Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda - Escaping the 'What If' Trap
Dogs are cool, aren’t they? They’re always happy to see you, never judge you, and think all your weird idiosyncrasies are just normal behavior. They’re just as happy with a new bone wrapped up and given as a present as they are with a tiny table scrap. And they’re excited when you return home regardless of whether you went shopping for five hours or walked out to the mailbox to grab the mail. They are experts in one skill we all need to become masters at, staying present.
Most people are consumed by thoughts of ‘what if’. What if I would’ve taken that job in San Francisco? I could’ve … What if I would’ve gotten that promotion? … I should be the one with that new corner office. What if he would’ve just said no … we would be so happy still.
Maybe. Maybe not.
And the more time you spend having the thoughts above, the more my bet leans towards maybe not.
Why Should We Care?
Well, one reason we should all care is because life is only lived in the present. I’m sure you’ve heard it hundreds of times - you can’t do anything about the past, it already happened; and you can’t do anything about the future, it hasn’t happened yet; the only thing you can control is the now - the present. Easy to say, but very very difficult to consistently do. But before we get into a few ways to be more present, let’s talk about why it’s such an important habit to develop.
Almost all of our negative emotions and feelings are generated in our time spent dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Think about it: anger - a feeling based on past frustration; fear - a feeling based on future concerns; sadness - a feeling based in past experiences; apathy - a feeling based on the uselessness of future actions. None of these emotions are present-centered because they don’t exist in the moment. The moment is angry, fearful, sad, or apathetic. The moment is just the moment. It just is.
Developing some habits around creating and maintaining the self-awareness to stay present is essential in leadership. Of course, the eagle view of the big picture is important and has times when it should be the primary focus; and the mouse view of the day to day operations and tine details is important and requires periods of focus too. Nonetheless, it is vital in our role as a leader to stay present, to be where our feet are.
REAL TALK - Action Steps
Here are a few ways we can become more effective as leaders by being present:
1. Meditate - Of course, this is the first one listed because it’s proven over and over to a common habit of the most successful, and present, people in the world. The key to understanding meditation isn’t choosing the right app, sitting the proper way on your mat, or lighting the right candles - it’s realizing that meditation is simply a tool for developing mindfulness. Just as a hammer is the best tool for pounding a nail into a board, meditation is proven to be the best tool for becoming more mindful. And it is mindfulness, and self-awareness, that we are after here, not simply meditation. Without an awareness of what we are thinking or what pulls at our thoughts we have no ability to stay present. We are the mercy of the wind.
2. Breath - Slow, calm, deep breaths with a focus on the air entering and leaving your body. Breathing calms and centers us. It makes us present. What is more central to the moment than a breath? Exactly, nothing. That’s what makes it such a powerful tool for being present
3. Coach Feeling - This is a far fetch for some, but has the potential to have lasting, long-term impact on the people you lead. Ask questions and give cues that lead the team member to focusing on how something feels. For example, if I’m working with a player on shooting a basketball, unprompted they will be focused on one thing - making the shot. Making or missing the shot is a future result of a present action. It does a shooter absolutely no good to think about that potential result. So, as a coach, I may ask her to focus on feeling their last two fingers leaving the basketball or the feeling of their elbow lifting like a rocket. That focus on feeling brings them to the present and relieves them of the potential negative emotions of the future. A difficult adjustment for many coaches and leaders to make, but such a more powerful approach because of the mindfulness you are building in the individual.
Mindfulness is the goal. It’s not necessarily wrong to be thinking about the past or the present, but it doesn’t help us lead in the moment. Too often leaders are handcuffed by the inability to release the reality of the past or embrace the unknown of the future. At our best, we are present for those we lead, and for ourselves.
And that’s exactly why we love our dogs so much - they’re always present.
For more information on building excellence in your teams, visit us at www.bluecollargrit.com. We would love to know how we could help!