Psychological assessments are all the rage these days - there are assessments of personality, strengths, motivation, leadership style. Whatever the “trait,” there’s sure to be a measure. Including traits that quite frankly, don’t exist.
I have to admit, I have an axe to grind with assessment. Because as human beings we have so much more potential and potential to change than our results might suggest. The truth of the matter is, many if not most “personality” assessments reflect our beliefs and habitual ways of responding to our environments, formed and reinforced over time.
It’s a little bit like measuring your height when you’re a kid. You’re this tall now, and it’s reasonable to assume you will grow.
Don’t get me wrong, some traits are pretty stable. For example values, how introverted you are, or your appetite for novelty. But there are introverts who enjoy parties, and nervous nellies who relish entrepreneuring. Security driven types can become mission driven. These things are all true of me, so I would know.
According to the science on this topic, when it comes to our BEHAVIOR and EXPERIENCE in any situation, there’s actually not much set in stone. We ASSUME there is, because we are biologically wired for survival, and therefore automaticity. In failing to apply our innate capacity for wisdom, and insight, we tend to fall back on old behaviors and ways of thinking. We see the world and ourselves with blinders, and balls and chains. In actuality, within any given situation we have a startling degree of choice and possibility.
Once again, I KNOW this is true. It’s science, after all.
Once you get this - really get it, moment to moment and not just in an intellectual sense - it’s life changing. Imagine what it would mean to choose differently, in any given moment and in a longstanding, personally transformative way. If you’re only willing to try, and on some level, you believe.
As a business psychologist, coach, culture chameleon, and someone who has been in the trenches and reinvented myself several times, I will repeat: There are few things about you that are hardwired. The vast majority, you get to say.
You ARE a creative, resourceful, brilliantly adaptable entity. You are NOT your assessment results, or even your past or present choices. I’m not saying these things are meaningless or completely unfruitful to look at. But trying to “find yourself” anywhere in clues scattered outside - particularly when something feels off or lacking - is the psychological equivalent of chasing your own tail.
Assess yourself, sure. Heck I can do it for you. A well-designed assessment can be a good jumping off point and provides a rough sketch of current realities. But at the end of the day, taking stock of the goods (and not-so-goods) you’ve accumulated is not enough to fulfill you or move you forward. There’s a leadership saying that what got you here, won’t get you there. Starting with now, you and your life are created. Who and what are you building today?
Racing thoughts, sleepless nights, days fueled by a mixture of panic and coffee... Until we crash, burn, and do it all over again. The extremity varies but work stress is real and can have a big impact on our health and effectiveness, especially in the long run.
Some argue that stress is one of the greatest health epidemics of the 21st century. Chronic stress has been linked to a host of health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and risk for mental illness. One study of 30,000 adults showed that those who reported high stress had 43% increased risk of dying.
The statistics are alarming, but there is good news from the research which may seem obvious upon reading (far less so when you are actively stressing out): Stress is always 1 part stimulus, 1 part reaction. We are wired for survival and this is to our biological benefit - when we are faced with life and death situations, at least. But you simply cannot “feel stressed” if you don’t interpret something in your environment as a threat.
This means that training your brain to re-interpret the environment – and the immediate experience of stress itself – will dramatically reduce its negative effects. In the above study, high stress only led to reduced lifespan when individuals believed that stress negatively impacts health.
Let me back up here and clarify my meaning. The solution to your stress is NOT to simply "toughen up." This is a very, very flawed solution for reasons well beyond the scope of this writing. You have every right and capability to do more than merely surviving, and while the "buck up" mentality has its upsides you probably won't reach peak potential that way.
If you want to solve your stress problem, you have three options:
1. Remove the stressor/threat
2. Change it
In practice these options naturally overlap, by the way. But let's assume for the moment that you can't or don't want to exit or change the situation. You still have #3. And #3 is GOLDEN. In fact many times #3 is needed to make #1 and #2 viable options.
So how does you actually DO this? How can you re-interpret what's happening in a way that serves you - and your health and effectiveness, in the long-run? In other words how can you start to believe what you don't already? This is a BIG question. Because no two people will look quite the same.
I can't solve all your stress problems in the span of two written pages, but while I have your attention I'll offer a simple stress hack you can do on your own. This week, do your mind and body good with the following stress relabeling activity:
STEP ONE: Select a Stressful Situation
What tends to stress you out? Select one very specific, predictably stressful situation you know will come up. For this activity pick something that's actually going to happen - situations that you're getting chewed up about from the past or hypothetical future will require a different approach.
STEP TWO: Take Stock Internally
When the stressful situation comes up, notice yourself, as if you were from the outside looking in. What are your thoughts, physical sensations, how does the quality and level of your energy seem to change? A quick list of stress symptoms can help clue you in, but everyone experiences stress differently. Be curious, observant, a scientist of your own experience.
STEP THREE: Pay Your Stress Respects
Repeat the following: My stress response is preparing me to overcome. Say it in your head, or for even more oomph you can say it out loud. This might feel like a pumping up, or it can have a tone of respect and appreciation.
If you’re like me, this may feel a little silly at first. It’s not a complete solution, and it's not appropriate if you have an anxiety disorder or are otherwise sweating bullets most of the day. But if you can start to see stress as a well-intentioned survival mechanism and commit to this simple practice in earnest, you will feel the difference, in a tangible way.
For more on the science, check out Kelly McGonigal’s TED talk on How to Make Stress Your Friend.
"It is what it is." One of the most common misconceptions I have come across in coaching and consulting, and frankly in my life, is that the situation or experience is set in stone. That there are fateful forces in our genes, biology and environments that make what happens inevitable, to a large extent.
This can show up in lots of ways – status quo thinking or resistance to change, burn out, “settling,” complacency, and drained confidence to name a few – but the core issue is the same. That when things aren’t going our way, we tend to throw up our hands and to blame. Whether we blame ourselves or someone else, the result is no improvement, no change. And of course, we don't get what we want or think we want, and we feel unhappy, "stuck," disengaged.
But as any psychologist or coach worth their weight in counsel will confess if you really press them, you are very likely a big part of the problem. Because unless you're truly under lock, ball, and chain, the way you interpret, interact with, and “move about” your life will shape it - it will shape what you experience, of course, but also what the world gives back to you. You have much more power than you likely suspect.
I’m not saying I don’t sympathize with your problems. I am deeply compassionate for the injustices committed to you, as well as the injustices you commit to yourself, every day. I think this is a much more sympathetic stance, in fact, than colluding with you to suffer and falter, on top of your pain.
You can't change the fact that life to some extent happens to and around you, but your continuous involvement in this unfolding is a GOOD thing. A thing of tremendous potential. Because when you see yourself and see that you are making choices, the earth shifts a bit, and new possibilities open within your reach.
Life happens but it's also happening. What would it mean for you, to have more say?