“Surthriving” in a VUCA world
“Surthriving” is a combination of surviving and thriving, which is kind of what we’re doing today. All times are challenging – to some degree or another, but hey folks, what we’re experiencing now is something else! The past 12 months or so have been incredibly challenging for almost everyone. Let’s face it, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns out there now (if it ever was). There’s some bad ju-ju going on, so buckle up your seatbelts. Lately, we’ve received a heaping dose of turmoil that leaves nothing untouched in today’s VUCA world. For example, political disruption and chaos, threats of war, crazy weather patterns and the Covid-19 virus, of course. It seems as if the world is upside down. If there was ever a time to take a hard look at the expression VUCA, it’s now. VUCA stands for Volitivity, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity. It’s an attempt to package chaos in an easy-to-understand manner. Volitivity: The world is continuously changing. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to predict changes. The relationship between cause and effect is blurred. Uncertainty: Planning for the future is extremely difficult today. We can no longer look to the past to see how the future will unfold. Complexity: Today’s world is more complex and more challenging to understand than ever. Choosing the correct path is almost impossible. Ambiguity: “One size fits all” and “best practice” are no longer relevant today. Making decisions today requires courage, awareness, flexibility and a willingness to make mistakes repeatedly and learn from them. To “surthrive” today, you need mental toughness.
It’s a choice
Mental toughness is a choice. Mental toughness is optimism. It’s the inner strength that takes over when the conscious and rational parts of our brain decide they’ve had enough. It’s the ability to slow down the crazy when the shit goes down and make good decisions. It’s the ability to know when to be assertive, aggressive or an asshole. And it’s the ability to learn the boundaries between these well. Your physical condition is important, but mental toughness makes the difference. How do you continue to hang on after others have let go? How do you just “not quit?” By learning to rack up small, worthy, and achievable victories and reframing failures to find a silver lining. By controlling your breathing to inhibit your flight, freeze or fight response. Deep breathing helps you reign in stress and maintain your focus.Warriors, snipers and Olympic athletes have known this for centuries, as have women when giving birth. And last but not least, by controlling your attention and thoughts. Shift your attention from the negative by talking to yourself positively. The conscious mind dwells on negative things and obsesses about them. Thoughts don’t control us. They’re just thoughts. The only power they have is what we give them! Harness your emotions. Use positive self-talk, speak, visualize and feel positivity. Learn to identify negative emotions, interdict and redirect them into positive ones. It’s tough, but you can do it.
To win this battle, you must first understand that your brain’s functional capabilities are directly dependent on three things: nutrition, sleep and exercise. These three elements have never been more important. What you eat, how well you sleep and how often you move is how you think. Deepak Chopra says, “If you want to know what your thoughts were like in the past, look at your body today. If you want to know what your body will be like in the future, look at your thoughts today.” Optimism is at the heart of mental toughness. You must believe in your ability, and you must find the positive in your situation. There are always positive aspects if you look for them. Focus on what is working rather than on what isn’t working. Be thankful for what you have right now. Forgive yourself for your personal mistakes and transgressions. Surround yourself with positive and happy people. Never give up on yourself. If you do, so will others.
Dealing with anxiety
There’s much to be anxious about today, but nothing is inherently good or bad. Thinking makes it so. Anxiety is when we envision an immediate danger that isn’t there. Recognize and acknowledge stress when it strikes and use the energy it gives you to move forward. Don’t waste your energy trying to manage your stress. The majority of people don’t really fail; they simply stop trying. Failure is an option – a great option because this is how we learn. Push your boundaries. Get off the path of least resistance. Fail as quickly as you can. Each time you fail, have a look at what went wrong, recalibrate and move forward. Let others wallow in their “pity parties” or “wo is me” attitude while you make progress. Sometimes a setback or a failure is the most effective tool for discovery. Don’t get stuck in a quagmire of self-pity and remorse. Find the silver lining in your fuck-ups and learn from them. Gain experience from them. Analyze what went wrong, reformulate your plan of attack and reassert yourself. If you’re making mistakes, it means you are trying.
Use the OODA loop
Learn to control the predictable factors so you can be flexible and nimble when dealing with unpredictable factors. When we accept what we can’t change – that some pain can’t be avoided, that some adversaries can’t be overcome, that tragedy comes to every one of us – we’re free to direct our energy toward work that we can actually do. This is called being reconciled to the uncontrollable. Accepting what must be accepted will allow you to begin the work that must be done. You don’t need to be perfect; just be better. And you will fail, especially at the beginning, so get used to it. Even the most outstanding battlefield commanders and CEOs can’t handle an array of challenges simultaneously without being overwhelmed and failing. Mr. Murphy (Murphy’s Law) will always show up when you least expect it and derail your life. When that happens, use the OODA loop. Developed by a WW II fighter pilot, the OODA loop is an excellent way to start. First, you should pause, breathe and then Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. Keep on repeating the process as conditions change. And don’t try to do everything at once. As Confucius said: “He who chases two rabbits catches none.”
It could always be worse
Take a look around you. No matter how bad you think your situation is, there are always people who are worse off. Talk to others and treat them kindly. Be humble and nice. It can help you see your own situation in a different light. Being happy means facing the fact that life sometimes stinks and that there will definitely be times when you’ll be unhappy. And when that happens, remember the old Persian proverb: “I cursed the fact that I had no shoes until I met the man who had no feet.” A little unhappiness here and there forces you to work through problems and think about what makes you happy so you can set new directions that may change your life. Focus your energy on things you can change. For peace of mind, resign as general manager of the universe. It’s absolutely useless to worry about things you can’t change. It’s much more productive to focus all that energy on things you can change instead. I can’t over-emphasize the importance of staying positive and optimistic. A positive and optimistic attitude can actually improve your health, and your health is extremely important when times are hard. Studies show that optimistic people have stronger immune systems than negative and pessimistic people. The choice is yours.
This, too, will pass
Every day can bring a new opportunity. Each new person you meet or talk to could hold the key to a new door, one that could open up an entirely new world for you. Maintain an open mind and an open heart. After all, you never know what’s just over the horizon or just around the corner. Remember, life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain. Show up when you don’t feel like it, not just when you feel strong, energized and excited. Show up when you’re tired, discouraged and exhausted. Show up even when things suck. The quality of your personal and professional life is not determined so much by your individual successes or failures as it is by what you learn on the journey. You must learn from both your good and bad life experiences and use them as a positive springboard into your future. You create your own opportunities. Your background doesn’t determine where you will end up, only where you start. A brilliant reputation – or great connections or a top education may grease the wheels – but your ability to succeed is directly correlated to your mental toughness and the effort you put into something. And remember: Be flexible and be kind – especially to yourself. This, too, will pass.