I’m reading a gripping book right now, Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales (affiliate link). Gonzales profiles men and women who survived epic-proportion catastrophes in nature—adrift at sea, caught in an avalanche, lost in the Bolivian jungle—in order to understand why some of us survive such extraordinary circumstances and most of us don’t. And he believes the principles he’s uncovered apply as well in other parts of our lives as they do when we face natural catastrophe.
One of Gonzalez’ conclusions is that survivors are able to abandon rigid paradigms that limit their thinking and therefore their survival. He says survivors "accept that the environment (or the business climate or their health) is constantly changing. They pick themselves up and start the entire process over again, breaking it down into manageable bits…They come to embrace the world in which they find themselves and see opportunity in adversity." They make stepping stones of stumbling blocks.
A Good Principle for Conflict Resolution
The jump from Gonzalez’ conclusion to application during conflict is both elegantly simple and perhaps teasingly elusive. It’s easy to understand that the frame of mind with which you approach conflict is going to influence how well you engage it. It’s a bit harder to change your framework to one with the kind of positive, flexible attitude that gives you a lot more ability to see possibilities instead of barriers. Here are some strategies next time you find yourself faced with a situation that seems filled with stumbling blocks:
Give yourself an attitude adjustment. Sometimes it’s as easy as asking yourself, "If I could have a better attitude about this situation, what would I be thinking?" or "If I could think of the cup as half full here, what would I be thinking?" Other times you may have to take a break, get some exercise, or wait until you wake up on the better side of the bed. If you have a friend or co-worker who tends to see the positive, ask them to help you consider ways to view the conflict as a possibility instead of a catastrophe.
Take a step, almost any step. Gonzalez points out that survivors do something. They deal with what is in their power, moment to moment. For you, this means preventing yourself from being paralyzed by the conflict. Break down its monstrous proportions into smaller chunks and deal with one of them. Then the next.
Look for the beauty. Huh? Beauty in conflict? Sure—if you’re in conflict, then you’re alive and the world stretches out before you. The survivors Gonzalez profiles all did something amazing: In the midst of mind-boggling circumstances, they were all able to see the beauty of the slice of the world they were caught in. Gonzalez points out that the act of appreciating relieves stress, creates strong motivation and helps you take in new information more effectively.