuals managed the change very differently. While some are coping well, thriving in the new opportunities presented by change, others are drowning emotionally – feeling overwhelmed and under pressure.

Alison created a beautifully, simple quadrant model that demonstrates the intersection between purpose and progress

Cognitive States - Overwhelm - Alison Hill

Check Out  – Low purpose and low progress. We feel like we are getting nowhere – going through the motions.

Often in this state, in an effort to get going, we get busy – but have not connected with our sense of purpose. So we are in danger of moving to…

Burn Out – Busy but lacking purpose. We are in a zombie routine. We get up in the morning and wash coffee over our worries, rush through the day, have a glass of wine at night, then fall into bed. Rinse and repeat.

Often in this state our health suffers – sleep, nutrition and movement.

If we move from this state into being clear on our purpose, we know why we do what we are doing, we are passionate…but not making any purpose…we may move to…

Freak Out – Clear in our purpose but not making progress. A state where the people around us are sick of hearing us talk about what we are going to do because they’ve heard about if for a long time and nothing is happening.

This can lead to freak out because the lack of progress causes us to doubt our purpose and commitment.

The state of overwhelm can came as much from inertia as it can from being busy.

In this state we don’t need any more navel-gazing or purpose seeking. Freak out can be characterised by procrastination.

The motto should be – ‘what’s the action that gets the traction’

What to do..

If so many of us are finding ourselves in one of these three cognitive state – the different flavours of overwhelm – what do we do about it?

The key, according to Alison, is to focus on those two drivers of change – purpose and progress.

Two key questions:

  1. Why am I doing this?
  2. What’s next?

It’s important to note that the idea of purpose is not necessarily that confrontingly grand question of why are you here on this earth. It can be just as relevant to ask, why are we having this meeting at 9 o’clock? What’s the purpose?

It’s important to give yourself a chance to pause and get off the treadmill for a while – to give yourself a chance to see the woods in the trees.

Hit the RESET button

Stand Out – is the state in which we have a healthy balance of purpose and progress in our lives. We are clear on our purpose and are making progress.

It’s important to note that the four states – check out, freak out, burn out and stand out – are not static. They are not identity badges that are locked in. We may move between them from hour to hour through the day.

Stand Out - Alison Hill

A Final Word

  • Get clear on the stuff that it important to you
  • Make changes incrementally
  • Write a list of the things that nourish your soul – and find time for them

Connect – Alison Hill



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