Control your attention redux …

Last Friday, one of my clients had a meeting with several of her direct reports that left her feeling “absolutely giddy” afterwards. Her words were music to my ears. She’d been feeling overwhelmed and out of control for months. And here she was, excited and confident and energized.

What made the difference?

I have lots of stories about that. Here’s the one I like best: she got control by giving up control.

She always thought that as the boss, she was supposed to have the answers, to be the one who knows. So she spent lots of hours trying to control situations: setting agendas, planning what to say and do, anticipating contingencies so she didn’t get caught off guard, avoiding questions that she might not be able to answer. The result? It was a stressful–and deadening–way to live.

As long as she was in “gotta know” mode, she couldn’t be in learning mode. As long as she was locked in her head, she had little access to her own wisdom. Being the expert–which her work environment rewards greatly–was working against her at every turn. So she started to experiment with loosening the controls.

  • She switched from meeting with direct reports one-on-one [which was taking hours each week] to meeting with them as a group.
  • She switched from scripting tight agendas to setting an intention of openness and inquiry: what do people want to talk about?
  • She encouraged new ideas, which fueled more exploration and less need to be the expert.

New ideas reconnected her with what she loves, which led her to feel grounded, confident, and “giddy” with excitement.

She has felt grounded in the past, but knows the feeling doesn’t last. “I worry,” she said, “Am I going to be able to hold my ground?” I suggested that she ask, “How can I hold my ground?”

It’s a little change but it makes a big impact. “Am I … able” is the voice of self doubt, the part of her that relies purely on intellect to figure it out. “How can I…” is the voice of experience. It is the whole of her: head and heart, gut and spirit. She clearly has the capacity to be grounded and confident; she’s living it right now. The challenge is learning to trust that she can find her way back when she begins to drift.

LIke the rest of us, she can’t control every circumstance or think of every possible contingency. She CAN control her attention. And the more comfortable she gets dropping below her chin and into the wise and energetic world of the heart and body, the more she’ll realize that in the face of things that are unknowable, she has all the resources she needs to find her way.





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