You know the story of Chicken Little, who got hit in the head by an acorn and was sure that the sky was falling. Of course, it wasn’t. It was just an acorn. Or you may know Chicken Little as Henny Penny or Chicken Licken; there are many variations of the folk tale going back 2500 years.
We’re all different in the ways we respond to the probable but often overlooked, downplayed, or outright ignored problems that I call “gray rhinos”: they’re charging right at us, but we don’t always see them or react properly. Chicken Littles are just one personality type describing how some of us respond to these gray rhinos. Take the Gray Rhino Quiz to find out how well you deal with the obvious dangers in your life, work and in the world around you.
Some of us are just the right amount of prepared, like Game Wardens. Some of us never see them coming in the first place and get flattened like the Pancake. Many of us are like Tourists on Safari: we want to see the big important things that might affect us, for better or for worse, but are still developing that skill. Then there are the Ostriches among us who see things coming but refuse to look.
Chicken Littles don’t have trouble seeing problems. In fact, they could benefit from having more trouble believing the sky is falling. For a Chicken Little, every little sign foretells disaster. Chicken Littles are stressed out all the time.
In the fable, Chicken Little convinces all of her friends that the sky is falling, and the sly Foxey Loxey lures them into his den and eats them all. Because Chicken Little mistook an acorn for the end of the world, she missed seeing the real danger: the hungry fox.
Chicken Littles may spend so much time on overblown crises and unnecessary drama that they don’t focus enough on the big ones. At work, for example, you might put so much energy into day to day crises that you don’t take time to think about whether you’re in the career that’s right for you. At home, you may be so upset that your spouse doesn’t take out the trash that you forget how much you love each other and that maybe the problem is communication and better understanding, not the trash.
But think of it this way: you’re still ahead of the Pancake who gets squashed, and you could teach the Ostrich a thing or two. If you’re a Chicken Little who sees crises everywhere and has trouble focusing on what’s most important, try the following strategies:
- Take a time out to really pay attention. This process will help you feel more in control of yourself, even if you may not be in control of everything around you. Write down a list of the things that make you worry. Now ask yourself about each one: What power do you have to change the outcome? If you can’t prevent something from happening, can you get out of the way? What is the worst that could happen if this thing comes true? If you could pick one thing to fix, what would it be? Is this the real problem, or is there a bigger issue behind it?
- You must know the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The theologian Reinhold Neibuhr authored this prayer, though it’s best known for its use by Alcoholics Anonymous. The Serenity Prayer is so well known because it is so powerful and simple. Make it your mantra.
- Ask yourself who can help you to prioritize and focus. Start among your friends, but also reach outside of your network for people who have gone through something similar, or have expertise in helping others to deal with it. Find a professional mentor; join a peer support group; or hire a coach or therapist.
- What calms you down? For some people, it’s a warm bath. It might be lighting candles or incense. (But obviously not, if you worry that the house might burn down!) Exercise will burn off excess energy and release calm-inducing hormones. It might be a good friend who’s particularly good at listening.
- Think about past situations that you were sure would turn out to be disasters. Now be honest –how many of them were really as bad as all that? Make a list of the times when things turned out much better than you thought they would.
The important thing to understand is that once you’re aware if you have Chicken Little tendencies, you can do something about them.
By taking the quiz and assessing your Gray Rhino type, you’ve already taken a step toward identifying and prioritizing the risks in your life, work, and the world.
Check back soon for more on the other Gray Rhino personalities!