Reflections from Tai Chi Class Today

I usually don’t share discussions and lessons from class here, but today we talked about one that I think is worth sharing outside of our little Tai Chi family.

Pushing hands – Like water, like wind

We did quite a bit of pushing hands in class today. We don’t do it very often in our regular Tai Chi classes, but when we do, it’s a great way to feel, practice and guide our energy, face external obstacles and get direct feedback on our own actions.

It helps us understand the form on a deeper level, and it also presents broader lessons that apply to all areas of life.

Here’s the key point:

Don’t have a preconceived plan. Listen and react to the situation. Feel the energy and respond to it.

Our as our teacher, Hilmar Fuchs, likes to say:

Keep your mind open for opportunities. When they present themselves, go for it.

With that, we learn to ‘listen’ in push hands, to ‘keep our eyes open’ for challenges (attacks) and opportunities (openings).

Some of the principles we study in pushing hands:

  1. Have your mind on the end goal, on what you want to achieve. Don’t hold yourself back by overthinking the challenges in front of you, or thinking they are unsurmountable.
  2. Don’t try to force your way because you had a certain plan and want to stick to it.
  3. Don’t miss opportunities because you weren’t ready yet, or because they don’t fit in your plan and timeline.
  4. Be frugal, only move when you need to. Only react when you get energy. Don’t be mechanical, if there is no signal, there is no need for response.
  5. Don’t be stiff either, be flexible. The tree bends to the wind, the water flows around the rock, the wind reaches into every corner. On the other hand, the frozen branch breaks upon resistance.

When you get the principles right, you don’t need force

When we need to apply force, speed or trickery to overcome our partner (or obstacle), then we got the timing and the principles wrong. When we can be soft and calm, and still achieve our goals, then we did the right thing at the right time.

Strive to be soft (flexible) and calm, while maintaining course towards your goal.

When there is an opening, allow your energy to flow into it. When you pull a bolder out of the stream, the water will fill the void without hesitation.

When there is resistance, go around it. Every hard spot has a corresponding soft spot that is presented to you as a gift.

And in ‘real’ life?

After class we talked a little about the application of these principles to life and business.

It’s the same thing.

You want to have a general sense of where you want to go (we call it strategy), you want to simulate a few things that could happen to train your sensitivity (often referred to as business plan). But after that, you need to look and listen carefully to what is happening.

Keep your goal in mind, but lock your plan away where you can’t see it. Sense, listen, and react (we often call this experimentation and learning, or ‘little bets’). If an opening (an unexpected opportunity) presents itself, then go for it, whether the time is right or not (it usually never is). The goalpost is durable, the actual path to get there usually is unexpected.

Opportunities you didn’t predict will present themselves (openings), challenges you did’t anticipate will get in your way (resistance). Stay sensitive, flexible, and oriented towards forward momentum (project your energy to your goal, not to the obstacle in your way).

In the military they say:

No plan survives first contact with the enemy.

Be attentive, be flexible, be nimble, and be open for the unexpected.

Strategy gradually evolves – tactics pivot on a dime.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Situational Leadership

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The “Situational Leadership” framework by Ken Blanchard, is by far my favorite framework for managing and coaching people, regardless of whether it’s formal or peer coaching, work or personal. You might have heard of it before. There are classes, books and of course a WikiPedia page.

Coaching applies to all of us. As managers, we coach direct reports as part of their career development. As leaders, we coach peers to help them be more effective, overcome temporary hurdles, and to make the team better by sharing best practices. As individuals, we receive coaching and want it to be as effective as possible.

The Situational Leadership framework applies to both sides of the equation – it’s a framework for leaders to give coaching but it’s also a framework for individuals to ask for more targeted support.

The framework

The basic idea of the framework is that we all go through four stages of proficiency for any given skill set. It is critical to call out that this is not about our seniority overall, it is specific to the task at hand. For example, I might be extremely experienced and self-sufficient in writing specifications but I have never done a strategy document before. I would be D4 for specifications but D1 for strategy (see below for more explanation).

For every new task or area of competency, we go through that lifecycle of learning, from beginner to master. If we are faced with a new area, we of course retain mastery in the areas we already command, but we start as a rookie in the new area. Life-long learning at its best!

Situational Leadership asserts, that we need different kinds of direction, coaching and support, depending on what stage we’re in for that specific area and task. Coaching is not one-size-fits-all but specific to the person and the situation.

As we make our way through new challenges, we go through four phases. See the below chart for an illustration. The lower chart is the coaching style, the upper chart is the stage an individual is in for that specific task (I keep underlining ‘that specific task’ because you screw up coaching completely if you assess at the scope of the person, not the task).

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For the following discussion, I will make up my own attributes for the stages just for fun and emphasis; you can see the ‘official’ ones in the chart. The flow in the chart is from right to left, don’t ask me why that would make any sense. You see the inverse-U shaped flow. You can see it as a hill that you have to overcome as your motivation goes down in D2 and D3.

Stage 1: Clueless, a little scared but really motivated

“This is awesome. But please tell me what I should do, I’m lost.”

As an individual, I just got a big new area assigned. It’s awesome and I’m excited. However, to be honest I’m also deeply scared because I don’t really know where to start. I feel like there is a great chance to fail, and left on my own devices, I will need to put in many hours to figure out how to approach this.

As someone who coaches, motivation is not the issue (your coachee can’t yet anticipate the potential challenges ahead). There is plenty of motivation, but there also is plenty of worry as to the pure mechanics of solving the problem. In this stage, leaders need to give clear guidance on how the problem should be solved and what the specific steps and quality gates should look like. In short provide the cook book for solving the problem and explain what success should look like.

“Here is what you need to do. Let’s meet weekly and talk about progress.”

Stage 2: Got some ideas, facing early challenges

“Alright, I see what you want me to do. This is harder than I thought.”

As an individual, I have made first progress on the task. I have a plan, but things are harder than I anticipated. This starts to suck just a little bit. How can I make this easier?

This is the valley of frustration. As a leader, you need to give both moral support, but also clear guidance on how specific hurdles and blockers can be overcome. The coachee is still learning their ropes and needs guidance that they can transform into their own solutions and frameworks.

“How are things going? What’s challenging? Here is what I would do in that situation.”

Stage 3: Got a handle on it (mostly), not quite smooth sailing yet

“I think I have a plan, but let me double check with you. Things are getting a little easier.”

As an individual, your confidence is increasing. You are facing problems that you have seen before, and you start having frameworks to solve them. It feels like things are becoming just a little easier lately.

The coachee is coming out of their valley of frustration. Slowly. You still need to help and support them to see the light at the end of the tunnel. They will have their own plan and solutions, which will be spot on many times, but not always. Your job becomes much more a reviewing and tweaking role. You become a sounding board.

“Show me what you got, what’s your plan? Interesting challenge, how do you plan to solve it?”

Stage 4: I know what to do, all is under control

“I got it. Get out of my way, you’re slowing me down.”

As an individual, you know what you need to do. You have successfully faced similar situations before. You feel confident and since you have the frameworks in place, things now go much easier and with less effort.

As a coach, your main job is to get out of the way and only stay informed what’s going on. Give space and freedom, but be there when needed. Things are flowing for your coachee and they are highly effective at the specific task. The thing you should spend time on now is to understand what the next growth area, learning opportunity and challenge for that coachee can be and to work with them to figure out how to align new growth areas with their long-term plans. The biggest risk at this stage is for the coachee is to eventually get bored.

“Anything I should know about the project? Let’s talk about what new opportunities we can prepare for you.”

Key principles

These are the things I believe a crucial to keep in mind. It’s not an official list:

  1. Always make it specific to the task – The experience model is specific to a task, not the person as a whole! Don’t put the whole person into a specific bucket. If a person gets a new area they never faced before, they will likely drop back to stage 1.
  2. Identifying the right stage matters – You need to find the right level. Giving too little and too high level coaching (directionless) is just as bad as giving too much coaching (micromanagement).
  3. People move through the stages – Watch! As you coach, people will move through levels. That’s the whole point. Don’t put someone in a box and leave them there. Adjust your style as the experience evolves.
  4. If you’re not sure, ask – If you’re not sure how much coaching someone needs, check back. Ask them “How confident are you that you know what you need to do? Do you need any help?”
  5. Get feedback – Check in explicitly as to whether you are giving the right level of feedback. “Does that help? Is there anything else that I can help with? Do you know what to do next or do you want me to step in more?”

When you give coaching

We all have our own leadership style. Few people naturally coach at all levels, but most of us have a preferred style that comes more natural to us. Some of us tend to be more directive and always present solutions, while others tend to be more hands-off and ask for (or assume) plans. If we don’t make a conscious decision, we will fall into that style and it will not always be the right style for the person and situation (there’s a 3:1 chance it will be the wrong style).

Understand what your coachee needs for the specific task. Consciously try to identify the stage and then check back with the coachee if you’re not sure. Make a mental check after the coaching session if you gave the right type of feedback and correct quickly if you didn’t.

It’s not about what you like to do, it’s about what they need!

When you receive coaching

You can either hope that your manager, coach or mentor knows what you need, or you can tell them. I would do the latter. See where they go, but if you feel you’re still unclear what to do or you feel over-managed, tell them! “Can you give me a little more guidance, I really don’t know where to start on this?” or in the other case “I think I have a plan. Let me work on it and we’ll review it together in two days.”

Don’t leave it to the coach, be specific. If your coach makes the right assessment, awesome. If not, clarify and help them. Likewise, if you feel you have moved on to the next stage, let your coach know that you would like the type of feedback to change.

Needing more direction for a new challenge is not a bad thing at all. Not articulating it and then falling behind is.

Situational Leadership requires a little more work. However, the impact is astounding.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Small Changes Can Have Huge Impact

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I am not obsessed with my weight. To me, weight is just one input to an overall healthy life and lifestyle. However, I noticed that I had gained almost 15 pounds over the last half-year without really knowing why. That disturbed and frustrated me to be honest.

I did make a plan to do more sports but couldn’t follow through to the extent that I wished due to work demands. Actually I didn’t increase my workout frequency at all. So I decided to accept the gain for now and tackle it in a few months when work demands have calmed down a little bit.

Surprisingly, over the last few weeks I noticed that my weight has dropped back down 10 pounds. I didn’t really focus on anything specific to get there. I didn’t even know what caused it. So I went on a little inventory of changes that I had made to my rhythms and habits lately:

  • I stopped drinking my one or two glasses of wine with dinner in the evening to have a better sleep
  • I stopped drinking a protein shake in the morning and a few lattes throughout the day, because milk left me with a ‘slimy’ feeling which I wanted to reduce
  • I wanted to leverage the quiet morning hours at work and thus skipped reading the news in the morning, instead going straight to the shower, which also meant I wouldn’t eat the 4 pieces of chocolate while checking for news

Those are really the only lifestyle changes I can think of, yet they made me get back towards my optimal weight without explicitly trying.

Small changes do have an outsized impact!

Don’t try to make big swoops of dramatic changes to your life. They are hard. Rather chip away on the small things and allow them to add up.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Spiritual Balance – Week 48: Hike Your Own Hike!

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Up to now we have talked about many new habits and behaviors to live healthier, be more effective at our jobs and give more time to our spirituality. We gave you many suggestions and frameworks to balance your lives.

Try it; then adopt it and make it yours

Try them out and see what works for you. Then sit back and reflect. Use what works, change and adapt what doesn’t and discard what feels wrong. It needs to be about you. I know what works for me, I cannot know and prescribe what works for you.

There are two martial arts teachings that reflect this well. One is a old principle for teaching martial arts:

The teacher shows the door. The students needs to walk through it on their own.

The other is my favorite quote from the famous founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba:

“Learn and forget.”
Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido

Don’t blindly follow gurus and role models, or what I am writing in this book. All of those are inputs, suggestions, food for thought. Only you can find out what works for you. No one else can do that for you.

Learn new ways. Try them out until you understand them. Then forget the rules and let your intuition kick in. Be surprised and amazed by what will unfold.

What you ‘can’ versus what you ‘want’

Be careful to understand what you WANT to do. Often we just keep doing what we’re doing because we became reasonably good at it.

For example, I like to help others. I see where I can pitch in and make others great while also making a great living for myself. I am good at working in big IT companies, managing complex projects and products. But is it what I really want? That is a question that I need to check in with myself on a regular basis and get to a honest answer.

It’s too easy to just keep doing what you’re good at. To just follow the inertia of the path you started on when you were a different person all those years ago after High School.

I’m not saying you need to change your path. I’m saying though, that you need to be conscious and deliberate about it. Don’t just let it happen. When it’s time, find the courage to re-invent yourself.

Be careful to differentiate between what you can do, what is the natural next step to do (inertia) and what you really want.

Find your own way

Once you know what works for you and you know what path you want to follow, go there. Blaze your own trail, or as they say in the hiker community: “Hike your own hike.”

Be courageous. Don’t look at others for models or confirmations. Invent your path as you push forward. ‘Boldly go where no man has gone before.’ (You have to find where that reference comes from… 🙂

Hike your own hike!

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Spiritual Balance – Week 47: Have Impact Beyond Yourself

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We talked a LOT about what we can do to balance and improve our lives. Of course life is much bigger than just us. Once we got our own house in order, we need to impact others in a positive way.

Make positive ripples in the big pond of life. Watch them spread out.

Think of it as throwing a rock into a calm surface of water. We are the rock, the ripples that are created are the positive impact and change that we create. They spread out from us to every corner of the pond. They might get smaller in the distance, but they will still reach out and transfer the message.

Teach your kids well

Our time on this planet is limited. We can start positive change, but very soon we will need others to pick it up and continue the journey for us. Invest time in preparing the passing of the baton.

Teach your children well. Set positive examples. Love them and also show them the boundaries they need to grow up. Help them become capable of dealing with the challenges they will face on their own.

Don’t forget though, that there is a lot we can learn from our children as well. Watch them closely and see what lessons they might have for you. Watch their curiosity, get inspired by their eagerness to explore the world.

Teach them in their own language, and just every once in a while, try to see the world through their eyes.

If you don’t have children on your own, look at your extended family. Look at your community. Volunteer for coaching.

You have learned a lot in your life, pass it on through positive example and influence. Don’t let it go wasted.

Help your community or society

The next ripple in the pond is your community and in extension the larger society.

You don’t need to become a politician to have positive impact. I might even argue that your chance of having positive impact is much larger if you are not a career politician.

Engage in your neighborhood, in your school, at your local senior center. Find a cause that you care about and make a little difference.

I try to help people by teaching Tai Chi, mindfulness, compassion and by sharing some of the lessons I have learned in my career. Uli volunteers as art docent and helps challenged kids at the school with breathing, calming and mindfulness exercises. Find the cause you care about and then share it with others.

If you don’t find yourself to be altruistic, you might consider countless scientific studies that have shown that we get more satisfaction from doing good to others than from splurging ourselves. Help others to help yourself.

Be the change agent for your community. It will spread out. Just help someone without expecting a return. Just say a happy ‘hello’ with a smile to a stranger and let yourself be surprised by what will happen.

Environmental impact

Last not least, we need to take care of the planet we live on. We started off our discussion with taking care of our own health. Let’s close the loop and also take care of the health of our planet.

We cannot survive without our planet, the animals, and plants that inhabit it with us. We need to find a healthy balance with our environment.

Don’t consume more than you need. Don’t waste food, water or other resources. Don’t litter. Don’t destroy unnecessarily.

We just borrowed this planet. Let’s make sure to give it back in good shape.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Spiritual Balance – Week 46: Explore Your Purpose

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What is your purpose? What makes you get up in the morning? What keeps you going when the going gets tough?

Understand your values and purpose. Then take a critical look at what you are doing right now. Be willing to experiment and take risks. And always keep your eyes open for opportunities that present themselves.

The passion trap

In many ways we are over-emphasizing purpose and passion today. We tell High school kids that they need to find their passion when they pick a career. An impossible task at that age. Many people actually never discover what their passion really is.

Doing something, that you are sufficiently interested in, with full dedication until you head towards mastery often turns into passion. This is in fact a more likely way to find something that you will be passionate about, than soul-searching for the perfect occupation.

Passion doesn’t come magically for free. It requires dedication and hard work.

Alignment with core values counts

However, at the same time too many of us spend our lives in settings, that go against our core values and our purpose. We do things and execute work that we don’t agree with in principle.

Both trying to find the one thing that will make you happy just by its nature as well as sticking with something that fundamentally disagrees with your core values and purpose are futile.

It is much better to understand what your core values and purpose are, and then experimenting with different things. Once you find something that aligns in principle and peeks you interest, go deep and give it your full self.

What makes you tick

Self reflection and self awareness is not easy. For some of us it comes more naturally, others never truly find it.

If you are not clear about what inherently motivates you and what turns you off, you can start journaling your mini-motivators. Throughout the day, what did you like, what felt great, and what didn’t. When you watch other people, what do you admire and what do you despise. What would you want other people to say about you, and what would you rather not?

Those should be small and in-the-moment things. Don’t overthink it. Jolt down the random reactions and thoughts as they come, for example ‘those meetings as sapping out my energy’, ‘it felt really good to help Joe through his problem’ or ‘it was awesome to solve this situation my way’.

After a few weeks look at those micro-motivators and see what patterns emerge.

Brainstorm on new options

Then reflect on how much those value and purpose patterns are matched in your current occupation. If they are not, make a list of other careers that would get you to a closer match. Don’t go for perfect match, chances are you won’t find that (lucky you, if you do!).

Make a list of those close matches and be aware that you will still have to work hard for them. Nothing will be rosy all day every day. Just setting expectations here.

Make a change, reinvent yourself

Let’s assume that your values and passions don’t align well with you current occupation. That’s nothing to feel bad about. For one, it’s super hard to find good alignment from the get go. In most cases we don’t know enough about the job as well as ourselves when we begin. Also we are (luckily!) changing over time and what might have been the perfect milestone a few years ago, might not fit anymore as our path leads us to the next one.

Start experimenting with the occupations that made it to your list. Or something completely different that just feels right for reasons that you cannot explain.

If we talk about big shifts in your occupation and trajectory, really experiment. Don’t go full in right away without really knowing if you like where you’re heading. Try out a few things on the side. Volunteer in the new occupation rather than leaving your current job only to figure out after a few months that the grass actually isn’t greener on the other side.

Experiment, be flexible

Experiment a lot. Learn from those experiments. Adjust what you know about yourself and tweak the list of things you want to do based on that knowledge.

Recognize open doors and opportunities as they present themselves and find the courage to explore them.

Don’t put yourself under the stress of having to succeed with the first thing you try out.

One of the life lessons I learned from my martial arts teacher was to have a plan but remain flexible.

Have a plan, but always keep your mind open for opportunities that present themselves. Have the flexibility and courage to leverage them. Life is a winding path, not a straight line.

Looking at my own winding path, I can point out at least four rather big shifts in the direction I was heading for. Each shift has set me back a little in short-term – as big change always does – but propelled me toward a much better place in the long-term. I don’t even want to imagine who I would be if I had been stuck in my initial (subsequent, current,..) choices.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Be More Effective – Week 31: Bringing it All Together: Make a Plan to Calm the Monkey Mind

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In Zen our usual behavior is often referred to as the ‘monkey mind’. Our mind is constantly busy, jumping from one thing to another, never fully focusing on following through on any single priority. There is always another banana on the tree that grabs our attention.

Calm you monkey mind. Reduce distractions. Make a plan and go for it.

Our goal is to calm the monkey mind. To remove distractions from our workplace, relationships and life in general.

Our goal is to understand what’s important today, the next week, this year and in our life. We need to assess, prioritize and plan.

Our goals is to make time for those priorities and focus on them, without being distracted by the banana on the other tree.

Our goal is to empty your ‘to do list chasing mind’ and free it to concentrate on the work at hand.

This week is really about consciously bringing together all the pieces we discussed so far. Step back for a moment. Reflect on the things you practiced the last 30 weeks and make a plan on how you will bring them together.

Make a plan. Write it down. Commit to it.

Clear your mind, make a plan ahead. Stop your mind from wandering and worrying. However, also know that you won’t fully stick to it and don’t get frustrated if you don’t.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.