A leader’s motto.
In my gym work, I am usually good about laughing and having fun while pushing myself to my limits. However, today at the gym, I found myself frustrated. It started with my warmup. I was working on a simple lift and just couldn’t get my form right. One of the coaches at the gym gave me some great pointers but I struggled to find my groove. Then on another lift, I found myself missing some simple form pieces in spite of the solid coaching I got. And mentally, things just kind of spun out and I got away from who I am and the usual feeling of fun the gym brings to me.
I processed this to find out what was so unusual. I’ve had similar moments from time to time and there’s something there. Icame to the conclusion that my counterbalancing was off.
Balancing involves having similar pull and push forces on an object, which keep it neutral in its net movement. Counterbalancing refers to negating the push or pull on an object. In my case, my internal dialogue and my surroundings were out of balance. My inner dialogue is usually tough on myself while remaining focused on enjoying my activity. I make an effort to be in an external environment that is usually supportive and positive.
Today my inner dialogue was tougher than usual. “Why can’t you do this?!” kept coming up and my environment was (rightfully) pointing out shortcomings that needed to be corrected. Way more push than pull and I just felt like crying out of frustration.
As leaders, we are used to pushing ourselves to grow but balance is essential. Healthy dialogues, affirming environments, and personal care cannot be understated in achieving additional success and growth while not compromising one’s character and health.
So why did this morning stink? Maybe I didnt get enough rest. Maybe I tried to do too much. Maybe I didn’t have enough for breakfast. I don’t know. But I do know that by seeking better balance, I can counterbalance the adverse voices that want to pull me back.
I have a friend who had a bumper sticker that reads “Practice Kindness.” More that later.
At my workout today, we did sprint work. I haven’t sprinted since I was like 20 years old. Heck, I do these silly workouts so that if a situation arose, I wouldn’t have to run 🙂 Something that stuck out today, however, was a simple statement. The leader of our class said that we were going to practice sprints so that we can get better at them. Not really a mind-blowing statement, right?
However, being me, I pushed myself through those workouts but found myself thinking philosophically about this the whole time. We’re sentient, condition-able beings and the more we do something, the more we develop that behavior as a part of our being. I began to ask myself “What do I practice each day?”
If practice makes us more able to do something, wouldn’t it make sense to practice things that matter?
Do I practice communication?
Do I practice listening?
Do I practice leading with equity?
Do I practice time management?
Do I practice anything?
Do I practice kindness like my friend’s simple but wonderful bumper sticker?
And what does what I practice matter to the big picture?
Good questions to mull over on a beautiful Spring morning.
So many of these articles are about becoming a leader, leading others, increasing potential, etc… I guess that’s the theme of this website and a theme in the jobs and lives that so many of us lead on a daily basis.
However, something I’ve recently been thinking about is when we as leaders are not actually called to be the leader of a group. It’s a weird feeling and kind of hard sometimes. Finding contentment in that different role is stretching.
I’ve played music my whole life. Having the natural leadership ability thing, I’ve often found myself leading the band, either through stage direction, recording, writing music, or planning strategies on how to grow our popularity and marketability. However, the last couple of years, I’ve been playing music in an environment where I am absolutely not the out front leader. There are very qualified, talented, and awesome people in that role – and I’ve been learning to be a supporter, an accessory, and a teammate for the group. A spoke in the wheel, if you will.
It’s been a weird feeling.
I’ve had to flex.
Keep the ego in check.
Put the group before myself.
At the church I attend, I’ve been involved in the music/worship ministry. My favorite role in that band is playing guitar. It’s the most enjoyable band role for me because it allows me the most creativity. But we have a lot of guitarists. Josh, the leader of our group, recently asked me what I’d like to play and contribute. I thought about it for a second and (given this recent venture around servanthood) I responded “I’ll do whatever the group needs and wherever I can be most helpful.” I wanted to put my ego in check and attempt to truly benefit our group. So I’ve been working sound and production. I’ve been playing a lot of bass. Occasional guitar. But the band has been better because of that flexibility. And it’s actually been an awful lot of fun.
The group has been better because of my flexibility and attempt at humility.
And that has been incredibly satisfying to be a part of.
I think this venture has made me a better leader. So much of my time and brainpower is invested in skill and behavioral development. Being able to not be a leader sometimes has allowed me to have more energy when I am a leader (avoid burnout). This has stretched me to grow personally, in my ability to flex, and to refine my character. It’s also provided me with additional empathy for the group environment so that I can understand how people around me feel when I am the leader. Perhaps they’ve been in a similar place before as a leader and they are just seeking to help the group.
So to my fellow leaders – how can you be leaders by not leading?
I heard a really interesting talk earlier in the week that my friend, Josh Madden, prepared and gave…and the concept is worth a big share for all of us.
Josh’s audience was about 120 people large. He through out the question “If we’re being fully honest, who here is too hard on themselves?” Just about everyone raised their hands.
The next question was profound. “Who here would ever say the things they say to themselves aimed at other people instead of themselves?” No one raised their hands. Why would we? That would most likely be mean.
We as leaders are too hard on ourselves. We push ourselves, we scratch and claw and scrape and fight until we reach our unreasonably high goal. Or just before we reach that goal, we raise the bar even higher. Sometimes we never hit that ever-moving, ever-increasing target. Or we hit it…but don’t feel that success because we’re already focusing on the next level. This fire is often what makes us successful and effective, but it can grow into a maladaptive inferno and can cause us to beat ourselves up to a fault.
This morning, I was doing the morning workout and felt like garbage. It could be the newer Keto diet I’m on, the lack of sleep I’ve had this week, or just one of those days – who knows? My numbers and my form were uncommonly below my norm – and I could feel my positive dialogue waning. Those feelings of frustration grew and the statements about “why can’t you do this?” became louder and more emphatic (perhaps exacerbated by the embarrassing backward summersault I did when I failed to hit one lift). I was shocked when the frustration boiled over and I threw the barbell down – something unlike anything I’ve never done in my life. This literally has never happened to me. A good friend (the kind that tells you what you need to hear) put me in check and interrupted the non-constructive inner dialogue. “This is fun, it’s supposed to be fun. Stop it.” My brain snapped back into a more normal, healthy place and over the next 30 minutes of working out, I focused my energy less on the exercise and more on allowing my brain to accept those important words of admonishment.
Do you have a healthy inner dialogue? Do you allow yourself to accept grace, compassion, and patience as you grow into a healthier, stronger person? Or do you push yourself too hard?
I’ll close with this. When we were in preschool, one of the golden rules we were taught was to treat others as we’d like to be treated. Perhaps it’s time to also flip the script and to learn to treat ourselves to the kindness, decency, and positivity that we share with our closest loved ones.
Be good to yourself. You’re probably pretty awesome. And focus on the good stuff. I couldn’t lift how I wanted to…but I burned like 1200 calories in an hour and I pulled off a wicked backward summersault. 🙂
A few days back I posted about the gift of putting oneself in a position to suffer (so as to learn, grow, and break through plateaus). For me, when thinking about struggle states, the next question revolves around how to get through that state of frustration and duress in a way that allows growth to occur and to get through in one piece.
Suffering stinks. It doesn’t feel good and it is not supposed to. From an evolutionary biology standpoint, pain serves a very specific focus: it forces us to provide effort and attention to an area that requires improvement or to cause a condition change.
Think about a time when you were motivated to accomplish a big task, example being passing a large test. You probably felt an intrinsic stress to study, learn, cram, and get it together to win the test. This distress most likely propelled you to surpass your expectation; without it you may not have accomplished your goal.
So what are some helpful ideas and tools to remain in that state while not being bowled over by the distress? Here are some that help me:
- Community – I try to stay connected and avoid isolation. Let’s make it clear – I am an introvert – and big groups of people can make me tired. However, even if I can stay in communication with a couple people who can support and uplift me – or who have been in a similar place and can provide opinions or advice – this helps me to remain confident that I will grow beyond the frustration state I am in.
- Reflection – I make time every day to meditate or simply stop what I am doing and reflect on existence. What am I doing? Why am I doing it? What is the purpose and why does it matter? Keeping the big picture perspective in view allows me to know that my efforts can have significance and that intrinsically motivates me to push onward.
- Health – I choose to not allow any challenge compromise my own personal and physical health. Ensuring that I am eating well, sleeping well, and exercising allows my body to remain healthy – which allows my brain and conscience to make clear and smart decisions that support my efforts… and to hold a degree of optimism.
- Forgiveness – As leaders, we push ourselves to great lengths to be the best. Not being the best at something can be hard but internally berating ourselves when we’re not the best can be easy. Remember to stick it out and that your state of struggle is short-term, not permanent. Allow your max effort each day or time to be good enough for now.
An example of my own intentional struggle can be seen in the daily cross fit classes I attend. Last year, I became bored of standard gym-type exercising and I do not have any mountains around where I live any longer (so I am not able to hike like I used to [and deeply miss]). My goal around doing cross fit was to become stronger, happier, and healthier. Two months in, I am far from my strength goals. In fact, I’m firmly in last place in most classes. I won’t lie – I genuinely hate to see myself, a person used to being successful, struggling to just finish some workouts – and my hyper-competitive internal dialogue can have relentless, shameful, and unforgiving tendencies. But then I think about the above assistance points: I am surrounded by positive people who support me in this endeavor, regardless of what place I come in. I will be stronger long-term because of the pain and ridiculous effort I have to put in every day just to get through these workouts.
My arrow is pointing up and this state is temporary. I must remember that.
Someday I will not be in last place. I might even be good… and that is when the flow state will start to show itself a bit more. I will continue to weather the storm in the temporary to enjoy the future capacity growth and other benefits. I have faith that my hard work is creating ability and will lead to some degree of success, however that may look.
A fifth point not mentioned above is also worth mentioning: gratitude and appreciation. We leaders push ourselves to meet almost-impossible success standards. Don’t just focus on future happiness, but recognize the small moments of happiness and victory during this season. Life is too short to allow a relentless drive to manifest an ever-present sense of discontent. Don’t forget to notice on the happy and wonderful things around you. I actively choose to laugh and enjoy the daily struggle of cross fit – and to embrace the opportunity I’ve been given as joyously as possible, even when it’s remarkably hard, and it keeps me going back every day.
Humility is not fun… but conscious and proactive choices can make this state of being manageable. Because of our intentional struggle, we grow, accomplish, and become more than we can imagine. We further actualize our potential and increase our capacity to be amazing.
What are some struggles you intentionally put yourself through? What things you do to make struggle states more bearable? When have you struggled to eventually overcome a plateau?
“Hold your breath for a better day, and you’ll never learn how to breathe.
You’re afraid of the dark, but that’s where you learn to see.
Your no good to the living if you’re too afraid to bleed.
And that’s why your show starts now Your show starts now.”
– Cloud Cult “Your Show Starts Now”
If “flow” is a new term for you, here is what it is in a nutshell: Flow is a condition in which the self, body, and mind are hyper-engaged and present. Flow occurs at the nexus between suffering and victory. If you think of a time when you won a race or accomplished something profound, you probably felt an rush of success, pride, and relief simultaneously – and you were probably experiencing flow. Flow is awesome and is a condition that everyone wants in their lives and it effects everything from your physical well-being to your brain chemistry to your confidence and intrinsic motivation.
Flow is a loaded concept that I will explore in different ways down the road. However, the aspect of it I want to highlight today is the pain surrounding it.
Flow occurs after great suffering. If you have ever climbed a mountain, you experienced flow (and sore quads) upon reaching the summit. If you have aced a really hard test, you probably experienced flow upon receiving your A+ after weeks of studying and remarkably hard work. If you have ever received a prestigious job after days of focused preparation and anxiety, you probably experienced the flow state upon that memorable phone call or conversation. Suffering is necessary for success.
Are you stuck where you are, personally or professionally or athletically or creatively? One answer to breaking through that malaise might be intentionally putting yourself in a place to suffer. Do something hard. If you are a guitar player who is struggling to write music, you can lock yourself in a room for a day and focus on writing…or you can force yourself to learn piano. If you have hit a plateau socially, join a group that is completely different from what you’re used to.
Go be uncomfortable. Embrace the uneasiness. Let discomfort be your gift. It could lead to one of the happiest moments you will ever experience. Your show starts now.