Why Personal Agility Is The Superpower We All Need To Thrive Now

Psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert found that almost half of the time we operate on “automatic pilot” or unconscious of what we are doing or how we feel, as our mind wanders to somewhere else other than here and now.
In addition to the constant mind-wandering, the various cognitive biases also affects our ability to have an accurate understanding of ourselves; we tend to believe narratives that support our already existing sense of self.

We are at our worst under stress and ambiguity. When faced with continual complexity at unprecedented pace, our survival instincts kick in. In a mental panic to regain control, we fight, flee, or freeze: we act before thinking (“we’ve got to make some kind of decision, now!”). We analyse an issue to the point of paralysis, or we abdicate responsibility by ignoring the problem or shunting it off to a committee or task force. We need inner agility, but our brain instinctively seeks stasis. We fall into conservative, rigid old habits.

But we cannot be impeded by our old beliefs, as these old mentalities do not inspire growth and adaptability. We cannot expect the same rules or actions to be applicable across the multitude of experiences and circumstances that we go through in our lives. A seed cannot grow from concrete, only from a mixture of fertile soil, water and sunlight.

We need to change our stories about ourselves. Lucky for us, behaviour is learnt and our brains can change. We can unlearn and relearn better ways of being and doing. It is possible for a person to move from making unconscious choices to making more courageous, bold and deliberate conscious choices that transform the end result they are seeking. You can learn to make these conscious choices that will not only create an enormous positive and abundant ripple effect, but also more importantly, sustain the success achieved.

Developing this kind of inner agility and intentional behaviour isn’t easy. To grow takes time, attention and courage, but often we keep ourselves so busy with distractions and never make time for this reflection and learning, observe our reactions and impact. In some ways, it goes against our very nature, which wants to simplify a problem by applying our expert mind-set and best practices.

To address complex problems, we need to become more complex ourselves. We need to recognize and appreciate emergent possibilities. That’s how the complexity we face can become manageable, even exciting and we learn to thrive, not just survive.

Most of what you need work is already inside you. You can build the key mindsets and practices of Personal Agility. We need to re-align our mindsets, actions, emotions and thoughts to our values and become more conscious in our behaviour.

Those who commit to continuous learning and honing their human skills will have the flexibility and confidence to adapt to this new world. In my work over the last 28 years, I have come to understand what drives “thriving” – it comes down to consistently applying six mindsets and practices.

The six evidence based practices of Personal Agility are:

  1. Self-Awareness – knowing your intentions and values, as well as knowing what can “push your buttons” and derail you.
  2. Grit – a combination of passion, perseverance and motivation.
  3. Focus – deliberate and focused attention, being indistractable.
  4. Emotional Agility – listen to your values and emotions when making decisions.
  5. Growth Mindset – leaning into discomfort, using challenges for growth.
  6. Clear Relationships – building clear and positive relationships.

Let me explain each one in a bit more detail:

Growth Mindset is the core mindset underpinning all others. It’s a superpower of belief that you can learn anything if you put your mind to it. This mindset will help you thrive rather than survive. It drives motivation and achievement and is the language of ‘can’ and ‘not yet’.

Add some Grit and you have a superpower that will help you achieve your long-term goals in the new world of work. Grit is holding onto your long-term goals even when things come up that cause delays.

It is based on passion, perseverance and motivation. Gritty people have a growth mindset. When bad things happen, they don’t give up. It is about taking perspective and reframing, rather than ruminating. The aim of reframing is to shift one’s perspective to be more empowered to act – and hopefully to learn at the same time.

Self-Awareness is another superpower that distinguishes individuals who thrive. When we know ourselves and how others see us, we can adjust our behaviour and emotions effectively and we are more approachable and confident. Most importantly, we can continually mature and grow. If you are self-aware, you can be flexible about the things you need to make adjustments on.

Emotional agility helps your emotional awareness and helps you see the possibilities despite your overwhelming emotions. It is the ability to be with your thoughts, emotions and stories in ways that are compassionate, curious and courageous. It saves you from your brain’s natural bias to negativity and helps you choose a more effective way forward. Together with emotional agility, emotional courage helps you lean into the emotions appropriately.

Next, your Focus needs to improve. Your focus is your reality. The more focus gets disrupted the worse we perform. Spend more time on deep and meaningful activities and less on busy or shallow work and interactions. Being focused is a superpower that will make you more productive and thus deliver high-quality work and relationships faster.

Finally, interaction is exercise for the brain. Our brain depends on mutual stimulation and beneficial interactions with others for its survival. Without it, neurons die, but our relationships are, in the words of Professor Gervase Bushe, “Characterised by interpersonal mush“. We try and make sense of events and others, but we never check out our own and others’ stories. We each create our own experience, although we think others create it.

This lack of clear communication leads to conflict and misunderstanding. To have clear communications and therefore more positive relationships, you need to discover and validate what other people around you observe, feel, think and want and help them understand your story accurately.

You now understand the six human superpowers that you need in order to learn and thrive in the new world of work and in complex environment.

But you should be warned: Behaviour and mindset change is not easy. It takes time. Expect your old habits and new obstacles to come up as you try to develop the superpowers that you’ve just learned.

Also, don’t expect everyone around you to like the change they’ll see.


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