The first person you need to lead is you

It’s Monday morning and it’s still dark outside. Rain is falling lightly. I drop the girls well in time to catch my plane to Berlin. As I get on the motorway I notice the heavy traffic. I soon realise that it’s heavier than usual and that we are hardly moving. One hour should normally be more than enough to get to the airport, but as the time goes by, I’m starting to think I might not be in time for my flight today.

I could get excited, angry, start worrying about the consequences: missing today’s meeting, having problems with my client as a result, compromising my contract with my client, and the financial consequences… But no. There is nothing I can do and worrying will not help. So I listen to the radio, enjoy my take-away coffee and let go of the worries and questions. I consciously make this choice.

The lady in the car behind me is getting impatient and moves left and right, as if she could create a virtual additional line on the road to escape. She blows the horn because I failed to move on quickly enough to drive 20 metres to my next complete stop. I could make her a sign to go and fry an egg, get out of the car and yell at her, or not move to make her even angrier, but I wave at her and move on to my next stop, 20 metres down the road. What difference does it make? It gave her the impression that we were moving … never mind. I consciously make this choice.

My plane boards at 9:15 and that’s the exact time I enter the airport. I look at the screens, hoping it is delayed, but unfortunately it is not. And the only positive indication on the screens is that there is no “go to gate” message. I could start running, ask everyone at the security check to let me through as my plane is boarding, and possibly fight with other passengers who are equally in a hurry or late for boarding. But I don’t. I’m already checked in so I walk swiftly through the various checks, but at no stage start running. I consciously make this choice.

Finally, as I get near the gate, I can see that boarding is about to start – by that time it is 9:30 – and I still have time to buy a bottle of water. I then join the queue and board the plane. I’m about to sit down but I need a minute to store my hand luggage and coat. The person behind me looks impatient. I could get irritated by his impatience, sigh heavily, but I consciously choose to take a few more seconds to store my coat and luggage appropriately and without hurry. And then smile at the guy and let him make his way to his seat. I can now, as they say, sit back, relax and enjoy my flight.

I could have arrived in a completely different nervous state and feel exhausted to start my day, but I consciously chose not to. I could not have behaved this way some years back, but in the meantime I have learned:

  • That what I experience is a subjective interpretation based on my own personal hardware (neurology) and software (experience, previous events, etc);
  • To analyse my emotional state, watch my train of thoughts and my behaviours and know that I am accountable for them;
  • That my thoughts, emotions and behaviours influence each other and that I can make a conscious decision to change them – from any point of entry – and have a much nicer experience;
  • That nothing I can feel, do or think will make any difference on external events, over which I have no control;
  • That as I change how I feel, think and behave about a particular event in a positive way, I can start looking for solutions or opportunities that will change the way I experience the situation, for the better.

In the same way as in martial arts, if you use the “opponent’s” energy to your own benefit, you can experience life and adversity and transform experiences without resisting uselessly and, on the contrary, by welcoming them with curiosity and interest and see what happens next.

These skills are not reserved to Buddhist monks and trained yogis. They are conscious strategies, which you can acquire to simplify your life, become more successful in your work, and positively influence people around you.

You can learn these strategies by joining the Gecko Strategies Self-Leadership Workshop, of which the first edition will be held on 28 April. If you are curious about what other strategies for success we have in store for you, do join our Curiosity Session and Cocktail on 24 March in Brussels.

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