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

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

What's in the bag?

Check out the lower right of this picture I took this morning on my run.  See that brown paper bag under the tree?  That bag has been messing with me for weeks. What’s in it?  Will the owners of this house ever see it and handle it? 

I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt to say that they actually can’t see it from where they are or even as they pull into their driveway, even though all of us going by from the outside get to see it all the time (or maybe just me).  Or maybe they know it’s there, but choose to ignore it because it’s conveniently hidden from their view by the tree.  We all see it,  but because it’s really their issue to deal with, there it sits.

Poetic. And a metaphor, of course.

Every one of us has a bag like this in a way, don’t we?  Something right in our blind spot which the rest of the world has to look at and deal with every time they enter our world. Maybe it’s all neatly contained like whatever’s in this bag, or maybe it’s messy and all over the place, but there it is.

So.. what’s in the bag, and more importantly- do you have someone who can point yours out to you so you can take care of it?

Every day I run past this house and resist the urge to pick up that bag and move it to the middle of their driveway, where they’ll have to see it and take care of it.  That’s just who I am and how I am in people’s lives, a stand for them to take on what they need to take on, whether they can see it or not. Usually that’s a good thing. I actually count on and measure my friends by their commitment and ability to do the same for me (with love and/or pure intention, that is) because I’m painfully aware of how my perspective on myself will always be limited, no matter what, and I need the vantage point of others who get me.

I believe that we all need strategically placed people in our lives who can and will do this for us.  What might yours point out to you?

At this point, I’m not touching that bag, because I’m partially afraid that whatever’s in there is now rotten and will fall out the bottom if I try to mess with it. Also metaphoric, right? Let’s all commit to not letting it get that far with the people we care about. If you care and are actually committed to them, have the guts to be uncomfortable and point out “the bag” or whatever you know is in it.  Move it to the center of their metaphorical driveway if you need to.  And, as I’m doing more and more… ask the people you trust with the right insights, ability to be straight with you, and commitment to your growth what you’re not seeing in your own front yard (perhaps behind the tree).

If you don’t know anyone like that call me- I’m always up for it.

©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