James Allen published a beautiful book in 1901 called “As a Man Thinketh”, in which he wrote “Dream lofty dreams, and as you dream, so shall you become. Your Vision is the promise of what you shall one day be; your ideal is the prophecy of what you shall at last unveil.”
Henry David Thoreau told us “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.”
And Napoleon Hill proclaimed, “What the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”
These quotes speak to our ability to create that which we most desire.
It is not some kind of magic or special power. And it is not something we must rely on others for. It is an innate gift that we gradually learn to utilize as we become more and more aligned with what is most true within us.
This gift is quite simply the strength of the feeling we generate when we identify with something so strongly that we take it to be real. With continual and unwavering belief, whatever we hold in our minds and our hearts in this way becomes our reality.
I began reading about the power of positive thinking and visualization as a teenager.
I was enthralled by stories of athletes who imagined themselves sinking those critical shots and performed at game time exactly as they rehearsed in their minds. I used positive affirmations about the person I was becoming and the wonderful things coming into my life. I created large vision boards for myself that featured pictures or symbols that represented things or experiences I longed for. I envisioned movies in my head in which I performed anything from sports to public speaking powerfully and passionately and with great success.
Some of these visions and dreams have come true over the years. And others have not.
After reflecting at length on what differentiated the dreams and visions that came to fruition from those that didn’t, I have come to the conclusion that there are three significant factors.
Lack of Alignment with a Higher Purpose
One is quite simply that some of the things my mind (and ego) believed I needed to have were not in the best interests of my spirit, aligned with my true purpose, or in service to something greater than myself. Believe me, I have had many occasions to thank God for unanswered prayers that I originally believed would have been the best thing that could have happened.
Don’t push the river.
The energy you would otherwise expend trying to make something happen, or lamenting over something that fell through can be much better directed. Our willingness to let go is buffered by a strong faith that things are happening in a way that will serve your highest interest. In retrospect, we often see how things fell together in a way that helped us get where we are now – though at the time it just felt frustrating and disappointing. Cultivating this faith helps us to recognize and act on new and different opportunities that are much more aligned with our true purpose in live.
Becoming Overly Attached
The second factor often present when things didn’t play out the way I envisioned was my fervent attachment to needing something happen exactly the way (or at just the time) I thought it should – or attachment to anything in particular. While it is true that we need to be passionate about our visions and dreams, it is important to remain willing to let go of the details and trust that something bigger than ourselves will step in to collaborate with us.
This higher intelligence, to which I believe we are all innately connected, is capable of orchestrating things far more magnificently than we could ever attempt to do. It is important that we are willing, but when we step over the line and become too willful our thoughts and actions have a way of throwing a monkey wrench in things.
The urgency in our desire can have us acting out of desperation rather than trust.
As a result, instead of identifying with that which we most want, we embody the state of not having it and trying fervently to do anything to change that. Taking our current state to be more real than what we truly desire, the power of thought works perfectly to deliver what our minds have been fixated on – leaving us in a state of want, working madly to make everything happen the way we think it should.
Try practicing passionate detachment.
We must learn to give ourselves to our visions and dreams while allowing for divine timing, unforeseen incidents and the hand of providence, which often enables things to happen in ways that exceed our wildest expectations. I like to call this state passionate detachment.
“Destiny grants us our wishes, but in its own way, in order to give us something beyond our wishes.”
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Seeing it in Your Mind is Not Enough
You can dream great dreams, but if they lack feeling and passion, they fall as flat as the set of a five act play after the audience has left the final performance. We must go beyond simply watching the movies we create in our minds that have us sinking that shot, mesmerizing that audience, or jumping for joy at our victories. Rather than seeing ourselves up there on the screen of our minds, we must see from the eyes of the person in the movie.
Feeling is as important as seeing, because it leads to proper action.
We must experience in our minds and our bodies the feelings associated with that which we desire most – the elation of victory, the liberating release of having completed something we were unsure or afraid of, and the sweet satisfaction and joy that accompanies success.
Similarly, it is not enough to create a visual wish list or a series of affirmations or declarations about the things we would like to have, achieve or experience. We need to look upon these things as gifts that have already been given to us and feel the gratitude welling up in our hearts for having received them. Only then will we be compelled to truly ACT in ways that bring it about.
Practice grateful certainty.
The state of grateful certainty we need to give ourselves to is similar to the way you may feel after ordering something via the internet. After clicking the purchase button and entering your shipping address and credit card information, you can have reasonable certainty that what you ordered is on its way. With this assurance, you identify with the state of already having owned that which you just bought – even though you do not yet physically possess it. It is this same state of graceful anticipation, gratitude, and faith that those who seem to magically attract exactly what they want into their lives have learned to enter into time and time again.
Do you have some secret dream of becoming more than you currently are?
Of tapping into the vast field of potential that lies waiting for you to discover it? See if you can see through the eyes of someone who has already realized your dream, and enjoy each moment as though you are reliving the memory of its beautiful unfolding. Allow your vision to inform your action, and trust that as you give yourself fully to living your dream, you simply cannot fail.
This process is just one of the many techniques taught in The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive to help you get the results you want with less stress and greater fulfillment. Though the spring program is now full, you can get on the waiting list for priority access to the fall program kicking off in September. For more information, visit The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.
I ask my clients and myself this question. We answer:
- I want things to go my way.
- I want to come out on top.
- I more wins and fewer losses.
- I want my problems to disappear.
- I want to be profitable.
- I want to be successful.
- I want to be respected.
All understandable, relatable.
But the follow-up question is just as important.
What would that give you?”
This one stumps people. But the answer is usually something about getting peace of mind, satisfaction, happiness and a feeling that all is as it should be in the world.
What if you could have that now?
Sign you up, right?
It starts by recognizing that that the quality of your day – the feeling of getting what you want – is a direct reflection of your thoughts.
Here’s an example of what I mean.
You are about to go into a high-pressure meeting.
You know what you need to do to come out on top. Of course, you want to win, you want to be respected and your agenda dictates that the meeting must unfold in a certain way. Already your mind has created a definition of winning, of GETTING WHAT YOU WANT, that involves you playing your part and others in the meeting playing the part you have imagined for them.
If things don’t go exactly the way you envision, you are disappointed.
You may feel disrespected. If they do go your way, and someone else loses in the process because they must bow to your agenda, then the victory of that win is likely to fade quickly, leading you to seek another win.
What if you go into that same high-pressure meeting with a different mindset?
A mindset that views the meeting through the lens of all parties winning – even if the way to do that was not part of your original agenda? Go into the meeting seeking the best solution for everyone and watch what happens.
Up leveling your mindset allows you to see new possibilities and get better results.
Your mind will begin to entertain the thought that there could actually be a solution in which everyone wins. As a result, you will listen more intently. You will ask different questions. You will be more genuinely interested in what others have to say, because they are an important part of your solution. You will show respect others, and in so doing receive respect.
If you hold the intention of a meeting that everyone walks away from feeling better than when it started, you’ll go into that meeting with a quiet confidence, faith, trust and patience. You’ll take comfort in the wisdom of the group. You’ll start to find you are NOW getting what you want.
It sounds too easy.
Magical even. It’s no wonder since we’re conditioned to believe that we have to do something to get what we want, whether that’s money, respect or peace.
Let’s start again.
Think about whatever your mind if most occupied with and ask the question, What do I really want?
And then, what would that give me?
Take those questions to a higher level, one in which everyone involved benefits in some way.
Feel the ultimate end state as though it has already happened, even though you have no idea how it will happen. Can you rest in the certainty that things will happen in everyone’s best interest?
Let it flow.
Then as you go about your day or face this situation, let your actions flow from the state of mind you wish to achieve. Over time, you’ll realize that instead of having to see it to believe it, what you see will be a direct reflection of what you believe. Allow yourself to believe in the highest possible good for everyone, let go of how it will happen and watch miracles unfold in your life and those of everyone around you.
You won’t have to do anything to achieve that peace of mind, satisfaction and a feeling that all is as it should be because you already possess it.
This process is just one of the many techniques taught in The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive to help you get the results you want with less stress and greater fulfillment. Though the spring program is now full, you can get on the waiting list for priority access to the fall program kicking off in September. For more information, visit The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.
Supercharge Your Summer: Three Strategies for Vacationing in a Way That Replenishes You and Skyrockets Your Performance
Time to rest and recuperate, enjoy our loved ones, and have some fun. But all too often, vacation creates stress for high performing executives who dread coming back to loads of email and other work that has piled up, and spend their time away preoccupied and worried about what’s happening at the office or getting sucked into email and phone calls.
It’s not uncommon to come back from vacation feeling like you need another vacation.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you approach your vacation with the same level of thoughtfulness and intention that you do with any project you undertake, you can create experiences that not only revitalize yourself and enable you to reach a new level of performance, but also increase the strength and effectiveness of your organization.
Here are three strategies for accomplishing this:
(1) Make the decision to completely disconnect.
We all know our electronic devices need to be recharged to work properly.
And it’s a no brainer that they charge more efficiently when we are not using them. However, we often fail to grasp that to replenish our energy, creativity, resilience, determination and focus – we too need to go offline.
It is often our underlying (and unexamined) assumptions that keep us from truly relaxing.
We are conditioned to believe that the harder we work, the more successful we will be, and that taking our eyes off the ball (even for a day, let alone a week or more) can lead to things spiraling out of control. As a result, many of us have a hard time letting go. We approach our vacations with one foot in and one foot back in the office, checking our phones and becoming preoccupied with work. In this state of mind it’s easy to get sucked back in to anything that appears to be less than optimal.
Few of us realize that this belief itself is the problem.
It is often the assumption that we cannot afford to let go that leads to most the stress, pressure and overwhelm we encounter when we return from our much-needed breaks. Like our cell phones, which are constantly searching for a signal and downloading messages, we too are expending energy even as we try to recharge it. In addition, this belief leads us to become far more susceptible to distractions that take us away from what we are doing in the moment. It also keeps us from doing the preparation necessary to ensure that others can handle things without us while we are away.
Once you realize this underlying belief is the culprit, you can substitute it with a new truth.
Chances are that voice in your head that compels you to check your phone will continue to speak. But when you begin to see the fallacy in that assumption as well as the pain it creates, it doesn’t have as much of a hold on you. You can begin to entertain the possibility that disconnecting will truly serve you (and your organization) and act in ways that make that true. And when you fully commit to a vacation that allows you to go offline, you are better able to prepare in ways that make that possible, which leads to the next strategy.
(2) Prepare people in your organization to handle things in your absence.
Most executives would benefit by delegating and empowering others more in general.
Often senior leaders find themselves unable to act strategically because they get bogged down in operational tasks that they really shouldn’t be involved in. So, creating a plan to prepare others to run things in your absence will yield dividends for you (and your organization) long after your vacation is over.
Take some time to identify what is most likely to hijack your relaxation, and plan accordingly.
Identify people in your organization whose skill, experience and passion are a good match for things you would normally handle yourself. Then take the steps necessary to bring them up to speed and put them in charge while you are away. Create and communicate guidelines that will help them know what to do in situations that would cause you the greatest stress, so they can make solid decisions without you. Taking these steps not only helps ensure consistency and effectiveness while you are away but also develops key players on your team that, given the right opportunities, can make a bigger impact.
When you return, follow up to help your people integrate what they have learned and build on it.
In addition to increasing their own capability, their fresh perspective may yield insights into how things can be handled more effectively in the future. Additionally, the confidence you place in your staff can go a long way in making them feel valued and appreciated. As a result, you’ll open doors to new levels of performance that benefit your entire organization.
(3) Set and communicate boundaries and expectations in advance.
Most of us are accustomed to setting up automated “out of office” messages in our mailboxes.
But we often fail to communicate and manage expectations in advance. As a result, people can feel caught off guard and demanding of your time while you are away. Or, you can feel inclined to respond to something that really isn’t all that urgent, out of fear of damaging a relationship or letting a ball drop.
Take the time to talk with others about your intention to completely disconnect while you are away.
Make it clear that you do not intend to check email or handle phone calls. Remind them of the guidelines you’ve set on what to do in your absence. And clarify your intention to use this time to replenish your reserves so that upon your return you can more effectively serve them.
When clients understand that you have taken steps to ensure they will be well cared for and know who in your organization to contact for what, they are much less inclined to interrupt you. If you discuss in advance what things can be done before and while you are gone and what is better delayed until your return, you will be able to leave with the peace of mind that everyone is on the same page.
Don’t underestimate the power of your example.
Leaders set the tone in organizations more by what they do than what they say. And if you interrupt your vacations to get involved in work, others are likely to feel compelled to follow suit. As a result, the energy of your team wanes, tempers flare, and performance begins to decline. People work harder than ever but don’t seem to get a lot done, or they burn out altogether.
When you apply these strategies, you’ll exercise true leadership – showing others how to truly revitalize themselves and their performance by modeling it yourself.
If you are interested in more strategies, approaches and tips for revitalizing yourself and your organization, check out The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive. Though the spring program is now full, you can get on the waiting list for priority access to the fall program kicking off in September. For more information, visit The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.
When I would get hiccups as a kid, my father’s cure for getting rid of them was to have me wait for the next one. Surprisingly, more often than not, it actually worked. It’s strange to think that inviting in the very thing you want to avoid could actually usher it out. But over the years, I have realized that the approach works with more than just hiccups. I use a similar tactic often to help me shift from a negative state of mind to a more positive one.
Not too long ago, I had a tough morning.
My body didn’t want to leave my bed, and even after I managed to get up it felt heavy and encumbered. My mind was in a similar state. Everything I turned my attention on seemed to become darkened by a thick fog that followed me everywhere I went.
In contrast, it was a gorgeous day outside. The sun was shining in a cloudless sky, the birds were singing, and a cool breeze tickled the leaves of the trees. I decided to leave the house in hopes that it would lift my spirits a bit.
Though I would rather have sat staring zombie-like into a cup of coffee, I made myself go running.
It was harder than usual and the first few minutes of stiffness that usually give way to a state of flow felt like an eternity. “I run because I enjoy it,” I reminded myself. But really I just wanted the whole outing to be over.
I recalled boating trips my brother and I would go on with our grandparents when we were young. Often, we anchored the boat near a shore where long, wild reeds grew from the ground beneath the water. When we sank our toes deeply into the soft, squishy mud it would release stinky bubbles of putrid gas. The more we stirred our feet the more rank the odor became.
I laughed as I realized that this foul stench was the closest thing I could think of to compare the state of my mind to at that very moment.
And then I started to become amused.
I was able to distance myself from the state itself and simply observe it, in much the same way that I observe and muse over my children when they wake up grouchy – those precious, sweet little souls who can behave like little %#$&s at times. I can be amused with them because I know eventually it will pass. And in that moment I knew the same thing was true of my own condition.
So I just gave myself to it.
Instead of resisting, I let the negativity bubble up inside of me and just take everything over as my feet continued to hit the pavement. But as I did, there was a bigger, stronger part of me that was totally unaffected. It was the part of me that was observing the whole thing.
The more entertained I became, the less of a foothold those foul emotions and thoughts had. By the end of my run, I felt calmer and freer and was in a far more productive and constructive state of mind.
We will all have moments when the skies of our minds will darken.
Something that was no big deal yesterday will annoy the hell out of us, and even blue skies and babies fail to bring smiles to our faces. But these moments will eventually pass.
What we need to remember is that these states of mind are just that: states.
They pass just like the weather. And sometimes the best thing we can do is simply allow ourselves to sit in the center of the storm and watch.
Having weathered the storms in our minds, we can appreciate even more deeply the beauty of the clean, clear skies that follow – and use them as backdrops on which to create our own rainbows.
Interested in tools, techniques and methodologies for weathering your own storms? The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive will help you find your calm in the midst of chaos so you can bring out your very best (and lead others do the same). Though the spring program is now full, you can get on the waiting list for priority access to the fall program kicking off in September. For more information, visit The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.
~ Henry B. Adams
Like many of us, I grew up thinking that things happened in a linear way.
First this, then that. One building block upon another in a definite order. Cause and effect. But over the years, I’ve noticed that life isn’t always like that.
Often it seems life is a series of random events that don’t seem to make much sense.
But when you have a larger vision and experience that vision as though it has already happened, you can begin to see this apparent chaos in a whole different way. Often what we experience is a chain of seemingly disjointed events that are in reality very connected.
Think of watching a movie of a glass shattering, only in reverse motion.
Pieces fly together from all directions in a disjointed fashion and assemble into a perfect whole. Each piece is absolutely necessary, though, in and of itself, incomplete and inconceivably connected to a larger picture.
We will experience ups and downs and travel roads that deviate from what we anticipated.
Nevertheless, these seemingly divergent paths may in fact be prerequisite to experiencing the totality of our vision. At times the healing process entails pain, discomfort or other symptoms. While we may point to these as signs of illness, we could alternatively consider them evidence of our recovery.
Seasons will change, and so will we.
A phase of growth and expansion is often preceded by a period where things unexpectedly fall away. We can look at the void as a loss, or recognize it as the space necessary for new creations to take root and flourish.
We may not initially realize the significance or relevance of our chaotic experiences.
But in hindsight we often realize the importance of enduring specific challenges, setbacks, delays, or what felt like irrelevant nuisances. These obstacles give us a greater perspective on who we are, deeper appreciation for where we have been and where we are going, and compassion for others who have experiences similar to our own.
As we rise up to these little challenges, we find strength we didn’t know we had and realize we are far greater than we thought we were. And as leaders, we can help others appreciate and leverage their own chaos as well.
Appreciating the perfect order unfolding in our lives more of an art than a science.
Most of us never really take the time to recognize it. If you are interested in leveraging the seeming chaos in your own life and life’s work, I encourage you to check out The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive. Though the spring program is now full, you can get on the waiting list for priority access to the fall program kicking off in September. For more information, visit The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.
Maybe you have a vision that excites you – an idea of how something could be done differently, a creation you’d like to breathe life into, a way of improving your quality of life or that of others. You plan, you prepare, you do the work. Repeatedly. But despite all that effort and persistence, you have little if anything to show for it.
You might question yourself. Are you doing it right? Are you missing something?
You might get angry and try harder to control the outcome – double down your efforts, research extensively to figure out how to foolproof your plan, do whatever you can to MAKE it happen.
You may take your anger out on others. Why aren’t they cooperating? And how is it that everyone else seems to have it easier than you do?
You may question your vision. Is this really worth investing your time and energy in?
You might feel like quitting and moving onto something easier, more mainstream, with less risk or exposure. You gave it a good run. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.
But the idea of throwing in the towel feels even worse than fighting what seems to be a losing battle.
And try as you might, you just can’t shake the hold of that vision. It beckons. It haunts. It enchants – revisiting you in your quiet hours, whispering about what is possible.
What do you do?
Have you ever heard the story of the Chinese Bamboo tree?
It’s quite unusual. A farmer who plants these seeds will water, fertilize, and tend to them daily. After a year of care and nurturing, the ground looks the same way it did when the seeds were planted.
Another year will pass as the farmer continues his efforts, with no seeming growth at all. A third year of care and feeding will go by. NOTHING. And then another year of watering, fertilizing, and patiently waiting. Still nothing.
In the fifth year, small sprouts will appear. And in the six weeks that follow, the little shoot will grow up to ninety feet tall.
These seeds are like our most precious dreams and visions.
What we don’t realize about them is that while patience, faith, and perseverance may not produce tangible signs of progress for quite some time, they work wonders beneath the surface, laying the groundwork for what will follow.
To sustain the towering height these trees grow to, the root system must be deep and vast.
We too must have a strong inner foundation to ensure we have what we need before we can share it with others. So many of our efforts are a quest to prove to ourselves that we are worthy. We often mistakenly think that accolades, prestige, wealth, and all that comes with success will allow us to feel strong and fulfilled. But that approach is backwards.
The “trappings” of success fade over time and are as easily toppled as a tree with no root system.
If instead we start with a strong, grounded feeling of worthiness and appreciation for ourselves, we can extend our gifts to others knowing that we have all we need and that sharing it with others will only make us stronger – in the same way that bamboo continues to grow after it is harvested.
This strength is cultivated over time, and often happens during times that feel most barren.
We endure disappointments, we try something and fail, we learn about who we are and why we are here. This is all growth that happens beneath the surface. And it makes us strong and resilient enough to stand tall, reach high, and do the work we have been inspired to do out of joy rather than necessity.
The visions worth working for often don’t come to fruition right away.
Their timing is not something that can be controlled. When we try desperately to speed things up, we will often experience frustration, and feelings of desperation that may lead to anger and/or withdrawal. Just as we cannot peel rosebuds open or shorten the time it takes for a caterpillar to become a butterfly, we cannot rush the progress and transformation that happens with our visions and our very selves.
The “overnight success” we often hear about is often the result of years of dedication, commitment, perseverance and faith that like the growth of the Chinese bamboo tree took several years to come to fruition. As you pursue your grandest dreams and visions, many will tell you that your efforts are in vain, that you do not have what it takes, that you should quit while you are ahead.
And you may begin to question yourself as well. But as you weather these storms and continue to believe in and cultivate something that cannot yet be seen, you will ultimately be rewarded with seeing that which you believe. And it will enrich your life – and that of others in ways you may never have anticipated.
For more on bringing your grandest dreams and visions to fruition and laying the foundation necessary to sustain them, check out The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive. Though the spring program is now full, you can get on the waiting list for priority access to the fall program kicking off in September. For more information, visit The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.
One day, as I was watching my young son do his homework, I had a fascinating and frustrating insight.
This kid is really smart. And his homework is just not that hard for him. He could finish it in the time it takes to make a peanut butter sandwich. But seconds after he would pull it from his backpack a whole new dynamic came into play. It was as though a huge brick wall suddenly erupted from the page and grew a hundred feet tall.
He’d sit and stare at his paper. He’d complain about all the work he had to do. He’d worry that he wouldn’t be able to do it right (or at all). And then he’d become completely fixated on any little thing that captured his attention. A bug. A drop of water on the counter. The way the numbers on the digital clock change with each minute. And hours could go by before he had even touched his pencil to paper.
After watching for a while, I heard myself telling him, “In the time it takes you to moan and complain about it, you could have it done! You can get through this easily – you are so smart!” But nothing I said was getting through.
And then I realized that my son was a mirror image of me when I get overwhelmed.
It’s not that what must get done is all that difficult.
It’s that my mind had a way of magnifying things several times their normal size so that it felt like I must tackle Mount Everest when in reality I only needed to take a little walk around the block. I told myself stories (sometimes consciously and other times unconsciously) about how hard things will be or how long they would take – especially things that were new to me.
And then I’d fall into my old, familiar pitfall of trying to make everything perfect. Before I even realized what was going on, I felt totally exhausted and depleted. And then I needed relief—even just doing something that’s easy—so I could check a box and feel like I had accomplished something, anything.
Once I realized where my son got it, I decided to stop trying to teach him and let him teach me.
In addition to showing me what was standing in my way, he reminded me that all the words in the world don’t make a difference when you are trying to teach someone to do something you have not yet mastered. Kids learn through action, not words. And so do adults.
I knew that to help my son (or anyone else for that matter) in even the smallest way, I had to get busy working on myself. And then a new question arose: how can I overcome a lifetime of perfectionistic patterns that keep me from doing what’s necessary to achieve my grandest visions and goals?
With that question at the top of my mind, I went for a run. As with just about any of my runs, the first few minutes were tough. I was tired and stiff. It wasn’t fun. But I just kept going. And then I fell into my zone. My legs felt lighter. My breathing evened out. My head started to clear. I was actually enjoying myself. I ran a little faster and a little harder. It felt good.
And then I had a second, equally powerful insight.
To break out of the perfectionism trap—to get out of overwhelm, to free myself from my own self-imposed prison—I simply needed to get into action. Even one tiny step toward my desired goal would help – though at first it may be uncomfortable, messy, and far from perfect. And then I could take another, and another and another, until l finally I reach my zone.
Over the last several months, I have found that the more diligence and effort I put into those first few steps, the more quickly I get through that “warm up” period and into a place where I can make some real headway – and even have some fun in the process.
So that’s my simple plan for getting and staying unstuck. And when I need a little more motivation and inspiration, I just go hang out with my son for awhile.
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” ~Albert Einstein
Overwhelm is just one of the many states that keep us from taking action toward our goals and visions and doing our best work. If you are interested in learning more about how to find your optimal zone of performance so that your work becomes less cumbersome and more enjoyable, check out The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive. Though the spring program is now full, you can get on the waiting list for priority access to the fall program kicking off in September. For more information, visit The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.
You’ve just been promoted. The excellent work you have been recognized for has landed you a new job with expanded responsibility and significance. Perhaps you lead an organization of other talented professionals who now look to you for guidance and support. Maybe you are a leader of leaders.
The game you were playing just got bigger – and so did the playing field.
And your role has changed. What earned you this promotion will not be enough to allow you to succeed in your new role. In fact, if you continue to do what you did before, you may actually sabotage your newfound success.
You have gone from player to coach — or perhaps manager/owner. And if you jump back into the game, no one will be there to call the shots, to develop the talent, to create a strategy to advance the standing of the team, to gain the supporters and funding that will allow the team to continue to play.
Yet despite these consequences, you — like many leaders faced with similar opportunities — may have difficulty with the transition. You may have fears:
- Fear than no one can do things as well (or better)
- Fear of becoming obsolete
- Fear of failure
Fear that no one can do things as well (or better)
The problem with this fear is that it is actually well-founded. Chances are, especially if you are at the top of your field, very few will be able to do the job as well as or better than you can. But that doesn’t mean you should be doing it for them — or even along with them.
And yet you will be tempted to. Especially when the stakes are high. Or when things get extremely busy and it seems like targets will not be met if you don’t jump in or take over altogether. You may hover over people, micromanaging them or smothering them with well-intentioned guidance.
But your very fear that things will fall through the cracks may well cause that which you most want to avoid. Maybe not in the short term. In the short term, you may revel in your ability to keep the balls from dropping and save the day. But as more and more begins to be added to your plate, your problem of not having people who are skilled enough to take the baton will be even greater than it was before.
Worse yet, you will have conditioned the very people you need to develop to become dependent on you and quite comfortable performing at much less than their true capacity. In the meantime, the bigger, more strategic work that you have graduated to will be piling up and fairly significant opportunities will pass you by.
Your people may well be on a pretty steep learning curve at the beginning. They won’t get everything right. And they may resist taking on the responsibilities you used to perform. But you need to transition from performer to coach.
Give them opportunities to try things out. Let them make mistakes. Then help them to learn from those mistakes and perfect their craft. And do the same for yourself in your new role.
This leads us to the second common fear that keeps leaders from playing a bigger game.
Fear of becoming obsolete
It’s not necessarily a rational fear. After all, leaders who are on the brink of playing a bigger game have plenty to do. They have a whole new role to fill. But that doesn’t stop people from worrying at some level that if they teach and empower others to do what got them accolades and attention that they will somehow lose their edge and fade into obscurity.
Often when people have performed a certain role or become masterful at a particular skill, it can become infused with their very identity. And until they have performed in their new role for awhile and become accustomed to the different kinds of activities and opportunities that it brings, they are likely to continue to identify with their old role. Which may lead them to wonder, “if I’m not that anymore, who am I?”
This ambiguity and lack of role clarity can send people back to what they know is comfortable and familiar, even when they have outgrown it. And even when going back there isn’t in their best interest (or the best interest of those they lead.)
To counteract this, it is important to fully grasp the opportunities and possibilities that playing a bigger game brings. It allows you to go from being immersed in the game with a view limited from one point on the playing field to seeing the game from several different angles. You can evaluate each player’s contribution and the way they work together.
You can change the way the game is played — and in some cases, even change the rules. But only if you free yourself up from the myriad of tasks that will always be there beckoning you to come back into the operational and out of the strategic. And the lure of the old role becomes even more enticing when you factor in the next fear that keeps many leaders from playing a bigger game.
Fear of failure
When you go from executing the plays to determining what those plays should be, you enter unchartered territory. First off, it is likely something you won’t have a lot of experience doing. And when you don’t have a lot of experience doing something, it is uncomfortable.
You may not be very good at it in the beginning. It will be messy. You will second-guess yourself. And you will likely miss being able to do your work with the same level of confidence and ease that you did before.
It will feel a lot like going from being a senior to becoming a freshman again.
Second, the very nature being a strategic player will require you to navigate through uncertainty and ambiguity. You will be called on to blaze a trail where none previously existed. While this can be incredibly exciting and invigorating, it can also be somewhat daunting and stressful.
And when the pressure gets high, you may find it incredibly tempting to get sucked back into doing things you shouldn’t be doing anymore. Things you can check off your list and feel a sense of accomplishment from. Things that restore your confidence and give you the illusion of being in control. Things that would be better delegated to others. Or not done at all.
So when that happens, you need to remind yourself that whatever you did that allowed you to rise to new heights wasn’t likely something that always came easily to you. You had to start somewhere and struggle in the beginning before you began to gain competence and confidence. But you stuck with it and gradually got better and better. And you can do that again now.
Leadership is about “going before” others. Your new promotion will require that you wade through your fear, your discomfort, your resistance and your uncertainty to find within you the core of your true potential and act from it. And as you do so, by your very example, you will lead others to grow, expand, push their limits and play a bigger game as well.
Playing a bigger game often brings pressure and anxiety. But it doesn’t have to. You can make a bigger impact without running yourself ragged – and enjoy the process along the way. The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive will show you how. Though the spring program is now full, you can get on the waiting list for priority access to the fall program, kicking off in September. For more information, visit The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.
Though I have been studying and reflecting on the process of working through fear for the better part of my life, my learning came to a head when I was thrown into an environment that provoked a whole spectrum of fear and anxiety. As a martial artist, after learning and practicing basic blocks, kicks, and punches, the time came to take it up a notch and begin to spar.
What does sparring have to do with your life?
What I have learned over the years as I have continued to develop my skill in this area is that sparring is metaphorical for just about any challenge you could possibly be faced with that evokes fear — making a presentation (or any kind of performance), pitching a proposal, going to a job interview, or speaking your mind, just to name a few.
These situations lead you to question whether you have what it takes.
And no matter what the challenge is, there is something at stake — your status, your security, your reputation, your comfort, your pride. However, there is one differentiating factor: with sparring there is a pretty high likelihood that you will get punched in the nose. Literally.
While many lessons come from having positive experiences, much of what I learned about working with fear came through trial and error — a lot of error.
My first error allowed me to learn about focus.
Focus is determined by what you allow to occupy your mind.
When I first started sparring, my focus was on getting it over with. I was fairly preoccupied with a feeling of inadequacy that led me to temporarily forget much of what I had learned over the previous years. Rather than trusting in what I had the ability to do, I became preoccupied by what I did not want to happen — getting hit.
And as a result, I got hit. Hard.
Then, I didn’t want to spar again for a really long time. I took myself out of the game. I allowed the fear to stop me. And my training stagnated. Until the pain of stagnation became greater than the pain of the physical blow.
When I got myself back in the game, my mind shifted from retreat to advance.
Instead of fixating on what I didn’t want, I zeroed in on what I did want. It wasn’t about not getting hit. It was about pushing through the fear. It was about applying what I had learned. It was about having more faith in what I did know than what I didn’t. And it was proving to myself that I had it in me to rise above the challenge.
I threw more punches. I closed the gaps. I began to bob and weave. I learned how to lure my opponent in so I had him right where I wanted him.
But what does that have to do with facing fear off the sparring mat?
Everything. No matter what you do, you have the choice to focus either on what you are moving toward or what you are moving away from. When you are fixated on what you want to avoid, you will hedge your bets. You won’t go all out. You’ll watch the clock. And you won’t really be engaged. You’ll cheat yourself out of the joy of the experience.
When you move toward something, you marshal the forces of desire. You ignite passion. You make what you want more important than what you fear. And this gives you the fuel to do what you really want to do — in spite of the fear.
The second tool for moving out of the grip of fear is presence.
Fear has you consumed with worrying about the future or fixated on something from the past. It keeps you in your head and prevents you from being immersed in what is happening right in front of you.
When I would try to remember a technique or think too much about how to properly execute anything, I’d miss what was happening and get hit. I had no real concept of what was happening, what was coming at me, or what I needed to do to deflect it. I felt as though I was in a blender, at the mercy of the blades and centrifugal force.
Ironically, being in my head kept me in a state of panic that kept me from thinking clearly. In fact, I became so gripped with panic that I forgot to breathe and ended up exhausting myself almost immediately.
In non-sparring environments, being in your head costs you opportunities.
When you are giving a presentation and are so intent on what you prepared that you fail to see that your audience is confused, or bored or irritated, you risk losing them. In a sales setting, being determined to stick to your pitch when your customer has questions that you didn’t plan on can keep you from making the sale.
The irony is that not deviating from what you planned because you are consumed by fear keeps you from being present and often ends up leading to that which you are most afraid of. The antidote? Let go of your preconceived ideas and hold your plans loosely so that you can be present.
When you get out of your head and become present, things slow down.
When I immersed myself in what was happening in front of me while sparring, I realized that every time my opponent would throw a punch he left himself wide open. Rather than worrying about getting hit, I began to look for vulnerabilities. And I learned that I could get him to raise his hands to his face if I threw a few high punches, which would allow me to land a couple low ones while he wasn’t expecting it.
I went from jumping around like a cricket without breathing to moving more deliberately and strategically and conserving my energy. Instead of allowing my opponent to back me into a corner, I learned to pivot and use his own force against him.
In any situation, being present leads to better connections and higher performance.
You will take in more information. You will breathe more deeply, get more oxygen to your brain and access higher creativity. You’ll be more likely to make whoever you are talking to feel more important, because you’ll be more focused on him and not yourself. You’ll think more quickly on your feet and come up with better solutions on the fly.
These insights led me to realize that often what is more important than preparation is practice, which brings us to the third tool: desensitization.
The more you expose yourself to what you fear, the less impact the fear has.
Fear never really goes away. It is a human emotion that is wired into our DNA. While we can’t change the fact that it will be ever present, we can diminish the effect it has on our performance. What allows the fear to diminish, is repeatedly being in the presence of what you fear and realizing that you will be okay.
The first time I got punched in the nose, it was horrible. And though I went to great lengths to keep it from happening again, it did. And when it did, I realized that the memory of it was far worse than the reality.
The more I sparred, the more I began to become confident in my ability to prevent it from happening. And the less my fear kept me from doing what I needed to do.
Many altercations and escalations are the product of untamed fear.
The importance of learning to spar is to develop within the martial artist the confidence to handle a physical fight if necessary — in order to prevent a conflict from escalating to the point that requires any force at all.
And the implication for each of us is that becoming confident in the face of fear allows us to rise to any challenge or opportunity with grace, wisdom and victory. In so doing, we inspire others to follow our lead.
Eleanor Roosevelt urged “Do one thing every day that scares you.”
What would that be for you? Chances are it is connected to something you really want for yourself. As you focus on what you’re moving toward, stay fully engaged in the game and the joy of playing it, and have the courage to repeatedly put yourself in the presence of your fear, the words of Henry Ford will ring true for you as well:
“One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t.”
Staying fully engaged without succumbing to fear, pressure and overwhelm can be tricky. The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive will give you approaches and methodologies that help you rise to the occasion and not only get better results, but also enjoy yourself in the process. Though the spring program is now full, you can get on the waiting list for priority access to the fall program, kicking off in September. For more information, visit The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.
I am all too familiar with that awkward, humbling stage that comes with learning something new – when you want to run with the stallions but feel more like a donkey. It’s a universal phenomenon, really. Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us that, “Every artist was once an amateur.”
We can all learn a lot about our paths to proficiency by looking at the ways in which we have mastered things over the course of our lives – whether it is how to drive a car, play our favorite sport, or take up a new hobby. Upon reflection, I realized how I can transfer my learnings from one arena to the other.
(1) There is power in persistent practice.
Sometimes my yoga instructor demonstrates a pose that evokes a “you’ve got to be kidding” response from me. I always give it a try, and usually the first time I do I look a lot like I feel – completely inept. She managed to work one of those dreaded poses in for several weeks. But I gave it a shot every time, and I have to say it gradually became less awkward. Before too long I was actually able to hold the pose – even if only for a few seconds. And I realized the more I practiced, the better I would get and the easier and more fun it would become.
Isn’t that like life, though? Every day there are things you can sail through and there are those things that require practice and patience before you can feel even the least bit effective. But if you keep at it, one day you will surprise yourself with how far you have come. And everything that led up to that point will be worth it.
(2) Learn from and admire others, but don’t compare yourself to them.
As a novice, you watch people perform so that you can see how things are done. And even as you gain skill, you can still learn a lot from others’ examples. But the minute you begin to compare yourself, you will lose your focus and dilute your effectiveness. This is true regardless of whether comparing yourself to others makes you feel inferior or superior.
When we gauge how well we are doing by comparing ourselves to others, the energy and focus that is required to perform effectively becomes scattered. And if you do not believe you can do something, you will inevitably prove yourself right. On the other end of the spectrum, when you believe you are outperforming others and become a little too smug, your confidence can turn into arrogance, which shifts your focus from what you are doing to how others are perceiving you. And anything that is more focused on appearances than substance lacks foundation and eventually crumbles.
The best of the best gain their confidence from within – as a product of their effort, focus, and the results that come with effort and focus. They don’t need to compare themselves to other to know that they are good – or to learn that they can get even better.
(3) Lighten up and have some fun.
When we get all balled up in knots trying to make things perfect and avoiding every possible misstep, we risk becoming stagnant and playing small. Getting too attached to the results leads us to stiffen up and become consumed with needing things to happen in the exact way we want them to. Without flexibility, we lose our ability to bend and make the necessary course corrections that allow us to ultimately excel. If you ever look at the top performers in any industry, sport, or artistic endeavor you will notice that accompanying their intensity is an ability to relax into their game in such a way that it appears easy and natural. The ability to play at work is another mark of the master.
(4) Replenish yourself regularly.
In our frenetic lives, it is easy to forget about the importance of pausing every once in awhile to make the most of our experiences – whether by giving ourselves a needed break, or simply taking a moment to assess where we are going, to what degree we are still on course, and what, if any, course corrections are necessary. Being willing to invest our precious time into replenishing ourselves in this way pays handsome dividends – and sometimes the times we think we can’t afford to slow down are in fact the times we cannot afford not to.
The speed and effectiveness with which we move toward mastery is a direct result of the way in which we approach our challenges and opportunities. The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive is a program designed to help you make a bigger impact while enjoying the process, both on and off the job. Though the spring program is now full, you can get on the waiting list for priority access to the fall program, kicking off in September. For more information, visit The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.