What the hell does that mean?

It means you are not the virus.

You are not Trump.

You are not your aging parent who won’t stop going to the grocery store.

You’re not your kid who is playing video games instead of doing school work.

And you’re not your panicking boss who wants you to somehow make donors appear out of thin air.

But all of those things may be affecting you in profound and possibly unhelpful ways.

Doug Silsbee, my late coaching teacher, developed a strategy for disconnecting your inner being from the chaotic forces swirling around you. He called it ‘decoupling your state from your context.’ By context he refers to all of the forces outside of you that are pulling on your attention, and which may make you feel overwhelmed, irritable, or despondent.

He writes: “The more responsibility we feel for what is happening around us (and clearly this is the case for most leaders) the easier it becomes to be in a continual state of reaction. Our inner state becomes entangled with our context as we react to events unfolding around us which are not predictable and over which we have little control.”

This is just a small sample of the brilliance Doug compiled in his last book, Presence-based Leadership. The book is jammed with wisdom and is best consumed in sips. But as he was writing the book he essentialized the key points in a fabulous and digestible series of blog posts, like this one.

So how do we disconnect our being from the overwhelming pulls on our attention? It’s not easy. It takes practice. But it is the key to resilience and worth working at.

Here in his own words is Doug’s formula:

  1. Sense, and name, what is happening in your context. This naming makes it visible and knowable. It puts you on the balcony, seeing clearly what is triggering you or what feels overwhelming.
  2. Sense, and name, your own reactions to this context. Bear witness to how your identity is challenged, how you are taking on the stress of the system, how your thoughts are racing and shoulders hunched and attention span decreasing. Take a balcony view of our own experience
  3. Consciously direct your attention in order to interrupt the automaticity of your own nervous system’s response to triggering. This begins to reveal agency in self-regulating your own state. Your balcony view here is that your state reacts to, but is not determined by, the context.
  4. With practice and sustained witnessing, you may arrive at the transcendent realization described by Viktor Frankl. After years in a Nazi concentration camp, he wrote that “the last of the human freedoms is to choose one’s own attitude in any given set of circumstances.” This is the essence of resilience: the de-linking of our internal state from the context around us. This is liberation.