How we ‘deal’ when the heat is on is always important and even more so right now.

For example, in my situation, I can fret about less paid work coming my way during this pandemic or I can see this as an incredible opportunity to offer people complimentary sessions for developing skills for managing stress—which is needed now more than ever.

Or I can do a bit of both, honouring that my concerns are valid but also knowing that to focus on this will not help, redirecting my gaze and energy instead to the incredible opportunities inherent in adversity.

We can choose.

I’ll just write that again, as it is so powerful. We can choose—whether we freak out or not, or at the very least how much we freak out.

We can tumble into the future, reacting as we go, and putting out fires as necessary OR we can do what it takes to consciously choose how we respond. But how do we do this? Well, here is the answer:

‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.’

This famous quote is from a wonderful book, Man’s Search for Meaning, by Victor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist and a Holocaust survivor of four notorious concentration camps. He explains:

‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.’

If anyone understands how to stay resilient through adversity, he is our man!

Leadership is a CHOICE

Developing our ability to pause and reflect when the brown smelly stuff hits the fan instead of reacting straight off the bat is one of the most powerful ways we can thoughtfully respond. It leads to better decisions, less discord and ultimately being more effective when we most need to be.

Similarly, Steven Covey puts it so well when he says, “Leadership is a choice, not a position”.

Thanks to Josh Spector and his fantastic newsletter For the Interested for this quote and for inspiring this post. I highly recommend Josh’s fantastic newsletters it if you’re in business and/or a creative.

His most recent one begins like this:

‘Everything is a choice.

You can choose to publish a blog post, speak up in a meeting, and offer to help someone.

Or, you can choose not to.

Just know choosing NOT to do something is every bit as much of a choice you make as it is to DO something.

Choose wisely.’

I reckon, however, that we can take this one step further. Actions and omissions are not where the buck stops.

Awareness is key

Before we act or otherwise, we have thought processes and it is here that we can learn to choose instead of blindly reacting. We can choose to have total buy-in to whatever thoughts come into our head, or we can choose to ask ourselves whether our thoughts are ‘true’.

We may choose to redirect our attention to a positive thought or feeling such as gratitude or kindness. We can have far more impact on our thoughts than most of us realise, but in the first instance, we must be aware of them.

Choosing how you respond mentally takes time and practice and is simply not possible if you aren’t aware of your thoughts—if they’re not in your consciousness. And this is one of the ways why developing mindful awareness is so powerful.

When the heat is on, the way I see it, we have two choices. We can either hope it doesn’t consume and derail us, or we can choose to respond with awareness and understanding. The second option is always preferable. Unless you live by the motto ‘ignorance is bliss.’

Developing mindful awareness by practising meditation, through yoga or perhaps Qi Gong or Tai Chi is the most powerful way to become more conscious, to develop the ability to choose how we show up, whether we react or respond. And experiencing adversity is a necessary ingredient for real personal growth.

Growth doesn’t just stop once we are ‘conscious’, though. There will always be challenges that arise. If we see them as opportunities we will continue to grow for our entire lives.

I was fascinated by a conversation I had recently with a family member when I said something to the effect of, ‘I want to know and understand myself as well as I possibly can’, and the response I got was, ‘I already know myself well’—as if the work was all done.

But we change, and our perspectives change and what we’re able to see (or not) changes all the time. And we should! The work never ends. It never ceases to amaze me just how we will be given the exact challenge we need to work through our next stage of development—if we’re open to it.

Or the same old stuff will present over and over—and that’s OK too. It’s inevitable. It can take a few goes even when we’ve developed more mindful awareness to get to the bottom of what lessons we’re being presented with. But one thing is for sure, we need to continually do the work of becoming more aware or we simply repeat old patterns and aren’t likely to grow much.

When I grow up…

To finish, I’d like to refer to another great article titled Understanding the leader’s ‘identity mindtrap’: Personal growth for the C-suite forwarded by my amazing coach, Elana, from Foundher and written by Jennifer Garvey Berger and Zafer Gedeon Achi from global consultancy firm McKinsey and Company.

It points out that ‘ongoing development is not inevitable: we may grow to a certain point and then stop’, and that to continually grow requires ‘self-awareness and the willingness to discover and examine the hidden beliefs that govern our identity.’

In its exploration of ‘adult development theory’, they point out that less than 10% of adults have what they refer to as a ‘self-transforming mind’. When we do we’re:

‘searching for – and relishing – the next thing that might challenge our deeply held belief systems. We seek to spend less time creating and defending a particular version of ourselves and more time letting life transform us.’

And in terms of how this relates to this crazy new world disorder, we can use it as an opportunity to relish the reality that:

‘When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.’

So, what will you choose? Will you freak out and accept that it’s a reasonable reaction to this situation, or will you see the current challenges as an opportunity for growth?