What do masters students preparing for an assignment, a consultant recovering from illness and a business person doing a balancing act, all have in common? They all are arm wrestling with anxiety. They are not alone. The only real difference is their levels of awareness of this state. We are all arm wrestling with anxiety. All of us, whether we are aware of it or not.
It is easy to appreciate how a group of masters students buckling under the multiple loads of work, home and study commitments would be riddled with anxiety. Then again being a freelance consultant who has had a bout of ill health, leading to several days incapable of doing any meaningful work, thereby losing out on earnings, is clearly a recipe for increased anxiety too. And who hasn’t felt the weight of multiple responsibilities, the frustration of too little time and too much to do gnawing an anxiety hole in the pit of our stomachs?
But are all of us suffering from anxiety? That doesn’t sound feasible, I hear you muttering. The well balanced, happy souls protesting that this cannot be. CAN NOT BE. And yet it CAN. Before you shout at the smug look you believe we have on our faces, the fact that we are all fencing off anxiety is not something that we are particularly happy about either. If, like us you are fascinated by human development and our ability to grow then we encourage you to read on.
A developing model of emotional fitness™
One of the best things about what we do is how much it is teaching us. We are currently in the midst of developing a model of emotional fitness. The very first line of our work-in progress definition of emotional fitness says it is “an ongoing developmental process”. In order to clarify what we mean we went off to revisit human development theories, specifically Robert Kegan.
Viola! A book that neither of us have encountered to date sailed in front of us: “Immunity to Change. How to overcome it and unlock the potential in yourself and your organisation.” by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey. Published in 2009 some of you may be rolling your eyes and sighing, “Oh gosh that old book!”
Well, you know what happens when you stumble upon something that resonates, that speaks to you as if it had been whispering in your ear for months, years, even. Well this book has done that for us and we haven’t even finished with it yet.
We planted up our autumn / winter seeds planted for germination
The barrier to our work
One of the biggest barriers to our work is simply talking about emotions. Especially in the business environment. We can see the cringe coming on as we say the word “e-mo-shuns”. Followed by the hurried look over our shoulder, and the desperate need to go to that Very Important Meeting, the one you have been trying to avoid like the virus.
We may have said this before but we have been programmed by our upbringing, education, culture and society that only “good” emotions such as happiness, contentment, and just being okay, are acceptable. Emotions such as anger, anxiety, depression, grief and simply being upset are better hidden. They are seen as messy, unnecessary, uncomfortable and unwelcome. No-one wants to talk about emotions. Certainly not in a group, preferably not ever.
Tristan celebrated his birthday last week
The challenge of change
Back to the book which focuses on the challenge of leadership development. Development here means sustainable, adaptive change in behaviour. The conundrum is why, in spite of a deep desire to make those necessary changes required to be better leaders, managers, people, we so often cannot make the changes stick?
The answer is because we have hidden competing commitments to our desired changes. Putting these commitments at risk causes intense anxiety but because we have created a very effective anxiety-management system we are largely unaware of it. The downside is that this anxiety-management system prevents us from adapting and making the development leaps required.
There is, of course, a great deal more to this view but the point is that in our world of work we often say “Everybody wants change but few want to change.” Here is a reframe. It’s not that they don’t want to, it’s that they are tripping themselves up by a sophisticated behind-the-scenes system that thinks it is keeping them safe.
This time of year we are blessed with some spectacular sunsets
It requires courage
Change is anxiety provoking for all kinds of new reasons. Being willing to expose your blindside and be made aware of those hidden commitments takes courage. It really does take courage to make real change, because it is not just a head brain thing, it is not just cognitive, it involves our hearts, our feelings and emotions too. Therein lies the real difference.
Like it or not we are going to have to face our emotions, specifically our anxiety around our hidden commitments, if we are to make any meaningful change. If we want to succeed in developing the type of leadership required for the complexity we are faced with, we are going to have to get messy, vulnerable and uncomfortable.
As we said we are not through with the book yet and are looking forward to more learnings and a breakthrough for our own version of adaptive development. We hope to bring you along on that journey with us.
About the author
5th Place is a dynamic organization that's passionate about emotional fitness. We're the creators of Shape of Emotion, a revolutionary tool that's changing the way we understand and manage our emotions. But we're not just about theory - we're about practical, tangible change.
We offer Emotional Fitness Classes and courses that help individuals, from children to adults, build emotional resilience and well-being. For our younger audience, we've created the Vibarealm, a vibrant universe that encourages a healthier interaction with emotions.
Join us on this journey to emotional fitness and let's make the world a better place together.