The Balance Point is Always Moving

I went to a “galloping clinic” (yes, on horses!) this week with Stevie Delahunt, so I knew I would not have time to write a new blog. Instead, I scheduled a “rerun” of the blog below before I left. Little did I know that the clinic would show me both how far I’ve come – and how far I still have to go. More than once, I felt myself seeking perfect balance, instead of simply rebalancing. In the end, I DID gallop, and it was beyond exhilarating. Ultimately, I learned that balancing at the much less scary trot was both more challenging and more important. When I came back to reread this post before sending it to you, I realized that it’s the most fitting post I could make today. I’m so grateful to have had an accomplished horsewoman like Stevie lead the retreat this weekend. She toggled back and forth between challenging us and supporting us so that we each pushed on the edges of our respective comfort zones.

Blog Originally Posted June 2023

I’ve had several coaching encounters over the last few days where I recognized a theme of resentment. It’s a mindset that I am prone to cultivating myself - if I’m not aware. When things are not going my way, I have a “rule” that says “rather than confront what’s going on, let’s hope it goes away. Let the other person figure it out or fix it. When they don’t figure it out and fix it, I get mad and now I really don’t want to confront them, because it’s going to get ugly.” This rule spirals into more anger, deeper resentment and a feeling of powerlessness until something blows.

Our Rules are like a Rube Goldberg machine. We put together this slide, that ball drop, this other weighted pivoted and call it reality. In truth, it’s a mindset that Carol Dweck in her book Mindset call the Fixed Mindset.

I think of a fixed mindset as a Proving Mindset. As in “let me prove to you that I can pass the test, win the game, show you I belong. I don’t make mistakes or when I do, I don’t admit it, because I want to be perfect.” This mindset is grounded in my Rules, which can be convoluted at times. Have you ever seen a Rube Goldberg machine in action? One of my favorite childhood games Mousetrap was one such thing. I don’t know about you, but in our house, that thing only worked 1 out of 10 times. Our Rules can be like that, working sporadically given the situation of the moment.

Here’s the thing. In our goal-oriented culture, we rarely teach that corrections towards balance ARE the work. Instead, we think those are the mistakes to be avoided on the way to the destination. In today’s fast changing world, it’s almost impossible to get something right the first time. Most of the clients I work with have jobs that require them to constantly learn while they are on the job. In other words, the balance point is always moving.

As a kid, I did not understand this. My schooling had taught me to have the right answer. When I answered a question wrong on a test, I got a big red X. I hated red X’s. So I became very focused on making good grades. Learning to ride my bike felt like I was getting a bunch of red x’s and failing the test. I had a Rule that I should always make straight A’s. I didn’t realize that the balance point is always moving and that my job was not to pass the “learn to ride a bike” test but tune into the situation to figure out what correction to make to keep the bike upright and moving. My Rules obscured my view about what this situation called for.

In other words, to restore balance, we must meet the situation where it is. If you think about it, we are doing this all the time. When we walk, we are constantly calibrating our steps to restore equilibrium as our balance point moves through space. On my water ski, I’m constantly aligning myself to the ever-moving balance point as I make huge S turns down the lake. When we ride a horse, we are constantly seeking that balance point between us and the horse as we move through space together.

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These corrections are made of two parts: That which is required to get alignment and that which we add or subtract due to our Rules.

For example, when I’m on my water ski, I frequently get out of balance. If I remember to focus only on the correction that will move me towards the balance point, I can keep skiing. However, all too often, I get mentally jarred and start thinking about what I did wrong. Next thing I know, I’m in the water.

This idea can also apply to our relationships. Have you seen friendships fall apart because of an over or under reaction? You miss their birthday and mean to call them the next day. Before you know it, a week and then a month has passed. Now you’re in the territory where you can’t think of what to say so you say nothing. Or your friend has stepped on your toe in some way, perhaps crossed a boundary or betrayed you. You get mad and decide the friendship isn’t worth it. Or maybe you get so mad that you blow up on them and they can’t figure out what they did so wrong. Either way, the friendship is damaged. Not because something was said, but because there was an over or under reaction. And the over or underreaction is not based on what is happening now – it’s based on our Rules.

So how do we learn to calibrate our reaction to the situation as it is? We begin to develop what I call an Improving Mindset.

The first step is to tune into our inner tuning fork. In every case where we over or underreact, we felt something inside that said “something is off.” That’s an energetic signal to restore alignment to that ever-moving balance point. However, our conditioning has also linked that feeling to the big red X’s given to us by our teachers, parents and friends growing up. It’s noise that say we’ve done something wrong rather than a signal that that something is off.

We can recalibrate that feeling become signal when we learn to reach for our Tools instead of our Rules. Our Tools are the DNA of an Improving Mindset. Curiosity, listening, hearing, timing, feel, patience, problem solving, discipline, work ethic, and so much more. The mental tools given to us at birth.

When I fell off a horse in 2017, there was a big chance that I would never ride again. A friend referred me to a guy named Bruce Anderson, who had helped her with a troubled horse, and who also did leadership consulting with corporate teams. Given that I do leadership consulting with corporate teams, I reached out to him to potentially partner with a client team. What he did instead was show me a whole new level of the difference between a Proving and Improving mindset. I’ve had him as a guest on my podcast where we talked about many of these ideas.

For me, one of the biggest gifts of the work was recognizing the distinction between being caught in my Rules and learning to instead reach for my Tools. Practically speaking, it means that when I feel that yucky, inner sensation that something is off, I have very tangible actions I can take to turn the sensation into something productive. In our podcast, Bruce calls that sensation the Negative Positive Pole, analogous to a car battery that has energy running through it. Instead of building resentment and anger, the Tools such as listening, curiosity and problem solving give me the building blocks for a strategy to have difficult conversations in a balanced way. Ironically, taking responsibility for my part of the situation is the key to keeping the power in my hands.

How do you make sense of the feeling of something being off? What Rules have you made up to handle resentment, anger or things not going your way? When you need to have difficult conversations, resolve the situation? what strategies do you employ to What happens in your mindset when you chose to see corrections as a normal part of life and work, rather than as mistakes that just prove you are not perfect?