There are times in life, when the chips are down, and there’s little to cheer about. It could be a personal crisis in your life or maybe some nasty events in your workplace. You’re making valiant efforts to change the situation, but nothing seems to go in your favour. With limited options and even less support, you feel boxed in, and at times intimidated, betrayed and disempowered. Somehow others aren't enthused about your ideas. Not that you didn't try. Instead, they’re actively working to scuttle them. Scapegoating is not a news anymore! A weird “whacked out” feeling teams up with a certain inertia, and drains out whatever is left of your confidence and self esteem.
Sure, it’s great to sermonize about the virtues of being proactive and well prepared. We know from experience that picking up the broken pieces can be quite harrowing. At times, even when the pieces aren't exactly broken. Options and answers aren't easy to come by in times like these. The sheer gravity of the situation can be quite disconcerting. You also realize that some of those “well-thought-out” backup options aren't even worth the paper they’re written on. Well, it isn't called a bolt from the blue for no reason!
Did you notice I mentioned that sometimes the pieces aren't exactly broken? Unfortunately, the description in the above two paragraphs isn't only about failures and catastrophe. Some of our workplaces have made this the new normal with poor planning and horrible team management skills. This is what happens when projects and programs operate in a constant ‘simulated’ crisis mode thanks to ill-defined scope management and irresponsible oversight leaving people and systems gasping for breath. This is a different issue that merits a separate article.
In this article, we’re looking only at individuals, and how they can move away from the whacked out state, and cope better with the hard knocks. Systematically building up reserves of resilience could provide some answers.
The resilient state is typically characterized by grit, mental toughness and also self efficacy, the belief in one’s ability to influence outcomes and succeed in chosen endeavours. It calls for greater empowerment, awareness and acceptance of one’s strengths, capabilities and weaknesses. It is also about summoning resourcefulness to chart out the needed course correction and to stick with it even in trying circumstances. It’s important to note that this resourcefulness also includes flexibility and openness to re-invent oneself with strategies and actions that help you conserve time, effort and energy! Talking about energy, many people fail spectacularly only because their thinking skills are held back by poor stamina and fatigue at those all-important junctures. It can be a deadly cocktail indeed when you keep throwing time, money and efforts into plans and actions that frankly don't pass muster.
So, what could be one of the biggest challenges in crossing over to the resilient mode? In my view, it is about crossing over and staying there at real-time for as long as possible. We don't get to move out of a crisis mode into a stable state in a linear/sequential fashion. Where we take a comfortable break to pause and reflect after a crisis, and then neatly respond with great ideas, strategies and actions. In real life, situations may take you back and forth between the resilient and whacked out modes too often. Before you’ve fixed one crisis, three more are alive and kicking! You may have to ‘embrace’ the disturbance and deal with the situation even as you are building up your resilience.
The question is, at any given point in time, do you have a clear idea about which strand is dominant? Are the forces of resilience able to withstand the forces of disruption? Developing a sense of which way the wind is blowing is critical. Develop your personal wind-vane that lets you do just that. Will the good rain-bearing clouds of resilience win? Or will it be the ‘acid-rain-bearing clouds’ from ‘whacked-land’ that are winning? If it’s the latter, how can we reverse the trend? We’ll find out in the upcoming sections.
Now, let’s look at the 8-Fold paths to staying whacked-out and resilient.
The 8-Fold Path to ‘Whacked-ness’!
Personality Dimensions: Some of us have (or maybe think we have) an obsession for perfection, and pretty low tolerance for anything that is even remotely out of order. Now, the desire for perfection is great. But the problem is when it becomes an obsessive compulsive disorder. You almost become a control freak overnight. Everything must happen to your extraordinary ‘gold-standards’, and others better fall in line, okay? The rules are the same for important and trivial matters, curiously more so for the latter. Imagine working for such managers and leaders! They can stress out even brain-dead beings. There is an all-consuming hurry with a spring in the step too! Everything must happen fast and perfect. The neurotic among them can simulate emergencies and crises to spice up even the dullest day of the organization to impress the higher-ups. And even cover up their own tracks, of course! The obsession is directed in such a shoddy manner that precious time and energy get wasted before the real crises strike. More joy to you when entire teams start behaving like this by imitating each other. The biggest problem is that of happily living the drama without realizing that perhaps the roof has been blown away. And people believe their own hype about “actions, plans and action-plans”. Effectiveness can wait. In fact many wily leaders and folks thrive in the ensuing confusion. Maybe it sustains some careers even as it ruins common-sense, intelligence and efficiency! Congratulations! Genuine whackedness has made a cool grand entry.
Poor Self Talk: This is what happens when we tend to wallow in self-blame, and self-pity. Usually, it arises from (sometimes) willful denial of the full picture and reality. At times it is genuine inability to focus on the full spectrum of reality. Self-talk isn't happening in isolation. It is impacted by the other 7 aspects of the 8-fold path to whackedness too. Examples include thoughts like “I am not so good at these numbers and spreadsheets, I always keep making mistakes”, “Europeans don't like me at all”, “I cant do public speeches without botching things up!”, “I am unable to handle these situations”. Poor self talk is like a silent and slow killer. Like playing moronic or morose CD tracks all day in your mind. It ends up corroding your confidence, optimism, hope and so much more. Most of it happens without conscious effort. And that’s the worst part. It’s almost like programming the mind with these limiting thoughts, ideas and subliminal commands.
Poor Self Awareness: When the mind is busy with too many emergencies and crises, it impacts the vital skill of self-awareness. You’re almost on autopilot mode. Rarely able to observe yourself, your thinking patterns, your own contribution to the mess! Poor self-awareness also leads to overlooking good solutions and ideas that are possible by leveraging your unique strengths, skills and capabilities. Somehow, you don't get to connect the dots. You maybe aware of the discrete elements. But you miss out on the larger picture when the dots are connected effectively. Poor self awareness can also lead to thoughtless and ill-timed responses to situations or behaviors of people. You may end up saying the wrong thing at the right time, or vice versa or even worse! In short, you may inadvertently exacerbate the situation in no time. It becomes a vicious cycle of sorts. Good self-awareness is a real-time job. You must learn to observe your patterns when you’re in the midst of situations and events. Post-event analysis maybe simpler.
Poor Adaptability: Poor self awareness can automatically weaken your ability to adapt to situations. This is actually the most important skill if you want to get de-whacked-out before the rot sets in deep. You may end up making sub-optimal choices. Somehow you ‘forget’ resources that could have been used better. In the midst of intense pressure and stress, your coping strategies may be quite unhelpful. For instance, excessive usage of intoxicants or addictive behaviors of various kinds may divert your mind from the crises temporarily. But then the underlying issues remain just as they were. And when you’ve sobered up, this reality can drive you crazy. This can also become a vicious cycle. Effective solutions, ideas, workarounds, options and possibilities are (mostly unintentionally) ignored or discovered late or never at all. Adaptability is stopped in its tracks.
Poor Support System: This can be a huge problem at times. As ‘busyness’ and ‘pressure’ reign supreme, there is less time to effectively engage with others at work and in personal life. People who could have acted as sounding boards are somehow not in “the loop”, and we end up taking support from none, or (worse) from the wrong folks. The support system also includes access to the right mentors, advisors and guides. They may be able to nudge you in directions that may lead you to better insights, outcomes and solutions. Leaders who have the personality disorders we saw earlier can do massive and irreversible damage to the support system. You can see those habits are completely antithetical to the idea of having a good support system at the workplace. It is important to look at rewards and recognition practices to build a better support system and culture, and also to dissuade the few bad apples from doing permanent harm.
Poor Social Awareness: Another consequence of weakening social bonds is the inability to understand and observe others. As you’re so caught up in your own story, there is little time or even inclination to listen deeply to others. We may talk to each other without genuine communication happening. The finer nuances are missed out. What can be communicated in five minutes over phone becomes a three day slanging match with emails, spreadsheets and death by powerpoint! Simply because you didn't ‘notice’ the peculiar tone in the customer’s curt email that triggered it all. If you had probed a little further, maybe you could have understood more about the underlying (or even hidden) worries and motivations that were driving the customer’s behavior that day. Maybe it was a fear about some impending restructuring in her organization. As you fail to tap into the larger context, the background and more, you miss vital clues, hints, danger signals, hidden agendas and the like. Maybe part of the problem is that others are unable to free themselves from their biases and prejudices that you didn't quite see as show-stoppers.
Lack of Perspective: With so many of the other factors on shaky grounds, perspective takes a royal back seat! You further fail to connect the dots with vital inputs and signals from observing yourself and others and the situation. Reflective thinking ain’t happening. You may see medium crises as catastrophic or totally miss out on some emerging opportunity that’s a by-product of a particular problem. You may internalize too much blame on yourself thinking that you’re taking responsibility for what happened. Maybe your role in it was actually small, but you didn't notice. Perspective taking requires the ability to have an inside out view, as also an outside-in view. A top-down and also a bottom-up approach. You may need to allow the sediment to settle down and then look at the depth of the water body. Are you setting yourself up for failure by trying to fix things over which you have little influence? Are you aware of what’ll happen if there is a doomsday scenario? What are the assumptions that you may have overlooked? Have you been taking up battles that weren't worth fighting, and instead created unmitigated misery? All of that requires a calm and composed mind, which is exactly what you’ve been missing for a while!
Lack of Structure: When you’re overwhelmed by the melodrama of crises, those habits and routines that may have had a salutary effect go into deep storage. Method is replaced by chaos, quick fixes and tiding over ‘somehow’ is all that’s possible. Focus is taken up by the crisis of the morning and afternoon. This can also lead to more chaos and crises. Structure that can secure the right priorities in the long term suffers. Structure would have allowed you to change patterns that were giving poor results, and maybe even improve predictability. Without a proper structure in place, you sometimes can’t see the wood for the trees. Systemic inadequacies get glossed over as the noise around the crises gets disproportionate air time and CPU power! The perfect recipe to prolong the whacked-out mode for much longer!
Now let’s look at how to cross over to the resilient mode that’ll hopefully simplify life. That’s coming up in the second and concluding part of this article.