Opportunities like destroying the Death Star don't come along often. The process of moving through allows you to be a hero every day.
Has something like this ever happened to you?
You wake up feeling well rested and notice the room is brighter than usual. The bed feels comfortable and you may even have a small smile on your face. You have a moment of peace, move to stretch and hear the silence. Something is happening. THE ALARM IS NOT GOING OFF! OH CRAP!!! That feeling of restful bliss is so far in the past, it might as well as never have existed. Now you must shift into overdrive, make it all happen, rehearse your excuses, manage feelings of frustration and create a plan to adjust everything.
Seems ordinary, right? Nothing heroic so far. Then, you meet the first other human of the day.
Interacting with people having a "panic" mindset is a much greater trial with much greater potential for negative consequence. Our interactions with others will determine our own satisfaction with our day and our ability to get things done. It will also influence the way others perceive us and potentially make or break someone else’s day.
"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our happiness."
– Viktor Frankl, Austrian Psychologist and Holocaust survivor
The human brain is amazing. It has the ability to create an internal reality from our thoughts and emotions. Then through decisions and actions, it creates an external reality to match.
Enter the Hero
There is power in that decision moment but only if we exercise choice. Many people are either unaware or unwilling to accept that power. Being a hero requires that you become aware of that power and then weld it to create a reality that befits a hero. I like to think of this process as “moving through”.
Now, consider the following illustration where the circle represents a challenge or opportunity for that amazing brain to create a reality. The arrows represent a person’s decision paths beginning with ATTENTION.
You will notice in the diagram there are three arrows representing three directions where a decision (choice) leading to action can go. The middle arrow represents the hero’s path: moving through, but let’s consider the top and bottom arrows first.
Enter the Villain and her Minion
The over path aggressively moves over the obstacle. This person only considers what is wanted and whatever it takes to make that end happen. This path has the most potential to harm others in the process because the wants and needs of others are rarely a concern unless they are essential to getting to an end. If this were a movie, the villain would follow a pattern of making this choice.
The under path is the exact opposite. This person’s decision is to move passively under the challenge giving away the power of choice to others. This is a supporting role. This option reserves the right to complain and blame if the results are undesirable. Again, if this were a movie, an underling or minion would have a pattern of making this choice.
Both the villain and minion choices are REACTIONS. The challenge comes and little energy is exerted before exercising choice. We think a few thoughts, feel something we are often unaware of and then move in a direction most often based on what is most comfortable or feels safest at the moment. The only considerations are WHAT is wanted and HOW to best make that happen.
There is nothing wrong per se in choosing an over or under path. In truth, we cannot help it. We have thousands of decisions to make every day and if we had to stop and really think about each one, we would never get anything done (think Chidi from the TV show, The Good Place). However, when these strategies become a default pattern as they often are, then they become problematic. There is value in having agility to switch back and forth between the two positions.
Anyone who has been on a white water rafting trip with friends knows the value of picking the most experienced member of the team to be the designated leader to choose the overall path through the turbulent waters. However, all along the way, that leader needs to listen to the others as they yell out, “ROCK!”, and all in the boat have to adjust to the new information so that turns can be made and all stay safely in the boat with the boat facing forward. When someone falls out (and someone always does), friends do not wait for that leader to tell them to grab that person and pull them back in. There are so many decisions in such an adventure that each person has to exercise both over and under positions fluidly taking momentary charge or yielding to another’s direction.
While it may seem so at times, most of life’s challenges don’t come so tightly packed. It’s in the slower processes of life when even more agility can be exercised and an additional middle path can be added. Sometimes we don’t even become aware of the need for this path until we’ve gotten so far down an over or under path that we realize we don’t have the results we wanted at all. Then we have to back peddle and get that boat turned around which takes a lot of work and sometimes eating of yesterday's not so sweet words.
Sometimes even a hero can make a snap decision that can still have positive effects because it moves people forward. Remember Princess Leia’s, “Into the garbage chute, fly boy!” It was a very over decision that moves our heroes forward, but at what cost? Many more clean up decisions were needed. Lesson from Leia: don't be too hard on yourself if you make a few reactionary decisions that have poor results. There are more opportunities to clean it up and still be a hero.
In stark contrast, the middle hero path is more difficult. It requires us to stop and consider not only the WHAT and the HOW but also the WHY when a decision is to be made. This is the path of AWARENESS.
In everyday life, the hero path of moving through is to enter into the journey of self-awareness. To be self-aware, we must gain insight into what is happening inside our own minds (i.e. mindfulness). It requires work to uncover our beliefs and their origins, functions and limitations. Self-awareness requires examining our motivations by really listening to our thoughts and experiencing our feelings. In self-awareness, the hero pays attention to energy levels and what restores or depletes them. Having awareness includes understanding our values, purpose, attitudes and biases. Being self-aware incorporates attention to our own body language and gestures. It requires learning from mistakes and figuring out whether something “fits"or not.
While the hero path can feel lonely, it is rarely ever taken alone. Allies face similar challenges. Coaches, mentors and even books can be an enormous source of help. For self-awareness to actually take place though, none of these aids or allies can do the work to uncover what is underneath. To accept total direction from another is just an alternate form of the passive underling path.
Some insights revealed in self-awareness can be quite pleasant like a value to help others in need, and other revelations may be quite dark like a belief of not being good enough. No matter what is revealed, changes and adjustments can be made, however, there is a core that is not changed. People call it many different names including: the true self, essential self, spirit, heart, inner child/inner parent, soul, higher consciousness, the observer, the central mind or some other construct. Essentially, this is the part of you that is creative, resourceful and whole. It desires connection to others, freedom to joyfully express oneself, deeper understanding, compassionate action, and healthy belonging. It’s the part of you that opens up to unlimited possibilities. It calls you to act as your very best self.
The reactionary over and under paths ignore the true self. It can only be accessed in the process of moving through.
“Your mission, should you choose to accept it…”
So, the secret to being a hero in our everyday choices is to first pay attention and recognize the opportunities we are given. Pick the critical decisions, usually the ones that have impact on others and our own lives. Then decide to move through the process of self-awareness to make choices that are thoughtful and respectful of our true nature. Only in this way will our results be authentic, reflect who we are and bring deep lasting satisfaction. Moving through allows us to have connection, be known and have significant impact in the lives of others. By taking this path, we will be rewarded with the self-respect and honor we deserve from others as one who walks the journey of the hero.