Losing for the win

At the dojo

Last night at the Boston Martial Arts Center I had an interesting experience while coaching one of the green belt students on some avoidance techniques. The drill was simple: I swung at the student with a foam-padded bopper and after avoiding a relatively slow swing, they had to hit a padded target. It’s a drill of avoidance and footwork on one hand, and accuracy on the other. The drill encourages not only good technique, but presence of mind – you can’t just wildly avoid or you’ll be out of position for the target hitting.

What was interesting to me wasn’t the drill itself but two insights I had. The first insight was that I had to strongly resist my own urge to “win”, to hit the student with the foam stick. That wasn’t the point of the drill, and initially, my own ego and desire to “win” by the conventional definition (hit them with the bopper) was quite strong. It took me a good minute or two before we started to put myself in the right frame of mind, that I was there to help the student first and foremost, and to appropriately move at a speed that insured more success than failure, while not eliminating the chance for failure.

The second insight, which was part of that reframing, was that “winning” in this case wasn’t hitting the student with the bopper. Winning was actually “losing” the majority of the time for my role as the attacker. If I was not able to hit them the majority of the time, if I was able to have them succeed first and foremost, that was the true win, the win in the bigger picture. They’d walk away with more skill, more insight of their own, and more happiness rather than walk away demoralized or ashamed of their performance. In this case a narrow-minded personal “win” would have been a failure on my part as a coach and a failure on the part of the student.

When I look over my career, this is a pattern writ large. Those times that have been the most fruitful and the most successful were when I put a bigger picture win ahead of a narrow-minded personal win. When you help create success in others, they root for your success and actively look for ways to help you achieve it. Those times that have been the most stressful and unpleasant were because I created selfish success at the expense of others. In a world where you are the platform, creating situations where people don’t want to see you succeed is tantamount to career suicide, while creating situations where people are actively and eagerly supporting you is a rocketship to the top.

The challenge I continue to face is whether my ego is willing to lose small for the big win.


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Transcending pain by doing the work

Edvisors SLN Day Away 2007

Much has been written and much more will be written about the events at the Boston Marathon, and I’ll leave the wordsmithing of it to others who are far better writers. All I have to offer at the moment is some simple advice I received for things like this. Once long ago, I asked one of my teachers, Stephen K. Hayes, about how to recover from something that was incredibly draining, incredibly stressful, and traumatic. His advice still rings true today – doing some menial work can help you get past difficult times, recover your energy, restore your peace of mind. It can be anything from going outside and working the soil to filing papers or cleaning your office, maybe sorting email lists, whatever you can do to help your body and mind work together without putting undue stress on both.

If your life and your peace of mind has been affected, I would encourage you to try out this advice. Take some time today to do some menial work, some simple work, maybe an extra walk or two during the breaks in your workday. The healing process is one of momentum. Events and circumstances shock us, bring our lives to a brief, stunning halt for a short period of time. In order to heal effectively, we have to do what we can to restore the momentum of our lives, to get back in motion all that is supposed to be in motion. Go do the work, the little stuff, the things that have to get done as a means of getting the momentum in your life restarted.

May you find peace and healing returning to your door swiftly.

The most frequent piece of advice I’m giving lately

Want to know the most frequent piece of advice I’m giving lately?

It’s a piece of advice I gave to the staff at a recent internal training.
It’s a piece of advice I gave to friends and colleagues who are crumbling under stress.
It’s a piece of advice I gave to DJ Waldow and Nick Westergaard for their recent Work Talk Show.
It’s a piece of advice I gave to anyone who has asked for “the one thing that will make a difference” for them, personally or professionally.

Candle flame

Learn to meditate.

I mean that in all seriousness. Here’s why: the dark side to the economy of attention, which is the wonderful, powerful economy that drives social media and digital marketing, is the abundance of distraction. Every time a content marketer publishes a new infographic, a new YouTube video, a clever Tweet, etc., they are attempting to grab your attention. That is, by definition, a distraction. They are making a withdrawal on your attention, presumably in exchange for something of value. But that interruption, that disruption, that distraction very often costs far more than you get in return for a cheap laugh at a graphic or a retweet of a cute status.

The antidote to distraction is focus. Focus comes from discipline. Discipline can be taught with meditation. While everyone and everything in marketing is looking to withdraw from your bank of attention, you can make deposits of focus with meditation.

How do you get started? Pick something that requires you to be in the here and now only. For some people, that’s the stereotypical image of a person sitting cross-legged on a mountaintop, inhaling the mists and chanting. That does work for some people. For others, it’s going for a run, painting, going to the shooting range, training at the dojo, singing… whatever activity or practice that requires you to be fully invested in the here and now only, activities that tolerate no distraction and in some cases have adverse consequences if you allow your attention to waver.

Incidentally, what do we call someone who takes unfairly, returning little or nothing?

A thief.

Stop letting thieves steal from your bank of attention. Create focus with the meditation practice of your choice so that you build up the vault walls and strengthen the door by disciplining your mind to keep the thieves out. Once you learn how to do this, you will find that you’ll get more done, be happier, have less stress, and be more effective at everything in your life.

If you’re still looking for a way to get started, I strongly encourage you to drop the 99 cents for my teacher’s guided meditation on iTunes. Stephen K. Hayes will take you through a 9 minute basic practice to get you back to the here and now, and the ROI of increased focus is enormous. Give it a try.


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