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

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

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