Closer Than They Appear

My mom’s rear-view mirror always had etched onto it:

Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.

So it turns out that this standard-issue reminder about perception applies to our own psyche, as well.

When we get to the part of my training where I ask people to identify a spot in their lives where they need to step up or out or through something, many people find something BIG.  It’s often having to do with a person they need to confront or a thing they’ve needed to do for a long time, which they’ve been allowing to suck their energy and hold them back in their productivity or happiness for weeks, months or years.  Most people have a few of these things rattling around, sort of like extra weights they’ve been carrying around with them.

So, I help them to stand up to the BIG thing, and commit to busting through it to the elusive “other side” which is alot like those things in the rear-view mirror… much closer than it seems.

It often comes down to a conversation they need to have with someONE or a new behavior that they need to just DO or try.  I coach around it, sometimes even set up full plans of attack for getting their State just right, and all the support they need to hold that State, follow through and not bail at the last second.

In my work with thousands of people who have gone through this very process, I’ve found something in common which takes me back to the rear-view mirror…

Leading up to the actual breakthrough (which is often just a moment), people will actually spend hours of time thinking about it, obsessing about it, rehearsing it or just worrying about it before they actually do it.  The good news is that this is replacing the countless hours of stress, upset, distraction and worry that they had been spending regularly on it before they chose to break through it.

So finally, they get to the moment of truth.

They get into State (or not, which makes it more painful), they DO the big thing, and they’re through to the other side.  The act or conversation took minutes.  It’s over.  The energy suck that had been draining their will and focus is cut off, and there’s a proud mix of adrenaline, relief and newfound energy afterward.  Then the realization…

Obstacles are smaller than they appear.

It wasn’t that big of a deal in hindsight.  All of that worrying and prep, and they broke through it in moments.  To me as a coach, the most important thing is the equation of time spent that comes in the debrief:

Number of sucked hours of worry/upset/stress/energy you are losing in thinking, worrying, avoiding by not doing it

VS.

Moments it takes to just do it and be through to the other side

Simple equation of time investment.

Easy?  Not really, which is where Comfort Zone and coaching like mine come in.

But simple? ABSOLUTELY. For me, this math is what gets me to finally get out of my head and do the uncomfortable but liberating thing.

Maybe we should change what’s etched in our rear-view mirrors as a constant reminder, so we can save all that time and energy, and just step up and out in the first place?

©SarahSinger&Co. 2013

It’s Getting All Over You… The Power of State, Part 3

“Excuse me, but can you get your foul State off of me, please? I’m trying to be creative and inspired here, and you’re contaminating it with your irritated grouchiness, which is getting all over everyone. Please go handle that.“

 

What would it be like to work on a team where you could actually say that to someone? I’m here to testify that it’s actually possible, and can be awesome. Maybe you won’t start off quite that pointed, but I can get you close...

We know by now that what we’ve called “mood” before is actually State, comprised of three interconnected parts- Mental, Emotional and Physical. We mess with one of those parts, the other two shift instantly, every time. If you’re just joining us here, take a few minutes to check out Part 1 and Part 2 to get the full power of State in how you’re embodying it yourself- it’s huge. 

Once you’ve got a handle on your OWN State (which you’ll tinker with for a lifetime), you’re halfway there, since your State is the model for theirs, and they’re watching you all the time. So now it’s time to directly take on something just as clutch... other people’s States.  As we’ve established, most people have little awareness of their own State and even less aptitude in effectively changing it. If you came at most people with the opening statement of this post they might slug you or cry, because they simply don’t get it (yet).  So until they do (and even after), it’ll be YOU in many moments who will need to do it for them.   

Check them out.  

...In a different way than you have been, paying attention to their State. At any given moment, any person you’re with is in a particular state. The key question is twofold- 

What State are they in? and… 

Is it the state you want them to be in (for the task at hand, the news you’re about to drop on them, the next XX hours you’re about to spend with them, the way their State is spreading to others etc.)? 

As a leader, start paying attention as much to their State as those other things like what they’re contributing, focusing on and doing. This matters because it’s fueling all of those things already, and will get you to the core of what makes them awesome (or not) moment to moment. To maximize not just your performance but your team’s as well, start managing States. Your ability to facilitate their State is directly proportional to their motivation, focus, and productivity.

Cues tell all. 

80-90% of all communication is nonverbal. What we feel and think manifests itself in our tonality, body language, eye movements, breathing and facial expression. It’s incredibly hard to fake these things (maybe impossible, but that’s for another day), and the people you’re with tell you a lot about where they are without ever uttering a word... if you pay attention. Notice posture (leaning forward, into you or turned away, avoiding), jaw set and brow furrow, eye contact, and the tonality/cadence of their speaking. Even breathing- if someone’s breathing is high or shallow, they’re stressed. If it’s low and abdominal, they’re more relaxed. Practice first paying attention to these cues, then labelling them in your mind as different States (excited, bored, curious, sad, irritated, reflective, pumped up, grouchy, inspired…). Then, ask yourself if the State they’re in is a good one for what’s happening, or not.  If not, then get busy… 

Change from the outside in. 

You can change someone else’s state in a second. In fact you do it all the time without labeling it such. 

Take someone who’s State is resistant, for instance. Arms folded, jaw set, breathing high in chest, brow slightly furrowed, voice monotone and forced. Yet with a simple question that gets them to think about something else completely... you get that person to a much more open and receptive State.  That’s an outside-in State Change.

Or… you and a teammate were brainstorming on a question with you recording at the whiteboard, and at one point you switch spots- you hand over the marker to your partner to get her up and writing as you then walk around the room, new ideas flowing. That switch was another State Change

Or... you’re presenting to a group, and you see their eyes glazing over, as Bored State starts to take over the room. You have everyone quickly stand up, you pose a question for them all to answer to another person, then have them sit back down, now awake and engaged.  Nice State Change. 

Here are some more (some deliberate breaks in pattern/focus, others quick resets) : 

  • Have them tell you about their last success with this team in vivid detail. (mental)
  • Take them for a walk. (physical)
  • Change the subject completely. (mental) 
  • Continue the conversation standing up if you were sitting. (physical)
  • Give them a compliment. (emotional)
  • Give them a high-five. (physical)
  • Tell them a joke. (emotional)
  • Everyone rotate positions in the room. (physical)
  • Ask their opinion about something you know they care about. (mental/emotional)
  • Toss them a ball. (physical)
  • Offer them a snack or drink, like a bottle of water or a cup of coffee. (physical)
  • Change or put on some music with the energy you’re going for. (mental/physical/emotional)
  • Show them a hilarious or inspiring or thoughtful or intriguing post or video online. (emotional)

Switch it Up- Early and Often

Those state changes are key when someone’s in a overtly negative or low-energy state, as each will break the pattern they’re in, changing their State to something more engaged, positive or higher energy.  The higher the energy, the better in most cases. 

That said, your team needs deliberate State Changes more than you think.  

The average attention span correlates with age (like 5 minutes max for a 5 year old)… up to about age 18, at which point it maxes out. So 18-20 minutes is about the limit of most people’s attention span in the work you’re doing (outside of gaming and other immersive altered-state activities).  All attempts of “plowing through” beyond that window are a waste of time and energy, because we know that once State’s gone so is focus, learning and performance. Instead, Change State! All you and your team need is a reset of attention- a State Change- about every 18-20 minutes in your work process, and the brain/performance/focus stays fresh. 

While the list above is a start, personalize, customize and add to it with your own State Changes, and then start playing them all to try out what fits best where. 

You can call it. 

There is tremendous power in State management- for you as an individual and for the people around you. Once you and your team understand it, you can then own it and call it with one another. I coach high performing teams across industries and rank, whose productivity and morale has been transformed with the power of State. On these teams, because they get it, everyone is responsible for his/her own State, making sure it’s productive, conducive to what the team’s up to, and able to help others accelerate. They incorporate State Changes as regular team practice into their work, which makes all the difference. You’ll see high-fiving between agenda topics, movement as they work, koosh balls flying purposefully to engage the right States, and people owning their own attention, performance and focus with their State.  And when they don’t, you might just hear that line I opened this post with, to which someone would respond,

“Actually, you’re absolutely right. My grouchy State isn’t helping anyone- I apologize for getting it on you. I need a State Change. I’ll be back in a few minutes, better.”  

And then they go, take a few minutes to change their State, re-engage, and the team’s on on its way. It’s a beautiful thing. 

Your turn...

 

©SarahSinger&Co. 2013

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

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

Talent vs. Strength

Strengths and Talent are two different things.  Strengths are what you do easily and regularly, without thinking about it.  These usually come from talent.  Yet we all have talent that isn’t necessarily manifesting as strength.  It may come out in moments or episodes of brilliance, but isn’t reliably consistent yet. While a lot of my work is in the former, what I’m most interested in is the latter.

Strengths.

In some ways, strengths are the low-hanging fruit of my coaching work.  Most people don’t truly realize what their strengths are, or why they’re so amazing.  We’re all too close to have any perspective on it.  Someone with a strength like being able to establish instant rapport and agreement with others doesn’t really acknowledge it as a strength, because it’s as instinctive as breathing for him or her, yet enviable, difficult and a mystery to another person watching. The groundbreaking work of Clifton and Buckingham in this realm has been a gamechanger for millions- so much so that I require groups and teams to take StrengthFinder as a prerequisite for any work I do with them.  We have to at least surface, understand and leverage what we all do well without effort before we start working on how we can grow in new ways.  Simply getting people to be more conscious of what they already do well as their unique and important contribution, and to confidently leverage it as such is groundbreaking for most people.  That’s also telling about our society-  that this initial work (which seems like it would be quick and easy) is huge all by itself for people.  For adults, some of this is from becoming desensitized to our own strengths. Our instinct, common sense and lens through which we see the world becomes as invisible to us as the air we breathe, and we accept it as “normal” (and therefore not anything worthy of leveraging). Meanwhile, our personal set of strengths is unique from everyone around us (and could be genius to them).  It also has a lot to do with our pre-occupation with what we’re not, and what we should be (“Yeah, but if only I were more X…”), rather than an ownership and confidence in what we are, and how we’re uniquely brilliant- and the value of either. The a-ha that people and teams have when they suddenly see their own talent-strength that’s been there all along under those layers is awesome and empowering.

I do love coaching strengths, yet secretly love and crave more, as all coaches do.

Talent.

Great movies love to depict the classic inspirational story of the semi-retired coach or trainer who comes back into the game to develop a wild, raw undeveloped talent into something solid, something strong.  Million Dollar Baby, The Karate Kid, Rocky, Any Given Sunday, Tin Cup, A League of Their Own, The Replacements, even Star Wars

There’s something different there- much more intriguing, exciting and possible.  This is why my favorite work is with youth vs. adults- it’s much more about working with the talent itself and honing while exploding it vs. working to clear away the layers of stuff on top of it.

Raw talent all by itself is a different thing- it’s trickier.  It’s less predictable and a little rougher around the edges than a bona-fide strength.  Talents can absolutely develop into strengths through deliberate or naturally occurring practice and investment- think Tiger Woods spending more practice time than those with half his talent, because he gets the deliberate path.  How that talent gets developed is one of my favorite topics to think about, coach and experiment with.  Different personalities need to approach it different ways. An awesome article today powerfully shows how even at the top- among the best of the best of the best in a particular field of talent, this happens differently.

But it starts with one thing, which is the most important part… realizing that you have the talent, then deciding that you want more and are ready to explode it into a strength. Maybe it’s just manifesting as an unsettledness now- pay attention to that feeling, and dig into it a little further. Then find the coach, the environment, the team, the training to shape it.  You can do this, and you should, only because you know deep-down that you can, and if you don’t you’ll be forever haunted by “what if I had…”

There’s one more piece in the getting-your-own-talent puzzle, even though it deserves its own day and post.  Personally, I always come back to the most basic piece in developing talent and reaching mastery in any arena- surround yourself with those who ask more of you than you do of yourself.  That means people who challenge you to not just be happy with what you’ve always done, but pushing you to get better, go farther, dig deeper- all from a true commitment to what’s possible in you because they get your talent.  Of course having a good coach or mentor is important, but it’s just as important to look at who else you’re surrounding yourself with.

Pay attention to your unsettledness, consider your own level of talent and mastery, check out who you’re surrounding yourself with, and start building your strength. It’s time.

©SarahSinger&Co. 2012

Ripples and Focus

Single sculling on a glassy lake- meditative, challenging, peaceful.

I got hooked into it with my dad when I was a teenager, as we spent hours on Atwood Lake learning it, alternating between 2-man sculling together and single sculling on our own.  As I went off to college, he continued to row, solo on the lake every morning the northern Ohio weather would allow.

There’s no better place to contemplate choice, impact and the ripple effect than in the middle of a glassy lake.  When single sculling, your orientation is to where you’ve been and how you got there, rather than where you’re going. You’re on a sliding seat with two long oars fit into outriggers, the bow of the boat pointing through the water while you power it with long, full-body, full-blade strokes of the oars feathered into and over the water in perfect synchronicity. At least that’s the goal.  Therein lies the challenge.  To get both oars perfectly balanced, dipped into and pulled through the water at exactly the same depth, force and speed takes focus and control with constant motion.  To get each stroke evenly powered first by legs, then torso, then arms, then feathering the oars perfectly out of the water and skimmed back over it without nicking the surface takes a different kind of focus and coordination.  Like sailing (my other favorite), you can both lose yourself in it and spend your life hooked by the challenge of the nuance in it.  A thinking person’s sport, to be sure.

One of the coolest parts of sculling is that you see feedback and progress with every stroke.  Because you’re facing to the aft of the boat, your focus is on where you’ve been, watching the wake your boat is leaving behind, the pools of ripple left by each oar.  If your timing was off by half a second between oars, you see it in the ripples.  If you had a perfect stroke, you see it in perfect round pools on either side of your straight wake.  As you gain distance, the trail of pools down the lake chart your progress and path- straight, zig-zagging or meandering.  Each circle of ripples expands instantly, first in distinct circles of light and shadow, multiplying instantly and quickly, ultimately overlapping into the very texture of the lake.

Most people have a default time orientation- past, present or future.  I’m definitely a future-oriented person, sometimes challenged to stay in the moment, as I’m always thinking 5 minutes, 5 days, 5 years ahead of where I am now.  This makes me a good coach and consultant, as I’m great at quickly surveying past patterns (but restless in dwelling there too long), zooming in on the impact they’re having now, and then strategizing both the right path forward and endless possible scenarios forward with insight.  I love to reflect, yet sometimes need to remind myself to do so, often feeling afterward like it was an indulgence. I am big on feedback and learning, so I’ve learned how to strategically and quickly reflect enough to gather feedback when necessary- but always to learn forward.  I am continually striving to (and coaching others to) be more fully present in each moment.  The more I can master this, the more impact and fulfillment I make/get out of every moment.  Meditation is the extreme version of this. I’m intrigued by it, have gotten tremendous value out of the dabbling I’ve done in it,  and have a perpetual goal of making it a habit.  Sculling forces me to keep my focus backward, forcing reflection and in the present, adjusting each stroke and coordinated movement based on what I just did.  Focusing forward or to the future isn’t even possible without physically turning around.  Opposite of life for me- always focused forward, having to consciously stop and intentionally turn around to reflect backward.

One of my favorite parts of sculling is just coasting… After a few long, powerful strokes the boat glides smoothly and silently through the water.  I hold my oars up to rest as I glide, and watch the water drip from them into the water moving past.  The drops make tiny circles, which grow instantly to ripples, which multiply faster than I can track smoothly, beautifully and overlapping into the ripples of the drop before it. Every move we make, every conversation we have, every decision in life we conquer- intentionally or not makes these ripples, which expand into the texture of our lives.  How much are we tracking them, studying them, choosing our next moves based on them?

©SarahSinger&Co. 2011

Airways

It’s all about getting perspective.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet…

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

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

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

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

Some of my current airways:

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

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

So... what are your airways?

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

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

©SarahSinger&Co. 2010

Surfmaster

Today was a great learning day because I got to be both a student and the product of a great teacher.

Those of you who know me won’t think that’s anything out of the ordinary, since I’m one who constantly looks for the learning in most every situation, believes that things happen and people are placed for a reason, and defines the value of a day by what was learned.  The tag line on my cards and pens is “learn something” because it’s my refrain for most situations.  Today was different, though, because it wasn’t about me just looking for the learnings within the normal experiences of life- I actually signed up and paid for it.

In the gift of a single day off in Hawaii before teaching a workshop tomorrow, I signed up for a surfing lesson.  Just the idea of signing up and stepping out of my Comfort Zone was exciting to me- yet the experience itself was even better.  In the 90 minutes of my lesson I not only learned to surf, but got to experience and validate what happens when learning is set up to succeed by great teaching.

I arrived to my instructor Richard eager and ready to learn, although a bit nervous.  While I didn’t choose it at the time, this is the ideal combination state for a learner to be in (to a great teacher). Richard expertly read my State and quickly assessed my prior experiences to see what he had to work with, then immediately began to set me up for success.

After some on-shore coaching, we paddled out, and it wasn’t long before I got up and rode a wave on my first try!  As Richard cheered me on I proclaimed, “that was so much easier than I thought it would be!”  His response, “That’s because you have a great teacher, the right board and a perfect day.”  From beach to final wave, that precious 90 minutes seemed to both fly yet be vivid as slow motion. I had great success because it was the perfect formula for easy learning, and Richard was right. . .

While I was hooked from the beginning yet distracted by the little voice in my head doubting my ability and ultimate surfer potential, Richard casually but precisely directed, modeled, set me up on each wave and celebrated every right move I made.  For each wave I rode, he high-fived me and told me how great I was while correcting me simultaneously.  When I fell, I saw the slight disappointment on his face quickly countered with zeroing in on the right coaching to keep me relaxed and improving right away.  I felt his commitment to my success, I wanted to make him proud, and easily listened to him instead of my critical little voice.  I paid close attention, followed instructions and mirrored him as best I could while he found my waves, pushed me  off into them, and I surfed!  With every wave, he steadily decreased how much assistance he gave me until the big moment when he said “I’m going to catch this one too, and ride it with you.”  That was the ultimate moment of proving myself to my teacher and myself-  I surfed on my own next to him, and we celebrated!

I got to have a great, fun, easy experience because Richard deftly modeled great teaching as he…

  • entered my world
  • earned the right
  • tapped my WIIFM
  • had a 10 over my head no matter what
  • celebrated every success
  • checked in with me early and often
  • read and managed my State for me
  • taught me visually, auditorally and kinesthetically
  • pushed me out of my Comfort Zone
  • set me up for success!

In my work I’m always in the teaching/coaching position. This I love, do passionately and get a tremendous amount of learning from itself every time.  It’s rare that I get to overtly be on the receiving end of a great teacher, so today was a gift.  I’m now reminded of how much more I need to seek out deliberately being the student.

And now I’m hooked on surfing.  Thank you, Richard!

©SarahSinger&Co. 2010