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

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

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