This article, from McKinsey & Co., suggests that, “To navigate effectively, we must learn to let go—and become more complex ourselves“.
The concept of developing greater personal complexity encapsulates the approach that I’ve adopted in virtually all of my work. Because great leadership is critically dependent on emotional intelligence (EI), we can see that it has more to do with our mindset than any skills we might possess. This means that it must be constructed, from the inside out, by creating learning environments, not instructed from the outside in, as has traditionally been the case when teaching skills.
Let’s look at this in the context of one key point from this article, which is the statement that, “The problem isn’t the problem; our relationship to the problem is the problem”. In relation to resilience, this would suggest that it is not stress that is the problem, but our perception of the situation that is the problem. This recognition is incredibly powerful, because it puts us in a better position to find a solution.
At the heart of this challenge, of changing our relationship to our environment, is one of the biggest paradoxes of dealing with the unknown.
Current thinking in psychology, which is supported widely by research, suggests that we all experience stress when faced with change or uncertainty, to some degree. This is thought to be the result of deep conditioning that evolved to aid our survival.
The problem today is simple: very few situations we face are genuinely life-threatening, but our mind reacts to uncertainty as though faced with a predator: by triggering our fight-or-flight response. We experience this as stress, and it drives behaviours that may be highly inappropriate, such as acting on instinct, falling back on old habits, or to becoming so preoccupied with seeking more information that we cannot make any decision at all.
So, what is the paradox I referred to above?
Let’s assume for a moment that our stress is not the result of misperception. The root cause of the stress that arises when we face the unknown is that we don’t know how to resolve the situation we face, and we therefore worry about the outcome. If we knew what to do, we wouldn’t feel stressed!
It follows that what we most need in such situations is a new solution; however, that would require creativity, and – here’s the paradox – creativity is blocked by stress. How ironic! Because our brain is maladapted to modern challenges, just when we most need to be creative is when this mental resource is least available to us. It occurs because the part of our brain that triggers our fight-or-flight response, the amygdala, also suppresses activity in our prefrontal cortex, which is the part that gives rise to our creativity (as well as many other higher human functions).
To remain agile and creative when confronted by unpredictable change, it is essential that we learn to become more comfortable with uncertainty. I believe that this article conveys some useful insights to help you move towards this goal.
Read the Article: Leading with Inner Agility
When we resist a situation, wishing it would go away because it feels uncomfortable, that resistance increases the stress we experience. This puts us into a vicious cycle where, as the article highlights, our poor relationship to the problem only increases the magnitude of the problem as we see it.
Try to shift your perception of challenges, to see them as opportunities to learn and grow. Every world-class athlete knows the importance of this mindset, having achieved success by continually pushing him or herself into situations where they are stretched beyond their current physical, mental and emotional limits. Without the stress this creates, the growth they seek is impossible. If you can use your challenges in a similar way, as melting pots that create the conditions necessary to become stronger, they will immediately feel less stressful.