I’ve Got You

Individually, we create our experiences of situations (including the emotions we experience) from our own perceptions and thoughts. The outside world is a canvas against which we project and check our own thoughts and emotions. Therefore, we are creators of situations, not passive victims. I’ve called this our mind over matter existence in past writing. We use our minds to create the matters (situations) of the world we perceive in front of us.

While this helps create clarity, freedom, and possibility within individuals, dealing with others is a different issue. Even well-informed people forget the nature of our mind over matter existence and see the world as a mind vs matter power struggle from time to time.

For someone locked into this mindset, blame is a common is a common thought, and people are not always ready to hear about their wrongs. If you try to help a teammate who is locked into a power struggle and blame them for not seeing the world with the clarity you currently posses, you are only pointing toward more blame, and you are likely to become a target for the blame they are hurling at the matters of the world in front of them.

If you are seeing the mind over matter world clearly, you will realize that you can’t make them understand what you know to be true. All you can do is to point in the right direction. As team members, we will all have off days, and as teammates and leaders we need to be ready to pick up our teammates without casting blame.

Instead of blaming them for being off, see if you can point in the right direction. Sometimes the best we can do is to say, “I’ve got you. I’m going to step up and make plays. Join me when you can.” You may not even need to say a word. Demonstrate your love with action. Point in the right direction by making a play with effort and enthusiasm.

Understand that while we live mind over matter, we don’t always remember that fact. Blaming someone for forgetting it is a losing battle.

An Invitation to Possibility

You can’t make anyone think or feel a certain way, but not everyone you speak to is always aware of that fact. Some people may blame you for their thoughts or feelings. That means that when you encounter someone, they will project their current mindset onto you and your message no matter what you say. Essentially, no matter what direction you point, they will project their current mindset onto it and interpret it through that filter. If the direction you point to or the way you point contains any hint of being upset, it will only provide more fuel for the other person to think in upset ways.

Effective communicators have found that pointing in any outward direction is ineffective. Instead, they perform a type of reflection. They calmly and simply direct the other person back inside their own thoughts.

Simple phrases to help accomplish this reflection include:
“How are you?”
“Give me your thoughts.”

Each of these simple statements has the effect of directing the other person back into his own thoughts. This gives an opportunity to be introspective, and when the focus is internal, possibility opens up.

Why is it that introspection opens up possibility? It’s because being open is very natural and our default setting. We are curious beings and our thoughts are meant to flow. With time, thoughts always flow and change. However, if someone is stuck on the illusion of external control and is actively feeding that illusion, keeping them focused on that illusion will only feed it and keep it alive. It’s better to remove the focus from it through encouraging reflection.

After encouraging reflection – and inevitably finding some type of blame going on – you can then see if you can point to possibility. But try not to point directly. Throw out an invitation for the other person to create their own possibility. Inviting open ended possibility is often received much better than giving specific advice.

Here are some ideas on how to do invite possibility:
“Is there another way to see (the situation described in the person’s own terms)?
“How would ___________ explain the situation?”
“If you ignore it, do you think this problem might look differently tomorrow?”

Opening up to possibility is a relatively simple way to start effective communication, especially if you sense someone is in a very blocked, cluttered mindset. It’s an honorable way to seek to understand before pointing in an uninvited direction, a direction that is likely to be interpreted in an unintended way.

The Way We Point Matters

As I noted yesterday in Leaving It Blank, one problem with communication is that we point in too many directions, or the words we use to point are unclear. Another problem is that we don’t always understand that we often point with various methods. In other words, what we point to matters, and the way we point matters.

For example, when we speak to someone, we point with our words, and we also point with our tone of voice, facial expressions, body posture, and other forms of messages. To be clear, none of what we point to or the way we point makes anyone interpret a message in a certain way, but people are pretty reliable. Communication is possible because certain messages tend to be interpreted in consistent, reliable ways.

A verbal message said in the wrong tone of voice often points in a different direction than the one we intended. If you want to be effective in your communication, it helps to understand the mindset of your audience (seek first to understand), and point in a certain direction as clearly and consistently as possible. This entails considering what your audience can see, hear, feel, smell, taste. You certainly might not use all of these senses, but you might. Consider as many senses as you need to, and communicate accordingly.

Keep in mind that people are often very good at picking up on subtleties in voice, eyes, and body posture/movements. What they think about your complete communication package will create their experience of you, and one of the best ways to make sure you communicate consistently in all possible ways is to communicate from your love, passion, compassion, light, etc. The more you know your basic self, and the simpler your intention, the greater the match between what you point to and the way you point to it.

Leaving It Blank

As you have been reading in my posts (such as Be Aware and It’s a Great Day to be Alive), we can never force another person to think or feel any certain way. Therefore, it is extremely important to be clear with communication that points in a direction others understand for themselves, and because we aren’t always clear in our communication, sometimes what is not communicated is as important as what is communicated.

My friend and colleague Dr. Rob Bell has a great way of communicating this idea. As he explains it, in printing manuscripts, pages are often intentionally left blank for various reasons, including that information may be added at a later time. This is a great concept for human interactions. Sometimes we should leave communication intentionally blank. (You can read his excellent article here http://drrobbell.com/why-coaching-should-be-intentionally-left-blank/. Thanks to Rob for letting me link to it.)

For example, in my coaching, whether as a mental game coach, football coach, or basketball coach, I have learned that I am always best off waiting to speak until I can communicate my ideas clearly. As I progress in my coaching and make certain points over and over, I am constantly trying to refine my words and examples into clearer, more concise versions. I strive to be parsimonious in my communications.

Of course, I am not perfect. I make mistakes, but I reflect on those mistakes and consider how to do it better. This often leads to planning for my next round of coaching, and this leads to personal improvement.

Sometimes, if I know I need to communicate something but am not sure what I need to communicate, I do what I recommended in Pointing in the Right Direction: I ask questions to clarify what my athletes already think/believe/understand. This often helps promote thinking about two things: a) what they know, and b) how they know it. Thus, it’s both review and an opportunity to pause and let insight occur. This helps me leave blank what does not need to be communicated, and when something does need to be communicated, it typically leads to me pointing in a direction with a clearer, shorter, more easily understood message.

As messengers, when we try to point in a certain direction but do so with a lack of clarity, it is highly likely that receivers will be confused about the message. Obviously, confusion isn’t the goal, so please remember to consider that the art of good communication involves two pathways for the messenger: What is communicated and what is left blank.

Pick ‘Em Up

My college coaches didn’t allow us to practice in silence. We were supposed to be loud with encouragement and communication. When practice fell silent with apathy or self pity, we were sure to hear a certain phrase: “Pick ’em up!”

Pick ’em up was our command to get loud with encouragement and enthusiasm. Of course, the command did not need to be issued by coaches. Players could just as easily sound the command to pick ’em up.

The idea was that when we were silent, we were probably too focused on being down in someway….

  • down on the scoreboard,
  • down on our playing time,
  • down on the weather conditions,
  • down on our conditioning, or
  • down on our selves, coaches, or teammates.

When we shouted encouragement, we were picking each other up. Now, based on what I’ve written lately (see It’s a Great Day to be Alive or Pointing in the Right Direction), you should understand that nobody can actually force another person to increase their own enthusiasm. However, we are reliable beings with working senses, and if someone is shouting encouragement at you, it’s hard to ignore.

It’s also hard to ignore the messages we send ourselves in a loud and clear fashion. If I am yelling, “Come on! Let’s go! We’ve got this!” at you, it’s also hard for me to ignore my own voice, and it tends to feed my own enthusiasm, even if I initially had to fake it.

In yelling encouragement, it is very likely that I will pick up my own enthusiasm, and it’s also likely that anyone hearing me will connect to my enthusiasm. The reason they connect is not because I forced them to be enthusiastic. That’s impossible. What really happens is that I am pointing in a direction that they understand. As with Coach Egnatuk reminding me that it was a great day to be alive, the enthusiasm is in them already, and they simply recognized or remembered it when I pointed it out. Their fire was never out. It was just forgotten momentarily and only needed a reminder to be stoked into a raging blaze.

This is great to know because it means that if we ever feel as if someone else motivated us, the motivation was within us all along. The implication of this is that we never really need anyone else to pick us up. We only need a reminder, and that reminder can come from inside or outside.

When you get many people together on a team who understand this, enthusiasm appears to be contagious, and indeed, some people may describe it that way. One person points in a direction, and two or more people connect to it and follow that direction. It can be an incredible experience.

So when life seems like it is driving on your team and about to score, remember to point in the right direction for your teammates and pick ’em up.

Pointing in the Right Direction

Because external control of another person’s thoughts and feelings doesn’t exist (there is no real Jedi Mind Trick that I am aware of), it pays to think carefully about communicating with other people. Many of us communicate as if we can make another person understand what we are saying. Very often, we try to persuade by force and relentless hammering away at them with what we consider a good point.

I’m raising my hand at this one. I was that guy. I am that guy at times still, and I’m probably an outlier on the side I’d rather not be on. But the more I understand that I can’t make anyone think or feel anything, the more I try to consider another person’s possible perspective, or perhaps more importantly, her likely perspective. While I think I have always been very empathic (being raised by a social worker pointed me in this direction, thanks Mom), I find that this new understanding has taken me to even greater levels of empathy.

When I’m thinking clearly, instead of thinking more about the validity of my point or the holes in the other person’s misunderstanding (misunderstanding here means according to my thinking at the moment), I start thinking about commonalities. What does this person believe? How is what I am pointing to similar to what they already believe? Clearly my approach isn’t working, so what can I point to that will be closer to something that they already understand?

As I start thinking in this way, new questions often occur to me, and it often leads to me asking questions that help clarify the person’s current understanding (as opposed to hammering away with my next good point). The great leadership expert Steven Covey called this first seeking to understand.

Once I have a clearer understanding of the person’s beliefs, I am then usually able to communicate in a way that honors their own current understanding. I am then able to point in a certain direction, one that they are likely to understand.

First seeking to understand so that I may make a better point in a certain direction typically improves my communication in the following ways:

  • Allows my own empathy to rise.
  • Honors the other persons right their own beliefs, opinions, and feelings.
  • Creates a clearer picture of a new path for mutual understanding, one pointed out by me and possibly understood by them.
  • Often leads to me pointing in a direction that helps both of us realize our inherent connection.

Because we do not have external control, all we can do is point in a certain direction. It is up to the other person to see what we see or not, but before they can accept it, they must understand it. This is why it is so important to start from their understanding. Even very disparate ways of seeing the world have commonalities, and these commonalities breed acceptance. Once understood, an idea is accepted only to be later confirmed or rejected long term.

Trying to make someone else accept your point seems a bit like saying, “You will understand my point or be ignorant of it.” All this does is point to my own foolishness. In contrast, it seems that pointing in a certain direction is like saying, “Ok, I think I understand what you see. Now please, look over there. Do you see what I see?” More and more, I am finding that I am capable of the latter, and it has improved my communication.

I hope my pointing in a certain direction about pointing in a certain direction helps you understand communication a bit better. Thinking about pointing in the right direction should help you make a good point (an act of pointing in the right direction for yourself and others) rather than focusing too narrowly on your own point (a position in your own thoughts).

It’s a Great Day to be Alive

I’ve been writing for a two weeks about how no person and no thing outside you can make you think or feel any certain way, yet I advocate for positive communication. This can seem like a contradiction without further explanation, so I’d like to explain how communication and sharing our light works upon the world around us. As you know from reading my other posts, it’s not through external control.

A quick story will help me illustrate my point:


Albion, MI 1992

There’s a fire in the sky. The sun burns hot and bright already at 7:45am, and its rays punch me as soon as I step out of the locker room. As a biology major, I understand that the sun is the source of energy that fuels all life on earth, but lately its August heat just seems to drain me of mine.

I can smell the freshly cut grass and the unmistakable stench of sweat-soaked football pads. My own gear is damp and uncomfortable, and pain radiates through my body, hard-earned through pounding runs on the rock hard practice field and crushing collisions over the past week’s two and three-a-day practices.

As I trudge slowly toward the practice field, I hear Coach Dave Egnatuk’s cleats scratch the pavement as he runs up behind me, and I know what’s coming next. His voice echoes in my head before he even speaks a word. Then I hear him belt it out at the top of his lungs.
“It’s a great day to be alive!”

Coach Egnatuk runs onward toward the practice field and shouts, “It’s a great day to be alive!” every 30 yards or so. A gathering mass of players hustles behind him as he runs, a smaller mass tries hard to stay ahead of him. Many players now echo Coach’s shouts with their own.

“It’s a great day to be alive!”

“It’s a great day to be alive!” I hear Coach shout again, and suddenly I become aware of another fire. This fire is burning inside my own chest.
“It’s a great day to be alive!”

The shouts all around me are reminders of what I already know, affirmations of a core belief about the fire, warmth, and greatness of life, and as my inner fire blazes I kick up my pace to a sprint. It’s a great day to be alive indeed.


I used to think Coach Eggy shouting, “It’s a great day to be alive,” made me feel good. I mean, that’s what we call it when someone says something, we hear it, and then we start to feel good.

But there is a problem with that type of thinking. If you are a careful reader of my recent blogs (such as Be Aware), you understand that type of thinking falls into the category of giving in to the illusion of control. Nobody can make you think or feel anything. Nobody controls your thoughts or feelings. So what was going on there? Why is this concept so important? And how is it that what’s going on is something much greater than it even appears?

As we go through life and take in the world around us, we project our mindset onto it. Therefore, if I hear, “It’s a great day to be alive!” and begin to feel good, it’s because my mindset recognizes the truth or beauty in those words. The sentiment that it’s a great day to be alive was certainly within Coach, but he didn’t make it appear in me. Certainly he provided the voice to that thought at that moment, but I had to recognize my own understanding in his words. The idea that it was a great day to be alive was already within me. It was just momentarily obscured from my thoughts. I needed a reminder from out in the world to recognize it again, and in that regard, Coach was a great leader who did me a huge favor.

The power to influence our own experience of the world resides within each of us, not outside of us, and that’s a very powerful realization. It means we don’t need anyone or anything to make me feel motivated, strong, powerful. However, because we don’t control our thinking (we influence it, we truly don’t control it), we aren’t always aware of what we are overlooking. So sometimes it helps to have a leader who is pointing in the right direction.

Sometimes, you need a leader to point you in the right direction. Other times, you are the leader pointing others in the right direction.

Be a great leader today. Be a great follower today. Point in the right direction. It’s a great day to be alive.