The Single Question That Takes Your Impact Way Bigger Than Just Results

As a little sneak-preview for you, an excerpt from one of my favorite chapters of Tap Into Greatness… 

What rank did we end up with? What KPI are we pushing for? Where are our numbers? How far did we increase our reach? What was the final score?

Sound familiar? As most leaders, you spend a lot of time talking about and focusing on results. Your success is judged, competition monitored, and team’s success measured by them.

If your team doesn’t know the result they’re shooting for, they lose momentum, focus and direction. Without a clear finish line, no one will keep running faster. Got it. Really effective managers get concrete results clear first. But you’re more than a manager…

You need to play a bigger game than that as an Influencer. While you might do a great job at outlining the specific deliverables or framing out the metrics expected of you by your stakeholders, how often do you go bigger- beyond those measurables? What if you asked the question a bit differently… 

“WHAT DO I WANT TO HAVE?”

Importantly different than “What result are we going for?” this is more than semantics. Changing the question gets to something deeper, broader and more activating- where influencers make their distinctive mark. They don’t just get results, they have impact, they have reach, they have pull from the inside out. 

HAVE is the very first thing that every great influencer asks herself before she goes into any idea, plan, conversation, presentation, meeting, and especially the office for the day… 

"What do I/we want to have out of this?” 

Yes- they call out specific results, but also isolate all the other indicators which equal true impact

Result only: We’re going for 1 million units in sales for this new product. 

With the Have added in: We’re going for 1 million units sold… And want to have a fired up team, have buzz in the market, have people converting to our brand, have the street cred of solving what others couldn’t… 

That’s much more impact than just the finite result of units sold. As you broaden the horizon this way, it sets a bigger game and more meaningful orientation to it for everyone involved. Now they have something to rally to, not just finish. 

Don’t just hit results, have impact.

Real Influencer Moment: 

A coaching client from the restaurant industry took this on. A notoriously intense chef for the highest-grossing restaurant of a fun, successful brand, he leads teams under serious time and performance pressure. They do it, but it can be tense. With this HAVE question, he decided that he wanted to have a different environment- a fun environment with a kitchen staff of people who were having fun all of the time, cranking in their quality of results; productive, effective and happy despite the slams of pressure. This changed the game for his staff, his culture, and his bottom line.

 

Deep & Wide

Have gets at impact that goes wide…. answering the question of, “If we have that… then, what else will we cause?” This is the ripple effect of what you do, and getting strategically intentional about what else you're causing with your efforts.

As in: 

If we have a fired up team, then what else could we cause beyond that (ripple effect)? 

Ambassadors for the brand, talking it up in their circles outside of work. 

Which could then trigger having… 

The word of our brand getting out there to new prospective clients, who will check us out… 

Which could then trigger having… 

Expansion to a completely new demographic of clientele coming in the door… 

You can see where this is going, right? 

Keep asking the question, “Then what?” and you’ll map the ripples of impact you can strategically have. 

 

Have also gets at impact that goes deep answering the question, “If we have that, what else would we of course have to make that happen?” This is drilling into the layers of impact deeper than the initial obvious answer. Go intentionally for depth of impact, which takes root to grow stronger. 

For example:

If we have a fired up team, what would that mean we also have? 

People who believe in what we’re doing. 

Which means we’d also have… 

People who are committed to the brand. 

Which means we’d also have… 

People who will have longevity. 

Which means we’d also have… 

People who will invest their talent and trust in us. 

Which means we’d also have… 

A solid core of all-in people who will truly help us build to a whole new level of impact….

You get it. 

Every time I take a client from a result they’ve identified into a Have-Deep and Have-Wide exercise like this, they come back to their targeted result with renewed energy, because the stakes of it get bigger- one little result turns into the platform for broad, deep, meaningful impact. Bam! 

Think about that project you’ve got happening right now, and the results you’re shooting for in it. Take a minute to brainstorm deeper into the impact you want to really have out of this project beyond just the articulated result? If you had that, then what? What else would you have? Then what? What else? (you get the idea of these layers deep and ripples out, yes?)

This expansion from result you're getting to ImpactYouHave applies to individual interactions all day long, too. What good is the big plan if your steps along the way aren’t focused for impact too? Make it intentionally count there, too. 

For example: 

Halfway through a regular weekly conference call, as people tune out and you’re wondering what the point is…STOP.

Sure, what you’re covering was emailed in the agenda, but to what end? Get the haves clear, articulated and understood, before you move on. Ask them:

What do we want to have by the end of this call?

What results? What plan? What deliverable completed? 

What level or energy and engagement from this team? What problem solved? What alignment? If we had those then what? 

…then notice how the whole call shifts with fuller engagement from everyone. 

Better yet—start the next call with the Haves as part of your WIIFM: 

“By the end of this call we will all have:

  • Every question you’ve been confronted by with the client clear and answered
  • Total alignment about next steps and who’s doing what
  • Relief and fired-up-ness for what’s coming in this project

…Let’s dive in!”

For awesome influencers, this gets very personal. It’s why they inspire and affect you so much—because they ask the Have question of themselves right before diving into an exchange with you, every time. They clarify the impact they want this interaction to have on you and your process… then they make the time with you count purposefully. 

You can too: 

  • Go bigger. In your next planning conversation, take the question broader and deeper. What do we want to really have out of this? Elicit as much as you can there, identify the strongest impact, and then clarify the concrete result you’re trying to hit. It may help to give prompts like “have on our team, in the industry, in the world, in our own process.”
  • Pause first. Before picking up the phone or responding to your next email, pause and clarify: Out of this communication, what do I want to have? Agreement? Collaboration? The other person put in their place? Maybe.
  • Focus in. Outside of work, think about what you want to Have before you automatically dive into experiences, and notice how it focuses it for you…I want to have true connection and focus on one another with my family tonight. 

With focus set on what impact you’ll Have, your next choices of what to Do and what facet of yourself you’ll step into to create it become clear and simple…

To see what happens with our Real Influencer the chef and how he set himself up to identify what he needed to Do and how to Be the version of himself to cause that major shift in his staff (and of course how you can too, every time), check out Chapter #5 of Tap Into Greatness… :)

 

©SarahSinger&Co. 2015

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

More Space Than You Think

Everyone needs space, whether they know it or not. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©SarahSinger&Co. 2013

A Little Light...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Context is key. 

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

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

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

©SarahSinger&Co. 2012

What's in the bag?

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

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

Poetic. And a metaphor, of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

©SarahSinger&Co. 2012

Double-edged...

A long-time coaching client recently told me that his biggest peeve about me as a coach is that I don’t ever just let him be where he is if it’s a negative place.  I always have to turn the conversation eventually to movement somehow-  “so now what…” or “let’s talk about what you can DO with that…” when what he really might want in the moment is to just be in it rather than move through it.  Me doing my job or not?

It’s true- I have a propensity for forward motion, getting people on board, steps toward the horizon, no matter what.  It’s in my language, my patterns, my material, my teaching.  It’s gotten me into immense success and trouble throughout my life so far.  It’s definitely what makes me great at what I do, and really challenging to people in my life at the same time.  A true double-edged sword with really sharp blades on both sides.

I’m guessing that you have some strengths like this too, yes?  What is it that makes you great at what you’re great at, yet is maddening to others?

In StrengthFinder, I’ve got:

Activator • Strategic • Ideation • Command • Relator • WOO • Individualization

How it’s been described in feedback I’ve gotten from others…

The upsides:

  • Taking action when everyone else is swirling in the discussion for too long.
  • Facilitating other people’s process quickly to get them to move through it to resolution or breakthrough.
  • Being able to see the path out of the mire as a guide for teams.
  • Having an instinct for the big elephant in the room (or issue/situation), calling it, so all can move on.
  • Energizing rooms full of stuck, bored people to inspired action and change.
  • Taking groups farther than they’ve ever gone before.
  • Getting people to try things they’ve never tried before, and having fun doing it.
  • Creating change and possibility where it was needed for a long time.
  • Empowering people to walk away feeling that it was their idea all along.
  • Turning someone from frustration and stuckness to resourcefulness and excitement about what’s possible.

The downsides:

  • Being too reactive.
  • And impatient.
  • Pushing too hard.
  • Not accepting “no” for an answer.
  • Moving too fast.
  • Being too positive or focusing too much on the positive.
  • Always ending the conversation with what’s possible when someone wants to just stay with what is or what their complaint is.
  • Being too charismatic (really?) and convincing when someone wants to hold their position.
  • Being hard to slow down when I’ve decided to go after something.

Of course I would argue that a lot of those “downsides”-complaints are often exactly what’s needed in a situation, even though they’re uncomfortable for others.  My wiring for unsettledness when I see an opportunity for change I might be able to impact is what drives me. I can’t NOT go there in my head, although I can quell it for short periods of time in my actions or speaking (usually by request of others).  That never lasts very long before I can’t take it anymore, so speak out or take action anyhow.  I also get that this pattern often has clear costs, usually to those around me.

What are your instincts which you can’t turn off, which kick into gear every time?  Have you identified them as strengths? While every trait has an up and downside, finding the way to leverage them as strengths is the key.  

So again, it comes down to balance, intention and acceptance.

I am forever tinkering with the balance of my own actions and patterns.  A self-awareness of my own presence and how it gets on people around me is critical. Some days I’m better at that awareness than others, which has everything to do with my own state management.  Putting the focus back on the others around me and really noticing their responses to my way- both verbal and not (tonality, eyes, facial muscles, blink patterns and movements) helps me to balance my responses.

Are you noticing the responses you’re eliciting all the time, both spoken and unspoken? Choosing next steps based on that response helps

Intention is what I always come back to, in order to make the Why of my course clear.  I often state my authentic intention in conversations explicitly (“…I’m telling you this because I’m committed to your success, and I think this will help…”) so that people can trust where I’m coming from.  While this doesn’t always work (if there’s no trust to begin with), it’s the most honest thing I can do, so I keep putting it out there.

People will always make up your intention in their head unless you state it clearly.  If there’s any tension or mistrust, they’ll assume your intention to be negative. Check yours, make sure it’s pure, and state it.

In the end, I accept that my wiring is what it is.  It brings incredible strength and also thorny challenges. While I have no plans to change who I am, I am learning how to also accept that I must flex more than I might want to when my strengths aren’t working for others, and cultivate more patience.  I trust my coaches, teams and trusted advisors to give me the feedback I need to pivot when necessary (though I need to ask for it more).  I also accept that my every action has ripple effect way beyond what I can see no matter what.

So do yours, by the way. As you trust your instincts and choose your actions, accept that you’re impacting more than you know all the time.  Have your fully accepted both the greatness and challenges of your wiring?  What are both sides, and their impact on your world?  

Intentionally or not, who we are, what we think and how we act in moments and patterns- have impact and influence all the time.  The more we put it out there in the world, the more impact it has, for better or for worse.  Who I am, and who you are is both awesome and troublesome- always.  A true double-edged sword with really sharp blades on both sides.

So really self-mastery means learning then mastering dexterity with both edges of one’s sword.  I’m on it. 

©SarahSinger&Co. 2012

Add Water

We all have elements which act as triggers for particular states.  There are particular songs which fire us up, foods that comfort us, outfits that give us confidence, photos that make us smile every time.  It’s key to know what your best triggers are, and be able to access them when needed.  Having the right playlists on your iPhone, the right visuals in your workspace and the right clothes for your power presentations are important.

Then there are other triggers which are less accessible, less portable, more experiential and episodic. Yesterday, I was struck by one of the most powerful triggers I have in the world, which I’ve been missing and didn’t even realize it.  Water.

There’s something about water that calms me.  The sound of it lapping, the view of it meeting the horizon, the feel of it surrounding me- all give me peace like nothing else.   Growing up in a lake family, I have had strong and layered associations with water throughout my life. I learned both independence and team, discipline and open exploration, outlet and competition, solo space and family connection… all on and around the water.

Yesterday we arrived to the first day of my family’s annual lake reunion yesterday, and the second I came to the water to greet my siblings, it hit me.  In that moment, my breathing slowed down, the wrinkles in my forehead smoothed, and I felt all the muscles in my body relax.

The crazy thing about it, is that most of the time I’m nowhere near water, and hadn’t even realized that I miss it.  While I’ll always prefer a warm vacation on the water to a cold vacation with snow, but never really got the importance of water for me until yesterday.  As I write this now, I’m listening to the waves, glancing up at an expanse of lake stretching to Canada, and soaking it all up as fuel to use later.  I’m capturing the sounds and images to call back up when I need them.  While the stored versions will never be as powerful as being here now, they might serve in combination with some well-placed visits throughout the year to recharge.

So- what are your most powerful, positive triggers which ground you, focus you, calm you or psych you up? Certain songs, places, mementos, photos... the ones that transport you to a great place mentally & emotionally are anchors for productive, great states. 

Locate and strategically place portable anchors (playlists labeled on your phone by energy, photos as wallpaper on your phone, memento from last huge win, kept on your desk), to set yourself up for success all the time. 

Then also look for the big permanent experiential ones too (like this lake for me right now), which you may need to plan for as strategic, regular fill-ups on your path.  They set your state, your mindset and your orientation to the world instantly, so... place them well.   

©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

Building Ourselves Out

It's all relative, right?

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

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

Ridiculous to an 8-year old.

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

Annoying to an 11-year old.

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

Laughable to a teenager.

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

Piece of cake to a college student.

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

Enviable to a professional.

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

Easy to a parent.

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

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

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

Is it all about perspective?  Always.

©SarahSinger&Co. 2011

Airways

It’s all about getting perspective.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet…

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

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

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

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

Some of my current airways:

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

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

So... what are your airways?

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

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

©SarahSinger&Co. 2010

Weeding My Brain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©SarahSinger&Co. 2010