Back to school season is the new New Year. Explore this idea with me for a few moments. 

Given the craziness of the last handful of years – climate events freaking us out, a sense that life’s moving too fast with too much to juggle, polarizing conversations we’re not used to having – it’s been enough to make our heads spin!

The three primary reactions I’ve observed to all the upheaval, include: 

Minimize the impact – “It’s not really that bad.” Denial of the reality at hand, of its impact, and of the unsettlement we’ve been feeling.

Head in the sand – “I can’t bear it,” so I pretend it isn’t so; a close cousin to denial and can look like paralysis, being clueless or fearful. Just this past week a client of mine told me, “I went ostrich – it was all too much.”

Charge ahead “I’ve got to get out ahead of this!” or “There’s an opportunity to . . . xyz, so maybe I can beat this!”

These reactions are biologically-based reactions to threats.

However subtle, they consistently show up in our daily lives in various forms. We tend to have preferred ways of reacting that become a sort of signature response, if you will. In my upcoming course, Calm the Chaos, we dig into identifying your Signature Stress Style so it doesn’t serve as an obstacle to your leadership or life.

However, change is the nature of life, the rising and falling of energy, the cycle of life and death, the return to school every fall. It’s normal, it’s just that we don’t like it when it speeds up, spins out and unsettles us.

What we really want today, in the face of all the complexities and speed, is more control. Right? 

We want to regain control, reset the proverbial table, and restore some sense of ‘normalcy,’ whatever that means to us.

Which brings me back to school.  

A fresh start, clean slate, blank canvas, call it what you will, the start of the school year is fresh with possibilities.

Like kids returning to school to learn, you can adopt an open growth mindset and create your future rather than wasting your energy grasping to keep things the same in attempts to control what’s simply the natural state of the world – constant change.

We encourage kids to stretch, to try out new things, to dream big, to celebrate successes.

But as adults, let’s face it, we’ve long had a love/hate relationship with control

Too much of it and we feel constrained, tight, boxed in; too little of it and we feel like we’re spinning out and pushing out the edges of what’s been comfortable. Like many of us today.

But ‘control’ has gotten a bad rap because we notice it most obviously in its extremes. We envision micromanaging, blustering bosses or overly critical know-it-alls who insist on showing us the correct way. These ‘control freaks’ are seen as rigid, unoriginal, and maddening.

However, control has another, more fitting, name: self-efficacy.

That’s a fancy name for your belief in your ability to succeed in a particular situation, no matter how difficult. You could also simply call it confidence.

Our beliefs are a mish-mash of our past experiences, thoughts, successes or failures, and how we feel.

And due to our built-in negativity bias, we all tend to notice what’s NOT working well before we can see what IS working well, which can reinforce our beliefs.

While this bias evolved over time as a survival strategy, it also serves to constrict our viewpoint and reinforces our need for ‘more control.’ In other words, of course we all want more control – it’s a normal biological response.

What if, like a kid returning to school, you could reframe, rename and re-story your inner push for ‘more control?’ 

The old fight, flight or freeze way of thinking about stress and control is that your body’s preparing you to react to the threat at-hand (or in your mind).

Perfect timing for a lesson in another way to think about it! 


Subject: Challenge response

A challenge response is just that—a response, not a threat at all.

It also prepares you for action, though because you’re not registering threat, your blood vessels stay relaxed. By not constricting your blood flow, more energy literally moves through your body and increases the likelihood of handling yourself well, with better outcomes.

While threat reactions sensitize the brain to future stress, a challenge response sets you up to grow your resilience as you learn from stressful experiences.

The key to how you handle life is how you think about your own ability to work with stress.

In other words, your best renewable resource for dealing with stress isn’t getting better at control, but knowing 1) what you care about, 2) your Signature Stress Style, and 3) then choosing a challenge response instead.

Of course, that’s easier said than done, but what if it were that simple?

To choose to see the world, the situation, that difficult person from a more open vantage point, one that releases you from the grip of control, and instead frees you up to learn something new. A way to thrive, even in difficult situations – well, I’d call that confidence!

Try out these responses instead:

  • Seek out ways to stretch your ability to work with situations at hand—turn toward the hard thing.
  • Become a keen observer of others who you see as handling life well. Seeing people like you succeed with sustained effort will increase your confidence too.
  • Practice telling yourself a new story. Instead of, “I’ve got to get a grip” or “I can’t bear it,” try on a new story like: “I’m developing my confidence to cope with the stuff of life,’ and then go out and do it.

You too can choose to be a student this fall and open yourself to experiencing new lessons on how to work with stress and Calm the Chaos.


I challenge and support leaders to sharpen their focus, grow their resilience & improve their energy for exemplary results. 

My new book, The Leadership Pause: Sharpen Your Attention, Deepen Your Presence and Navigate the Future is available on Barnes & Noble, Bookshelf, and Amazon (add links) .

I draw from the book content in crafting Calm the Chaos for Busy Professionals on online course that’s set to begin on 9/20/22 and  Are You Willing to Go First: Conversational Keys to Leadership Success,  two of my popular course offers.

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For more information, contact me by email:, or visit my website  Q4 Consulting (

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