Sometimes it’s hard, in the thick of the fray, to maintain a positive focus. On those occasions, it may be time to step back and look the situation over from a distance. Viewed from the right vantage point, opportunities become visible in ways that might otherwise be unimaginable. So do yourself a favor and unplug from the daily grind. Step back to the 10,000 foot level. Appreciate your strategic advantages. Then, once your mood has improved, reengage with the zest that comes from a positive outlook. Today’s Provision shows you how.
One of my mentors in the coaching profession, although we do not know each other personally, is Tim Gallwey. I’ve heard him speak and he’s quite the inspiration. I’ve read many of his books and they have shaped both my life and work. I truly owe him a debt of gratitude.
I’ve written about Tim before in Provisions, and used some of his material, but it’s time for an encore. In 1960, Tim was captain of the Harvard University Tennis Team. Upon graduation he gave up competitive tennis and for ten years embarked on a career in education. He taught English at Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, served in the US Navy as a training officer, and joined a group of idealists to found a liberal arts college in Northern Michigan.
During the college’s short, five years of existence, Tim became more and more interested in learning how to learn and how to help others learn. He had studied the work of Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers as well as learning theory at Claremont Graduate School during the 1960s. But it wasn’t until 1970, while on sabbatical from education, that Tim made a practical breakthrough in learning while serving as a tennis instructor. He discovered what came to be called the Inner Game.
What’s the Inner Game? A way of learning that seemed to increase tremendously the learning rate of students as well as Tim’s own abilities on the court. What’s the secret of the Inner Game? Getting out of the way so we can go back to what Tim calls natural learning: the process of trial-and-correction that we used when we were learning how to walk and talk. There was no guilt, shame, pressure, or judgment in the process. There was just the joy of trying things out, falling down, receiving applause, and trying to do it better the next time.
Tim became convinced that people can adopt this approach in all aspects of life and work, and he has gone on, since 1974, to write a series of Inner Game books including the Inner Game of Tennis, Skiing, Golf, Winning, Music, Work, and Stress. They all work with the same principle: to win at any game in the external world we first have to win the inner game • the game of our emotions, presence, attention, readiness, ease, enthusiasm, and focus. When we win at those games, then the external games become easier and a whole lot more fun.
One of the many tools for playing the Inner Game that Tim has popularized in his books is the STOP tool. STOP stands for:
- Step back
- Organize your thoughts
Sounds simple, right? The trick is to actually take the time to do it on a regular basis. Tim recommends short STOPs, periodically throughout the day, as well as longer STOPs to gain more perspective and strategic advantage. Here is how Tim introduced the tool in the Inner Game of Work (2000):
Performance momentum is like being part of a fifteenth-century army fighting off an enemy with swords in a valley between two mountains. While you are engaged in active fighting, your focus is very narrow. You are totally occupied with the immediate threats and opportunities within a few feet of where you are fighting. Perhaps you are fully aware of only the person you are fighting and peripherally aware of one or two potential foes or your compatriots fighting near you. The demands of the immediate situation take all your attention • as well they should.
Now imagine that you take a few moments to disengage from the action and move a few steps up the hillside. Immediately, two things happen. First, you are removed from both the threats and challenges of the fight and all its physical and mental intensity. Second, your perspective has changed. From your more elevated position, you have the advantage of an expanded point of view. Instead of being aware of only a few soldiers, you may be able to see your entire unit. With this improved perspective, you may see where someone needs your help or where there is an advantage to be taken, and you can change your tactics accordingly.
If you allowed yourself the time to take a few more steps up the hillside, your view would be further expanded and perhaps you could view the tactical situation of your entire division. And if you went to the very top of the hillside, you could view the entire valley and gain a strategic view of both armies at once. The increased disengagement and elevation from the battle would give you a broader perspective and the ability to make more clearheaded choices. If you should conclude that this a battle worth fighting, you could determine where you could make your best contribution and reengage in the battle with clarity and a renewed sense of purpose.
In other words, when you broaden your focus, when you travel up the hillside, when you view things from the 10,000 foot level, it’s easier to have a positive attitude about what’s going on. That’s because as you get up higher you lower the intensity and see more options. Even when the situation is difficult or challenging, a broader focus can reveal a way forward. As Tim Gallwey notes, “Our best and most creative thinking usually comes when our minds are quiet and relatively relaxes, and it often comes when least expected. Creative people have learned to keep notepads by their beds and showers for this reason.
So take Tim’s advice and win the Inner Game with frequent STOPs. When the going gets tough, the tough STOP going • before they start going again. That’s the positive advantage of champions that you may not have heard about before. Go, go, go is not the secret to success. Start • STOP • Start is a better way to go forward in life.
Coaching Inquiries: How addicted are you to performance momentum? How often do you take time to stop and think? How would you describe the quality of your life right now? What would it take to gain perspective on what is going on? Who could you talk with to see the forest from the trees?
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Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..
In your last Provision, you included a piece from the New York Times about not taking NSAIDs, but I thought you were taking daily aspirin? (Ed. Note: Touch•! I do take a low-dose aspirin with my evening meal. Doctor’s orders, thanks to a congenital heart condition. I do get my liver enzymes checked annually and take zinc and selenium in a multiple vitamin to counteract those effects. It’s nice to know my readers remember. Thanks.)
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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