The Thanksgiving season naturally lends itself to recognizing what we have to be grateful for. Health, family, friends, and prosperity are among the most commonly cited blessings. What comes most easily to mind are the warm, fuzzy areas of our lives that naturally lend themselves to feelings of appreciation.
But the power of gratitude reaches far beyond those things that bring immediate smiles to our faces.
And leveraging this power requires that we embrace not only the happy times but also the tougher experiences we’ve had that we would often rather forget about. Because the most challenging times in our lives and our careers are often accompanied by some of the richest blessings.
- That proposal that you worked day and night on but ended up going nowhere.
- The difficult customer/coworker/boss/direct report that continually pushed all your buttons.
- The presentation you made that didn’t have the impact you would have liked.
- The restructuring in your division that took you to the edges of your comfort zone and required you to navigate through uncertainty that was as unfamiliar as it was unsettling.
These things that push us to our edges come bearing gifts.
And we tend to move so quickly that we fail to pause long enough to unpack those blessings and truly integrate them. But when we do, we often realize in hindsight that these less than ideal circumstances allow us to grow, to become stronger, to more resilient, more compassionate, more insightful, more wise.
The circumstances themselves pass, but the gifts remain.
Cultivating this deeper level of gratitude allows us to contemplate the idea that perhaps life isn’t happening to us, but rather for us. These challenges that test our patience, push us to our edges, and appear to be nothing more than irritating obstacles are often the very things we need in order to become the best versions of ourselves.
It’s easier to see the perfect order of things in retrospect.
Can you think of a challenge you faced in the recent (or not so recent) past that stretched your limits? Consider for a moment what you learned as a result of that experience. What did the experience itself require that you activate within yourself to successfully move through it? And how did it make you a better leader? A stronger performer? A wiser and more compassionate person?
The reason these insights come to us in hindsight is that our thinking settles.
When we are not so frazzled and pressured by the need for an immediate response, or plagued by worried and doubt, the static that prevented us from seeing and appreciating the deeper purpose and significance subsides. And there is space for gratitude to emerge.
Gratitude, yes for all the things that are going well in our lives – our health, the precious people in our lives, our prosperity – but also gratitude for the experiences that allow us to see who we really are when our backs are to the wall, to step up and into our true potential, to realize ourselves to be much stronger and more capable than we thought we were.
What if you could leverage the power of hindsight in the present?
What if you could learn to look beyond the tangle of thoughts that may have you in a knot as you approach a current or emerging challenge – with the knowing that this unsettling, less than optimal situation also comes bearing gifts and blessings?
What if instead of focusing on the uncertainty of the situation and the external circumstances you could turn your attention to the knowing that you have what it takes to rise up to this and any other challenge? All you have to do is look to your past for evidence that it is there.
If you take it a step further, you can become grateful for the situations and circumstances you previously wished would go away. Because you know that along with the struggle, they provide you with gateways that invite you to discover and unearth who you really are. This approach allows you to face your challenges with curiosity, playfulness and grace – mindsets that catalyze insight, creativity, and the resilience you need to find your way and emerge victorious.
Now that’s something to be grateful for.
Using the wisdom of hindsight in the present is just one approach I teach in The Pinocchio Principle Unleashed: The Real Leader’s Guide to Accessing the Freedom & Flow of Your Authentic Genius to help high achieving executives appreciate and leverage the perfect order of their most challenging experiences to unleash their greatness. Enrollment for Spring 2020 will open soon, and for a limited time you can secure your seat at the 2019 rates before they increase. Stay tuned for more information or join the waiting list to be the first to know when registration opens.
When I would get hiccups as a kid, my father’s cure for getting rid of them was to have me wait for the next one. Surprisingly, more often than not, it actually worked. It’s strange to think that inviting in the very thing you want to avoid could actually usher it out. But over the years, I have realized that the approach works with more than just hiccups. I use a similar tactic often to help me shift from a negative state of mind to a more positive one.
Not too long ago, I had a tough morning.
My body didn’t want to leave my bed, and even after I managed to get up it felt heavy and encumbered. My mind was in a similar state. Everything I turned my attention on seemed to become darkened by a thick fog that followed me everywhere I went.
In contrast, it was a gorgeous day outside. The sun was shining in a cloudless sky, the birds were singing, and a cool breeze tickled the leaves of the trees. I decided to leave the house in hopes that it would lift my spirits a bit.
Though I would rather have sat staring zombie-like into a cup of coffee, I made myself go running.
It was harder than usual and the first few minutes of stiffness that usually give way to a state of flow felt like an eternity. “I run because I enjoy it,” I reminded myself. But really I just wanted the whole outing to be over.
I recalled boating trips my brother and I would go on with our grandparents when we were young. Often, we anchored the boat near a shore where long, wild reeds grew from the ground beneath the water. When we sank our toes deeply into the soft, squishy mud it would release stinky bubbles of putrid gas. The more we stirred our feet the more rank the odor became.
I laughed as I realized that this foul stench was the closest thing I could think of to compare the state of my mind to at that very moment.
And then I started to become amused.
I was able to distance myself from the state itself and simply observe it, in much the same way that I observe and muse over my children when they wake up grouchy – those precious, sweet little souls who can behave like little %#$&s at times. I can be amused with them because I know eventually it will pass. And in that moment I knew the same thing was true of my own condition.
So I just gave myself to it.
Instead of resisting, I let the negativity bubble up inside of me and just take everything over as my feet continued to hit the pavement. But as I did, there was a bigger, stronger part of me that was totally unaffected. It was the part of me that was observing the whole thing.
The more entertained I became, the less of a foothold those foul emotions and thoughts had. By the end of my run, I felt calmer and freer and was in a far more productive and constructive state of mind.
We will all have moments when the skies of our minds will darken.
Something that was no big deal yesterday will annoy the hell out of us, and even blue skies and babies fail to bring smiles to our faces. But these moments will eventually pass.
What we need to remember is that these states of mind are just that: states.
They pass just like the weather. And sometimes the best thing we can do is simply allow ourselves to sit in the center of the storm and watch.
Having weathered the storms in our minds, we can appreciate even more deeply the beauty of the clean, clear skies that follow – and use them as backdrops on which to create our own rainbows.
Interested in tools, techniques and methodologies for weathering your own storms? The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive will help you find your calm in the midst of chaos so you can bring out your very best (and lead others do the same).
For more information, visit The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.
Implications for Real Leaders
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To find out more about how you can unleash this talent, energy and potential in your own organization (starting with yourself), sign up below to receive your copy of The Real Leader Revolution Manifesto as soon as it is released.
Imagine finding yourself face down on the concrete being pummeled by some kind of hard object every thirty seconds or so.
You’re agitated and a little resentful – and you may feel like a bit of a victim.
And then suppose you lift your head and notice that the concrete you are lying on is green. Widening your view, you see that the objects being hurled at you are tennis balls. And they are coming from a machine that is firing them over a net. As you continue to look around, you notice there is a racket within arm’s reach.
And then you remember – ah yes, I signed up to learn how to play tennis.
This image came to me after I collapsed in overwhelm when what felt like a relentless barrage of requests for my time, emails that screamed to be answered, projects that needed to be advanced, tasks that demanded completion, and all manner of life’s little unforeseen chaotic events yammered for my attention.
How would I get it all done?
Well, I’ll tell you one thing. Cowering in fear does not help.
And neither does even the most justified of indignation and resentment.
I realized this when I lifted my head to take a good look at what was in front of me. And I also realized that all these challenges I was facing were related to things I chose to take on and/or really care deeply about, like:
Up leveling my business so that I can make a bigger impact doing what I truly love.
Being more involved and present with my three children – who inevitably are in constant need of something, often simultaneously, usually in three different places.
Honing my martial arts practice – and being more involved in the nonprofit organization that has given me the opportunity to learn it.
Becoming a better writer and speaker.
Being able to do more of what really matters to me in less time.
Getting better at anything is a decision that you make to be in the game.
It’s easy to forget that the game you’re playing is one that you chose for yourself when those balls are coming at you full speed, one after the other. But the simple shift of mind that comes from going to a helpless victim to someone who has willingly stepped onto the court is one that makes all the difference in the world.
Think of anything in life you feel like you “have to” or “should” do. More than likely with that frame of mind, it will feel heavy and cumbersome. But find something about that same activity that you want or care deeply about, and suddenly everything gets a little lighter.
We find reserves we didn’t think we had. We rise to the occasion. We notice the racket that lies within our grasp and begin to use it to hit some of those balls.
The more you play, the better you get.
I confess. I’ve let a few balls slip here and there. And I’ve hit some in directions that were anything but where I intended them to go. But the less I care about needing to get it perfect, the more I want to play the game.
And the more I play, the more of those balls I’m able to return.
And the more of those balls I’m able to return, the higher my confidence.
And the higher my confidence, the easier and more fun the game gets.
Rest assured, there will be days when it feels like we are being pummeled. But perhaps the reason those balls come at us harder and faster is because we are ready to advance to a whole new level – one that allows us see what we’re really made of. And maybe, just maybe – the only thing we really need to focus on is showing up and being willing to play.