The Inner Work of Changemaking:
Nine Core Skills for Growing Impact & Joy

This complex moment in time demands a complex skill set. To show up as effectively as possible and nourish our energy for the long haul, we need skills that help us move toward justice and joy, contribution and connection, collective liberation and personal healing.

Over the past ten years of coaching changemakers to effectively rise to their personal and collective challenges, I’ve identified nine core inner skills of changemaking—skills we need to heal burnout, increase our efficacy, and find joy in the long haul.

Here they are:

One: Tracking Glimmers.

With all the heartache and injustice in this world, overcoming our negativity bias and focusing on what’s good can be hard. But when we get sucked into a culture of commiseration or don’t focus our attention on what’s working, we’re likely to feel drained and miss out on opportunities for change.

To cultivate resilience in ourselves and our teams/comrades/communities, imagine the futures we long for, and find joy in the long haul, we must learn to celebrate what works.

Two: Pausing & Soothing Our Nervous System.

The life of a changemaker is full of stressors. If we don’t have practices to help us pause and soothe our nervous systems when we’re stressed or when our habitual patterns are activated, we’re apt to react in ways we later regret and get stuck in counterproductive downward spirals.

When we practice noticing that we’re activated, pausing, and quickly soothing our nervous systems, we can more easily shift from reacting unconsciously to choosing consciously and courageously. We increase our ability to respond far more effectively and feel proud of ourselves.

Three: Turning Toward Ourselves with Warmth & Care

Most of us are taught from an early age to forsake our own needs and treat ourselves in ways we wouldn’t dare treat anyone else. When we don’t offer ourselves kindness and warmth, we are more likely to show up in ways that don’t truly honor ourselves or our relationships and burn ourselves out.

When we’re stuck, struggling, or hurting, after we pause, our next step is to turn toward ourselves with warmth and care. By offering ourselves love and kindness, we can begin to heal old traumas, and the more we heal our wounds, the more we cultivate the capacity to offer a healing presence in the world and to show up confidently.

Honoring Feelings & Needs

Four: Honoring Feelings & Needs.

After we pause and turn toward ourselves with love and kindness, our next step toward consciously choosing our response is to listen to what we feel, what we need, and what our situation needs.

Unfortunately, dominant culture teaches us to ignore what’s most important: our body’s signals, our deepest longings, and our communities’ needs. But we can reclaim our ability to tap into our body’s subtle intuition. When we do, we access profound guidance that helps us discern our focus, respond effectively to the most challenging situations, nourish our energy for the long haul, and listen deeply to others, even across difference and divide.

Five: Shifting Perspective.

Each of us views the world through channels of perception—mental filters containing all of the stories we’ve gathered through our lifetimes about who we are, what is possible, and how the world works. While many of these stories support us, others block us from seeing others clearly and perceiving possibilities for change. The more we can clear our lens, the easier it becomes to consciously choose our response to our challenges.

Shifting perspective is easier than most people think. By shining light on our thoughts, separating what’s happening from our interpretations of what’s happening, and choosing a story that serves us more, we can soothe our shame, reclaim our agency, and show up more effectively.

Six: Clarifying Values, Visions, & Commitments.

With so many competing demands on our time, it’s easy to feel torn between priorities and wind up spending our time on things that are not our priorities.

When we clearly articulate our core values, clarify our vision of the future we long for, and create embodied commitments, we stop living at the mercy of the outside world. It becomes far easier to align our lives with our values and focus on what matters most—personally, professionally, and collectively.

Seven: Focusing on What Matters Most.

We live in a time of unprecedented options, incessant demands, and a productivity culture that convinces us that if only we work faster or harder, we should be able to do it all. As a result, most people say yes too often and live with a vague sense of angst about everything they have to do.

Although we mere mortals do not have the power to make or find or manage time, we can learn to relate consciously with time. We can learn reliable tools that help us discern our priorities, dedicate time to what matters most, and focus on the important stuff. When we do, our nos and yeses become clearer and kinder, and we access an inner sense of calm.

Eight: Letting Go.

It’s not easy to follow a calling—a longing to rise to a new challenge that is greater than yourself. To embody the people we’re called to be, we must pass through many gates—moments of great decision, completion, letting go, and scary choices.

When we recognize that we’re facing a choice, identify what we need to say yes to and what we need to say no to, and courageously take our next step, we become the leaders life calls us to be. And we create a life we’re proud of (even when we’re called to do nothing).

Nine: Gathering Allies.

If twenty-three years as an activist has taught me anything, it’s this: Friendship is the basic building block of a thriving social movement. Tons of research backs up the fact that the strength of our relationships is the most significant factor contributing to our healing, well-being, efficacy, and joy. And yet, rather than teaching us to tend to each other, dominant culture teaches us to neglect our relationships, avoid asking for help, and communicate our needs in less-than-helpful ways.

When we learn to identify and reach out for the support we need with clarity and kindness—and skillfully tend to our relationships—we expand our potential for impact and joy.

When we consistently engage in the inner work of changemaking, these practices turn into skills we can rely on long into the future.

But often, most of us need compassionate accountability and guidance to develop these skills, get through the challenging moments, and make lasting change.

If you long for support to develop these skills, I invite you to learn more about the Changemakers’ Mentorship program and my other coaching programs and courses. Click to learn more.

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