Eyes wide open seeing nothing
Hurtling down a very steep slope with speed making the icy wind bite into my face, every nerve in my body alert with adrenalin pumping through my veins, my eyes wide open . . . yet I could see nothing! 
All I could do was feel my way using my legs as shock absorbers and maintain a keen focus on my centre of gravity by leaning forward on my skis which felt totally un-natural.  Our rapid downhill descent from the clear sunny peaks of the Meribel valley into dense snow-filled clouds was a bit of a shock.  Everything went blank, there were no contours or indications of what lay on the surface just in front of us. 

I had no choice but to use the surge of adrenalin to stay alert, and be prepared for any sudden bumps, steep drops or sheets of ice.  Within seconds my body made a number of instinctive and coordinated adjustments to shift the angle of my skis so I could start traversing the slope and rapidly slow down while maintaining control.  

It took a lot of effort to stay focused and calm, despite how I was feeling.  Within milliseconds I had to remove all the fears and images of previous falls that flashed across my mind.  It’s funny how the mind will seek out previous failures, setbacks and upsets when a perceived danger arises. 

Now that I have a few years of practice behind me it was ok, but I could feel my heart racing as I thought about what may have happened only two years ago when I had a lot less skill and self-awareness on the slopes.  I could have had a nasty fall or worse, collided with someone.  Every year for the last 5 years of learning how to ski I have seen someone being attended to on the slopes by medics or being taken away on a stretcher!

Awareness is the key
As I reflect on that incident I am reminded that the secret to success in challenging situations lies in staying totally focused on the ‘here and now’.  It’s about being totally present to what is going on and seeing things for what they are, not what you imagine them to be.  This means being aware of how you are feeling and how those feelings are affecting your thinking.

I was recently speaking with my friend and mentor Shelle Rose Charvet the author of the best seller ‘Words that Change Minds’ and she said, “People cannot be rational and emotional at the same time”.  I was intrigued by this because it makes total sense.  If we are being triggered by an issue that on some level has us believe that our financial security, status, job, business or relationship is at stake we can mistake the surge of emotions and feelings as the truth when in fact they are just a reaction, rapidly compiled from a bunch of perceptions that often have little to do with the facts before us.  It is now common knowledge that stress can significantly alter our perceptions.

Emotions and needs
The way around it is to slow down by taking a few deep breaths; being careful to avoid collisions and to get a better perspective of the facts.  Our emotions are a useful indicator that a particular need is either being met – when we feel good, or that it is not being met – when we feel bad.  By identifying the underlying need we can take a far more rational and creative approach to finding new ways of having the need met.
For example, recently one of my clients (let’s call him Tim) was getting upset that his business partner was getting bogged down in operational issues.  He started accusing his fellow Director (let’s call him Rob) of ‘not pulling his weight’ which made Rob very defensive because he was working as hard as ever.  When Tim explored his real need, it was not about the amount of work being done, it was about not having a business partner who he could bounce ideas off and who could provide trusted and honest feedback. 

Once Tim was able to express that he needed Rob as a Business Partner to challenge him and provide valuable alternative views about how to address some of the critical issues the business was facing, they were both able to work towards a creative solution to getting Rob out of the operational issues, so he could focus on the strategic stuff that best utilised his expertise.

It is also said by the wise that “Our suffering is not in the facts but in our perception of the facts”.  It takes courage to accept this and to recognise that most of what we are upset or angry about is based on what we are making it mean, rather than the fault of others doing something to us.  When we can accept that we are responsible for our perceptions and how we interpret what is going on around us, including the behaviour of others, it becomes easier to do a reality check.  To step back and ask “What is really going on here?  Am I part of the problem or part of the solution?”

Most management books ignore the importance of self-awareness; the ability to recognise one’s own levels of skill, competence and confidence.  As many of you know I’m a great fan of the late Dr. Stephen Covey because he was not shy about emphasising the significance of ‘Principled Leadership’ which is all about understanding yourself, how you relate to yourself and therefore how you relate to others.  In his classic book ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ the very first Habit is about the “endowment of self-knowledge and self-awareness; the ability to choose your response (response-ability)”. 

Exercising vigilance
The ability to recognise the truth of our emotions and how they affect our thinking and therefore our behaviour, is a valuable skill that needs constant vigilance.  It is all too easy to blame others, the situation in which we find ourselves or to attack ourselves with self-doubt and undermine our ability to succeed.

If we rely purely on our emotions for guidance it can be like racing down a mountain in dense cloud with our eyes wide open but seeing nothing.  All we perceive is our own intense narrow view shrouded in the fog of fears and frustrations. 

The more self-aware we are, the more we become the creative force in our life and we can choose our response to any situation, and with any person.  A wonderful by-product of self-awareness is extraordinary relationships with others.

A key way to expand self-awareness is through classic relaxation techniques that have been used for over 2,500 years.  Like any skill it takes a bit of practice and if you would like more information about a simple and accessible exercise to start with please click here.  Remember, it’s not about the destination; it’s about enjoying the journey in exquisite detail.  This is especially true when you are running your own business.

As always I’m very interested in your thoughts and application of the ideas and concepts discussed in these Articles. 

It would be great to see your comments.

Remember . . . Stay Curious!

With best regards
David Klaasen

David Klaasen is director and owner of the niche HR consultancy, Inspired Working Ltd.  (www.InspiredWorking.com)
If you have a communication or performance problem and would like some objective advice drop him a line at
[email protected]

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