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The Power of a Non-Anxious Presence
Have you ever woken up at just the right time? Not the over-sleep that still leaves you tired (hello Saturday morning). Nor the under-sleep that makes you want to hit snooze seven more times (hello Thursday morning). That sleep that leaves you just right, ready to move, willing to work, and seize the day. The ‘seize the day’ feeling is the power of a non-anxious presence.
Contrast that feeling with the feelings we receive from an anxiety-producing presence. The anxiety-producing presence is the one that keeps us up too late scrolling Facebook, Youtube, or engaging in a Twitter war. Then we wake up earlier than we expected, maybe even in the middle of the night, because our anxiety has not passed. There was either victory or defeat, and we are anxious to get back into the battle. Rather than seize the day, we want to seize our opponent and cram our anxiety down his throat.
Edwin Friedman and The Non-Anxious Presence
The term a non-anxious presence was first coined by Edwin Friedman, a rabbi and family therapist based in New York City from the 1950s-1990s. As Friedman worked with family after family during the Cold War and economic downturns of the previous century, he became frustrated with his lack of progress with some families. That is when he started focusing his efforts during family therapy on the non-anxious member of the family.
He noticed one family member seemed to naturally cope better with the stress and anxiety going on around them. The children surprised Friedman when they showed greater potential to be the non-anxious presence than their parents. So, Friedman gave the non-anxious family member the tools to spread their lack of anxiety throughout the family structure, effectively calming the environment and allowing a resolution to come forth. As families made real progress, coming to him fewer and fewer times, he realized that this non-anxious presence was effective in allowing the family to find purpose.The children surprised Friedman when they showed greater potential to be the non-anxious presence than their parents. #nonanxiouspresence Click To Tweet
Final Evidence and Scaling
Friedman gained a final piece of evidence for the power of a non-anxious presence by noticing families returning, after ten or so years, and regressing. What happened in those ten years is the child Friedman trained had grown up and moved out. When a child was trained by Friedman, and then eventually moved out from home, the home regressed. Friedman would then choose another member of the family, hopefully, an adult this time. Sometimes, he capitalized on the momentum of the first presence to empower the whole family.
Even more compelling, Freidman completed similar training with synagogues and congregations around New York. He taught leaders how to grow into a non-anxious presence. Becoming a non-anxious presence is something that can be learned by anyone willing to put in the emotional work. Over time, the non-anxious leader receives the most trust and becomes the most healthy teachers and leaders.
Know, Match, and Catalyze
With the background of a Rabbi in New York City, we come to today more stressed and anxious than ever. So, what is behind the seize the day feeling we all so often crave and so rarely realize. The power of a non-anxious presence is more than a feeling; it is a systematic approach to people. The non-anxious presence knows, matches, and catalyzes.
Know and Match
The three steps act as containers that can expand and contract on a case by case basis. When we consider the first container, know, we can see how our children are often the non-anxious presences. Who knows us better and studies us more intently than our children? My son, though he is only 3, knows how I will react in almost every situation. My wife and I still baffle each other though we have known each other since the first grade. When our children know us, then they understand how to react or match our response with their own. The trick lies in the catalyzation, and that requires jumping back a step.Who knows us better and studies us more intently than our children? My son, though he is only 3, knows how I will react in almost every situation. Click To Tweet
Friedman’s work assisted the person deemed to be a non-anxious presence to make better or different matches. Then they could catalyze situations for better outcomes.
As Albert Einstein is often quoted, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” With our children, they expect, even hope, for the same results from their actions. The matches were reactionary. So, Friedman gave the children tools to alter the match to allow for different effects. In other words, Friedman gave them the tools to get out in front of the anxiety and lead instead of reacting.Friedman gave them the tools to get out in front of the anxiety and lead instead of reacting. #nonanxiouspresence Click To Tweet
With the matches redesigned, you and I can catalyze the family into the ‘seize the day’ feeling. The non-anxious presence no longer reacts to the anxiety; they lead through it. We realize the power of a non-anxious presence when we are energized to affect positive change in our world. Instead of wanting to or letting the world burn down in anxiety, we extend our presence to others. The power of a non-anxious presence spreads from one person to the next, as we all reach purpose together.
Applied to Leadership
While the power of a non-anxious presence might be a concept from family therapy is has abundant application in leadership. Imagine CEOs, politicians, and thought-leaders exercising this type of presence during what will probably be one of the most stressful years in our country’s history. With a pandemic, presidential election, and economic collapse, all we are missing is a war. We may even get one depending on the social and leadership response to these challenges facing us.
While we can hope our leaders adopt postures against anxiety-production, a non-anxious presence starts where it began for Friedman, at home. We can each decide, grow in, and choose to be non-anxious presences. That doesn’t mean we take a laissez-faire attitude toward challenges. Instead, it means we confront them. We come to know, match, and catalyze trials for our well-being. Then we pass that wonderful, rested, ‘seize the day’ feeling on to others, starting in our homes. After all, we are stuck in them for a few more days.While we can hope our leaders adopt postures against anxiety-production, a non-anxious presence starts where it began for Friedman, at home. #nonanxiouspresence Click To Tweet
Good luck. I am rooting for you. I am rooting for myself. We can do this. We can choose this for ourselves and our children.