Most thoughts and plans are in the future or sometimes thoughts can get stuck ruminating on the past. Often we don’t pay enough attention to the present. In my coaching I try to draw attention to what in ‘New age’ circles would be called ‘the Now’, where the ‘process’ which leads us to where we are going is taking place. Setting your self step by step S.M.A.R.T. goals is important of course, but keeping a more subjective present time awareness on things like feeling stronger or more relaxed can be important too and make this process where we spend most of our time more enjoyable and meaningful in itself. When ‘shit happens’ (as it often does) and we are forced to change or re-evaluate our objectives, having the ability to accept the present can enable us to feel less frustrated and more at peace with the process, forcing our attention into ‘the Now’. When something gets in the way of our well laid plans and progressions, if we are not open to change we are likely to experience a lot of ‘failure’ and all the negative associations that go with that. Keeping in mind the touchy feely-ness of the subjective in the sporting/athletic context reinforces the value of play too which is easy to lose sight of when we make our leisure pursuits all about ‘hard work’ towards future objectives.
Sometimes shit happens and this is just part of the process, forcing us to pay attention in the present. I recently experienced this in a very physical way when I suddenly and unexpectedly went over the handlebars of my bike on a routine ride.
Jo: ..This is just fine...the sun is shining...let's stop for coffee...'
Universe: ..'I'm not sure you're paying attention so I might just give you a little nudge, or a poke, or a great big SMACK IN THE FACE to check....'
Jo:...'What the hell just happened?! What am I doing here?...'
Making plans and goal setting can be motivating, moving you towards something you want (in the future), or away from something you don't want (either experienced in the past or anticipated in the future). Training and practice create change that moves you in a particular direction by maintaining a focus on your goals and acting in accordance with them. But effective practice and training requires a present centred focus and often this concentration on the present is the hardest part.
When you set yourself a health and fitness goal it's easy to become overly focussed on outcomes and before you know it you are an obsessive control freak. What's worse, sometimes the harder you try, the less likely you are to achieve what you are aiming for, and this is particularly true if there is a skill component to the learning.
When you tighten your grip on the objective goal, you can lose sight of the process. The paradox is that you can achieve the result you were looking for as if by accident through process itself. Chris swam his first full length by accident.
I've been teaching Chris to swim for around 2 years now. He has just had his 55th birthday and when we first met he was terrified of the water. Having never learnt to swim as a child it was a brave and determind decision to make to try and learn. I have taught adults from scratch before and I usually have some success, but with Chris it has been a little different.
From the start it was obvious he would not be happy to just get from A to B. He wanted to learn 'properly', and I was happy to take my time teaching him. Though I am a qualified swimming teacher, Chris is the only swimmer I am still working with, largely because I don't feel I will be finished until he is. We are both happily working on the process. Several times in the past few months Chris has come close to 'swimming properly' for a whole length with rhythmical breathing. Several times he has set himself a target deadline and on every occasion it has slipped from his grasp. He would tighten up, lose the sense of flow and relaxation essential in swimming, and the whole thing would fall apart.
Then, something amazing happened. As if by accident and without intending to, Chris swam a perfect length of breastroke. It was a pretty exciting moment. It was achievement of the objective by way of process.
I've been dipping in and out of Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching recently (as you do) alongside a book which I really love by John Heider call 'The Tao of leadership'. In it the author loosly translates the meaning of the poetry in a leadership context. I love the original poems but also enjoy the interpretations as they remind me of the importance of letting go of needing to be in control, both as coach and for me personally.
Here is an example from Chapter 29:
..'Those who tamper with it, harm it,
Those that grab at it, lose it.
For among the creatures of the world some go in front, some follow;
Some blow hot when others would be blowing cold.
Some are feeling vigorous just when others are worn out.
Some are loading up just when others are tilting out.
Therefore the Sage discards the absolute, the all-inclusive, the extreme'
The paradox of pushing
Leaders who push think that they are facilitating the process, when in fact they are blocking process. They think that they are building a good group field when in fact they are destroying its coherence and creating factions. They think that their constant interventions are a measure of ability, when in fact such interventions are crude and inappropriate. They think that their leadership position gives them authority, when in fact their behaviour diminishes respect.
The wise leader stays centred and grounded and uses the least force required to act effectively. The leader avoids egocentricity and emphasizes being rather than doing.
Awareness of process can help us understand how shit happens. Sometimes its painful. Sometimes its a beautiful thing. Either way change happens.