Full Gas Neutral

You may remember the following story. A man comes upon another man one evening, bent over, searching for his keys under a streetlamp. The first man offers to help, and after a bit of searching asks the second man, “Where did you last see your keys?” The second man replies, “Over there, on the other side of the street.” The second man asks, “Then why are you looking on this side?” The second man responds, “The light is so much better over here.” Ever notice how sometimes people put out a great deal of effort, but it seems to be in the wrong direction? And sometimes that person is you? We call this “full gas neutral”. Sometimes we are so quick to latch onto what seems like a good idea, that we start pursuing the idea with great zest before actually contemplating what it is that we are hoping to accomplish. For example, when work teams became popular, some organizations began to set up teams and hold team meetings without investing time in considering what they wanted that particular team to accomplish, as a team, differently and better than what was accomplished before the members worked as a team. And a good number of people came to see team meetings as a waste of time, and became increasingly skeptical about investing their energy in the newest organizational “fad”.

Or, people make New Year’s resolutions, often because it seems the right thing to do at the time. Often we choose things like exercising more, or spending more time with the family – because those are “known” to be good things to do. And, how much are these actions simply in the current limelight? Before “choosing” these actions, how much do we really think what we most want different in our life, what truly fits our passions, what we are truly motivated to do? What will truly put us “in gear”?  Without this thinking time of what we are about, and what is important to us, our well-intentioned goals and even any carefully planned steps quickly lose their momentum and motivation, as so often happens with most New Year’s resolutions.

In coaching we call this putting the “how” or “what” before the “who”. We humans have a tendency to think “what” to do, or “how” steps to take, before considering the basis or core of our planned action. “What” should we do this New Year? Exercise more. “How” will we accomplish this? Walk in the evening three times per week for 20 minutes. Sounds good, but why do we feel a new activity is desirable in the first place? What currently feels out of sorts in our life? Consider the “who” of you, which will more naturally lead to “what” you want to accomplish and “how” to accomplish it. Maybe we really want the quiet thinking time while walking. Or maybe we would really rather play tennis twice weekly, but for whatever reason that seems less feasible so at least to feel more in shape by walking regularly. Or maybe we want to spend more time with our spouse, and think that walking together is something our spouse would agree to.

There is nothing wrong with walking on a regular basis. But after a long work day, and it’s a little hot (or cold) out there, and suddenly there are six things to get done that evening, or even the thought appears – I just don’t feel like walking tonight; what sustains our commitment to walking three times per week then? On the other hand, if you have really thought about what is important to you, then you are more likely to ensure you find some quiet thinking time, or have that great tennis game, or talk with your spouse in a nice coffee shop, even on the tough days.

A good coach will help you shine a flash light on places you may not have checked before, to identify your “who”, to identify what is really important to you; before putting full gas toward a “what” or “how” that happens to be in the light.

Happy Summer to all, these columns will resume in September.