My undergraduate roommate was a NCAA swim champion. All of his friends shaved their heads and legs to prepare for important swim meets. And they coerced me (and everyone who lived in that hallway) to take swimming lessons. So, I became a Water Safety Instructor (WSI). Years later I taught advanced lifesaving skills at a summer camp.
I swam for only two reasons: 1) to cool off when it was hot outside, or 2) to survive. Later, I taught whitewater kayaking and canoeing. When the rapids tossed my boat upside down or sideways I had to swim hard. My helmet had a sticker saying “Don’t Drown- It will Spoil Your Day.” So I flailed in order to survive.
I never learned to swim a proper freestyle. I learned to flail. To survive.
When I turned 51, one of my triathlon buddies cornered me. “So, when are you going to get past this head trash? When are you going to learn to swim properly?”
He pointed me toward Total Immersion Swimming instruction. I checked out videos on YouTube. Their instructors looked smoother than Michal Phelps. I was ready to face my fears. So I hired a local coach and stumbled toward the local pool.
Coach Dinah siad, “Show up at 0800 with goggles. You don’t need to prepare anything.” She was wrong.
I bought goggles, but did not know how to fit them. They leaked. She taught me to mush them into my face until they created suction and kept the water out. Lesson #1= do what you can to at least look like a swimmer.
From the bottom dresser drawer, I grabbed the 20+ year old purple triathlon swim shorts. My wife said, “Those are too short to wear.” She was right. When I got to the locker room I learned that the elastic was gone. Unfazed, I stapled the waist band 1″ shorter. McGyver-style. Then I stuck a jumbo-sized paper clip into the waistband. As if that could keep those old shorts from falling down. When I leaned forward they revealed more than anyone needed to see…
Coach Dinah pulled out her video camera and simply said, “Show me your best stroke. Off you go.”
When I shared the video clips with my wife and daughters, later that night, they laughed until one rolled onto the floor. My shorts nearly slid off my backside. My arms flailed. I made thousands of bubbles…. and made it 2/3 of the way across the pool.
Just one more example of a time when the phrase “conscious incompetence” applies. I stood a long distance from “unconscious competence” or mastery. This process had started ugly…
I certainly had a lot of room to develop.
Coaching others is similar…
I know that we can each face challenges and develop new behaviors. I know that we can change. I know that we can overcome bad habits, we can improve patterns that formerly caused us to flail.
Coach Dinah is helping me embrace new challenges. Here are some takeaways. They may apply to your world too:
- Regular practice helps develop new skills In the last 14 days, I skipped 10 days, then practiced 4 days in a row. That is more than ever, but not enough.
- Video trumps imagination. I had never imagined how poor my form was. The video provided objective data, undeniable evidence, of the current state. The YouTube and instructional videos provided different evidence, of an improved state.
- Breathing is not necessary. I loved this idea. Coach Dinah explained that for the first few sessions my focus needed to be on proper body position to reduce resistance. She said, “Just put your head down and go.” Perhaps someday I will get to the lesson that includes proper breathing technique…
- When scared, just stand up. The pool water depth varies from 3.5 to 5 feet. No problem. I can stand up, and breathe with confidence, at any time.
Call me foolish, but every so many years I need to learn a new skill. Life is filled with challenges. I no longer want to be scared by the idea of a long freestyle swim. So it is time to learn some new behaviors.
How about you?
What challenges are you confronting?
And how is your “Coach Dinah” helping you progress?
One of my coaching clients recently shared some CDs based on this question. He provoked me. And I loved it.
Take this quiz:
1. I watch the evening news (despite its focus on violence and deprivation)
2. I listen to negative feedback from customers more than positive feedback
3. I regularly focus on the positive qualities of my life, and state them as choices
4. I agree that over 70% of people are motivated by fear
Now pause. And notice what you are feeling or thinking…
Who/What do you listen to?
If you listen to negative messages you will see the negatives.
If you are reading this blog, then you probably want to see positive results.
Here are three favorite resources: Martin Seligman’s research into Learned Optimism assures us that those who learn to be optimistic can have tremendous health and professional benefits. And Marcus Buckingham’s research at the Gallup foundation in Significant Strengths found that individual and team success is a result of intentional focus on your strengths.
In 2008 I attended a 3-day coach certification program lead by iPEC in Chicago. The gist of the content was to introduce the relationship between anabolic energy (positive, constructive, healing and growth-oriented) and catabolic energy (draining, destructive, potentially toxic.)
We have choices: to live anabolically or catabolically.
And we all know that who we listen to effects how we think/act. Examples abound, from talk radio to war-based propaganda to marketing.
A better question may be: Who/What do you CHOOSE to listen to?
Some people wake up and intentionally:
- spend 30+ minutes in yoga, or regular exercise
- spend 10+ minutes in prayer, or reading uplifting material such as “Success” magazine
- spend 20+ minutes writing expressions of gratitude in a journal, or love letters to family, or paint a gift
Throughout the day some people intentionally:
- begin every conversation by asking, “Is this a good time for us to talk?”
- end every conversation with a specific, genuine compliment
- maintain a list of the 5+ daily calls to friends or positive people that they make
- create a better future by focusing on HOW to make someone feel better, be more productive, own a success, etc
So, who/what are you CHOOSING to listen to?
This morning one of my coaching clients was struggling with 1) a new manager, 2) a new role, 3) a former manager who expected him to continue doing the old work, 4) former colleagues who were not aware that his billable hours were now charged to a different business line. He was distracted.
We all get distracted. And the results are evident in 1) sloppy or inadequate work, 2) poor self care, diet, health, exercise, etc…
So what do you do to make smart decisions?
The Importance Screen is a great tool for sifting through choices. Just as you sift sand through a screen before creating a cement foundation, this screen is a simple way to gain clarity.
The team at Stephen Covey’s “Five Disciplines of Execution” developed this screen: Importance Screen v2.0
You can use it as a template and design your own.
1. Start by listing the individual and team goals that you think are important… get it “out of your head and onto the paper.”
2. Note that some goals have a net negative effect (-1) and assign a number to each goal in each column, then add them
3. Trust your “gut instinct” so that it “trumps the data.” We buy on emotion. And we rationalize using techniques such as this Importance Screen. Let it be predictive. Not descriptive. Use it to develop your 90-day plan, rather than explain your past 90 days.
4. Tweak these headings to suit your scenario right now.
Oh, my client? He stated that one takeaway from our session is that he will complete this Importance Screen within 48 hours, send a copy to me for review, then send a copy to his new boss when developing his 90-day plan. If he needs to use it as a reference when talking with his former manager, then he will have this tool, “in his back pocket.”
So, how might you use this Importance Screen?
And if you have shared this Importance Screen with others, please comment below on how you have done so…