Why leaders need to chew before they swallow

One of my favourite books to read to my children, as they were growing up, was “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” by Michael Rosen.

A classic children’s picture book, it tells of a family, going out on an adventure to find a bear and the obstacles they face as they do… squelchy mud, swirling snow and swooshy grass.

As the family face each obstacle they realise they ‘Can’t go over it… Can’t go under it… Got to go through it.’

And this is such a great metaphor for the roadblocks we get in life too.

Unfortunately because our brains are wired for avoidance we try to ‘go over it’ by ignoring that there’s an issue, or ‘go under it’ by squashing what we truly feel. And we can even try to ‘go around it’ by distracting ourselves from what’s really going on with things like food, drink and social media.

The problem is when we take any of these paths, we miss out on the gift that is the experience of going through it.

I call this experience ‘chewing’.

When I’m chewing, I’m breaking things down, I’m unearthing my deeply held beliefs and perspectives about the world, myself and my relationship with others. 

Chewing often involves stirring up the sediment of my identity, questioning what good looks like for me in this moment and contemplating who I choose to be moving forward.

Invariably, if I am chewing on something, it’s because there are nutrients to be gained in the here and now that my future self will thank me for.

So the next time you’re faced with a gristly piece of life, rather than going over, under or around it, try giving yourself the time and space to chew your way through it.

Because that could well be what good looks like.

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