My knees are trembling. I am standing precariously on a balance beam thirty feet in the air. The beam stretches twenty-five feet to the tree on the other side. I look down. My friend, Terry Tillman, is standing below me. He is leading this Wilderness Adventure for leaders in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountain range. His 37th annual trip. My first. 22/7 Company
I look at the ground and then again at Terry. “How do I stop my knees from shaking?”, I ask. “First, keep breathing,” he replies. “And remember what I told you. Where you look is where you go.”
Down. I’m looking down. And down is definitely where I do NOT want to go.
I redirect my gaze to the other end of the beam, attached to the tree 25 feet away. That’s where I want to go.
And, sure enough, as soon as I fix my focus on where I want to go and take a few deep breaths, my knees stop knocking and my body relaxes. I walk calmly across to the other side.
Glowing with exuberance at my achievement and ready for my next challenge, I climb down the rope ladder. This is our first day and our first warm-up exercise, and I feel as if I can go home now a winner. For the rest of this extraordinary 10-day adventure, I feel like I’m “playing with house money” as I keep pushing the boundaries of my comfort zones.
That was last week. Now I’m back at work, and noticing opportunities to share my new learning with my clients.
Stan (not his real name), for instance, was telling me the other day that he and his team had just received a special achievement award from top management. Against all odds, they had overcome the loss of a key business account and, with some very creative thinking and quick action, unearthed and seized new opportunities in the marketplace. Amazingly, they had broken all their revenue and profit goals in the first six months of 2014.
You would think Stan would be feeling great. Not so. He opened our coaching call by sharing his concerns: some uncertainty about their collective future might impact the team’s ability to repeat their breakthrough achievement. It might even lead key team members to look for more security elsewhere. He sounded anxious and full of doubt about the future.
Stan was looking down. Right after experiencing his greatest success, he was focused on everything that might go wrong. I interrupted his negative imaginings and asked him where he wanted to go with his team. Without hesitation, he sketched out a positive picture for the rest of this year and next in vivid detail. His energy returned, his voice got firmer, and I could see the “shine” returning to his eyes.
I asked him which conversation he wanted to have with his team: “where we want to go” or “where I am worried we might end up”. Before he answered, I invited him to imagine the energy and mood each conversation would trigger among his team.
“Wow!”, he said. “I started out this call full of worry and doubt and was about to infect my team with that same mood. Now I am fired up and very clear on where I want to lead them. I can’t wait to take a look with them at where we want to go next. And, I know that the right people—the people who want to be part of that future—will stay to play.”
In the name of being good problem solvers, we often spend our energy on a future we don’t want. On what we imagine could go wrong. On creating defensive strategies for negative “what-if scenarios”. On the gaps we need to fill to make things work in a worst-case situation.
I learned in the mountains that it is much more effective—and much more inspiring—to fix your focus on the future you want. To create that future and to step into it.
Where you look is where you go.
Where do you want to go?
Is that where you are looking?