Are You Ready to Control the Chaos Around You?

03/28/2011 09:04 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

You're overwhelmed and the reason is obvious.

There's too much information, too many choices, too much sensory stimulation and there's the ever-encroaching next crisis. There's no time to catch your breath because chaos seems to be everywhere. Chaos has become the norm and you're on automatic pilot in the way you respond. It's time to reset how you're doing things.

But you don't want to reset with the same old stuff because then you end up in the same old place. It can be very challenging to break out of autopilot when dealing with the swirling chaos around you. However, if you meet chaos in autopilot, you're in for a very bumpy ride.

In building a company from scratch into a multimillion-dollar enterprise I learned a lot about chaos. I learned the only way through it is to listen to and trust what I was feeling rather than what I was seeing.

It was a radical switch for me. I had become very proficient at figuring things out in my head. I often had to disconnect from my feelings so I could stay present to the situation at hand, which could be so heightened and alarming that my natural instinct would have been to run. I learned how to quell my feelings of anxiety and meet challenge after challenge head on. But what happens when the information in your head runs out? What happens when you can't let anyone know that you don't have the answer? What happens when a situation is so new, so unprecedented that nothing in your data bank applies? What happens when emotions get the upper hand and you have to redirect your energy to battle them instead of the situation at hand? It's time to reconnect.

I wanted to find a way to meet and navigate any challenge once and for all, to shed my inner fears and truly advance. I wanted to get way ahead of my curve so I could respond to chaos rather than react to it. I started by giving myself permission to look as far outside the box as necessary to learn. Learning outside the box is precisely what happened. My teacher was not even human. She was a horse.

Now, for you who are skeptical that another species could teach you something as valuable as how to meet and navigate any challenge on any level with focus, clarity and confidence, I ask you to suspend judgment long enough to consider the following:

Is it not wise, when learning something new, to learn from a master?

Horses are masters of instinct. Horses acknowledge that they don't know what they don't know. Horses behave differently than we do. They have no agenda, and they can see what's out there more clearly because they don't have a filter telling them what has to be out there. What could you see and understand, and what change could happen, if you had no agenda?

You can no more out muscle your life than you can out-muscle a 1,200-pound horse. I went to learn how to effect change without moving a muscle.

Here's how I learned to stay present, nimble and flexible so when the next wave of chaos comes your way, you'll be able to surf it instead of wiping out. Start by noticing the signs indicating you have switched from manual control to automatic pilot:

  • You make decisions about how to handle what's currently at hand based on past experiences.
  • You start doing only things you can do by rote and do lots of them. Your to-do list is off the charts -- you've never been busier.
  • You multitask on conference calls.
  • You procrastinate doing the more difficult things so you can check more things off your to-do list.
  • You have no idea how you really feel.

Here's how to turn manual control back on:

  • Get very clear on what you desire.
  • Decide to step out of the status quo.
  • Be willing to go past your comfort zone.
  • Articulate how it would feel to have what you want.

When we define what we want and it becomes more important than what we have, we can navigate past the status quo. We move to a new place of comfort before the chaos becomes comfortable and we lose ourselves in it. That's how you take back the controls.

Here's another way out of autopilot: Open your mind to be receptive to the unknown. The mind is being defined here as your perception -- interpretation without agenda, and/or information you use to make decisions. If you change the interpretation, you change the way you make decisions and the decisions you make. You need to embrace that you don't know what you don't know.

When I started seeing myself from another perspective -- in this case, from a horse's worldview -- I found that a wall can be a door.

People define their reality based on their interpretation of the past. Horses don't assume that just because something happened in the past it's going to happen again. They know that they don't know what's next. And because of that, they're ready for anything. And we can be too.

The questions you need to ask yourself are straightforward: Are you ready to switch off autopilot and procrastination? Are you ready to do things differently? Are you ready to acknowledge that you don't know what you don't know, and in doing so allow yourself to be informed differently?

Essentially, are you ready to challenge the status quo, and to keep challenging it so you don't switch off?

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