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.

Overcoming Fear of Your Light

Earlier this week, one of my friends, Benjamin Rice, reminded me of one of my favorite quotes about our inner light.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness which most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Marianne Williamson

This quote is from Marianne Williamson’s book A Return to Love. I’m not sure I agree with the entire quote, but I think it rings true for many people. What I really love about the quote is it accurately captures a concept I’ve seen in many people: Fear of our light.

Does this ever happen to you? Do you fear your light, brilliance, radiance, power?

For a moment, consider why anyone would fear their light, goodness, power, brilliance?

I have a few thoughts on why this could happen. Some of these thoughts come from research, but others come from thorough experience and observation working with a good number of clients over the years. Here are a few good candidates for why someone might seemingly be afraid of her own light.

  • Discomfort with Change: People are simply very uncomfortable with change at times.
  • Fear of Failure: If we try to shine, and don’t meet with what we term successful outcomes, we believe we will feel like we failed. Or perhaps worse, we believe we will be failures. Thus, in this case, fear of success really turns out to be fear of failure.
  • Fear of Losing a Sense of Control: People are sometimes afraid to confront their light because they are fearful of giving up control. If I believe in control but don’t attempt to exert that control in pursuit of some outcome, I can still believe that I will have control when the conditions are right. I can save face, so to speak. There’s some safety in that. But if I let my light shine, and I get rejected or don’t get the outcomes I’m looking for, my confrontation with the limits of control is more stark and forceful. This seems risky if I am not ready to confront the limits of my control. Here again, fear of success turns out to be fear of failure.
  • Fear of Being Powerful: Marianne Williamson’s quote above has an important suggestion for why we might fear our light: Maybe we simply fear standing out as special. After all, if we are special and not doing much with our lives, aren’t we squandering our talents?

If you’ve read Marianne Williamson’s book A Return to Love, you probably know that she defines a miracle as a change in perspective. So following her lead, if you are stuck fearing your light or darkness, I’d like to point in a different direction for you. See if these perspectives help you embrace your light.

  • Discomfort with Change: If you are having discomfort with change, relax. You certainly aren’t alone, and there is nothing wrong with you. If you are truly letting your light shine, rather than making a grab at the illusion of outside sources of happiness, you will be fine.
  • Fear of Failure: We create our experience of the world with our thoughts. Success and failure are mental concepts, not physical ones. When we fear failure, we aren’t typically thinking about being a novice high wire walker practicing without a net. We When we fear failure, we are usually fearing the imagined consequences of failure. This is usually not a productive endeavor. It’s more accurate to understand that you can and will change your interpretation of success and failure as your thoughts shift (and they will shift as surely as the winds will change direction and intensity). You can also understand that you aren’t defined by outcomes, and you can focus on the moment.
  • Fear of Losing a Sense of Control: If you read my writing, I hope you already have an understanding of the illusion of control. Control actually contracts your influence and potential. Lose control, and replace it with belief in your powerful influence, and you will feel your light shining brightly.
  • Fear of Being Powerful: I think Marianne’s words point in the best direction here. She wrote:

Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine……

Please do not fear your inner fire. We are all powerful beyond measure, beyond our wildest dreams, and when we let this light shine, we can help light the world for others, pointing them toward their own inner brilliance. Use the gifts you have to influence the world in front of you. Don’t worry about making a huge contribution to the world, your contribution should be to your world, which is your team,  your family, your friends, your community, your organizations. Rise and shine today. Be brilliant.

You Are Where You Should Be

Sometimes I am dazzled by outcomes. Who doesn’t feel a sense of awe from time at the winner, the champion, the best?

Then I realize that the outcome is too narrow a focus, and as a performance psychologist, coach, and father, I remind myself, “It can’t be all about the outcome. It’s about the process. If the process isn’t solid, the desire outcome won’t be reached.”

Then I realize even the process is too broad of a focus, and I have to get narrow again. When I narrow the focus from process, I find myself in the moment.

We can only make plays in the moment. We can’t go back in time and get a do-over, and we can make plays before the opportunity exists (meaning we can’t make Friday’s plays on Thursday). When we focus too much on outcome or process, we are always somewhere and sometime else, not here and now in the moment.

One of the keys to making the play is to be alive in this moment, understand what is possible, and act on it in an attempt to make the play. While it’s quite normal, even beneficial, to get caught up thinking about outcomes or processes, I do not recommend staying there too long. After all, the past doesn’t exist anymore and the future never arrives in the present. We only live in now, and it’s always now on the ride between Thursday and Friday and every point after. When our thoughts focus too much on the past or future, we lose some influence over what we can do now.

Being alive enables you to use energy to do work, such as thinking, acting, and feeling. You need not seek things to set this energy in motion. It’s always on, always keeping you alive, always ready at a moment’s notice.

So instead of seeking things to ignite your inner fire, realize it is already on fire, and get to work using that fire’s energy and brilliance to make plays. As you make plays, you may realize you connect to some things more strongly than others, but don’t be confused about how this works. There is no outcome that will set you on fire, and you do not have to be set on fire through a process. You are alive and on fire right now in this moment. There’s nothing else needed to make the plays of your life. Trust that you are where you should be, and make a play.

 


“Be where your feet are.”

– Nick Saban


 

Finding the Light of Love

The third key in making the play is to be alive. In this week of connecting to the light inside of us, I think it helps to think of this light as love (and there are good reasons why it makes sense to think this way, including the hot rush of adrenaline we can get when doing something we love). It doesn’t matter what type of love, it’s simply a loving, warm, thought and feeling. This love could be used to connect with another person or it could be used to build something out of wood and nails. The medium doesn’t matter. The love behind it is what drives it all.

If you think of love, it’s one of those things that never really runs out of supply. We think it does. It seems like it does. But if you find someone who is very loving, they will tell you that the more we love others and the world around us, the more love we have in reserve when we need it. The tank is always full no matter how much we use. In fact, it seems like using love in the tank fills it with even more love.

If you can’t find it for a moment, relax. It’s not lost. It never goes away. It’s only temporarily hidden from your view. Be confident that no person and no thing, not even you, can dull your love.

Love is in you and your world even when it appears to be gone. Other emotions are connected to love in ways we rarely consider. When feeling anger, we are energized to defend something we love. When feeling fear, we are scared we might lose something we love. When anxious, we are fearful about what may or may not happen to something we love. Surprise and disgust are sudden distractions from, or even toward, love. Happiness is warm love. Love is the fire. Love is the burning passion. It’s like our sun. It’s the fuel for life, and it’s always burning bright no matter what the emotional weather. It’s all love in various disguises.

So here’s a question to ponder: What do you want to get done? Do you want to point people toward having a good day? Do you want to coach a team the best you can? Do you need to solve a mechanical problem?

Whatever the plays of your life, find the love, connect to it, and use its energy to be alive and make the play.

Lose Your But

Being awake to opportunity is one key to making plays consistently. It works hand in hand with another key I wrote about yesterday, being aware of illusions of control.

In keeping with this week’s theme of the light inside (your inner fire, burning desire, etc.), I want to note that so many people I work with understand that they have a passion for certain things, but they buy into illusions of control that they believe prevent them from acting on those passions. Their belief in the illusion puts a type of glass ceiling on what they think is possible, and this thought keeps them from acting on those passions.

So often when I talk to people, I am clued into their mental limits when I pay attention to their buts.

I would love to write a book, but…..
I want to be more loving, but…..
I want to make more money, but…..
I would love to change careers, but…..
I suppose I can be pretty good at talking to people at times, but…..

To awaken to opportunity, simply start paying attention to your buts. See if you can stop your sentence before your but. Understand that anything that comes after your but is an illusion of control. None of your buts control you. You have influence to overcome them and persevere in a relentless pursuit of your passions.

After you awaken to the illusion of control that resides behind your buts, see if you can awaken to new possibilities. Simply see if you can start a new sentence with your can. I can……..

I would love to write a book. I can start by writing a journal or a blog.
I want to be more loving. I can say I love you more. I can ask people what they would like from me. I can do nice things for my family without any reason other than that I love them.
I want to make more money. I can work a little extra. I can start my own part-time small sales business. I can spend less and keep more.
I would love to change careers. I can start by figuring out how much money I need. I can start with small steps toward gaining new skill and knowledge.
I suppose I can be pretty good at talking to people at times. I can be clear with my thoughts. I can communicate my ideas very well, even if my point isn’t always perfectly clear or accepted by others. I can begin reaching out more in an effort to grow my network and influence.

Once you gain freedom by eliminating buts, you will find mental clarity more often, and a steady stream of possibilities will occur to you. After the possibilities occur to you, it’s as simple as realizing what you can do and acting on it.

Keep in mind, we aren’t defying the laws of physics here. I am not suggesting you say to yourself, “I would love to fly. I can jump off my roof and flap my arms.” You need not throw all caution to the wind. I merely want you to be aware that even physical limitations can be overcome.

We travel across the world’s sky every second of the day because the Wright Brothers refused to buy into assumed human limitations. They showed us we can fly. You can be safe and physically practical without limiting your possibilities. Indeed, sometimes tackling the assumed impossible is necessary when awakening to possibility.

Your inner fire is always blazing and ready for action at any moment, even if you aren’t aware of it. Do not limit your possibilities. Be awake and seize the opportunity available in the moment.