Last month I went to Activate, conference-retreat and, as was the case last time at Hollyhock, I underwent a transformative experience. Last time the setting was different—it was a conflict skills workshop, where hours and hours of internal work was expected. This time, although I was there to network and improve digital skills, the grounds and people still gave me space to grow, which was amazing.

I picked up more than a few nuggets of gold that I can here and now refine into a guide post of sorts.

Speak to the emotion

Mo Dhaliwal's lecture was about using branding to speak to the audience's emotional brain, rather than the rational brain. Tyler Michaels briefly touched on using scripted chat boxes to reach audiences at scale, and either he or Micaiah (from Avalanche Strategy) said something about modulating the tone to reach the emotional center. The first level is to match tone for tone, like anger with anger, which is what Trump does very well. The second level is more nuanced, which is to match it with a complementary tone, like anger with kindness, or despair with hope, something Obama managed very well.

I find myself doing the first with my children quite well—I can echo their feelings and hear their hearts (though whether I manage to soothe them is a different skill...). Difficulty lvl. 2 is something I've observed when others use it on me, usually when it misfires and the tone-shift comes too soon, but now I'm observing it more when it does work. There is a moment of stillness when one reaches the end of the negative feelings, and the tone-shift must come in the moment of readiness; too fast and the person feels you haven't heard them, too late and the opportunity is lost.

Feed with gratitude

My ability to do emotional work (or any other unpaid labour really) depends on how much I've filled up "my cup." For me, nothing fills up my cup more than words of affirmation—my primary love language.

While this is no news to me, at Hollyhock I was overwhelmingly recharged with an activity we did on the last day: the Gratitude Circle. In our small group—our pod—we took turns being bombarded by gratitude from the other group members. We were not allowed to deny nor deflect the compliments, but rather had to sit and soak in the gratitude. The compliments from my pod were specific, thoughtful, and relevant. Some of them highlighted the skills that I've been practising, and it was powerful to see them reaffirmed by different eyes.

Soon after I returned to the mainland, I started feeling down because I wasn't able to get the same level of charge in my most intimate relationships. I observed the negative feelings and did a quick fear-setting exercise: if Mr Halfling never utters another compliment to me, could I live with that? If yes, then how? The answer to it is to build relationships with those who can dole out love in my preferred language (e.g my besties and my teacher), and a lot, lot more self-love.

Earlier this month I went to a very timely gratitude workshop. With my teacher, I practised giving myself gratitude and love for the things that I do. I think, often, the worry is that too much self-love makes one boastful, nasty. But what I actually find is that I take criticisms much better when I'm filled up, in that, I can better discern what's mine and what's not (and usually it's not). I can ask others to edit my speeches without conflating that with editing me. I can see that when my children or Mr Fishtron say a negative thing about my cooking, it's not about my effort nor my love, it's just about the food, which frankly, objectively really wasn't super great.