If we can do a better job of fully appreciating our context and acknowledging how our environment shapes our thoughts and actions, we can be more effective.
Sam Sommers, Author of Situations Matter
Question: During your last visit to an art museum, did you notice the details of the frames around the paintings? Consider this, it is the frame that accentuates the diverse aspects of each painting. So often, we fail to recognize the influence each painting’s frame has on our experience at an art museum.
In a similar fashion, Sam Sommers points out in Situations Matter, “We fail to notice the impact of outside influences on our innermost thoughts and instincts.” Sommers teaches in his book that “many of our intuitions about human nature is wrong.” He points out that what we have believed, as early as childhood, about what makes people tick (do what they do) “turn out to be misplaced: individuals’ personalities – yours and mine included – are not as stable as we think they are. We are more influenced by those around us than we’d like to believe. Even our private sense of identity is highly context-dependent.”
Understanding the Power of Context
Context is defined as the following:
- the interrelated conditions in which something exists or occurs: environment, setting
- the situation within which something exists or happen, and that can help explain it
- fundamental assumptions about what is possible
Sommers writes, “The world around us is constantly pulling our strings, coloring how we think and guiding how we behave. And yet we rarely notice.”
Now for many of us who were able to rise above daunting circumstances to move forward and create success and lifestyles once considered to be unimaginable by our parents, or, our parent’s parents, the hidden power of context can feel a bit unsettling. Especially, when we consider how we were able to rise above not-so-perfect conditions to achieve success.
Nevertheless, if we are honest with ourselves, so much of who we are, how we think and what we do is driven by the context of the situation we find ourselves. I’m sure that just as I have witnessed myself behave in a manner that is not representative of my best self on numerous occasions, you have too.
And here’s the kicker, when we experience someone else reflecting their less-than-best-self behavior, why is it that we are so quick to judge and label them when we know we are just as capable of behaving in a manner that is not a reflection of our best self?
The Power of Seeking First to Understand
How often do we jump to conclusions about someone’s personality and character without “knowing” the full details of a situation they are faced with?
Unless we seek first to understand the interrelated conditions influencing the behavior of someone, we are assuming that our default way of thinking about their behavior is absolute. When in reality, our assumptions can be far from the truth.
As a result of ineffective interpersonal skills, many people in personal and professional relationships create divisive riffs based on assumptions. Acknowledging the dynamics influencing someone’s behavior is key to developing an awareness of how you can best serve, influence and impact them in a way that is for their highest good.
Consider how you behave when you feel stressed as a result of experiencing a challenging situation. Now, consider how you behave when you feel relaxed and capable of handling a challenging situation. The interrelated conditions of any situation influence our state of “being”. We are human beings. Our “being” influences our “doing”.
Sommers points out, “To understand human nature, you must appreciate the power of situations.”
The Endless Practice
As Mark Nepo puts it, “We are shaped by the endless practice of becoming the person we were born to be.” There is no arrival point. Just when we think we have mastered some aspect of our being, another situation presents itself for us to keep expanding our capacity to be more of who we are divinely created to become. Each situation presents a context that influences how we think and behave. No one is immune to this influence. Contexts are a mighty and decisive force.
As I wrote in my book, Get Unstuck Now, I can look back and see the evolution of the stories I told myself when my mother died when I was 13 years old, the death of my father when I was 19, and having the courage to believe that while I started as a minimum wage housekeeper with Marriott Hotels, I refused to allow where I started define where I would end up. This decision within the context(story) “if it is to be, it’s up to me” changed the trajectory of my life and the life of my children, as I began the journey of becoming an award-winning leader of peak performance teams and the general manager of one of the company-owned premier limited lodging hotel in Wilmington, NC.
When I consider the context (story) in which many of my fundamental assumptions about what is possible in life were developed and nurtured, I know without a doubt the seed of these assumptions were planted in the context of my family of origin and the time in which I was born.
As a black girl born in the US during the 60’s, I witnessed how members of my community united towards a specific purpose of gaining civil rights in this country. Black girls born at this time would grow up to inherit very different possibilities than my mom and other black women born in the US in the 1930s and 40s. I witnessed the power of everyday folks. The context of my early experiences fueled my belief that I was destined to be a leader and my corporate career helped me to expand that vision to become a leader that creates more leaders.
Today as the CEO of the Braveheart Training Group, the core values of my business is a reflection of the empowering contexts I experienced during my corporate career, small mastermind groups and personal empowerment seminars/workshops I’ve conducted. Being close to the trenches help me develop learning conditions that allow people to recognize the hidden power of context and learn the power of choice to own their power and experience shifts during and after a training experience. (Launching Soon: The Art of Breakthrough Experience and Brave Life Project)
The Evolution of New Contexts in History
History provides us with examples of when new contexts were created. Democracy, equality, relativity, human rights were all new ways of understanding the world that dismissed the assumption, “it has always been this way.” In each of these and many other situations in which new contexts emerged, there was some person or a group of people that envisioned “what can be” and decided to take courageous action to create a new reality, a new context.
The Power of a New Context in Your Life
As you consider the power of context on your ability to own your authentic power to become who you are divinely designed to be, how much more of what you need and want would you experience if you decided to take courageous actions to create new realities? In your journal or a notepad, answer the following questions.
What situations in your life bring out more of your best self? How can you create more of these situations? Who do you need to become to create these situations? How do you need to show up? What do you need to learn? Who do you need to connect with that can help you?
When you begin to make a connection to how the contexts of your life influence the way you think and behave, it is in this process that you are able to see, possibly for the first time, the power of your choices to create new contexts by which to govern your life.
Acknowledging the influence of environments by no means lessens your power. It helps to develop situational awareness, which is an essential skill for defining a path that is more conducive to your success.
You have been endowed by our Creator with the courageous heart of a lion. As you begin to create new contexts to govern your life, career and business, you’ll begin to dissolve those that limited you. You’ll get back in the driver seat, embrace the fullness of your authentic power and begin to define your destiny based on your values, needs and wants. My friend therein lies the evolutionary power of personal freedom.
Jackie Capers-Brown is the CEO of Braveheart Training Group, Creator of the Art of Breakthrough Experience and Founder of the Brave Life Project. She teaches the principles of the art of breakthrough in her latest book, Get Unstuck Now: Changing Your Story Unleashes Your Power to Move On and Be Happy. She is currently working on her 4th book, Be Brave Now: Everyday Acts of Courage that Empower You to Live, Love and Lead Bravely. Jackie can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Join her online community at www.jackiecapersbrownblog.com.