When it comes to understanding situations and behaviours, context is key. The definition of context is: “the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood”. For me, context is hugely important. As a performance coach, I have visited several different elite sporting environments, and would easily be able to pick holes in other coaches programmes. But this might be a single day observation, and if I understood the context better, it would lead to understanding the coach’s rationale. On the flip side, I too have had to defend my programming and coaching to players, coaches and clients. These are people with less applied knowledge and experience than me in this area, but it is part of the role, and it helps to shape your philosophy.
These three big statements have helped me understand “context” in terms of both my internal and external work:
1. Everyone is doing their best.
2. Everyone has problems.
3. Everyone is busy.
Everyone is doing their best.
A statement that at first got me thinking, and at the time, I critically disagreed with. However, when you add to the statement “at this time” it becomes easier to understand. Are you doing your best? Be honest with yourself. For me, there were a few times when the answer was a simple no. That then led to the question of why. For example, in coaching, was I the best coach that I could be in that session? Or, when working with people or athletes, is this the best that they can do at this moment? What can we work on together to improve? Ask yourself what is missing or required for your best to get better. Are you missing knowledge, experience, or maybe time? Knowledge is an interesting one. I have worked with some elite individuals in corporate situations, highly intelligent and very driven. Hence, it was sometimes difficult to explain the reason why some things needed to change. Several gyms have at their entrance the quote “leave your ego at the door”, which should be no different in our everyday lives. Now, I am not saying do not be confident in your day-to-day activities but understand that line between confidence and arrogance. I read Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book “Talking to strangers” recently, he highlighted that you never know what other people have experienced or leant and what we can learn from them.
Coming back to doing your best; it might be that we need time. We live in a results-driven world. The easy example of this is football managers. It seems that any manager is only a small amount of bad games away from a potential sacking. Working with young athletes, the focus on results is the most frustrating thing. I try to explain that improvement might not be linear, just because it has been like this in the past it does not dictate the future. “Past performance is no guarantee of future results”, I use this a lot in coaching to highlight that both positive and negative performance in the past has no assurances to what will happen in the future.
Everyone has problems.
Problems are not necessarily adverse. Of course, there are individuals with challenges. Everyone has them, and it does depend on your mindset – fixed vs growth or open vs closed. The struggle is part of growth and is needed for development. Just like improving your fitness or skill set, it should take you out of your comfort zone. And generally, if you look back on difficult times, it always seems more manageable with hindsight. Understanding this allows us to be more understanding of how people react to different situations. The more you let people understand, the more people will understand you. A key aspect of being a leader is that people understand the direction you are going and why.
Getting to know yourself can be the most important use of your time. You are not doing it to fix your problems; it’s to have greater self-awareness about the way we behave and think about different things. We have a default network in our brain, this is on all the time, and it’s easy to let negative self-talk occur. The ability to notice this is a skill that takes practice and time. But once we improve this, we can start the process of questioning why.
Everyone is busy.
How many times do we hear “sorry I completely forgot, I am just so busy at the moment”. People put forward this idea of being busy as a sign of achievement. When I worked with C suite executives, they would proudly highlight to me how many air mile points they had achieved that year. It’s a bit like training; training hard all the time is not beneficial on the body. We all need time for recovery, that is mostly when the growth occurs. Are we truly busy, or have we just let ourselves get too busy by saying yes to too many things? Once we take a step back, we realise the following: 1. we are not superhuman; 2. if we spread ourselves too thin, we will not achieve anything; 3. we will end up letting people down. Some people recommend a not-to-do list or using the Eisenhower Decision Matrix to determine what needs to be done or not done. I am a great fan of the book “The One Thing” by Gary Keller. He highlights the need to focus on one thing by asking the question, “What’s the ONE THING I can do that will make everything else easier or unnecessary?”
We have all heard the comments about how we are living in the most connected time, but people are feeling a lack of true connection. Mental health has become a massive topic in today’s society, and it’s great to see the number of different groups that are allowing people to meet, talk and make connections. I read in a book a great comment: “to be approachable you need to approach”, so I encourage you to approach people, whether you know them or not. One of the flow triggers (link to flow blog) is “risk”; this does not need to be a physical risk; it can be social.
So what can we do?
- You are doing your best – don’t be so hard on yourself. Yes, you might want to achieve goals, but they might take longer than you think. Most people overestimate what they can do in a year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.
- You have problems – but this is not a problem. I am dyslexic, and it’s been a big part of my life. It has caused severe negative self-talk. However, it has made me super organised when writing documents. Understanding and having an awareness of your problems might be your most significant advantage.
- You are busy – but so is everyone else. What do you need to say “no” to? What can you stop doing to free up some time?