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:
Are you at your wits end in your job, career, relationship, life in general? Experiencing delays, frustration, confusion, and even a little fear? Well, you might be closer to achieving something amazing than you think.
My last post, On the Verge of Transformation, featured an interview with a caterpillar. The above video continues the play by play in the life of a caterpillar, only this time from the inside of the cocoon (or chrysalis, if you want to be technically correct). I hope you enjoy it!
Here’s what I said in the video:
My daughter has this butterfly pavilion that we’ve been raising butterflies in. It’s been days since all the other chrysalises hatched. In fact, we let nine butterflies go out in the garden the other day. But there’s one that’s still in there, in its cocoon. We look at it every day hoping that we’ll catch it as its just emerging and it’s still in there.
I know it’s not dead because when I push on the side of the habitat, the chrysalis shakes gently, which is something that I learned they do to ward off predators. And, I can’t help but think how often we feel this way: we’re in this cocoon, there’s all kinds of change that’s happening, we’re not really sure which direction is up, and we’re the last one. For some of us, it takes longer than others.
If you’re feeling like you’re stuck in the cocoon, I think it’s probably very uncommon. And uncomfortable.
I read a story about a man who actually saw a butterfly trying to get out of the cocoon and used scissors to try to gently help the butterfly out. The butterfly fell out of the cocoon and it’s body was small and shriveled. It just kind of stumbled around on the ground and was finally just still.
What this man learned later was that to get out of the cocoon, the butterfly has to encounter the resistance. In the act of bumping up and busting out of the cocoon, the butterfly’s body fills up with fluid that it needs in order to spread its wings and be free and to turn into the beautiful creature that it is.
It’s such a great reminder to us that just when we feel things are at their darkest, and everything’s closing in and you just can’t take another minute of it — maybe that’s when we’re the closest to actually being ready to bust out. And maybe instead of thinking of all the resistance as overwhelming and exhausting, we can think of it as that final push we need to give in order to just break through into something wonderful that’s just been waiting for us.
For more on change and transformation:
Busting Out of the Box (workshop)
Crazy businessman picture by Stephane Durocher from Dreamstime.
The video above was born of a desire to capture not only the feeling of frustration and chaos, but also a way to rise above it . Below is a transcript of what I said (minus the demonstration). And at the end of the transcript are links to other resources on finding answers in the midst of chaos.
Do you ever get so frustrated that you can’t take it anymore? Find yourself in a situation where you have NO IDEA what to do? So mad. All you want to do is get away. You want to leave. You want to escape. But you can’t. You’re stuck. And the more you panic, the tighter everything gets. The more trapped you feel. The more angry you are. And it gets worse. And WORSE.
Maybe it’s a conflict — a difficult conversation. Maybe someone just dropped a bomb on you — gave you feedback that was kind of painful. Or maybe someone just told you to get your project done in a day instead of a week. Maybe the rug just got pulled out from under you. Who knows?
We have this every day. I have this. And the more I resist, the more I LOSE IT. I lose my head. I lose touch with anything that might help me get out of the situation.
But you know what? Maybe, instead of trying to GET AWAY and make things happen just the way WE want them to, we can just relax, take a deep breath, reconnect, take another look and realize… Hey, you know what? It’s not as bad as I thought. I was making a lot of stuff up when I was panicking. But when I look at it and relax — when I connect, I realize I have everything I need.
And then, I find my answer. And so will you.
For more information on finding answers in the midst of chaos:
Miracles in Disguise
From Frustration to Fruition
Embracing Life’s Uncertainty
Busting Out of the Box
Enduring a Stormy State of Mind
Embracing Life’s Uncertainty
The Pinocchio Principle: Becoming the Leader You Were Born to Be
“An effort made for the happiness of others lifts us above ourselves.”
~ Lydia M. Child (1802-1880) Writer
Do you ever feel so mired in frustration and challenge that you cannot see a way to move beyond it?
When life gets you down, it’s easy to become overly focused on all the things that seem to be a source of discontent. And it is all too easy to become completely absorbed in the feeling of dissatisfaction itself. When we do, this fixation acts as a magnifying glass, expanding to several times their normal size every problem or challenge we have until it all feels too entirely daunting to move at all. And this orientation has a way of somehow attracting all manner of setbacks and further complications our way. As the old saying goes, “when it rains, it pours.”
Perhaps the way we tend to act when we are already feeling defeated contributes to the negative cycle. Or it could be that when we are so intent on seeing all the things that we feel lousy about that even things that would normally not bear weight suddenly feel incredibly heavy. In any case, we all have days where what is going wrong seems to capture more of our attention than what is going right and life just feels like one d@#n thing after another.
At times like these, I believe that the best thing we can do is anything that allows us to go beyond ourselves to be of service to another human being. It may seem somewhat naïve and Pollyannaish to suppose that forgetting all your troubles to go help someone else would do much of anything to change the situation. How could something so simple and cliché have any impact when you feel so overwhelmed that you cannot do another thing?
Like many of us, I was given this advice when I was a child and have heard it repeatedly over the course of my life. Yeah, yeah, I often thought. But whenever I act on that counsel, I find myself surprised and delighted by what ends up happening.
The other day, I woke up to a list of things that needed to get done so long that I had to have a few more cups of coffee just to read through it. Many of the things on my list I had been procrastinating for some time. But they had to get done, and putting them off another day was just going to make things worse. And then I remembered something that happened the previous evening.
Our air conditioner began to sound a lot like an old Volkswagen bug stuck in an idle. The repairman arrived at the end of the day – after spending hours on other calls that ran long and had him laboring on rooftops in triple digit heat. But he managed to patiently and thoroughly check our unit to find that a plastic grocery bag had somehow gotten sucked into the fan. As soon as he removed it, the air conditioner sounded fine.
He could have ended the service call and went on his way. But he didn’t. He stayed and educated me on what I could do to keep the unit running efficiently – and even did some maintenance he wasn’t required to do – which led him to discover and fix potential problems that would have soon become costly repairs. I recall how thankful I was for his service and told him I would put in a good word for him with his boss.
So I made the phone call. I expressed my appreciation and gratitude to his manager and explained that because of his exceptional service, I would definitely be calling that company again. The woman on the other end of the line was delighted to hear good news and eager to give some recognition to the serviceman. I soon realized that making that call not only lifted my spirits, but hers as well. It was this burst of positivity that gave me new energy and a sense of lightness that I brought to all my other activities.
So the next time you find yourself feeling defeated, see if there is something – anything – you can do for another human being. It doesn’t have to be big – just unexpected and uncalled for. I can almost guarantee that it will do just as much for you (and maybe even more) as it will for the other person.
Copyright Synchronistics Coaching & Consulting 2010. All rights reserved.
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