Being in the Zone to Facilitate or Lead a Team


George Mumford
, Mindfulness and Performance Expert, maintains that effective facilitation or leadership of a team requires the facilitator or leader to be in the zone – a state of mind where we are hyper-focused and are our most productive, creative, and powerful selves. This state is often experienced by elite athletes, racing drivers and scientists – time seems to stand still, and exceptional performance/deep insight is achieved effortlessly.

The team facilitator in the zone

George, as a high-performance coach, spends much of his time working with elite sporting teams – helping them to achieve optimal performance. He makes the point that every team and location is different, and that the facilitator cannot pre-judge the situation. In his view, you can prepare for the facilitation, but you must be in-the-moment when working with the team.

This requires being in a listening and learning mode so that your response to what is happening is spontaneous and insightful – engaging what George describes as a “resourceful state of mind”. This state requires a person who has developed a mindfulness mindset through continuous mindfulness practice – not through a single daily act of meditation but a continuous process of seeking to be mindful, whatever the situation.

George maintains that everything is changing all the time – your own self-concept, as well as the self-concept of the team members you are working with. As you continuously attempt to achieve your own body-mind-emotion alignment, you are increasing your self-awareness, other-awareness and your self-regulation (so that your negative thoughts do not disable your capability).

I find that as an organisational consultant, the more I develop a mindfulness mindset, the more I am able to design innovative facilitation processes that assist organisation team members to have the conversations they ought to have and to achieve a higher level of performance. There are times when the way forward is clouded by anxiety precipitated by an unusual set of circumstances or mix of team members. Being in touch with these feelings through mindfulness can help to dissipate the anxiety and strengthen the insight, intention and faith (in a successful outcome).

The team leader in the zone

George maintains that you need to be a “mindful person” before being able to be in the zone and achieve optimal leadership effectiveness. Mindfulness enables you to achieve self-awareness, self-management and resilience and to influence others through effective active listening. It assists you to be-in-the-moment and to develop relationships that underpin any form of team effectiveness.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in his TED Talk, discusses being in the zone as being in a state of “flow” – a state of “heightened focus and immersion”. In his view, not only does flow lead to effectiveness in whatever arena you operate, but it is also the source of creativity, sustained happiness and fulfillment. He suggests that flow is achieved when you realise a balance between challenge and skill – a challenge that is perceived as extending but manageable together with a skill-set that can be employed adaptively and creatively. Mindfulness helps to achieve the balance between challenge and skill by eliciting self-confidence in your abilities, managing the anxiety associated with new challenges and developing mental and emotional agility. Mindfulness will be essential for developing leadership capacity for the digital age – characterised by uncertainty, ambiguity, disruption and complexity.

As we grow in mindfulness through continuous mindfulness practices, we can be in the zone more frequently and develop optimal facilitator and/or leadership effectiveness. We can be open to the inherent spaciousness of our minds, freed from the anxiety and fear that limits the realisation of our capacities. Being in-the-moment, we are better able to respond adaptably and creatively to changing internal and external realities.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Being in the Zone Through Mindfulness

George Mumford, Mindfulness and Performance Expert, recently presented during the Embodiment@Work online conference coordinated by the mindful leader organisation, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to encouraging and supporting mindfulness and compassion in the workplace. George works with elite sports teams and individual elite athletes, business leaders and academics to help them to achieve their very best. He is the author of The Mindful Athlete: The Secrets to Pure Performance.

Flow requires integration of body, mind and emotion

George argues that athletes, leaders and academics only achieve flow when they have achieved integration of their body, mind and emotions. What often stops people achieving their potential is what goes on in their minds which, in turn, negatively impacts their emotions. He gave the example of a young elite basketballer who can achieve a 90% success rate for three-points shots in practice, yet in a game situation her success rate drops to 33%.

We have previously discussed why it is so hard to serve out a match in tennis and how even top tennis players (men and women) often have difficulty with this feature of playing tennis. In both these examples, it is what goes on inside someone’s head that makes the difference – a difference in mindset from a positive outlook to negative anticipation.

Once people can achieve an alignment of body, mind and emotions they are open to the insight, wisdom and high performance that epitomises “being in the zone”. George argues that you can’t wish yourself there, but you can develop mindfulness so that the chances of being in the zone are increased. He maintains that it requires being present in the moment and being in control of your mind and emotions – traits that develop through mindfulness practice.

Once you are in the zone, all that is required is to let it happen. You are typically not in control – things happen spontaneously. You make the right choices, execute perfectly and achieve success. I recall being in the zone on one occasion when playing tennis against a a very good player – everything I attempted worked, stroke play was effortless and choices of shot and strategy were made without conscious intervention. At the time, I said to myself, “Just enjoy the moment while it lasts”. It lasted two sets – after which time my opponent gave up, not having won a game.

George reinforces the fact that there exists a space between stimulus and response and we can learn to use that space to make conscious choices rather than act out habituated, reactive behaviour. This form of self-regulation is achieved through sustained mindfulness practice.

Developing a mindfulness mindset

George contends that is not enough to sit, be still and maintain silence. Mindfulness must become a way of life – a sustained mindset. This can be achieved, in part, by adopting a variety of mindfulness practices in different settings as illustrated in the pausing approach described earlier or making conscious efforts to incorporate practices such as mindful walking, intention forming, open awareness or mindful eating.

George suggests that these regular practices help to develop a mindfulness mindset, but they are insufficient of themselves. He argues that we need to attempt to be fully conscious in the moment by asking ourselves a set of questions as we engage in any activity:

  • What is going on for me bodily, in my mind and with my emotions?
  • How aligned are my words and actions with my goal, my overall purpose and who I want to be?
  • Have I got the right balance of energy and effort, or am I over-exerting myself and being so energetic that it is counter-productive?
  • Do I have a firm belief in my ability to achieve the outcome I am seeking?
  • Am I distracted by negative emotions (fear, anxiety) or the inability to concentrate because of a lack of focus in the situation?

Performance growth through discomfort and mistakes

Being in the zone is more likely to occur when we are in a learning mode – open to alternative ways of doing things and to the vulnerability that comes with making mistakes. Jacob Ham argues that to overcome fear and anxiety in the face of uncertainty and ambiguity, we need to develop a “learning brain” and to quiet our “survival brain”.

George suggests that there is no growth without mistakes – we have to try out innovative ways of doing things but this requires being “comfortable with discomfort” and being ready to be self-forgiving for our mistakes (which are a part of every sport or leadership role). It also entails a readiness to be vulnerable and a willingness to learn from the mistakes we make and adapt to new situations we encounter.

As we grow in mindfulness through various forms of meditation, different mindfulness practices and conscious questioning and curiosity about our mind in the present moment, we can achieve “innovative action” and approach the unique reward of being in the zone (whatever our endeavour).

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Image by Erich Westendarp from Pixabay 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Observing Thoughts

Our thoughts can be like a whirlpool and take over our lives – generating fear, anxiety and depression. A single event may catalyse a “looping” of negative thoughts that become an endless cycle. I found this happening when I was recovering from the shock of my relative’s recent car accident. One way to steady your mind is to notice your thoughts and see them for what they are. Jon Kabat-Zinn offers a penetrating, 20-minute Guided Meditation on Observing Thoughts, and doing so non-judgmentally.

Thoughts feed on themselves

I found when reflecting on my relative’s car accident that I became preoccupied with what might have happened. Fortunately – despite rolling the car at 70 kph and ending up on a two lane, major road upside down – he suffered minor injuries, just bruising and soreness and no broken bones or head injuries. He was assessed as okay by Ambulance officers and cleared by the hospital after a 3 hour stay.

Despite this extremely fortunate outcome of the accident, my mind began to race – I could not stop thinking about what could have happened:

  • what if he had suffered a serious injury or died in the accident?
  • what if he had a passenger who was injured or killed?
  • what if people in other cars or pedestrians suffered also as a result of his accident?
  • what kind of police charge and consequences could he face if others were injured?
  • what would be the possible impact on the rest of his life?

These thoughts can become like a whirlpool or an endless loop. In the guided meditation mentioned above, Jon highlights how easily we fabricate thoughts, how readily they proliferate and how frequently they morph into other thoughts – taking us downstream in the flow of a strong, thought current.

Meditation to observe our thoughts non-judgmentally

Jon’s guided meditation on observing our thoughts is a gentle approach to raising our awareness, bringing our thoughts into focus and releasing them. He uses various metaphors to enable us to see our thoughts for what they are – clouds blowing by, bubbles floating to the surface of boiling water, ripples on a vast ocean or eddies in a stream. He encourages us not to entertain these thoughts but to observe them passing us by – avoiding any form of judgment or censure of ourselves.

The meditation leads to the ability to separate yourself from your thoughts and to “rest in awareness” – a place of calm, peace and equanimity. Liane Moriarty in her book, Nine Perfect Strangers, captures this sense of release in the thoughts expressed by one of her characters. The woman involved is one of the participants in a health retreat attended by nine people. Following periods of silence, meditation, mindful breathing, yoga and Tai Chi, she was able to observe:

At first, without the distraction of noise and conversation, Frances’s thoughts went around and around on a crazy, endless, repetitive loop…but the act of observing her looping thoughts seemed to slow them down until at last they came to a complete stop, and she’d found that for moments of time she thought…nothing. Nothing at all. Her mind was quite empty. And these moments were lovely. (p.200)

As we grow in mindfulness through practices such as meditation, Tai Chi, yoga and mindful breathing we can observe our thoughts, distance ourselves from them and the emotions they generate, and to see them as passing fabrications. We can free ourselves from the bonds of associated emotions such as fear, anxiety and depression, and experience tranquillity instead.

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Image by skeeze from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Saying “Yes” to What We Are Feeling Now

Tara Brach highlights the fact that we spend a lot of our time in a belief trance, lost in thought and focused on going somewhere – looking towards what is coming up in the future. We overlook the present which is the real source of happiness, creativity and calm. She tells the story of the Dalai Lama being interviewed and being asked “What is the happiest moment of your life?” He responded, after a thoughtful moment, “Now”.

Tara suggests that we are strongly conditioned to not be present but to be “on our way to somewhere else”. We view some future moment as the most important in our life when the present moment is really the most important – it is what really matters. This leads to an honest inquiry, “What is it that takes us away from the present?” We can check in on ourselves as each day progresses and become more aware of what is consuming our thoughts.

What is going on for us in our virtual reality?

Tara points out that we are effectively living in a “virtual reality” – disconnected from our senses and the world around us as we become totally absorbed in our thoughts. Underlying this state of “lost in thought” are our embedded wants and fears – what we think we want and what we fear . We become preoccupied with the thought that something is not quite right, that something that should be here is missing. Invariably, this leads to the conclusion that there is “something wrong with our self”.

This preoccupation with deficit in our life leads to a sense of unworthiness. Tara maintains that meditation is a way to wake up from this preoccupation with negative self-evaluation. She explains that meditation has two “wings” – the awareness wing that notices what is going on for us and the kindness wing that treats us with self-compassion. In the final analysis, meditation leads us to accept ourselves non-judgmentally.

A guided meditation – coming home to “yes’

Tara provides a guided practice which she calls, Coming Home to Yes. After becoming grounded through your breathing, you are encouraged to focus on a conflict that is current in your life that generates “difficult emotions”, but that is not overly dramatic. The practice involves exploring the two wings of meditation – awareness and self-compassion.

The focal situation needs to be something that created strong negative emotions such as resentment or envy or that resulted in your acting in a way that you wished you hadn’t – that led to some regret. The meditation involves visualising the catalytic situation and revisiting the strong emotions generated – experiencing them in their full depth and breadth.

When you are able to name your feelings, you can focus on the nature of your reactivity – is it reflected in fight, flight or freezing? Tara encourages you to notice what you are doing when you are trying to resume control – to prevent the reactivity by saying “no” to your emotions, disowning them because they make you feel “less”. You can sense the “no” in your body, mind and heart – opening to the very real experience of your resistance to these negative emotions.

After interrupting the reflective process with a few deep breaths, you can revisit the situation, the triggers, the emotions and instead of saying “no”, you can say “yes” – letting the strong negative emotions “just be”, not denying or acting on them. This gives yourself permission to own these feelings – to allow what is. It does not mean that you automatically accept the actions of the other person, but that you allow yourself to feel anger or hurt, to be real in the situation. You can sense the experience of “yes” in your body so that you can revisit this sensation when a situation in the future engenders strong negative emotions. As Tara points out, in the process you are experiencing the two wings of meditation, awareness and self-compassion.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and reflection on our strong negative emotions, we can learn to own the emotions rather than denying them or acting on them. We can say “yes” to their existence.

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Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Savour Life

This morning I attended the funeral service for our colleague and friend, Joyce Maris, who joined our human resource consulting organisation in 2014. She had previously worked for the Australian Taxation Office for 30 years. Joyce drowned in a rip while swimming at Kingscliff on Sunday 10 March 2019. She was 58 years old.

Joyce was someone who savoured life. She loved her tennis and was a member of a cycling group who rode regularly. She savoured her friendships and loved those who were closest to her – her mother, children and grandchildren. Joyce always had a smile, enjoyed travel and lived life to the full. Her cycling group had a spontaneous memorial ride on the Tuesday after her death – wearing black armbands, praying together and riding in silence for part of their journey as they each remembered their constant riding companion.

Savouring life

There is so much in life to savour – we can value our work, savour our achievements and rewards, value the space of being alone and even savour the freedom of boredom which can be the fertile ground for personal growth and creativity. If we can slow our life to appreciate what we have and express gratitude, we can begin to savour everything in our life and live fully in the present moment. Holly Butcher, who died of cancer at the age of 27, urged us to value every aspect of our lives, and refrain from contaminating the lives of others through complaining and whinging about minor issues.

Meditating on death

Joyce’s sudden death was a stark reminder of our own mortality and the unpredictability of our own death. Mindfulness teachers remind us of the benefits of meditating on death – overcoming the fear of dying and increasing our commitment to savour life. The death of a friend, family member or colleague can be a catalyst for us to meditate on our own death.

As we grow in mindfulness through reflection on the life of someone who has died and through meditating on death, we can learn to fully savour life and surf all its waves. We can admire the life balance achieved by someone like Joyce who was fit, professional in her consulting work and a loving mother and grandmother. We can hope, too, that Joyce is enjoying the light, love and peace reported in many near-death experiences.

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Image by RENE RAUSCHENBERGER from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Our Self-Stories Perpetuate Anxiety

We live in an anxious world where the prevalence of anxiety disorder has reached epidemic proportions in Australia, even in primary school children. This increasing level of anxiety disorder is mirrored in the reported experience in America. Underlying this growth in anxiety are self-stories that have a significant, negative impact on relationships. A core problem encountered when trying to eliminate these negative self-stories is the range of forces that keep them in place and cement their hold over us.

Tara Brach, in her course on overcoming negative beliefs and patterns of thought, argues that fear-based stories dominate our mental maps. In respect to our relationships, these stories suggest what we should be and what others should be – an impossible realisation that generates anxiety because of the gap between our self-perception/ perception of others and some idealised reality.

How self-stories are maintained

Tara argues that there are three factors that sustain our self-stories and perpetuate our anxiety:

  1. Our self-stories involve “deep groves in the psyche” – we continuously repeat an inner dialogue that creates neural pathways that deepen over time as the cycle of thought- fear-manifestation becomes more deeply embedded through repetition. Fear generates a biochemical reaction which becomes an automated response and maintains the experience of anxiety as a persistent state.
  2. We are reticent to share our self-stories that betray our uncertainty, anxiety and inability to cope. We keep them to ourselves and, because we do not expose them to the “light of day” by sharing them with others, we become more and more captured by them and identified with them over time.
  3. We cling to these negative self-stories because they give us a semblance of control which is illusory. We maintain these stories because they are reinforced by our distorted perception of our past experience. As Tara points out, we prefer to have “a deficient map rather than no map at all” – even though this gives us a false sense of security. The “disease to please” is one such deficient map.

Breaking the cycle of anxiety-producing self-stories

Tara maintains that it takes a lot of courage, persistence and self-compassion to break down the anxiety-inducing, negative self-stories. The more difficult self-stories to counter are those that are based on a perception that our life situation will only worsen not get better – a precursor to depression.

It takes courage to face up to the self-stories that negatively impact our relationships and to look beyond the stories to what underlies them, e.g. fear of rejection. It takes persistence to continue this self-exploration despite relapses brought on by self-recrimination over beliefs such as “this should not be happening to me” or “I should not be like this”. In the final analysis, it requires self-compassion and self-forgiveness to break out of the vicious cycle of self-talk that perpetuates anxiety.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation, reflection and other mindfulness practices, we can throw some light on our self-stories that negatively impact our relationships. With courage and persistence, we can break the anxiety-producing cycle of these stories by accessing self-compassion and self-forgiveness.

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Image by skeeze on Pixabay 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

The Self-Story Behind Procrastination: Bringing the Story Above the Line

In a previous post, we explored the storytelling mind that leads to self-stories that negatively impact our relationships and thwart our endeavours. The impact of these stories is that we become stuck in a pattern of responses (or lack of response) that impedes our progress towards successfully accomplishing our goals. Procrastination, the art of “putting off” some action, is one such habituated pattern.

The self-stories behind procrastination

Procrastination can block us at any time in relation to any endeavour. Behind procrastination there is often a self-story based on fear. It can take many forms and block us from taking action:

  • “I might appear as a fraud or hypocrite because I do not always do what I encourage others to do.”
  • “I could appear stupid because people might not understand what I am getting at.”
  • “I could make a fool of myself because I lack the intelligence to take on this endeavour and be successful.”
  • “I may not be able to live up to the expectations of others if I start on this project.”
  • “What would happen if I fail?”
  • “Will people be upset with me and think less of me if it does not work out really well?”
  • “What will happen to my reputation if things go wrong and don’t turn out as I had promised?”
  • “How can I possibly live up to so many diverse expectations of me?”

Bringing the procrastination self-stories “above the line”

Fear embedded in our self-stories can block us from taking action. The first step to redressing this situation is to identify, or “throw light on”, the stories that underpin our fear. In the previous post, I discussed the “circle of awareness” that depicts our unconscious awareness as existing “below the line”. Tara Brach suggests that the aim in dealing with mental and emotional blocks to our progress is to bring these underlying self-stories “above the line” so that we can loosen the hold of our false beliefs and self-defeating stories.

You can bring the self-stories into conscious awareness (above-the-line awareness), by taking several steps that can break your procrastination pattern:

  1. Identify the self-stories that are blocking your progress, naming the story – “What are you saying to yourself when confronted with a challenging or stretching endeavour?”
  2. Get in touch with the feelings that are generated by your procrastination self-stories
  3. Revisit the parental influences that underly the stories that you are telling yourself
  4. Examine any pattern that may be occurring in your stories
  5. Reflect on any life experiences that have served to “solidify” your false beliefs and self-stories – What has happened in your life to reinforce these beliefs and stories?

The impact of life experiences in solidifying self-stories was brought home to me during a workshop I was facilitating on the power of positive feedback. One manager reflected on why she had stopped giving positive feedback to her staff over the previous five years. She recalled a negative experience of giving positive feedback to a staff member where the recipient turned on her and was abusive towards her. The manager from then on maintained the self-story, “Whenever I give positive feedback, the person receiving it will attack me.” It was only when she reflected on the previous negative experience and brought her self-story to light, i.e. above the line, that she could see what had been holding her back from using the power of positive feedback. She resolved “then and there” to begin again to give positive feedback in a timely, sincere and specific manner that would ensure her success in this endeavour.

Self-stories that lead to procrastination lose their power over time if brought into the full light of consciousness, so that they can be seen for what they are – seemingly true but fundamentally false. Tara encourages the regular practice of bringing self-stories above the line – they will recur throughout your life as you face new challenges or may take on a new shape (as Tara publicly acknowledges, her own self-story challenge has oscillated between “self-deflation” [less than others…] to “self-inflation” [more than others…]).

The repetition of the practice of bringing self-stories above the line, creates new neural pathways so that the self-defeating stories are eventually replaced by self-enabling beliefs and stories. You can strengthen these new neural pathways by developing success “anchors” – alternative stories of successful outcomes that you have achieved.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and reflection, we can develop the capacity to throw light on our procrastination self-stories and bring them “above the line” by naming them, identifying patterns of false beliefs, disowning self-defeating stories and creating new neural pathways that facilitate our pursuit of successful, creative endeavours.

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Image by MabelAmber on Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Why is it so Difficult to Serve-for-the-Match in Tennis?

I have been watching the live TV broadcast of the 2019 Australian Open. It is surprising how many players – great champions among them – who have great difficulty serving-for-the-match. The more they desire the win, the more often they fail at the final hurdle. There seems to be a number of contributing factors related to mindfulness that are behind this widespread difficulty – (1) anticipating the result, (2) negative self-evaluation for making mistakes and (3) fear of failure.

Living in the future: anticipating the result

Many players when they are so close to winning begin to think about what it would be like to win the prize money, hold the trophy aloft, receive the accolades of the crowd at the end of tennis tournament and gain new sponsorships. They lose focus on playing the game and instead begin to play the result in their head. The legends of tennis and other great players such as Sarina Williams emphasise the need to stay-in-the-moment and play each point as it comes, ignoring the score. Mindfulness training can help here because it builds that capacity to be in the moment and to stay focused.

Many quality tennis players develop their own anchors to remind themselves to stay calm and in-the-moment. The anchor could be a couple of deep breaths, mindful walking, stopping to focus on their breath for a few seconds or a speedy body scan and stress release, especially of the tension in their arms and shoulders. These anchors can be developed through mindfulness practice.

Living in the past: negative self-evaluation for making mistakes

So often even top players will make a double fault on their serve when serving-for-the-match. I have even seen both Nadal and Federer do this. The tension and stress of the moment can result in muscle tightness and weakness in the arms.

Mistakes at the final, critical stage can become more momentous in our eyes because of the potential consequences of these mistakes. So, the tendency to negative self-evaluation is heightened. This self-criticism can become self-defeating as it negatively impacts our self-confidence and self-esteem. The negative thoughts can swirl around in our heads at this time like a whirlpool -“Why did I do such a low percentage shot at this time?”; “What a stupid time to play a drop shot!”; or “Why did I go down the line when the whole court was open?”.

Under stress our judgement suffers, unless we have learned to manage the stress through mindfulness. If we continue with our negative self-evaluation, then we are sabotaging our winning position, as so often happens in tennis matches.

Fear of failure

Ivan Lendl is famous not only for his amazing achievements in tennis but also for his early failures in closing out matches when he was serving-for-the-match. He kept losing finals in major tournaments, but his real breakthrough came when he beat John McEnroe in the 1985 US Open final. He went from not being able to win a final to rarely losing one.

In reporting on Lendl’s 1985 US Open win, John Feinstein had this to say of the fear demons that had beset Ivan:

The demons have chased him around the world. From Paris to Sydney, from London to New York. Everywhere Ivan Lendl has gone, the fear has chased him. Burdened by his talent and penchant for failure when the pressure was greatest, he suffered with the knowledge that people respected his skills and questioned his courage.

Fear of failure can cause us to freeze, to intensify our negative self-evaluation and self-criticism for making mistakes. We can get into another negative spiral of thinking which is even more difficult to control – “What will people think/say about my failure?”; “I am letting down so many people who have helped me!; “What will my coach say?” or “So many people who have come to see the match will be disappointed (particularly likely if you are playing on your home turf)”.

Lendl overcame his fear, born of past failures to win major finals, and went on to win 8 major titles in all, and a total of 94 singles titles, achieving a match winning percentage of over 90% in five different years. Some commentators consider him to be the greatest tennis player to ever play the game

After his historic victory, Lendl commented about the destructive effect of fear in the closing stages of a tennis match:

The worst thing you can do is be afraid of something.

As I have discussed previously naming your feelings, e.g. fear of failure, can help you tame these emotions. The R.A.I.N. meditation is a specific meditation for addressing fear and overcoming the disabling effects that fear can have on you.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can develop anchors to help us stay in the moment at times of stress, to minimise our negative self-evaluation and face our fears so they do not disable us.

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of mohamed_hassan on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog. 

Inertia: A Sign of Feeling Vulnerable?

Previously, I explored ways to overcome our defence mechanisms designed to protect us from vulnerability. I’ve also explored how being vulnerable can improve our contribution and our relationships. In this post, I want to look at the relationship between inertia and feeling vulnerable.

Experiencing inertia

Inertia according to the Oxford Dictionary is a “tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged” – a trait often ascribed to bureaucratic organisations but experienced by most of us at some point in our lives. When I was an active academic, I used to be approached by potential higher degree students who would say, “I really want to do a doctoral degree, but I don’t seem to be able to get started.”

My first word of advice to them was not to start a doctoral degree – which involves study, research and concentrated effort over several years – unless they have a research topic that they are passionate about. Without the passion, research students are unable to sustain the effort and focus required to achieve their desired outcome, the award of a doctoral degree. This principle of passion and enthusiasm can apply to any endeavour requiring a sustained effort over a long period.

Behind inertia – feeling vulnerable

When the potential student reassures me that they have a topic that they are passionate about, I then explore with them why they have been unable to take action, to start on the path towards their degree. Invariably, their response identifies vulnerability as the source of their inertia – “I may not be intelligent enough to do the research.”; “No one may be interested in what I want to research!”; “I have not written anything lengthy before.”; “What if I fail the doctoral examination?”; “I don’t know anyone who could supervise me.”; “My writing may not be good enough.”; and similar expressions of feeling vulnerable.

Often the advice to people who are unable to make progress on something that they really want to achieve is to start somewhere, anywhere that will put them on the path to their desired outcome. In the case of a potential doctoral study, this may mean reading around the topic to explore the area, generate heightened interest or identify potential resource people. While this is very good advice, it may not overcome a person’s fear of feeling vulnerable, particularly if it is deep-seated – resulting from prior traumatic experiences or from being “wounded”.

Exploring the vulnerability behind inertia

Often, we need to deal with our deepest fears before we can move forward or take action on something that we really want to do. One way into this is to clearly identify the underlying sources of our sense of being vulnerable. This can be achieved progressively through meditation, but it will require complete honesty with our self. Excuses are often avoidance strategies, not legitimate reasons for not taking action.

You can start a meditation to explore your inertia by becoming grounded, through your posture and breathing in the first instance. You can gradually move to exploring the bodily sensations that arise when you focus on the endeavour you are trying to start on. You can notice these sensations – tightness, tension, nervous movements – and focus on them and try to release them through your breathing.

Once you have been able to settle down your bodily reactions, you can begin to explore the feelings behind the bodily sensations – fear, anxiety, concern, worried, wary, troubled, insecure, guarded, apprehensive or other associated feeling that indicates that you are feeling vulnerable. You need to be able to name your feelings to be able to reduce their impact and to release the hold on your energy. Once you have identified these feelings and faced them, you can move forward.

The next phase of this exploration of the vulnerability behind inertia is to identify the fear-inducing thoughts that you unconsciously entertain and that give rise to these feelings of being vulnerable. The thoughts could be, “I’m not good enough.”; “What if I fail?; “What if I make a fool of myself?”; “What If people see through me?”; “What if I get stuck and do not know what to say?’; “What if I have nothing really worthwhile to contribute?”; and so on. Invariably, you will be dealing with a lot of “what if’s” – betraying your mind’s negative orientation.

You can face these thoughts and deal with them by asking, “Is this outcome likely to happen?”; “What could I do to reduce the likelihood of it happening – how can I plan appropriately?”; “If it does happen, can I deal with it?” We tend to catastrophize – think of the worst possible outcome – which, in turn, blocks our taking action.

Once you have dealt with the sensations, feelings and thoughts associated with your inertia and sense of feeling vulnerable, you can move forward by planning and taking some action to move yourself towards your goal. It may take a number of practices of this meditation before you can move forward – the time and effort required will depend on how deeply embedded is your sense of vulnerability.

As we grow in mindfulness – awareness of our inner and outer reality -through meditation on our inertia and its manifestation (in our bodily sensations, our feelings and thoughts), we can release our blocked energy and gradually move forward to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves.

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of MMckein on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog. 

Being Vulnerable: How to Improve Our Relationships and Contribution

In the previous post I discussed Tara Brach’s presentation on vulnerability and intimacy and ways to overcome our defence mechanisms. In this blog post, I want to focus on becoming vulnerable to improve two aspects of our lives – our contribution and our relationships.

Vulnerability is universal

Vulnerability is “part and parcel” of being human. When you think about it most people you encounter in life will have experienced at least one trauma – a significant frightening or disturbing event – in their life at one time or another. A traumatic event may take many forms and people will react differently to varying events such as the death of a child, partner, parent, sibling or friend; the break-up of parents through divorce; a major car or workplace accident; loss of a job; experience of chronic illness and/or pain; severe financial difficulties resulting in the loss of a home; break-up of an intimate relationship; a period of mental illness; addiction to drugs or alcohol; or any manner of distressing events.

Tara makes the point that “the more wounding there has been, the greater are the defences”. We each have been wounded at some time through various events, traumatic or otherwise, that have intensified our sense of being vulnerable and precipitated our defence mechanisms designed to protect us from such vulnerability. Ian MacLaren recognised that everyone experiences vulnerability when he wrote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”.

Because of our past experiences, we may feel afraid to speak up, to take part in a group activity, to perform publicly, to engage in conversation or to give positive feedback to another person. We may feel that we will be rejected, laughed at, or cut out of a group. We might be concerned about experiencing embarrassment, lack of control or overt emotions expressed as tears.

How we hide our fear of being vulnerable

There are many ways that we can camouflage our fear of being vulnerable such as:

  1. excessive criticism of others, constant judging (people never measure up to our expectations)
  2. projection of our own fears or anxiety onto others (“they are too fearful or lack courage”)
  3. aggressive emotions such as anger, blame (fight behaviour)
  4. withdrawal through depression (flight behaviour)
  5. inertia (freeze behaviour)
  6. overcontrolling others
  7. overconsuming – food, social media, goods and services, drugs
  8. hiding behind a mask/role – being the boss, the helper or the victim

The problem is that these ways of hiding our feelings of vulnerability are often subtle, elaborate, sub-conscious and developed over long periods of time. It takes a concerted effort and continuous training to be able to identify our defence mechanisms and overcome them through sustained, focused attention in meditation.

Being vulnerable to improve our contribution

Tara at one stage in her presentation tells the story of how a disturbed teenager’s life turned around when he heard a monk sing a song both loudly and off-key in front of an audience. He was taken with the courage required by the monk to do that and make a “fool” of himself. The monk showed bravery by placing himself in a potentially embarrassing situation.

I previously recounted a similar story of coach Mo Cheeks (who could not sing in tune) getting up in front of thousands of people at a NBA playoff and helping a 13 year old girl complete the national anthem after she was overcome with nerves.

Both these stories illustrate the power of being vulnerable (overcoming our natural defence mechanisms) to make a contribution to others and the community generally. Mo’s action, for instance, has been a source of inspiration for more than half a million people who have viewed the video of his compassionate intervention.

Improving a relationship by being vulnerable

Tara tells another story of a mother who was feeling very vulnerable because her daughter had become addicted to heroin and was continuously in and out of treatment centres for her addiction. The mother hid her sense of powerlessness and being vulnerable by her angry, blaming and controlling behaviour towards her daughter. Through psychotherapy the mother was able to let go of her defences and need for control and provide compassionate support for her daughter – to be with her daughter in her struggle, trusting in her daughter’s own wisdom to break free of the addiction.

The daughter did succeed and overcame her addiction and the mother and daughter built a deep relationship through this mutual experience of vulnerability. The mother was able to overcome her defence mechanisms to provide constructive support that enabled her daughter and the relationship to move forward.

A meditation on vulnerability

In her presentation (at the 35.45-minute mark), Tara provides a basis for reflection on your own sense of vulnerability and how it is impacting your relationships. She suggests you focus first on a relationship that you want to improve in terms of closeness or one that is bogged down in a pattern of behaviour that is not constructive. The focal relationship can be with anyone – life partner, friend, child, sibling or work colleague.

The reflection then revolves around exploring the ways that you are creating separation through your own thoughts and actions. Tara provides some questions to explore how your vulnerability is impacting the relationship:

  1. in what ways are you protecting yourself in these interactions?
  2. are you judging the other person?
  3. are you projecting on the other person some expectation of how they should be?
  4. are you withholding yourself and pretending to be who you are not?
  5. are you trying to impress the other person by constantly explaining how good you are at some endeavour or how much better your trip or experience was?
  6. are you operating from a low level of trust of people generally?

Once you have addressed these questions, the process then involves getting in touch with how you feel in your body when you are defending yourself – are you uptight?; does your face reflect your intensity?; are you physically rigid?; or are you looking distracted (as you search for a self-protective response)?

You next ask yourself how would you manage if you let go of one or more of your defences in your interactions with this person – how will you need to feel differently? A visioning question can be helpful here – “What if I reduce my armour, what will our interaction be like and how will I cope with being seen to be flawed or being rejected or looking foolish”? You can ask yourself, “How likely is it that these outcomes I fear will actually occur?”

The final step is to face your fear and sense of being vulnerable, acknowledge it and use your breathing to bring it under control. You can adopt a mindful breathing approach, deepen your in-breath and out-breath or envisage the fear as you breathe in and envisage its release as you breathe out.

As we grow in mindfulness through noticing and managing our vulnerability through meditation practice, we can open ourselves up to more creative contributions to our community and to deeper and more meaningful relationships. As the defence barriers we construct begin to come down or weaken, we are able to free up our creative abilities and let people into our life.

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of geralt on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.