Stability vs equilibrium

I attended a workshop this afternoon through Wash U: Self-Leadership During Change, Disruption, and Uncertainty, presented by Judy Shen-Filerman of Dreambridge Partners.

There was one point from the workshop that has stuck in my head: the difference between finding stability and equilibrium. I don't think she couched it quite in those terms, but that's the idea that got fixed in my brain.

I tend to use stability and equilibrium as synonyms to mean that something is in a nice steady state that can't be disturbed. That's not quite right. That nice steady state is more like stability—stable equilibrium, where something rolls to the bottom of a valley and stays there until something comes along and pushes it out, and it will roll back if it's bothered just a little.  Equilibrium can also be unstable (balance that ball on top of the hill—not moving but once it does, there it goes) and neutral (balance that ball on a table).

The point is: there is no such thing as stability right now. Today's peak is tomorrow's rockfall. Today's valley is choked with trees next week. It's not a problem, it just is.

Equilibrium, however, is that point in the system where things are tending to go. It doesn't need to be stable, or static. It doesn't need to be the minimum or maximum for the whole system. It may shift—let it. That's what we need now—find that state where we can settle for a while—for this moment or this day or however long. Then be flexible and find it again.

Maybe stability isn't even the end goal as the external situation improves. Maybe balance is. Manage all those external forces and keep your own self steady instead of finding a place to fall back to.

One more thing from the workshop: reset expectations. There is Time Before and Time During. (And also there's Time After, but another relevant bit of advice was that only the short term is reliable right now.) What you can do now is surely less than what you could do before. I feel like I'm a step ahead of this one. I don't regiment things as much as I did, say, four weeks ago—give the day a few small routines and goals, but let it play out on its own. I keep some time set aside for considering what's next, but I'm comfortable keeping the future fuzzy and letting the plans change. Some days are good focus days and some days are bad focus days. Adjust—keep things tight and pull on the good days, and let the rope go slack on the inevitable bad days. 


Some links for the road:

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