Our ability to discern is an essential skill during challenging times. Surveys and research indicate that many people are in a more reactive mode these days. An experience I had at a conference several years ago taught me a valuable lesson about discernment.
While at the conference, I was able to ski at Snowmass in Colorado with one of my favorite ski buddies. Wherever I ski with Mike, he lightheartedly challenges and encourages me to elevate my skiing skills. And this was one of those times.
A fun lesson
We headed out early one morning to take advantage of about 4 to 5 inches of fresh Colorado champagne powder. Luckily, we were two of the first people on this particular run, dotted with trees and challenging changes in terrain. The only downside was that it was cloudy, which made the light flat. If you have ever skied in flat light, you know how difficult it can be to make out nuances of the run. My comfort level in skiing is for semi-steep, groomed runs so I can tuck and ski fast, being on that edge that if I fall, I might die (well, not really die, but get a good adrenaline rush anyway.) The flat light conditions definitely took me out of my comfort zone.
As Mike and I were skiing this beautiful fresh snow, I struggled with my footing and form. I couldn’t make out the depth of field due to the flat light, so I was stiff and cautious in my skiing. As a result, I was getting frustrated and stressed. My emotions were running high and getting the best of me and I was ready to bail out of skiing for the day.
We did about a half a dozen runs in those conditions, and then on a chairlift ride back to the top, the sun suddenly broke through the clouds. On the next run, all my confidence returned, my form improved, and I had more fun. So what changed? The snow was the same, and the terrain had not changed. Because of the clarity the sunlight provided, I could now see more clearly, and it made all the difference. I could now discern the nuances in the snow and the terrain, and I had my footing back. I was no longer basing my decision to ski on my emotions but on more objective information.
Why is discernment critical?
Discernment is the ability to see things that may be unclear. It is a primary factor in effective decision-making. Many variables impact our ability to discern or to see things more accurately. One significant factor is our emotions. Emotions help make us wonderfully complex. They also can lead us astray; and this is particularly true now, with stress and burnout levels at historic highs.
When emotions run high, accurate discernment becomes difficult if not impossible. Because of all the changes we have experienced and continue to experience since March 2020, it may not be easy to discern or comprehend what is happening around us. It can be challenging to know how to navigate the current terrain leading people to feel they are operating in flat light. A toxic amount of fear is currently pumped daily into our homes and businesses, causing emotions to run high. This dynamic negatively impacts discernment and decision-making.
How do you improve your discernment?
First, acknowledge how you are feeling. What we are living through continues to be unique. It is normal to feel off-balance when there is so much uncertainty.
Second, get grounded. It is hard to think clearly or feel grounded under the cloud cover of a lot of noise and distractions. You can provide your own sunlight by turning off the noise of the “news,” social media, and those lost in their own fear.
Third, check your perspective. This step can be the most challenging as it requires good self-awareness and objectivity. Do your emotions drive your decisions, or are you seeing things as they are?
The above steps will provide you with the clarity you need to move forward, improve your discernment, and build your resilience. It may take some time, so be patient with yourself. Like other essential skills, becoming more discerning is a practice that holds significant benefits. If you would like some help, please get in touch with us.
Sue Kenfield is a certified resiliency specialist working with individuals and organizations as a catalyst to maximize their successful COVID recovery. Sue leads transformative initiatives with her clients to build agile and resilient organizations by enhancing human capital, strengthening leadership, increasing talent retention, aligning organizational strategy and culture. She is a highly regarded speaker, consultant, executive coach. Contact us to learn more.