Personal Growth - Generating Possibilities
by R Sankarasubramanyan and Wasundhara Joshi
One of our friends came home the other day. She sounded like she was at a crossroad in her life. Her marriage is not working, her only son has turned 18 and ready to go on with his life and she has not really built a career for herself.
She was asking us “what should I do now?” Both of us tried in many ways to tell her about the possibilities that lie ahead of her. We tried to help her to look at her strengths and how she can amplify and use them as anchors for her career. After some time, I found that we are hitting a wall. She had an explanation why every possibility was a problem that she cannot surmount.
We realized that our friend tells her story as a problem. Her story is that she is in a “bad marriage”, her son is “going to leaving her” and she “has not really built a career”. Since she is “framing” the story in this manner, she is unable to see the unfolding future possibilities in the here and now.
How can we help our friend to look at her reality with new eyes and then generate possibilities for the future?
Most people are like our friend. They see change as a problem to be solved, an issue to be surmounted and dealt with. Hence change still evokes fear, anxiety, helplessness and panic.
Can we look at change differently? The moments of greatest change are moments of greatest possibilities. Can we look at change as a process of generating possibilities for the future? The Appreciative Inquiry approach to change helps us to do exactly that.
Appreciative Inquiry is based on the theory of social construction of reality. Simply stated “what we believe is what we see”. So, if we believe that change is painful, we will experience pain during change process and if we believe that change is celebration, we will experience that too. Reality is also a dynamic entity, our perception of reality changes from time to time based on what is happening to us! Hence we are an active participant in creating the reality around us.
This concept is a powerful tool for personal change. How can people believe that change opens new possibilities for them? How can people get out of anxiety, helplessness and fear and become excited, joyful and be in anticipation of the future that is unfolding in front of them?
We can help individuals see change as an opportunity for celebration. Change is seen as a possibility for many new beginnings. In order to do that, we have to start rewriting our stories – from stories of problems to stories of possibilities. We don’t mean to say that you cook up stories. Just look at the same stories with new eyes and they will open new perspectives and new possibilities.
Tojo Thatchenkery in his book “Appreciative Intelligence” speaks about the need for leadership to develop this inherent competency in them. He defines Appreciative Intelligence as an ability to perceive the positive inherent generative potential within the present moment.
There are three components of appreciative intelligence that change leaders need to develop:
1. Reframing : Framing is the psychological process whereby a person intentionally views or puts into certain perspective any object, person, context or scenario. One of the most common examples of framing is that of calling a glass half-empty or half-full. A leader with appreciative intelligence reframes what is in the present, thereby shifting to a new view of reality and a new outcome.
2. Appreciating the positive : This is the ability to view everyday reality – events, situations, obstacles, problems – with appreciation. This is the process of selectivity and judgment of something’s positive value or worth.
3. Seeing how the future unfolds into the present : This is the ability to see the generative possibilities of the present moment – how the future can unfold from the present. Tojo Thatchenkery calls this the ability to see the “Mighty Oak in the Acorn”.
Appreciative intelligence can be developed by all of us provided we are willing to look at our inner reality, “to seek our internal edges” as Dewitt Jones says. Seeking our internal edges requires high level of self-acceptance of ourselves– the whole package!
Another friend of ours was dealing with a difficult decision to adopt a baby girl. She is single with a good career in a multinational NGO. Her struggle was to envision how she will nurture and grow a baby girl on her own, how her career will be affected and how this will affect the possibility of her getting married to someone in the future?
We asked her to write a book about her story ten years into the future, looking at her life journey from the future. She had to only design the cover of the book as the pages will be written when her life begins to unfold as envisioned by her. She spent a whole night designing the cover. This helped her to see the future as it unfolded into her present. She went ahead and adopted a beautiful two year old girl. She celebrated this change.
When we learn to reframe our inner reality, appreciate the positive in whatever is happening to us in our life context and see how the future unfolds for us in the present, we become more tuned to seeing that in others and in every situation that we are in.
When you believe it, you will see it. Change unfolds generating possibilities for us.
Please visit www.appreciativeinquiry.org for more details.
Appreciative Intelligence – Seeing the Mighty Oak in the Acorn by Tojo Thatchenkery and Carol Metzker, published by Berrett- Kohler Publishers 2006
Celebrate what is right with the World – Video by Dewitt Jones, published by Star Thrower Inc.
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