Closer Than They Appear

My mom’s rear-view mirror always had etched onto it:

Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.

So it turns out that this standard-issue reminder about perception applies to our own psyche, as well.

When we get to the part of my training where I ask people to identify a spot in their lives where they need to step up or out or through something, many people find something BIG.  It’s often having to do with a person they need to confront or a thing they’ve needed to do for a long time, which they’ve been allowing to suck their energy and hold them back in their productivity or happiness for weeks, months or years.  Most people have a few of these things rattling around, sort of like extra weights they’ve been carrying around with them.

So, I help them to stand up to the BIG thing, and commit to busting through it to the elusive “other side” which is alot like those things in the rear-view mirror… much closer than it seems.

It often comes down to a conversation they need to have with someONE or a new behavior that they need to just DO or try.  I coach around it, sometimes even set up full plans of attack for getting their State just right, and all the support they need to hold that State, follow through and not bail at the last second.

In my work with thousands of people who have gone through this very process, I’ve found something in common which takes me back to the rear-view mirror…

Leading up to the actual breakthrough (which is often just a moment), people will actually spend hours of time thinking about it, obsessing about it, rehearsing it or just worrying about it before they actually do it.  The good news is that this is replacing the countless hours of stress, upset, distraction and worry that they had been spending regularly on it before they chose to break through it.

So finally, they get to the moment of truth.

They get into State (or not, which makes it more painful), they DO the big thing, and they’re through to the other side.  The act or conversation took minutes.  It’s over.  The energy suck that had been draining their will and focus is cut off, and there’s a proud mix of adrenaline, relief and newfound energy afterward.  Then the realization…

Obstacles are smaller than they appear.

It wasn’t that big of a deal in hindsight.  All of that worrying and prep, and they broke through it in moments.  To me as a coach, the most important thing is the equation of time spent that comes in the debrief:

Number of sucked hours of worry/upset/stress/energy you are losing in thinking, worrying, avoiding by not doing it

VS.

Moments it takes to just do it and be through to the other side

Simple equation of time investment.

Easy?  Not really, which is where Comfort Zone and coaching like mine come in.

But simple? ABSOLUTELY. For me, this math is what gets me to finally get out of my head and do the uncomfortable but liberating thing.

Maybe we should change what’s etched in our rear-view mirrors as a constant reminder, so we can save all that time and energy, and just step up and out in the first place?

©SarahSinger&Co. 2013

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

The Power of State, Part 2 Choosing it.

So… how’s your State? Right now? 

If you don’t know what I mean by that, go here. If you do, then you’ve been playing with it and have begun to wake up a new sort of State Self-Awareness. Awesome.  You’ve begun to…

Monitor and observe yourself. You probably noticed that your States are much more specific than “good” or “bad” when you really paid attention to them, right?  You also noticed that your State can change in an instant from any number of triggers around you, some in the direction you want to go, others not. Which led to…

Pay close attention to WHAT, WHO and WHEN your States are vulnerable.  Was it certain people who trigger a certain State for you every time?  In a good or bad way?  Did you find certain topics that do it?  I’m positive you found that certain times of day trigger specific States for you. Did you get all the way to songs, places or smells as anchors for you? How about those curveball situations that just wrenched your State in some direction you weren’t expecting?  More to come soon, as always.

So, now you’re ready for the next part:

Getting deliberate about setting your own State in the moment and strategically- This is the satisfying part.

Why it matters… 

State affects everything and everyone.                                                                 
Attention, learning, and performance are completely State dependent. In other words, the performance you’re able to bring completely depends on the State you’re in. Think about a recent great day, great presentation, great meeting, great conversation. Now think about the State that you were in at the time. It was probably focused, fired up, into it, engaged… a very particular State on your “top 5 productive States” list, right?  Now imagine that same experience, but having it in an unproductive State like tired, irritated, or distracted. Way different, right?

Here’s the difference between the masses and those people who go beyond to influence, lead with impact and outperform…

Those superstars intentionally choose their State rather than letting their State control them. An NBA player would never step onto the basketball court without getting his State locked in first. So why would you do so on the court of your life (I’d argue that you actually have more at stake than he does)?

States are contagious.                                                                                                     
More specifically, YOUR State affects everything for you and everyone around you. Always. And if you’re in a leadership position or close partnership, it’s even more important and more magnified than for anybody else, because whatever your State, it’s setting the State for everybody else the second you walk in the door. We’ve all noticed this before. You’re in an okay “mood”, maybe even a great mood (more accurately called State). The boss (or partner, or family member) walks in and is in some kind of a grouchy, snappy, salty State.  Immediately everybody else’s State is affected by that, right? Ever notice how when you’re in a bad mood (State), everyone in your world seems extra-irritating and whiny?  Not an accident. Unfortunately (or not) most of us are victims of another’s state, and usually the person with the strongest state wins, in that it spreads to others. More on this next time, but meanwhile…

You can accidentally contaminate or intentionally elevate.                                       
You can (and do) contaminate somebody else’s creative blissful State with your irritated, pessimistic one just by being around them while in that State, and vice versa. You can also elevate somebody who is in a depressed, isolated State to engaged, inspired and connected with your State alone.  The question is this, how mindful are you about this, how intentional are you about it and how could you change that at any given moment?

In my coaching experience, I’ve seen that every manager or leader I’ve seen who has star performers consistently over time, are the same managers or leaders who are consciously using this particular tool called State Management every day, every moment, every interaction. Here’s how…

Choose it.                                                                                                                          
Most people are victims of their own State. It’s 10am and they’ve already given up, saying, “Yeah, it’s just going to be one of those days.” Wow. Stuff happens around us all of the time that messes with us mentally, emotionally and physically. The question is… how are you going to respond to it in a way that keeps you solid?  Maybe you only got a few hours of sleep last night or are coming from a particularly rough conversation just now. So what? Don’t let that determine your State or set it for the day. Choose it.

People are watching you, they’re listening. They’re getting vibes from you. They are choosing their own State and responding to yours all day every day, in the moment. You’ve already been messing with a few ITM (In The Moment) State changes as you noticed your triggers, so now you can get more deliberate in choosing how to set your State well.

So, when you’re in a great State, when you are on top of the world, what’s really happening?

Remember that Mental, Emotional and Physical are all interconnected ALL the time. Something triggered one, and they all changed. It’s not possible to change one without messing with them all somehow. So it makes sense then, that to change your State to one you want to be in, change one of the three parts. PInpoint an awesome State you know is great for you. Now let’s break down its parts:

Mental: What thoughts you’re having- what images, ideas, sounds you’re focusing on.

Emotional: What emotions you’re feeling.

Physical: What’s happening in your physiology- in position, breathing, movement and expression.

So to choose and change/set your State, pick one of those ways into it, or several to make it more potent. Depending on how strong your current State is (like the one you’re trying to change out of) some methods will work faster/easier than others.

Try these:

  • Think about a time when you were totally successful (mental)
  • Listen to specific music (relaxing music to calm down, upbeat music to get energy, favorite song to get psyched… (mental)
  • Have someone tell you a joke (emotional)
  • Look at a picture of a favorite person (emotional)
  • Read an inspirational quote (mental)
  • Go for a walk or quick jog around the building (physical)
  • Splash cold water on your face (physical)
  • Re-read a great note, card or email someone gave you which put you in a great State (emotional)
  • Drink lots of water (gets more fluid in system, brain operates more clearly) (physical)
  • High-5 someone (physical)
  • Look at something in nature (like a cloud passing in the sky) for a few minutes solid. (mental)
  • Drink caffeine (physical)
  • Ask someone in your immediate space to tell you their favorite thing about one of their friends/kids/you (mental) 
  • Stand up and stretch (physical)
  • Recall a time you felt completely loved and accepted by someone (emotional)
  • Do some jumping jacks (physical)
  • Get something to eat with extra protein, light on the starches. Protein gives you more brainpower, starches make your brain tired. (physical)
  • Visualize yourself nailing whatever then next challenge is all the way through to the celebration at the end. (mental)

When in doubt, remember- physical is the fastest to manipulate easily.  Despite the war you may be having in your head, you can still force yourself to do something physical pretty quickly.  Move your body, and your State will follow.

Make your own list. 

Take what I’ve given you here, and add on to it. The State changes that will work best for you are the ones you create and tweak to perfection yourself by doing and doing again. Then get your complete list onto your phone or your wall or somewhere you can see and access it easily (because the moments you really need a State change are the ones where you can’t think of one to save your life).

Get strategic.                                                                                                                        
You should now have a new awareness of your State, and soon you’ll also have a new muscle of State Management to flex in response to your world, moment to moment. Awesome. Aaaand…                                                                                                           
The power of State in your performance, influence and accomplishment will come in the way you also use State strategically. Covey taught us to “start with the end in mind” and that everything’s created twice- first in your head, then a second time in real life. Most interpret this as planning it all out in actions and approaches… without ever considering the power of State.. a huge miss. We can and have watched two leaders execute identical brilliant plans, and get wildly different results. Often it comes down to State, and which leader’s in the most effective State to set their own performance, focus and contagious attention the right way, as they model and lead it.

So, map out your State strategically into the plan. What State will you want to be in as you ideate with the team? As you work with that one person whose ideas you love but pushes your buttons? As you crank out all the content and plan, heads-down? As you pitch to your potentials? As you facilitate the stakeholders? As you go into that one week which you know even now will test you with multiple demands?  As you call out and celebrate the wins of the team with them even though you’ll want to be further along? Every one of these will need you to be in a different State to guarantee its ease and success. Choose them proactively and intentionally.

And then there’s the rest of your team, and their State.  You can directly move that, too.  Next, in Part 3

NOTE: This is Part 2 of a 3-part series on the power of State. Check out 1 3 also!

 

©SarahSinger&Co. 2013

A Little Light...

Light allows us to see the world in 3D, with contrast and full spectrum.

I did a sunrise run this morning- when I started it was fully dark, and as I ran the light increased. It was awesome to be physically moving through that progression, processing as I watched its layers.

Without light, there’s no focal point- no guide, no reliable way to orient, no depth perception.  Our eyes can be wide open, but literally can’t see form, color or dimension.  Other senses take over- noise distills into isolated sounds, physical sensations become navigational tools through heightened sensitivity.  I find this pretty cool, yet it’s easy to see why people are afraid of the dark.  It can be completely disorienting and definitely a bit freaky if you’re in unfamiliar territory (think Blair Witch Project). Our brains are programmed to search for the lightsource. A survival thing?  I wonder.

Of course I can’t help but think about the parallel in our thinking.  Often in coaching conversations people bring a topic, a challenge, a place in their thinking/feeling that they’ve been avoiding- because it’s been in the dark like that, and they don’t want to go there (but they know they should or need to).  While I’m definitely not a therapist, it’s pretty sobering to see what most of us carry around in our daily shadows, yet how easy it can be to illuminate them into a better place.

My natural role in both work and life seems to be the light-shiner, for lack of a better word.

It’s pretty amazing to see what a little light can actually do.

On my run, just the beginning of blue light in the sky made my (visual) focus steadier- from eyes scanning for a focal point, unable to lock in on anything, to fixed on the horizon- highlighted with contrast. While I still couldn’t see detail in the surroundings yet, that contrast changed everything. With a bit more light I could see form, color, detail.  Those things my mind had been trying to define and navigate in the dark were suddenly plain and familiar- no problem.

Getting comfortable with the dark, the brain can relax, the fear goes away.

I use dark, light and the contrast between in my coaching all the time as people bring tough challenges they’re wrestling with.  “Let’s just go there for a minute…” I’ll say. So first we take the weirdness out of it- no judgment there at all, nothing to be afraid of- create a safe space to first step into the dark, let your eyes adjust, and relax a little. We check out the “dark” option of a tough decision (“maybe I shouldn’t be in this job/place/deal/partnership, etc…”) and play it all the way out with no judgment- just to see.

In the midst of darkness, a little bit of light provides a focal point.

Pretty quickly, we bring some light into it, to first give contrast and focus- a way to see what’s there. It doesn’t take much to get to full light on an issue- see it in context, dimensional relation to everything else, while we get all it’s detail and complexity up and out. Suddenly what was indistinguishable and daunting can get really clear- and not so daunting anymore.

Contrast clarifies and simplifies it.  After going all the way into the dark, things look much clearer back in the light.

I can't count how many times I’ve coached people through conversations where they started off with “maybe I should just quit” with fear and resignation in their voice, having never admitted this secret thought out loud before.  My response always is a version of, “maybe you should,” and they’re taken aback, because they’re expecting “no- you shouldn’t”- the coach urging them to stay in the light, in the game, where it’s safe and known. Instead we go there to the dark, explore it, and THEN shine the light on it, illuminating the rest of the issue and its adjacent options, too.

Context is key. 

On my run today, I was completely into it and on a trusted, safe path of my suburban neighborhood (with a bit of light on the street here and there)- no problem.  But I kept my focus up and out into the dark, where I kept searching for horizon, as I always do.  The light came, as it always does.  Timing is everything.  I went out there conveniently just as the light was about to come. And those dark spots sometimes need exploring just in time for you to shine some light, see it all clearer, and with dimension you couldn't before. 

We all need to be okay being in the dark sometimes.  Yet sometimes we need a light-shiner to help the process along if the sun doesn’t seem to be coming up anytime soon. Make sure you’ve got some light sources in your life who can do this for you when you can’t.  

There’s power, energy, possibility and clarity in light- but even more when we can see the contrast.

©SarahSinger&Co. 2012

Building Ourselves Out

It's all relative, right?

I sit here on my deck typing, enjoying the view and the space, and can barely remember what it was like a few years ago before we built this deck out, almost doubling its size.  It seems to me now that it used to be soooo small- how did we even fit on it?  Yet at the time, we'd moved from a Chicago city apartment with no outside space- the little deck this once was seemed huge, relatively speaking.  How quickly we forget as we build out...

As a 6-year old, my son’s mad and crying about having to pick up his legos after he plays with them.  There are too many of them, how will I ever do it, it’s too hard…

Ridiculous to an 8-year old.

As an 8-year old girl, my daughter throws a fit over the idea of having to put all her things away when she’s done with them every time.  How can I do all of that all the time, it’s too much, it’s not fair…

Annoying to an 11-year old.

As an 11-year old, my other daughter gets overwhelmed by a book report she has to write.  Will it be good enough, can I do it, it’s so big, 2 pages is so long, it’s too hard…

Laughable to a teenager.

As a teenager, I was confronted by all of my homework, being prepared for testing and school, doing (or choosing not do do) all that my parents asked me to do, keeping track of my friends and relationships, meeting obligations to teams and extra-curricular organizations. How can I manage it all, be good at it all, be liked and hold it together, it’s too hard…

Piece of cake to a college student.

As a college student mostly supported by my parents, pulling all-nighters to get projects done, balancing my social life with studying, budgeting to make spending money last a little longer, completely stressed about a big test, paper or project due.  It’s hard, will I be able to pull it all off, this is so huge and all on me…

Enviable to a professional.

When I started out as a professional, it was a new list: hitting deadlines, managing someone else’s expectations, taking on my own growth path to advance, having to initiate, find a partner, have a life outside of work, pay my bills, create a voice in the world.  So big, so much to manage, how can I do it all well and maintain any balance…

Easy to a parent.

We can keep going with these ever-expanding layers.  We could just follow the professional layers. Or the personal layers.  Or the relationship layers.  Or the multiple-roles-in-multiple-circles-of-our-lives-layers that build as we progress in life (professional, personal, family, community, world).  The point is that we’re always building ourselves out further.  With each addition, it’s hard for us to remember how big that former version of our lives felt even though we see clearly with hindsight how much simpler it was!  As we break through to each level, we learn through the challenges of it, expand into it and ultimately end up able to handle more, gaining a wider perspective and ready to move on again.

Is this about Comfort Zone, and expanding it?  Yes.

Is it about Perturbation, and learning through it?  Yes.

Is it all about perspective?  Always.

©SarahSinger&Co. 2011

Surfmaster

Today was a great learning day because I got to be both a student and the product of a great teacher.

Those of you who know me won’t think that’s anything out of the ordinary, since I’m one who constantly looks for the learning in most every situation, believes that things happen and people are placed for a reason, and defines the value of a day by what was learned.  The tag line on my cards and pens is “learn something” because it’s my refrain for most situations.  Today was different, though, because it wasn’t about me just looking for the learnings within the normal experiences of life- I actually signed up and paid for it.

In the gift of a single day off in Hawaii before teaching a workshop tomorrow, I signed up for a surfing lesson.  Just the idea of signing up and stepping out of my Comfort Zone was exciting to me- yet the experience itself was even better.  In the 90 minutes of my lesson I not only learned to surf, but got to experience and validate what happens when learning is set up to succeed by great teaching.

I arrived to my instructor Richard eager and ready to learn, although a bit nervous.  While I didn’t choose it at the time, this is the ideal combination state for a learner to be in (to a great teacher). Richard expertly read my State and quickly assessed my prior experiences to see what he had to work with, then immediately began to set me up for success.

After some on-shore coaching, we paddled out, and it wasn’t long before I got up and rode a wave on my first try!  As Richard cheered me on I proclaimed, “that was so much easier than I thought it would be!”  His response, “That’s because you have a great teacher, the right board and a perfect day.”  From beach to final wave, that precious 90 minutes seemed to both fly yet be vivid as slow motion. I had great success because it was the perfect formula for easy learning, and Richard was right. . .

While I was hooked from the beginning yet distracted by the little voice in my head doubting my ability and ultimate surfer potential, Richard casually but precisely directed, modeled, set me up on each wave and celebrated every right move I made.  For each wave I rode, he high-fived me and told me how great I was while correcting me simultaneously.  When I fell, I saw the slight disappointment on his face quickly countered with zeroing in on the right coaching to keep me relaxed and improving right away.  I felt his commitment to my success, I wanted to make him proud, and easily listened to him instead of my critical little voice.  I paid close attention, followed instructions and mirrored him as best I could while he found my waves, pushed me  off into them, and I surfed!  With every wave, he steadily decreased how much assistance he gave me until the big moment when he said “I’m going to catch this one too, and ride it with you.”  That was the ultimate moment of proving myself to my teacher and myself-  I surfed on my own next to him, and we celebrated!

I got to have a great, fun, easy experience because Richard deftly modeled great teaching as he…

  • entered my world
  • earned the right
  • tapped my WIIFM
  • had a 10 over my head no matter what
  • celebrated every success
  • checked in with me early and often
  • read and managed my State for me
  • taught me visually, auditorally and kinesthetically
  • pushed me out of my Comfort Zone
  • set me up for success!

In my work I’m always in the teaching/coaching position. This I love, do passionately and get a tremendous amount of learning from itself every time.  It’s rare that I get to overtly be on the receiving end of a great teacher, so today was a gift.  I’m now reminded of how much more I need to seek out deliberately being the student.

And now I’m hooked on surfing.  Thank you, Richard!

©SarahSinger&Co. 2010