Photo by Rodion Kutsaiev on Unsplash

From Overwhelm to Insight: How to Tap into Your Full Wisdom in Complex Times.

‘I’m so used to focusing on getting things done all the time, that I no longer know how to find that calm, peaceful space within me where I find clarity. I know I need time to reflect, to be with myself with no agenda, and the answers will emerge – but I haven’t done that for a long time!’

Sounds familiar? This is one of my clients speaking, but the truth is it could be any of us. We are ambitious with what we want from life – on all fronts. And that leaves us with an endless list of goals, and to-do’s and actions to take. And most of the time we believe if only we could do more, get more hours in the day, maybe sleep less, we will get where we need to be.

However, the fact is, in today’s complex world, doing more is often not the answer. In fact, it can distract us from the very things that could unlock our ability to deal with this complexity.

Neuroscience throws light on this fascinating paradox. We now know that we actually have two different states from which we operate. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is the mode where we are extremely focused, and oriented to action (it evolved as our body’s stress response, and its purpose was to save us from threats to our lives, so it helps to have that singular focus!) Often, in small bursts, it helps bring out high performance.

However, when over-used, it can be counterproductive – we are all familiar with the issues chronic stress creates in our lives – both physical and emotional.

The counter to this is our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) – the one focused on relaxation and connection. It allows for a wider focus, for empathy and connecting with other perspectives, play and creativity – and other ingredients that help us respond from a space where we are conscious and intentional, and much better placed to deal with complexity.

This is exactly the wisdom my client was tapping into – he knew he needs to connect more with this space to find the clarity he needs in the current moment in his life. But our wiring gives us counterintuitive signals. The SNS activates the urge to act, to do something to solve the problem.

This is the paradox of our current times. When faced with constant change and complexity, our automatic response is to act from the SNS. Because our body doesn’t like uncertainty, and treats it like any other stressor.

What we really need though, is to be able to operate from our PNS – so that we can see more options, tap into collective wisdom, be able to play and experiment.

So how do we make the shift?

It starts first with awareness – noticing our own patterns, catching ourselves in our habitual responses, digging a bit deeper into our own current wiring.

And simultaneously – building the muscle to operate from a different space, one that might initially feel counterintuitive, but allows our full wisdom to show up.

PS: Thanks to Jennifer Garvey Berger and Carolyn Coughlin, who helped me understand this paradox far more deeply than I had before, through their new book, Unleash Your Complexity Genius. It is a brilliant (yet easy) read with lots of practical ways to make this shift in our everyday lives.

PPS: It’s often helpful to do this noticing, reflection and behaviour change in partnership. This is an integral part of the work we do with the leaders we support. We are always happy to have a chat if you are looking to make a shift, and could do with some help.

About Shweta Anand Arora

Shweta Anand Arora is the founder of The Core Questin. She is a Leadership and Life Coach, who works with leaders across the corporate, social enterprise and non-profit space. Shweta holds an M.Ed. from Harvard University, an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad and is a graduate of Coach for Life, USA.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *