Pushing My Buttons

Knowing others is intelligence; knowing one’s self is wisdom

– the Tao Te Ching

Last week, I went to sea level and absolutely blasted myself for four days.  Most days had moments of true-max training, which is something I usually avoid.

Most athletes expect a physical payoff from extreme overload.  However, the physical differences between top athletes are marginal.  The performance benefit comes from capacity to persist and the ability to think clearly under duress.  Emotional maturity, mental conditioning, performance psychology… whatever the name you give it… you can’t become spiritually resilient in a textbook.  It happens in the field under progressive duress.

At a training camp, I can keep myself together in public. So the opportunity for self-discovery comes through my internal dialogue.  When I put myself back in my normal routine, I’m tired and my guard is down.  It’s probably why a lot of us are tougher on our families than we are with our co-workers!

When the noise of my life returns it’s interesting to listen to my response.

  • I need to get away more.
  • I need to cut obligations.
  • They need to change.

Cutting obligations tends to be a good idea for performance enhancement but I can’t escape myself and control is an illusion.  So the value comes from understanding the emotional triggers that are driving my internal dialogue:

  • Criticism from people I respect – triggers more work
  • Under performance within my team – triggers a desire to withdraw

Those are my own versions of fight/flight – consider your own.  My habits have served me well but our automatic responses can be self-limiting in high-performance situations.  Specifically, I need to work smart, not more.  As well, I need to remain engaged with my personal mission.

When I realize that I am auto-responding there are three questions that I ask myself:

  • Am I sure? I ask this because stress fogs my perception.
  • What is my desired outcome?  Be willing to trade “being right” for “being effective.”
  • Is this response what I need to get my outcome?  When pushed, I default to being right, rather than being effective.

As a coach, I ask athletes these questions a lot.  To be fit for leadership, I must live my own answers.

When you feel hurt, or angry, pay attention.  There’s information there for you.