My last article, “How to Meet Change, Challenge and Uncertainty with Courage and Grace” discussed the importance of shifting from a reactive mode that is (often unthinkingly) triggered by fear and conditioning to the conscious, thoughtful, and intentionally constructive response that is characteristic of Real Leadership.
Today, I’d like to give you a concrete tool for helping you do just that – one that I often share in my presentations and workshops and also work with participants in The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow program to apply. It’s called Using the Wisdom of Hindsight in the Present.
Are you in the midst of some kind of change or challenge right now? What is occupying your thoughts and energy these days? Think about it until you can come up with a concrete example of something you may be struggling with – or simply in the process of working through.
See if you can tune into the way this challenge is leading you to feel. Frustration? Uneasiness? Doubt? Worry? Can you put your finger on what is most unnerving about the situation at hand?
Now, think back to another time that you have felt this same way. A time when you had to work through an earlier challenge. One that was perhaps equally difficult and/or anxiety provoking – or even worse than the issue you are currently facing.
Can you recall what you were thinking at the time? What were you telling yourself? What questions were you asking yourself? What worries were plaguing you? What doubts were eroding your confidence?
Imagine that you can go visit that younger version of yourself and share some advice. What would you tell yourself? What do you wish you would have known back then that you know now? What encouragement would you provide? What would you tell yourself to stop, start or continue?
You may want to pause for a moment and write that advice down.
Chances are the advice you would give to your younger self is pretty darn good guidance for you now. Rainer Maria Wilke once wrote, “The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.”
What if the very experiences you have had over the course of your life happened in perfect order to prepare you for what you would experience in your future?
What if those challenges that that left you stumped or feeling uneasy or pushed you to your edge served the purpose of helping you to discover in yourself a strength you didn’t know you had – and develop a muscle that would allow you to lift heavier weight and move bigger mountains?
Much of my work as a coach is helping people connect the dots of their own experiences in ways that help them see they have exactly what it takes to successfully address and rise above their current issues and obstacles. It is not uncommon for people to realize that what they thought was unchartered territory at its core is in fact something they are not all that unfamiliar with.
Even something you may have written off as “failure” may reveal rich insights and answers if you take the time to identify what you learned in your past that you can potentially apply to your present.
Most of us don’t pause long enough to realize the ways life has prepared us for what we face. We are all too quick to want to forget about the frustrations and anxieties of the past rather than leverage them in ways that allow us to learn and grow. And when presented with what feels like an insurmountable challenge, we tend to think we need to speed up rather than slow down.
So, you have to make a deliberate, concerted effort to turn that pattern around.
When you do that using The Wisdom of Hindsight in the Present process, you’ll begin to recognize that the biggest source of anxiety and frustration is largely based on conjecture and hypothetical situations.
You’ll also realize as you examine your past, that you likely have concrete data – evidence-based proof that you have what it takes to successfully navigate through uncertainty, to think on your feet, and to find solutions where it appeared none existed.
In so doing, you’ll shift from doubt to confidence – from what you don’t know to what you do know. And you’ll focus on what is in your control to influence rather than all the things that are beyond it.
From that mindset, you are infinitely more likely to access the courage, confidence, ingenuity, determination and resilience necessary to be successful in any situation. You’ll be more likely to see solutions to the problems that once confounded you – and to lead and inspire others to do the same.
This is the essence of Real Leadership.
If you are interested in learning more about Real Leadership and how you can unearth it in yourself and your organization, sign up below to receive your copy of The Real Leader Revolution Manifesto as soon as it becomes available.
A few weeks ago, I traveled to one of my client’s global quarterly leader meetings to deliver a presentation on navigating change and uncertainty. It’s something many executives are working through right now – in organizations both large and small.
In fact, ironically, change is the one thing that is certain to be a constant challenge for all of us.
The very nature of change thrusts us into circumstances that lead us to feel out of control, beyond our comfort zones, and potentially at risk in one way or another. And when your future is uncertain and all the things that used to work are no longer effective (or relevant), your self-protective mechanisms get triggered.
Left unchecked, your instinct for self-preservation can lead you to engage in behavior that is not particularly productive or constructive. It would have you reacting out of fear, putting your own needs above those of others, mired in doubt and negativity and fixated on obstacles and limitations. From that mindset, you’ll (often unconsciously) act in ways that exacerbate the problems you are already facing.
But, as I teach in The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Program, there is a wiser, stronger part of you that you can access during times that test you – one that will allow you to rise above the fray and meet change and uncertainty head on with courage and grace.
This wiser part of yourself (which I call your Genius) meets fear with resilience and puts service and self-realization over self-interest. It replaces doubt and negativity with optimism and possibility. And it sees beyond limitations to recognize possibilities. It utilizes challenge as opportunity to become stronger, to rise up and discover that you have within you all that you need to prevail.
This part of you is the essence of Real Leadership – which brings out the very best in everyone and everything and channels it into something that serves a greater good. Real leadership is what is required in times of great change, challenge and uncertainty. And it is something that can be exercised by anyone, at any level of an organization at any time.
What most people don’t realize is that the true cause of stress, frustration (and the knee jerk reactions it often triggers) is not their circumstances themselves, but rather the thoughts they are believing (and the stories they are telling themselves) about their situations. Cognitive science tells us that confirmation bias leads us to take in information that aligns with our current beliefs and screen anything that contradicts them out.
So let’s say you believe the problems you face are insurmountable, the people who surround you cannot be trusted, and that you (or others) lack the resources, skill or resolve to overcome your current challenges. Confirmation bias would lead you to take in information that confirms those beliefs and overlook (or disregard) information that contradicts them – even though that information is the very thing that could potentially turn everything around.
And from that mindset, you’ll behave in ways that make things worse. You could very well act in a manner that makes your worst stories (which are likely based on conjecture) become true.
The biggest problem is that you likely won’t even realize you are falling into this trap. You’ll attribute the cause of your frustration, anxiety and stress to your situation rather than your mindset.
As long as you see the problem as “out there”, you’ll feel more like a victim than a victor.
But even in the most daunting of circumstances, you can find something within yourself that has the potential to change the way you are seeing things. And when you change the way you are seeing things, you’ll notice opportunities, resources, strengths and possibilities that would have otherwise been completely off your radar.
The key to liberating yourself from a self-defeating phenomenon is to recognize frustration, anxiety and stress as a key indicator that your thoughts are not aligned with your Genius, so that you don’t take them quite so seriously.
Rather than getting set on what you think you know, ask yourself what you don’t know. What are you not seeing? What are you believing about what is happening? And how much of that are you certain is actually true?
If you are willing to see things differently, your whole world could change in an instant.
The thing about change is that nothing is certain. And when nothing is certain, anything is possible.
If it is possible that we tend to act in ways that make our stories true – and bring about more of what we are focusing on, then the most powerful thing we can do is allow our stories and our focus to shift to something more empowering.
- Rather than putting your attention on what you don’t want, you can create a compelling vision for yourself and others of what you do Resolve to move toward what you desire rather than away from what you fear.
- When you notice you are fixated on obstacles, see if you can look beyond them to discern opportunities.
- When feeling threatened about all there is to lose, consider what there is to gain.
- Instead of thinking of what you need to get, ask yourself what you have to give.
- Rather than getting lost in your head, reliving the past or worrying about a future that has you living the worst case scenario, challenge yourself to be intensely present to what is unfolding in the moment and the best way to respond to and leverage it.
- When plagued by doubt, think back to previous challenges you successfully overcame and recognize your strengths can get you through this one too.
- When you begin to worry about all the things that are beyond your control, ask yourself what you have the ability to influence and start to make positive change there. Do what you can where you are with what you have.
These practices of Real Leaders will come more naturally when you keep yourself from falling into the trap of identifying with your doubts and limiting beliefs.
It is essential to recognize that you do not need to banish your doubts and limiting beliefs. Doing so is an exercise in futility, since as a human being you will continue to be barraged by these thoughts whether you want them or not.
All you need to do is recognize that there is more to the picture than your current mindset is allowing you see. Don’t let those random thoughts blind you to the solutions that are right in front of you or obstruct your vision of what is possible.
The simple recognition that your thoughts are not serving you in the current moment is enough to allow your mindset to get unstuck. Without a whole lot of effort on your part it will begin to expand, allowing you to get a broader, better view – and connecting you naturally to the mindset of a real leader.
The Real Leader Revolution is already underway, liberating the power of the human spirit in the workplace again even the most insurmountable odds. We are all so much stronger than we think we are, and each one of us is capable of so much more than we realize.
In the face of inevitable change, we can rise up as adventurers and warriors and summon strength that often lies dormant within us until given an opportunity to emerge.
If you are interested in learning more about the qualities of Real Leadership and how to unleash it in yourself and others in your organization, sign up below to receive your copy of The Real Leader Revolution Manifesto as soon as it is released.
Stay tuned for my next article, where I’ll walk you through a concrete process you can use in the midst of challenge that will help you access your best answers and unearth your strength and resilience.
What is it that you are longing to create in the coming year?
And what do you need to let go of in order to allow it to fully take root?
Every year, we are encouraged to set New Year’s resolutions.
We are a goal driven society that is conditioned to seek more. Our egos desire more money, more fame and prestige, and more stuff. A deeper part of ourselves longs for more peace, more meaning, and more purpose in our lives.
We want to move beyond our previous realizations of what we’ve already accomplished to master newer, better ways of doing things –whether that be what we create in our lives or in our organizations – and as leaders what we can inspire others to do as well.
Though it is tempting to occupy ourselves with thoughts of how we can go about achieving all of this and what we need to do more of, perhaps what we really need to start with is what we need to do less of – what we need to let go of to create the space for something new to come in.
We are constantly evolving both individually and collectively.
It is so easy to look to the past to define who we are though the things we’ve already done – goals we’ve achieved, titles we’ve acquired, creations we have built. Our previous experiences coagulate to form an identity that is easy to confuse with our true nature.
The fact of the matter is,
you are not your accomplishments,
your creations, or the sum of the various roles
you play in your life – manager, director, vice president,
mother, father, friend, son, daughter, etc.
You are much, much more than that.
Your potential is limitless.
And yet, we limit ourselves by these definitions.
They filter the experiences we allow ourselves to have and compel us to define the form that our deepest longings should take. In order to be happy, we reason – we must get that promotion, achieve this or that particular goal, hit that target. So we continue to go through the motions, doing the kinds of things we’ve always done – on a sort of auto pilot.
Some of this may bring satisfaction, and some may bring a growing source of discontentment. We need to attune ourselves to that which brings us the most of what we truly desire and open ourselves to the possibility that what we really want may need to come in a form that has previously been undefined for us.
In short, we must allow ourselves to surrender what we think we know to open up to the mystery that is unfolding in each of our lives.
Easier said than done, right?
How exactly do you go about letting go of the known when it’s all you know?
We can take our cues from nature. Snakes and other reptiles shed their skin, trees drop their leaves, and caterpillars create cocoons in which their forms entirely dissolve before recreating themselves in the form of butterflies.
Even a fish in a bowl cannot stay in water that contains its excrement – the waste must either be emptied and replaced with new water, or absorbed by something else that will remove it from the fish’s environment.
Without engaging in these renewing processes, these creatures will die. And so it is of us. Many of us are already walking around encased in layers of old, dead stuff that needs to be released.
What are you holding onto in your life that has run its course?
What are the old outmoded ways of doing things that no longer bring you energy? What are the things you’ve acquired that you no longer need? What beliefs are you holding onto that are no longer true for you?
Pay attention to the times that you feel constricted, anxious, or tired and in those moments ask what you can let go of. Don’t be afraid of the answer. Though it may frighten you because it introduces an element of the unknown, following these insights will always lead to freedom and liberation.
Your computer can only handle so much data.
If you do not delete old email and get rid of files that have been accumulating over the years, and if you continue to add new programs without deleting old ones, you will find that it becomes sluggish and unresponsive.
Just as freeing up space allows your computer to process things more quickly, so too will clearing your own personal space (whether of things or thoughts) allow you to access new levels of clarity and creativity.
Space invites opportunity.
You will breathe easier, be more present in every action and interaction you partake of, and bring more of who you really are to what you do. And you will open up the space of possibility that will allow something to come in that may surprise and delight you.
So here’s a thought for the New Year: Instead of trying so hard to do more with less, perhaps we can allow ourselves to explore the possibility that in doing less, we can have so much more.
For more on how to affect your own personal and professional transformation, check out The Pinocchio Principle: Becoming a Real Leader, available in both paperback and Kindle formats.
One day when my kids were younger, they had a play date with some friends. I heard one of them telling the other that Santa Claus wasn’t real. My son, who was eight years old at the time, vehemently defended the jolly old man, with elaborate explanations of why something not easily proven was worth believing in anyway.
It reminded me of my own childhood.
I had to laugh, as I flashed back to one of my own experiences with a little girl in my neighborhood who made fun of me for believing that a fat man in a red coat actually came down my chimney every year. I was so mad that, when she wasn’t looking, I broke all her crayons and put them back in the box (and spent the rest of the holiday season worrying that I had just put myself on the naughty list).
I have since learned that it is okay if everyone doesn’t believe what I do.
And if he hasn’t already, my son will learn that too. But he is the one who taught me something that day. I was buoyed by his unwavering belief and faith in something he’s never really seen and inspired by his example.
I can’t help but believe that those who trust in something magical will experience that magic in ways the skeptics will not. And I think the same is true in life.
There will always be someone around to tell us what cannot be done.
And there will also always be people who, upon being so told, will do it anyway. Their faith, determination, and belief in something they have yet to see will allow them to persevere until their dreams become reality.
One of my favorite authors on personal and spiritual growth, Alan Cohen, once said “You do not need to get others to believe in your truth. You just need to live it.”
Trust, faith, and perseverance go a long way.
In a world where much is uncertain and the old success formulas no longer seem to work, I believe it is more important than ever to trust in what we know to be true in hearts, even if our minds cannot figure it all out. It may go against what we have been conditioned to believe, see, and do – but perhaps this makes it even more important.
To bust out of old paradigms that keep us from realizing our greatness, perhaps we need to stop questioning what is possible and start challenging our limits instead. As we do, we will begin to make manifest that which we previously only dreamed was possible and, through our example, show others the way to rise.
Wishing you the happiest of holidays and a bright blessed New Year!
Do you ever feel like you are on the verge of something you’re not sure you are ready for?
Perhaps you’ve been given a chance to do something you’ve always wanted to do, or you recognize a need that you have the unique ability to meet – but it requires that you step out of your comfort zone in order to do it.
Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve explored the mindset you’ll need to become what you most admire, and discussed the importance of allowing your vision to guide you. As you do those things, you’ll inevitably be presented with opportunities to make your vision real by moving from thought to action. And sometimes those opportunities will unnerve you.
This week’s video will give you three vital insights to help you move through your resistance and rise to those occasions in ways that bring satisfaction, fulfillment and growth.
And if you want more on how to take the kind of action necessary to make your vision a reality, download my special report Why Real Leaders Don’t Set Goals (and what they do instead) and stay tuned for more tools, techniques and tips to come.
The Real Leader Revolution is already underway. We live in a world that is hungry for true, inspired leadership that brings out the very best in each of us and allows us to harness it in ways that serve a greater good.
If you are interested in learning more about how to unearth real leadership in yourself and your organization, I encourage you to get on the waiting list to receive my brand new free special report The Real Leader Revolution Manifesto. Sign up below to join the pre-notification list. More information on that coming very soon…
Do you ever feel like—despite your best, most diligent, inspired effort, discipline, and patience—you don’t seem to be getting anywhere?
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.
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
Let’s talk about each of these, starting with the first one…
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 of 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.
“Every master was once a disaster.”
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.
Imagine that software you’ve relied on for years stops working for you.
You notice that it has been freezing up a lot. At first, it didn’t really bother you. But now these little glitches are happening so often that you’re having trouble getting things done.
When you look into the problem, you find you are not the only one that has been experiencing it. Much to your relief, a new version of the program is being rolled out that has fixed all the bugs. And happily, this updated program is now available for you to download.
The same thing happens to each of us.
We are cruising along doing what we’ve always done only to find it just isn’t working so well anymore. We aren’t getting the results we wanted. Or worse, what worked before is actually causing new problems. And despite our best efforts, these problems are throwing a big monkey wrench in things.
So how do you find a bug in your program?
First, you start by recognizing that you aren’t getting the results you want. And then you work backward. Finding the bug in your program requires that you detach from your actions in such a way that you can observe and evaluate them.
One way to do this is to replay events in your mind to identify any causal factors.
You can do this in the car on the way home from work as you mentally review the day’s events and evaluate what went well and what didn’t. You can journal about it. Or you can talk with someone who is an objective third party, like a friend, family member, mentor or coach.
The bug in your program is almost always a knee jerk reaction.
Knee jerk reactions are the product of conditioning—what happens when a behavior becomes so automatic that you no longer need to think about it. And conditioning is good when it leads you to behave in a way that is constructive—like when you practice a new skill over and over again until you can do it without having to remind yourself of each step.
But conditioning that leads you to spring into action when what you really need to do is give a little more consideration to your response can get you into trouble.
There is a neurobiological component to conditioning.
Every time you practice something or respond to a stimulus in a certain way, you are creating neural networks in your brain. Neurons that fire together wire together. And the more they fire, the stronger and more automatic their connections (and your behaviors) get. Conversely, when a neural network is interrupted or not used for a certain period of time, these connections begin to weaken.
Once you have identified the bug, you can begin to eliminate it.
Simply being aware of a knee jerk reaction will begin to loosen its grip on you. This is not to say that someone could instantaneously eradicate a bug and immediately improve his or her results. It takes time. Awareness is half the battle.
Initially, errors are not caught until after the fact, but with increased awareness and attention, you can notice them sooner and sooner. The time it takes to realize blunders drops from hours to minutes, and, with continued diligence, you’re able to take steps to correct them in real time. Ultimately, you can get to the point where you can prevent yourself from engaging in this automatic reaction altogether.
As the bug is eliminated, the program can be upgraded.
Upgrading the program is a matter of replacing an old behavior with a new one. Unlike software upgrades, this one doesn’t isn’t a matter of a simple download. It requires attention, thought and persistence.
As mentioned previously, neural networks that correspond to old, undesirable patterns of behavior weaken when they are not engaged. And as they weaken, repeated practice allows new neural nets to be formed that support a more desirable behavior.
But doesn’t creating new neural networks require a huge amount of practice?
The interesting thing about the formation of these neural networks is that they do not have to happen in real time. Research has shown that mentally rehearsing a new pattern of behavior leads to the same growth in neural networks that physical practice does.
Really. If you replay the situation you wish you could have handled differently and “edit” your action to the desirable choice, you are literally rewiring your brain to act the correct way in the future.
Doing so will allow you to create and increasingly rely on new neural networks when in situations that necessitated different responses. Gradually, you are able to replace your tendency to demand compliance with a more thoughtful, respectful, and engaging approach to influencing others.
Let’s review the process of upgrading your internal programming:
- Step One: Find your bug. The first step is to recognize when you have a tendency to engage in behavior that keeps you from getting the results you desire. Most likely this will be a knee jerk reaction that propels you into action before you have a chance to think.
- Step Two: Disempower your bug. Becoming aware of behavior you fall into and the impact it has on your effectiveness ultimately weakens its hold on you because while it still may be automatic, it is no longer unconscious. Though falling into old patterns when you know better is frustrating, this awareness is a sign of tremendous progress.
- Step Three: Substitute a new program for the old one. As your old habits and the corresponding neural nets that lead you to engage in them begin to weaken, you can replace them with new behaviors. The more you practice these new behaviors (whether physically or mentally), the stronger the new neural networks and your new patterns will become. And the less you engage the old behaviors, the weaker and less prominent the old neural networks (and the corresponding behaviors) get.
If you find yourself engaging in behavior that is interfering with your effectiveness, the most important thing to remember is that you are not the program that is running it. You are the programmer. You have the ability to consciously choose the behaviors and the responses you have to any given stimulus.
Though interrupting and upgrading your internal programming takes time, the results will be well worth your effort. And the best part is that you don’t have to lodge a complaint with or rely on anyone but yourself in order to do it.
Now if only we could keep those darn devices from freezing up!