The Season for Reflection (some thoughts on anxiety and gratitude)
Updated: Dec 22, 2021
As we wind down from 2021 (and honestly, we are probably also unpacking 2020 still as well), I want to offer a frame for you to leverage to reflect and grow.
We are wired to keep ourselves safe, not happy. Read that sentence again and understand that has some pretty significant consequences when you contemplate.
That biological safeguard explains our defensiveness, how ego can get in the way of our goals, why — against all rationality — we sometimes push for being right, instead of happy. So, when we decide to be vulnerable it’s a deliberate, conscious act against nature.
The best leaders I’ve coached innately understand and respect these moments when they appear. When an employee is vulnerable, this presents a choice in how they act as leaders. When employees come to them with a request, and ask for something because they are at a breaking point or in need of some accommodation to get to the other side of the obstacle they’re facing, this is a moment for grace and understanding.
In uncertain circumstances, showing empathy and vulnerability can cause high anxiety and lead to decisions that may not be well thought out and resemble more of a fight or flight response than an informed business decision. And often, we regret how we chose to respond and later realize it was out of fear of being hurt, taken advantage of, and can leave us feeling foolish.
Effectively managing anxiety has been a consistent theme with clients over the past many months—both, their own as well as employees.
One important thing I learned this year from colleague Chester Elton: You cannot simultaneously feel anxiety and gratitude at the same time.
I’ve adopted a deliberate practice of noticing when I feel anxious, and refocusing my mind on something I’m grateful for. Something kind a colleague or client said to me, a hug from my daughter, seeing one of the last golden leaves fall from the Sycamore outside my window. I pause and spend a minute reflecting on that one thing, and the anxiety begins to fragment and splinter. It loses a lock on my attention, and I can feel the tension release in my body. I can now make a better decision.
Gratitude is a panacea for anxiety, if you let it in. It enables us to respond to stressful situations with greater grace and understanding — and in the workplace, that translates to better and more effective leadership.
The next time you feel anxious, try it and let me know how it works for you.
This is the season of reflection, a time when I hope you experience loving and peaceful moments with close friends or family. While we continue to wrestle with ambiguity, we can center ourselves by holding fast to gratitude, what we have and what we can do for others as leaders and humans.
I wish for you that your vision of contentment appears before you, and that you pause and allow yourself to be present to enjoy it. That you find people who appreciate your vulnerability as a privilege to be received with grace, that support you and are willing to grow and be better with you. As you go into the new year and set intentions for creating space, here are some reflection questions to ask yourself:
· When I feel anxious, what can I say to myself that will shift my focus to gratitude?
· What one thing can I start doing that will bring me more joy?
· What is something that brings me anxiety, that I can start saying no to?
For those have who have The PI Guidebook, exercise 26 (Identifying Triggers) provides a great opportunity to help further your awareness of anxiety and changing your response.
I’m grateful that you chose to spend time with me this year whether it was reading this newsletter, or sharing your questions, insights, camaraderie and support. It was a big year, full of challenges and so many rewards such as helping my clients and their teams overcome obstacles, speaking to multiple audiences doing great work in the world, publishing my first bestselling book, continued writing with Harvard Business Review, and my first big interviews with NPR, BBC and CNBC.
From my family to yours, I wish for you peace and contentment, and the joy of small things.
Take time to reflect, and I look forward to roaring into 2022 with you!