When it comes to Being Prepared for challenges in life, the unfortunate truth is:
There are some challenges for which you simply can NOT prepare.
Whether it is a bolt-out-of-the-blue, completely unexpected challenge or a tsunami-sized challenge leaving your world unrecognizable in its wake, the path into the resulting “new normal” may be … bumpy.
And the thing about being prepared – feeling prepared – is that it gives us a sense that we can remain in control – and avoid the bumpiness.
Now – don’t get me wrong: I am a big fan of control. Huge fan and life-long practicioner – or, at least – a perennially hopeful striver.
There are times we need to be in control: Operating a motor vehicle comes readily to mind. Using sharp knives and power tools. Experiencing certain bodily functions. Just to name a few.
That need to feel in control as a default way of operating? Does not work.
I SO wish it did.
And – where this really bites you in the backside? When maintaining a sense of control extends to thinking you MUST always be prepared, no matter what. Because the story that drives that thinking says:
- You are a failure if you can’t maintain control – of yourself, others, situations – at all times.
- It is simply too dangerous to risk not being fully prepared and in control – at all times.
Part of what we’re trying to do with all of our efforts to be prepared so we can feel in control? Avoid uncertainty.
This is Kind of A Big Deal.
So much so that author Jonathan Fields wrote a best seller titled Uncertainty (a recommended read, BTW). And Coach Sophia Kristjansson tells me research for her masters’ thesis showed her our brains don’t like uncertainty. As I understand it, there’s something about the way we are hardwired that has us naturally (and often, unconsciously) seek to avoid uncertainty by (wait for it…) trying to be in control.
Humans learned – many generations ago – being in control will most likely help you live longer AND better, than not being in control. So – plan, baby, PLAN. Prepare. Study. Research. Gather resources….all to stave off the insidious monster that haunts the darkest corners of our minds – the fear of being out of control.
Now …(this is where this gets really good so stay with me): Notice what happens when a challenge (or series of challenges) pops up in your life, catapulting you into massive change for which (wait for it….) you aren’t prepared. Change fraught with the looming presence of uncertainty.
Loss. Of. Control.
Followed quickly by a cascade of confusion, frustration and the kind of corrosive self doubt, that if not tended compassionately? Can prompt a shame spiral.
So much fun when that happens. So. Very. Much. Fun.
Okay, Lyn – you ask – what are we to do if we CAN’T prepare for all possible challenges?
Let’s start with what you DON’T do:
- You don’t just suck it up because frankly, ONLY sucking it up will suck you dry. And then where will you be?
- You don’t just bulldoze your way through – at least not as a default way of operating, because if you lose that ability to bulldoze…then what?
- You don’t just ignore it, put on your Happy-Face Mask and proceed as if all is hunky-dory in your world if that is not true for you because lying to yourself as a coping strategy? Is like a kick in the throat. A terribly bruising violation.
- You don’t look frantically for ways to regain and reinforce that lost control. Controlling harder likely will not vanquish the challenge – and if you’ll recall my earlier articles in this series: The notion that vanquishing is our first, last and only option in meeting challenges is SO yesterday’s story. We’re talking the Cultural equivalent of dinosaurs. (And look how they ended up.)
So what do we do? How can we prepare ourselves to meet those challenges for which we simply can’t be prepared?Those challenges that hit with the force of a tornado and spin us out of the comfort of the familiar?
Two words: Build resilience.
Focus on developing resilience more and having less attachment to being fully prepared. Find those ways that help you build capacity to meet situations that defy preparation. Notice the distinctions: Prepare to meet vs. prepare to vanquish or conquer. Prepare to remain present with yourself and the situation vs. prepare in order to remain in control.
When we are resilient we have less need to create a sense of safety by trying always to be in control.
Just a few of the ways to support yourself with increasing your resilience include:
- Practice exercising your curiosity muscles more than your control muscles. Notice the questions that arise for you in the face of those knock-up-side-the-head and take-your-breath-away challenges. Explore the questions you haven’t yet asked, the questions not limited by “What is the fastest way out of where I am now???”
Why? Because self reflective questions like this help you deepen your connection with yourself and the Source of Renewal that lives within. This is essential for weathering seasons of challenge.
- Become intimately familiar with the indicators that tell you when you’re standing outside your comfort zone for uncertainty.
Why? Because showing yourself how you can be safe during uncertainty builds self trust, also essential for getting through difficult times.
- Tell yourself the truth when you feel as if Life has blindsided you. If it’s big for you, it’s big – whatever “it” is. If it hurts, it hurts – no matter how easily someone else may appear to have handled the same situation. If it is scary…then it is. Hiding these kinds of personal truths from yourself compromises your resilience because hiding from yourself is energetically costly.
Why? Because fighting what is, including the truth of your feelings, leads to a disconnect from self and adds to the stress in the situation.
- Find what gives you life – and access that. Use it. Practice it. Fill your tank up to the degree you can when Challenge is requiring energy. PS: “What gives you life” is not the emotional equivalent of a sugar-fix. “What gives you life” is not a magic bullet or empty distraction.
Why? Because intentionally accessing what gives you life – on a regular basis – is part of what nourishes and restores you. This is an essential element in expanding your capacity for resilience.
Resilience is like the air in your lungs that helps you bob back up to the surface after one of those big waves of unexpected challenge swamps you.
Resilience helps you build the kind of strength that allows you to keep swimming – or in some cases – treading water.
The process of developing resilience helps you build the solid inner space from within which you can see more clearly and have greater access to your creative resourcefulness – which really comes in handy when you are faced with those big unexpected challenges.
So what does this all come down to? It sounds like a paradox: You can’t be prepared for all challenges but you CAN prepare yourself to meet challenge by building resilience. You can’t prepare for all of what Life may have in store for you but you CAN prepare yourself to remain present in the face of challenge.
There is no Checklist For Life and there are no maps for navigating your own uncharted territory. But that matters less and less the more you build your ability to source renewal from within by anchoring deeply into yourself. The roots that flourish in this anchoring? Are nourished by self trust and fed every time you access what gives you Life. And boy, oh boy, do those roots come in handy to help you continue to stand when challenge creates turbulence in your world.
In celebration of you AND the challenges that catalyze your ever-deepening self connection!
Food for Thought: What happens within you when you are faced with someone else who is in discomfort because of challenge? Especially when your role includes helping that person grow?
Coaches and Leaders, please take note: If you rush to eliminate someone else’s challenge, you may rob them of the opportunity to gain any benefit from having met that challenge fully. So notice what stirs within you, what discomfort you might have, what stories may be shaping your thinking when someone else’s challenge – and resulting discomfort – comes to your attention. Give them the gift of your compassionate attention, yes, and support in navigating and weathering the storms of challenge. But be mindful of how your own discomfort may prompt you to push (however covertly) for a speedy resolution to someone else’s challenge.