I will be presenting the exercise below, and many similar to it, at the Authentic Leadership in Action conference on Resilient Leadership in Tacoma, WA June 12, 2015. My keynote on the neuroscience of resilience is part of a larger focus on the transformation of self and society, including civic engagement, response diversity, mindfulness and leadership, wealth, power, love and inquiry, and forming and transforming energy. Sponsored by Naropa University, the conference brings together business leaders, educators, social change agents, artists and mindfulness practitioners to create personal and professional development in global and local contexts.
[some of these same exercises will be discussed in an upcoming Boost Your Company’s Bottom Line telesummit with Allison Gaughan. Worth checking out.]
Exercise: Creating Options, Discerning Choices, and Choosing Wisely
[from Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience, Chapter 18]
1. Assess what is happening as clearly as you can. This includes getting all the facts about the situation you are being asked to cope with; getting expert opinions and perspectives from competent, resilient others; seeing clearly the circumstances and past decisions that contributed to the situation; and assessing your own patterns of resilience to see what’s helpful and unhelpful to you now-where you are open to new learning and where you might be defended or in denial.
Assessment requires resources-of time, help from other people, open-mindedness. Assessment is essential to cultivating response flexibility; without it, we have no options except to react as we have reacted before.
2. Identify options. Brainstorming is a useful tool of deconditioning that can free our brains temporarily from old rules and preconceptions. Creating neural receptivity within the brain allows new associations or linkages to form spontaneously and come to consciousness. Here’s one approach:
(a) Ask a small group of friends to meet with you to identify options. The open-minded exchange of ideas, and the associations they lead to, will spark more ideas than brainstorming by yourself or with just one other person.
(b) All of you generate as many ideas as you can as quickly as you can, without any judgments or evaluations allowed. You may notice that the intuitive side of your brain can generate ideas as quickly as the analytical side. Let your brain generate new ideas by association with what has already been suggested.
(c) Once your group runs out of steam for generating new ideas, categorize the ideas by topic, still without judgment or evaluation.
3. Identify holes in the sidewalk and walk around them. Identify any self-limiting beliefs or automatic patterns of response (see exercises 2 and 3 in chapter 16) that might have contributed to the situation you find yourself in or that might be derailing your ability to generate and choose among options now. When you can clearly see these habits of belief, these inner saboteurs, take the clarity as a cue to walk down another street-to adopt new perspectives, especially the perspective of your wiser self, that can approach the situation with optimism and courage.
4. Identify the core values that will guide you in choosing among the options. We all live by a moral compass, conscious or unconscious, that guides our choices of behaviors. It is part of the conditioning we get from our parents, peers, teachers, coaches, role models, and culture and society at large about what’s right or wrong. Your wiser self, for now, embodies the highest values of that moral compass.
5. Consult your wiser self. Find a time and place where you can come into a sense of presence and have a heart-to-heart talk with your wiser self. State your dilemma and the options you have generated by yourself or with your friends. Simply listen to the deep wisdom of your wiser self speaking to you-not necessarily yet about which options to choose, but about which values matter to you most in choosing. It’s this “truth sense” that will guide you in choosing options. Bring your awareness back to the present moment; register this guidance from your wiser self in your awareness as you make your choices.
6. Discern which options best serve your values. With a clear understanding of your core values to guide your choices, you can begin to discern which of the options you’ve generated best fit those values: which ones feel right on and which feel “off,” are a less ideal match, or don’t fit at all. As strange as it may sound after this long, mindful process, sometimes you can help your brain figure out which option is best by tossing a coin. It’s not that the coin toss makes the decision for you, but in the split second when you realize which way up the coin is landing, you can experience a quick gut reaction: “Uh-oh; this isn’t what I wanted,” or “Phew! I’m glad it turned out this way.” That is the voice of your intuitive wisdom.
7. Choose wisely. This is the natural culmination of the steps above. There’s always the possibility that you might choose differently if you had more information or if circumstances changed and opened up more options. You are aiming for the wisest choice possible in the current circumstances.
Whatever choice you make and whatever the consequences, you have created more response flexibility in your brain. That is the neurobiological platform of resilience that will allow you to make wiser and wiser choices in the future.