Darcy Luoma, a coach and consultant, will speak at the Legislative Staff Breakfast at NCSL’s Legislative Summit in Indianapolis in August. Before founding her consulting business, Luoma had extensive experience working on Capitol Hill, working on two presidential campaigns and as a senior adviser to a governor. She has also worked with state legislators and staff. Luoma discussed her Thoughtfully Fit approach and how it can help legislative staff and the rest of us cope with stress. She also shared that her Summit presentation will focus on how to develop flexibility that allows you to work well with people who are different from you. She also talked about resilience in the face of trauma and tragedy in her own life that helped her hone these coping skills.
Darcy Luoma, a coach and consultant, will speak at the Legislative Staff Breakfast at NCSL’s Legislative Summit in Indianapolis in August. Before founding her consulting business, Luoma had extensive experience working on Capitol Hill, working on two presidential campaigns and as a senior adviser to a governor. She has also worked with state legislators and staff.
Luoma discussed her Thoughtfully Fit approach and how it can help legislative staff and the rest of us cope with stress. She also shared that her Summit presentation will focus on how to develop flexibility that allows you to work well with people who are different from you.
She also talked about resilience in the face of trauma and tragedy in her own life that helped her hone these coping skills.
Ed: Hello and welcome to “Our American States,” a podcast from the National Conference of State Legislatures. This podcast is all about legislatures, the people in them, the policies, process, and politics that shape them. I’m your host Ed Smith.
DL: If you want to be physically fit, you need to train and practice. And in the same way, if you want to be thoughtful, l if you want to handle yourself thoughtfully, handle your challenges thoughtfully, you need to train and practice. It doesn’t just happen.
Ed: That was Darcy Luoma CEO of Darcy Luoma Coaching and Consulting. She will be speaking to the legislative staff breakfast at NCSL’s Legislative Summit in Indianapolis in August. Before founding her consulting business, Luoma had extensive experience working on Capital Hill, working on 2 presidential campaigns and as a senior advisor to a governor. She has also worked with state legislators and staff. Luoma discussed her thoughtfully fit approach, how it can help legislative staff and the rest of us cope with stress..
She also talked about resilience in the face of trauma and tragedy in her own life that helped her hone these coping skills. Here is our discussion. Darcy thanks for coming on the podcast.
DL: Oh it’s such a pleasure to be here today Ed.
Ed: You will be speaking at NCSL’s Legislative Summit in August in Indianapolis. To start, I wonder if you could give listeners an idea of your background and your path to where you are today.
DL: I’m happy to. I actually started my career like the first 20 years in politics and working in the government and for campaigns. I worked for two governors and a U.S. senator and did advance for a couple of presidential campaigns. So, I was working for Herb Kohl, running his office when he announced he was retiring. He announced in 2012. That’s when I hired a coach to figure out what was next for me. And she helped me to clear away all of the internal trash talk and you know those saboteurs and helped me identify my true passion which was to start my own business doing coaching and consulting. So, I’ve been doing that for the last 10 years and in that role, I’ve coached a lot of legislative staffers and senators and state legislators. So, I’ve got a long history and background. As a matter of fact, I attended my first NCSL conference back in the early 90’s when I was working for a state public policy organization.
Ed: Talk a little bit about this Thoughtfully Fit approach. How this pause, think, act approach works.
DL: Yes, so Thoughtfully Fit was the model that I developed after taking oh it was probably about 5 years doing a deep dive research on what are the top hurdles that get in the way of peak performance whether you know personally or professionally. And what I started to notice, Ed, is that every person every client that came into a coaching conversation had similar challenges that they would bring in. And so, after coaching thousands of people over the last 19 years, we researched and found that there are six main obstacles and hurdles that get in the way of peak performance. Those six hurdles became the six practices of Thoughtfully Fit. And it’s a metaphor of for if you are want to be physically fit, you need to train and practice. And in the same way, if you want to be thoughtfully fit. If you want to handle yourself thoughtfully. Handle your challenges thoughtfully, you need to train and practice. It doesn’t just happen.
Ed: I was a long-time marathon runner when I was younger so I appreciate the need to stay fit. But I also know that sometimes things happen that can be difficult to get past. You had a particularly traumatic event in your life and I wonder if you could talk about that and also if you can talk about the nature of resilience and how you explored that in the aftermath of this event.
DL: Absolutely. I mean what’s ironic Ed. I don’t know if that’s the right word, but crazy is that after all of that research we developed Thoughtfully Fit the model officially came to life in March of 2016. I hired a PR firm and a marketing consultant to help us put it out into the world in a big way and we were so excited. And then five days later, I got a phone call from my neighbor telling me that there were 50 police cars and a swat team and officers surrounding my house. And I wasn’t home at the time. And it turns out that my husband – it was the day before our 10-year wedding anniversary. My husband was a full-time stay at home dad to our two young daughters. He was arrested for sexual assault of a minor and he was put in jail that night and he did not come home. He ultimately was sentenced to federal prison for 10 years and it turned my world completely upside down. And to talk about resilience. I mean I define resilience as being able to come through adversity and obstacles whether big or small and come out the other side stronger. When my husband was arrested, boy, I didn’t think I’d ever get out of it. I never thought I would smile again. I certainly wasn’t thinking about resilience and you know how I could navigate this. And the charges were so severe, I had to hire my own attorney and my attorney said Darcy don’t talk to anybody about anything. So, in my worst moment, I became ground zero to test drive this brand-new market model that we had just put out into the marketplace. And having to be able to practice you now pausing. The core of Thoughtfully Fit is to pause, think and then act. Having to practice that in my own life in an extreme way. And luckily because I had been training and practicing you know for a long time; I had a strong core. So I was able to navigate that and get to the other side where I’m talking to you about it today.
Ed: Beyond your own trauma at dealing with this, you also had children that you needed to take care of. I’ve talked to people in the past who have had terrible things happen in their lives and it’s always interesting the degree to which children often pull us through because we recognize the absolute necessity of no matter how much we want to stay in bed for the rest of our lives, we absolutely have to move. We have to take action. Can you talk about that a little bit.
DL: Oh absolutely. If I didn’t have my daughters as motivation to do the work and the therapy and to work through this, I don’t know whether I would have the strength and fortitude and resilience. But you are 100% right. Those girls needed me now more than ever. They had never gone to bed at night without their dad reading them a bedtime story and making breakfast for them. And so, at that moment, I had a choice to make and it wasn’t easy. But I’ll tell you what and even my I hired a crisis communications firm because my consulting business is built on reputation and I was very scared that this was all over. The news media and social media and the newspaper and I was really scared. So, I actually ended up sending my daughters to another state to Minnesota to live with my sister during the immediate aftermath for the couple of months because we had media trucks out front and you know just it was pretty intense for a while. And I remember the crisis communicator saying to me Darcy you can do what’s right or you can do what’s easy. The right thing to do right now is to protect your girls and to make the best decisions for them, which was so hard because all of a sudden, I went from living my life to husband is gone. The house is destroyed by a search warrant and now my daughters are gone. And then I took a leave from my business to deal with the aftermath and finally a divorce and dealing with trying to get all my confiscated computers and everything back and so it really turned my world just completely upside down. But to your original question, I absolutely knew and made a choice that I was going to get through it for my girls.
Ed: As I looked over the information on your website and the description of your pause, think, act approach, I started thinking about how I respond. I think I start with the think phase. How do you get somebody like me to take this three-step approach?
DL: Well, it’s interesting you said that Ed because people listening probably will recognize that they also have a default so it sounds like your default, your strength is the think. But our strengths taken to the extreme can become a weakness so you overthink and you ruminate and you get analysis paralysis. So, the key is to do all 3 in order and so some people really have a hard time pausing and you know they just jump right into action and unfortunately that means can mean that you overreact you know and possibly fire off an email or hit reply all. Other people are really good at thinking and being able to explore the situation from multiple perspectives, but then overthink and get analysis paralysis and never actually go have that tough conversation they’ve been ruminating on. The people who are good at pausing that’s their strength, but it might turn into a 5-hour Netflix binge of avoidance.
I’ll give an example for each of those and in that I’ll share for you. If you have a hard time pausing, I always say there’s something I do called the pause pinch where you can put up your left hand like the shape of an L and then take the thumb and forefinger of your right and pinch the webbing in between your other and I call this the pause pinch. And if you find that there is a constituent that’s come into the office and is angry or there’s a lobbyist that has called and is chewing you out and you are having a hard time pausing to get off of autopilot, you can pinch there and take a breath and count to 3. And that can be just enough to get you out of autopilot to pause to then think and to ask yourself some questions. Now this is your strength as you talked about Ed. Try on different perspectives and create some new awareness. But then the key is you have to make a decision and take some action. You can’t just keep thinking and thinking and over thinking. So that’s what critical then is at some point and sometimes you can decide yourself okay I’ll going to give myself a day to think about this. Or I’m going to think about it and then by the end of the day talk to my colleagues to tell them what my plan is. So that there is some kind of accountability that you have that you move forward and take action.
Ed: Thanks Darcy. We will be right back with the rest of our conversation after this short break.
(TM): 11:51 advertisement/music
This group of people you will be speaking with in Indianapolis, these legislative staff jobs can be very high stress particularly when legislatures are in session. How does this approach help in those stressful situations?
DL: Oh, it’s essential. I mean when there’s a high stress situation if you can train yourself and that’s why I say it takes training and you have to do it over and over again. You have to practice the pause, think, act in the small things so that it becomes more natural in the big things. Well, you are a marathon runner. You can’t do a marathon and then say oh I’m fit the rest of my life. After the marathon is done and you celebrate and you heal and recover you need to keep training and practicing to stay fit. It’s the same way with being Thoughtfully Fit. It’s a constant practice. Depending on what your challenge is guaranteed that the people that are listening, the people who are working in the state legislature absolutely have high stress situations whether it’s from other legislatures of different parties. Whether it’s from lobbyists. Whether it’s from constituents. Whether it’s other legislative staffers that you are frustrated with and not getting along with. There are always opportunities. The key is raise your awareness on what is your biggest challenge and then to really consciously if you know that you don’t pause, that’s the chance you need to do the pause pinch so that when somebody comes and calls and says I can’t believe that your legislators are going to vote no on this. Instead of saying well sir and jumping right in and getting defensive you pause and take a breath and think okay what’s the best way I can show up right now. How can I respond that will connect with this person instead of make them further get defensive or angry. And then act from that place. And maybe you can calmy say oh my gosh. I can hear it sounds like you are really frustrated and you disagree with the vote that my boss is going to take. I’d love to hear what do you disagree about it and what’s your opinion. And you can respond thoughtfully and have a dialogue instead of being on autopilot. So there are a lot of opportunities if you are paying attention and looking for them.
Ed: Well, I’ve been on the other end of those phone calls so many times particularly when I was a newspaper editor. I think that’s good advice because the worse thing you can do is just start arguing with someone. And most of the time, people in those situations they just want to get it off of their chest. They want to say their peace. They don’t really expect you to change what you’ve done. They want to make sure that you know their point of view.
DL: Well 100% and to that point, I think that’s where pausing to think before acting is critical and I know when I was working in the senator’s office one of the things I would notice is exactly what you said. Somebody calls in and they are angry and they say I didn’t get my VA check or you know whatever it is. If the staff person went right to the content before connecting first and said well sir you know that’s actually a federal issue and we are state. And then they well I don’t care. My taxpayers, my tax dollars pay your salary. You know and then they escalate. They just want to be heard and so if you can connect and say oh wow that sounds really hard. That sounds frustrating. I can understand why you are upset and you match their energy and you connect with them first before going to the content of whatever the message is. Yeah, they are going to be more likely to calm down and to not escalate. That’s the power of handling yourself thoughtfully.
Ed: Let me ask you about coaching. You are an extraordinarily experienced coach and there is an awful lot of coaching that goes on in the legislative world. What are your tips as someone who has so much background in this?
DL: Coaching is so powerful and the one tip that I want to start with is that coaching is not mentoring. And a lot of people who haven’t trained and got certified and really studied coaching think that coaching is about giving advice and helping the person to fix and solve their problem. But indeed, coaching is really about you hold the other person as the expert and you get curious and you ask questions and you hold up the mirror. And in that new awareness then that you helped them design some specific actions on how they are going to move forward. In mentoring and both have incredible value but they are different. If I’m coming to you Ed as a coach, I’m holding you as the expert and you say oh, I’m so frustrated. I don’t know what to do. I’ll say well what’s frustrating about this relationship and what would it look like if it was less frustrating. And what’s the gap between what is frustrating now and that vision of having a stronger relationship and what have you already tried. Whereas if I’m mentoring you, I’m the expert. I’ve been there. I’ve done this. Let me give you advice. Here is what you should do. Go and talk to this person and say this. Don’t say that. They both have value, but I find that most people default to fixing, solving, teaching, telling, giving advice, mentoring. And the power of coaching is that usually people do know the answer if they are just given the right space and the right questions to think about it and reflect. And then the advantage of that is oftentimes the solution that they come up with is better and they are more committed to it because they came up with it themselves.
Ed: Darcy what else do you want to share with the listeners? What are the other things you are going to talk about in Indianapolis?
DL: The keynote that I’m going to be delivering is fascinating and it is talking about working together despite differences and how do you build your flexibility. And flexibility is one of the six practices of being Thoughtfully Fit. So, I spoke at NCSL in 2021 in Florida on the core and Thoughtfully Fit and the pause, think, act. This one is going to be a little different and it is going to really focus on how do you stop trying to change others. Somebody frustrates you and you are a lot of times when people come into coaching, they are like, OK, here is what I want to work on today. How can I get my boss to be different. How can I get my colleague to change. Flexibility is stretching to accept that others are different than you and that’s OK and not wasting your energy being angry that they aren’t the way you think they should be. Or worse, wasting energy trying to change them to get them to be the way you think that they should be. So we are going to really be exploring the power of acceptance and forgiveness and flexibility in particular when somebody has a different opinion than you which happens all the time when you are working in this industry.
Ed: I’m going to close this out by going back to the opening of our conversation. I’ve talked to a number of people on this podcast who have gone through major traumas and invariably they all say that they are different afterward. Maybe not better or worse. Maybe those aren’t the words they used, but different, that their perspective is different. How they approach the world is different and I wonder if that is true for you.
DL: 100%. It’s almost Ed like you’ve interviewed people before who have experienced trauma. Yeah. I am more compassionate. I’m more resilient. I’m stronger. I have a deeper relationship with my daughters. I have found the deep power of forgiveness in a situation that seemed unforgiveable. And I’ll say there are people who are listening who have been through or are going through something that is challenging or hard or even traumatic that if it feels like this will never you will never be at that place. That’s how I felt for a long time. John Lennon said everything will be okay in the end. And if it’s not okay, it’s not the end. And I think if you can keep working through your challenges and keep raising awareness and finding a support system. Continue to pause and think before acting, you can transform your challenges into really incredible powerful learning situations to grow and become better.
Ed: That’s a great note to end on Darcy and thank you so much.
DL: Thanks for having me Ed.
Ed: I’ve been speaking with consultant and coach Darcy Luoma who will be speaking to the legislative staff breakfast at NCSL’s Legislative Summit in Indianapolis in August. Thanks for listening.
You can check out all the podcasts from the National Conference of State Legislatures by searching for NCSL podcasts wherever you get your podcasts. Tim Storey, NCSL’s CEO, hosts “Legislatures: The Inside Storey” where he focuses on leadership and legislatures. The “Our American States” podcast dives into some of the most challenging public policy issues facing legislators. On “Across the Aisle” host Kelley Griffin tells stories of bipartisanship. Also check out our special series “Building Democracy” on the history of legislatures.