Rowing is a difficult sport. It requires you to push your body to its physical limit while trying to maintain the ability to think clearly in order to undertake the technical components of each stroke. Imagine having the searing pain of lactic acid coursing through your entire body, while trying to suck in as much air as you can into your burning lungs. During this wonderful physical experience you are analysing your stroke to ensure the oar is coming out clean from the water, you are not rushing down the sliding seat and slowing the boat down, you have turned the oar (feathered it) at the right time and you are checking that you are putting the oar back in the water in complete unison with the rest of the crew. I can recall times when every part of my body was hurting and the ability to think clearly to maintain the discipline of the stroke was gruelling.
When you are under significant stress it is very difficult to think clearly about what your goal is and what you are doing in the moment to reach that goal. In fact, there has been a number of studies conducted on athletes to perform simple arithmetic while in different states of physical stress. Not surprisingly their analytical performance diminishes when the physical stress increases. There are ways to combat this diminishing performance and below is a method that I learnt when I was rowing.
My competitive rowing career was not a particularly auspicious one but enjoyable none the less. At one event my coach gave me some wonderful advice to get through races. He told me that no matter where I was in a race I needed to be able to answer two questions:
Question 1: – Where am I?
Question 2: – What should I be doing now?
The power of these questions lies in their simplicity. They are applicable at any point, whether in preparation for the event, at the start line, during the race or at its completion. They also have the ability to draw you back to your goals and what you need to be doing or adjust at that moment in time to achieve the outcome you seek. Equally, these questions are easy to formulate in your head when you are running at level that may hinder your ability to think clearly.
Now, transfer those two questions to the work place. I have regularly used these questions to ground myself in the moment and remind myself what the strategic goal I am aligning my work to is and what I need to do to achieve it. As a leader this is tremendously important. In moments of high stress your colleagues will be seeking direction and confidence from you. These questions not only help you articulate what you should be doing but also how to communicate more effectively with those that you lead. You see, if you know where you are and what you should be doing it is easier to explain to others what is occurring and what actions need to be taken.
When you ask yourself these questions an important understanding is your answers don’t have to be sophisticated, they just need to draw your mind back to your goals and your immediate actions that support reaching those goals – a sense of clarity. However, be assured, just like in rowing, although the questions help keep you in the moment and driving in the right direction they don’t take the pain away. What these questions do is give your pain a purpose and, in my view, when you couple purpose with clarity success follows.