How To Embrace the Paradox of Growth

Aug 22, 2021

 “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still obtain the ability to function. . . You should be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald

In the past few weeks, our Surviving and Thriving Together Community has broken down not only what crisis is, how it happens, and how it tends to make humans feel, but we’ve also dug into the downfalls and mind traps we all can easily succumb to when trying to face the crisis.

It’s difficult to learn when we:

  • Attack crisis like a problem to be solved rather than a tidal wave to ride,
  • Assess a crisis by its external consequences, not internal impact,
  • Recognize crisis eruptions but not crisis erosions,
  • View pain as something to suppress rather than explore,
  • Look for answers instead of patterns,
  • Seek control instead of connection,
  • Seek certainty instead of clarity.

[You can catch up or refresh on all of these topics and more on the blog.]

Now, let’s look at the many ways we can see, learn, and grow from crisis. The execution can be hard, but the idea is simple: shifting perspective and reframing what to expect.

Cultivating a Thriving Mindset

Instead of the survival mind traps we default to, whether that means over-achieving, caretaking, fighting, fleeing, or something else, we can instead aim for a thriving mindset. In a thriving mindset, we reclaim that we have a problem, as opposed to a problem having us.

This was a concept taught to me by Bob Kegan. We “have” a problem when we are in a position (mentally and emotionally) to name the dilemma, examine it from different perspectives, reflect upon what is at stake, consider alternatives, and then make an intentional choice about our next steps. A problem “has us” when we feel at the mercy of impulsive responses, default behaviors, and a defensive fear of change.

DO Less, BE More

Especially for those of us that fall into the Achiever’s role, or that of the “hero” in a crisis that buckles down to find answers, we have a history and default mode of kicking into high gear when something unexpected happens.

But in crisis, what we and everyone needs, especially if they turn to you as a leader, is for you to be present with them. Instead of buckling down and getting to work, you can stop and listen. Connect with others. Take a step back from the situation. Working harder, longer hours is what may have gotten you to this crisis, and repeating that cycle isn’t what will get you out of crisis.

Lower your standards for achieving, and gently and compassionately raise your standards for being.

Dial Up, Dial Down

Grounding yourself in your innate talents is the first step to establishing your firm foundations when crisis hits.

As you get your bearings, following your talents will certainly be your most effective way to reach safer ground. The paradox, however, is that you may need to dial down your natural impulse rather than lean into it, at least initially.

The introverted learner should push herself to reach out and connect to others emotionally. The extroverted communicator may need to take a deep breath and find inner grounding before jumping into long conversations with others.

This helps us mindfully dial in to our strengths while staying vigilant for our most common mind traps: so we can show up with our strengths, instead of show up as a compulsive caricature of what people expect of us.

Lastly, Slow Down to Speed Up

There is a tricky balance of urgency and caution needed in the face of crisis. We need to act quickly to restore balance, but making the wrong moves negates any benefit of speed.

The most frequent advice I give to my clients who are high achievers is one I learned from Ron Heifetz: Build muscles for holding steady. Taking a pause to read the room, gather more data, or listen to your intuitive wisdom is not the same as stalling.

Holding steady is not the same thing as holding back. It is simply building the self-regulation and patience to ensure you are driving the action instead of the action driving you.

By grounding in what we know to be true, aiming for a thriving mindset, and knowing when to do versus be, dial up versus dial down, and slow down versus speed up, we can embrace a crisis from all angles and emerge renewed, ready to keep growing.

This is a modified re-telling of a few pages from Chapter 7 of my book Never Waste a Crisis. The rest of that chapter breaks down each of these concepts even more, as well as what it means to live “both/and” in an “either/or” world.

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