Swinging For the Fences

We love a home run, don’t we?  The big guy gets up to the plate, swings away, and CRACK!  The bat hits the ball right in the sweet spot, and the ball goes flying over the fence.  The crowd jumps to its feet and roars.  The batter saunters around the bases, sometimes waving his hat in the air to acknowledge the rousing applause.

(c) Ann Thompson

(c) Ann Thompson

A lot of people think that the rest of the game is boring.  They wait for the home runs.  They’re powerful.  Flashy.  Exciting.

Perhaps you live your life like that power hitter.  Swinging for the fences.  Or waiting for the perfect pitch to hit a home run with.  All the while passing up perfectly good pitches that could yield you a single, or a double.

If you’re not a baseball fan, maybe you don’t know that home run hitters don’t generally have the best batting averages.  They strike out more often.  The guys who hit singles and doubles?  They’re the ones with the better average.  They have a great eye and don’t go for power.

Even if your eyes are glazing over at the sports analogy, it is such a perfect picture of this truth:  You achieve more success with a bunch of small steps strung together than with one huge, flashy activity.  These activities are called habits.

That’s why New Year’s Resolutions so seldom work.  We’ve heard that we should set Big-Hairy-Audacious-Goals (BHAG), and we don’t have any idea how to achieve them.  We put an intention out into the universe, and think that’s enough.  Now putting an intention into the universe is definitely better than NOT putting out an intention.  If we don’t believe something is possible it won’t happen.  But that isn’t enough.  If it were enough, more people would be wildly successful at what they choose to do.

How can we develop the habits that help increase our batting average?

Use the Zorro Circle

In his book, The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor tells us to limit our focus to small, manageable goals.  He calls it the Zorro Circle.  Once Don Alejandro masters the ability fight in a tiny circle around him, his world can expand into a larger circle.  Eventually he goes out as Zorro to fight oppression.

And what is that circle?  That sense of control over the smallest aspects of our lives.  So much of our lives feel out of control, don’t they?  Illness, layoff, splintered relationships, a troubled child, an ever-increasing workload.  Shawn says we must focus on even miniscule goals to regain that feeling of control.

There was a time in my life where I had several surgeries in a short period.  After all that, I was left with chronic pain.  Talk about feeling out of control!  I never knew when it would be so bad that I could hardly move or breathe.  It would attack out of nowhere.

I went to a pain clinic.  They tried all kinds of therapies that didn’t work.  What did work?

When they taught me how to walk differently.  How to breathe through the pain.  Now I had something I could do.  Something I felt I could control.

It wasn’t much.  It certainly wasn’t a home run.  It was a single.  And I had to run like mad to reach first base before the ball.  But it was a giant step forward.

Trip Over It

Shawn gives us another great example.  He says that if he wants to run in the morning, he puts his exercise shoes next to his bed where he will trip over them when he gets up.  (That wouldn’t exactly work for me at this stage of my life, because I might kill myself when I get up in the night to use the bathroom. )  But the principle is a great one, and I can think of other ways to accomplish this.  Some of what I do:

  1. Put things on my calendar. Even the time before work.  It helps to hold me accountable.
  2. Say it out loud all day. Something about that constant reminder makes it almost certain that I will do it, even if I’m tired.

Fake It ‘Til You Make It

If there’s something you aren’t sure you can do, doesn’t somehow feel like “you”, fake it until you own it.  No one feels comfortable doing something different in the beginning.  The only difference is how we respond to that feeling of discomfort.

The top hitters act as if they own that batter’s box, even when they are in a slump.  Those who question themselves end up paying more attention to how they are doing than to just hitting.  They overthink. The top performers in your industry put themselves out there, knowing they aren’t perfect.  Knowing they have a lot to learn.  And also knowing that it’s better to be imperfect and be in the arena than to hide and wait until they are perfect.

The Show Must Go On

When I was a student in the New Haven Junior Ballet Company, we were preparing for a performance.  I was doing a trio with two of my friends.  We had these really cool costumes – royal blue and white with puffed sleeves and laces up the front.  They were meant to look Elizabethan or something, but with tutus.  I distinctly remember the director telling us during our rehearsals, “No matter what happens, keep dancing.  If something happens to your shoe, keep dancing.  If you forget the steps, keep dancing.  If your costume falls off, keep dancing.”  We all laughed and nodded our heads.

Wouldn’t you know that in the middle of the performance, the entire front of my costume opened up displaying my underwear for the whole audience to see?!  You see, it wasn’t really laced up the front.  It was held together with hooks and eyes.  I moved in such a way that the hooks came undone, and there went the costume.

I kept dancing just as she said until we danced off the stage.  Then I turned beet red and went to get safety pins to hold myself together for the next entrance.  Did people notice what had happened?  Some did.  And they were proud of what I had done.  And some didn’t even notice.  Why?  Because I didn’t stop and call attention to it.  I kept going.  I controlled what I could control.  I followed the habit we had established in practice to keep dancing no matter what.

So forget swinging for the bleachers.  Forget the grand and glorious.  Go for the small, steady wins.

Start with your own Zorro Circle and expand from there.
Trip over it.
Fake it ‘til you make it.
Remember that the show must go on.

Now go break a leg.

Where would you like to start?  Get the show on the road by leaving a comment.