Saturday, 1 September 2012

Q13: How can I keep awake after lunch?

Our reader asks: What are some simple ways to re-engage an audience that starts dozing off because it's after lunch and we are all digesting our food? It's not trivial, I've often been asked to do a presentation at 2:00pm.

I guess this applies to us all! We’re sitting in a meeting, hunched over our computer or attending a presentation – our eyes are growing heavy, our body starts sinking, and it’s all we can do to stop ourselves nodding off …

     How can we keep our energy fresh (after lunch – or anytime)?
And if we facilitate groups: 
     How can we help others do the same?

As a well-seasoned trainer and facilitator, this certainly speaks to me. Some trainers even dub the post-lunch session the ‘graveyard slot’.  I certainly recognise the glazed look, which seeps into people’s faces as those sleepy sensations creep up on them. 

Yet curiously, I’d say I don’t often have a ‘sleepy group’, nor even a ‘sleepy time’ … Why?

Here’s my ABC to staying alert.

A = Acknowledge what's there
Feelings cannot be changed at will. If we feel sleepy, there’s no ‘off’ button. So we need to begin where we are now. Feelings always carry useful messages. If the message of the moment is: Sleep, Rest, Digest food! – then we need to acknowledge this as our starting point. 

Instead of trying to get rid of those feelings, we can include the sleepy feelings, while taking steps to engage some livelier ones. The principle is:

  • Things go more smoothly when we are not in opposition to them

When we oppose people or things, we use valuable time and energy; it adds stress. Yet ‘not opposing’ does not mean we give our ‘difficult’ feelings free rein, so that they take over. We do not ‘fall in’. How do we do this? We engage with them.

B = Be engaged!
The best way to engage feelings (and not to ‘fall in’) is to become curious about them; to notice the many subtle sensations they bring, and their sense that there is always much more going on. 

Sensing feelings – just as they are – needs space. As Gene Gendlin (founder of Focusing) says, “If you want to smell the soup, don’t stick your head into it!” But with soporific sensations, this may seem impossible. If we give sleepiness more room, aren’t we in danger of going to sleep? How can we engage sleepy feelings?

We need to know how energy moves. Energy does not flow in straight lines. We cannot swing our energy about as if we’re driving a racing car. We’re more like an ocean galleon, whose cargo of treasures lies below deck, beneath the surface of the seas. We can turn our energy around, but generally in slow, gentle curves, like the ship’s wake we see etched across the shimmering waters. The skill is knowing how to give ourselves time.

The principle here is:

  • Time spent engaging energy is never wasted 

So while I don’t see a ‘sleepy group’ or a ‘sleepy time’, I certainly see sleepy feelings. And sometimes, a few glazed-over moments is just what we need to discover a new swathe of energy. Feelings need time to engage.

C = Create interest
We engage our energies by becoming interested. Tiredness dissolves as interest grows. Here’s a question:

What would I do, if I wasn’t doing what I’m doing now? 

As you imagine your answer, you can explore the qualities it brings. Once you know what those are, you can consciously cunningly!  – find ways to bring those qualities into the present. 

How would you feel now, if you could find fun and adventure? Would you respond better to challenge, interaction, clarity or support? Whatever it is, once you know what is missing, you can do new things to move you in that direction. Even a 2% increase in that quality may help.

The principle is: 

  • Our energy follows where our interest leads

Creating interested in a group: Tips for facilitators

Carrot not stick: energy naturally moves towards what it likes. Plan exercises or activities to enjoy. 
Respect the needs of the group: if it’s a sleepy time, design quiet activities to match.
Engineer surprises: produce something unexpected which will shift attention and change the energy in the room – an image, a joke, a new exercise.
Ask questions which:
  • get folks to think
  • create discussion
  • draw on people’s own experience
  • explore motivations, benefits, ‘why we’re doing this’.
  • produce longer answers than ‘yes’ or ‘no’ 
  • will mean that you (the facilitator) learn something!
Take care to avoid ‘pub-quiz’ questions: right/wrong answers are rarely motivating for long, and may be disheartening. They also centre the attention unhelpfully on you, the ‘all-knowing’ facilitator.
Empower the group to give answers: explain as little as possible, elicit as much as you can.

Interactive exercises shift the attention away from you, and create activity within the group:
  • break the group into pairs or small discussion groups 
  • create groups of different sizes, kinds and tasks at different times 
  • set clear goals and objectives, e.g. different groups can discuss different issues, and report back to everyone with their findings.
Notice how YOU are, as facilitator: your group is likely to mirror your energies. If you are tired or bored, others will be too. 
Time yourself: don’t talk too long about one thing (8-10 minutes max?) – sleepy people have reduced attention spans!
Expand people’s connections with each other – suggest folks move to a different seat to meet new people.
Relax: you are most engaging when real and genuine – don’t falsely pep up your own energy to gee up the group’s.
Explore the group’s needs openly: ask them what they want or need just now to feel engaged.
Short bursts of activity: variety and change keep energies moving.
Tell a (relevant) story: people love a good tale!


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  2. Hi Elizabeth.
    Thanks for your thoughts on the sleepy afternoon feelings. It does really help me to just acknowledge what my body is telling me. I appreciate your thinking and experience very much.
    Also.. I have recently been studying the chinese 5 element cycle and thought you might be interested to know (if you don't know already) that between 11am and 1pm is the time to nurture baby Yin, which means resting/sleeping even before or after your meal to nourish the body. They say that the body starts to enter the equivalent of Autumn at this time, a sort of pulling the energies in. If people don't rest around this time the body starts to get exhausted and can eventually burn out and of course by 2pm if we haven't rested digested we will be truly tired. They say the best time for activity is between 5am and 11-12am more or less (during the summer) then after resting a while to start to take it more easy. So do exercises and vigorous thinking early during the day and more gentle things as the day goes on. I think it's very interesting and for me it seems to have helped my energy levels throughout the day and also helps the sleep at night because the energy has been calmer as the days draws to an end. They suggest going to bed when the darkness settles and wake with the sun.
    I love to do this though it is difficult having a working/social life! How to arrange moving through the day in this way when our western world is geared up for constant all day activity is a tricky one.
    best wishes

  3. A familiar problem. When I worked in London, i tried to get ten minutes flat on the floor relaxing (snoozing) after lunch. But, when facilitating or lecturing, having read your recent tip, I wonder if inviting the group to enjoy ten minutes of total group relaxation, during which many will drop off to sleep, followed by a few minutes of vigorous group physical exercise wd solve the problem. We often feel sleepy at that time because our bodies need to digest food. Wendy.

  4. Hello Elizabeth.
    Thanks very much for the 'Communication' email & info. Very interesting reading which reminds me of several teacher/training sessions that I attended over 20yrs or so.
    One guest speaker I cannot remember the name of did a session on communication & how to be one step ahead of the rest & deal with some situations. A couple of pointers he got over that I remember were:- A Lord Kitchener type poster saying 'Stay Alert,Britain needs Lerts' ( laughter followed) and a cartoon type picture of a Polar bear sitting on ice with a little penguin behind him holding a large pair of cymbals. The caption said, ' do something daring & run like hell'.

    So after lunch when I was behind the closed curtains on our school stage when I was preparing for another guest speaker while the Head Teacher was speaking, the MEGO ('my eyes glaze over') factor kicked in.
    I remember from my previous work both in the Royal Navy that a logo was asking ,'can you react quicker than most people can think'.
    Well '!'yes was my answer, so I grabbed a large pair of brass cymbals, I clanged them together really loud & legged it.
    The Head Teacher jumped out of her skin, as did the audience, & I got the hell out of there.

    She woke up, they woke up & I got a telling off . Am I bothered? Of course not. A fun thing got them all to laugh,relax & stay awake for the rest of the afternoon.

    Hope this makes you smile as I believe & will always do so that a bit of laugther makes life interesting & worthwhile etc..
    Kind regards,

  5. "Eat a large bar of chocolate!"