It’s Getting All Over You… The Power of State, Part 3

“Excuse me, but can you get your foul State off of me, please? I’m trying to be creative and inspired here, and you’re contaminating it with your irritated grouchiness, which is getting all over everyone. Please go handle that.“

 

What would it be like to work on a team where you could actually say that to someone? I’m here to testify that it’s actually possible, and can be awesome. Maybe you won’t start off quite that pointed, but I can get you close...

We know by now that what we’ve called “mood” before is actually State, comprised of three interconnected parts- Mental, Emotional and Physical. We mess with one of those parts, the other two shift instantly, every time. If you’re just joining us here, take a few minutes to check out Part 1 and Part 2 to get the full power of State in how you’re embodying it yourself- it’s huge. 

Once you’ve got a handle on your OWN State (which you’ll tinker with for a lifetime), you’re halfway there, since your State is the model for theirs, and they’re watching you all the time. So now it’s time to directly take on something just as clutch... other people’s States.  As we’ve established, most people have little awareness of their own State and even less aptitude in effectively changing it. If you came at most people with the opening statement of this post they might slug you or cry, because they simply don’t get it (yet).  So until they do (and even after), it’ll be YOU in many moments who will need to do it for them.   

Check them out.  

...In a different way than you have been, paying attention to their State. At any given moment, any person you’re with is in a particular state. The key question is twofold- 

What State are they in? and… 

Is it the state you want them to be in (for the task at hand, the news you’re about to drop on them, the next XX hours you’re about to spend with them, the way their State is spreading to others etc.)? 

As a leader, start paying attention as much to their State as those other things like what they’re contributing, focusing on and doing. This matters because it’s fueling all of those things already, and will get you to the core of what makes them awesome (or not) moment to moment. To maximize not just your performance but your team’s as well, start managing States. Your ability to facilitate their State is directly proportional to their motivation, focus, and productivity.

Cues tell all. 

80-90% of all communication is nonverbal. What we feel and think manifests itself in our tonality, body language, eye movements, breathing and facial expression. It’s incredibly hard to fake these things (maybe impossible, but that’s for another day), and the people you’re with tell you a lot about where they are without ever uttering a word... if you pay attention. Notice posture (leaning forward, into you or turned away, avoiding), jaw set and brow furrow, eye contact, and the tonality/cadence of their speaking. Even breathing- if someone’s breathing is high or shallow, they’re stressed. If it’s low and abdominal, they’re more relaxed. Practice first paying attention to these cues, then labelling them in your mind as different States (excited, bored, curious, sad, irritated, reflective, pumped up, grouchy, inspired…). Then, ask yourself if the State they’re in is a good one for what’s happening, or not.  If not, then get busy… 

Change from the outside in. 

You can change someone else’s state in a second. In fact you do it all the time without labeling it such. 

Take someone who’s State is resistant, for instance. Arms folded, jaw set, breathing high in chest, brow slightly furrowed, voice monotone and forced. Yet with a simple question that gets them to think about something else completely... you get that person to a much more open and receptive State.  That’s an outside-in State Change.

Or… you and a teammate were brainstorming on a question with you recording at the whiteboard, and at one point you switch spots- you hand over the marker to your partner to get her up and writing as you then walk around the room, new ideas flowing. That switch was another State Change

Or... you’re presenting to a group, and you see their eyes glazing over, as Bored State starts to take over the room. You have everyone quickly stand up, you pose a question for them all to answer to another person, then have them sit back down, now awake and engaged.  Nice State Change. 

Here are some more (some deliberate breaks in pattern/focus, others quick resets) : 

  • Have them tell you about their last success with this team in vivid detail. (mental)
  • Take them for a walk. (physical)
  • Change the subject completely. (mental) 
  • Continue the conversation standing up if you were sitting. (physical)
  • Give them a compliment. (emotional)
  • Give them a high-five. (physical)
  • Tell them a joke. (emotional)
  • Everyone rotate positions in the room. (physical)
  • Ask their opinion about something you know they care about. (mental/emotional)
  • Toss them a ball. (physical)
  • Offer them a snack or drink, like a bottle of water or a cup of coffee. (physical)
  • Change or put on some music with the energy you’re going for. (mental/physical/emotional)
  • Show them a hilarious or inspiring or thoughtful or intriguing post or video online. (emotional)

Switch it Up- Early and Often

Those state changes are key when someone’s in a overtly negative or low-energy state, as each will break the pattern they’re in, changing their State to something more engaged, positive or higher energy.  The higher the energy, the better in most cases. 

That said, your team needs deliberate State Changes more than you think.  

The average attention span correlates with age (like 5 minutes max for a 5 year old)… up to about age 18, at which point it maxes out. So 18-20 minutes is about the limit of most people’s attention span in the work you’re doing (outside of gaming and other immersive altered-state activities).  All attempts of “plowing through” beyond that window are a waste of time and energy, because we know that once State’s gone so is focus, learning and performance. Instead, Change State! All you and your team need is a reset of attention- a State Change- about every 18-20 minutes in your work process, and the brain/performance/focus stays fresh. 

While the list above is a start, personalize, customize and add to it with your own State Changes, and then start playing them all to try out what fits best where. 

You can call it. 

There is tremendous power in State management- for you as an individual and for the people around you. Once you and your team understand it, you can then own it and call it with one another. I coach high performing teams across industries and rank, whose productivity and morale has been transformed with the power of State. On these teams, because they get it, everyone is responsible for his/her own State, making sure it’s productive, conducive to what the team’s up to, and able to help others accelerate. They incorporate State Changes as regular team practice into their work, which makes all the difference. You’ll see high-fiving between agenda topics, movement as they work, koosh balls flying purposefully to engage the right States, and people owning their own attention, performance and focus with their State.  And when they don’t, you might just hear that line I opened this post with, to which someone would respond,

“Actually, you’re absolutely right. My grouchy State isn’t helping anyone- I apologize for getting it on you. I need a State Change. I’ll be back in a few minutes, better.”  

And then they go, take a few minutes to change their State, re-engage, and the team’s on on its way. It’s a beautiful thing. 

Your turn...

 

©SarahSinger&Co. 2013

What it Stirs in Us…

While crisis stirs fear and all that goes with that, it can also bring out some important things in people.  We suddenly look at our lives and see what really matters- what we’ve got which really counts and what we can give to help others who really need it.

Gratitude…

Tragedy can bring out amazing Gratitude in us. We suddenly take stock, and get how lucky we really are in the great scheme of things. For the last couple of months I’ve been doing a gratitude exercise, in which I reflect and take a minute to capture all that I value and am grateful for… every day. It’s one thing to do this as an isolated reflection or in the wake of a tragedy as many are doing right now – but doing this every day really shifts something about how one sees the world. I highly recommend it. As part of the process, I make a list of ten things I value and am grateful for right now. Two of the things I wrote today were “waking up this morning in health and strength” and “the opportunity to make a difference in the world.” These seem especially poignant today.

Try completing this every day for the next 10 days, and your view of the world will shift, guaranteed. From Alan Walter:

  • Goal for today… 
  • What am I willing to give to others today?
  • What 10 things do I value that I am grateful for right now? 
  • What do I value that another does for me that I am grateful for right now? 
  • What am I happy about right now?

Empathy…

Yesterday shook up our world again, as Boston went from a scene of celebration to tragedy in a second. The fear of that struck me hard.  In looking at the footage (like other similar events) we see people flee in fear. Yet we also see people who run IN to help, which is inspiring, and something I spend a lot of time thinking about how to tap. People responding with empathy, care and support for one another in complete humanity. Maybe I’m just seeing it more because that’s my filter, yet it seems to me that the more we get pushed and tested, the more we’re supporting and stepping up rather than retreating or just protecting ourselves. For the first time it seems that the stories of people helping in this crisis are overshadowing the stories of shock. We’re becoming more resilient and more united in spirit.  There’s much work to do for this to translate into everyday empathy for one another in normal times, but let’s start here.

Impact…

Even though these incidents of crisis are happening more and more, I believe that the world can change with the choices we make and the ripples we cause toward good. A week ago, a very special project I’ve been involved with for the last two years about the possibility and coming together toward a world without hate, delivered its message to 10,0000 people at once at a ceremony in Birkenau, the biggest extermination camp of the Holocaust. It’s a project of light, hope and creating the world we want rather than staying stuck in the pattern of darkness we’ve had. As my partners and I watched it livestreamed from the other side of the world, it was an amazing moment which blew me away in significance, connection, pride and hope. We can create the world we believe is possible.

Significance…

In a few days, my oldest daughter will become a Bat Mitzvah.  This is a big deal, and signifies the end of a long, intense process for her and for our family. I’ve been immersed in big conversations daily with her about the meaning of life, her purpose and how we choose our paths… a lot for anyone to wrap their head around, let alone a thirteen year old with a coach like me for a mom. Yesterday’s events put a particularly focused point on our discussion about people and how every choice impacts so much more than we think.

Inspiration…

Finally, there’s this candle you see on the page. It’s a memorial candle sitting here next to me, and it’s lit because it’s the third anniversary of my dad’s death- his Yartzeit, as it’s called in my religion. People light these candles when someone dies, but also every year on a person’s Yartzeit-so today in the wake of Boston’s tragedy, it has even more meaning.  One of the ways I process, reflect and summon my energy is through running. Even before yesterday’s events, I knew that today’s run would be significant, with my dad fueling it. He was an avid runner who protected that time as his solo space to connect with himself and sort out the world. While I didn’t really get that or get into it until a few years ago, I now I hold that time as sacred much like he did, and he’s my inspiration for every run.  He used to say that running was his time to pray. Personally, I’ve never really been a big pray-er. I reflect, I think deeply about things, I have frequent moments of true spiritual connection, but not in the form of direct praying to God. And yet, without intending it, all week a little tune from my childhood has been playing in my head… It’s the Modeh Ani prayer, which we used to sing as kids and my dad loved. He sang it while he ran each morning. The translation: “I am thankful to God for allowing me to awaken to another day…” In the wake of this week, yesterday and what we’re all causing in the world with each choice, this couldn’t be any more meaningful.

Forward…

So today I started my run with tears.  I believe that tears are the literal overflow of emotions (any kind) that have hit or filled us so much that they need a spillway, so no surprise today, as gratitude, empathy, loss, inspiration and my dad both filled and fueled me.

My dad, who taught me to question everything, think and feel deeply about things, make impact in the world every day, come together with support when someone needs it and share what you’ve got to make a difference in the world…is present. If he were physically here, this week he’d pull us together into the kitchen for a family meeting in which he’d remind us about sticking together, supporting one another, reaching out to those who need it and being proud of what we’re able to impact, despite the circumstances.

And so we are

©SarahSinger&Co. 2013

Ripples and Focus

Single sculling on a glassy lake- meditative, challenging, peaceful.

I got hooked into it with my dad when I was a teenager, as we spent hours on Atwood Lake learning it, alternating between 2-man sculling together and single sculling on our own.  As I went off to college, he continued to row, solo on the lake every morning the northern Ohio weather would allow.

There’s no better place to contemplate choice, impact and the ripple effect than in the middle of a glassy lake.  When single sculling, your orientation is to where you’ve been and how you got there, rather than where you’re going. You’re on a sliding seat with two long oars fit into outriggers, the bow of the boat pointing through the water while you power it with long, full-body, full-blade strokes of the oars feathered into and over the water in perfect synchronicity. At least that’s the goal.  Therein lies the challenge.  To get both oars perfectly balanced, dipped into and pulled through the water at exactly the same depth, force and speed takes focus and control with constant motion.  To get each stroke evenly powered first by legs, then torso, then arms, then feathering the oars perfectly out of the water and skimmed back over it without nicking the surface takes a different kind of focus and coordination.  Like sailing (my other favorite), you can both lose yourself in it and spend your life hooked by the challenge of the nuance in it.  A thinking person’s sport, to be sure.

One of the coolest parts of sculling is that you see feedback and progress with every stroke.  Because you’re facing to the aft of the boat, your focus is on where you’ve been, watching the wake your boat is leaving behind, the pools of ripple left by each oar.  If your timing was off by half a second between oars, you see it in the ripples.  If you had a perfect stroke, you see it in perfect round pools on either side of your straight wake.  As you gain distance, the trail of pools down the lake chart your progress and path- straight, zig-zagging or meandering.  Each circle of ripples expands instantly, first in distinct circles of light and shadow, multiplying instantly and quickly, ultimately overlapping into the very texture of the lake.

Most people have a default time orientation- past, present or future.  I’m definitely a future-oriented person, sometimes challenged to stay in the moment, as I’m always thinking 5 minutes, 5 days, 5 years ahead of where I am now.  This makes me a good coach and consultant, as I’m great at quickly surveying past patterns (but restless in dwelling there too long), zooming in on the impact they’re having now, and then strategizing both the right path forward and endless possible scenarios forward with insight.  I love to reflect, yet sometimes need to remind myself to do so, often feeling afterward like it was an indulgence. I am big on feedback and learning, so I’ve learned how to strategically and quickly reflect enough to gather feedback when necessary- but always to learn forward.  I am continually striving to (and coaching others to) be more fully present in each moment.  The more I can master this, the more impact and fulfillment I make/get out of every moment.  Meditation is the extreme version of this. I’m intrigued by it, have gotten tremendous value out of the dabbling I’ve done in it,  and have a perpetual goal of making it a habit.  Sculling forces me to keep my focus backward, forcing reflection and in the present, adjusting each stroke and coordinated movement based on what I just did.  Focusing forward or to the future isn’t even possible without physically turning around.  Opposite of life for me- always focused forward, having to consciously stop and intentionally turn around to reflect backward.

One of my favorite parts of sculling is just coasting… After a few long, powerful strokes the boat glides smoothly and silently through the water.  I hold my oars up to rest as I glide, and watch the water drip from them into the water moving past.  The drops make tiny circles, which grow instantly to ripples, which multiply faster than I can track smoothly, beautifully and overlapping into the ripples of the drop before it. Every move we make, every conversation we have, every decision in life we conquer- intentionally or not makes these ripples, which expand into the texture of our lives.  How much are we tracking them, studying them, choosing our next moves based on them?

©SarahSinger&Co. 2011