‘The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.’Archilochus
The quote above, attributed to a Greek poet 2500 years ago, is generally used to inspire debate. Should you be a specialist, going deep in one area like the hedgehog? Or a generalist, traveling across many areas but staying on the surface, like the fox?
What if this is a false dichotomy?
What if the problem is the either/or thinking it demands? Might there be a both/and solution instead?
SPECIALIST = MEDIOCRE
Were you urged to pick a specialty? I grew up with the phrase jack of all trades, master of none. To focus was to succeed, to explore was to squander your chances of getting ahead. I was taught that failing to specialize meant falling behind, but were we just aiming for the middle? Generalists didn’t “fit” anywhere, specialists could follow a clear path. The sooner one could decide on their life path, and put all of their resources into it, the further ahead they would get. Life appeared to be a process of rushing to narrow your focus until you found your professional area of expertise. If you got specific enough, perhaps you could stand out as an “expert” in your field. If you changed course later in your career it meant starting over at the bottom and wasting your previous efforts (college degree, job experienec, etc).
After coaching people through career growth for over a decade I have come to a different conclusion. I see over specializing as the path towards mediocrity. If you want to play the game, to climb the ladder that society has built, then by all means limit yourself to one domain. But what if you want to innovate? To change the game? To stand back and decide where to place the ladder? Might you need a dose of what the generalist has to offer and some deep knowledge, perhaps in a few areas, not just one?
To innovate is to stand outside of the field and take a perspective on it. “Learn the rules so that you can brake them” sounds nice in print. Academics get excited by minor deviations from the norm, but if you never learn the rules you break them by default. When you learn in multiple domains you can’t help but see things from radically different angles than those who stick to just one. Orthogonal insights are perpendicular, they come from other fields. This is about vertical growth in multiple different lines of development.
POLYMATHS ARE NATURAL
We tend to talk about polymaths, those with wide ranging knowledge, as being special. They are rare, but is this a natural limitation or a conditioned one? Does it really require the rare genius to be skilled in multiple areas? Or is this just something we believe because of the way we push people towards specialization?
I believe that a healthy mind wants to go deep in multiple, disparate areas. Children are voracious learners. They are all artists and scientists and dancers with very specific quirks and curiosities and desires. We are naturally multi-disciplinary. Perhaps the reason why the Renaissance Woman seems so elusive is because we put specialists on a pedestal and discourage parallel pursuits and the balanced lives they demand.
The world is not binary. You contain multitudes. When you attempt to limit yourself you become narrow. Your ability to innovate becomes equally weak.
I study leaders for a living and the evidence is clear. Transformational leaders are chimeras; hybrids. They are multi-dimensional. They cross disciplines. Look deeper at those you admire and chances are, even those who appear to be hedgehogs have fox DNA inside and vice versa. By all means, go deep in one area, but if you can’t see your domain from outside the box then you are, by default, an inside the box thinker. You may sustain a system, but you won’t be able adapt it to a changing world. Your insights will be fragile at best, horribly distorted at worst. Depth and context both matter. Combine the two and you are on to something.
CROSS TRAIN to LEAD
If you want to be better at business, learn how to paint. Cross train. Develop parallel areas of interest. When you are early on in your career, as an employee, being single-minded can get you ahead. This same approach will create a ceiling. Being single-minded is fine when you are taking orders. It is a serious limitation when it is your job to give them.
In the version of corporate America that is dominant (but crumbling) employees are encouraged to develop the capacity to work more. Quantity matters. We are forced to color within the lines, to work long hours and to sacrifice our hobbies. Policies are enforced, expectations upheld. The vision is top down. If you succeed, you are promoted. But if you climb far enough up the ladder you start to get dizzy. You are suddenly expected to have not only new skills, but a radically different mindset. What got you here won’t get you there. Now you must see around corners and offer others your perspective.
Leaders are required to think strategically. This is no longer about generating massive output by keeping your eyes on the prize. This is about scanning the horizon and charting a course. At the highest levels a very small number of decisions determine the impact you have this quarter, year, and longer. Quality matters. Systems thinking matters. You must now create policies in a fluid, ever changing manner. Being able to step outside of the situation you are in and see it from many different angles is the thing that will keep you rising up above others who are siloed in their view and their function.
If you can’t see how different departments relate then you do not deserve to be in charge of them. If you can’t see how the entire company relates to the industry you are in then you will never be able to steer it amongst its peers. If you can’t see how the industry you are in relates to the entire marketplace, then you are going to miss trends that disrupt your industry. If you can’t see how the marketplace fits into society, then you are going to miss market disruptors. And if you can’t see how markets exists within global cultures, societies, and the living biosphere, you are going to fail to prepare yourself and your people for the biggest disruptions of our time.
It may have been enough to be single-minded in the past, but we live in a VUCA environment (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity). The power of the specialist is limited. Today’s leaders need to be more dynamic than ever. The time of the Expert Generalist is here. We need more polymaths. Today’s leaders must think orthogonally.
People find it endearing that Einstein played the violin. I believe it to be a major source of his genius in physics. Spending years developing a felt sense of Mozart sonatas installs a perspective that is bound to be different from the way that other trained mathematicians and scientists view reality. Viewing physics through a musical lens is coming at it orthogonally, perpendicularly, from another vertical line of development.
Is Elon musk better or worse at rocket science because he also goes deep on batteries, artificial intelligence, manufacturing, and boring machines?
How much cross training do you do?
This is not the checklist that your high school guidance counselor encouraged you to complete. This is not about being well-rounded in the eyes of others. This is about reigniting the flames of curiosity that burned brightly when you were a child. People look down at the severely autistic child who will only talk about trains or penguins all day. Why is spending 100 hours per week focused on investment banking more impressive? I understand the money grab, but I have seen the way it hollows people out. Why is this the way that some of our strongest minds are being cultivated?
A human being is capable of developing multiple intelligences. To foster the growth of but one is to disconnect oneself from vast resources of energy and wisdom. Why do we expect healthy adults to have such narrow focuses?
Steve Jobs credited Apple’s beautiful typography with his study of calligraphy in college. Would he have been able to disrupt as many industries had he not spent so much time studying Zen and developing beginner’s mind?
How many intelligences are you developing?
High achievers reach out to me for coaching when they feel stuck. Before deciding whether or not to work together we interview one another. I have a carefully curated set of questions that I use to help me determine both where they are developmentally and whether or not I can help them. I’m assessing aspects of their physical, emotional, and intellectual well-being to help me understand where their growth is highly evolved and where it might be stunted. One incredibly telling response is to a question many find banal.
What are your hobbies?
Eating food and travel don’t count. For all but the most passionate, neither does exercise. Staring at a screen every night is a major red flag. I want to know what you are deeply curious about. I want to know what skills or passions you are developing outside of your working life. I want to know if you engage in things that seem, at first blush, to have no functional purpose when you are making money. I want to know if you have maintained a connection to creativity. I am attempting to assess how wide your mind is. How many different ways of being in the world are you playing with?
Are you capable of being completely consumed by any tasks that you are not paid for?
Are you pursuing mastery in anything outside of your day job?
If the answer is no, then not only are you squandering this one precious life by not having enough fun, you are also doing your professional life a disservice.
A good friend is the technical co-founder of one company about to become a unicorn and another set to disrupt a completely different industry. He spends his free time learning shibari, an ancient Japanese form of rope bondage, playing bass, gardening, reading, playing board games, and cooking, among other things, including long walks with me.
Parallel lines of development can interact synergistically through orthogonal, and often metaphorical, lines of thinking, acting, feeling, and knowing.
I coach an executive at Google who is getting his PHD in philosophy. I have no doubt that this “competing interest” makes him more effective in his role. This isn’t about doing more, it is about re-allocating resources. It is about working smart, not hard, about focusing on quality, not quantity. This is about setting boundaries, valuing self care, and showing up to work filled up by other pursuits.
How many parallel streams of curiosity are you indulging?
UNLEASH DORMANT POTENTIAL
I spent a couple of decades producing music and playing in bands. This developed nonverbal components of the mind which allow me to sense rhythm, melody, texture and emotional tones in an abstract, yet refined way. I apply this lens to clients, business plans, and everything else. I apply musical metaphors to everything from parenting to business to relationships. Music appears to be more primitive. It allows us to access thoughts we can’t explain. This taught me to express myself in ways I don’t have words for. Music teaches me how to peer into aspects of my mind that are otherwise unconscious simply because I do not have the verbal concepts to express them. I have no doubt that it makes me a better coach, friend, lover, and writer.
In high school I started studying mechanical drafting and architecture. Today I design furniture in my mind, buy rough boards from a lumber yard, craft my designs in my garage wood shop, and live amongst my creations. This develops the ability to hold an object in the minds eye and turn it around in 360°. This cultivates a structural understanding of how a joint will fit together and operational planning of the processes required to both add and remove material to achieve a desired shape. All of this informs the way that I view personal development, building businesses, family dynamics, and many other ways that life flows in and out of shapes while various pressures and processes are applied.
Why not play with photography to change the way that you view the world and interact with it?
Meditation teaches us to release the stranglehold any given perspective has on us at the moment, to disconnect identity from one element of a polarity so a higher order understanding can be found. Melt into a causal space of unknowing, and then watch new ideas become manifest in interesting and unexpected ways. The looser our attachment to any one way of seeing the world the more fluid our approach to difficult situations becomes.
Spend a year being fascinated with your dreams, keeping a journal of them, attempting to develop a capacity for lucid dreaming and then bring the insights your mind creates in a radically altered state to bear on the biggest problems you find in your life.
Learn a new language and seek out people who speak it so that you can learn about their life in their native tongue.
Pick a musical instrument and spend the next 50 years slowly adding songs to your repertoire. Write a few songs yourself.
Read books that take your mind in 20 different directions.
Do you remember the way it felt to dance when you were younger? What would happen to your life if you blocked out time every single day to move your body in whatever way feels appropriate for that specific moment? Might you reclaim some of your spontaneity? Some of your capacity to feel and express joy? Tap in to an inner wisdom that has been laying dormant for years waiting for you to come back?
Whatever you do, don’t do any of this because you should. Certainly don’t do it because I said so. Do what your inner child wanted to do, but was discouraged from doing when she spent long nights studying for the test. Do what you stopped doing when you wanted to fit in. Do what you imagine doing once you are retired. Do what sparks joy. Try something new just to see how it feels to you. If nothing calls you then try 10 things and take notes on how they feel to rekindle the inner flame of self discovery.
If you have no interests outside of work then the flames of your curiosity have dimmed so low that you cannot see them the way that you are currently living. It is time to slow down, to create space. It is time to take risks, to be playful.
To come clean, I am speaking to your desire to be an innovator and a better leader, but this is just a Trojan horse. I want you to be more fulfilled, more whole; to enjoy your life more. I want the leadership you provide to come from your heart and your gut, not just your head. If you do this solely because it may improve your work life, you will still be cut off from the spontaneous spark of curious excitement that is meant to drive every single moment of your days.
This is about shifting the source of fuel in your life. When we are driven by “shoulds” we get exhausted. We need caffeine and discipline and deadlines. When we are driven by “want”, we turn back on the natural enthusiasm that all children are born with. This is about waking up excited for the day ahead.
I know you may have a story about yourself that prevents you from investing in new things. You might think you just don’t have any interests and that you are too old to start. You might think you aren’t as smart as these other people, that the way you get by at work is by working harder than everyone else and that this leaves you no time for fun.
STRENGTH IN DIVERSITY
Here is the key point: The people described above do not have extracurricular interests because of how smart they are. Don’t fall into a fixed mindset. They are smart and innovative because they have these interests. You know that your muscles get stronger the more you use them. Top athletes work out in many different ways to keep their bodies guessing. Do you really believe that your mind is any different? Yes, we each have a unique genetic inheritance, but we all benefit from pushing boundaries.
Your curiosity muscles may have atrophied, but they are there. Start small. Expect it to feel overly self-indulgent. Do it anyways. Nourish your soul so that you have more gifts to give. Be a foxhog 🙂
Ooooh….This is a good one
If you have been following my journey over the past 10 years you might have noticed that the way I identify myself professionally has morphed and evolved. How I work with clients has largely stayed the same, but my title has not. Depending on how people find me, they think of me as being one type of coach or another.
I am a Life Coach. This always seemed like the catch-all. I started out as a Holistic Health Coach, but only worked that before my sabbatical. If you search on Yelp I rank in the top 3 for both Life and Career Coaches in NYC. So many think of me primarily as a Career Coach. Over the past couple of years the growing majority of my clients became CEO’s and other executives. When they refer me to a colleague running their own company they hire me as an Executive Coach (first new page on my website in a while!). All of this was actually expected and is basically par for the course. It’s a kooky unregulated industry. My most recent titles I did not anticipate. Things are getting weirder.
Because I insist that my clients be open to discussing and working with all areas of their life it is hard to predict where things will lead, but I always assumed it would all fit within the “life” realm….until recently. Witness the birth of Death Coaching!
My client D.S. Moss created a podcast called The Adventures of Memento Mori. Memento Mori translates as Remember to Die. The idea is that, through contemplating impermanence one might really start living. This journey has led us through some truly strange and beautiful explorations, and now, in the last two episodes, to Peru, where he offers his ego up to the plant medicine of the local shaman. Believe it or not, this is not the first time I have been an Ayahuasca Coach, but it is the first time I can take you along!
This is work that gets my juices flowing. Who AM I? What lurks in the depths of my shadows? How do I kill my ego? All of the big philosophical questions smash head on into heroic doses of psychedelics in the final episodes of this absolutely brilliant podcast. Every week he explores death and our relationship to it through a new lens. I believe I am in the first episode, the last two, and maybe one more. The whole podcast is worth the journey. The last episode of the first season (episode #14) where the ayahuasca ceremonies actually happen, is particularly bewitching. Listen with headphones if you can. He really captures the sounds of the ceremony space. It brought me right back to my first ceremonies in Brazil.
Does the phrase The Fertile Ground of Bewilderment perfectly sum up the current election to you?
Does it point to the real path forward when it comes to climate change?
How about the way to figure out what to do with your career or your health?
If the fertile ground of bewilderment does not point towards a solution, perhaps it should. This is the argument that one of my favorite thinkers on the planet puts forth in his forthcoming book and in the lecture that gives us a preview below.
Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics and The Yoga of Eating, is working on a new book about climate change that promises to evolve the discourse around this topic by asking us to go deeper than the simple solutions that we have all been talking about. Through an exploration of our fear of the phrase “I don’t know” Charles pushes us to look deeper. The simple, linear, carbon is the enemy, Trump is the enemy, sugar is the enemy, lines of thought are great for choosing our enemies, but doing so can actually make things worse. Charles invites us in to a space of deep unknowing where true insights can emerge. In essence, he asks us to let go of the overly mechanistic/rational ways we view our problems and move towards a more sacred view of ourselves and our planet. Ever wonder why caring for children or for the dying doesn’t seem to be a great way to make a living? This is the place where even your smallest efforts to connect with and care for others are essential to all of our futures. (It’s worth the journey just for the parking lot metaphor)
The New & Ancient Story Podcast (the audio has a little static, but it’s worth it)
Think back to the last time that you can remember disagreeing with someone else’s actions. Perhaps they acted like a jerk or a fool. Perhaps they were mean to someone else or spewing anger at the room. Perhaps you can think back to a time that you saw someone being wasteful or seemingly unconscious in their actions?
Did you feel that? Did you feel the judgement? The self righteousness? Did you hear your mind say, “I would never….”? Did it feel healthy? Did it feel true? Might your thought be nearly as counterproductive as their action? Might there be a way to reframe the situation that is both more loving and more productive?
I was reading Charles Eisenstein’s latest book “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible” this morning when I came across this distinction between dispositionism and situationism. Perhaps you see where this is going? In a chapter titled “Judgement” Charles brings up the body of research that demonstrates that ‘good people’ in difficult circumstances act like ‘bad people’. Essentially, what an objective perspective seems to say, time and time again, is that we all do the best that we can given our resources at the time and the circumstances that we find ourselves in.
The example Charles offers is of the 1973 experiment by John Darley and C Daniel Batson where seminary students are sent off across their campus to deliver a lecture on The Good Samaritan story, a biblical tale about the one man who pauses to help a stranger moaning by the roadside (after a priest and a priests assistant do not). Along the way to their lecture they will have to actually step over a man in distress, collapsed in a doorway. These students are, quite literally, dedicating their lives to becoming ‘good samaritans’. They have also had their intention brought to this story. In their shoes, would you stop to help the moaning man? Would this tell me something about your character, your core disposition?
There is a twist. The students are broken up into three groups. Those in the first group are told that they are late for their lecture and better hurry. Those in the second group are told to hurry, their lecture starts in a few minutes. The third group is told that they have plenty of time, but should head over.
Can you guess who tends to notice the man in distress and stop to aid him? 10 percent of the first group and 60 percent of the third group stop. Clearly circumstances played a major role in their actions. It was not these students core disposition that determined their actions, it was the situation they found themselves in. Still telling yourself that you are different?
Any time that we judge someone we are saying that based on our observations we can tell some core truth about their disposition; who they are. In essence, we are saying that if we were in their exact position we would have acted differently. But what can we ever truly know about another’s exact position? Do we understand their entire upbringing? Do we understand the dreams or nightmares they had last night? Do we know if they are feeling nourished, loved and whole in their body mind and spirit? Do we know if they just received a crushing blow that has them crying on the inside, but lashing out on the outside?
Clearly we do not ever know the entirety of another’s truth.
So what happens if we instead work from the default assumption that someone’s ‘stupid’ actions are something that we might do as well given the exact same situation? What happens if we switch our default judgement from being dispositional, judging a person, to situational, looking at them as a product of circumstance? Might we approach others with more compassion? More patience? More understanding?
This does not mean that you must condone their actions. It does mean that you begin to make a distinction between their actions and them as a human being worthy of your love. It means loosening your belief that there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people as well as the idea that you are ‘one of the good ones’. It means reconsidering your partisan beliefs that Republicans or Democrats are idiots at their core. It means relaxing your judgement that the violence in others is a product of some innate insensitivity that you could never be guilty of. It ends up meaning that a lot of the self-righteous congratulations that we give ourselves at the expense of others need to be reconsidered with a lot more humility and compassion for just how much others have had to struggle through things that we take for granted.
You may be asking what the point is. What is this effort worth? Why give up the my high horse? This is something I have struggled with. I was an angry, self-righteous young man with a chip on his shoulder and a desire to ‘set the world right’. How do you think I felt as this young man who knew better than those around him? I felt lonely and I felt judged. When we project judgement out into the world it finds resonance and it is the very thing that we then feel coming from others minds as we assume that they are judging us. But when I choose to search for understanding and offer acceptance as my default perspective I feel held, understood and appreciated in almost any situation. The simple truth is that judgement creates separation where there is always an option for compassion and understanding. If our intention is truly to right perceived wrongs and bring light to darkness it is worth questioning our assumption that people have a default disposition that is fundamentally different than our own. As Charles says, echoing saints and mystics, “you and I are one; we are the same being looking out at the world through different eyes.” “Moreover, situationism says that the “I” in every situation is bigger than the individual. The subject, the actor, the chooser, is the individual plus the totality of his or her relationships.
The self has no independent existence. Consider what that statement implies. Abstracted from its relationships to the world, the self is not itself.
So who is there to judge?
This post is from a series called Insights that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life & Career Coach.
If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose then I would love to be of service.
Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.
“The greatest illusion of this world is the illusion of separation.”
How do we realize the more beautiful world that our hearts know is true?
Check out this beautiful video set to the words of Charles Eisenstein.
This man is AMAZING!
Wednesdays are for AMAZING MEN
Find More Amazing Men by clicking HERE
The following is an exercise I gave to a client of mine recently. She has a “great” job producing television commercials (you have seen her work). Objectively her situation is great. Subjectively she wants to be doing something else. Her heart is not in it. She has other dreams and she has started working with me so that she can pursue them. The problem is that until she quits her advertising job she will have to put an amazing amount of time and energy into producing those TV spots. When in production she works 12 hour days. She is rarely 100% off the clock. Until the time that she makes the Big Leap into her dream job she needs to be very careful to protect her mind, to continue to cultivate her next steps and to keep her sense of hope and possibility alive. In short, she needs to keep dreaming.
What happens if we take that literally? I told her we could make a big impact in less than 5 minutes a day. Here is her exercise:
TAKE BACK YOUR CONSCIOUSNESS
You don’t yet have full control over your schedule. This is the situation. No reason to struggle with it. But, in the process of dealing with it, perhaps you have given up too much of your mind. This dream journaling practice is a subversive way of tapping into your subconscious. It is about shifting gears before you go to sleep (if not much sooner). It is about preventing your day job from cannibalizing your dreams….literally. It is also about planting positive seeds in your unconscious that, believe it or not, will sprout later in your waking and dreaming minds. This will also help to develop your intuition (which is already stronger than you trust)
It should take up about 2 minutes of your time. Seriously. If it takes more than 5 you are doing it wrong. (Caveat: If you get inspired and want to journal that is cool with me 🙂
BEFORE BED: Write “Dream Career” and tomorrows date in your journal. Place the journal next to your bed so you can reach it with as little movement as possible.
1st THING UPON WAKING: Write down the 1st FIVE words that pop into your head.
Worried you’ll forget? Writing on the top of the page each night sets an intention and starts the process. Place your journal on your pillow every morning after you write in it so you have to pick it up just to go to bed.
Do you see what this accomplishes?
- Curbs the inertia of your days stresses, most of which stem from a job you want to move away from.
- Shifts your mind towards positive thoughts before you go to sleep. You should feel a smile when you write “Dream Career”. This is both a title and a command. Dream about your dream career. You are programming your subconscious. Don’t believe me? Try it.
- You are stimulating your unconscious mind to focus on something that is not yet real. You are asking yourself to be creative. Ever wake up with a great idea? Inventors do it all the time. Musicians and artists as well. A lot is happening while you are asleep. Why not harness this potential?
- Bracketing your nights (and your days) with positive thoughts. This is good sleep hygiene and a great way to start your day.
- Having an impact on your waking consciousness. Ever wake up from a bad dream and have a terrible morning? Ever ask your unconscious to dream about the life you want to create and then walk around in the wake of those dreams all day?
No? Why not try it? Let me know how it goes in the comments below.
This post is from a series called INSIGHTS that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life & Career Coach.
If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose than I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.
“Often times when things sound worse ’tis truly that your hearing has improved.”
I woke up one morning, long before the alarm, to the feeling of these words repeating in my head. I grabbed a pad of paper I kept near the bed, wrote them down, and then fell back asleep.
Have you ever known a “film expert” who doesn’t seem to enjoy watching movies as much as the rest of us? Ever known a musician who is critical of every band she hears? They notice the flaws in everything. Imagine what happens when they try to make their own movie or album. Do you think that they could silence their inner critic long enough to create something? Is ignorance really bliss?
Have you felt that at times your life is getting better while at others it seems to stagnate or just get worse? Do you have good moments and bad moments? Of course you do. We all do. The reasons for this are many. The world is a tumultuous place. Most things are out of your control. Some are not. You can have some impact on your circumstances. Most of the time this is what we focus on. How can I change my life?! I am all for making big changes. Growth and transformation are my bread and butter as a life coach. But there is something else I always work on with my clients.
There is one thing that is not bound to circumstance but is incredibly maleable. Rarely do we acknowledge just how much it changes our experience of the world.
Most of us know that when we are in a good mood things roll off of our back. We can see the light in everything. When we are in a bad enough mood even the smallest comment might shake us at the roots. Have you also noticed that this process happens in cycles? Good day. Bad day. Good mood. Bad mood. We all cycle through various states of being; more resilient/less resilient, more flexible/less flexible, more positive/less positive. People talk about a lot of different reasons ranging from hormones to how much sleep we have gotten to the time of the month. “Upper Limiting” is another concept worth understanding that I will likely talk about in the future. (The famous coach Gay Hendricks quite literally wrote the book on that)
What I am talking about here is something a bit subtler. This isn’t about self-sabotage. This isn’t about how a night of drinking makes you feel depressed the next day (it can). What I am talking about and what the phrase I woke up hearing refers to is a natural bi-product of being self aware. When we are self aware, we are self critical. At any given time we have the ability to look at anything we are doing and judge it according to the highest standards that we hold. Right now I am writing this article and I am feeling ok about it. I am not as deeply into a flow state as I’d like. The words are coming out comprehensible, but they are far from the most poetic thing I have ever written. I am doing my best, but I am also being my own critic.
When I read this in the future I will have a new judgement of it that I necessarily can not have now. Why? Because I, and therefore my perspective, will have changed. How often do you acknowledge changes in your perspective?
What would happen if I were to take a writing course tomorrow and then come back to what I have written? Might I hate something I love today? Might I see a better way to say this very sentence right here? I might. Does it mean that what I wrote got worse or did my perspective simply change?
Why is this helpful to be prepared for?
Engaging our critical abilities can be an asset or a curse. Seeing flaws in what we have done can hurt. It can take the wind out of our sails. Paradoxically, it is also a sign of progress. When you look back at something you made yesterday or last decade and you see a million ways that it could have been better do you feel a bit ashamed of what you did? Or do you well up with inspiration and immediately want to create the greatest thing you can in this moment right now? Do you realize that you have improved?
In my experience with myself, my friends and with my coaching clients I notice a tendency to feel defeated by the limits of past efforts. Listening back to a recording of that song you wrote while in high school often makes us laugh at how silly we once were. Rarely does it inspire us with how aware we now are. This doesn’t only happen when looking back at past efforts. With anything we do our ability and our awareness are constantly surpassing one another in a game of leap frog. Get a little better on the guitar? You will suddenly think you sound amazing! Hone your ears a little more….now that same ability falls short. And the cycle continues! This happens in seconds. We can suddenly become critical of what we are creating while we are creating it. If we fail to see the opportunity in our perspective we might just quit.
Here’s the issue.
It is my experience that those who fail and, more importantly, those who quit, tend to let their increasing critical ability defeat them instead of letting their increasing ability to perform and be critical inspire them. What about you? Which side of the equation do you tend to focus on? Do you remember how much improvement you have already made each time you see room for more growth? Do you recognize that you are seeing a flaw you hadn’t seen while you were first working….so you can now do better? Or does your ability to be self critical always take center stage and make you feel defeated because you “never get it perfect”?
Sometimes, when things sound worse to you, they haven’t changed at all, but your perspective, your ability to see both the beauty and the flaws has changed. If you are not gentle with yourself, if you are not aware that your perspective evolves, you might get lost in judgement and fail to honor the growth that is happening on both sides of the equation.
This post is from a series called Insights that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life Coach.
If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose then I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Life and Career Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.
Michael Phelps has won more Olympic medals than anyone else ever. I have heard a number of stories about how he achieved this. Some people cite his natural physique, his arm span, the size of his feet, his height or the fact that he is double jointed. Some talk about his diet, his workouts, his unwavering commitment, his attitude, his bong hits (really). Some say it was his coach.
As a coach myself, sure, I want to think that his coach had a positive impact in some way. Confirmation bias somewhat aside, one thing that his coach taught him struck me as absolutely brilliant and Phelps has said many a time just how big an impact it has had on him over the years.
Michael Phelps coach, Bob Bowman, taught him how to “play the tape”.
Playing the tape is a catchy way to refer to his use of visualizations to prepare himself for races. In years past many assumed that the best (and perhaps only) way to prepare for an activity was to do it. Practice makes perfect became a truism we all believed. Don’t just sit there, get up and do it! Well, not so fast the science now says. Back in 2002 a psychologist named Alan Richardson studied how visualizing free throws compared to actually shooting them. The results were clear. Those who spent 20 minutes per day visualizing improved almost as much as those who physically practiced. We learn by doing, but we also learn by imagining doing.
Now I am not suggesting that you couch potato your way to success. Clearly the best results come when you combine the two methods. Go out and work your but off, but then, when you are not on the court, or holding your instrument, or in the office or doing anything that you want to excel at, you should learn to hold a vision of exactly how you want this pursuit to go in the future.
Another key element of visualization is relaxation. Anyone who has been in the zone, who has stepped into a FLOW state, knows that we can only drop fully into the moment when we are free from any concerns about the future or the past. Anxiety is our enemy when it comes to performing at the highest level. To this end, it is incredibly useful to practice deep relaxation while visualizing things going perfectly. But this is not only about visualizing a perfect world. Visualizations are also incredibly useful for preparing to overcome obstacles you may encounter. As Phelps once said about his visualization practice, “I do go through everything from a best-case scenario to the worst-case scenario just so I’m ready for anything that comes my way,”
Picture the high pressure situation you would like to conquer. Can you see the ideal unfolding of events? This is the first step. This is your “tape”. Once you know what is on the tape, it is great to “play the tape” before bed, upon waking, or just before your big competition, test, interview, performance, presentation etc. But once you get that down, once you have written the tape and you can play it at will, you are ready for the next step. Now, can you allow yourself to CALMLY see something going horribly wrong, but then also see yourself overcoming this obstacle and being massively successful regardless. This is the expert version of visualizations. The goal is not to leave yourself stranded with the difficulty, but to sink deep into a relaxed state and experience yourself overcoming any and all obstacles. Here is where playing the tape really becomes powerful.
Philosophers have said for years that our minds can not tell the difference between what is real and what is only inside the mind. Dreams are real until we wake up. The mind works in mysterious ways. Some have postulated that dreams are actually a way for us to practice life before it happens; to re-live events that did not go as planned and to play with possibilities that the future holds for us. This is pure speculation, but what is abundantly clear is that people who are masterful often have a clear vision of how they want things to go long before it happens. This is not about being attached to outcomes. This is about resonating with and stepping into the reality that you want to create for yourself.
Tiger Woods was taught to visualize his golf ball going exactly where he wants it to go from a very young age. Jim Carrey once wrote himself a check for 10 million dollars and carried it with him every day until he actually started making that much money. How’s that for a vision of the future? Arnold Schwarzenegger used visualization to see not only exactly how he wanted each and every muscle in his body to grow during his body building years, but also to hold a vision of himself as a movie star when his body building career was coming to an end. Each of these people learned to believe deeply that something would happen long before it actually did.
Much of what we are discussing here is about belief. As I have discussed before, belief is an incredibly potent ingredient when trying to change a habit or stimulate growth. The powerful, yet simple act of “playing the tape” will never happen if you don’t first let yourself believe that there is a possibility of being successful. So play the tape. Try it when you are in bed with your eyes closed. Let visions of your future joy and success fill your dreams and wake you from your bed. Cultivate belief in your every fiber and let these ideas, emotions and actual skills work there way into the very fabric of your body and your mind.
Do you remember being conceived?
How about being born? Or the time in your mothers womb?
Even if you can’t call forth specific memories might your cells or your morphogenic field hold the imprints of this time? If so, how could this be impacting your life, your decisions and your experience of the world today?
On Monday, May 20th I will be hosting an evening with Anna Verwaal, making a rare appearance from Denmark, where she will talk about just this. All are welcome. For more information on this event please visit our Meetup page here: www.meetup.com/kenwilber-58/
Using rich visuals Anna is going to present the latest findings in cellular biology and pre and perinatal psychology. You will leave you with a deep understanding of how conception, the time in the womb and the birth experience become the blueprint for the rest of our lives, physically, psychologically and emotionally. This talk is for anyone seeking understand, prevent or heal from birth imprints and trauma. This includes couples planning to conceive or currently pregnant.
This night is guaranteed to give you tremendous insights and teach you how to use this important information in personal life and professional practice.
Cellular biology and memory of the conception, womb and birth experience
The emotional, physical & medical events that affect the fetus later in life
The way prenatal and birth experiences & methods shape our beliefs and fears and show up in our lives (IVF, twins, stress, disease, induction, vacuum, C/S, prematurity, etc)
How prenatal and birth experiences can influence fertility, pregnancy, labor and giving birth
How to prevent birth trauma from happening and prepare for a conscious pregnancy and birth experience
Anna Verwaal, RN, CLE, born and educated in the Netherlands is a Maternal-Child Health Nurse, Conscious Conception & Birth Consultant, Primal Period Instructor, UCLA Certified Lactation Educator and Birth Photographer who lives in Santa Fe.
She currently travels internationally to lecture and teach workshops about the cellular memory of the birth experience, the physiological & hormonal blueprint for birth & bonding and the deeply psychological, emotional and spiritual aspects of giving birth.
For more info on Anna Verwaal please visit her website: fromwombtoworld.com or watch her TEDx talk here:
Do you consider yourself to be creative? Do you have a strong critical mind? What connection do you think there is between these two? Which has your education helped develop? Which does the world need you to have more of right now?
Reading the first chapter of the book Presence today I came across the words of Stanford business school professor Michael Ray. Mr. Ray teaches very popular courses on creativity. His courses start with three assumptions:
- Creativity is essential for health, happiness and success in all areas of life, including business.
- Creativity is within everyone
- Even though it is in everyone it is covered by the Voice of Judgement
I couldn’t help but be reminded of the work of Ken Robinson. Sir. Robinson has written some wonderful books on creativity, the modern education system and finding your purpose or “element”. I wrote about “The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything” earlier in one of my posts on FLOW. In his previous book “Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative” Robinson raises the very pressing possibility that “we are educating people out of their creativity.”
In an article on the Huffington Post Robinson writes, “First, we’re all born with deep natural capacities for creativity and systems of mass education tend to suppress them. Second, it is increasingly urgent to cultivate these capacities — for personal, economic and cultural reasons — and to rethink the dominant approaches to education to make sure that we do.”
Years ago I came across a popular story, perhaps from Robinson, about what happens when you ask school kids who in the room is an artist. The story starts out in a kindergarten class. The question is asked and every hand goes up. Then the question is asked again in the 1st grade classroom, then 2nd grade and on up through senior year in high school. In elementary school the number of hands going up quickly drops towards half and then less. By high school there are only a few hands and by the end of high school a room is lucky to have one hand go up. Often all of the other students agree and say “yes, she is the artist.” What happened? Is school to blame? And does this narrowing of identity really have an impact on our health, happiness and success?
Mr. Ray tells the authors of Presence about “a study by Howard Gardner’s Project Zero at Harvard that involved developing intelligence tests for babies. The project also tested older subjects. The researchers found that up to age four, almost all the children were at the genius level, in terms of the multiple frames of intelligence that Gardner talks about – spatial, kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, mathematical, intrapersonal and linguistic. But by age twenty, the percentage of children at genius level was down to 10 percent, and over twenty, the genius level proportion of the subjects sank to 2 percent.
Everyone asks, ‘Where did it go?’ It didn’t go anywhere; it’s covered over by the Voice of Judgement.”
The solution offered by Ray? Become aware of the Voice of Judgement, the voice that tells you “that’s a stupid idea” or “you can’t do that” and choose to disregard that voice. In a sense we must practice willful disobedience within our own minds. The key is simple awareness. Much of what he describes sounds just like meditation, albeit meditation with a specific intention. The first, hardest and most powerful step is simply deciding to notice this voice and label it. That’s it. As I am found of saying, consciousness is curative. When we decide to bring awareness to something with the intention of loving and healing ourselves the solutions do become apparent. We don’t have to be fearlessly creative to begin. We simply have to open up to the possibility that deep within us there lies an immense capability to be creative. We must consider the possibility that our education, training and cultural conditioning has been unbalanced and has favored critical reasoning (the Voice of Judgement) over creative imagining.
If you would like to re-invigorate your creative side and are having a hard time doing so perhaps it is time to look for, label and summarily dismiss your Voice of Judgement. The Voice of Judgement relies 100% on the past to determine what it thinks is possible or reasonable. Being creative, being an entrepreneur or an artist is an unreasonable act. It must be. It is about bringing into being something which does not already exist. All great creators are unreasonable in the eyes of those who did not share their vision. There is a playfulness, a childlike naivety, in all acts of creation. What would you do if you were suddenly free from your Voice of Judgement?