When faced with danger, different animals react to anxiety in different ways. Lions, for instance, will fight. Gazelles will flee. Turtles will freeze. A fourth “animal” is fully evolved human beings. Humans have many other choices.
This analysis leads to all kinds of interesting areas. You as a human being are not an animal, so you have a choice. You aren’t a lion, so you don’t have to persecute or fight—by, for instance, storming into your boss’s office and giving them, and everyone else on the floor, a piece of your mind about being passed over for a territory you want and feel you deserve.
You are not a gazelle, so you do not have to flee, avoid, deny, or turn to substance-abuse—and you certainly don’t have to resign from the team.
You are not a turtle, so you don’t have to play the victim by freezing up. Specifically, you don’t have to pretend that nothing is happening. You have a choice. You can focus on what you actually want out of the situation.
Focus on what you are willing to do to make your situation better or more tenable. For instance, you might ask for the chance to share your feelings with your boss, in private, about what happened—and find out if there’s a way to secure a better outcome next time. Notice that this is a positive choice, something affirmative that you choose to take action on.
It is all too easy to decide what you don’t want in life. In fact, most people sit around and complain about all the things they want to go away. They carelessly use their precious time and their equally precious thought process to hope for things that they don’t want—without ever realizing that that’s what they’re doing. They could instead be working for the strength to properly influence their own destiny.
This raises some big questions about what, exactly, you want from life. For instance: Are you an avoider or an achiever? Some people go to the gym to avoid being fat. Others go to the gym to achieve sculpted muscles. Which best describes you?
Are you in entropy or atrophy? Some people are still growing. Others are fine being in a state of decay. Bob Dylan once sang, “He not busy being born is busy dying.” Which group are you in? Are you a camper for a climber?
Some people want to summit the highest peaks. Others will never leave the base camp, or even the parking lot, for fear of failure or discomfort. Which group would you say you want to belong to? Which do you belong to?
Are you running away from something—or towards something? Some people will run from problems. Others will run towards solutions to problems. Which approach best describes your strategy? Which makes the most sense?
Are you as good as you can get—or do you want to be great? Some know they are pretty good and won’t risk pushing it. Others will be committed to the journey of improvement, even if that means going beyond what they’re familiar with and occasionally failing along the way. Which kind of person do you want to be? Remember: You can be grateful for what you have and still want more. The people who told you that you were selfish for wanting more are probably the ones who wanted you to stay inside your comfort zone—and keep them company while they stay inside theirs.
Excerpted from Playing the A.C.E.: The Definitive Guide to Conflict Resolution at Work, at Home, and Everywhere Else