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Recently, Soapbox Project, the environmental justice community I run, witnessed our first toxic conflict on one of our LIVE events. 🪦
I’ll share more about conflict management in another article, but after this Live Conflict, I did not know what to do with my emotions. Tactically, I knew the next steps I should take for the health of our community to promote healthy disagreement (we ❤️ dissent, truly). But I literally did not know what to do with myself, as a human. I felt so dysregulated and straight up wack.
And I realized something.
You can’t manage a community without managing yourself first. So I was in quite the pickle, sitting at my desk, completely unmanaged.
Thankfully, when community-related challenges arise, I know where to turn for advice or at least solidarity: communities of other community builders.
Last year, I took Tatiana Figueiredo’s Build a Community Business course (which I highly recommend). I posted in the BACB community asking what the heck I should do with myself. Excerpted:
How do you protect your energy in the aftermath [of a conflict]?
I'm finding it hard to get anything else done today and it's really running in my head on repeat. Both the incident itself AND knowing how much I need to do next -- setting up clearer guidelines and reinforcing them live, giving new members training on communication etc. etc. and I feel like I am in a suuuper weird headspace. Thoughts? Advice? Solidarity?
Every response to my post was helpful, kind, and judgment-free (again, more on that some other time), and but I really want to highlight part of Tatiana’s response:
I generally block off the time after an event to do nothing for a bit. Even the ones that go super well tend to be draining for me, so I realized that taking a break is the best use of that time. I also have a little routine I do when something upsets me during the day and I need a reset (I take a long walk to get a slice of pizza and a grape soda)
As with many things that Tatiana says, this was a GAME. CHANGER.
Seriously. The long walk, pizza, and grape soda thing has changed my life.
It’s shown me that as community facilitators, we need OUR OWN rituals. Not ones that are for our community members. Not ones that celebrate others. Not ones that are penciled into a content calendar for social media.
We need self-care rituals. For our selves. To be cared for.
We all need the equivalent of a long walk to get a slice of pizza.
Why should you have self-care rituals as an online community builder?
Let me start by saying self-care rituals are NOT just for when you’re having an off moment. They’re for always. They are rituals.
There’s a zillion reasons every community facilitator should have at LEAST one self-care ritual. But the underlying reason behind all zillion of them is that we spend most of our time caring for others. Our job is emotionally intense. Self-care rituals are one of the many tools we can put in place to ensure that we are cared for and prevent ourselves from burning out.
I like to think about the science of self-care rituals through two main frameworks. Both of these reduce our cognitive load (aka brain energy aka our precious resource that we NEED as community builders):
- Pre-loaded statements
Reason 1: Form habits, create a virtuous cycle, and prevent burnout
I’m guessing you’ve read (or at least heard of) Atomic Habits by James Clear.
Here’s a quick visual summary:
If that chart is too much for you, the main concept is that to form habits that stick, you have to make them obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying.
That “satisfying” part — or the reward we get when completing a habit — is what we often miss.
It’s important to reward ourselves for doing something good! After all, aren’t we building in those kinds of incentives into our community all the time for members?
Whether you’re hosting an event, finally completing a user research sprint, scheduling weekly prompts, or something else, you deserve a reward. You deserve a long walk, a slice of pizza, and a grape soda, or whatever else floats your boat. 🚣🏾♂️
Since we’re constantly giving our energy to others, it’s easy to burn out (especially on the toxic hellhole of the internet, lol). Let’s avoid that by treating ourselves and setting up a virtuous habit cycle that empowers us to do more good!
Reason 2: Come prepared with pre-loaded statements to reduce situational anxiety
Here’s a life-changing but amazingly simple concept I learned about: pre-loaded responses. It’s basically a fancy word for “if-then statements”. In The Power of Moments, the first book I recommended on my 2022 roundup list, the authors cite the following study:
The psychologist Peter Gollwitzer has studied the way this preloading affects our behavior. His research shows that when people make advance mental commitments — if X happens, then I will do Y — they are more substantially likely to act in support of their goals than people who lack those mental plans. Someone who has committed to drink less alcohol, for instance, might resolve , 'When a waiter asks if I want a second drink, I'll ask for sparkling water." And that person is far more likely to turn down the drink than someone else who shares the same goal but has no preloaded plan.
It’s time to pre-load our commitment to ourselves! Think about how much brainpower that saves! You’re welcome, brain 🧠
In this same way, self-care rituals can be pre-loaded responses for common situations we run into, like conflict, losing motivation, feeling imposter syndrome, doing a weekly admin task you hate, etc.
Here are some examples of self-care rituals for YOU.
Walking, breathing, and sleeping are all good ideas. Maybe even taking a hot shower. Mix and match as needed.
You’ll notice I’ve changed the language around for some of them — instead of if/then, it might say before/after, when/then, or something else. Use what works for you!
Think of this as an “example bank” — you should adapt this to what YOU love!
- When I schedule a live event for my community, I will block 30 minutes of time afterwards to rest.
- When I finish hosting a live event, I will take a long walk and get a bagel from the place across the street.
- If I feel like I’m doing a bad job as a community facilitator, I will take a hot shower and process my thoughts.
- If I’ve had a heated discussion with someone, I will go bike 20 minutes and plunge into the Puget Sound. If it’s winter, I will take a cold shower (lol this is just an example you will not catch me taking a cold shower)
- If a community member gives me a compliment, I will IMMEDIATELY write it down on my Wall of Love. I will schedule 5 minutes at the beginning of each week to look at my Wall.
- If I have more than three back to back meetings, I will schedule a boxing class at the end of the day.
- If I feel unmotivated, I will walk to the library and check out a book.
- If I write my newsletter ahead of time and don’t procrastinate as usual, I will treat myself to ice cream!
- Every time I schedule a post, I will do a happy dance to my favorite song.
- After I successfully finish leading a quarterly cohort, I will treat myself to a nice dinner.
Here are some common “ifs” that you might want a self-care ritual for in the context of online communities:
- Live events
- Hiring someone
- Launching a new program
- Designing an email sequence
- Updating your website
- Talking 1:1 with a member
- Getting harsh feedback
- Getting positive feedback
- Clearing all your notifications
This is not a comprehensive list, but I hope your brain is excited for some self-care! It’s HARD to feel responsible for the emotions of more than one human being (which is already a hard baseline). The internet makes many things a lot easier, but not this. Take care of yourself! 💝
What rituals do you currently have for yourself? What will you put into place for 2023?