It’s true. In difficult situations, when we feel ourselves to be under pressure or threat we will revert back to our ‘default selves’. But we won’t see it at the time because we’ll subconsciously be in ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mode – in the moment we’ll think we’re being entirely rational and reasonable.

We’ll probably blame others for being the cause of the issue – whatever that is. It’s a protection reflex, and it’s what we as a species tend to do. It’s part of the human condition.

But it’s not always useful, either in life or in business. Here are three crucial self-awareness mindset habits to recognise and then break in order to become the master of our situation not the victim of circumstance…

The safety of the familiar
For the most part, it’s easier to stick to what we know. In times of stress and challenge we’re likely to revert to habit behaviours because even if they aren’t particularly helpful they are something that we know. There’s comfort in the familiar…it’s what we know.

If we keep doing the same things, though, we’re going to keep getting the same results. Are we happy with that? If something needs to change, who’s going to make the change?

Spend some time reflecting on situations that you’re not entirely happy with (this is equally applicable to life AND business, by the way).

  • Are there patterns here – has this happened before?
  • How uncomfortable ARE you?
  • Is it worth the effort of doing something different?
  • What’s the impact of not changing anything and just living with it – is that acceptable to you?
Solution: reflect, analyse and decide. Decide whether to do something different or to accept it for what it is. There is no middle ground.

What we’d like to think we do…and what we actually do
There usually a big difference between what we like to think we’d do in any given situation, what we know we SHOULD do… and what we ACTUALLY do. Building the self awareness to recognise this is important in being able to address this mismatch between perception and reality.

We see this often in training workshops and seminars: ‘head knowledge’ of concepts, theories and best practice are readily accepted, but when it comes to putting these into practice, participants reach the dawning realisation that things like SMART goals, GROW coaching… even basic questioning and listening skills… are a lot easier to grasp on paper than they are to put into practice.

Picture the scene: you’ve attended a training programme on how to handle conflict in your team. You’ve completed the Thomas Kilmann conflict handling questionnaire and recognised that you have a natural inclination to avoid conflict. You’ve resolved by the end of the programme to take a more assertive stance next time you find yourself or the team in a disagreement.

Skip forward a week or two and you find yourself in a meeting with a challenging team member – you know who I mean: the one doesn’t listen and shouts everyone else down. Here they are again, pressing their point strongly, talking over everyone else and ignoring the contributions of others.

Unless you’re making a conscious effort – a REALLY conscious effort – you WILL revert to type, silently fuming, or rationalising that ‘it’s just them’ and letting them get away with it.

You might leave the meeting frustrated – grumbling under your breath at how unreasonable they are. You’ll probably not be frustrated at yourself for reverting to type rather than addressing the issue, but at your overbearing team member: if only they’d change their behaviour….

Solution: personal accountability. Focus on what you can change in your own approach in order to bring about a more productive conversation or situation. Hold yourself personally accountable for changing the dynamic of the conversation and for changing the situation.

Giving up too soon
It can often feel like forming new habits can take ‘too long’. Old, comfort-zone, default habits are like well worn paths: they are easy to travel because we’re walked down them so often. Forming new habits is like cutting your way through the undergrowth and creating a new trail. The first time will be difficult, but the more often you walk this NEW path, the clearer that path becomes.

Again, it will take a conscious choice to take this new path rather than familiar, well worn routes, when we’re first starting to eliminate an unhelpful old habit

Too often, we expect behaviour change to be quick and easy. Let’s imagine that we find it difficult to bowl up to a stranger at a networking event and start a conversation (who doesn’t?!). We learn some new techniques, and eagerly set off to our next networking event keen to try them out.

We walk up to a small group of people who are already engaged in conversation and try to join in. They continue as though we weren’t there. We end up standing at the edge of the circle, sipping our coffee and pretending to look interested, while cringing inwardly that no-one seems to have noticed that we exist.

The easiest thing in the world at this point would be to think ‘well that didn’t’ work’ and to go back to our comfort zone habits at these events: pretending to look at bits of literature, finding a friend and just talking to them and so on.

It takes courage and persistence to try again until you begin to see a difference and new behaviours become new, positive habits.

Solution: persistence: if the situation doesn’t immediately change for the better, you may well have to work at it.

So what unhelpful habits do you keep going back to in times of challenge?  What’s your ‘default self’?

And crucially, what conscious actions can you and will you take to change the situation AND how you handle it for the better?


  • Annabelle Beckwith

    Leadership consultant, trainer and coach, author. Lateral thinker. Keen observer of the human condition.

    Annabelle's career spans over 20 years working as a leader in business herself and, for nearly 2 decades, as a trainer, coach, consultant and advisor to leaders at all organisational levels within major companies all over the world, as well as entrepreneurs and business owners. Taking an oblique, lateral and deeply psychological view of life and business, Annabelle shares patterns and principles that have played out...and continue to play out... in businesses large and small, wherever they are.