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

You Are Reaction... A Choice.

Everything is a reaction to something else.  Everything’s a setup for something. 

Athletes and their coaches study films to spot patterns and nuances in a team and individual player’s game- from which they can learn, tweak and improve.  Slowing an interaction down to be able to see the exact sequence of moves, angles, actions and reactions in a play allows them to make the critical adjustments necessary in their for the difference of a win next time. What if we all did this in our normal lives and patterns?

Action & reaction can be simultaneous. It doesn’t much matter which we call the action or which we call the reaction; both create an interaction, and neither exists without the other.

This is true, and our lives are filled with interactions all day long. They’re so smooth that we rarely question what was an action and what was a reaction. That’s actually a good thing, and keeps us in relationship and moving forward… Most of the time.

While looking at the overall interaction of things is a healthy way to go, sometimes we should look a little closer.

We know that Sir Isaac Newton was right. But not just in physical science… if we break it down, we can see that for every action, there really is a reaction that occurs from it in human dynamics as well. This is helpful in understanding our own patterns.

When certain triggers (actions) occur, we react. Similar or repeated triggers make for reinforced reactions. Some of those are awesome and healthy, and some aren’t. Every single time we repeat an action or reaction, we’re rewiring our brain for those behaviors- strengthening and myelinating those neural pathways of response, which ultimately become the way we run whether we intended it or not. It’s like your pattern of typing mistakes on your smartphone- the software learns your patterns and then compensates for them (supposedly, although my phone just doesn’t get that I mean of instead of if), so you don’t even notice them anymore (mimicking the brain). In our own human reactions to other people and situations these patterns and compensations are created too, and before we know it, we’ve got some new default settings we didn’t even plan for and may not even notice… Habits. And sometimes they’re unhealthy, unproductive habits. Let’s fix that…

The more self-work you do, the more you start to see your own patterns. A client once described this self-awareness that develops “like having a rear-view mirror on yourself all the time”- noticing things about how you operate which you just wouldn’t see otherwise.

It’s one thing to notice behavior patterns. It’s quite another to choose to interrupt or change them. This is an important step on the road to growth, to be sure.

Example: “I spend a whole lot of time on Facebook during the day which isn’t productive, so I’m going to limit my time on Facebook to 10 minutes at night and that’s it.”

Okay, good. Behavior changed- much better than whiling away hours of productivity on auto-pilot.

And yet…

That tactical approach may or may not really help to get at the real issue- what this Facebook habit is actually a reaction to. If we skip over this, then just limiting the Facebook time isn’t going to solve much or get at the root trigger- in fact it might just spawn another reaction pattern/habit to replace it instead (like eating, let’s say), which I’ll just have to deal with 10 pounds later when that becomes a problem, too.

Instead…

Look at the initial action or trigger that your behavior is reacting to:

“Whenever I get news I don’t like or have to deal with situation XX or person YY, I tend to get on Facebook, which is actually sucking up a lot of time and killing my productivity.”  

Better.

Now we’re looking at what really needs attention, which wasn’t really the Facebook habit at all, but what it was a reaction to. That surf time was successfully diverting my attention from something I didn’t want to face, and compensating with something that felt a lot better in the moment to focus in on (the brain loves instant gratification). Once I realize this, I see that limiting my Facebook time isn’t actually going to help me to more easily deal with bad news or my XY situation…and then I can separate the trigger and the reaction apart. From there I can make a smarter, more effective adjustment which will have more lasting impact.

So maybe what we need is a giant pause button, to be able to freeze our own action like in the game films, so we can rewind and take a look at what we’re doing and what we’re reacting to over and over into habits without realizing it.

It’s about going a bit deeper.  Here’s how you can do this…

To get past the most obvious behavior you think you need to change and see the bigger pattern of action-reaction-pattern, you have to ask yourself a few key questions (we’ll stick with the FB example) like 

1. Why? What? When? Who? How often?… 

Why am I doing this?

Because I like to see what other people are doing and share out with my ‘friends’ on Facebook.” Maybe. Plus…

Deeper layer: “It feels better to focus on someone else’s life/thoughts instead of my own or put some finite positive thoughts out there rather than deal with these other ones.”

When do I tend to do it?

Whenever I get news I don’t like or have to deal with a negative person like XX.

Certain situations trigger these reactive patterns which divert our attention from something we’d rather not feel or deal or think about. The more persistent a situation is, the more you may not even notice your reactive response, now fully engrained as a habit.

It could be certain times of day as triggers associated with certain tasks (like when you have a deadline to hit which you’re avoiding) or events (like the night before a business trip, every time).

It also could be certain conditions (like when you get less than X hours of sleep)…

Particular people are absolutely triggers for you.  That can be a good thing or a bad thing. If bad, then your reactive pattern could be so habitual that you could actually miss this person showing up in a positive way (because you’re expecting the worse), and miss an opportunity with them.

What am I getting out of it?

I get to focus on something more positive. Sure, but…                                                  
Deeper: I get some acknowledgment and validation (at least from my Facebook world). I get to be heard.

We’re always getting something out of what we’re doing, or we wouldn’t be doing it.  Categorically it’s as simple as avoiding pain or seeking pleasure, although…

Pain = difficulty, fear, or discomfort of any kind.  Pleasure = validation, attention, confidence, inclusion, acknowledgment, control, power… but could also be learning, accomplishing, creating…

How often?

Um… a lot, every day. 

Reactions repeated become habits.                                                                                
Habits with an edge of need to them (depending on how strong you’re reacting from something) can become crutches.                                                                                
Crutches with a strong “feels so much better” response can become addictions.

Addictions, no matter how innocently they started are really hard to break, and can become much bigger than the initial trigger you were trying to avoid in the first place.

2. Handle the intial trigger. 

Once you find the trigger, address it by itself instead of allowing yourself to react in a way that may or may not help you in the long run.

I have a hard time hearing negative feedback and persistently negative people. So- I’m going to try some new strategies for being able to hear negative feedback in a constructive way and interact with negative people in a way that I don’t absorb it. I’ll talk with XX about our communication to see if we can change the negative pattern there. 

You are a creature of reaction. You can also change your own patterns to be more intentional, so you’re not a creature of reactive unhealthy habits. So strategize outside the moment of trigger, since that’s when your thinking is most compromised.

3. Study and tweak your own game.

Pay attention to your patterns.

Pause yourself, rewind and break it down.

Notice what’s happening first in your interactions, and how you can tweak/address the reaction pattern itself rather than waiting until it becomes a set, myelinated and reinforced habit down the road (and doesn’t solve the issue anyhow).

Did I mention addressing those triggers and interrupt your pattern as early as possible? Yeah- it’s that important.

4. Set yourself up. 

You actually can be less reactive and more pro-active, to respond the way you know will be best for you. You now know how to change your own State. You even know how to trigger and anchor the best and most productive States. So… for this, as you choose a new response (in a sane moment), try it, anchor it, then hold yourself to it when the trigger hits next. Debrief after, and be honest about whether the new response is working or not. If not, try another. Or another. Or go back to #1, and re-address what’s going on. It’s worth it.

Everything is a reaction to something else.  And everything’s a setup for something…                                                                                                                         
So set yourself up for intentional, healthy patterns, which will trigger even more of them.

©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

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

Up and Out...

Eyes up and out…

I thrive on horizons.  It’s all over most of my writing, speaking and coaching.  That’s my strength- always seeing or creating the horizon, no matter the situation- for others, for myself, for challenges. The path to get from here to there comes easily, too- my brain automatically conjures several ways at once.  The challenge for me actually occurs when I have to look down. I got that today.

As I set out for a run, most of my normal path was covered with snow and ice- not treacherous, but enough that I had to slow down and really pay attention to every step to avoid falling.  I HATED it. Crazy how much I hated it.  Breathing harder, working to get traction and tensed up as I navigated the right places to land and push off, I found myself completely irritated that I was spending so much energy to go slower when I really wanted to just look up and out at the horizon and run full out toward it.

Gee- a little metaphor, there?  So much about leadership, what it takes to make progress, and of course how I’m wired.

Understanding the focal point that gives you strength is key. 

Part of what it takes to lead and make change happen is being able to see and hold a focal point of what’s possible and where we’re going. Call it vision, horizon, the long view- a future state of what’s possible that’s different from where we are right now. This is critical. Organizations, teams and relationships without this can get mired in what is or what’s always been, which can lead to stagnation, circular issues and overall fatigue. Someone’s got to be able to look up and out of it, see possibility, help everyone else see and focus it vividly, and hold it as the focal point to progress toward.  It’s not that we ignore the present, don’t honor the past or are never looking down, but the pull has to be more forward to the horizon than down at each step on the path.

That ratio of focus is important- notice it. 

Looking primarily down at where to place each step at a time is a different kind of focus.  It’s deliberate, slower and careful. It’s necessary too- so we don’t actually get taken down by landing on some little slippery patch of detail along the way because we’re not paying attention to what we’re doing tactically, step by step.  Having people who are wired to focus this way is critical to balance any good leadership team.  While I can do this, I know it’s not where my patience or strength lie at all… so I really value the people on my team who bring this present, careful step-at-a-time thinking first.  They offer ballast to my horizon.

The key is finding some balance in focal points.  

The first half of the run was miserable, because I was spending more time looking down than up, muscling my way through it to think tactically about each step without losing too much momentum. I kept going because I knew it was only necessary for so long before I could get traction again to accelerate. This is sometimes how I lead, too. I’ll muscle my way through the deliberate slowness (often impatiently) until I can get the necessary traction (right team, right support, right game) to accelerate toward what’s possible again. Then my strength as a leader comes out, and my energy can carry us all forward quickly.

By the second half of the run, I was able to balance a bit more- looking down at my steps, then up at my horizon more equally. Probably more down than I prefer, but doable. Just that little ratio increase of up and out vs. down and narrow helped tremendously.  It actually made me tactically more deft in the moment, able to navigate nimbly and quickly. Toggling between horizon and steps, long view and details, strategy and tactics in running or leading- connects the whole picture enough for my energy to increase, thinking to clear a bit and stride to relax.

Just that added bit of what energizes can be enough to carry and fuel the rest. 

When I finally got back to dry path for the last few legs of my run, I couldn’t help but notice how everything shifted. My gait, my speed, my breath all smoothed, and I accelerated. My thinking opened up, my ideas started flowing again, and I found my stride. Of course I had my direct steps in peripheral sight and looked down to maneuver smartly as needed, but most of my focus was up, out and forward. I was reminded of how instantly fulfilled and impactful I can be when my focal point is where I’m strongest… on the horizon, where possibility is.

This explains why I love the last stretch of every run, including today’s. It’s where I run down the middle of my street, focusing on a precise horizon- the very top of a 4-story tree at the end of the road.  As I do, I quit pushing and become pulled by that treetop, sprinting full out, 100%. Everything peripherally falls away, all the best ideas in my head come together, and I hit my personal best… as I always do with a horizon that’s clear, magnetic and vivid.  Those moments of going full-out with everything I’ve got are exhilarating, symbolic of what’s possible and what we can pull out of ourselves, and definitely what I love the most.  On all of my paths, slogging through the rest to get to that as a person and as a leader is worth it every time.

Find those moments of personal best- both fulfilled and impactful- to make all the rest worth it along your path.

©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

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