As an executive coach, I work with leaders in both large and small organizations – who are passionate about creating inspired workplaces.
They want to break the unspoken, unwritten rules of organizations that say…
- …that the version of yourself you bring to work is different than who you are at home.
- …that work is a place where you do what your boss says and don’t ask a lot of questions.
- …that you have to suck it up when what you are tasked to do doesn’t jive with who you are.
- …that you have to keep your head down and just make it through the day, the week, the month, the year and collect your paycheck regularly enough to feed your family and make ends meet.
These leaders inspire me.
They have come to a place where they know there has to be more to life than just going through the motions, getting through the day, doing what’s required, going home and turning on the TV until the next day comes. They want more for themselves and they want more for their people.
Some of them are in organizations with traditional structures and old paradigms.
Not intentionally designed to limit people, but born of cultures that despite the latest management trends and empowerment classes on possibility thinking and shared vision still reward command and control, lead to power plays and foster the idea that if you don’t watch your back you could get stabbed.
One of my clients was discouraged by his boss from getting too close to his subordinates.
He was told doing so could cause him to lose his “edge” with them. He was told he may not be viewed as a leader if his people know too much about him and see him as a real person with fears and dreams and idiosyncrasies and humor.
But he knows that kind of leadership won’t unlock the potential in his organization. He knows that won’t light people up. He knows that won’t foster trust. He knows that isn’t what makes people go the extra mile when they are already tired and beaten. And he’s sick of playing that game.
So he’s trying something new. He’s sharing more of himself. More of his vision. More of his hopes and concerns and experiences for better or worse. He is encouraging dialogue. He’s asking what people think and sticking around long enough to hear (and really listen to) what they have to say. He is helping them find ways to breathe life into their greatest ideas and visions. And he is learning to get out of the way and trade the illusion of control for embracing possibilities that lead people (including himself) to enter into and navigate through uncertainty.
Another client is getting ready to engage his leadership team in ways that they aren’t used to.
He wants to roll out a whole new paradigm of doing things. And he is quite aware that words like “increasing shareholder value,” “fostering excellence” and “exceeding customer expectations” – while good concepts, tend to make people’s eyes glaze over and dismiss what is being said as the latest corporate speak, rah rah, Dilbert like rant.
He realizes that he needs to get very clear about what he sees as possible for his organization and all the people in it. He needs to be able to distinguish what they are moving away from and moving toward and find out what they think is important and what it will take to get them there.
He wants to encourage dissention and constructive disagreement. He knows that if they don’t voice their concerns and questions and hesitations to him, they will do it with each other in a way that could invoke fear and resistance and squash the seeds of possibility as they begin to germinate and grow. He knows that a silent room doesn’t mean everyone agrees. He has the courage to delve underneath the surface to find out what’s really going on – even, and perhaps especially if it means they don’t agree with anything he is saying.
A third client heads up an organization already known as the very best at what they do.
They have customers lining up at the door. They have been recognized in their community as the go to for what they do. They are well respected in their industry. And yet, they are burned out. They are overwhelmed and just trying to make it through the day. Things fall through the cracks. Important details get overlooked.
And my client has run around fixing things as they break, preventing undesirable consequences and instituting practices that keep the organization profitable, efficient and effective. But his partners haven’t embraced them – in fact, in some cases they even harbor resentment. He knows he cannot create an inspired workplace singlehandedly. But he realizes his partners aren’t inspired – and that no amount of talking at them will get them there. So he is slowing down and beginning to have authentic conversations with each of them.
He wants to connect with them as people, to see what they believe in, what they are passionate about, what they want to create together, and what they think needs to be done to make it fly. He is opening himself up to their criticism, their doubts, their worries and also hoping to hear about their dreams. He doesn’t know if it is going to work. He isn’t sure how to begin these conversations, or whether people will really engage with him. But he is willing to do it anyway.
This is the essence of true leadership.
Some call it conscious leadership. It is the ability to authentically engage with people in the workplace in a way that promotes shared value, meaning and purpose and leads them to work together in service to something greater than themselves. It requires courage, patience, faith, trust, intuition, and self awareness.
And I salute them.
Creating an inspired workplace and exercising conscious leadership is something that doesn’t happen overnight. If you are interested learning about approaches and strategies for building an engaged, enthusiastic work culture that leads to high performance without burning people out in the process (starting with yourself), check out The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive. Registration for the fall program is now open. Enroll by 9/1 to take advantage of the early bird discount!
When was the last time you were really inspired?
Can you recall what you were doing? What you were thinking about? How you felt? What was it that inspired you? And what did you end up doing as a result?
Wouldn’t it be great if you could replicate the feeling of inspiration and translate it into measurable results any time you wanted to? As a leader, your chief mission is to bring out the best in others and focus their unique talent, style, energy and passion into the creation and achievement of something that serves a greater good. The ability to inspire and motivate is critical. But what is it exactly that makes a leader inspiring – and more importantly how can leaders facilitate others to take inspired action?
STEP 1: Before you can be inspiring, you must be inspired.
Chances are the last time you became inspired, you were not feeling stress, anxiety, worry or overwhelm. And it probably didn’t happen because someone told you to do it. The greatest creations and most significant accomplishments of our time started with a single thought that most likely originated when the minds that conceived them were relatively quiet. It is not uncommon to hear inventors, artists, writers, entrepreneurs, leaders and others say that ideas such as these seemed to originate from a source greater than themselves – and that the most inspiring of these thoughts was in service to a greater good.
The voice of inspiration often starts as a small still whisper that competes for our attention among all the other things we think we need to be doing. How will you quiet yourself for a few moments today and elevate your attention from problems to possibilities so you can hear what it is telling you?
STEP 2: Before you can truly bring out the best in others, you must start with yourself.
Every one of us has faults and weaknesses. But we also have unique combinations of talent, energy, style and passion that mingle together to form vast pools of possibility. You are capable of far more than you ever dreamed or realized is possible and so is everyone around you. These core qualities lie deep within us waiting to be tapped and harnessed.
True strength is not boastful or proud but rather quietly confident and unassuming. It is also incredibly engaging and uplifting. When you shift your focus from your doubts and fears to your strengths and abilities, you will see the way to rise. And in doing so, you will allow others to do the same. As you focus on people’s true potential and treat them as though they are capable of achieving it, they will prove you right – often surprising and delighting themselves in the process. The ability to do this is one of the marks of a true leader.
STEP 3: Remember to block and tackle.
Getting people to focus on possibilities and believe in themselves is a huge part of exercising inspired leadership, but it won’t get you all the way there. To leverage people’s strengths and make the most of emerging opportunities, inspiration must at some point turn into ACTION. The trouble is, somewhere along the way our egos have a tendency to try to steal the show. Being fear based, the ego would have us occupy ourselves with doubt, skepticism and anxiety over the potential for failure and any corresponding loss of power, prestige or approval.
This is where MOTIVATION comes in. Motivation is about getting people to move. And sometimes you have to remove barriers that are in front of people before they can do that. Obstacles could be physical, organizational or mental. Good leaders are instrumental in detecting and removing them, whether they are in the form of skill deficiency, inadequate equipment or resources, or a lack of confidence.
You can soothe the clamors of the ego by mitigating risk, increasing the odds of success, and helping others to recognize what they have to gain as a result of exerting the effort necessary to succeed. With the parking brake removed, action and results can begin to accelerate.
In every organization, in every person, and in every moment, there lies possibility and untapped potential. What will you do to recognize it and apply it toward something remarkable?
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!
Orison Marden Swett once said, “There are powers inside of you which, if you could discover and use, would make of you everything you ever dreamed or imagined you could become.”
James Allen published a beautiful book in 1901 called “As a Man Thinketh”, in which he wrote “Dream lofty dreams, and as you dream, so shall you become. Your Vision is the promise of what you shall one day be; your ideal is the prophecy of what you shall at last unveil.”
Henry David Thoreau told us “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.”
And Napoleon Hill proclaimed, “What the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”
These quotes speak to our ability to create that which we most desire.
It is not some kind of magic or special power. And it is not something we must rely on others for. It is an innate gift that we gradually learn to utilize as we become more and more aligned with what is most true within us.
This gift is quite simply the strength of the feeling we generate when we identify with something so strongly that we take it to be real. With continual and unwavering belief, whatever we hold in our minds and our hearts in this way becomes our reality.
I began reading about the power of positive thinking and visualization as a teenager.
I was enthralled by stories of athletes who imagined themselves sinking those critical shots and performed at game time exactly as they rehearsed in their minds. I used positive affirmations about the person I was becoming and the wonderful things coming into my life. I created large vision boards for myself that featured pictures or symbols that represented things or experiences I longed for. I envisioned movies in my head in which I performed anything from sports to public speaking powerfully and passionately and with great success.
Some of these visions and dreams have come true over the years. And others have not.
After reflecting at length on what differentiated the dreams and visions that came to fruition from those that didn’t, I have come to the conclusion that there are three significant factors.
Lack of Alignment with a Higher Purpose
One is quite simply that some of the things my mind (and ego) believed I needed to have were not in the best interests of my spirit, aligned with my true purpose, or in service to something greater than myself. Believe me, I have had many occasions to thank God for unanswered prayers that I originally believed would have been the best thing that could have happened.
Don’t push the river.
The energy you would otherwise expend trying to make something happen, or lamenting over something that fell through can be much better directed. Our willingness to let go is buffered by a strong faith that things are happening in a way that will serve our highest interest. In retrospect, we often see how things fell together in a way that helped us get where we are now – though at the time it just felt frustrating and disappointing. Cultivating this faith helps us to recognize and act on new and different opportunities that are much more aligned with our true purpose in life.
Becoming Overly Attached
The second factor often present when things didn’t play out the way I envisioned was my fervent attachment to needing something happen exactly the way (or at just the time) I thought it should – or attachment to anything in particular. While it is true that we need to be passionate about our visions and dreams, it is important to remain willing to let go of the details and trust that something bigger than ourselves will step in to collaborate with us.
This higher intelligence, to which I believe we are all innately connected, is capable of orchestrating things far more magnificently than we could ever attempt to do. It is important that we are willing, but when we step over the line and become too willful our thoughts and actions have a way of throwing a monkey wrench in things.
The urgency in our desire can have us acting out of desperation rather than trust.
As a result, instead of identifying with that which we most want, we embody the state of not having it and trying fervently to do anything to change that. Taking our current state to be more real than what we truly desire, the power of thought works perfectly to deliver what our minds have been fixated on – leaving us in a state of want, working madly to make everything happen the way we think it should.
Try practicing passionate detachment.
We must learn to give ourselves to our visions and dreams while allowing for divine timing, unforeseen incidents and the hand of providence, which often enables things to happen in ways that exceed our wildest expectations. I like to call this state passionate detachment.
“Destiny grants us our wishes, but in its own way, in order to give us something beyond our wishes.”
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Seeing it in Your Mind is Not Enough
You can dream great dreams, but if they lack feeling and passion, they fall as flat as the set of a five act play after the audience has left the final performance. We must go beyond simply watching the movies we create in our minds that have us sinking that shot, mesmerizing that audience, or jumping for joy at our victories. Rather than seeing ourselves up there on the screen of our minds, we must see from the eyes of the person in the movie.
Feeling is as important as seeing, because it leads to proper action.
We must experience in our minds and our bodies the feelings associated with that which we desire most – the elation of victory, the liberating release of having completed something we were unsure or afraid of, and the sweet satisfaction and joy that accompanies success.
Similarly, it is not enough to create a visual wish list or a series of affirmations or declarations about the things we would like to have, achieve or experience. We need to look upon these things as gifts that have already been given to us and feel the gratitude welling up in our hearts for having received them. Only then will we be compelled to truly ACT in ways that bring it about.
Practice grateful certainty.
The state of grateful certainty we need to give ourselves to is similar to the way you may feel after ordering something via the internet. After clicking the purchase button and entering your shipping address and credit card information, you can have reasonable certainty that what you ordered is on its way. With this assurance, you identify with the state of already having owned that which you just bought – even though you do not yet physically possess it. It is this same state of graceful anticipation, gratitude, and faith that those who seem to magically attract exactly what they want into their lives have learned to enter into time and time again.
Do you have some secret dream of becoming more than you currently are?
Of tapping into the vast field of potential that lies waiting for you to discover it? See if you can see through the eyes of someone who has already realized your dream, and enjoy each moment as though you are reliving the memory of its beautiful unfolding. Allow your vision to inform your action, and trust that as you give yourself fully to living your dream, you simply cannot fail.
This process is just one of the many techniques taught in The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive to help you get the results you want with less stress and greater fulfillment. Though the spring program is now full, you can get on the waiting list for priority access to the fall program kicking off in September. For more information, visit The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.
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!
“Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit.”
~ Henry B. Adams
Like many of us, I grew up thinking that things happened in a linear way.
First this, then that. One building block upon another in a definite order. Cause and effect. But over the years, I’ve noticed that life isn’t always like that.
Often it seems life is a series of random events that don’t seem to make much sense.
But when you have a larger vision and experience that vision as though it has already happened, you can begin to see this apparent chaos in a whole different way. Often what we experience is a chain of seemingly disjointed events that are in reality very connected.
Think of watching a movie of a glass shattering, only in reverse motion.
Pieces fly together from all directions in a disjointed fashion and assemble into a perfect whole. Each piece is absolutely necessary, though, in and of itself, incomplete and inconceivably connected to a larger picture.
We will experience ups and downs and travel roads that deviate from what we anticipated.
Nevertheless, these seemingly divergent paths may in fact be prerequisite to experiencing the totality of our vision. At times the healing process entails pain, discomfort or other symptoms. While we may point to these as signs of illness, we could alternatively consider them evidence of our recovery.
Seasons will change, and so will we.
A phase of growth and expansion is often preceded by a period where things unexpectedly fall away. We can look at the void as a loss, or recognize it as the space necessary for new creations to take root and flourish.
We may not initially realize the significance or relevance of our chaotic experiences.
But in hindsight we often realize the importance of enduring specific challenges, setbacks, delays, or what felt like irrelevant nuisances. These obstacles give us a greater perspective on who we are, deeper appreciation for where we have been and where we are going, and compassion for others who have experiences similar to our own.
As we rise up to these little challenges, we find strength we didn’t know we had and realize we are far greater than we thought we were. And as leaders, we can help others appreciate and leverage their own chaos as well.
Appreciating the perfect order unfolding in our lives more of an art than a science.
Most of us never really take the time to recognize it. If you are interested in leveraging the seeming chaos in your own life and life’s work, I encourage you to check out The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive. Though the spring program is now full, you can get on the waiting list for priority access to the fall program kicking off in September. For more information, visit The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.
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.
“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!
“I’m so tired of feeling unorganized and scattered all the time.”
A client told me in a recent meeting. He added, “I come into the office and there are papers flung all over my desk, half started projects buried in piles with new requests heaped on top of them. But I never seem to have time to go through them because by the time I get there, a line of people waiting to talk to me has already formed outside my door and I have no choice but to spring into action. And my days are full of requests that add new papers, projects and action items to a pile that grows faster than it shrinks.”
He felt like Sisyphus – like he was constantly pushing a big rock up a hill only to have it roll back down as soon as he got near the top.
“What do you think I should do about it?” he asked me. I knew he wouldn’t like my answer.
“Move into it,” I told him. “Tell me more about how starting your day like that affects the quality of your life.”
He was perplexed. “Why would I want to move into something so awful? Shouldn’t I be figuring out how I can move away from it? Rise above it?”
He was essentially living as Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, constantly reliving the same day over and over again. However, there are hidden gifts in such a predicament.
That is the reaction most of us (including yours truly) have when faced with an unpleasant predicament. But rising above an unpleasant predicament often requires us to change habits or patterns that are ingrained and comfortable. And initiating and sustaining a change like that requires fuel — fuel that will allow us to break through our obstacles and limitations at the very moment when it seems most difficult.
Change occurs when the pain of the current state is greater than the perceived pain of making a change, and the pleasure of making a change is greater than the pleasure (or payoff) of staying the same.
When you truly move into your frustration, you begin to open your eyes widely to recognize the impact a problem is having on your life. You allow yourself to accept that this pain will continue until you do something about it. And until you are truly ready to do something about it, you will continue to do what you’ve always done and suffer as a result.
This can be done long before you know what that solution is. And just as you can move into your pain, so too can you move into the pleasure of what life would be like without your problem. This too, serves as fuel that will ultimately allow you to do what it takes to create and implement a lasting solution.
Moving into your frustration illuminates not only the problem, but also the underlying factors that contribute to and exacerbate that problem. It gives you insight.
Most of us instinctively move away from pain, firing shots over our shoulder at what we believe to be the antagonist without really recognizing or locking onto a target.
To really know what needs to be done to slay the beast, my client needed to take a closer look and recognize what it eats, how it grows stronger, and how he might unwittingly be feeding and nurturing it. That’s exactly what moving into the frustration with a spirit of curiosity does.
When he got curious about his predicament, he began to notice that he had a tendency to book his appointments back-to-back, starting first thing in the morning and say yes to more things than he could realistically accomplish. He realized that he didn’t have a clear sense of what was truly a priority and that in the absence of that clarity, he was making everything number one — except his own sanity.
The more awareness he cultivated in the presence of his frustration, the more he began to identify and understand what was really causing your frustration. This also led my client to discover and embrace the third gift of frustration.
Insight opens the door to possibility. Once you have an understanding of the factors that cause or contribute to a problem, you begin to recognize a multitude of options that can lead to lasting resolution.
In the days and weeks that followed, my client identified a number of strategies that could potentially work for him, including scheduling, communication, and delegation tactics.
The next time you feel like you are living the life of Bill Murray’s character in the movie Groundhog Day, remind yourself that frustration comes bearing gifts. Reliving the same experience over and over again isn’t so bad if it ultimately yields fuel, insight, and possibility. Move into your discomfort, pay attention, get curious, and connect the dots. Then, you too will find a way to transform your frustration into freedom.
If you are interested in additional strategies for recognizing and moving beyond self-limiting patterns of behavior and thought, 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.