mental agilityImagine that you’re leading a high visibility project with a very tight deadline. At a crucial point in the project, one of your most valuable team members, with a unique set of skills, leaves the company. Because of a difficult quarter, no replacement hiring is possible, and to your knowledge, no current employees have the necessary skills. It looks like you’ll have to rely on your current team members to fill in the gap.

How do you react to this situation? Are you upset and frustrated, expressing your anger to anyone available? Are you dejected and victimised, feeling caught by circumstances and withdrawing from others who might be able to help? Do you blame others for this impossible situation, suggesting that there should have been a contingency plan in place ? Are you energised, seeing adversity as an opportunity to show what you’re capable of doing when the pressure is on ? Or have you felt all of these reactions, perhaps all at the same time?

Change creates opportunities and, at the same time, change sometimes creates crises. Mental agility allows you to shift your thinking away from negative mindsets during a crisis by taking on different perspectives and asking powerful questions. Anger, frustration, and discouragement are natural reactions to adversity, but mentally agile people don’t get stuck there. Mental agility involves quickly thinking about a crisis in ways that focus your energy on accurate and flexible problem solving.

How can you become more mentally agile? A good starting point is to change what you tell yourself about crises, if you tend to be overly negative. Start by noticing how you describe the situation…and then make some adjustments.

  • One suggestion is to use milder language. For example, if you find yourself saying, “This is awful,” instead try saying, “I dislike this kind of pressure.”
  • Also, change self-limiting statements into questions. For example, instead of saying “This will never work,” say “How can we make this work?”
  • Finally, change negative thoughts to neutral or more positive ones. For example, “That was a huge mistake,” could be re-framed, “I learned a memorable lesson from this experience.”

Resilient managers shift quickly from endlessly dissecting traumatic events to looking forward, determining the best course of action given new realities. They understand the size and scope of the crisis and the levels of control and impact they may have in a bad situation.

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