Much of being mentally tough is about achieving a happy balance between two often opposing states – resolute but co-operative, focused but flexible, confident but not arrogant. ‘ Be alert not alarmed ’ is one such paradox that describes the need to be watchful and perceptive of what is going on around you without being on a stressful and constant ‘state of alert’.
Although also used by the Australian Government in their national security propaganda, my first practical exposure was from Ambition’s Group CFO of the time, a canny Scotsman, for whom ‘ be alert not alarmed ’ was a stock phrase. He used it regularly during the months up until the GFC in 2008, whereupon he dropped a few words and it became ‘Be Alarmed!’
It’s a useful phrase to keep front of mind because it reinforces the importance of being constantly alert and sensitive to both danger and opportunity without being obsessed with each and every change, which creates a danger in itself of overreaction.
This alertness is the adaptability to change within the MTQ48 4C’s framework under the Challenge C. By choosing to be alert not alarmed is important because it helps you avoid being ‘blindsided’ or surprised by an unexpected turn of events that you haven’t thought through. Being alert not alarmed and watchful means you can often make smaller adjustments that can create an opportunity or avert danger. Similarly, if you are already in a permanent state of high alert your actions are more likely to be extreme which may or may not be warranted in the situation.
Being alert is the also the prequel to another stock phrase ‘forewarned is forearmed’.
Here are 3 tips to be alert not alarmed:
1) Become comfortable with ambiguity
This comes from having the mindset that nothing is certain and that most of the time you have to function without absolute control and not knowing as much of the context as you would like. If you can accept that plans and information are often incomplete, priorities change and people come and go then you become comfortable with ambiguity which is another way of saying you are comfortable being uncomfortable.
You need to be able to set goals and then just start making things happen, often without clarity on how you will achieve them.
2) Take responsibility for change and innovation
If you take responsibility for driving change and innovation in your life or in your work situation then quickly you become more informed and aware of what’s going on and what could happen. You increase your control and become less surprised or impacted by events.
Being more flexible and adaptable also tends to fashion an understanding that nothing is perfect, mistakes do happen and failures occur. If you can become accountable and take responsibility for each action, whether good or bad, its assists with your learning and in expanding your personal capability. This in turn helps you to be alert not alarmed.
3) Keep your purpose clear and in sight
Finally, keep your purpose ‘your why’ front of mind. In an uncertain and ambiguous environment your purpose becomes your guiding star towards a better place. Even if the worst happens and things go wrong you still have your ‘star’ to help you regroup reassess and get moving again. Your purpose is like a reset button for your brain. It keeps you focused and productive.
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