I’ve just spent a couple of weeks in Japan with my family and some good friends. I’d never been to Japan before, and the culture was totally new to me. As we landed, I was filled with a mix of excitement and apprehension. I’d heard plenty of stories about the challenge of finding your way around Tokyo. After a long and tiring flight, could we actually find our way to our destination?

Once off the plane, we made it through the airport and onto the train into Tokyo central without a hitch. My spirits were high. We can do this thing!

We arrived at Tokyo Station – one of the busiest stations in the most populous metropolitan area in the world. That’s when things started to get a bit gnarlier. Tokyo Station is a four-level rabbit warren. It has tunnels and walkways going off in all directions, with 1000’s of people moving everywhere all at once. To get out of the station, we needed to find the Yaesu Central exit, one of nine exits. Sign abounded, but none made sense. We proceeded to wander around for 45 minutes, heavy with luggage and jet lag, trying to find our way out!

As we went in circles, I noticed my emotions going in circles too. As we traipsed to-and-fro I felt a rising blend of frustration, anxiety and blame. Arrgh!

Eventually, two things changed the game. 

  1. We stopped and took stock. That helped me to remember that I’d been in plenty of situations where I’d been lost in other big cities before, and it had worked out OK. We could do this.
  2. Then, our eldest son took the initiative and scouted up to the next level.  After a few minutes, he rushed back, shouting that he’d found the way out! Relief, jubilation, and confidence returned!

Here are three practical lessons I look for when facing the new and the different:

  1. Stop and notice. Break the reactive cycle. When we’re faced with the new and different, it’s often destabilising. Our reaction can be to get back to stability, and we rush blindly towards something – anything! – that will help us get that. This can be a fool’s errand. It pays to stop, take stock and look at all the options with a clear head.
  2. Draw on your life experience. Where you’re faced with a new challenge, remember this: you might not have faced this particular situation before, but you’ve probably faced similar situations. Doing this in Tokyo station renewed my confidence and helped us find a way forward.
  3. Trying something different. When you’re stuck, try something new. Anything. And see what happens. By experimenting, you can break the cycle of fear and confusion. It’s not guaranteed to, of course. But it gives you the best chance of learning, and progressing. This is the experimentalist mindset that I’ve written about before.

You’ll likely be faced with the new and the different sometime in the coming week. Lean into it 🙂


Photo by: Digby Scott

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