It’s strange how some things we’ve seen or heard before have different resonance at different times.
The first few weeks of the Coronavirus crisis in the UK triggered a familiar response in me… a response I’ve deployed many times before; a response that has seemingly served me well before; a response to get busy and spring into action.
It’s an interesting sequence: crisis = action = reward = justification to repeat.
And what’s more; the ‘action’ was absolutely useful and valuable. Every day for the first 3 weeks, I deployed a set of skills and knowledge that enabled me to help and support others, unravel confusion and provide tools that were needed. Marvellous!
So what’s the problem?
Well, it’s not so much a problem as a pattern. A pattern of behaving, of responding, of being.
A pattern that is encouraged and validated by the rewards it brings. A pattern that has been deployed in many past ‘crises’ in my life; the sudden death of my much loved step Dad, severe mental health diagnosis (anorexia of 16 years) for my sister, cancer diagnosis for my Mum, the loss of twins in pregnancy, a divorce after 18 years, a cancer diagnosis for my Dad, PTSD and depression for a very close family member. You see; it’s a really well rehearsed, refined, embedded pattern. I’ve got it down to a fine art. You could say it’s my ‘go to’ strategy for a crisis.
When it doesn’t work!
You see, this same strategy is also the thing that causes me pain. Like so many of our ‘strengths’, it also damages when over-used. It wears me out, it changes my mood, it affects my sleep, it dulls down my senses and intuition. And hear my language…… I describe it as ‘it’. But it’s still me, or at least a part of me that consumes my thinking and behaviour when the crisis come. It’s like being strapped to a spinning bike and feeling you have to keep cycling otherwise you’ll fall off.
But last week I was reminded of an equation; an equation I know well and have explored many times before in my training but strangely it’s never registered quite as it did this time.
It originates from the work of Tim Gallwey, a nationally ranked tennis player and coach who is also the author of ‘The Inner Game’. The premise of which is that in every aspect of life (sport, business, personal) there are two arenas of engagement: the outer and the inner. The outer game is played in the external arena, but the inner game is played in the mind against obstacles such as fear, self-doubt, limiting beliefs or assumptions.
Gallwey’s equation is a simple one: P = P – I (performance = potential – interference)
The assertion is that the higher the interference, the greater the impact on your potential; resulting in a lower performance.
As I revisited this (through a brilliant piece by Steve Miles from Emerging Leaders) I was struck by how loud my interference has been recently. There’s been so much head noise and disease of busy-ness (which provides a wonderful distraction technique), I realised my ‘interference’ was high and my performance (in all areas of my life) was dipping as a result. Slowly, but surely.
I also noticed a huge feeling of overwhelm and loss of control – the day was running me, and I couldn’t get back on top of it. It was as if a damp blanket had been laid over my normal ‘aliveness’. It was dulling me down and making me miserable.
The Easter weekend arrived and not a moment too soon. The emails and calls stopped for a while, the sun shone, and I filled my lungs with sea air on our daily beach walk.
I returned to my meditation practice – a place to go inside to sit with my thoughts and allow space. A time to pay attention to my own experience; something I hadn’t yet done in this strangest of times. A place to rest and quieten the ‘interference’. My mentor describes this practice as a way to cultivate the nervous system. A critical daily practice.
I’ve returned to my meditation; twice daily for 15-20 minutes a time. The results are remarkable and immediate. A calming of my system, a clarity of thought, a restful and trusting comfort, a sharpness to my thinking, a strong connection with my intuition, a greater ability to lead. All the key things I need to be the best parent, partner, daughter and coach I can be.
I’ve been reminded once again that leadership is an inner game. It starts with ourselves and only then can we live our best life and offer our best to others. Recognising and hearing the interference is a key step and it’s never too late to quieten it.
So, as we all navigate through this unprecedented time, my practice is that of meditative practice. My daily essential; to help me sit with the not knowing, take care of myself, take care of those around me and make my best offer to the world. It’s the best way I know to manage the damaging behaviour pattern of ‘crisis = action’ and choose something better for myself.
My invitation is to think about your patterns; where they serve you, where they harm and what ‘practices’ would support you through this time.