Susan Dunlop


What Am I Focused On? These 5 words I wrote in my planner this morning before I mapped out my week. Followed by a 2nd question: Is it panic or purpose?

I woke at 5am this morning as usual and my brain immediately whirred with what needs to be done now before we break for Christmas next Wednesday. All the shoulds, coulds, need to and musts bounced around vying for attention. I didn’t shove them aside, ignore them or hop into action. It was interesting to observe them, because I know now that this is an example of me playing out my own problem-victim mindset. I was curious about whatever anxiety was fuelling the rapidly filling to-do list in my mind, that early on a Monday morning.

What came to me was it is an old reaction to pre-Christmas drama.

This time of year, in my earlier incarnation as CEO of RNS Nursing, December was the storm before the calm. December was a very full schedule of necessary end-of-year events, gift deliveries and business activity. It was a very focused time so that all the boxes were ticked before we took our short break ready for the New Year.

It was the time too, that there were plenty of dramas and people emotional melt downs, within my business team itself. Also, at the hundreds of client hospitals and nursing homes we served across Queensland, New South Wales and the Northern Territory.


On the people front, one example that springs to mind involved the carefully mapped out staff roster. All ready to manage our phones 24/7 across Christmas and New Year, that roster got blown up with a staff-resignation grenade, or three.

I can laugh now, but at the time I couldn’t. I was definitely in my problem-victim mindset of problem – anxiety – reaction, particularly when the grenade story I’m about to describe landed on my desk!

Christmas 2015, a little over a year after I’d sold the company, I was working for the new corporate owners, in a 2 year earn-out period. Two weeks before Christmas, I recall 3 of the allocators, within 2 days of each other, giving 2-weeks’ notice of resignation. They wanted to enjoy Christmas and the school holidays with their kids. Oh how nice. That’s lovely!

It was a very fair call. Behind their decisions, we all knew that the new owners weren’t wanting the allocators to work from home anymore in the new year. That’s too funny now, when you think it’s been 100% remote work during Covid times. Anyway, the allocators all had babies, toddlers, and primary school aged children that made working from home a perfect job. They’d done so for years with us. They knew what was coming.

I got it but I couldn’t find in my mind or heart any kind of lightness, celebration or laughter. My mind was ticking on finding a solution to quickly close up all those new holes in the roster. An allocator to the unique industry we served, required a unique set of experience, skills and training. Let alone, there was no time to recruit.

Yes it was a perfect time to exit stage-right for each one of them! No way was three leaving at the same time perfect timing for the company or the rest of the team.

Stress over the phones was a common occurrence. It would always get sorted, and somehow did this time too. When the anxiety of the drama passed, it left a strange kind of calm and reality across the team.


On the client front, the directors of nursing and nurse managers at the hundred or so hospitals and nursing homes we served, would have the same issue with their nursing staff. Their rosters had many more holes to fill, and every day the holes increased, faster than they could be closed.

They’ve have people not being available to work, never enough people anyway, or likewise people would resign to head home for Christmas. They’d have wards planned to be closed for the holiday, now needing to be kept open and staffed. Quite often Christmas was the trigger that saw exits en-masse in a site with an unhealthy-culture, constant change and questionable management.

We’d prepare, because it had happened every year for 15 years since I founded the company. We just didn’t know where or when these roster grenades would land, nor how many.

We’d have gathered up all our nursing staff availability just for this common kind of need to be filled. Clients would inundate us with calls or they’d fax pages of rosters to find nurses to cover, 100 shifts here, there or everywhere.

Very stressful for all concerned. Adrenalin was switched on, time and again, every day. Yet, again, after the problem – anxiety – reaction phase passed, the people inside our business and at our clients, had made whatever could be done work in a Band-aid fix kind of way, just so we got past Christmas… again.

In both examples, a Problem – Victim mindset or Victim Orientation was being played out.

Unfortunately, Christmas is most definitely not the most wonderful time of the year for many people.

I always found that Christmas was the most common time for people having heightened emotions, relationship issues and dramas amplifying as side-issues to deal with.

People individually needed to be heard and for management to support them. Invariably, people issues would throw me off path from what I wanted to achieve. From the time I walked through the office door in the morning, people and dramas needed to be attended to.

Have you ever experienced situations like those I shared in your lead up to Christmas?

Was it at work? Or do you have the same kind of drama grenades landing in your personal life too?

To me, Christmas was the time of year that my mind was on, all the time, resolving issues, listening to new issues, wondering what was going to meet me as I walked in the door, or even via SMS at 5am, seven days of the week.

Light Bulb Moment

This morning, as I hit Pause, I realised that my mind racing at 5am was that old impending Christmas drama story putting me into problem – anxiety – reaction mode. Thinking of all the shoulds, coulds, to-do lists and musts that have to get done because Christmas is coming! Do they really though? No.

Hitting PAUSE for me today involved pulling open the curtains, seeing the new day, and running through my morning rituals. Then settling back down with my iPhone and headset to search the Mindful Movement’s YouTube library, wondering what morning meditation would speak to me today.

After 19 minutes of giving myself grace and space, tuned into a morning meditation titled “Connect with Your Heart and Your Intention”, I was ready for the day.

Understanding how I am relating to myself has become a powerful touchpoint when I slip into that space of drama.

Hitting PAUSE to check in for that reason makes a world of difference to which way my day might have gone.

I didn’t say earlier, that first question “What Am I Focusing On? could also be stated as Where Are You Putting Your Focus?

That is the first of 3 Vital Questions® I’ve learnt from David Emerald, founder and author of the Power of TED*® (*The Empowerment Dynamic) and The 3 Vital Questions®: transforming workplace drama.

The 3 Vital Questions® are a way of making the shift from the victim- drama mindset to the empowerment dynamic outcome-creator mindset.

The 2nd vital question, is as mentioned above, How Am I Relating?

In this morning’s case, I was checking in with how I’m relating to myself and my experience, more so than how I’m relating to others. Asking myself: was this morning’s brain whirring producing or perpetuating unnecessary drama or was it going to empower me?

The hitting PAUSE part, that let me stop at that crossroads and shift into my outcomes-focused creator space.

The 3rd Vital Question is What Actions Am I Going To Take?

Are they based on Panic or on Purpose?

Or, as David would put it: Was I merely reacting to the problems of the moment or taking creative action (including solving problems) in service to outcomes?

My Monday morning planning today resulted in being purposeful vs panic-full.

I took myself through the 5-Step Action Planning Worksheet I use as a 3 Vital Questions® certified trainer and outcomes-focused coach encompassing TED*® (*the empowerment dynamic).

Self-coaching myself, over a freshly plunged coffee, my daily plan became way simpler and way more interesting.

What I’ve got scheduled this week is making me smile! Because I know what I’ve got planned are the baby steps towards my visions. The visions for the 3-buckets of my business and in creating magic moments with my family.

Are you finding yourself caught up in drama this Christmas?

That short-breathed, brain-spinning, overwhelming, often hung-over, to-do-list heavy, over-spending, expectation-laden, season of the year for many of us.

December 2022 is still such a strange time, let alone pre-Christmas. Most of us did not expect the pandemic would be ongoing 2 years later.

Your Christmas Gift: A 5-Step Action Planning session.

Could you do with some support to shift yourself away from drama and towards what it is that you truly desire?

I am offering a 45-minute 5-Step Action Planning Session, with my compliments. We will easily have you feeling clarity of mind about what is and what is not important. You’ll be breathing more deeply, and feeling happy in that one session.

Not for you?

Yet, whilst you were reading, you were thinking about or picturing someone you know or love who is stuck in the cycle of drama, be it Christmas, or always?

If that is the case, please don’t hesitate to contact me via email (CLICK HERE). Together we can arrange to send up to 3 Gift Voucher(s) made out in their names, with a message from you, direct to their inbox, on a date you choose.

The session is a lovely, non-confronting, safe and empowering space for anyone caught in the cycle of drama, not only to do with Christmas.

It’s the perfect time of the year to hit pause.

Hit the Pause Button Susan Dunlop

I’m very grateful I can see my own patterns much more quickly. Hit the pause button and make conscious choices that serve you better.

Watch for the new series of articles and podcasts coming soon! As an outcomes-focused coach, I’m starting 2022 with an educational series. We will begin with the 3 drama roles (victim, persecutor, rescuer), and the 3 empowerment dynamic roles (creator, challenger, coach).

The Ripple Effect Begins with You. Susan Dunlop coaching

If you are interested in bringing The 3 Vital Questions into your life and your business, please reach out and let’s talk about the many benefits of this work.

It is guaranteed to have a positive ripple effect on all of your important relationships.

The ripple effect begins with you.

Take care,

Susan Dunlop

Professional Coach ICF NLP and 3VQ® Certified Trainer

*First described by Dr Stephen Karpman in the late 1960’s, the Drama Triangle roles and their interplay vividly describe the most common strategies human beings use to manage their fear and anxiety. Renamed the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) in David Emerald’s book, The Power of TED*® (*The Empowerment Dynamic), the DDT aptly describes the toxic nature of these roles. Each of the roles have their roots in the Problem/Victim Orientation and focus on what they don’t want or don’t like.

These drama roles are made-up strategies that the ego creates to manage its anxiety about what it doesn’t like or want. Many aspects of the roles are useful and help human beings learn to cope and survive. If these drama roles are the only strategy to get through life, however, the roles over time become outdated and limiting. They are not necessarily “bad” – they simply limit our effectiveness and prevent more creative ways to work with life’s challenges. By recognising these patterns when they arise, we can observe them in action and choose a more empowering way to think, relate and take action that is embedded in the TED* roles.

©2021 David Emerald, Donna Zajonc, and Bainbridge Leadership Center, LLC. All Rights Reserved. Shared with permission as a 3VQ certified coach.