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

Bubble Moments

“Keep in mind… for everyone else in your life, these last two days have just been Thursday and Friday,” I said to a group of twenty-four people last Friday afternoon. They laughed, but then went a little silent as they wrapped their heads around that, realizing that the time they’d just experienced was different than normal- like in a bubble.

We’d just finished an intense workshop I taught, during which 24 people in the room experienced some huge personal and professional shifts in their awareness and realities. Their own possibility opened, they connected with people in ways they hadn’t before, and they got perspective on themselves at an a-ha level.  Several described themselves as “different people” by the end from how they walked in. It seemed like several days if not more in some ways, it was so significant.

Awesome.  And yet- we really only spent about a day and a half together.

There are some moments, hours or days that truly seem to be metaphysically different than the others- as if the moments of time themselves are somehow altered, stretched or suspended. Like in a bubble.

…A conversation in which everything seems to finally line up, insights build on one another and generate new ideas, and the electricity and magic of true connection is tangible.

…The last night with best college friends, connecting at a deeper level, creating epic memories and savoring each moment before you all disperse for months apart.

…An experience of transformative impact shared with another… in which your collective eyes are opened to something new, which changes how you see the world forever.

…The moment you got the news which changed everything…?

Most of these seem longer or shorter somehow than normal.  In the experience of them, it’s as if time is truly suspended, and you’re able to live and stretch each moment out more. Like a scene from a Matrix movie, the moments seem to take on another dimension, separate from the flow of time and incident the rest of the world’s experiencing. Like a protected bubble floating through the rest of the air, which is all the same. These “bubble” experiences also seem more intense than others in the moment. Senses become more acute, colors more vivid, emotions more raw, connection more amplified. The rest of the world falls away, and our normally scattered attention zooms into focus- on another person, an idea, a feeling or the shared experience itself. The self-consciousness of monitoring oneself against time, other things/people outside the bubble, responsibility, or the swirl of activity marching along outside it just melts away.

So purely what’s left, finally possible… is to just be there fully in the moment, wide awake and aware, allowing ourselves to think, feel and respond without inhibition or distraction. Presence.  This is when true creativity occurs in its rawest form and connection feels charged in a way that it generates something palpable.  Flow. It’s real, there’s great research to support it, and creatives have spent generations trying to perfect the ways back into it after those moments are gone.

The classic sign coming out of one of these experiences- getting that feeling of disorientation (like a bubble popping), looking at one’s watch and realizing how much time has passed…

“It seemed like twenty minutes- how could it have been four hours?” or                              
“It seemed like an hour- how could it have been only ten minutes?” or                          
“We’ve really only known one another for a week?  Seems like years.” or                           
“It’s only been two days? Feels like at least a week.”

In our memory, they become etched deeply and clearly, touchstones we replay over and over. If you have experienced a bubble moment like this, you might be silently waiting/seeking the next, and replaying the last in your mind for inspiration. If you haven’t, stay open, get present and tune in.

So… Are some moments actually longer or shorter than others in our experience of them? Like separated from the rest in a bubble? Perhaps.

One thing is certain… in every one of these instances, there’s a huge difference which allows the magic to occur.  WE are different in them than we are otherwise.               
Whether triggered by another person, a situation, or our own choosing in these rare and indelible moments… we got and allowed ourselves to be fully and completely present, awake and engaged.

The biggest question is this- how do we increase the frequency of these moments?      
While they are rare for most of us, we can have more of them. The more we allow the distractions to fall away, the more we choose to step in, lean in, open in… to moments, conversations, people and experiences the more they’ll occur, because we’ll create space for them to occur.  For example, I always get closer to people just before the window of opportunity closes because it pushes me to act- someone moving away, a project ending, someone quitting the team. There’s something about that “last call” push, which forces us to say things we’d normally wordsmith to death in our heads, express feelings that show some vulnerability, step out and seize the moment to connect.                                        
…And these amazing bubble moments of connection occur.

Since noticing this pattern, I’ve made a more conscious effort to initiate moments as “this is IT” instead of waiting for that last call. This is one reframe, but we can create the space in many ways. Seems simple in theory to just put the phone away and be here now, right? But we know it’s not really…

Out of sight, open mind.                                                                                                     
You may have become one of those people who sits at a restaurant dinner or team meeting looking at your phone’s screen instead of the people you’re with. Rather than just turning your ringer off and keeping the phone nearby- actually leave it in another location completely, and watch what happens. The last time I did this (accidentally), I panicked for the first few minutes, but then felt freer, more aware and more present than I had in weeks. One leader I know has everyone at any restaurant get-together put all phones in the center of the table, ringers off. If anyone picks up their phone, they buy for everyone.                   
In your moments, initiate it, and give yourself the space.                                            
Unplugged and undistracted, your brain will reorient to the moment in a powerful way.

Wake up.                                                                                                                              
It’s amazing how we don’t even notice how often we’re physically in a moment, yet somewhere else completely emotionally and mentally. We get through entire days unable to recall individual interactions or moments (because we weren’t really paying attention), pride ourselves on “multitasking” (trendy word for not being present), and spend a lot of time in auto-pilot, half-listening to the people in our lives but not really hearing them with any intent, empathy or connection at all.  We let ourselves to do this because it’s easy- most others are right there with us, casually disconnected right next to us. Enough. Instead, pay attention in a way you haven’t before- to what their face and eyes are telling you behind their words, to the one thing they said in the middle of that sentence that had more emotion behind it than everything else, to what they didn’t even know they cared about until you asked.                                                                                                                    
Get interestED instead of being so interestING, and notice how much there is to build on, learn into and open up when you’re actually looking, listening and feeling for it.

Go there.                                                                                                                           
Sadly, most people have a pretty low shared standard of interaction with one another. We don’t insist on one another’s attention, rarely push one another to engage, and don’t call out the missed opportunities for connection. You can try those, but I’ve found from experience that it’s much more effective to just be the one in the room to create it, rather than call it out. Just go there- ask the big question, probe a level deeper, lean in to make eye contact as you really listen between their words, and lead off the connecting with your own sharing to open it up. People are truly starved for real contact, yet they don’t even realize it, and definitely don’t know what to do about it. You do.                                      
They’ll follow your lead and then create it with you…but they need you to go first.  

The greatest thing I did for the 24 people in that room last week was create space and a way for them to be present, be engaged in the inquiry of what’s possible, and give them a process to GO there.  I’ll keep doing that, because it’s just what I bring wherever I go.  Meanwhile, in the moments we’re with one another, let’s really make it mean something. We can be present, our attention fully with the ones we’re with in the moment we’re in, creating our own bubble away from the fray.  Let’s go…

 

©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

More Space Than You Think

Everyone needs space, whether they know it or not. 

To think, to feel, to connect the dots… to be.  It doesn’t take very many clicks on Google or tweets in your feed to find someone’s take on the busy-ness and overstimulation of our lives and how to either maximize or manage it. Every day there are more options to get more input- through every medium, device and airwave possible.  If you’re not getting enough- well, that’s for another day. Most of us have no shortage of people around us all the time, either.  Whether you’re actually connecting with them in a meaningful way is something else to examine another time, to be sure. Meanwhile- there they are around you, pulling your attention. Despite where you fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum and how energized by people you are or not, you also need space and process to work through all that’s in your head, by yourself.

The challenge with all that input, all those people and the stimulation they’re giving you is that it’s not all going to turn itself off- it’ll keep coming, and it’s up to you to purposefully find some quiet space for yourself anyhow. Easier said than done. And why should we, right? How can learning or exploring more or connecting more be bad, right? I’m the biggest advocate there is for true, meaningful connection between people and creating more of it. Yet this is different…that constant buzz around you- can become an easy, justifiable addiction. It also can keep us from getting to true, pure personal clarity.

Yes- some people like to talk their way through ideas, learn with others and get big insights in a group. I’m a huge fan of team brainstorming and collaborative thinking, yet know that it only works well when balanced with solo time.

Most of my impact with people as their coach comes from something fairly simple, yet elusive for most… getting a vantage point or perspective on oneself, which brings clarity of a certain kind. I help people do that in lots of ways, yet one of the most powerful is just in creating clear space for someone to process their own experience- without an agenda or task other than  thinking/feeling through what’s there. It’s amazing to see how every time, insight and clarity into oneself, another or a situation occurs just with some space in which it can. While I love coaching and facilitating this process for people, you don’t need me or a coach to do it…

One of the most important differences between child and adult learners is when their big a-ha’s occur in learning. For kids, it happens right in the moment of learning (why they’re so much fun to teach), while adults have their a-has in reflection afterward.

Letting it marinate. Process time. When we don’t create space for this to occur, it all backs up in your head like your computer when it’s been running with all its applications open for too long.  At best it makes everything else run slower (like your thinking) and at worst, it’ll eventually crash (you know what this looks like for you)- neither good. As with all your devices, you’ve got to shut it all down and reboot to run clear and fast.

There are many ways to do this, and I challenge you to actually create some deliberate space in which you can just process and let your mind connect the dots- even for a brief reset. While of course vacations, daily meditation practices and retreats are great and healthy, THIS can be effective with even just 5 minutes at a time.  Do what appeals to you…

  • Get out. Go for a walk, jog or run by yourself, without music  (and in a way that you don’t have to be preoccupied with breath or body)
  • Just sit and look at something in nature (outside is best)
  • Get some window time- for just looking and thinking.  My personal favorites are airplane windows.
  • Journal. Whatever’s in your head, just capture in writing. It doesn’t have to be linear or fit a certain template. Mindmap, free-associate. To start…
  • Draw. Not as a way to entertain yourself during something else (meeting, class, etc.) but as a way to empty out your head.
  • Meditate right where you are. This can be formal or informal, the practice of clearing the mind.

Give yourself some real space like this, and you’ll notice a difference- guaranteed.  You’ll get some connections you otherwise wouldn’t.  You’ll create ideas that would’ve taken many more iterations to reach. You’ll solve questions you’ve struggled with for too long. With some practice, you’ll get some much-needed perspective on yourself, your questions and your answers.

And then there’s the space you don’t have to find or create, because you already have it. Built into your day, simply notice the several-moment windows you already have, and claim them as your own. Here are the easiest top three…

  • Walk time.  Instead of talking on your phone or checking your screen as you walk, actually just think, eyes up and around. Even take the long route to your destination to give yourself a little extra process time.
  • Shower time. There are fewer things more consistent or calming than warm water pounding down on you, creating a space between you and the rest of the world. Take advantage of that time to intentionally breathe the steam deeply and let your mind go.
  • Drive/ride time. Rather than listen to your headphones/radio or talk on the phone, actually take the solo time you spend in the car/train/bike to just take in the landscape and listen to your own thoughts.

Fair warning- if you’re not accustomed to solo think time or creating that space for yourself, know that it might take some adapting to just learn how to be with your own thoughts, alone. If you’re averse to the idea, there might be some anxiety about what might come up in that space. That time to just be with your own thoughts can bubble up layers of feeling and insight you didn’t even know you had. This is where the clarity, the layers, the pulls on your energy are waiting for the space to get up and out…

It’s also where you get to work it all through, get to the best a-ha’s and finally get some peace in your quiet. 

©SarahSinger&Co. 2013

The Upside of Pressure

“With eight seconds left in overtime…” This line and the song that goes with it has been stuck in my head for weeks.  (Over My Head by The Fray)

“Just in time…” is how I recently described my coaching style.  Might even be the title of a new book I’m working on.

"The Art of the Timeout under Pressure" ...a misunderstood and underutilized coaching tool I've been talking with leaders a lot about lately. 

The Timeteller”...book by Mitch Albom, who I got to see and hear speak the other day, and left thinking about time, our infatuation with it, and its impact.

A pattern here, maybe?  While it’s telling of where my thinking has been, there’s also some bigger learning here to share about time, pressure, and what you’re doing with it.

Of course it came together with a recent coaching client, as I reoriented her to a breakthrough. Currently in between the high-stakes, high-pressure, all-consuming projects she normally leads… this high-performing, rising star of her firm is currently in a period of downtime, and presented with several internal “interesting,” ongoing initiatives within the firm which have been waiting.  While critical and the stuff of which the future of the firm will be built (like groundbreaking new business development), she’s just not fired up about taking it on.  She reached out to me because she’d like to move up to the next level of leadership in the firm, yet is feeling stuck with this current outlay of not-so-exciting initiatives to engage with and wanted direction.

I chuckled to myself at the irony-  a high-performing rising star, eager to move up and forward but wholly unmotivated by all there is to create around her, and unsure how to engage.

So… what happened?

Downtime.That golden time when things slow a bit, and you should theoretically get so much done in all those key areas you otherwise neglect when you’re slammed with other time-sensitive work… right?  These key areas are important; building-the-structure-and-system work, completing-the-growing-ideas work, writing-the-article-to-share-the-success work, mapping-the-course-forward-to-ensure-our-long-term-success work. When we’re slammed with getting deliverables out the door, we fantasize about having space to think about, let alone execute, these fundamentals.

And then… things slow down. The calm arrives. Except all that completion, creation and productivity we envisioned actually doesn’t happen, does it?

When the pressure cooker we’re used to (in which we regularly produce multiplied brilliance within a compressed time) cools off and we have clear space to create, complete, be deliberate and thoughtful… we’re less productive, less motivated and slower.  This happens, right? At least it does for some of us, including my client today.  Why?

Pressure vs not. For some of us, while we might even complain about it, the truth is that we feed on the pressure of… the glorious impending deadline.  Under it, the clock ticks down, pushing the best ideas to the top, the endorphins through our system and the rush of creativity to our thinking. The more we thrive on that pressure- the 11th hour before the presentation to create the very best insights and work and client deadlines to drive our process-  the more we need it to get to that endorphin-firing state of creative productivity.  That pressure keeps us driving, cranking and producing.  Yet it can also become a crutch we’re dependent on in order to produce.

For my rising star coachee, even the desire to excel wasn’t enough to generate the same spark.  I’ve been there, too.  As the pattern emerged today, I pinpointed the most important and deadly word in it all for her (describing the initiatives she had to engage with)- the very word we should all eliminate… ongoing.

Sometimes there’s nothing worse than something that goes on and on and on with no clear end.  It’s like a life sentence- ugh.  Our brains like clean beginnings and clean endings to things, lights at the end of tunnels, and yes… clear finish lines to cross.

Time is finite for a reason- it gives us both perspective and the push to get moving. Tick tock.

Messing with it...                                                                                                               
When we compress time (or someone/thing compresses it for us), performance goes up, because it doesn’t have a choice. Create it now, take your shot, or you lose the moment forever. Tick tock.

Some people naturally feed on this dynamic as fuel- knowing our best work happens under pressure, best ideas right before the deadline… maybe even in not starting until just before deadline, knowing it’ll just come.  Other people may not be inclined this way (and our apologies if you’re teamed with those who are), yet learn to adapt to it and learn how to generate under pressure. Some don’t, and the best thing for them is to identify it early on. I’ve coached many people out of roles, teams and jobs where cadence and pressure-response were just too mismatched in this way- misery for them.

For most, though- when we expand the time allotted, then the work and the process also expand to fill it. The urgency disappears and often the energy right along with it.  I have gone into lethargic, deadened team settings as a coach, simply compressed everyone’s time a bit, and noticed the energy and productivity come alive instantly, because deadlines spur action.

So… create the pressure where you need it.  The magic is when you can create it yourself rather than having to be dependent on (or at the mercy of) life, clients, teammates to put the pressure on. There is a way we need to set ourselves up to get moving and bring it. 

I said to our star…. “Leaders task themselves. They don’t wait until there’s the pressure of an expectant client or challenging leader or deadline- they CREATE them. Often from nothing. Take every “ongoing” initiative that’s been labeled and compress its time- give it a 10-day deadline to get to resolution, concept or deliverable. Then what might happen?”   She paused, then simply said, “Thank you.  That’s all I needed.  I’m on my way.”  She then went on to reset those firm initiatives with real time, tight deadlines, rallied and dove in.

Could it could really be that simple?  Just compress the time for yourself, create a deadline, and work within the constraints you’ve given yourself.                                           
If you’re working on your own, and need the pressure to kick you into gear, you may have tried setting arbitrary deadlines for yourself to get your brain to activate.  If you have amazing self-discipline in this arena, that’s probably working beautifully for you.  You give yourself little deadlines and force yourself to hit them.  And you do.  That’s awesome.  Yet sometimes it’s actually not that straightforward. For many reading this, I’m guessing that the results in the arena of “just set a deadline for yourself” have been inconsistent at best.  It may have worked the first time or so, but then didn’t anymore.  Here’s why…

• Deadlines and the pressure that goes with them have to be real, or they don’t work.  Your brain is too smart for fake deadlines.  It’ll skate out of it and go through its normal evasive pattern of avoidance until it has real pressure to push it into action.  There are a few ways to make it real…

• Get someone else to be accountable to. This could be someone you choose to whom you’ll deliver the finished product to by a certain time- who will hold you to it.  A team is even better. Just knowing that they’re expecting it, planning around it can kick you into gear. They will be your pressure.

• Create an event around it.                                                                                      
Beyond just people expecting something from you, create an actual happening around your deadline, so you’ve got something on which your performance will hinge.  A team meeting, a presentation, even a “let’s meet for coffee so I can show you…”  The impending event is great pressure- you’ll perform.

• Lead.                                                                                                                                  
This brings all of it together. One of my favorite parts of leading is being able to have others able to help execute great ideas. When I told my coachee today that “leaders task themselves” I was serious- leaders task themselves- often along with tasking others, and that’s why it works.  It’s a beautiful thing- an idea is born- you put it out there, and create a deadline for the team/organization to hit.  They’re fired up about the goal, you’re in it with them (to varying degrees), everyone performs and… it gets done.                                    
And if you’ve been paying attention… make that deadline short.

• Most importantly… Keep it in Perspective.                                                               
The one thing none of us want is pressure that goes toxic, and turns into unhealthy overwhelming stress. There’s good and bad stress- and that’s the bad kind.

Sometimes it’s about just getting perspective on it.  Specifically, keep checking your WHY in it all- that’s your reason for doing whatever it is in the first place.  It’s easy to get wrapped up instead with When (as in deadline pressure).  The Why is what gives it all a reason to be- your reason to care in the first place.  Find your Why in what you’re doing until it speaks to you.  Then come back to the When as your trigger to action- to get moving.

So- check your Why, get yourself set up for optimal push, and then…

Tick tock.

©SarahSinger&Co. 2012

Shower Moments

I actually don’t have “shower moments” in the shower.  You know- the ones where great insights come to you, and everything becomes clear.  I have those moments running.  Being as kinesthetic-visual (with a preference for horizons and tree-gazing) as I am, running is my very best way to synthesize, get perspective, work through something, or get a much needed connection I’ve been noodling over.  Runs like this morning- a brief 25 minutes on a sunny Saturday- are ideal for making sense and learning out of the week or, in this case getting clarity on a single piece of the week I needed to resolve.  While running isn’t for everyone, it’s pretty critical to know your most reliable, effective way to get there, and make it part of your routine.

Take a look at your patterns and what things you do to find that clarity on your own.  While I’m a big fan of talking with others to work through things (hello- my career), I think it’s clutch to have your own reflective way to get there, too.  Great leaders, performers, athletes and practitioners of all kinds keep honing their talents and skills with self-awareness, self-insights and change- otherwise known as personal learning.  While I absolutely subscribe to the imperative for mastery of needing to surround ourselves with great coaches and those who ask more of us than we do of ourselves, I think that only works best if we can also get to the best insights on our own, regularly. That’s best done when you create a space/practice in which it can occur.

I know it’s been a good run when I actually forget that I’m running.  When I’ve been so deep in thought that I look around and seem to have skipped a few blocks of my route.  Today was one of those, and as a result I’m much clearer on a challenge I’ve been working on all week.

That said, I think I’ll go have my version of a shower moment- a time to let the brain turn off, let the water block out the world, rinse out residual thoughts for a few minutes, and reset. We all need practices in which both these things can occur.

What are yours?

©SarahSinger&Co. 2012

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

Airways

It’s all about getting perspective.

This is most obvious to me in looking at the world through airplane windows for many continuous minutes on end, like the one in this picture, somewhere above the clouds between Ohio and California.

Sometimes the rhythm of a day or week or couple of months feels labored, like a sprint within a marathon… and at the same time fleeting- like “where did that month go?”  It’s a strange sensation in time, and unsettling.

I’ve found myself more and more saying things like, “How did it get to be July- wasn’t it just fall?” or (to one of my three quickly growing kids) “How did you get to be so big all of the sudden?”  These are the kinds of statements I used to hear adults say when I was little, and thought to myself how old and out of touch with reality they were.

I don’t think I’m that old or out of touch with reality- even proud that I’m not, yet…

Yet, one of the challenges for me is the balance of being completely present in the moment- with my work, my family or in those rare moments by myself- and keeping perspective on where it all fits (strategically or organically) in time and space and reality, then negotiating those tensions.

The #1 reason I’ve had for a long time for not doing most of the things I know I should in my life (from sleeping as much as I should to putting laundry away to creating baby photo albums for my now-big kids) and in my business (from getting an assistant to handling expense reports to training someone to teach my programs) has been that “I don’t have time.”

From clients, friends and family, I hear this reason of not enough time for not doing things, taking action or just taking a breath from people all the time, and I get it.  I do. 

Yet…

I’m realizing that it’s less about making time for things, and more about creating AIRWAYS.

I was in a coaching conversation recently with someone who was going that direction… “I don’t have time to…”  The description was one I understood well- feeling like it’s getting harder and harder to breathe because there’s no space in this current self-created reality to even do that- and I found myself coaching, “…exactly why you need to do it anyway- youneed to create an airway!”  It was one of those coaching moments I was proud of, because it connected… it was true for this person, and is true for me a lot of the time, too.  It opened up some possibility all the way around. Maybe for you, too?

In that sprint-within-the-marathon cadence of my life sometimes, the only way to get more air into my lungs is to go find it. Like someone crashing on an ER cart who can’t ask for the air because they can’t get enough of it to speak the words, I too often go into autopilot of shallow breathing stress without reaching out for an airway, and these are the very days and weeks I find myself missing in my perspective of time- hence, “How did it get to be July?”

So I’ve been on a personal campaign of finding my airways and using them consciously.  It’s interesting to note, that the more I seek them out and choose them, the more I use them unconsciously, too.

Some of my current airways:

Jumping on the trampoline, listening to a great song, singing in the band I don’t have time to be in, calling and talking to a loved long-distance friend for even five minutes, working out to that point when my brain shifts from physical work to release, writing like this, looking up at the sky or trees for several minutes, holding hands with my son, reading books with my girls, saying the words, “energy, easy,” making my husband or one of my kids laugh really hard, looking out an airplane window down at the Earth, working with teenagers despite any other work I'm doing, sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night to play the piano while everyone's sleeping, getting regular coaching myself, going on real dates with my husband, photographing nature, watching a TED talk, doing or creating or learning anything new.

I now understand that these things are not just bonus “nice-to-have-if-I-have-time-after-what-I really-need-to-get-done”, which is how I’ve always looked at them.  They’re actually essential for me to be complete, vital and the person I want to be. If I don’t have a good dose of them mixed into my daily life, everything else I do gets compromised- including my work, my impact, my patience, my ability to be present, my relationships and absolutely my perspective on it all.

So... what are your airways?

Hint: they're those things that fill you up every time, change your State in a great way, and leave your overall capacity for everything else you do better and bigger, breathing more fully (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually).

Find those airways, note them, then wedge them in. Especially when you don't have time. That's when they bring the most oxygen.

©SarahSinger&Co. 2010

Weeding My Brain

I actually love to weed.  Right after a big rain.  Even for five minutes, like I just did outside my office door.

The satisfaction that comes with pulling a giant weed out and getting the whole taproot at once is amazing.  It’s right up there with cracking open a crab’s leg and pulling all of the meat out in one piece, or tossing a grape into the air and actually catching it square in your mouth.

While I’m a person committed to challenge, big hairy projects to solve and change, intense feedback and keeping myself on a continuous learning curve, I also get that it has to be balanced by things in my life that are simple, visceral, concrete straightforward wins.  I’ve been known to disappear from a big intense question or a house full of unfinished projects for an hour outside of pulling weeds.  In that one hour, I can get so much that would take many hours in my office to accomplish…

Every square foot of earth I cover looks different than when I started- immediate feedback of concrete impact.

I soak up the saturated colors, smells and sounds of nature vs. the comparatively pale world inside- altered perspective on things.

I get completely out of my head full of thoughts and into my senses- smelling the dirt, feeling the resistance of the roots against my pull, watching the micro-world of the scurrying bugs among the plants- truly quieting the chatter in my head.

Quick wins, concrete impact, altered perspective, clearing one’s head.  The ultimate in State Change.

Where are your opportunities like these- 5 minute windows to step outside our normal path which can alter our reality, change our state enough to send us back into the game different, able to see new hues, catch new insights, tap different energy to make the difference?  Find them, seize them, use them as your fuel.

©SarahSinger&Co. 2010

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