Like Ukraine’s Zelensky, You Can Transcend Yourself. Here’s How.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a former comedian shown here preparing for his comedy show in 2019, overcame low expectations to lead his country through the Russian invasion.
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Self-transcendence is a complicated concept: It’s what my parents called a 25-cent word. At a simple level, it means getting out of your own way.

I wrote recently about Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and his remarkable acts of self-transcendence as an underestimated leader. He defied the critics and evolved into a bigger, more powerful version of himself to lead his country in the face of horrendous circumstances and confidence-sapping odds.

Zelensky’s leadership evolution has lessons for all of us.

We need not dodge bombs and face down Vladimir Putin to apply this concept to our own performance gaps – the failures of leadership that arise when we repeat the same old sub-optimal responses to the challenges we face. By transcending those internalized, stuck patterns, we can close our performance gaps.

Consider a specific conflict happening in your life right now, whether it’s with a colleague, a friend, a family member or the larger community. Keep it in mind as you read the three steps below, imagining how to apply them to your example.

Transcend Yourself To Get Out of Your Performance Gap

Extensive research in dispute resolution finds five common methods for dealing with conflict: competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding, and accommodating. In theory, we can do any of these, but in practice we have strong patterns or tendencies that we do most of the time, and that others recognize in us even when we’re blind to them ourselves.

When tensions rise, we usually don’t push ourselves beyond – or transcend – these strategies. Instead, we default into well-worn behaviors, creating “performance gaps” – the distance between what we theoretically could do with our full potential versus what we actually do in practice.

No one wants to live in a continuous loop of unhealthy or unproductive behaviors for years or even decades. We want to make our lives better, our relationships richer, and our experience of life’s deepest rewards as fulfilling as we can. We want the best results in business and the best outcome for the conflicts we face. We want to grow and mature, not remain stuck on a hamster wheel of bad choices. In other words, we want to close our performance gaps to be our best selves.

See It. Shift It. Set It Aside.

Winning From Within: A Breakthrough Method For Leading, Living, and Lasting Change by Erica Ariel Fox
ERICA ARIEL FOX

My “Winning From Within” method gives you a three-step roadmap to achieve the first level of self-transcendence. Three inner characters that I call the “Transformers” – the “Lookout,” the “Captain,” and the “Voyager” – hold the key to breaking free from the repetitive patterns that hold you back. These are the default habits that get you in trouble time and again, the ones you hear about year after year in 360-degree feedback or from your executive coach.

Practicing these steps will liberate you from long-held mindsets and behaviors and enable you to put new ones in their place.

Step One: See the Pattern

The first step toward freeing yourself from a habit is to see yourself using it.

Your “Lookout” is the part of you designed to observe you in real time. It’s like a spectator in your mind. Instead of watching a sports match, your Lookout watches you. In Step One, you train your Lookout to notice how you behave when you are in a conflict: Do you fight until you win? Do you pick your battles? Do you avoid conflict whenever possible? Nothing needs to change in Step One. You exercise your Lookout to spot your pattern so you see your default habit in times of conflict.

Step Two: Shift the Pattern

If your Lookout is like a spectator watching a sports match, your “Captain” is the coach telling the team which play to run. If you are conscious of your pattern, then your inner “Captain” can choose something new for you to try, shifting you away from the well-trod pattern that gets you stuck. When your inner Lookout sees what’s happening in your mind, your inner Captain can direct you to run a different play.

If you disagree with a colleague but, as usual, you are silent during the discussion, your Captain can nudge you to speak your mind. If your Lookout senses your aggravation growing and knows you’re moments away from going on the attack, your Captain can shift you in a different direction, encouraging you to breathe deeply, hold your tongue, and try to understand a different perspective. These are big changes toward a new expression of who you are.

Shifting your well-established patterns moves you toward getting beyond yourself – toward transcending yourself.

Step Three: Set Aside the Pattern

Your inner “Voyager” is an innate part of you designed to grow and develop continuously throughout your life. Once your Lookout becomes skilled at spotting you enacting your patterns in real time, and your Captain learns in those moments to lead you in a different direction, your third Transformer, your Voyager, learns to set this pattern aside entirely.

If you’re overly rigid, you wish for more flexibility. If you intimidate people, you want them to know you care. If you’re burning out, you hope to learn how to work less and take better care of yourself.

When it no longer takes effort to spot your pattern and shift away from it, when your Voyager has set the old pattern aside, you have transcended that part of yourself. You eliminate the negative consequences your old tendencies created in your life. You’ve grown beyond them. You’ve transcended them.

Setting aside familiar harmful patterns and embracing new healthier ones is a process of self-transcendence. You free yourself when you set aside limiting patterns and replace them with liberating ones. Then, more quickly and naturally than you can imagine, you improve your results, your relationships and your experience of life’s deepest rewards.

It’s highly likely that Zelensky had to overcome default patterns of his own to take this extraordinary stand on the global stage. When his dark moment of duty called, he stepped up with his entire being, transcending habits that in the past might have held him back. Zelensky set them aside and emerged to lead as a centered and liberated version of himself.

You can, too.

Published on March 28, 2022 on Forbes.com.

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