We’ve all been to a lot of classes – whether on leadership or related subjects – where we sit passively and listen to someone teach us things from a workbook or a power point presentation. Some of these classes infuse us with new ideas and inspirations, and others do not. Either way, the chief challenge is coming back to our daily work and implementing what we have learned. Class or no class, putting into practice the ideas and insights we get on a daily basis is a challenge. It is a challenge because it calls for us to integrate them into a way of doing things that we have established for ourselves over a long period of time.
To change, grow or improve in any way, we must consciously look at ourselves.
We need to look at both what is working and what is not. Often we are so accustomed to running from project to project and meeting to meeting, that we aren’t even aware of the dynamics at play under the surface. This frenetic approach leads to a pattern of similar results, similar experiences, and inevitably similar frustrations, and often the feeling that there has to be more to it than this.
The truth is, you already possess within you the core essentials you need to be successful.
The question is, are you using them? And are you using them to the best of your ability? If the answer is no, it doesn’t matter how many new tools you acquire or methodologies you learn. Our chief challenge is not to continue looking to others for solutions and answers, but instead to take the time to tap that part of ourselves that remains our purest potential. The prerequisite for being an effective leader of others is to learn to lead ourselves.
Michelangelo once said “The masterpiece is already in the marble.”
The same is true for each of us. Our chief task as leaders is to chip away at the stuff that surrounds the masterpiece. What stuff? You may ask. The habits, patterns and approaches you’ve been utilizing over the years that are no longer getting you the results you want. And the inaccurate beliefs, assumptions and doubts you have about yourself, others, and what is generally possible in any given situation. These are the major factors that keep you from unearthing your best work.
So how do you chip the away at the extraneous?
The part that is especially challenging for people is that they often don’t even realize they are operating from a mindset that isn’t serving them. They may recognize the results they’re getting aren’t what they’d like without necessarily realizing that the core issue lies within them. And the tricky thing is that until you recognize that the mindset you have isn’t serving you, you will continue to make decisions and attempt to solve problems operating within the very frame of mind that is keeping you from seeing the outcomes you want.
Here are some steps you can take to shift into a way of thinking that allows you to bring out your very best – and in the process help others to do the same.
The first step is to TAKE RESPONSIBILITY.
The next time you have an experience that doesn’t go the way you’d like it to, replay it in your mind and try to identify the role you played in it –not only with your actions (or lack of action) but also your thoughts – what you were believing at the time, where your focus was, and how others reacted to you. Ask yourself what you would do differently next time. Then envision what that would look like and feel like if you were to have the same situation, but a more favorable response. In this way, you can allow your experiences to teach and mold you into something better – even the ones that are less than optimal.
The second step is to PAY ATTENTION.
You are bound to fall into old patterns again and again, but the more you become aware of them, the less compelling they become. At first you may not catch yourself until after the fact, but over time you will find you can interrupt the cycle sooner, until finally you are able to head it off at the pass and choose a different response altogether.
The third step is to IDENTIFY WITH THE MASTERPIECE, NOT THE MARBLE.
You are not your thoughts, your patterns or your habits. You are much bigger than that. Once you are aware of how those things are operating in your life, you free yourself up to choose new ones. Rather than chipping away at the marble, you will begin to grow from within it, busting through the constraints that no longer hold you captive. Instead of dwelling on your limitations, focus on your strengths. Instead of putting your attention on the things you don’t want to see, begin identifying with what you do want and recognize that you have the ability to achieve it.
As you begin to clear the debris from your view, you will see things in a whole different light – including those around you that you have the opportunity to lead. These folks are far more likely to take their cues from your action than your words. And when you begin to help them identify with their masterpieces as you have learned to do, there is nothing you cannot achieve.
If you are interested in additional strategies for inspiring and motivating yourself and others to higher levels of performance and impact – as well as greater fulfillment both on and off the job, check out The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive. Registration for the fall program is now open. Enroll by 9/1 with the code EARLYBIRD2 to take advantage of the early bird discount!
Do you find yourself running from one thing to the next with little time to really think about what you are doing and why?
If you answered yes, you are not alone.
Many high achieving professionals feel as though they have way more to do than they have time to do it. Their ambition, drive and passion have served them well, and gotten them to a nice place, but still they know they are capable of more. More visibility, more opportunity, more income, and dare I say – more freedom to enjoy their careers and their lives.
The daily grind has a way of keeping us tethered to the ground, feeling as though our best is just around the corner, if only we can get through what’s in front of us, which is often an accumulation of projects, events and other commitments that ends up growing far faster than it shrinks. Every once in a while, it becomes apparent that something’s got to give.
But who has time to slow down when there is so much more to get done?
The fantasy many of us have bought into is that if we just work longer and harder, we will get there. And despite our longing to find balance and the sweet spot that will finally allow us to relax and be more effective, we often act in ways that bring greater levels of anxiety and toil. As leaders, we also unwittingly create entire cultures of people who emulate our frenetic behavior in the name of getting ahead.
The hamster in the wheel doesn’t realize he isn’t getting anywhere.
And before he can, he must realize that he is, in fact, in a wheel. Our wheels are much more sophisticated and deceiving than those of the hamster. Because initially, our wheels do get us somewhere. It’s just that over time, they lose traction and become stuck in comfortable ruts. And we don’t realize when we’re stuck, because it doesn’t seem possible to be standing still when you are running like hell.
Are you ready to stop the madness and take things up a notch?
Can you conceive of finding a better way to do things? How badly do you want it? Bad enough to try something that goes against every compulsion you currently have to keep doing what you’ve been doing all along?
Consider the prerequisite for successful change.
Have you ever noticed that when you upgrade software, the program often needs to uninstall or extract something before it can successfully run? Gardeners know that new blossoms proliferate when the old flowers and branches have been pruned. Bargain shoppers know that stores sell older merchandise at a significant discount to get it off the shelves to make room for what’s coming in the new season.
How about you?
What tried and true ways of doing things have lost their leverage?
How willing are you to recognize that perhaps there is a better way of doing things than what you’ve done up to this point? All change begins with awareness that is coupled with desire. To move beyond your madness, try the following:
- Pay attention to the times during the day that you feel the most anxious, stressed, or tense. Recognize the pattern of thought or behavior you are engaging in that may be causing this discomfort. This may be a prime area for you to make a shift.
- Ask yourself some discerning questions such as, “What small, but powerful change could I make today that would allow me to be more effective and make the most of my opportunities?”
- Notice what catches your attention in the coming days. The answers to your questions will reveal themselves to you, but you must open yourself up to them and be willing to listen.
Once you begin to notice that the patterns and triggers that create the highest degree of anxiety, stress and pressure – and the impact they are having in your life, they begin to lose their hold on you. When you open yourself to new ways of doing things, you move from a point of view to a higher viewing point – one that allows you to see solutions that may have previously evaded you. Allowing yourself to envision and believe in a new way of doing things will transform your frustration into fuel and help you summon the courage you need to overcome obstacles along the way.
If you are interested in specific strategies for breaking through old habits and patterns that no longer serve you so that you can create more freedom and flow in your work and your life, check out The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive. Registration for the fall program is now open. Enroll by 9/1 with the code EARLYBIRD2 to take advantage of the early bird discount!
Supercharge Your Summer: Three Strategies for Vacationing in a Way That Replenishes You and Skyrockets Your Performance
We all know we need vacations.
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. Registration for the fall program is now open. Enroll by 9/1 with the code EARLYBIRD2 to take advantage of the early bird discount!
Not all that long ago, I went through a period where I felt overwhelmed and stuck. Beneath my frustration was curiosity about where it was coming from and what was the best way to move beyond it.
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
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.
“Ryan, if you knew how this day was going to end, would you do it over again?” I asked him.
“Yeah.” He answered without missing a beat.
“Would you have any hesitation going snowboarding again after your wrist heals?” I inquired.
“Nah!” he replied. “Let’s come back for sure.”
This is an excerpt of a conversation I had with my son at age thirteen on the way to urgent care after his first attempt to snowboard. I was inspired by his lack of hesitation. And his courage. But most of all, with his mindset.
Mindset is the key to overcoming setbacks. Your mindset determines—to a large degree—whether you see the experience as a success or a failure. And the way you see the experience will have an enormous impact on whether or not you will try that experience again.
What’s the big deal if you don’t try an experience again?
Well, the problem isn’t so much the broken bone—in my son’s case—which will inevitably be accompanied by a certain amount of pain. The problem is letting the setback deprive you of a future that could bring you an immense amount of joy and satisfaction. And most people let seeming setbacks deprive them of joy and satisfaction more often than they realize.
It could be the proposals they poured their hearts into to that never really went anywhere. Or the promotions they were working toward for months that ended up going to someone else. Perhaps it was the first time they went out their comfort zones, only to feel as though they landed on their backside with nothing but broken bones to show for it.
Confusing Skill with Potential
You confuse skill with potential when you decide that you’ll never be good at something because you didn’t get it right the first time you tried it. Or the second time. Or the tenth time. Most people do not have a high degree of skill when they try something new. But doesn’t mean they don’t have an enormous amount of potential.
When you confuse skill with potential, you tell yourself a story that has you making an assessment of yourself based on a very limited amount of data. The story goes like this: “Boy, I was really bad at that. I’m just not cut out for it. I should leave it to other people who actually have talent.”
You allow it to keep you from trying something again. And trying something again is exactly what you need to do in order to gain the very skill you are having difficulty executing. So your story becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You miss out on the joy of ultimately mastering that skill. And so do all the people who would have benefited from what you could have accomplished if you did.
But that’ s not the only story that can get you into trouble.
Taking an Experience Personally
When you take an experience personally, you make it more about you than anything or anyone else. Your universe constricts and you become the center of it. You feel hurt and rejected, or angry and resentful. You replay events in your mind and question what you did to screw things up. You think, “if only I would have done this, or been more like that, things would have gone better.”
You become so fixated in feeling wronged or victimized that you render yourself powerless. In an effort to avoid being hurt again, you may hedge your bets, fly under the radar, try not to get your hopes up. And this act of withholding keeps you from doing the very thing that could allow you to succeed next time.
Often, setbacks have nothing to do with you as a person.
You lost a big client. Yet in retrospect, you realize the client was a huge pain in your rear end, sucking up time and energy that you could have dedicated to someone you really love to work with. And if you take it personally, you’ll keep your perfect client from seeing the very thing in you that could cinch the deal.
What If It Was Personal?
But what if it did have to do with you? What if you came on too strong? Or too meek? Or if there was something you could have done to get that promotion, keep that client, succeed with that proposal? Well, if you take it personally you may never have the courage, the confidence and the open mind it takes to solicit or receive the feedback you need and to act on it in a way that allows you to succeed next time.
There is a difference between taking things personally and learning what you could do differently next time. Taking things personally causes you to contract. And learning allows you to expand. Which will you choose?
My 13-year-old son reminded me of the importance of mindset in my own life.
Though it’s not likely that snowboarding will be in my future, there is a good chance that I will fall the next time I try something new. When I do, I will remember how his lack of regret and eagerness to try again kept him from an unproductive mindset.
And I will pick myself up, tend to my broken bones, and allow myself to enjoy the joy and satisfaction that comes from getting back on the slopes.
Aligning your mindset with your desired outcome is an essential and often overlooked practice – a major focus of 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.
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!
“The spirit, the will to win, and the will to excel are the things that endure. These qualities are so much more important than the events that occur.” ~ Vince Lombardi
Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final and failure is not fatal – it is the courage to continue that counts.” Thomas Edison offered, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
Their words lead me to contemplate the very meaning of the words “success” and “failure.” Perhaps they are nothing more than labels we use for experiences that could very well be vital stepping stones. Both words are loaded with judgment that compels us to move closer to one and further from the other. But what if they are simply two sides of the same coin?
Consider the following events in each of these people’s lives:
- It’s been said that Abraham Lincoln failed in business twice, had a nervous breakdown, and was defeated in eight elections.
- Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor who thought he lacked creative ideas.
- When he was young, Thomas Edison was told by his teacher that he was too stupid to learn anything.
- Soichiro Honda, the founder of Honda, was turned down by Toyota for an engineering job.
- Before becoming a successful actor, John Wayne was rejected by the US Naval Academy.
- Lucille Ball was dismissed from drama school with a note that read “Wasting her time… she’s too shy to put her best foot forward.”
- Steven Spielberg unsuccessfully applied to film school three separate times.
- Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.
- Baseball legend Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times.
- The first novel of best-selling novelist John Grisham was rejected by 16 agents and 12 publishing houses.
- Before going on to sell millions of copies in 27 languages, Robert M. Pirsig’s book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected by 121 publishers.
- Deca recording company turned down the Beatles, with the reason “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on its way out.”
This list could continue for pages. What these people have in common is that they didn’t let labels like “success” and “failure” define them. They didn’t allow the events in their lives (or their thoughts and judgments about them) to get in the way of their dreams or what they knew they were capable of. And their courage, perseverance and determination benefitted not only themselves, but countless others – many of whom came generations later.
Another of my favorite quotes is from a woman named Susan Taylor who said, “Seeds of faith are always within us; sometimes it takes a crisis to nourish and encourage their growth.” Using this same wisdom, perhaps what some call “failure” is actually a catalyst – or even a prerequisite – for what others call “success.”
What’s happening in your life right now? What if it is the very experience you need to get where you most want to go?
If you are interested in more tips for transforming your setbacks to springboards, I encourage you to check out The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive, an exclusive twelve-week group mastermind/coaching program/online training course kicking off the week of March 20. The program is a blend of online leadership development, small group mastermind, and one-on-one coaching, and is limited to eight people. Sign up today!