For International Women’s Day 2021, I was invited to join a panel discussion run by the Academy of Women Entrepreneurs and moderated by Enterprise Nation, on how women in business can challenge the safe zone and find strategies to explore ‘the beyond’.

Below I share the questions and answers that we discussed, so that you can think about how you will #choosetochallenge yourself in work and in business.


Qu: How can we mitigate the impact of challenges that we face? 

Research shows that when we are faced with a challenge, the chances that the challenge will have a negative impact on us is not based on experiencing the challenge, but actually based on if we have a negative reaction to it, so there’s a lot to be said for putting focus onto the reactions we have when faced with a challenge. 

We can start by raising our awareness of when and how we are triggered. What is it that sets us off and what are the thoughts and feelings that turn up at that time? And then taking an intentional moment to register those thoughts and emotions, and then to very deliberately consider how to best respond.  

Being aware and responding intentionally to a challenge helps us to be responsible for how we will express ourselves. Whilst we may not be able to control our immediate thoughts and feelings, we can control how we express ourselves. 


Qu: What role can resilience play when coping with challenges?

Resilience is the ability to cope with adversity and to bounce back. It enables us to navigate challenges more effectively. With an increased capacity to cope, we can have more control in mitigating impacts on other parts of our life and on our sense of wellbeing.

The good news is, resilience is a state not a trait – we can build it, develop it, learn it. 

The key to building resilience and our capacity to cope is acceptance: to accept what is not in our control and focus our energy on what can be changed. We might not be able to control some things, but it’s important to realise that we are in control of, including our own actions and behaviours. 


Qu: How can we have a strengths based approach to stretching out of our comfort zone?

There’s a growing body of research that shows when we play to our strengths it can have a positive impact on our productivity, our motivation, our engagement, our happiness. When working to our strengths we build confidence and self-belief (and this is not always an approach followed in corporates where the focus can sometimes be on what we need to improve).

Identify your strengths and play to them. Find ways to use them more, to develop them further, and to create more value from using them. How can you expand the application of your strengths in business? When we are using our strengths in a way that we feel some challenge and stretch, we can not only become more motivated and engaged, we can also build resilience to cope with being outside of our safe zone.


Qu: Do you have any top tips for reframing challenges? 

My first tip would be to exercise cognitive flexibility – also called mental agility. It’s been identified as a critical skill for the future of work. Building flexibility into our thoughts can help us to see adversity as a challenge to overcome, and as an opportunity to learn and to grow. 

This is not about ignoring that it is a challenge, but about having the flexibility of thought to also find opportunity in the situation. Ask yourself: What are we up against and what have we got going for us? This can help work through the situation more constructively.

My second tip is to find perspective: Ask yourself: Will this matter in 12 months time? This can help you triage how significant this issue is in the context of the bigger picture, and enable you to decide the appropriate level of response. It’s a simple question, but it can become a powerful question and create a significant shift in how we deal with adversity.


Qu: Is it possible to enjoy challenging ourselves? 

Having a goal or a purpose is critical here. When you connect to something more important – a bigger picture, it gives meaning. When faced with a challenge, have clarity on what you are trying to achieve overall and why it is important. 

And then release yourself from the tension of achieving it quickly or perfectly, and give yourself permission to try, to fail, to get up and try again. We are exposed to so much perfection and opportunity that we can get caught into a comparison trap. If we can release ourselves from the tension of expectations in the short term and focus on the end goal, it can be possible to approach challenges with an attitude of lightness and learning without compromising on our commitment to achieving what we want overall.


Photo by Ingo Stiller on Unsplash