I love making progress. When I was an avid tennis player, I wanted to move from being rated a 3.5 to 4.0. In my various jobs, I always wanted the next promotion or big assignment. On the potter’s wheel, I’ve pushed to create ever taller forms. In water skiing, I’ve been on a multi-year quest to speed up the boat and shorten the rope.
In my mind, progress tends to involve the next measurable milestone much more than cultivating deep mastery.
While I appreciate mastery as a concept or theory, actually putting it into practice has been something I have avoided in order to achieve my beloved “progress.” To me, mastery is boring. Why? Because it involves the subtleties of doing the same thing over and over, improving slowly and carefully, filling in the gaps that are easily glossed over with my need for speed.
This fall, I had an experience that has wakened me to the a different need: rather than move on, I need to move deeper. It was revealed with the one-two punch of falling off a horse (landing me in the hospital) and then having to take several months off water skiing right after I had achieved a previously unattainable milestone. Having to sit still in my recovery gave me to time to reflect.
My extreme lack of mastery contributed to the fall from the horse. While I had many important takeaways from that experience, perhaps the most profound was this:
Knowing how to stop a horse in theory does NOT translate to embodying the energy, mindset and physical actions to stop a horse that would rather run.
When it came time to put my theory into practice, all the knowledge in the world meant nothing. Without having practiced and learned to connect my knowledge to real skill, at the moment of truth all I could do was hold on and hope for the best. In this case, I was wearing a helmet and went down on relatively soft ground. It could have been much, much worse.
I had a good part of the winter to reflect as I healed on the difference between knowledge and skill and mastery. I realized that in many areas of my life, I have substituted knowledge for real skill. And nowhere have I undertaken the journey of mastery. As a result, I end up holding on and hoping for the best. When my skills fall short, the consequences are not usually as severe – so I’ve gotten away with it – with consequences.
When it was time to get back on the water ski, I started by slowing the boat down a little bit. Of course, this went against everything I typically do, which is try to make progress (even though in water skiing my progress is usually baby steps.) A wonderful thing happened. First, I could still ski! This is an intense sport and anytime you come back from a long time off, there is this question: Can I still do it? Second, I moved deeper. In this case, moving deeper meant that I was able to feel things at the slower speed that I couldn’t before. My coach said this: “I’m not trying to say that it was good that you got injured – but it’s giving you a chance to build a better skiing foundation than you had before.”
In that moment, I realized it was time to move deeper.
So I am. Moving deeper that is.
I’m slowing down and trading progress for depth. Rather than claiming my prize of achieving the goal, I’m deliberately practicing the actions that lead to the goal. Moment by moment, I’m moving deeper.
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By: Lynn Carnes
It’s that time of year again – when we join the gym, clean closets, start a new diet, set big goals, and make all kinds of promises to do better in the coming year.
According to U. S. News, 80% of our resolutions will fail before February. Then we get to feel bad, like we have failed.
Why do we keep doing this to ourselves? More importantly, is true change even possible?
Yes. Change is possible. IF you can get over your inertia. This is a bigger deal than we often realize, because inertia feels like “normal”. It doesn’t seem like anything to worry about.
When we try something new, we quickly get in a groove and pretty soon we are on a plateau or fall back to our old ways. Inertia takes something that’s new and novel and turns it into a usual routine full of comfort.
Going through the motions won’t get you there – wherever your “there” is. It takes energy to overcome inertia. Otherwise, we get stuck and it’s hard to move us without something strong to jerk us to reality.
Flying home this Christmas, we boarded our flight early and happily settled into our pretty good aisle seats. The captain came on and said maintenance was fixing a little problem with a valve and we would be out of there in 10 minutes. No big deal. Then the airline system called to say the new departure time was 10:35 (for a 10:20 flight) Again, no big deal. Next call said 11:15. Next call said 11:50. Then 12:30. At this point, the flight attendants said we could wait in the boarding area if we took all of our stuff. Many people packed up and moved. Not me. My brain had already decided it was “no big deal.”
Inertia was fully settled into my entire being.
I had my headset on, my computer in my lap and the thought of packing up and gathering my bags was just too much. Waiting an hour (by that point) didn’t seem so bad. So we sat. (Not sure if my family appreciated this.)
Until the next call. 4:30. What?!?!?! It was like a cattle prod hit my seat.
We got ourselves off that plane fast – and to the counter where we were lucky enough to be able to rebook on a 3:30. Something we might have never considered before the 4:30 change. Oh, and the original flight was cancelled at about 3:00. We would have been there for another day if we hadn’t rebooked.
Inertia is the normal state of things. Even as the world around us is changing ever faster, we are inclined to stay the same.
In his TED talk, Adul Gawande talks about how he eventually developed inertia (my word) in his medical practice. After asking another physician to observe him with the express intention of helping him be better, he started improving again-after going through some discomfort.
It takes energy to move something. It takes big energy to move big things. Summoning that energy is not usually comfortable. That’s why changing by yourself is incredibly difficult.
It helps to have that wake up call – otherwise, you could be stuck here for a long time.
So how do you get beyond New Year’s resolutions? Is change really possible? Yes. And it takes energy, work, commitment, and often some help.
One of the most useful exercises I have found for myself is based on the book Immunity to Change by Bob Kegan and Lisa Lahey. I’ve created a journaling exercise based on the core exercise in the book.
I’m going to warn you though – this exercise requires you to look at stuff about yourself that you probably have conveniently put on the back burner. In fact, it will make you downright uncomfortable if you work through it honestly – and that’s why it works so well.
You can download it here.
This exercise has helped me break through inertia many times in my life. It’s not easy and it requires you to look at your own beliefs in ways that are going to make you uncomfortable. That’s when you know you are breaking through.
Done with intention, it’s like a secret sauce for true change.
If you like it, please share this blog with your colleagues and friends. And let me know how it goes! Just click the share button on top left of this blog!
Plus, if you get stuck, I’ve got one super important trick to help you stay on track. Stay tuned or if you can’t wait, hit me up in the comments and I will share it with you.
Feel free to share it with your colleagues and friends. And let me know how it goes!
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Note: This blog post was originally published as a bonus chapter in my book “The Power of Positive Intent: An Inspired Way to Deal with Change in Any Business.”
￼I ended my TEDx talk with this sentence: “You can become the co-writer of an entirely new story for your life.” If you are looking for a new source of power in your life, look no further than the truth of this sentence. Now for the difficult part: implementing it in your daily life.
Master your stories and you virtually remove the ability of others to get to you.
Notice, I said “your stories”, not “the story.” Mastering your stories is super challenging, because most of the time, our story is invisible to us, hidden in the background informing what we see, hear and feel.
We don’t realize that we are telling ourselves a story about a situation. We just assume we see the whole truth and nothing but the truth, when in reality, we have just a few teeny data points.
Our stories determine how we act in any given situation. Because our stories are so automatic, we rarely notice that they are stories instead of facts. Our story is certainly not “the story”.
Those stories create a cascading effect. When you choose negative stories, filled with inferences about how someone is mistreating you or disrespecting you, or how your employees don’t know what they are doing or the board member is out to get you, you set certain things in motion.
These kinds of scenarios play out every day in business:
Epictetus, the philosopher from Rome said: “He was sent to prison. But the observation ‘he has suffered evil,’ is an addition coming from you.”
The “addition coming from you” refers to the stories we tell about why things happen.
Our stories are fertile ground for learning about ourselves and they are the pivot point for assuming positive intent.
Any intent that we assume on another person’s actions is based on a story that we are making up. We simply cannot know all the facts. And as you saw in Chapter 7, even a “Fighting Francis” can be disarmed by sticking with the facts and not adding fuel to the fire. (Note: You can download the whole here.)
Have you ever had someone not answer an email and you start telling yourself stories about why that is?
Why is all of this so important?
Your stories are a window into YOUR internal operating rules and beliefs.
They reflect a compilation of your victories and defeats, your happy moments and your despair. They also create the roadmap for how you write the story for your life, and when you couple the tendency of the survival brain to see the worst in everything, your hidden stories create negative outcomes.
I’ve hurt myself more times than I can count by telling the wrong story.
I had a simple, funny and embarrassing incident recently with my husband and the bottle of soy sauce. He brought home some chicken fried rice from his favorite Chinese restaurant. The day he brought it home, he made a point of asking if we had soy sauce as he opened the refrigerator looking for it. Before I could answer, he held up a full bottle and said, “Never mind – we have a brand-new bottle.” Strike that one from the grocery list. I thought, “If I decide to make the dish needing a soy sauce marinade later in the week, we are covered.”
The next morning, he had finished his breakfast before I came into the kitchen. The first thing I noticed on the counter was an empty bottle of soy sauce. Now, let me tell you – I don’t think of soy sauce as a condiment for anything involving breakfast. So, I had to ask, “What happened to all the soy sauce?” My incredulousness touched his impish button, so with a twinkle in his eye, he said “I used it all.”
Now my crazy self-talk started. I was thinking “How could he have used a whole bottle? What is he cooking that might need a WHOLE BOTTLE of soy sauce? What about me – what if I need soy sauce? How am I going to make my dish? He is making more work for me. Is he trying to be wasteful on purpose?” This thoughts came one after the other, at a speed that would get me arrested for going double the speed limit.
The stories I started making up were epic. One involved my husband suddenly deciding to cook and something delicious was marinating in the fridge as we spoke. Another involved him emptying the bottle into another container just so he could mess with me. The most ridiculous involved him actually eating the whole bottle on a single serving of rice. The more stories I made up, the more my mind closed in on finding an explanation for how a full bottle of soy sauce was now empty.
I wish I could tell you how funny this all was – but I can’t.
I actually got quite annoyed when he refused to explain the empty bottle to me. My wise husband stopped the nonsense by opening the door and pulling out the still full bottle of soy sauce. “I found another one that was almost empty and decided to use that one first. You leapt.”
What a simple explanation! It never occurred to me that this might be a different bottle. Now I felt relieved and embarrassed. Relieved that there was a good explanation and embarrassed because I let my mind run away with making up stories. Again. I leapt.
The stories we make up are a significant barrier to assuming positive intent. Our minds love to find a reason for things. In the absence of a full explanation, we will fill in the blanks and not even realize we are doing it.
Artists use this tendency to leave something to the imagination in their work, knowing that the brain will fill in details, often in a way that is pleasing to the viewer. Writers do the same – often the passages that set up a gripping scene and stop short of giving every detail are the ones that we enjoy the most.
We have the same power to generate more empowering stories in our day to day lives. However, our survival brain, personal history and context tend to send our stories in the “OMG, I’m about to get screwed!” direction. Because it happens so fast and is so reflexive, we take those stories for true. We often don’t consider that something else might be going on.
Understanding the stories we make up is incredibly fertile ground for developing deep self-awareness – transformative awareness of our own personal patterns, habits and operating rules.
These patterns, habits and rules operate in the background, taking over our decisions without us even being aware of it. Your mind is lovingly offering you an “easy button” to create shortcuts that make your thinking automatic. Ever feel like you just keep doing the same thing over and over again? That’s your background operating system at work, making life “easy” for you. The stories you make up are not based on the facts of the situation. They are based on your personal filters much more than on what is really happening.
I will say this. I find it really hard work – hard personal work – to make up a better story. With the help of my coaches over the years, I’ve learned more about myself by learning to assume positive intent than almost any other practice that I have implemented. (Meditation is another regular practice I have found extremely useful.)
In some ways, it’s more fun to act on those negative stories, filled with ill-informed assumptions about how others feel and think. More often than I can count, I have set off a cascade of unwanted consequences, which predictably enough, actually magnifies the negative stories.
When you watch my TEDx talk, you will hear the stories of the ways those other stories negatively impacted me in my career, sidelined my goals, isolated me from others and left me feeling pretty angry at myself and the world around me.
My negative stories caused me to co-write a story for my life that did not work very well at all.
Alternatively, when you assume a position of positive intent, you set a completely different set of cascading possibilities into motion. When you become aware of the stories you tell yourself, and decide to change those stories, you inspire a new direction for your life and create true strength in yourself.
The first step in learning to change the story is to start with a question or two. Rather than leaping to a conclusion, take a step back and gather more data.
Here are some questions that you can ask someone who is acting in inexplicable ways:
At a minimum, it’s useful when you are making up stories about why something is happening to ask yourself this question: “What would explain this behavior that also fits the facts of the situation?”
Make a note of that question, highlight it, write it down. Because that question will help you make up a better story on which to act and can set things off in a much more productive direction.
The second step is the beginning move of a deep journey of self-discovery. You do not have to tell the stories that you have been telling – you can change the stories.
Assuming positive intent is that simple, pivotal action that empowers you to become aware of your own motivations, hurts, patterns and operating rules. When you can’t assume positive intent by telling a better story, it’s because of something operating in you that is NOT YOU. It’s an old story that you adopted. It can be changed.
Imagine being the master of your stories. You don’t have to “buy” this idea – instead, rent it for a while and experiment for yourself.
The third step is to practice, practice and practice some more. When you get stuck, ask for help.
Learning to tell a new story has changed the trajectory of my life. It can change yours too.
With practice-and sometimes the support of a friend or coach- you can truly become the co-writer of a new story for your life.
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