What can we learn from skyscrapers about personal growth and resilience

Did you know that much of downtown San Francisco is built on sand? Take a building like the new Salesforce Tower, which is over 1,000 feet high: it’s able to stay resilient and flexible during an earthquake thanks to its deep foundation that transfers building loads to the earth farther down from the surface than the average shallow foundation. The building stands on 42 piles driven 300 feet under the earth, grounded in bedrock.

For human beings, a deep foundation includes our whole mind: not only our brains but also our bodies. Emotions are felt and stored in our bodies. Our intuition speaks to us through our bodies, including (but not limited to) the 100 million neurons in our guts and the 40 million neurons in our heart area.

An over-dependence on our brains is like building a life and work based on sand. We try to think and analyze our way through the world, disconnected from the visceral knowing, sensing and feeling that comes from embodying our full humanity. We disconnect because it’s often uncomfortable… and then we must deal with the consequences of that disconnection in the form of dysfunctional families, organizations and societies.

A skyscraper built on sand is like a human “brain on a stick” — and when situations happen like COVID-19, or competitive disruption, or simply an uncomfortable conversation, we aren’t equipped to handle it. It’s easy to resort to aversion or clinging — the two causes of suffering taught by the Buddha — instead of simply being grounded in what is, and responding (not reacting) from that deep foundation within ourselves.

Groundbreaking Leadership is what we call leaders who have done this gentle yet persistent inner excavation work, developing the “deep foundation” capacities of Sensing (somatic wisdom) and Feeling in their bodies, and taking action from this emotionally resilient place.

The groundbreaking process

As a recovering brain on a stick, I used to move from Aversion — feeling uncomfortable but not knowing how to manage that discomfort — directly to Action. Which, as you may know from your own past experience, is an unskillful path that rarely results in positive outcomes. While I can’t say I’ve completely eliminated that tendency (this inner excavation will be a lifelong work!), I’ve been practicing “dropping in” enough to map out a new approach based on my own lived experience.

The emotional perspective shift is a process of dropping into uncomfortable emotions, naming and feeling them, in order to replace with a more empowering emotion.

The emotional perspective shift is a process of dropping into uncomfortable emotions, naming and truly feeling them, and then choosing to embody a more empowering emotion.

If you’d like to play along, don’t simply read the words in the above chart: visualize a recent difficult situation and really feel it in your body. Be curious, like a scientist, without judgment. Try to create the emotional shift from Name, Embrace and Choose, if you can.

Practice makes perfect

I’m combining this process with my colleague Johnnie Moore’s brilliant method of experiential practice to coach a small group of leaders who want to push their edges. If this approach intrigues you, check out our experiential group coaching program page for more.

I also use this process with my 1:1 coaching clients to develop the ability to listen to their own inner wisdom and release emotional blocks that may be keeping them stuck. If you’d like to play along, feel free to book a complementary call with me.

Photo by Gordon Mak on Unsplash

Author: Jen Rice

Midlife nomad and life re-inventor. For my 50th birthday I sold everything I owned in the US and got a 1-way ticket across the pond. I'm now focusing more on what I really love doing -- writing, photography and coaching. My background is three decades' worth of experience in personal and organizational transformation. See https://jenrice.co

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