“Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit.”
~ Henry B. Adams
Like many of us, I grew up thinking that things happened in a linear way.
First this, then that. One building block upon another in a definite order. Cause and effect. But over the years, I’ve noticed that life isn’t always like that.
Often it seems life is a series of random events that don’t seem to make much sense.
But when you have a larger vision and experience that vision as though it has already happened, you can begin to see this apparent chaos in a whole different way. Often what we experience is a chain of seemingly disjointed events that are in reality very connected.
Think of watching a movie of a glass shattering, only in reverse motion.
Pieces fly together from all directions in a disjointed fashion and assemble into a perfect whole. Each piece is absolutely necessary, though, in and of itself, incomplete and inconceivably connected to a larger picture.
We will experience ups and downs and travel roads that deviate from what we anticipated.
Nevertheless, these seemingly divergent paths may in fact be prerequisite to experiencing the totality of our vision. At times the healing process entails pain, discomfort or other symptoms. While we may point to these as signs of illness, we could alternatively consider them evidence of our recovery.
Seasons will change, and so will we.
A phase of growth and expansion is often preceded by a period where things unexpectedly fall away. We can look at the void as a loss, or recognize it as the space necessary for new creations to take root and flourish.
We may not initially realize the significance or relevance of our chaotic experiences.
But in hindsight we often realize the importance of enduring specific challenges, setbacks, delays, or what felt like irrelevant nuisances. These obstacles give us a greater perspective on who we are, deeper appreciation for where we have been and where we are going, and compassion for others who have experiences similar to our own.
As we rise up to these little challenges, we find strength we didn’t know we had and realize we are far greater than we thought we were. And as leaders, we can help others appreciate and leverage their own chaos as well.
Appreciating the perfect order unfolding in our lives more of an art than a science.
Most of us never really take the time to recognize it. If you are interested in leveraging the seeming chaos in your own life and life’s work, I encourage you to check out The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive. Though the spring program is now full, you can get on the waiting list for priority access to the fall program kicking off in September. For more information, visit The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.
You’ve just been promoted. The excellent work you have been recognized for has landed you a new job with expanded responsibility and significance. Perhaps you lead an organization of other talented professionals who now look to you for guidance and support. Maybe you are a leader of leaders.
The game you were playing just got bigger – and so did the playing field.
And your role has changed. What earned you this promotion will not be enough to allow you to succeed in your new role. In fact, if you continue to do what you did before, you may actually sabotage your newfound success.
You have gone from player to coach — or perhaps manager/owner. And if you jump back into the game, no one will be there to call the shots, to develop the talent, to create a strategy to advance the standing of the team, to gain the supporters and funding that will allow the team to continue to play.
Yet despite these consequences, you — like many leaders faced with similar opportunities — may have difficulty with the transition. You may have fears:
- Fear than no one can do things as well (or better)
- Fear of becoming obsolete
- Fear of failure
Let’s talk about each of these, starting with the first one…
Fear that no one can do things as well (or better)
The problem with this fear is that it is actually well-founded. Chances are, especially if you are at the top of your field, very few will be able to do the job as well as or better than you can. But that doesn’t mean you should be doing it for them — or even along with them.
And yet you will be tempted to. Especially when the stakes are high. Or when things get extremely busy and it seems like targets will not be met if you don’t jump in or take over altogether. You may hover over people, micromanaging them or smothering them with well-intentioned guidance.
But your very fear that things will fall through the cracks may well cause that which you most want to avoid. Maybe not in the short term. In the short term, you may revel in your ability to keep the balls from dropping and save the day. But as more and more begins to be added to your plate, your problem of not having people who are skilled enough to take the baton will be even greater than it was before.
Worse yet, you will have conditioned the very people you need to develop to become dependent on you and quite comfortable performing at much less than their true capacity. In the meantime, the bigger, more strategic work that you have graduated to will be piling up and fairly significant opportunities will pass you by.
Your people may well be on a pretty steep learning curve at the beginning. They won’t get everything right. And they may resist taking on the responsibilities you used to perform. But you need to transition from performer to coach.
Give them opportunities to try things out. Let them make mistakes. Then help them to learn from those mistakes and perfect their craft. And do the same for yourself in your new role.
This leads us to the second common fear that keeps leaders from playing a bigger game.
Fear of becoming obsolete
It’s not necessarily a rational fear. After all, leaders who are on the brink of playing a bigger game have plenty to do. They have a whole new role to fill. But that doesn’t stop people from worrying at some level that if they teach and empower others to do what got them accolades and attention that they will somehow lose their edge and fade into obscurity.
Often when people have performed a certain role or become masterful at a particular skill, it can become infused with their very identity. And until they have performed in their new role for awhile and become accustomed to the different kinds of activities and opportunities that it brings, they are likely to continue to identify with their old role. Which may lead them to wonder, “if I’m not that anymore, who am I?”
This ambiguity and lack of role clarity can send people back to what they know is comfortable and familiar, even when they have outgrown it. And even when going back there isn’t in their best interest (or the best interest of those they lead.)
To counteract this, it is important to fully grasp the opportunities and possibilities that playing a bigger game brings. It allows you to go from being immersed in the game with a view limited from one point on the playing field to seeing the game from several different angles. You can evaluate each player’s contribution and the way they work together.
You can change the way the game is played — and in some cases, even change the rules. But only if you free yourself up from the myriad of tasks that will always be there beckoning you to come back into the operational and out of the strategic. And the lure of the old role becomes even more enticing when you factor in the next fear that keeps many leaders from playing a bigger game.
Fear of failure
When you go from executing the plays to determining what those plays should be, you enter unchartered territory. First off, it is likely something you won’t have a lot of experience doing. And when you don’t have a lot of experience doing something, it is uncomfortable.
You may not be very good at it in the beginning. It will be messy. You will second-guess yourself. And you will likely miss being able to do your work with the same level of confidence and ease that you did before.
It will feel a lot like going from being a senior to becoming a freshman again.
Second, the very nature of being a strategic player will require you to navigate through uncertainty and ambiguity. You will be called on to blaze a trail where none previously existed. While this can be incredibly exciting and invigorating, it can also be somewhat daunting and stressful.
And when the pressure gets high, you may find it incredibly tempting to get sucked back into doing things you shouldn’t be doing anymore. Things you can check off your list and feel a sense of accomplishment from. Things that restore your confidence and give you the illusion of being in control. Things that would be better delegated to others. Or not done at all.
So when that happens, you need to remind yourself that whatever you did that allowed you to rise to new heights wasn’t likely something that always came easily to you. You had to start somewhere and struggle in the beginning before you began to gain competence and confidence. But you stuck with it and gradually got better and better. And you can do that again now.
Leadership is about “going before” others. Your new promotion will require that you wade through your fear, your discomfort, your resistance and your uncertainty to find within you the core of your true potential and act from it. And as you do so, by your very example, you will lead others to grow, expand, push their limits and play a bigger game as well.
Playing a bigger game often brings pressure and anxiety. But it doesn’t have to. You can make a bigger impact without running yourself ragged – and enjoy the process along the way. The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive will show you how. Though the spring program is now full, you can get on the waiting list for priority access to the fall program, kicking off in September. For more information, visit The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.
Though I have been studying and reflecting on the process of working through fear for the better part of my life, my learning came to a head when I was thrown into an environment that provoked a whole spectrum of fear and anxiety. As a martial artist, after learning and practicing basic blocks, kicks, and punches, the time came to take it up a notch and begin to spar.
What does sparring have to do with your life?
What I have learned over the years as I have continued to develop my skill in this area is that sparring is metaphorical for just about any challenge you could possibly be faced with that evokes fear — making a presentation (or any kind of performance), pitching a proposal, going to a job interview, or speaking your mind, just to name a few.
These situations lead you to question whether you have what it takes.
And no matter what the challenge is, there is something at stake — your status, your security, your reputation, your comfort, your pride. However, there is one differentiating factor: with sparring there is a pretty high likelihood that you will get punched in the nose. Literally.
While many lessons come from having positive experiences, much of what I learned about working with fear came through trial and error — a lot of error.
My first error allowed me to learn about focus.
Focus is determined by what you allow to occupy your mind.
When I first started sparring, my focus was on getting it over with. I was fairly preoccupied with a feeling of inadequacy that led me to temporarily forget much of what I had learned over the previous years. Rather than trusting in what I had the ability to do, I became preoccupied by what I did not want to happen — getting hit.
And as a result, I got hit. Hard.
Then, I didn’t want to spar again for a really long time. I took myself out of the game. I allowed the fear to stop me. And my training stagnated. Until the pain of stagnation became greater than the pain of the physical blow.
When I got myself back in the game, my mind shifted from retreat to advance.
Instead of fixating on what I didn’t want, I zeroed in on what I did want. It wasn’t about not getting hit. It was about pushing through the fear. It was about applying what I had learned. It was about having more faith in what I did know than what I didn’t. And it was proving to myself that I had it in me to rise above the challenge.
I threw more punches. I closed the gaps. I began to bob and weave. I learned how to lure my opponent in so I had him right where I wanted him.
But what does that have to do with facing fear off the sparring mat?
Everything. No matter what you do, you have the choice to focus either on what you are moving toward or what you are moving away from. When you are fixated on what you want to avoid, you will hedge your bets. You won’t go all out. You’ll watch the clock. And you won’t really be engaged. You’ll cheat yourself out of the joy of the experience.
When you move toward something, you marshal the forces of desire. You ignite passion. You make what you want more important than what you fear. And this gives you the fuel to do what you really want to do — in spite of the fear.
The second tool for moving out of the grip of fear is presence.
Fear has you consumed with worrying about the future or fixated on something from the past. It keeps you in your head and prevents you from being immersed in what is happening right in front of you.
When I would try to remember a technique or think too much about how to properly execute anything, I’d miss what was happening and get hit. I had no real concept of what was happening, what was coming at me, or what I needed to do to deflect it. I felt as though I was in a blender, at the mercy of the blades and centrifugal force.
Ironically, being in my head kept me in a state of panic that kept me from thinking clearly. In fact, I became so gripped with panic that I forgot to breathe and ended up exhausting myself almost immediately.
In non-sparring environments, being in your head costs you opportunities.
When you are giving a presentation and are so intent on what you prepared that you fail to see that your audience is confused, or bored or irritated, you risk losing them. In a sales setting, being determined to stick to your pitch when your customer has questions that you didn’t plan on can keep you from making the sale.
The irony is that not deviating from what you planned because you are consumed by fear keeps you from being present and often ends up leading to that which you are most afraid of. The antidote? Let go of your preconceived ideas and hold your plans loosely so that you can be present.
When you get out of your head and become present, things slow down.
When I immersed myself in what was happening in front of me while sparring, I realized that every time my opponent would throw a punch he left himself wide open. Rather than worrying about getting hit, I began to look for vulnerabilities. And I learned that I could get him to raise his hands to his face if I threw a few high punches, which would allow me to land a couple low ones while he wasn’t expecting it.
I went from jumping around like a cricket without breathing to moving more deliberately and strategically and conserving my energy. Instead of allowing my opponent to back me into a corner, I learned to pivot and use his own force against him.
In any situation, being present leads to better connections and higher performance.
You will take in more information. You will breathe more deeply, get more oxygen to your brain and access higher creativity. You’ll be more likely to make whoever you are talking to feel more important, because you’ll be more focused on him and not yourself. You’ll think more quickly on your feet and come up with better solutions on the fly.
These insights led me to realize that often what is more important than preparation is practice, which brings us to the third tool: desensitization.
The more you expose yourself to what you fear, the less impact the fear has.
Fear never really goes away. It is a human emotion that is wired into our DNA. While we can’t change the fact that it will be ever present, we can diminish the effect it has on our performance. What allows the fear to diminish, is repeatedly being in the presence of what you fear and realizing that you will be okay.
The first time I got punched in the nose, it was horrible. And though I went to great lengths to keep it from happening again, it did. And when it did, I realized that the memory of it was far worse than the reality.
The more I sparred, the more I began to become confident in my ability to prevent it from happening. And the less my fear kept me from doing what I needed to do.
Many altercations and escalations are the product of untamed fear.
The importance of learning to spar is to develop within the martial artist the confidence to handle a physical fight if necessary — in order to prevent a conflict from escalating to the point that requires any force at all.
And the implication for each of us is that becoming confident in the face of fear allows us to rise to any challenge or opportunity with grace, wisdom and victory. In so doing, we inspire others to follow our lead.
Eleanor Roosevelt urged “Do one thing every day that scares you.”
What would that be for you? Chances are it is connected to something you really want for yourself. As you focus on what you’re moving toward, stay fully engaged in the game and the joy of playing it, and have the courage to repeatedly put yourself in the presence of your fear, the words of Henry Ford will ring true for you as well:
“One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t.”
Staying fully engaged without succumbing to fear, pressure and overwhelm can be tricky. The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive will give you approaches and methodologies that help you rise to the occasion and not only get better results, but also enjoy yourself in the process. Though the spring program is now full, you can get on the waiting list for priority access to the fall program, kicking off in September. For more information, visit The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.
“Every master was once a disaster.”
I am all too familiar with that awkward, humbling stage that comes with learning something new – when you want to run with the stallions but feel more like a donkey. It’s a universal phenomenon, really. Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us that, “Every artist was once an amateur.”
We can all learn a lot about our paths to proficiency by looking at the ways in which we have mastered things over the course of our lives – whether it is how to drive a car, play our favorite sport, or take up a new hobby. Upon reflection, I realized how I can transfer my learnings from one arena to the other.
(1) There is power in persistent practice.
Sometimes my yoga instructor demonstrates a pose that evokes a “you’ve got to be kidding” response from me. I always give it a try, and usually the first time I do I look a lot like I feel – completely inept. She managed to work one of those dreaded poses in for several weeks. But I gave it a shot every time, and I have to say it gradually became less awkward. Before too long I was actually able to hold the pose – even if only for a few seconds. And I realized the more I practiced, the better I would get and the easier and more fun it would become.
Isn’t that like life, though? Every day there are things you can sail through and there are those things that require practice and patience before you can feel even the least bit effective. But if you keep at it, one day you will surprise yourself with how far you have come. And everything that led up to that point will be worth it.
(2) Learn from and admire others, but don’t compare yourself to them.
As a novice, you watch people perform so that you can see how things are done. And even as you gain skill, you can still learn a lot from others’ examples. But the minute you begin to compare yourself, you will lose your focus and dilute your effectiveness. This is true regardless of whether comparing yourself to others makes you feel inferior or superior.
When we gauge how well we are doing by comparing ourselves to others, the energy and focus that is required to perform effectively becomes scattered. And if you do not believe you can do something, you will inevitably prove yourself right. On the other end of the spectrum, when you believe you are outperforming others and become a little too smug, your confidence can turn into arrogance, which shifts your focus from what you are doing to how others are perceiving you. And anything that is more focused on appearances than substance lacks foundation and eventually crumbles.
The best of the best gain their confidence from within – as a product of their effort, focus, and the results that come with effort and focus. They don’t need to compare themselves to other to know that they are good – or to learn that they can get even better.
(3) Lighten up and have some fun.
When we get all balled up in knots trying to make things perfect and avoiding every possible misstep, we risk becoming stagnant and playing small. Getting too attached to the results leads us to stiffen up and become consumed with needing things to happen in the exact way we want them to. Without flexibility, we lose our ability to bend and make the necessary course corrections that allow us to ultimately excel. If you ever look at the top performers in any industry, sport, or artistic endeavor you will notice that accompanying their intensity is an ability to relax into their game in such a way that it appears easy and natural. The ability to play at work is another mark of the master.
(4) Replenish yourself regularly.
In our frenetic lives, it is easy to forget about the importance of pausing every once in awhile to make the most of our experiences – whether by giving ourselves a needed break, or simply taking a moment to assess where we are going, to what degree we are still on course, and what, if any, course corrections are necessary. Being willing to invest our precious time into replenishing ourselves in this way pays handsome dividends – and sometimes the times we think we can’t afford to slow down are in fact the times we cannot afford not to.
The speed and effectiveness with which we move toward mastery is a direct result of the way in which we approach our challenges and opportunities. The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive is a program designed to help you make a bigger impact while enjoying the process, both on and off the job. Though the spring program is now full, you can get on the waiting list for priority access to the fall program, kicking off in September. For more information, visit The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.
“I’m so tired of feeling unorganized and scattered all the time.”
A client told me in a recent meeting. He added, “I come into the office and there are papers flung all over my desk, half started projects buried in piles with new requests heaped on top of them. But I never seem to have time to go through them because by the time I get there, a line of people waiting to talk to me has already formed outside my door and I have no choice but to spring into action. And my days are full of requests that add new papers, projects and action items to a pile that grows faster than it shrinks.”
He felt like Sisyphus – like he was constantly pushing a big rock up a hill only to have it roll back down as soon as he got near the top.
“What do you think I should do about it?” he asked me. I knew he wouldn’t like my answer.
“Move into it,” I told him. “Tell me more about how starting your day like that affects the quality of your life.”
He was perplexed. “Why would I want to move into something so awful? Shouldn’t I be figuring out how I can move away from it? Rise above it?”
He was essentially living as Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, constantly reliving the same day over and over again. However, there are hidden gifts in such a predicament.
That is the reaction most of us (including yours truly) have when faced with an unpleasant predicament. But rising above an unpleasant predicament often requires us to change habits or patterns that are ingrained and comfortable. And initiating and sustaining a change like that requires fuel — fuel that will allow us to break through our obstacles and limitations at the very moment when it seems most difficult.
Change occurs when the pain of the current state is greater than the perceived pain of making a change, and the pleasure of making a change is greater than the pleasure (or payoff) of staying the same.
When you truly move into your frustration, you begin to open your eyes widely to recognize the impact a problem is having on your life. You allow yourself to accept that this pain will continue until you do something about it. And until you are truly ready to do something about it, you will continue to do what you’ve always done and suffer as a result.
This can be done long before you know what that solution is. And just as you can move into your pain, so too can you move into the pleasure of what life would be like without your problem. This too, serves as fuel that will ultimately allow you to do what it takes to create and implement a lasting solution.
Moving into your frustration illuminates not only the problem, but also the underlying factors that contribute to and exacerbate that problem. It gives you insight.
Most of us instinctively move away from pain, firing shots over our shoulder at what we believe to be the antagonist without really recognizing or locking onto a target.
To really know what needs to be done to slay the beast, my client needed to take a closer look and recognize what it eats, how it grows stronger, and how he might unwittingly be feeding and nurturing it. That’s exactly what moving into the frustration with a spirit of curiosity does.
When he got curious about his predicament, he began to notice that he had a tendency to book his appointments back-to-back, starting first thing in the morning and say yes to more things than he could realistically accomplish. He realized that he didn’t have a clear sense of what was truly a priority and that in the absence of that clarity, he was making everything number one — except his own sanity.
The more awareness he cultivated in the presence of his frustration, the more he began to identify and understand what was really causing your frustration. This also led my client to discover and embrace the third gift of frustration.
Insight opens the door to possibility. Once you have an understanding of the factors that cause or contribute to a problem, you begin to recognize a multitude of options that can lead to lasting resolution.
In the days and weeks that followed, my client identified a number of strategies that could potentially work for him, including scheduling, communication, and delegation tactics.
The next time you feel like you are living the life of Bill Murray’s character in the movie Groundhog Day, remind yourself that frustration comes bearing gifts. Reliving the same experience over and over again isn’t so bad if it ultimately yields fuel, insight, and possibility. Move into your discomfort, pay attention, get curious, and connect the dots. Then, you too will find a way to transform your frustration into freedom.
If you are interested in additional strategies for recognizing and moving beyond self-limiting patterns of behavior and thought, I encourage you to check out The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive, an exclusive twelve-week group mastermind/coaching program/online training course kicking off the week of March 20. The program is a blend of online leadership development, small group mastermind, and one-on-one coaching, and is limited to eight people.
Well, I made it through my karate belt test on Saturday. I actually really enjoyed my belt test. Yes, it’s true.
In last week’s blog post, Overcoming the Illusion of Fear, I wrote about the anxiety I experienced after my last karate belt test that led me to fear and dread the next one. And I also wrote about what helped me get into a mindset that would allow me to finally feel ready to stand in the fear and do the thing I was afraid of. If you would have asked me a year or two ago what victory would have been, I would have told you it was making it through the test without getting hit in the face. And I didn’t get hit in the face, but that’s not what I feel most victorious about.
You would have thought from reading last week’s article that the whole test was sparring and grappling. In fact, I’m told it only lasted a total of four minutes (though it feels like an eternity when you’re in it). The actual belt test in its entirety was five and a half hours long. Yes, that’s right – 95% of my anxiety and fear was about a four minute portion of a five and a half hour test, a fact that was pointed out to me and other karate students in class two days before the test. It was a startling realization. As I reflected on it, I became aware that it’s not the first time I’ve gotten so worked up over something that I poured more of my energy into worry and anxiety than anything else.
“I’ll feel so much better when that presentation is behind me.”
“I just want to get that project done so I can relax.”
“I won’t be able to enjoy myself until I have that dreaded conversation.”
Do you ever say things like that to yourself? Check the box, and then feel grateful for having checked another box. The trouble with that mentality is that it leads us to withdraw ourselves from the very things that we need to be most present for. We get so attached to the outcomes that we cheat ourselves of the experiences and the real gifts they offer. Sure they’re uncomfortable. Of course we look forward to having them over with. But the real victory is not in winning the trophy, it’s in having played our best game. And to do that, we must be fully present – while the game is being played.
We can prepare all we want. We can rehearse. We can plan and practice. And all of that is good. But really, the outcome of any of these things that spin us into a frenzy is directly linked to what we do during the experience itself. We have to detach ourselves from our plans and carefully rehearsed versions of whatever is about to unfold. Because the reality is that we can never fully anticipate what is about to happen. We need to be in the moment, tuning into the people we are with, the things that are being said and done and what we are being moved to do in response that may not have anything to do with what we rehearsed. We need to trust in that part of ourselves that will direct us in just the way we need to go in the moment.
The key benefit of practice and preparation is that we get our minds around the fact that we have everything we need to rise up to any challenge we will be confronted with. In short, we must believe in ourselves and our ability to respond to whatever is taking place even if we’ve never experienced it before.
Merriam Webster defines “victory” as 1: the overcoming of an enemy or antagonist, and 2: the achievement of mastery or success in a struggle or endeavor against odds or difficulties. The true enemy/antagonist in my battle was the part of me that didn’t believe I could handle the karate test, or any test for that matter – the one that just wanted to get it behind me so that I could go onto easier, more enjoyable things. This is the enemy that created the greatest odds and the most horrendous difficulties.
The biggest thing standing in the way of our ability to achieve whatever we endeavor to do is the part of us that keeps us believing we cannot pull it off. True mastery and success will occur for each one of us as we endeavor to rise up in the midst of this opposition and do what is ours to do. And as we do, we will create something we can be truly grateful for – the experience of discovering and unearthing that part of ourselves that can remain calm in the face of any opposition and access the best possible solution in the moment – any moment. This victory is the only kind that is lasting. And each victory of this kind builds on the one that came before.
A toast, to victory! And to every experience, for better or worse, that gives us the opportunity to truly experience it.
I would like to personally thank the Center for Humane Living and every person who is a part of it for enriching my life, and that of others in so many profound ways.
For more on achieving Victory:
Checklist image by Rawich.
Jumping silhouette by Biansho.
What if the only thing standing in your way of perfect peace, true productivity and the satisfaction of living a life of purpose – was your thinking?
Many of us are experiencing a great deal of pressure, anxiety and sudden change. Jobs are tenuous, organizations are restructuring, and it might feel as though life itself is turning upside down. Frustration and turmoil is a common response to this kind of uncertainty and disorientation. It can lead to exhaustion and hopelessness. But consider this as you think about the things in your life and career that may feel as though they are spinning out of control…
What if everything is perfect just the way it is?
No, I haven’t gone off the deep end. Bear with me here… One of the key attributes embodied by extraordinary leaders in all walks of life is encapsulated in the word “responsibility” – not just in a moral or ethical sense of being accountable for our actions, but also – and perhaps just as essential in times of change and chaos – remembering that there is wisdom in recognizing that we have the ability to choose our response – and that the response we choose will have a resounding impact on ourselves and everyone around us.
The greatest of change agents start by recognizing what they have to work with before they can create change that will be sustained. They assess their environment to determine what the best entry point for that change is before they make their move. They don’t waste their time worrying about things that are truly out of their control, like changing the weather. Instead, they focus their attention and energy on those things that they do have the ability to influence and start there. The greatest of leaders know that the most powerful and sustainable change must start from within themselves.
The thing that fascinates me about a seemingly chaotic state of affairs is not so much what is happening, but the stories we are telling ourselves about what it means and the impact those stories are having on the way we are responding to it. When we react to things with fear, we end up amplifying that which we are afraid of and adding to the anxiety. Our fears drive us to act in ways that keep us from acting on our intuition and finding the answers that will truly serve us. Sometimes, we end up behaving in ways that make our fictional stories become real.
As an example, when you tell yourself a story about what is happening that leaves you feeling threatened, you may find yourself closing up and treating others with suspicion and mistrust. The way you are behaving toward people may well provoke a response in them that appears to validate your fearful story. However, in this scenario, it is very likely that their behavior is more of a reaction to the actions your story led you to take than anything else.
Our fearful stories are like the viruses we protect our computers from. These nasty viruses are often embedded in emails that pique our curiosity or rouse our fear. When we unwittingly activate them, they spread often uncontrollably and we risk passing them to the computer of our friends, associates and countless others. The viruses corrupt our systems until they no longer function effectively. Like computer viruses, our stories have a way of spinning us out of control and interfering with our ability to rise up to our challenges to find the opportunity that is always there waiting for us to discover and leverage it.
Our rational minds want answers and security. They need to figure everything out and almost automatically occupy themselves with trying to sort through data to arrive at conclusions. The problem is that our minds are plugging imaginary variables into the equation that end up further exacerbating the anxiety we are already experiencing. When they are done with one variable, they plug in another and the churning continues, leaving us with an uneasiness that keeps us on edge.
In the grip of this madness, sometimes the best thing you can do is indulge your mind with a variable that will allow it to do its thing. Go ahead and plug in the worst case scenario. If the worst possible thing happened, what would you do? Alloy yourself to sit with that question for awhile. Let the fear move through you and keep asking the question, what would I do that would allow everything to be OK? If you sit long enough with your question, you will arrive at some workable alternatives and reconnect with that part of yourself that is strong, resourceful and resilient.
Armed with the knowledge that you will be OK even if the worst possible thing happens, you can come back into the present and recognize your fearful thoughts for what they are – fearful thoughts. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got, which I pass along frequently is don’t believe everything you think.
In the present moment, devoid of your stories about variables that are truly unknown, you are OK. And when new events begin to unfold, if you stay in the moment and access your inner wisdom, you will know exactly what you need to do – or not to do – to be OK then too. And as you go about your daily life in this way, your calm resolve will permeate your interactions with others and through your example, you will help others to rise up to their challenges in ways that unearth the greatness in themselves as well.
The above article contains excerpts from my new book, The Pinocchio Principle: Becoming the Leader You Were Born to Be, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
For more on Surviving and Thriving in Change and Chaos:
Do you ever feel as though your life is just one big to do list that never gets completed?
Well, if you do you’re not alone. Many of us feel as though a starting gun goes off at the beginning of the day and the hours that follow seem a lot like a marathon with no finish line. Some spend their nights dreaming of the things they worked on during the day or what has yet to be done. And others lie awake thinking about it. It reminds me of the poor guy in Greek mythology, Sisyphus, who was condemned to roll a great boulder to the top of a hill only to have it roll back down just before he reached the summit.
I was feeling this way recently, and in the midst of the craze I was aware of a longing to escape from the tyranny I had created for myself. And it really is a self created tyranny. So much of our lives is dictated by the habits and patterns we fall into and the way we think about things. The danger is when we become so tangled up in routines and thoughts that we forget that we are the ones who created them. A good coach can help you pinpoint the underlying patterns that are the root of the anxiety you are experiencing – so that you can take steps to alleviate your suffering. And with practice, we can all learn to do this for ourselves as well.
I don’t know if I have this whole thing licked just yet, but I believe I’m making progress. I thought it might be helpful to share the process I went through. Though the solution I came up with may not be the right one for you, the process itself may help you find one that is a perfect fit.
(1) GET A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE.
When you get to that point where you feel something’s got to give, the most powerful thing you can do is find a way to pull yourself up and out for a bit – so that instead of being immersed in your pattern, you can simply observe it. I noticed that I was in a continual state of churning — so preoccupied with wanting to keep working at things on my list that I had little patience for anything else that required my attention, including my kids. I was acting in a way that was inconsistent with my true values. And I didn’t like what I saw.
It became apparent that I was having trouble shifting gears from achieving my work related goals to giving energy to other equally important parts of my life. I realized the pressure I was experiencing to finish everything before I could attend to what was next was largely self imposed. What I really want is to experience a sense of ease and lightness in the things that I do — to enjoy not just the outcome, but also the process of achieving my goals and living my life itself – all areas of my life.
(2) CREATE A SYSTEM THAT SUPPORTS YOUR NEW PERSPECTIVE.
Ask yourself the question, what do I need to do to align my actions with my new way of thinking? What new habits or patterns can I create that will better serve me? I had to remind myself that finishing everything on my to do list is a pipe dream that only leads to disappointment. I remembered my own advice to clients – use your never ending “to do” list as a “maybe I’ll do list” so that your mind can rest in knowing that nothing is going to fall through the cracks. With that in mind, I created the following system for myself:
- Each day, I identify a list of my top three to five priority tasks from my “maybe I’ll do list” as well as some additional items that would be great to do but okay to leave undone if necessary. I enter these things on a “THINGS TO DO TODAY” list on my calendar in an appointment slot at the beginning of the day. I also create a “THINGS I DID TODAY” entry as an appointment slot at the end of the day.
- Throughout the day, as I accomplish things, I transfer them from my “THINGS TO DO” list to my “THINGS I DID” list, and take delight as the former list gets smaller while the latter grows larger. (It’s even a bigger thrill for me than checking a box!)
- At the end of the day I spend twenty minutes to stop, assess and plan for the next day. I acknowledge myself for what I have completed. I look at what remains on my “THINGS TO DO LIST” for that day and transfer any incomplete items to my “THINGS TO DO” list for the next day (which leaves my THINGS TO DO list for that day blank and gives me a feeling of closure – woo hoo!). I take a look at my calendar and my “maybe I’ll do list” to assess what my priorities are for the following day and add them to the next day’s list. Then I clean off my desk and go pick up my kids.
Granted, there will be days where all heck breaks loose and I’m unable to follow my system the way I’ve planned it. And that’s OK. The more I follow it, the more engrained and natural it will become. My goal is to change my feeling of being out of control to become more intentional and conscious about the way I use my time. So any little change will be progress. I encourage you to be kind to yourself as you endeavor to change your habits and patterns as well.
(3) BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND
You can start this before you go to bed at night. Envision yourself waking with energy, enthusiasm and inspiration. I like to take a quick glance at my “THINGS TO DO LIST” for the next day with gratitude that I will have everything I need to accomplish it. I believe this allows my subconscious mind to begin working on things while I sleep – which will potentially lead to new insights when I awaken.
As you begin your day, get very clear on what you’d like to experience by day’s end — and every moment in between and see if you can experience that state before you even begin. See if you can remember the last time you were in your productive zone, where you accomplished more than you thought possible. Move into that feeling and replicate it for yourself. If you find yourself becoming anxious, stressed, or slipping into old patterns, come back to your intention and desired perspective, take a deep breath and let it inform your action.
The important thing is to tap into your inner genius to find the answers you most need. I’ve found this to be so important that I’ve written a book about it. It’s called The Pinocchio Principle ~ Being Real: Becoming the Leader You Were Born to Be and it will be released on 1/11/11. I’ve also decided to work with a small group of eight people to lead them through this process (based on the book) as well. A few spots still remain. We’ll meet at my office in Phoenix for 90 minutes twice a month for a period of six months, beginning in January. Contact me at Diane@DianeBolden.com if you are interested in participating. The cost is $900 ($75 a session) and payment plans are available.
Stay tuned for more information and subscribe to my free monthly ezine at www.DianeBolden.com to hear about free upcoming events, videos and teleseminars.
Though comments are currently closed, please feel free to email me at Diane@DianeBolden.com with your feedback, questions and thoughts. Have a specific challenge you’d like to see a post written about? Let me know. I’d love to hear from you!