Published September 1, 2021
I was in a conversation with a client recently and they remarked how they were exhausted all the time and were struggling to recharge their depleted batteries. I asked them what felt like a simple question … ‘what might it feel like if you just let things be for a bit?’
She looked at me, with tears in her eyes and shared that she didn’t know how to ‘let things be’. As a highly successful businesswoman, her entire career has been built around a leadership style that communicated her confidence in taking resolute action. Fast-paced, quick to resolve issues, and a more commanding communications style, she was brushing up against her desire to slow down, secure more time for deeper reflection, and forge stronger connections with others.
Together, we mapped out a new way of being that acknowledged both her current way and her deep desire to bring greater intimacy and build stronger alliances with her family, friends, and staff. Our journey is what inspired this blog.
How many times do we find ourselves digging deep, only to acknowledge that it’s still not enough? In those moments, what do we do? From my own lived experience in working with executives, sport coaches, and athletes, the tendency is to double down on the effort required to achieve the extraordinary outcome we are pushing towards. What happens when the doubling down doesn’t give us the result we aspired to? What happens when we achieve the results and still feel empty? What happens when all that we’ve worked towards comes to an end?
My thanatology training (study of death and loss) is deepening my understanding and appreciation for how excruciating life transitions can be. We carry both micro and macro losses throughout our lifespan and depending on our developmental journey, we either meet these moments with an open heart, a curious mind, and a sense of self … or we move towards self-preservation that too often has us shrinking away, becoming constricted, and feeling depleted.
I was rewarded throughout my career for the effort I put into achieving big outcomes. And this system of the relentless pursuit of objectives created a narrative that went something like this … ‘As long as I give 100%, I will feel complete. As long as I achieve the goal I set for myself, others will admire me. As long as I take care of others before pausing to nurture my own needs, I will feel like I belong.’ This way of leading, parenting, and living required a lot of effort on my part to make it look effortless.
Then at one point, I couldn’t effort my way out of a life-altering moment and everything shifted. Life has a funny way of bringing you what you need, when you need it the most. The trick is whether we pause to listen and make meaning of the life lesson when it’s presented.
For me, that big moment is when my sister Tracy died. In that moment, everything shifted. Broken-hearted, I efforted my way out of grief and mourned her in a manner that I felt was familiar.
This efforting took its toll. It’s taken years to work through the trauma of watching someone you love take their last breath while acknowledging the privilege of bearing witness to one of life’s most profound experiences. The past 20 years have provided a living laboratory to deepen my understanding of what it means to live a meaningful life, how to access greater emotional intelligence, and how to trust in the wisdom of my body.
For those looking to understanding what this might mean, consider the concept of flow and how when we are accessing a higher energy state, everything slows down, we forget where we are, and we are fully immersed in the experience of being. Athletes understand this human phenomenon. As a mother of three, I have experienced it during childbirth and more recently, when being present to another person’s suffering. These precious moments bring deep intimacy (in-to-me-you-see). I find myself effortlessly accessing a deeper energetic quality of presence that I know is being felt by the others. How do I know? They tell me … something shifts between us, our bodies respond through goosebumps, tears, or a sigh … and in that moment, we are activating a subtle and often non-dual way of being with each other.
My integral coaching practice has increased significantly since the pandemic. People are longing for deeper conversations and need guides to accompany them in their inner journeys. Our coaching topics range from wanting to communicate with greater confidence to deepened connection with others … and everything in between. Each coaching conversation provides us with an opportunity to access moments of flow by simply showing up fully, unapologetically, in service of other. Can you feel the shift from efforting to activating and how one demands everything we have while the other flows naturally? No efforting required.
My way of connecting to my life experiences now goes something like this … ‘As long as I pause and check-in with how I am feeling, I will feel complete. As long as my life’s purpose feels aligned with my deepest values, I can trust that my impact will be appreciated. As long as I don’t silence my voice, others will benefit from the gifts I have to share.’
For those looking to understand how to shift from efforting to activating, I’ve developed a practice that was inspired by one of my teachers Laura Devine. It’s called the MIN – MAX Principle.
Step 1: Select a topic where you want to explore a new way of relating to the amount of effort you need to expend. (Example: I wanted to shift my way of running to accommodate my aging knee.)
Step 2: Consider how much effort you bring to this topic and the beliefs you have about being All-In. Get to know what bringing your MAX looks like, feels like, sounds like? What are the benefits of being at your MAX and what are the risks? (Example: I noticed that I had an inner belief that unless I could go ‘all out’ then what was the point of running? The risk is that I was getting frustrated with myself for not running at the same intensity levels I used to. The further risk is that I was telling myself I needed to stop running altogether because of the pain associated with the higher pace).
Step 3: Now consider what it might be like to exert less energy. What might that look like, feel like, sound like? What is the MIN amount of effort and how might that shift things for you? (Example: I started listening to my body and I began walking fast when my knee started hurting. This walk-run cadence allowed me to get my runner’s high because I started to notice my surroundings more and began engaging in my running practice more mindfully.)
Step 4: Play with this each day for the next two weeks and see what shifts. (Example: I was able to benefit from mindful running and also began to introduce yoga more regularly and other fitness routines to round out my need for greater physical activity. I am also exploring new ways of staying fit and have found Pickleball to be a fun and social way to sweat and stay active).
This way of relating to effort has had a massive impact in my life and I'm hoping it might support you when working through disruption. For a deeper dive into the MIN-MAX Principle, consider viewing these two recordings by Laura Devine. Laura is a beautiful soul and skillfully offers a way for us to be kinder, gentler and more compassionate with our limits by having us reflect on how we engage with our practices. Enjoy and let me know how it goes at DBL@sportlaw.