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You Can't Control the Situation, But You Can Control Your Focus

“The only thing we have control over is our breath and what we look at.” said my yoga teacher, Susan Fain, as we were in tree pose, a balancing posture where one is challenged to stay upright while standing on one foot and stretching one’s arms toward the sky. There is typically a lot of wobbling and shaking and in order to keep one’s balance, we breathe deeply and rhythmically and choose a focal point.

 When you are in a tough position or a situation that is shaky or challenging, the same applies. The only thing you have control over is your breath and what you look at or focus on.

Studies have shown that taking a few deep, intentional breaths brings our bodies and minds out of fight or flight mode, where we are simply scanning for threats, and allows us, instead, to think more strategically and creatively. Taking a few deep breaths, in essence, tricks our body into thinking that everything is okay, even if it isn’t.  

What I’d like to take some time with, is “what you look at” or, what you’re focusing on. Think back to the last tough situation you were in. What were you focusing on and what impact did that have on the situation? Whatever we choose to focus on (whether negative or positive), our brain will look for ways to validate it, bringing further momentum to that belief, thought or story. Why not use it to our advantage?

How?
It starts with what you just did, simply noticing. Where is your focus currently? Is it serving you or the situation? Next, you make a choice. Is that the focus that you want to stick with or is there something else that you could choose to focus on instead? Below are some examples to get you started.

  • Are you focused on the problem or the solution?

  • Are you focused on everything that annoys you about the person you are in conflict with or the one thing that you could appreciate about them and what they bring to the table?

  • Are you focused on saving your own skin, or actively supporting your team in order to make them look good and help them to succeed?

  • Are you focused on all that is wrong with an idea that someone has suggested or on how it might work?

  • Are you seeing the person in front of you, or on the other end of that email as an obstacle or as a person trying to do the best job they can?

  • Are you focused on an inevitable negative outcome or the possibilities?

  • Are you focused on what went wrong in the past or what might go wrong in the future, or simply on attending to what is happening in the present?

Yes, it is a good idea to consider the consequences of a situation and how you got there, but does it help to continue to focus on it?

In the movie Bridge of Spies, there is a great scene where Tom Hank’s character, James Donovan, shares with the accused Rudolf Abel, played by Mark Rylance, that most would prefer to see him in the electric chair. Rudolf simply sits calmly and continues to listen. James Donovan says, “You don’t seem alarmed.” Rudolf replies, “Would it help?”

This is not to say that we need to go through life with rose colored glasses, but there is a benefit to intentionally choosing to focus on something other than doom, gloom and negativity. Studies have also shown that those who choose to focus on the positive are more creative and resilient, bouncing back from challenges and failures more quickly.  

Del Close, the father of contemporary improv suggested, “If we treat others as if we are geniuses, poets and artists, we have a better chance of becoming that on stage.” What if your focus and expectation was always that you and your team have the ability, creativity and knowledge to get through whatever you are facing?

The next time you find yourself in a shaky, unnerving or challenging situation, in invite you to take control of your breath, notice what you’re currently focusing on and choose to “look at” something different.

Follow the Fear - how one word can make all the difference

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of speaking at the 2018 International TWA Conference in Ontario, Canada. The focus of my talk was, “Follow the fear,” Which is a concept that comes from improvisation, referring to our tendencies to second-guess our ideas and shut ourselves down, before we give that idea a chance to breathe. The concept of “Follow the fear,” encourages us to step into what it is that only we have to offer.

We understand that that the more afraid we are, the more important and brilliant those ideas are, and the more necessary it is to share those ideas or things that you feel need to be called out.

During the talk, I used one of my favorite exercises, One Word Story. It’s pretty self-explanatory, a group of people stand in a circle and tell a story together, one word at a time. It gives participants a chance to practice simply saying the first thing that comes to mind, without judging it. We also notice our natural tendencies to want to have the entire thing planned out ourselves, and spend time thinking about what we’re going to say, rather than being present and listening to our teammates.

The best part is leveraging the creativity of the entire group and creating something together, that we wouldn’t have come up with on our own.

While discussing these insights, a participant made another wonderful point. She said, “If any one of us weren’t here, the story would have been completely different.”

Yes! I wanted to cheer and jump up and down, but that would have been inappropriate.

Your unique insight, creativity and expertise is invaluable.

What are you holding back? Where are you second guessing yourself or keeping quiet because you don’t have every detail figured out yet? How could contributing your “one word” drastically change the story of your organization or your community?

I encourage you to “Follow the fear” and see where your “one word” takes you. I’d love to hear how it goes!