How to keep moving forward

In uncertain times, when plans are scorched and the world is in turmoil, we need ways to keep moving forward. Mr Karl Gostner – a business and executive coach – shares some advice that applies not only to this time, but any time when one is lost, uncertain or temporarily stuck.

This is a time of profound change. Plans that were conceptualised just six months ago have had to be discarded, and often nothing clear has – or perhaps even can – taken their place. The public discourse has been flooded with distance, isolation, uncertainty, mortality, recession, and depression. It is a hard time.

Mr Stephen Grosz had been practicing as a psychoanalyst for 25 years when he published The Examined Life in 2013, a collection of case studies about his patients. The Guardian remarked that they have a “parable-like brevity”. Indeed, they demonstrate universal truths that extend well beyond the therapy room. Grosz says that, “When we cannot find a way of telling our story, our story tells us – we dream these stories, we develop symptoms, or we find ourselves acting in ways we don’t understand.”

This is equally true for businesses. Purpose gets lost and confusion sets it. So often in that moment, you see executives reaching for consultants who reach for templates, all attempting to cure the symptoms, but ultimately deepening disconnection. A curious mind is more useful. What is our story? Who are we in the world? Reconnecting to the organisation’s story may be more powerful in the long run.

A simple way to do this, is to listen to the people who are most passionate about your business. Mr Bill Campbell calls this ‘love the founders’. There aren’t always founders around, but there are almost always those who want to make things better. Listen to them, even when it’s uncomfortable. Especially when it’s uncomfortable. In times of trauma and stress, we can often forget our stories. We can also use busyness or distraction to obscure our story.

Sometimes, it is simply too painful or feels too risky to listen to our story because it has pain or potential loss or maybe even just requires hard work.
Grosz says, “At one time or another, we all try to silence painful emotions. But when we succeed in feeling nothing, we lose the only means we have of knowing what hurts us, and why.”

At one time or another, we all try to silence painful emotions. But when we succeed in feeling nothing, we lose the only means we have of knowing what hurts us, and why.

Mr Stephen Grosz

It is true for our personal and organisational lives. Pause to listen to what is difficult. When it’s yourself, ask yourself what might make a difference. In organisational life, bring people together and listen deeply to what the problem is. Connecting to the problem, creating spaces for them to be heard, allows us to know what is holding us back.

I love Grosz’s perspective on the future. He says, “The future is not some place we’re going to, but an idea in our mind now. It is something we’re creating, that in turn creates us. The future is a fantasy that shapes our present.” No future makes the now exceedingly difficult. Express what your future will be. Even if the future is just today – “Today, will be like this…” Doing this kind of strategic work, always happens through language. Mr Matthew Budd and Mr Larry Rothstein, in You Are What You Say, say “Language brings forth the world that you live in. If you want to change, it’s profoundly useful to observe how you language yourself into being and in your relationships.” In simpler words, the words you use MATTER. What are the words you use to describe yourself and others?

Think about your business, how does the language you use illuminate or obscure what needs to be done? But please don’t issue an edict that insists that ‘problems’ get called ‘opportunities.’ Remember Grosz. Listening to the pain is useful and powerful. Changing language is powerful but not sufficient on its own.

Budd and Rothstein say, “Powerful, intentional people do not indulge in fantasy affirmations and declarations. Their word is an embodied word, and they mobilise their life in pursuit of their goals. This does not mean that they are always guaranteed success, but their intention and direction is at one with their declarations.” It is an incredibly powerful tactic. Shift your language and then decide what you will do, how often and with whom to enact the words you’re using. Then, of course, do it. Say it and do it. So, “Today will be like this BECAUSE I will do abc…”

Powerful, intentional people do not indulge in fantasy affirmations and declarations. Their word is an embodied word, and they mobilise their life in pursuit of their goals

Messrs Matthew Budd and Larry Rothstein

I can hear you saying, “This is all great. Remember your story. Connect with the hard stuff. Envision the future. Shift your language. Yeh, whatever…sometimes it is too hard to do any of that…it is all too much…” So here are a few exercises from Linda Graham’s Resilience – all easy to do and will connect you back to yourself and others. Take a deep breath and sigh. Do it as many times as feels good. It resets your nervous system and deepens relaxation. Use it whenever you feel stressed. Do a yoga child’s pose. It’s easy to do, ask Google how. A few minutes will help you reset.

Hugs are tricky right now, but if you have people you can hug, do so. Often. A proper hug of at least 20 seconds. Pets count. Again, deepened connection and relaxation.And then, a social distance friendly one. Do this with a trusted friend. Sit the requisite distance apart. Sit face to face and agree to hold eye contact whilst thinking thoughts of well-being and love for your friend, for three minutes. Think of your friend and start to notice your feelings of connection and relaxation deepening. It even works on Zoom. Not brilliantly, but it does. Start somewhere. Momentum increases exponentially. The smallest actions have profound impact over time.

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