Angeles Arrien, an author, teacher, and anthropologist specializing in cross-cultural wisdom, summarized 13 different challenges that humans experience in their lives. These 13 states constitute the major challenges we face when moving through the growth stages. Interestingly enough, 6 of these states have to do with our way of thinking and state of mind.
These states can have an incredible impact on how an organization thinks as a whole, which often has direct correlation with how the leadership thinks. If the leadership of a company is going through one of these 6 mental challenges, odds are that the entire organization will be as well. I’m not saying that employees automatically think the same as their bosses and managers, but employee thinking is guided and influenced by those leaders. So, if you are holding a position of power, influence, or inspiration for others, you may want to consider your daily state of mind.
The 6 mental challenges are:
1) Reworking Past Sorrows and Regrets
There is nothing like a grudge to hold you back. Powerful leaders always ‘clean up’ after themselves, mentally. They look at past situations and try to find the lesson in the experience. They acknowledge the challenge and then use their past experience to move past it. Many leaders don’t actually get this step. Sometimes painful or awkward business experiences are pushed to the side and forgotten verses properly processed. It is the brain clutter of unfinished business and the reworking of old wounds.
In my practice, I’ve found it’s best to ‘clean house’ and take a look at the significant unfinished business in your life to find the lessons, forgive the mistakes, and find gratitude in the end. This completion process is what helps us as leaders to integrate our experiences into true wisdom.
2) Fear of Defeat, New Relationships, or Moving in a New Emotionally Significant Direction
A fear of defeat is based in past memory. The whole function of fear is to constrict and ‘protect’ us. If we are afraid, we cannot move forward into another possible defeat. It can literally feel that we are askew, out of balance, and not acting like ourselves. In leaders, this can be perceived as a lack of courage and risk taking.
Fear is one of the most powerful emotional states we experience and, as leaders, it is important for us to understand that fear is a mental challenge. It’s the thinking behind fear that needs to be address. Fear is powerful and has been used by many leaders as a means to motivate people. Leaders have used it for everything from creating compliance to starting world wars. The shortcoming of this leadership approach, besides any ethical or moral judgment you may have about the use of fear, is that it limits the human spirit, shuts down many of the power centers, and doesn’t allow for gifts, talents, creativity, or innovation to really occur.
3) A Sense of Futility and the Sabotaging Mind
This is when we know what we really want, yet the mind keeps getting stuck in negative ‘yes/but’ commentary. We find all the reasons something can’t happen; not enough time, too many details, market isn’t ready, requires new work processes, or my favorite excuse, ‘it won’t work in our culture’.
I’ve found some leaders to be excellent at managing obstacles and roadblocks, great at critique and problem-solving analysis, but they can still somehow slip into this sense of futility or ‘can’t’ thinking. If you work in an organization that has a lot of passive aggressive or victimization behavior amongst employees, it’s likely facing this futility mindset.
Interference comes from the doubting, confused, or overly-analytical mind. “Analysis Paralysis” is a phrase often used to describe this state. What is really happening is that, fueled by past un-reconciled memories, fears, and negative self-talk, people attempt to control this build-up of negativity by creating ‘noise.’ This noise is a distraction from clarity and prevents aligned action. A lack of clarity and aligned action also means your results will be less than optimal.
This type of thinking has long term effects. I’ve seen many leaders, well-trained from their schooling and professions, analyze and overthink situations to the point where they can miss what actually might work. New ideas are shot down because of their immediate faults before they even get a chance to get fleshed out.
This mental challenge also creates managers and leaders who cannot build strong personal relationships at work because, when they speak with people, they typically are pointing out weakness and faults. That negativity is not attractive, nor engaging. This same outcome can occur with leaders who are continuously confused about what direction to take. They create ambiguity and a lack of focus which makes it nearly impossible for any concerted effort to take place. In fact, I’ve seen many instances where long-term doubt and confusion have left power vacuums in an organization and those leaders had to eventually be marginalized and moved out.
Self-cruelty is the tendency of the mind to inflict, like little knife cuts, critical thoughts that wound our self-image. It most often happens in the form of being too hard or harsh on ourselves. It’s an overly active self-critic and an inner judge who doesn’t believe anything is good enough, that demands perfectionism and unrealistic ideals.
If you ever need a startling example of this, just go to a store and listen to women try on swimsuits in the Spring. I bet you’d be hard press to hear one person come out of a dressing room (if they come out at all) talking about how they are rocking that bikini. Even those people who fit into that particular beauty-standard can throw a slew of self-deprecating, unkind, and harsh statements at themselves. Leaders do the same thing with their PowerPoint decks, project plans, resource management, or meetings.
6) The Fear of Ruin
This is where we make a mental decision to create a powerful belief that things will never work out. It will fail, we will fail, I will fail... In leadership, this primarily shows up in two areas, financial and with relationships. The phrase ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ comes to mind. If you truly believe that you are going to fail, well, then you probably will figure out some way to do so.
These mental challenges, all shadows of a sort, also have positive counterparts in the mind as well. Clarity and creativity, peace of mind achieved through inner guidance and the meditative mindfulness, neutralizing the mind and literally calling a truce in the war of thinking, objectivity communicating in a clear, fair, and balanced manner. By recognizing the alternatives to the mental challenges, we can begin to create new modes of behavior that will result in positive, rather than negative and self-defeating, results.
Contact Kathleen Joy, CEO of Lumiere Work to learn more.