Self-Leadership in the Face of Challenge

Self-Leadership in the Face of Challenge

Our world is an uncertain and unpredictable place. In truth, we don’t know what’s around the corner, and that doesn’t tend to sit well.

Many of us are operating under the delusion that we have our hands of the control panel of life. We invest time and effort into establishing systems, routines, rules and regulations. We build structures around us that make us feel safe and cosy. We hold expectations of how things will unfold for ourselves and those we care for, for the country we live in, for the planet we all share.

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When things don’t turn out the way we envisioned, we experience stress and intense emotions, we get upset or depressed, and we resist and complain. This misconception is the root of much suffering.

So How Do We Avoid This Trap?

It’s critical to understand what we do and do not have autonomy over.

It may come as a surprise that there are only four things we each have absolute control over: what we think and feel; and what we say and do. These are our four powers of mind, emotion, communication and behaviour. Anything outside of those four domains, we can influence but never control. When we take responsibility and ownership for these four powers, it puts us back in the drivers seat.

When we get the equation back to front, we try to control things that are not ours to control. For example, we might worry about what (we mind-read) someone else thinks about us, and then try to fix that. Because that’s outside of our four powers, we could find ourselves expending energy in all sorts of fruitless ways – like ruminating about what we’re going to say or do when we next meet that person, or moderating our behaviour in ways we imagine will impress them.

Trying to control things we don’t control, and not being response-able for the things we can control can lead to a whole range of unresourceful states such as: frustration; anger; stress; fear; dissatisfaction with how things are; feelings of inadequacy; lashing out at others; and constant striving to name a few.

Getting the equation right means we focus our energies where they make a difference. Owning our four powers leads us back to the present moment – which is where our potential exists, it leads to choice. By owning your responses, you get to experience your power. You can own your responses rather than reacting to reality. This is self-leadership.

My philosophy is: It’s none of my business what people think of me. I am what I am and I do what I do. I expect nothing and accept everything. It makes life so much easier.

– Anthony Hopkins

How About When the Proverbial Shit Hits the Fan?

Owning and being responsible for our four powers is all very well when life is meeting our expectations, or maybe going just a little bit off track, but what happens when it throws a curve ball? Someone we love dies suddenly; we lose our job unexpectedly; we get a chronic illness; our financial situation changes radically. When we face a challenge like that, how do we take responsibility for our thoughts and feelings, communication and behaviours, when the pull is to spiral out of control, to resist and push back?

“I realized that it’s insane to oppose it. When I argue with reality, I lose—but only 100% of the time. How do I know that the wind should blow? It’s blowing!”

Byron Katie

Notice that as long as we’re struggling with and resisting reality, we’re no longer present. Elvis has left the building! We’ve given away our four powers and are fighting a losing battle.

The antidote is to apply the balm of acceptance.

Whatever the present moment contains, accept is as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy. This will miraculously transform your whole life.

Eckhart Tolle

Let me be clear by what I mean by acceptance. I’m not suggesting resignation, or that we condone a behaviour that’s not appropriate, or just give up.

Rather acceptance is to put aside any expectations that cloud your ability to face what is. This is an invitation to meet reality head on, to face the challenge and come back to the present moment where our power and potential exist. By putting our resistance aside we can relax and meet the moment exactly as it is.

By bringing acceptance to any situation or event, we can free ourselves from toxic emotions, such as sadness, anger, depression or frustration. We open to the uncertainty of the moment and respond with a curious and open mind instead of a fixed viewpoint.

We become present to how we’re feeling, to the sensations within and around us, to whoever is with us, and to the situation unfolding. Now we can choose an optimal response instead of re-acting (acting as we’ve acted before).

Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.

Soren Keirkegaard

Acceptance is openness, presence, awareness, and curiosity, and unlike control, does not drain us of energy.

Photo by Monique Laats

How to Practice Acceptance

Bring awareness to a situation you’re struggling with, where you’re trying to control something that’s outside of your four powers. Drop into your body and notice the uncertainty, fear or frustration that’s driving your desire to get control. Stay with this physical sensation for a few moments, notice how it feels in your body and take a mental snap shot of that experience.

Now take that struggle and in your minds eye, place it somewhere to the side of you, then stand up (if you’re not already) and physically shake your body for a few moments releasing any residual thought and emotions.

Next, think of an instance in your life that didn’t go to plan, but that you accepted anyway. Maybe it rained when you were planning to go to the beach, or you missed your bus, or got caught in a traffic jam… anything where you saw the reality of the situation and accepted it just as it was.

Notice your felt sense of acceptance, your facial expression for acceptance, your gesture for acceptance (maybe your shrugged your shoulders for example), what you said (“Oh well” for example).

Breathe that experience of acceptance in, let it fill your body. Use your imagination, memory and physiology to let the sense of acceptance fill you completely. Check in to sense how much you’re currently experiencing acceptance from 0-10. Then take as much time as you need to do what you need to do to make it at least an 8 out of 10.

Now bring that state of acceptance to the struggle that you previously moved to the side of you, and notice how this experience of acceptance transforms that struggle. Bring awareness to what changes for you, what’s different. How do you feel now compared to when you started the exercise?

If you notice a change, well done. Will you now allow this acceptance to continue to transform your experience as you move on with your day? What will you do with the freed up energy?

If it hasn’t changed, how and why are you still holding on? Is there an objection to being free of this struggle? If so, can you give yourself permission to experience acceptance now?

Practice this process whenever you find yourself resisting reality. Open yourself to the moment. See with fresh eyes, and bring curiosity to what is. Let yourself rest in openness. The more you practice self-leadership, the more you’ll feel at ease in the shifting landscape of life, the more you’ll fall in love with this moment just as it is.

Integral Leadership Coaching Sydney

Written by Soo Balbi

Soo works primarily with executives, and specialises in working with women. Clients engage her to enable them to see their developmental blindspots and unleash their full potential; in their professional and personal life.

Get in touch with UXL Coaching today

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