Taming the Inner Bully
Here's a newsflash: Nobody anywhere is doing it all, I don't care what they say in the project status meeting or on their Facebook or Linkedin page. High level performers have mastered the art of saying no and they are constantly working on the clarity and strength to do it. The people you know playing at the highest level are saying no all the time.
Really. I promise.
That’s the good news. Now for a reality check. Developing the inner strength to stand up to your inner bully IS your work. The more you learn to face your own questions about yourself, the freer you will be to focus on what really matters in relationships and your endeavors.
My inner bully ran me for the first 15 years of my corporate life. Even as I became aware of the tyrant mindset that deeply cared what other people thought, wanted people to like me and demanded complete perfection, no amount of awareness stopped me from acting on it.
It was like a shield that protected my squishy insides from making difficult decisions, dealing with people walking all over me, and asserting my true point of view.
Over time, I’ve worked on building on what I call “the Invisible Tools”, which are those unseen capabilities that give us the strength to go against the current, be present and operate from our best, true self. From that strength, we can choose what we say no to – and what we say yes to – in a strategic, mindful, balanced way.
What we say “Yes” to and what we say “No” to establishes our agenda – and it reveals who’s really running the show.
Saying yes to everyone else’s agenda and no to your own leads to sadness, resentment, anger and a life lived for someone else.
Saying no to everyone else’s agenda and yes only to your own is an insular, self-absorbed way to live.
Somewhere in the middle is a portfolio of yes’s and no’s the are uniquely suited to achieve your goals. More importantly, your portfolio of what you will and won’t do allows you to bring your uniqueness to the world.
At the most fundamental level, your actions and decisions are a portfolio of Yes’s and No’s, and these set the strategic agenda of your life and work. What you say yes to, even if it’s that kind of accidental “yes” that you get swept up in, drives what on your agenda and calendar.
You have more choice than you realize and frankly, an obligation to say yes only to those things you can do rather than adding things to your plate that will fall between the cracks and generate cracks in your relationships.
That’s all well and good, you may say. But the questions I have heard from the hundreds of leaders I’ve worked with over the years are much more practical:
There are many ways to address those questions.
Note: This is the introduction to an extensive “eBook” that will be ready for publication by June 15. My intention for this article is to help you address those questions from your best, most autonomous self rather than your inner bully.
If you want some “how to’s” on the different ways you’ve gotten caught up in saying yes, some artful ways of saying no and an introduction to using your Invisible Tools to develop self awareness and inner strength, click here and subscribe to my Coaching Digest.
Last week my social media feed lit up with nurses sharing pictures of bloody operating rooms, the middle finger being raised, Sam Elliott smirking about someone being a special kind of stupid and talk about nurses playing cards. Nurses across the country were getting more outraged by the day.
I started piecing together the reason for all the kerfuffle. Some woman in Washington State had said something about nurses playing cards all day. Wait, this woman was actually a legislator. “Well, clearly she’s ignorant” I thought. I spent two days in the hospital in 2017 and the nurses were the main reason my experience was so positive. It wasn’t because we were playing gin rummy.
Eventually I figured out this woman was named Maureen Walsh. There were posts suggesting that people send her decks of cards. Thanks to getting swept up in the frenzy, I started thinking of some more…shall we say, interesting things to send her. I’m not a nurse and I started taking her words personally. How dare she?!!?
Here is what I was definitely NOT doing. I was not assuming positive intent.
Then my curiosity kicked in. What exactly did she say? I wondered. So I googled her and found this article, where she expressed her regret. “Damn straight,” I thought. “You are going to regret getting all those playing cards.”
In the middle of the article is a short video where you can hear her words come out of her own mouth.
Context Changes Everything
In the segment, Maureen Walsh is making an impassioned plea to save a rural hospital. The hospital she was referring to is likely not economically viable in today’s strict regulatory environment; in her example, the whole hospital might have 6 patients at one time. She was trying to make the point that the law they were making could be the straw that broke the camel’s back on the ability of that hospital to continue to serve her district. Oh, and by the way, her mom was a nurse. Through new eyes, I saw her comments completely differently.
Context changes everything. A few years ago, I wrote about a bad water ski fall I took because I allowed the context of a situation keep me from seeing some critical details.
There is always more to the story than meets the eye.
In the Maureen Walsh case, I see at least three threads.
First, when I heard her speak in that video, I heard something very different than a woman accusing nurses of being lazy, card playing drags on the system. She is trying to save nurses jobs and sustain patient care in her district. Nowhere did I get that she doesn’t value nurses.
Second, rural hospitals are closing in record numbers. The complex regulatory environment is contributing to that. Anyway you look at it, hospitals closing in areas that desperately need them is a bad thing.
The third thread is also worth exploring. Nurses took the tiny spark of her words so personally because there is so much dry tinder to ignite the explosion. I’m in these conversations regularly with clients and friends. Nurses ARE often undervalued. They shoulder unbelievable burdens in the hospital environment. Once again, I’m reminded that we only take things personally that hit a point of vulnerability within us.
In my own case, the nurses were responsible for at least 90% of my experience. That is consistent with what I’ve seen and heard from other friends and family who have experienced hospital stays. The work that nurses do is beyond valuable.
What I can’t help but wonder is this: what if the nurses that took offense started with assuming positive intent? What if the few that started this meme simply chose to take her comments as support instead of criticism? What could have happened to heal our currently broken healing system?
In reflecting on my reactions to Maureen Walsh’s comments, I’m reminded again how important context really is. I’m also reminded to pay attention to my own beliefs and the way I take things personally. In this case, my mind was so willing to jump to conclusions – and with context and curiosity, I saw things completely differently.
In this busy world, it’s tempting to love the shortcut and draw quick conclusions. Who has time to dig deeper? But how much damage am I doing to myself when I fail to see the bigger picture? Where is my desire for the quick fix setting me up for the long recovery?
Where are you taking things personally that are not personal? How do your own vulnerabilities shape the way you see things? Where are you operating on beliefs formed with only a tiny piece of the full story? Where would context change everything for you?
Working together as a Mother/Daughter team can be super difficult. If you have followed our podcast, you've heard some of our dramas. So when you saw that we are "splitting up", you might make up the story it's due to mother-daughter conflict. However, we have a better reason.
Jen has started her own business.
She is working with the loved ones of people caught in addiction. What Jen realized after talking to and working with hundreds of addicts and their families is the parents need ongoing support too. And they aren’t getting it.
Jen has a hard-earned way of working with the parents who discover their child is an addict. I was once that very parent and the night Jen announced that she was hooked on drugs and had no idea what to do, neither did I.
What I needed was guidance and someone to help me navigate where I could help - and where I could not.
All I wanted to do was make it better and every single motherly instinct I had only pushed her further into the depths of the addiction.
To make matters worse, my friends and family had an opinion on what I should do. In some ways, the worst pressure I felt came from people two or three steps removed. Our plight was not something I shared widely, but when I did, the advice ranged from completely cut her off to go get her and bring her home. Like I really want to have a drug addict in my house!
What I did NOT have (at least at first) was someone with the wisdom to give me options and help me get through the fear, guilt and anger that paralyzed me or made me want to something - anything - to make this go away.
What everyone seemed to forget was this: Jen was an adult. My control freak tendencies were not going to get us very far.
What I needed was a set of leadership and influence skills that far surpassed my abilities under the pressure of this kind of life or death situation.
While I was able to get coaching during this time, it took a conversation with an addict to break me through the confusion and pretense that everything would be ok. Little did I know how much more I would have to get real and deal with my own patterns and “stuff” in order to truly help my daughter.
Many of my clients have found themselves in the same boat as me. For years, I've sent them to Jen because I felt she was much better equipped than me to help them navigate the realities of addiction. They all report back that the conversations with Jen were a deal-changer. After all, who knows better how to understand an addict than a fellow addict? She has been clean 12 years and has become a stellar coach in that time. I marvel at her ability to bring her deep experience and insight to those facing addiction with their adult children.
However, it takes more than a phone call or two to navigate a problem that took years to develop.
Jen herself did extremely deep work (still does) and she recognizes that addiction is not the end. It’s a signal that something very important needs to be addressed. It’s an opportunity for everyone in the family to grow.
That's why Jen has created a website and a program just for parents who have no idea how to help their adult children or themselves when drugs consume their family. She also works one on one with mothers and fathers to help them build the strength and skills to deal with their own patterns so that they can set the conditions for their child to face their addiction and get on the path to recovery.
So here's my question for you: How many people came to mind when you read this? Who do you know that could use someone to tell them what is really happening with their drug-addicted child?
Instead of just closing this page, I ask you to forward this to them first. They can schedule their first call with her with the click of a button.
Click here and get your life saving call.
You may be asking what am I going to do without having Jen in my company. I will miss our day to day interactions immensely. However, when she shared her decision to start this business with me, I deeply knew it was the way she is meant to serve in the world. Whether from the angle of mom or boss, my best service to the world is to joyfully let her go do her thing.
Plus we have a new podcast! Click the link where we talk about her business and our journey.
Originally Posted: September 11, 2016
“I’m going to do it all – and I’m going to do it perfectly.” While few say that out loud, their actions say it for them.
Know anyone who thinks (and acts) that way? I see it all the time, whether in a small business - where doing it all seems a necessity - to teams in giant corporations. The very same people who treat money as a scarce resource are willing to spend their energy doing tasks that provide a low business payoff.
Trying to do too much and trying to do it perfectly will lead you to mediocrity and drain your energy faster than it drains your bank account.
Many years ago, when I was working with Norm Smallwood of Results Based Leadership, he introduced me to the “anti-perfectionism/strategic clarity” model he called “Types of Work.” It changed my life, the way I approach work and how I make trade offs. And in that timeframe, this new awareness guided me to say no to some very exciting global work with – you guessed it – Norm Smallwood.
Norm’s point of view on strategy could be boiled down to this: What you say “no” to defines you more than what you say “yes” to. In other words, being opportunistic causes you to saying yes to more things than you can do well. Being strategic means saying no to anything that doesn’t fit your distinctive core business.
Having the backbone to have a strong portfolio of “no’s” develops a stronger business than saying yes just because you can do it.
This is a simple concept that is extraordinarily difficult to actually do. Walking away from work that might be lucrative because it isn’t your core value proposition seems crazy – but let me make the case for why you should do just that. After all, everyone has more to do than they can possibly do well. How great would it be to have a logical way to say “no” when you have more than you can handle?
The logic starts with this premise:
Not all work is created equal.
The work that distinguishes you (and that you get paid for) deserves a different kind of priority and attention than your basic business work.
Trying to do everything well means you do nothing well.
Watch this very short animation to understand the basic idea, and I will see you on the other side:
Here’s the thing: striving for best-in-class-performance is worthwhile only in about 10-20% of the work you do – your distinctive and enabling work. The other 80% or so needs to be good enough. This doesn’t mean you buy a house in “slackerville.” It’s just that extreme excellence in Business Essential work just brings you more work than you should handle – and it’s work you don’t get paid for. Just remember: do worse than par and it can cost you your reputation and maybe your business.
Here’s how Tim Ferriss, author of the 4 Hour Work Week said it: “I’m not against hard work. I’m against hard work on stupid things.”
Distinctive work is what makes you special. You want to be unique and distinctive work forms the core of your business or reputation. Why didn’t I do global work with Norm Smallwood all those years ago? It would have impacted my ability to be effective with my clients AFTER the trips. I need my sleep. Jet lag impacts my ability to be a clear and present coach and facilitator. I was very aware that while doing the global work might look good on my bio, it would negatively impact my ability to perform and would ultimately hurt my goals. So I said no.
Distinctive work is why people choose you or your company. It is worth your time and effort to be crystal clear on what makes you special in the eyes of your clients, customers or employers.
How do you decide where your time, attention and energy go? What are your guardrails for making sharp trade-offs? Are you clear on the work that makes you distinctive? Where are you tempted to take on customers or work because of the money instead of it being a fit for your business? What kind of non-strategic projects are you doing?
Next time you are feeling overwhelmed, thinking you can’t do it all, or find yourself agonizing over a simple detail, re-prioritize your work into the three buckets: Distinctive, Enabling, or Business Essential.
Struggling to say no even though you know you should? Wondering what’s the difference between Distinctive and Enabling work? Connect via Social or here.
As always, please share this with anyone you think would find it useful. And let me know how you are using what you learn!
Walking through Michael Sherrill’s Retrospective Exhibit at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, it was almost as if I was seeing several artists at work. The exhibit started with mugs – huge, beautiful mugs that I could only dream of making. Soon it moved to other large forms, with Asian and Native American influences. Just around the corner were some of the most exquisite – and in some cases, biggest – teapots I had ever seen. Then came some abstract and totally unique shapes. We were now far from functional vessels. We were entering the true art zone.
Soon after, some of the natural forms started to emerge. Rhododendron leaves started appearing. You could almost hear each phase calling to him, saying “Come experiment over here. Let go so we can try something new.” And he answered the call, even though it meant leaving something that worked really well.
One of the questions I often hear from clients sounds something like this: Is this my pinnacle? Have things gotten as good as they ever will? What if I can’t make the transition to the next level? Will it be downhill or will I stagnate from here? Does what I’m doing matter?
As is often the case with big questions, it seems that answer is usually: It depends.
In walking through Michael’s Retrospective, every phase looked like a pinnacle to me. In fact, where he started would be cause for huge celebration in my house. (We do a happy dance every time my pottery reaches a new height. Seriously. Actual dancing is involved.)
Lynn’s work on its way to new heights
In the exhibition, you could see how one thing led to another – the seeds of every phase seem to be planted in the one before.
The thing about these stages of growth -and what might feel like stagnation and boredom – is that it can look like death. That’s how nature forms seeds. It’s worth remembering that.
The transition from one phase to another is uncomfortable as hell. We don’t all choose to heed the call. Instead, we hold on. We stay in the job too long. We fail to hire the kind of person we need on the team right now. We keep the project afloat, even though its original purpose is long gone. We keep making what sells.
We would rather have stagnation and boredom than face the death that brings the discomfort of uncertainty, reinvention and not knowing how to do something. So we stay out of the froth that marks the edge of our capability.
Yet the froth is where the growth is. One of my all time favorite quotes is: “You are either green and growing or ripe and rotting.”
This quote really hit home this morning, as a load of mulch was delivered to my garden. Right now the garden is full of rotting weeds from last year’s inattention. With spring arriving, it will become green once again. I can either cultivate the plants I want, or let it just do its thing.
If I want to harvest delicious edibles from this place, I will have to cultivate. I will have to feed the plants I want and starve those that take up space and nutrition without giving anything back. I have the power to set the conditions for the kind of growth I want. Honestly, I would rather just harvest. In order to garden, I have to ask for help.
As leaders, we have the same responsibility with ourselves, our teams and our organizations. We must cultivate. We need to feed our minds with the nutrients that generate the fruit of our spirit. We must foster in our teams what bring out the best in everyone as they achieve their common goals. We must allocate resources in a way that feeds what the organization needs and starves the projects, people and other non-essentials.
Every phase of growth will involve some level of death. A company of 3 is not the same as a company of 10, or 100, or many thousands. In order to truly grow, it requires many deaths leading to the breakthrough moments of new life.
So much of Michael’s work depicted this theme. In his work Remnant, you see it most clearly with the dead oak leaves alongside the new growth.
There is also a secret behind the beautiful work you see from Michael and me and everybody else on the Earth that has done something worth sharing. Behind it are the thousands of experiments gone wrong. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING is perfect. You don’t see the days of despair, the questioning, the tearing out the hair wondering why something didn’t work.
Ironically, it seems to me that the more I enter the land of ambiguity, the more I like what comes out the other side. If I can tolerate the discomfort of the froth.
What seeds have you planted that are ready to be cultivated? Where are you ready to step into the froth at the edge of your capability? What do you need to let go of so the green growth can spring forward? What discomfort and ambiguity are keeping you at bay? What will it take to start the experiments to something great?
As always, please share this with anyone you think would find it useful. And let me know how you are using what you learn!
This year’s tax season involved digging waaayyy back for old records. There are so many reasons I don’t want to open old boxes of files. Wasting time is at the top of the list. But then - I don’t help myself, because I start opening other files and then reading old stuff and before you know it, I’m walking down memory lane.
Secretly, my hope is that there’s a pearl in the oyster – that I will run across something that makes the yuckiness worth the effort.
It rarely pays off. In most cases, hours go by and before I know it, I have forgotten to find the form I’m seeking.
This year, I found a little pearl. The kind of pearl that might have saved my life. You might ask, how could I find a lifesaver in a buried file box? Well, here’s what happened. I found a long-forgotten piece of writing that never really saw the light of day. I did it for a workshop, and when the program ended, my files went into the archives. So I decided to share it today.
Read on and at the end, I will tell you how it saved my life. Here's the piece:
I was listening to David McCullough, Pulitzer winning author of the book 1776, interviewed on NPR a few weeks ago. He was speaking about the historical context of his latest book and he remarked that most of us don’t know the many ways we enjoy the benefits of decisions and acts of courage taken by those who came before us. That simple remark caused me to pause with gratitude. As I drove down the road in a fully operational vehicle, heading towards the haven I call my home, with the option to listen to the music I want, my thoughts to turned to what could be, what could have been, but for countless decisions and acts of courage by people I don’t even know. Because of others that I can never thank, I earn money without having to pay homage to a king. I am free to dress as nicely-or shabbily- as I want. So many choices are now mine to make-because of people I will never know. And because so many are unknown to me, it’s virtually impossible to get my hands around what could have been. So I decided to bring it closer to home.
In my reflections since listening to that interview, I have started to pay attention to the ways I get help. This has not been the easiest meditation, as I easily fall under the delusion that I am an independent person capable of taking care of myself. And the “help” that I get doesn’t always show up-at least initially-as something I welcome. For instance, just recently I was driving over a winding mountain road when I came around the bend to see another car in my lane. I quickly jerked the car right as my nemesis returned to his lane. About the time the adrenaline wore off, a small pickup turned onto the road in front of me and proceeded to amble down the road at about 20 miles per hour. Within seconds, I felt like honking and going around him. Suddenly I thought back to my encounter a few miles before. Without that, I would have been tempted to do something stupid, like go around this slow poke. I settled back in my seat-still gritting my teeth but firmly in my lane-and aware of the help from unseen forces.
It was another reminder that I am not alone. I get help from many corners. And occasionally, someone needs my help. In my best moments, I’m less likely to need the credit. In my worst, I’m waiting for some acknowledgement. If I take the time to look, perhaps I can remember that David McCullough pointed my attention to this simple reality: we can only ever thank a few of our helpers.
Since I wrote this piece, at least 15 years have passed. I’ve been on that same winding road hundreds, if not thousands of times. At least half the time, someone drives way too slow for my taste. That’s a lot of opportunities for road rage to cause dangerous behavior. Yet, thanks to this series of incidents (with one exception on a trip to the hospital), I’ve never seriously considered passing on these winding roads. You might say this incident “scared me straight.” And I’m pretty sure THAT has saved my life – countless times.
So this year, instead of agonizing over my plight with old boxes, I paused with gratitude that I had lived the years to fill them.
How often do you pause in gratitude for the unseen help you have received or are receiving? In what ways might life be different if you hadn’t gotten that assistance that you have long forgotten? What can you be grateful for today?
It was almost 20 years ago when I went to a leadership program that focused on self-awareness. For the prior 4 years, I had been involved in other self-awareness programs. Once I was introduced to the idea of working on myself, interrupting old patterns, and so forth, my quick learner self got it really fast – or so I thought.
When the facilitator of the program started sharing the self-awareness stuff, I sat in the program thinking “I know all of this.” I kind of felt superior to the other people who seemed to be hearing some of this for the first time. After the first self-awareness segment, I stayed behind and more or less told the facilitator that I had done all of this before – so since I knew it all, what should I do? She gave me a funny look and said, “Well, just try to experience it anyway.”
With my Gold Star Mentality hard at work, I came back in the next day determined to prove and show that I already knew all of this.
It would be years before I was even aware than my proving mindset (which I call my Gold Star Mentality) was keeping me in a comfort box and seriously impeding my ability to learn and grow.
The program was part of a series and I kept coming back for more. My real intention was to prove myself self-aware in order to get the Gold Star, be done with it and move on. It wasn’t until the fourth program that I dropped the pretense and was vulnerable enough to start learning.
That’s where the chronic discomfort comes in. Slowly, I began putting improving in front of proving.
Not everywhere and not all the time, but more often than not, my choice is to drop the pretense and work from a beginner’s mind.
It’s true whether I’m learning to throw pottery, get back on the horse, water ski, work with my clients, or anything else where I want to get better.
It’s uncomfortable as hell – because that’s the way it is in the learning zone.
We are so conditioned to pass the test and get the reward. We are taught to prove our learning to the teachers and the system so they can keep their jobs. We are supposed to show our knowledge so we can keep our job.
There’s a huge problem with proving that we are good enough. The rewards are short lived AND we stay the same, playing to the crowd hoping to get the next reward. We never become who we were born to be.
Where do you seek the Gold Star? What reward does proving yourself get you? In what domains do you need to go into learning mode? What kind of problems are you trying to solve that require skills you don’t yet have? Where do you wish you could tell people what you really think? Where are you willing to move into discomfort for the sake of your growth and learning?
I’ve been playing with some of these distinctions recently. It’s the:
-Inside out vs Outside in.
-Invisible vs Visible.
-Internal locus vs External locus.
-Respond vs React.
These are top of mind concepts for me because I’m always looking for ways to put the power of change in the hands of my clients. It’s so common to give your power away.
The first time I heard the “give away power” concept, someone said in a program I was attending “I’m giving away my power” – I thought “what the hell is she talking about?” It sounded new agey and like woo woo bullshit. So, I wrote off the concept – and gave my power away. It would be years before I got it.
It’s actually quite a practical idea: Nothing is personal. I don’t have to let others get under my skin. Ancient wisdom that is so applicable in these modern times. If we can just get out of our own way.
During a recent meeting with a client to review progress on his coaching, he wrote this: “I have spent so much of my business career wasting time worrying about what was driving other members of my team. Which led to jealousy or resentment and kept me from moving forward. I am coming around to the idea that if you work on your own happiness, everything else falls in place.”
When I read this, it immediately called to mind one of my experiences with skiing. (Of course, it did!) This was over 10 years ago at the first Women’s Week at Coble Ski School. The first evening, everyone was sizing each other up. Who’s the best skier? Who looks best in a bikini? Will I fit in? What if I make an ass out of myself? You know, all those inner questions that we never dare say out loud. Would we end up competing with each other or supporting each other? Would this week be truly fun or not? Were we going to be competitive or comparative? That first night, it could have gone either way.
The first morning of skiing washed away any fears I had. When someone needed a couple of tries to get up, we all stood on the shoreline cheering her on. When one of the women achieved a personal best, we high fived and whistled so they could hear us in the county. At the end of the week, one of the skiers said, “Never in my life have I seen such a supportive group of women.”
We chose to see the best in each other – and as a result we lifted each other up.
In my TEDx talk on the Power of Positive Intent, I talked about how you get more of what you touch. In my client’s case, when he focused on jealousy and resentment, he got more of that. When he started working on his own internal happiness, he got more of that.
We have tremendous power when we choose where to focus. Everything starts from within us.
Where are you focusing on what is NOT working? How could you shift your focus to what you want? Where can you find the gold in difficult situations? How can you see past the ugly behavior to the hurts that caused it? What can you do today to focus on your own happiness?
Sometimes, it feels like I have an inner voice that calms and stills me. But more often, there’s another, louder voice that is more like an annoying sports parent in the stands, screaming something like “Choke up on the bat!” “What’s wrong with you?” “That’s not the way you do it!”
Many years ago, I was preparing to facilitate a leadership program with a new client. During our walk through of the first program, the client briefed me on the culture and made a strong point that most of the leaders in the room would be introverts. She warned me to be very specific in my questions and to not expect an easy, open dialogue. At this point in my facilitation journey, I was sure she was being overly careful, and I was also quite confident that my big ole extraverted self could draw them out.
So, on the opening session of the program, I started with the opening we had planned, and then I winged it with a broad question. My intention was to send the message that it’s ok to talk, and that we would have a lot of back and forth dialogue. Also, some part of me did not believe Judy’s assessment.
I asked my question and then waited for someone to answer. And waited. And waited. The faces staring back at me were flat.
It was almost as if 30 people were colluding to make Lynn squirm.
My calm inner voice was nowhere to be heard. Instead, Ms. Sports Mom showed up and started screaming: “Didn’t Judy warn you? You totally blew it. Not only are these people not going to talk to you, Judy is going to fire you. And you deserve it.” I was so busy trying to tune out Ms. Sports Mom, I could barely pay attention to what was happening in the room.
Ever heard the phrase “Looks like a deer in the headlights.”? Yeah, that was me. I had entered “Splitsville”, that place where my body was in the room but the rest of me was running for cover.
To make matters worse, I was aware that I was blowing it and I was frozen and that the inner dialogue was not helping. Ms. Sports Mom got even louder, screaming “helpful” words at me.
Then I remembered a performance practice taught by one of my first facilitation coaches. Just feel your feet. Get grounded. Breathe.
Ms Sports Mom faded into the background and I was able to ask a follow up question. The part of me that was running came back to presence. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but I acknowledged the silence. I asked a different question and someone answered. Then I picked up the easel chart marker and started writing as more and more people started talking. The ice was broken and the real Lynn showed up for most of the rest of the 3 day program.
I went on to teach that program for several years, with hundreds of people going through it. During our debrief at the end of that first day, Judy acknowledged my mis-step and shared her worry. She also recognized my recovery. Learning to perform under pressure, especially to recover under pressure, was one of the core teachings we eventually brought to the leaders of her company.
Just today, I was on the phone with a client who was sharing her business case for a huge decision that her company is making. As I listened, the words sounded ok, but her tone sounded shrill and even desperate. When I mentioned that, she said she wasn’t comfortable with the words. And as she was speaking, she knew she didn’t like the words coming out of her mouth. So, her tone became ineffective. Her own inner “Sports Mom” had started pulling her into “Splitsville”. The rest of our session focused on how to bring her best thinking to the table under pressure – even if Ms. Sports Mom decided to show up.
For pretty much all of us, the way we talk to ourselves is much crueler than we would ever speak to someone else.
Here’s the thing: We all have a point where the pressure is greater than our ability to handle it. It’s up to us to keep practicing in order to build our capacity to keep showing up, even as the pressure increases.
What are the ways you speak to yourself? What does your inner “Sports Mom” say to try to help you? What do you say to bring yourself back from “Splitsville?” What types of pressure keep you from performing at your best? How are you developing your practices to perform under pressure?
If you are anything like me, the New Year rolls around and you are excited for new beginnings, and maybe a little depressed about what you didn’t get done in the last year. Whatever great intention you set for yourself last January is waaaaaay back there in the rear view mirror. All year long, things kept coming at you at a breakneck pace and you dropped a few balls along the way. For so many of us, it’s the dropped balls that we remember. Isn’t it lovely how those dropped balls shine so much brighter than all the good things you did?
We can accomplish a thousand great things, and it’s that one mistake that will eat us alive.
Failure is a funny thing. It can grip us in its claws, and make us feel horrible. We would do anything NOT to feel like a failure. So, what do we do? We beat ourselves up. We avoid taking risks. We play small. Our answer to failure is punishment. As if somehow, once we pay our penance, all is well.
At the end of one of my programs last year, a participant pulled me aside and “confessed” that his biggest fear was of failure. He spoke in a hushed tone, making sure none of his colleagues were in earshot. He said his normal pattern is to cover up his mistakes and once they are discovered, he goes on the attack to deflect criticism. When we dug a little deeper, it was clear that he is a competent person who is making his normal share of mistakes. The mistakes are not the problem. How he sees them is causing him all kinds of grief.
I sooooo wanted to have a quick answer for him to turn all this around. But I’ve been there. It’s not that straightforward. In my article The Secret to Better, I share some of the inner thoughts I have carried that block my ability to perform or to learn.
Mistakes are not the end of the world. They are a sign that you are learning.
It’s a daily practice to monitor my thoughts and keep my thoughts on the “improving” track instead of the “proving” track.
We all have an inner world that informs our outer world. It’s the inner game that separates those that perform well under pressure from those that get in their own way. (Some call this the mental game, but I argue it’s mind, body and emotion.) Nobody has this mastered – just look at some of the top executives and athletes that have reached the top only to fall. It is a lifelong journey to develop the inner tools to overcome the thoughts created by those burning dropped balls, even under great pressure.
So, this year, instead of making a New Year’s resolution or just planning the year ahead, I did a Prior Year Review. (Got the idea from Tim Ferriss, who does a great job of breaking down what creates world class performance.) The core outcome for me was that could see the patterns of activities, people and commitments that helped me be at my best. When I am clear on keeping these as priorities in my life, everything I do is more infused with genuine caring and love.
Here’s my list:
Looking at all the good things of the year certainly dimmed the glow of those dropped balls. One of the exercises I often give clients is to write down all the positive things they have done for a period of time. The kind of answers that come up usually shock them – they discover they are doing a LOT more than they remembered.
What activities give you the leverage to do more with less time? What are all the good things you accomplished in 2018? What are you most proud of? Where are you doing things that totally drain you, just because you should? For obligations that you must do, in what ways can you be grateful? What practices and habits keep you at your best?
Inspiring new ways to look at learning, growth, and reinvention, whether in leadership, athletics, art or life.
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