At our recent leadership gathering author, coach, and all-round productivity ninja Grace Marshall led a fascinating session about struggle. How we’re programmed to see it as a battle and a fight, how our obsession with perfection gets in the way of progress, and how struggle could actually be where the magic happens. It’s the subject of her new book and we caught up with Grace to hear more about it…
What was the inspiration behind the new book?
Lots of people presume it was born out of the pandemic, but I actually landed on the idea in 2018. Even back then we had lots going on: Brexit, Trump, at every turn it seemed to me like uncertainty was becoming the new normal. But people seemed reluctant to acknowledge it, it was coming through in side conversations and hushed chats – it felt like when asked ‘how’s work?’ or ‘how’s business?’ people were putting on a brave face when really behind the scenes they were dealing with some major challenges.
As a coach I’m in a privileged position as these are the conversations that people bring to me. And I started to see a pattern where, in a world that’s obsessed with fast hacks, quick wins and Instagram perfection we find it hard to admit to – and embrace struggle. I wanted to lift the lid on that and explore the surprising truth, beauty and opportunity hidden in life’s sh*ttier moments.
How can we shift the way we approach challenges and struggle?
It starts with taking the stigma away from it and embracing it wholeheartedly. When we see struggle as a negative, as a sign we’re failing, we shut down. When we stop taking it personally and realise it’s not the end of the world, we can begin to contextualise it and move forward.
It frees up your headspace so you can go, ok this is really hard and is a struggle and I need my full brain working – not just my lizard brain. You start to recognise you’re in the struggle and rather than thinking 'how do I get out of this?' you can think 'ok this is what's happening, let's pay attention to what's going on'.
And that’s when the magic starts to happen. Embracing the struggle often takes us to unexpected places that we might not want to go to, but when we are there, we find those surprising turns, those remarkable innovations. Our brain likes the familiar path and it's not until that conventional path is shut that we look over there and we get those 'holy sh*t' moments that we wouldn't have got to staying safe.
Are we wired to avoid showing we’re struggling?
Absolutely. It’s instinct for our lizard brain to kick in and try keep us safe and look for threats. And these threats go beyond the physical, our lizard brain is equally concerned with social judgement - what other people think of us. Because in ancient times, being rejected from the tribe would be a life or death situation, as we couldn’t survive on our own. So our lizard brain may equate showing struggle as a sign of weakness and a potential social threat. But the surprising truth is that the times when we do show or share our struggle can actually be powerful moments of connection and relationship building, rather than disconnection or rejection.
People might know you as being a productivity ninja – can our relationship with struggle make us more productive?
It really can, people often think of productivity as being organised and systemised, but it’s so much deeper than that. Lots of the traditional time management stuff doesn’t cut it anymore – it was written for a certain demographic and a certain way of working. Productivity is really about our ways of thinking and our relationships and getting mindsets, habits and tools that work for you.
Do you have any tips for being more productive?
Lean into the way you're wired, and how you work best. Rather than thinking I'm not as productive as someone else, ask yourself how you do your best work and what are the things that get in the way. Build things around you that support you – rather than trying to squeeze yourself into what you think a productive person looks like.
Get it all out your head first – on screen or written down. Too often we try to solve problems in our head and that act of committing words to paper or screen means you’re actually naming something and then you can start to work on it.
It’s like naming the struggle. You go 'ah, that's the thing I'm dealing with' rather than all the noise surrounding it.
Find out more about Grace’s work and her new book: https://gracemarshall.com/struggle/