The Art of Pivoting

“Be water, my friend.” —Bruce Lee

In the not so distant past, plans—either life or business—were trustworthy roadmaps to be followed long-term. And if they were well thought out, they would often lead to the desired goals. Sure, tweaks were needed here and there to accommodate changes to external circumstances such as market shifts, consumer tastes, inflation, currency exchange fluctuations, competitor actions, you name it.

Many organizations prepare 5-year plans and yearly plans, with quarterly and monthly reviews to adjust accordingly. These adjustments were rarely complete overhauls. But the world is changing faster than ever before, fueled by new technology, climate change, demographics, and social upheavals which are making faster reaction times crucial for success. Not to mention a global pandemic which upended all existing plans and rendered new planning to major guesswork of the unknown.

If you are leading your team in turbulent circumstances or want to change career path, you probably find yourself looking for ways to pivot even when the future looks uncertain.

Uncertainty is painful. It feels threatening. It induces stress. For some, the level of anxiety it causes is so high that their ability to make decisions is blocked. No matter if it is for your business or personal life, learning how to pivot again and again when things don’t go according to plan is essential. But, what if I tell you that pivoting need not be scary, that it may even come with ease?

Our feelings are reflections of the thoughts that go through our minds. Our feelings determine our course of action, or inaction. So we need to be mindful of our well-being as we plan our next pivot. When the outlook seems dark, it is good to make a pause and remember the following:

Return to your center. Quiet your mind. Go for a walk, or a run, take a shower, sit on a bench in the park, contemplate the sunset, do some yoga stretches, whatever works for you to clear your mind. Once in your center, you’ll find yourself in the present, without the distracting noise, ready to re-engage.

Be like water. Because water is formless, it always finds its way through every crack. Be like water, adaptable to changes in the environment, powerful in its flow, drip, or crash. Avoid getting trapped in a fixed mindset. Sometimes we become attached to a plan because we have invested time, effort and hope on it. Detach and focus on the target.

Embrace the unknown. It is in the unpredictable that creativity thrives. Control is an illusion. Yesterday’s gone and tomorrow hasn’t been written. What is going on in the moment is what you have to work with. The now is where opportunity is showing up. How you react is where genius happens. Let go of the illusion of control and there is nothing to fear.

Failure isn’t a failure until it’s over, and not even then. No one is born knowing it all. Toddlers learn how to walk by stumbling and falling down. They don’t stop trying because their instinct drives them forward. It’s ok if things don’t work out. Don’t overthink. Learn from the experience and move on to the next idea. Just like kids do, count on your internal GPS to take you to the next stage.

Trust your gut. When you know, you know. Gut feeling—intuition, insight, instinct—manifests itself physically such as a sudden wave of calm, goosebumps, or a sinking sensation in your stomach. Intuition isn’t magical. It is the result of your subconscious brain having collected information and reporting back to you.

Own your power. Lean on your strengths and abilities. Your toolbox is equipped with a set of skills that will see you through.

Beware of naysayers. People will have opinions. They will judge. They might make you doubt. They probably do it with good intentions, trying to be supportive, and may even have a point. Listen to what they have to say. Just keep in mind that they speak from their own experience, capabilities and mental state. Not yours.

Note the ego. If you feel stuck, ask yourself whether you are faking positivity, being overly self-critical, assigning blame, or going into denial mode. These are all mechanisms your ego uses to protect itself. But don’t take your ego too seriously. It’s just an imaginary construct of your mind anyways. They do not serve you as they only prolong the pain. Plus, they don’t allow space for creativity. If you catch yourself in any of these mindsets, don’t worry, you’ve just liberated yourself by becoming aware.

Be kind to yourself. Feeling less than great when the going gets rough is normal. Acknowledge the feeling to allow it to go away. Accept your humanity. Emotions are your allies. They inform you of your state of mind so that you can return to your neutral state of well-being.

Pivoting with ease is a real possibility. When it becomes second nature, you’ll find it perfectly natural to pull out a blank sheet to start over again. A flexible mindset is a muscle that you exercise. It gives you the mental and emotional resilience to help you face challenges ahead. 

Be in the present to see opportunities when they show up. Dare try something new and see which door opens. And if you wonder whether you need to pivot again, believe in yourself. Your inner-self is wise. And wisdom is knowing when to hold on and when to let go.