Trust Your Arms – You Can Reach Further Than You Think

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Photo by Jeremy Perkins on Unsplash

One of the hardest, most growth-inducing professional experiences I’ve ever had was taking on a leadership assignment that I did not believe I could do. Now, you’re probably wondering, why would you take it on if you were convinced that you would fail? Well, the honest answer is I said no twice. The third time I was asked, it was more of a “you have to do this” kind of request. So I hunkered down and got to work, but not without a whole lot of self-doubt, angst and worry. It was an exhausting, but ultimately very successful assignment.

It would be a few years later that I would come across this quote on the Be Leaderly website from Sara Sperling, a human resource leader and executive coach.

When people trust in you and believe that you will be good at something. Trust what they see.

The truth of this quote seems so obvious. If I’d been able to put my own self-doubts aside back when I took the assignment and been able to give over a little more of myself to the belief that my boss trusted me and knew I was going to do a good job, I could have been a bit more relaxed and had more fun doing work that I was capable of and good at.

But what’s the difference between someone seeing something true that you just aren’t able to see and someone blowing sunshine to get what they want? I think it’s also about trust. Can you trust the source? Is what they are saying only going to benefit them? If you can trust the source and trust their intentions, then do what Sara Sperling says, “Trust what they see.”

Fast-forward several years to today…

My little family of three is a name-generating factory! We name everything!

  • Our automobiles…Graziela, Ovolicious, Cam Wagon, Tidy
  • My son’s stuffed animals…Garcia, Lil Jackie, Davis Bacon (shout out to my PrOhana!)
  • Neighborhood stray cats…Brownie, Calico, Nutmeg

So it should be no surprise that we also have nicknames for each other. One my husband gave me years ago was Long-Arms McCoy. Apparently I have long arms. Not something I really knew about myself.

Recently, while on the tennis court, my husband encouraged me by saying, “Trust your arms! You can reach further than you think.” I took Sara Sperling’s advice with my next shot and instead of crowding in my body to hit the ball, I let my long arms do more of the work. Turns out, my arms are longer and can reach further than I believed.

I Can Get to the Ball! (Part 2)

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Photo by Miguel Surban

In further pondering yesterday’s entry on what mental habits it takes to improve performance, it occurred to me that our self-concept can have a big impact.

Self-concept is a psychological term for the “idea of the self constructed from the beliefs one holds about oneself and the responses of others” or so says Google.

 

“I’m not going to get to the ball.” This was the thought that I identified as being problematic in my goal to improve my tennis performance. This thought was constructed over time based on beliefs I have about myself and the responses I’ve gotten from others…my self-concept.

It made me wonder what beliefs had helped author the thought “I’m not going to get to the ball.” What version of me, what version of my self-concept, was that tied to?

  • Was it the one that felt intimidated by my leaner more athletic classmates in middle school that helped foster a belief that I’m not designed for sports? It’s simply not my thing.
  • Was it the one that had taken tennis lessons as a newlywed and did okay, but never quite progressed in my abilities that helped encourage the belief that I’m okay as a beginner, but mastery is not really possible.
  • Was it the one that was a mother of a four-year old son that wanted to introduce tennis to her energetic boy, but found it hard to move on the court with all that extra weight she was carrying around that further solidified the belief that I’m going to be overweight all of my life?
  • Was it the one that started playing tennis again after losing 60+ pounds, had more energy and greater movement and flexibility and could sense the beginnings of a belief that I really could have a strong and capable body to go with my strong and capable mind?

The truth was, it was a total mashup of all of those versions of me. It was also true that only the last one was a self-concept that energized and motivated me. The last one was the only one that truly served me well.

Sigh…So I find I’m back in familiar territory in realizing that part of the process for improving performance, on the court, as a parent, in the office, or just about anywhere in life means being willing to let go. Let go, not only of people, places and things, but also old and outdated concepts of myself.

What version of ourselves do we have to hug, say thank you for your service and ever so kindly and gently show the door in order to invite in a concept that serves the life we want to live now? It’s a challenging question, but one worth asking and answering on a regular basis.

I Can Get to the Ball! (Part 1)

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Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

Thoughts are things.

That can be a powerful statement. It’s also one that can elicit lots of debate. How can thoughts be things? Things are things! Over the years, I’ve had my own ambivalence about this statement, but this past week, I’ve become a firm believer in the truth of the statement.

My husband is a fantastic and dedicated tennis player. He genuinely loves the sport and I’ve started my own little love affair with it too. It’s both a mentally and physically engaging game that, as I’ve gotten more adept at playing, I’ve learned just how much mental work goes into being a good player.

This past Thursday, my husband was drilling me on approach shots by having me get closer to the net to prepare for volleys. One of the first lessons I learned in tennis is to keep my feet moving, so I can be ready to move to wherever the ball is going. I was bouncing back and forth on the balls of my feet, preparing for quick movement in any direction.

Even with the bouncing, a sense of readiness and the mantra “Eye on the ball.” playing in my head, I was not reaching the ball in time. The ball would cross over the net, land right in the service box and I would be a few beats late, missing my shot. It definitely wasn’t a case of a shot coming in too fast for me since my husband was feeding me balls he knew I could hit to help me get some good practice. So what was going on?

I took a water break and did what I’ve been learning to do more of…check my thoughts. What was going through my head right before I moved to hit the ball. I was definitely saying “Eye on the ball,” but there was something else that was coming quickly after that helpful thought.

I took a sharp breath in when I realized what it was. Right before I would spring my muscles into action in the direction of the ball, I told myself, “I’m not going to get to the ball.”

This is how it played out…

Ball coming over the net…”Eye on the ball. I’m not going to get to the ball.”
Ball coming over the net…”Eye on the ball. I’m not going to get to the ball.”
Ball coming over the net…”Eye on the ball. I’m not going to get to the ball.”

I was creating a powerful little bubble of self-doubt that I had to first pop before my body would move in the direction I wanted to go.  I was mentally rehearsing to miss the ball and I was doing an awesome job of it because I was missing that darn ball 85% of the time.

My thoughts were not helping me. With my last swig of water before returning to the court, I decided that I would replace “I’m not going to get to the ball” with “I can get to the ball.”

So now it played out like this…

Ball coming over the net…”Eye on the ball. I can get to the ball.”
Ball coming over the net…”Eye on the ball. I can get to the ball.”
Ball coming over the net…”Eye on the ball. I can get to the ball.”

Did I make it to the ball every time? No. Did I make it to the ball more than before? Heck yes! I was getting myself to the ball at least 75% of the time.

For me the debate is over. Thoughts really are things. They create actual physical, observable changes in my life. Last Thursday morning, my thoughts created the physical impact of my tennis racquet hitting the ball. This morning, they are creating the clickety-clack typing of this blog entry. It makes me wonder what other thoughts in my life are creating things I don’t want and how can I change them?

Did You Do It on Purpose? – YES!

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

My husband and I have been attending a monthly parenting class that is part of our commitment to supporting our son in his new school. We took our second class a few weekends ago and once again, I left wishing I had been able to have these courses sooner in my journey as a parent.

My biggest takeaway so far has been a parenting paradigm that proposes there are some common and polarizing parenting styles that we can all fall into.

At one end is the Permissive Style and it is what it sounds like. It’s a style that can be overly indulgent and resistant to boundaries and routines. At the other end is the Authoritarian Style. This style can be very controlling and harsh with lots of rules and punishments. Right in the middle of these two opposite styles is the Ambivalent Style that is neither one or the other. And off to the side somewhere is the Negligent or Neglectful Style.

When solo-parenting, swinging between Permissive and Authoritarian is very common and often being overly permissive or overly authoritarian in a particular situation can cause your parenting behavior to swing to the other style after some time.

Parents as a team can also polarize against each other on this spectrum. A sort of good cop/bad cop of parenting if you will. My husband and I looked at each other knowingly during this part of the discussion as we completely recognized this happening with us at various times when working with our son.

None of these styles are ideal and tend to create a lot of turmoil and drama in a family. The goal, the facilitator told us, is to have a Deliberate Style. This is the thoughtful, considered and reflective style of parenting that is responsive, but not reactive. It’s the style with a plan or in cases where plans haven’t been determined, it’s the style with guiding principles and evidence at it’s steady center.

I want to be deliberate, but in a bigger, wider sense. I want to be a deliberate human. I want to be a thoughtful, considered and reflective parent, spouse, sibling, friend, co-worker and Earth resider. This also extends to my own internal dialogue and to the stories I create and tell about my life as it is being lived. I want to be deliberate.

And so I’m challenging myself to…

  • Breathe more before I speak
  • Smile more to encourage joy to make its way from the inside to the outside and back again
  • Listen more to what others say – really listen not just hear
  • Reach out more to others to give and get support
  • Hear what my body is telling me – slow down, speed up, rest, run, work, play more tennis
  • Sit with uncomfortable emotions

Deliberate is not a synonym for safe. You can be thoughtful, considered and reflective about risks just as much as you can be about day-to-day recurring activities. Deliberate is a method for going about your life. I want to be deliberate.

Bibbidi – Bobbidi – Wait a Second!

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We’ve got ourselves a magical mashup here –  Cinderella witches meet Harry Potter.

In my last post, I talked about overcoming fear by expanding our comfort zones and using our past experiences to give us strength in the present moment. I talked about how fear can be seen as a step in the process and a very astute reader noted “sometimes fear is also at step 5, 18 and 53! But the next step is always worth it.”

That is so true! And this got me thinking a bit deeper about what it takes to actually make it through the fear in that process. There is a part of me that really wants it to be as simple as the now famous Nike slogan…Just Do It! And like the iconic swoosh on the shoe, the “it” is fleeting and fast and DONE! Or like the witches in Disney’s Cinderella as they transform pumpkins into carriages and mice into horses…Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo!

Oh, how wonderful that would be. Give me a pair of good walking shoes (size 8 with an extra wide toe box thank you very much!) and a wand and watch out world! I’d bibbidi-bobbidi-boo the hell out of my fears.

And yet the word process says it all. It’s not a zap or a bobbidi-boo or a swoosh that gets the job done. It’s a way forward that is uniquely suited to the goal you’ve set for yourself. The internet says, process is defined as a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end. So when I think about the step in the process for overcoming fear, two critical resources come to mind…support and accountability.

Getting myself from “I’m never going to drive in Manila” to ”Look at me, I’m driving in Manila!” took both of these resources.

SUPPORT  There’s a romance to going it alone. We love the one-person-winning-against-all-odds stories. The movie is titled Rocky, not Rocky and Adrian and His Trainer Mickey. And yet could Rocky have done what he did without Adrian and his trainer Mickey? I don’t think so. I say, seek support early and often in the process. My husband was a great supporter with my driving. He knew I wanted to drive and he was there to give me encouragement and to physically be in the truck with me the first few times I ventured out. I also let my Bright Line Eating mastermind group know that I was thinking about driving and got some perspectives and encouragement from them.

ACCOUNTABILITY  To get this right, it’s useful if you have a little bit of self-knowledge in your back pocket. Writer and podcaster Gretchen Rubin has a great quiz that helps you identify how you respond to internal and external expectations and it places you within a framework she has created called the Four Tendencies. Internal expectations are the ones you put on yourself and external are the ones that others put upon you. Knowing this about yourself can help you figure out how to create accountability that works for you.

On her framework, I’m an Obliger which means I meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations that I impose on myself. That explains why I’ll get up at 5:00AM to meet a friend for a walk, but struggle to publish out this blog post each week despite the fact that I really want to do it. So for me to simply set a goal of “driving in Manila” with an expectation that my own wish and desire to achieve it would make it happen might have been a bit iffy. To really ensure that I accomplished this, I needed to create some forms of outer expectation that I felt accountable to. I did this by picking a start-driving-date and putting it on my calendar and by telling my husband about this date. Two external accountability agents (my calendar and my husband) knew about my goal.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is still that moment when you gotta bibbidi-bobbidi-boo and “Just do it!” but that moment is easier to arrive at and has less stress and anxiety when you get support and create the right accountability environment for who you are and how you operate. I would love to see a t-shirt with “Get Support & Create Accountability” emblazoned on the front with “Early and Often” on the back. It’s not very catchy, but it’s what works!

Pop Culture Note: Even the bibbidi-bobbidi-boo of Disney’s Cinderella is more complicated when you look a little closer. Disney has a way of making everything magical and clean and happily ever after, but that’s really just marketing getting their hands on the Brothers Grimm version of the story.  I never much took to the pretty princess version of stories and always preferred the grittier, darker origin tales that came out of folktales of the past. That might also explain why my son likes Mysteries of the Museum and Forensic Files on television over traditional kids programming.

Driving the Fears Away

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We arrived in Manila early on a Friday evening. Our plane touched down around 6:00 PM, and by the time we had made it out of customs, got our luggage and found the hired van that would transport us to our Airbnb, it was already dark outside. I could feel the heat and the thickness of the air as we moved from the air conditioned waiting area to the van. It felt similar to when I landed in Hawaii back in 1991, but hotter, more humid and no plumeria fragrance in the air.

The only thing I could really see as we slowly inched our way from the airport to our accommodations was the long line of taillights on the skyway. I had heard about the traffic in Manila and from what I’ve learned so far, Friday night traffic is some of the worst. But really it felt like any other big city with a lot of traffic. Neat lines of slow moving cars inching forward on their way to their destinations. What I would find out the next day, was that the darkness hid the orchestrated chaos of how traffic flows here.

The next morning, we took a Grab, the Philippines’ version of Uber, to a local coffee shop for breakfast. Even though it was early and it was a Saturday, I began to see what it meant to drive in Manila. Yes, there were lanes and signage, but what really seemed to be the rule of the road, was do whatever you needed to do to get where you needed to go without hitting anything or anyone. That last part is important.

It was exhilarating to watch our Grab driver maneuver through intersections that had no discernible traffic lights for guidance. He would weave in and around jeepneys, tricycles and pedestrians, coming within six or so inches of other cars. I had been warned that driving in Manila was not like driving in the United States and that warning was spot on.

My first two weeks here, I distinctly remember telling many friends back in the states that I would “never drive here!” And I sincerely believed those words coming out of my mouth. It seemed like a true improbability. If I were a betting woman, I would have put money that Carol Surban would not be behind the wheel of a large automobile in Manila. It was around this time that a good and wise friend, who has lived in many different countries and cities in the world, reminded me that things we find so completely out of our current comfort zone have a way of edging their way in given time and exposure.

That observation made me remember a talk I heard by the inspirational Carla Harris at the Global Institute for Leadership Development conference last year in California. She said that when you face something you are afraid of, look to your past. In your past you will surely find times when you have faced something similar and found a way through it. Take strength and confidence from what you’ve done before and apply it to what is in front of you right now.

It resonated with me at the conference and it really resonated with me as I began to realize that I really would need to drive in Manila. I think each one of us, whether we are 25 or a newly minted 45 like myself, has had to look self-doubt and fear straight on and resolve to do it anyway, whatever it is. Those times from your past are a goldmine of encouragement and perspective making for current challenges and fears.

When I thought about driving in Manila with these two new ideas along for the ride (comfort zones naturally expand over time and my past success could give me the courage to take on a present challenge), I started to think it was possible that I could do it.

As the weeks wore on and I observed and learned more and more about how driving worked here, my comfort zone did naturally expand to include the notion of driving. And when fear rose up, as it did quite a few times before I actually got behind the wheel, I would remember taking on other challenges from my past and the pride and satisfaction I gained from doing the hard thing.

One memory in particular really bolstered me. It was the summer of 2011 and the company I worked for was gearing up for a big annual project. The regular project manager was going to be out on maternity leave during most of the project and I had been identified as a good replacement for her as I knew the project well and had shown myself to excel at project management and many aspects of the project overall.

My boss presented the opportunity to me and I immediately said no. I was gripped by a fear of failure and overwhelm at the prospect of managing a project that big. He asked a few more times before it became clear that it was no longer a request. Fear of failure and really fear of not being perfect (that’s a topic for another blog post) held me tightly for at least a week before I started to engage in the work. I made timelines. I created project task lists with accountabilities assigned. I identified resource gaps. Once I got into the flow of doing the work, the work got done. I made mistakes along the way, but the project was a success and it became one of my career touchstones for pride, accomplishment and growth. I also learned a great deal about leading and managing on that project, but I think the biggest lesson was learning that fear alone is never a good reason to opt out of a challenge.

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Fear, really, is the first and most natural response for a lot of us endeavoring to do something new, something different. If we can recognize that it’s just step one in a process, then we can move onto step two and step three and suddenly find ourselves making a left hand turn in an intersection that has eight lanes of traffic leading into it with no stop lights and no traffic guards.

It’s worth remembering that our comfort zone is an evolving place that we control by our willingness to engage in new things, observe, learn from others and ultimately by being willing to try when there is no guarantee of success.

The same wise friend that reminded me about our changing comfort zones, often refers to the “new norm.” What starts out scary, exciting and unimaginable can over time turn into your new norm. Driving in Manila isn’t quite my new norm yet, but I’m on my way to making it that.

Pop Culture Note: As I wrote the sentence, “If I were a betting woman, I would have put money that Carol Surban would not be behind the wheel of a large automobile in Manila.” something musical clicked in my brain. This was from a song! But what song? And then it hit me…Once in a Lifetime by The Talking Heads. The lyrics go like this…

And you may find yourself
Living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself
In another part of the world
And you may find yourself
Behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house
With a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, well
How did I get here?

That’s probably about the most perfect song to have popped into my head at that moment. Indeed, how did I get here! No matter, I’m here now and I’m driving our big blue truck to the next stop….Letting the days go by…Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground…

Honey, I’m Home!

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Moving to a new country filled with new sights, sounds, customs and norms has been equal parts exhilarating, exhausting, amusing and stressful. Words you will notice I am not using are relaxing, mellow, familiar and comfortable. Chill was not the order I placed with the universe when I said, “Let’s move to Manila.”

For the past month, my brain has been in a pretty steady state of decision fatigue. Where will we live? What kind of automobile should we buy? Where can I buy groceries? Where can we eat that will have menu items that don’t contain flour or sugar? How do you make a left hand turn in a busy intersection that doesn’t have stoplights? And my favorite that came out of my eight year old son’s mouth, “Mom, how do you flush the toilet?”

This stream, or should I say raging river, of thoughts and decisions runs alongside a desire for the familiar, for the centering thoughts and experiences that can help me feel at home with myself even if I haven’t yet figured out how to feel at home in this place.

The first Airbnb we stayed in had two mugs and a few smaller teacups in it’s assortment of kitchenware for us to use. My first act of retrieving my sense of home was to claim the mug that felt comfortable in my hands and made me happy to use it each day. It was a dark gray Dean & Deluca mug that carried with it memories of a day trip we took through California wine country several years ago. We stopped at a large, warehouse size Dean and Deluca and shopped for some cheese and a chocolate babka. I don’t eat flour and sugar anymore, but I still remember how delicious that chocolate babka was.

From day one, that mug was my mug. It could be used for hot water with calamansi, hot tea and of course coffee. Oh what would I do without coffee?!

Our imagination gets captured with grand sweeping symbolic acts, but to me, the small quiet acts we perform day in and day out are what define and shape us as we make our way through our lives. We need big sweeping acts sometimes to clear out the dust and set our course anew, but we also need people, practices and sometimes possessions that make us feel perfectly fine right where we are.

 

Pop Culture Note: Where did a girl born and raised in New Mexico and matured in Hawaii learn about a chocolate babka you ask? Seinfeld of course! The Dinner Party episode featured a chocolate and then a cinnamon babka in its meandering or should I say Seinfeldian plot. This was also the episode that used the simple black and white cookie to unpack race relations. Oh Seinfeld…