Befriend reality

by | Sep 2, 2020 | Leadership

I was really looking forward to our long-planned holiday in Wales last week anticipating lots of fresh air, walking and relaxing. The reality was that I was laid low with a cold (just a cold, not flu, but I don’t do colds lightly), my husband injured his leg on the first day, and the weather was pretty rough.

As the lurgy took hold, the first thing I thought was courtesy of Victor Mildrew – “I don’t believe it!”- followed by thoughts along the lines of, “This is rubbish” and “What a waste of a holiday”.

Fortunately, some wisdom seeped into my foggy head. In fact, two pieces of wisdom.

First of all, my negative thoughts were based on my expectations of what the holiday should be. Expectations are about what we think should happen in the future not what will happen. And disappointment springs from the gap between what we expect and what actually happens – in other words, reality.

We can either accept the situation we’re in or change it. If we can’t change it, we need to change our response to it.

Secondly, I was at risk of making a molehill (albeit unpleasant) into a mountain. A year or so ago, I signed up for mindfulness coaching with a friend who is a mindful leadership expert, Andrew McNeill. He taught me the distinction between primary and secondary experience.

Our primary experience is what we are literally sensing in the moment. For me, that was feeling, for example, achey, blocked up, tired and headachey – the reality was that I had a cold. Our secondary experience is the judgement we make of our primary experience – for example, “this means the holiday’s ruined”.

One of the books I read on holiday (there was plenty of time to read!) was Matt Haig’s latest novel, The Midnight Library, where a woman has the chance to experience variations of how her life would have gone if she’d done things differently. She ends up going back to her old life but seeing it with fresh eyes and discovers, I quote, “that the prison wasn’t the place, but the perspective”.

I could choose both to resent my situation and blow it out of proportion, or accept it, see it for what it was and make the best of it – to befriend it. I could shift my perspective or imprison myself in my own disappointment and judgement.

Incidentally, Haig’s quote seems rather apt given that most of us have been working from home for many months now and are likely to continue to do so!

What about you?

  • Where are you holding onto expectations of how you think things should be and how is that serving you? Perhaps you’re expecting a family member or colleague to behave in a certain way and it’s not happening?
  • Where are you dwelling on your “secondary experience”, overlaying negative thoughts and feelings onto your reality? Your experience of the global pandemic could be interesting territory for reflection.

Taking the liberty of bringing Matt Haig’s words into the present tense : “The prison isn’t the place, but the perspective”.

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Alison Reid is an experienced executive coach who helps senior managers and directors lead with confidence and step-change their influence and impact. She works with them 1-1, empowering them to focus on what matters, communicate with impact and stay calm under pressure so they can lead themselves and others to great results. She's the author of Unleash Your Leadership : How to Worry Less and Achieve More. Download an extract or buy the book.

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