Steve (fictional name, true story) had fucked up in a big way. He knew it, and as the leader of the organization he worked for, I knew it too. What I did not know, however, was why this had happened. The mistake was big enough that he could have, and possibly should have been, terminated with cause. Fortunately, I had the awareness to suspend judgment of the event and listen to the whole story.
The short and anonymized version is that Steve had a mental breakdown and ended up on suicide watch at the hospital. It was this temporary breakdown that had caused the mistake, which I also knew was very out of character for this team member.
By practicing non-judgemental listening, I was able to get the full story. Who knows what might have happened if we had terminated Steve because of this error? Instead, we helped get Steve the supports he needed, and he went on to be a valued team member for many years to come.
As human beings, we tend to place judgment on what we see, hear, experience and even what we feel. Our minds, ego and the need to be part of a community (tribal tendencies) can make us judge quickly. Developing self-awareness and empathy and practicing non-judgmental listening effectively counteract the natural tendency to judge. By consciously challenging our biases and being open to diverse perspectives, we can foster a more inclusive and understanding society.
As a lifelong student of effective leadership strategies, here are some valuable insights on a crucial aspect of communication that can transform your workplace dynamics: non-judgmental listening. In today’s fast-paced world, where diverse perspectives thrive, fostering an inclusive environment and understanding the concerns of your team members becomes paramount.
Embrace Empathy: Empathy is the cornerstone of non-judgmental listening. Cultivate a genuine desire to understand and connect with your team members. When engaging in conversations, please focus on the speaker’s emotions, body language, and tone to gain deeper insights into their perspectives and concerns. Empathy allows you to transcend preconceived notions and truly grasp the experiences of others.
Drop Assumptions and Biases: To practice non-judgmental listening effectively, you must consciously let go of assumptions and biases. Approach each conversation with an open mind, free from preconceived notions about gender, age, or background. Recognize that everyone brings unique experiences, and their insights and contributions are equally valuable.
Create a Safe Space: A safe and inclusive environment is vital for non-judgmental listening. Encourage open dialogue, where team members feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and concerns without fear of judgment. Foster an atmosphere of trust and respect where diverse viewpoints are valued and appreciated. By doing so, you empower your team to share their authentic selves.
Listen Actively: Non-judgmental listening goes beyond merely hearing words; it requires active engagement. Practice active listening by giving your undivided attention, maintaining eye contact, and providing verbal and non-verbal cues to signal your attentiveness. Ask open-ended questions to encourage deeper reflection and understanding. Remember, practice the pause; silence can be powerful, allowing the speaker to express their thoughts fully.
Suspend Evaluation and Respond Thoughtfully: As a leader, it is natural to analyze and evaluate situations quickly. However, during non-judgmental listening, focus on understanding rather than evaluating. Suspend judgment and avoid interrupting or imposing your own opinions. Respond thoughtfully, acknowledging the speaker’s thoughts before offering your perspective.
Seek Feedback and Learn: Continual growth is a hallmark of exceptional leadership. Actively seek feedback from your team members on your listening skills. Encourage honest conversations about improving and creating a more inclusive environment. You set a powerful example for others by demonstrating your commitment to personal development.
While non-judgmental listening is not gender specific, in my experience, it can be more challenging for men whose natural tendency is to want to fix things.
Creating a list of how to practice non-judgemental listening is relatively easy. What is hard is actually putting it into practice. If you have taken any leadership training, you likely know most of these points. My challenge for you this week is to focus on employing all of the techniques above in all of your conversations. The first step to change is awareness. At the end of your day, reflect on your interactions and rate yourself on these six items. You can use this worksheet to track your progress.
Last week I had a beautiful reminder of one of the most important aspects of healing, in particular for men. I attended a fundraiser luncheon for the Little Warriors Be Brave Ranch. The Little Warriors is an organization that creates spaces (https://littlewarriors.ca/be-brave-ranch/) and programs for children who are victims of childhood sexual abuse. Their mission is truly inspiring. I was honoured to be able to attend with hundreds of other supporters. This was their 10th annual luncheon and a real milestone.
I forget how much I enjoy getting out and networking with others in this kind of community environment. I had been invited by a friend who had been trying to get me to join her for a few years, and the timing never worked out. The sense of community in an environment like that is quite remarkable. This a stark reminder of what we have all missed these last few years with COVID removing so many of our in-person events.
As human beings, we are hard-wired for connection. I work primarily with men and can see the effects of profound loneliness that many men feel, yet few are willing to admit. Most of us won’t admit it to ourselves, let alone those around us. I was intrigued to see this year’s keynote speaker, Paul Young. Paul is a New York Times Best Selling author of “The Shack.” more interestingly, he is a man who was willing to share his own journey of childhood abuse.
Paul shared a lot of nuggets of wisdom in his speech. He is a fabulous storyteller, and I can always tell an author by the wonderful turns of phrases they use to describe events, locations and people in their stories. Paul did not disappoint in this regard.
At one point, he shared a story about a shameful act that he had done and how coming clean meant admitting to his family and friends what had happened. He told the story of sharing what he had done with his father-in-law. I will not do it justice, but how he phrased the scene painted a colourful image. “When I told him what happened, I watched his heart break, seep out his eyes and roll down his cheek. No judgement, just love.” Again I am paraphrasing, Paul was more eloquent than that. It was a powerful moment in the story.
He told stories of shame and guilt and the difference between the two. “Shame is ‘I am something bad,’ and guilt is ‘I have done something bad.’” He talked about forgiveness and he talked about healing and love. He talked about the lies he had hidden behind and how to heal himself and his relationships, he had to become a ‘truthteller.’
There were many powerful takeaways from his presentation. The one that stood out the most to me was his simple statement, “The unrevealed remains unhealed.” In the context of men and masculinity, truer words have not been spoken. As a man, I know that I feel an inordinate amount of pressure to “be strong.” And while I think that “being strong” is a virtuous pursuit, I also believe that most define strength incorrectly. You can see 15 minutes of my thoughts on this in my TEDx “Redefining Badass: The Way Men Think About Strong is Wrong.”
Many view strength as ‘sucking it up,’ burying or avoiding much of what we actually feel. We think vulnerability is weakness and wear many masks to avoid showing what is happening inside us. We armour up, wrap ourselves in material pursuits and addictions, and carve away some of the deepest parts of ourselves lest we be judged ‘unmanly.’ We talk of courage as if it is all about pushing through and ignoring our trauma. Real courage is about having the strength to drop the armour, put down the masks and stand in front of that mirror raw, naked and fully revealed.
Our scars define us, they make us who we are. They are not something that needs to be covered up or ignored. They are to be explored, accepted and integrated into our whole self. “What remains unrevealed remains unhealed.” One of my favourite quotes by Eckert Tolle is, “With awareness, there comes choice. And so you are able to say: “I allow this moment to be as it is.” And then, suddenly, where before there was irritation, there is now a sense of aliveness and peace. And out of that comes right action.”
When we bury our true selves and hide our scars, we do so to the outside world and ourselves. And when we hide from ourselves, there is no chance for change.
I have written a bit on why I stopped using the term goal and shifted to a new paradigm of finding alignment with outcomes. Language matters. When I shift to setting an intention rather than obsessing about an outcome, I commit to how I am going to show up. I do not commit to a result that is often largely out of my control.
This mental shift has been incredibly liberating and a welcome way to remove unhealthy stress in my life. It doesn’t mean that I do not hold myself accountable to how I show up. It just means that commit to the process, not the result. The following story of an ultramarathon I ran Easter weekend was a great example of this concept.
“You’re in a fight against an opponent you can’t see, but you can feel him on your heels can’t you, feel him breathing down your neck. You know what that is? That’s you, your fears, your doubts and insecurities all lined up like a firing squad ready to shoot you out of the sky. But don’t lose heart, while they are not easily defeated they are far from invincible.”
That little snippet is a line out of one of my favourite motivational short videos. There was a time when I would watch this clip daily. That line really resonated with me. It was a great reminder that all of that negative self-talk was just me. A reminder that I control that. I get to choose what that voice says and even how that voice says it.
Manage Negative Self-Talk
Last night at our Connect’d Men’s group, we talked a little bit about that voice. The stories that we tell ourselves. The stories of unworthiness, the stories of not belonging, the stories of “I am the only one.” Those voices can be debilitating when they are at their worst. The problem gets compounded when we, as men, are loathe to acknowledge the voice because we are supposed to be “strong”. We are supposed to be confident. We are supposed to have it all together for everyone around us. The truth is the more we fight those voices and try to forcefully remove them the louder they get.
Self-compassion is not typically something most men that I know are very good at. That voice in our head is not often gentle and kind. It is usually pretty brutal and vicious. If we are not careful, it can become crippling.
This weekend I am running the Diez Vista 50km trail race in BC. I have not been running regularly for the last year and a bit due to a torn ligament in my SI joint. This is the first race I have signed up for in a long time. I had a tussle with that voice in my head yesterday. It started telling me all of the reasons why I shouldn’t have signed up for this race. All the reasons why things were going to go wrong.
Managing the voice in my head
For many years I did not acknowledge that this voice existed. I was a “man” I would power through. I was a business leader; I was an industry leader; I would outwork the voice, and I would “suck it up.” I suspect you know that inner dialogue. While that may have worked for a time, it was a taxing way of dealing with it. Always a fight, always a battle. It was exhausting. Once I began to recognize and acknowledge that voice in my head, I started to have some power over it.
With awareness comes choice.
Once we acknowledge the voice and start to recognize when it shows up, then we can be proactive in managing it.
One of the instructors in my graduate program on Executive Coaching had a simple phrase they used to quiet the voices that I really enjoyed. Last night as those voices rattled around in my head, I was reminded of this phrase. I hopped in the hot tub last night to be greeted by the image above. I’m at Mom and Dad’s place, and this cool little duck bobs and weaves around the hot tub, dispensing the pool chemicals needed to keep the hot tub clean. Instantly I could hear my instructor’s mantra.
“Shut the Duck Up!”
This was the phrase she used to silence that inner critic. Imagining that voice as a little duck quacking in her mind. She even went so far as to have a little rubber ducky sitting on her desk to remind her to tell that voice to “Shut the Duck Up!” when it got too loud. I love simple, actionable mantras to keep me grounded. This is one I use often.
You’ve Got to Name it to Tame it.
I talk about the “name it to tame it” strategy, a term coined by Dan Seigal when it comes to managing our emotions. This strategy can also work well for managing your inner critic. One of the guys in our peer group last night shared a strategy they use to manage that voice. They let that voice speak. However, they give it a name. They name their voice Elmer Fudd, and when it speaks they hear it in his classic cartoon voice. Obviously, the voice has a lot less weight when such an iconic cartoon character speaks the words.
Another mantra I use to manage that voice comes from Dr. Daniel Amen, author of “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life.”
Kill the ANTs
ANT is an acronym for Automatic Negative Thoughts. You know, those voices we have been talking about, the automated response that is often “I can’t…”, “I’m not good enough….” If your brain is a supercomputer, then self-talk is the operating system that runs it.
My challenge for you is to start to notice when that self-talk starts to pop into your head.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
Once you start to notice the voice, you can start to recognize the triggers that activate it and start to practice proactively managing it. I have given you three example strategies above but the truth is that we are all unique and we all have to find the things that work for us. The trick is to make it a regular practice with intention.
If you want to dive a little deeper into self-compassion, I highly recommend checking out Kristen Neff’s work at Self-Compassion.org. She has a lot of good information and some great practices you can employ.
I could sit here and share statistics with you all day that tell you why Mental health is a critical aspect of our overall well-being. But, the fact is it is often overlooked, particularly among men. I could tell you that based on a recent study of men in the workplace:
55% of men reported being lonely.
49% of Men surveyed scored in the range of probable depression
68% feel uncomfortable asking for help
46% Never ask for help
42% reported behaviours suggestive of hazardous drinking or active alcohol use disorders.
35% experienced thoughts of suicide or self-injury at least a few times a week.
Nearly 1 in 4 was experiencing psychological pain so intolerable that they could feel themselves falling apart.
1 in 3 expressed hopelessness about the future, feeling that it was impossible that things could change for the better or that they could achieve their goals.
Approximately 1 in 10 men endorsed strong feelings of hatred, disgust, and shame towards themselves.
I could tell you all of these facts, but the truth is that while statistics may not lie, the stories inspire action.
While statistics may not lie, it's the stories inspire action.
As someone who works with men on their mental and emotional fitness and has seen the consequences firsthand when a man’s mental and emotional fitness is neglected, I cannot overstate the importance of encouraging men to prioritize their emotional well-being. While statistics don’t lie, the stories truly inspire action.
Why Stories Matter
Stories have been used to inspire action for centuries. From religious texts to fables to biographies, humans have always been drawn to narratives that highlight the triumphs and struggles of others.
But why are stories so powerful?
For one, stories engage our emotions in a way that statistics and facts simply cannot. When we hear about someone who has overcome any mental health challenges, for example, we feel a sense of empathy and connection to their experience. This emotional connection is critical when it comes to motivating ourselves and others to take action.
Clint Malarchuk’s incredible story of trauma, attempted suicide, and subsequent recovery gave us a powerful example of what is possible. Hearing about someone who has successfully managed their mental health helps us believe that we can do the same. This is particularly important for men, who may feel like seeking help for mental health issues is a sign of weakness or failure. When we see examples of other strong men who have taken care of their mental and emotional fitness and improved their lives as a result, it helps to break down those barriers.
Stories show us what is possible in our own life. They allow us to see ourselves in others and provide hope for a brighter future. A powerful story can help us reduce the stigma that often comes with mental health challenges. Our stories also help us connect to a sense of community.
Examples of Inspiring Stories
What do inspiring stories about men and mental health look like? Here are a few examples:
Kevin Love: The NBA star made headlines when he wrote an essay for The Players’ Tribune about his struggles with anxiety and depression. Love’s willingness to open up about his mental health challenges helped to break down the stigma and encourage other men to seek help.
Wesley and Salvi: Two men at our Love Letter to Men conference who shared their story of attempting suicide and subsequent recovery were remarkable. I know there were lessons shared that I will never forget. You can watch a recording of their story here.
Daniel Sundahl: Dan is an artist and first responder who shares his story with a powerful photo art collection. You can find his work on his website here https://www.dansunphotos.com/.
These are just a few examples, but there are countless other stories of men who have taken care of their mental health and improved their lives. By sharing these stories, we can inspire others to do the same.
How to Share Stories Effectively
Of course, simply sharing stories isn’t enough to create meaningful change. To truly inspire men to prioritize their mental health, we need to share stories in a way that resonates with them. Here are a few tips:
Use relatable language: The average dude does not want to hear academic jargon while listening to stories. Find language that is accessible and relatable to your audience. Avoid jargon or technical terms and use everyday language that men can easily understand.
Highlight the benefits: As men, we are often motivated by tangible benefits, so it’s important to emphasize the positive outcomes of prioritizing our emotional fitness. This might include improved relationships, better job performance, or a greater sense of purpose.
Address common concerns: Many men hesitate to seek help for mental health issues because they worry about being perceived as weak or vulnerable. Stories of “Strong men” who have taken action tackle these concerns head-on and demonstrate that seeking help is a sign of strength; we can help to break down these barriers
Various resources are available online on how to effectively tell stories. If you are a leader (and we’re all leaders) that wants to impact men and mental health, learn how to share great stories.
I have been a student of leadership for over 30 years. In recent years there has been a lot of talk about the power of vulnerability in leadership. However, many leaders I work with are highly skeptical about this concept.
I hear a lot of similar viewpoints. “Yeah, they say that is what they want in leadership, but then as soon as we show any signs of weakness, we get trampled!” Despite all the research supporting the power of vulnerability in leadership positions, there is still hesitation in demonstrating it from those at the top. When I started to lead in a business context, I was terrified to show any vulnerability. I believed my team would lose faith in me if I did not appear to have all the answers.
It took a long time to unlearn that. But, if you are subordinated to a leader that purports to have all the answers, you should rethink your position. A quick Google search can unravel even the most bulletproof display of bravado. Nothing erodes faith and trust in leaders when they spew about things they do not know.
Vulnerability in leadership also needs to be coupled with authenticity. Leaders who employ false vulnerability as a tactic are quickly found out. The incongruent nature of their being will quickly sour even the most loyal followers.
There is a plethora of research on the topic if you need empirical data to support the need for vulnerability in our leaders. However, I am not a researcher, and I prefer to show you based on my experience as a business leader for over 25 years and, frankly, what I call common sense. So let’s talk about what I have seen.
Some of the benefits of vulnerability in leadership:
Vulnerability fosters trust Leaders who bring vulnerability to the workplace allow themselves to be seen as natural, fallible people. Authenticity builds trust within teams as they can see their leaders are not putting up a false front and are willing to admit their shortcomings. That is why we have teams, isn’t it? To provide support and diversity of skills to fill in gaps.
Vulnerability can lead to better communication. When we, as leaders, are open and honest about our thoughts and feelings, it encourages others to do the same. By modelling the way, we create a culture of open, direct communication that allows for a deeper understanding within a team. As a result, it fosters more effective collaboration.
Vulnerability can create a sense of psychological safety. When leaders create an environment of psychological safety, it leads to innovation and experimentation. When a leader is willing to share their shortcomings, it allows team members to more readily take calculated risks, which can contribute to the organization’s growth.
Vulnerability fosters connection When leaders demonstrate vulnerability, it can create a sense of belonging amongst the team. This feeling of connection makes a more cohesive team and is a fantastic recipe for preventing burnout and excessive stress amongst the team.
Self-awareness is the foundation for leadership. There is a level of vulnerability required for us to see our shortcomings. With it, growth becomes more accessible. When we dare to drop the armour and honestly assess our abilities as well as our weaknesses, it allows us the choice to improve. With awareness comes choice.
Now that we have discussed some of the benefits of vulnerability in leadership let’s talk about how to do it. It may seem a little counterintuitive to think there can be a wrong way to do vulnerability, but there most certainly is. I believe this makes people skeptical about the power of vulnerability.
Vulnerability is not:
Standing in front of your team and saying, “I have no idea what I am doing.” even if you don’t. There is a way to admit your uncertainty without undermining your team’s confidence.
Spewing out all of your personal problems in the workplace. Where appropriate, it may make sense to share some personal struggles if they impact how you show up in the workplace; however, your team is not your therapist.
Sharing your thoughts, feelings and opinions even if it goes against the grain. Having the courage to say, “I may be wrong, but…” can lead to a raft of others nodding in agreement. So many times, we all think the same thing but are afraid to say it.
Have the courage to challenge the process even when you are uncertain.
Seek genuine feedback from the team
Ask for help. I have seen many times when things went awry because a leader did not dare to ask for help from their team.
Encourage vulnerability in others. Creating a culture of safety and openness leads to a more inclusive, and supportive workplace.
Maintain accountability and appropriate boundaries. Vulnerability in leadership without accountability and boundaries is a recipe for disaster.
The bottom line is that vulnerability in leadership can be a powerful tool that fosters authenticity and trust. It can inspire others to take risks, create a sense of belonging and lead to personal and professional growth. In addition, vulnerability in leadership builds strong relationships within the organization and a positive team dynamic when appropriately done.
Like any other leadership skill, vulnerability takes practice. Unfortunately, I still do not get it right every time, but I am willing to experiment and repeat it.
Many men spend most of their lives trying to live the life they believe they are supposed to live. They are supposed to be the provider, the protector, the ‘man’. Most do this at a great cost to self. They suppress their own needs, wants and desires in order to be that version of self they feel like society wants them to be.
At some point this becomes problematic and requires adjustment. However, most of the time when men start to make that adjustment it gets labelled a midlife crisis. They start to experiment with what makes them fulfilled and sometimes that can be challenging. The real crisis is a society that demands men hide who they really are in order to fit some societal narrative of what a real man can be. Love to hear your thoughts. Drop me a note in the comments below.
This one little shift will drastically increase your ability to reflect and grow. This little tip for me was a real key in moving from self-reflection to true self-awareness. When it comes to building resilience and strength so much of it comes down to the language we use as we explore. In order to build our emotional fitness we can amplify the impact by shifting the questions we ask as we reflect.
Why do so many of us men resist the mental health label? This is a conversation we need to have much more of. There are some unique societal pressures on men that create some unique challenges which ultimately require us to take some unique approaches when it comes to men’s mental health.
Men everywhere are hurting. What are we doing to address the pain men feel and the harm they can ultimately cause when that pain is not dealt with?
Yesterday I was speaking to someone who is a top performer in her industry. I mean not just “successful” but the top 1% of the industry. It has been very gratifying to watch her success over the years. You see she actually started her career with me some 15 years ago. I have been incredibly fortunate to mentor and surround myself with amazingly talented people in my career. As a guy that is always looking to learn and grow I tend to be very curious and ask a lot of questions of these folks.
The HOW-TO Trap
I know we’ve all heard the adage of “If you want to be successful at something, find someone who is already there and do what they do.”
This is a trap. This is well intentioned, bad advice.
It is an easy trap to fall into and I catch myself repeatedly there as well.
It was no surprise when I was chatting with this individual I asked her the question “What is it that you do that has contributed to your success?” I was seeking the “How-to”. Also not surprisingly she couldn’t really answer the question. She thought for a minute and said “You know, I am not really sure. I don’t think I do anything magical.” She went on to say that she always gets asked this question and has never really had a decent answer for it.
We unpacked it a little bit and I reflected on a story from early in my career where I was keen to take the above noted, well intended, bad advice. Larry, who we’d both worked with in the past, was consistently the top sales pro in the company year after year after year. I was fortunate because he lived in the same city as me and was also a very generous man. I was excited by the prospect of learning from a peak performer. I asked Larry if I could shadow him for a day, intent to learn all the mystical secrets that he possessed that allowed him to do what he did so well. Larry agreed and said that he would be thrilled to have me accompany him for a day.
When the day came, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. I was so jacked to be able to spend a whole day with him. I was honestly a little surprised when I went and sat with him at his office. There really wasn’t anything super discernable about how he did business. I mean, don’t get me wrong, he was efficient and focused on getting through task after task but the whole thing was rather mundane.
Eventually we took a break for lunch and I asked him the big question. “What is it that you do that sets you apart? What is it that has you consistently at the top of the leaderboard no matter the economic environment?”
This conversation happened over 20 years ago but I still recall it vividly. I can assure you that his answer will stay with me for the rest of my life. He didn’t hum and haw, suggesting he wasn’t sure what it was. Instead he said with confidence and certainty
“You know Mike, I just do what I tell people I am going to do. That’s it”
Boom! For me that was definitely a Mic drop moment. So simple yet so profound. Here I was expecting to find some magic marketing formula or secret scripts or sales techniques yet there it was. So perfect in its simplicity.
What Larry did that set him apart was to consistently (and this is a keyword) deliver on what he told people he was going to do. We continued to discuss this over lunch and he elaborated. “If I tell someone that I am going to call them at 3pm tomorrow with an update, I call them at 3pm with an update. I don’t call them at 5pm with an apology and excuse for being late.”
This also hit home with me as I reflected on how many times I had missed the mark on my promises with some form of excuse. “I know I told you I’d call yesterday but the market has been crazy busy.” or maybe playing on empathy “Sorry I didn’t call yesterday but it was my daughters birthday and I just got a little behind.”
These may well be “justifiable” reasons (ahem excuses) for not delivering, however that is not what mattered. This was a massive “ah-hah!” moment for me.
As human beings we tend to want the quick fix. The magic formula. The secret pill that will give us all the riches and wealth that our heart desires. The secret celebrity diet that helped Gwenneth Paltrow lose all her belly fat.
Yet the reality is that it is consistent application of little habits that are what will become the magic formula. I’m sure it took Larry some time to get into the upper echelon of sales professionals, but once he did he stayed there because he had developed the habit of delivering on his promises. Every. Single. Time.
There is a reason list based articles are so popular. There is a reason marketers implore us writers to use click bait style headlines with the list of “x Number of Things That Will Change Your Life!” We are always looking for those 5 simple things to make us a better leader, salesperson, human being, fill-in-the-blank. We want the articles, videos or programs that will give us that quick fix. We love titles like…
5 Proven Ways to Lose Belly Fat
8 Strategies to be a Better Leader
7 Steps to a Brand New You
4 Tips to Grow Your Business in 2022
4 Ways to Get Unstuck
As you can see I even used the list format in hopes of getting you to click in and read this piece. While I really dislike playing the How-to game it is what people search for. My hope is that we can start to change that.
We are addicted to the “How to” and as a result we often fail as we miss the forest for the trees. What really needs to happen is we need to focus more on the “Who to” rather than the “How to” if we want to make lasting change in our life. Rather than focusing on the list of things that need to be done to achieve what we want to achieve, shift your focus to figuring out what kind of person we need to become to achieve those things.
For Larry it was clear. He was the type of person who always delivered on his promises. That is “who” he is more so than “what he did”. Unfortunately while the answer is simple, like many simple things it is not easy to execute on. It takes time and discipline. There is no substitute for that. There is no “X number of steps” list that will shortcut the need to become the person you need to be in order to do the things you want to do.
How To Get Unstuck
Being vs. Doing
In my book “Becoming a Better Man: When Something’s Gotta Change, Maybe It’s You!” I talk about the shift from doing to being. This is one of my favorite quotes from the book.
Life can take away what you have but it can never take away who you are. So focus on becoming more rather than having more.”
So often we feel stuck because we are busy trying to DO what others DO. When we try and emulate someone else we are almost guaranteed to fall short. Each and everyone of us is unique. Embrace your uniqueness and look to amplify WHO you are rather than WHAT you do.
Create Powerful Questions
In conversations with my friend and leadership expert Drew Dudley, he ended up sharing his the one question he most often asks himself. It is one that I employ almost daily. The question is simple yet super powerful.
If I want to be the kind of man that keeps his promises then I am going to find a way to phone that client back at 3pm like I promised regardless of the situation.
Stop Searching, Start Experimenting
When I was in my 20’s I devoured every little bit of self help advice out there. While it is often said that knowledge is power, the truth is that oftentimes knowledge can be a crutch. It can be a distraction, an excuse in and of itself. It’s not knowledge that is power, but rather the application of that knowledge that is power. It is also true that what works for one may or may not work for others.
Start experimenting with different ways of being and see how that works for you. Start with the mental shift to stop searching for how and start searching for who. Don’t do what the experts would do, instead do what you would do if you were the kind of person who… insert objective here.
Far too often we chase the “How-to” round and round and round. We get frustrated because no matter what solutions we find, no matter how many tactical tips we learn we still don’t seem to get the results we are looking for. It is usually more about getting in our own way than a lack of information. Until we start looking at who we are, no additional information will move the needle in the slightest.
Focus on the Feeling
How-to is about behavior. The primary focus of my work is examining how our emotions influence our decisions. Emotion is the foundation upon which reason is built. In other words, we make decisions based on emotion. Our decisions drive our behavior and our behavior drives our results.
If we try to implement any sort of “How-to” without first addressing the underlying feelings that may be preventing us from consistently executing what we need to do then we are destined to fail. Most of us already know the “How” but rarely have the courage to take the time to examine the “Who”.
There was a skit on MadTV that talked about weight loss. The magic formula. Eat Less, Move More. Most of us know how to lose weight, get in shape, make those sales calls, yet there is something about who we are that is preventing us from consistently executing on these steps.
When I circle back to that top performer I discussed in the opening sentence, I am reminded of the crux of this message. It really has very little to do with what she does that makes her a top performer. In fact it has everything to do with who she is that makes her a top performer.
My hope is that I gave you some food for thought. My hope is that as you continue to search for the how-to you will season it with a whole lot of “who to” along the way. As always I love to hear from you so drop me a note in the comments. I reply to all comments.
On International Men’s Day I had the privilege of sitting down with three other men to discuss the importance of Men’s mental health and some of the challenges that we face as men. Even in our patriarchal society it is important to look at the price of the patriarchy on men as well as on women. I hope you enjoy!
In a split second a combination of many variants of relief and terror washed over me. Holy shit, after 15 years this was actually happening.
When we go through a separation or divorce, whether by choice or by circumstance, it can be incredibly devastating. For me coming to terms with the fact that my marriage was not going to work was one of the most difficult things I had to do.
It was July 8, 2018 and I had been running for 24 hours and more. I had covered close to 135km. The pain in my feet was excruciating. My second foot felt like it had just split open. The balls of both of my feet were now on fire.
I still had about 5 miles before the next checkpoint. Nevermind how far I had to go before the finish line.
But the finish line wasn’t something I could even think about at this moment.
Relentless forward progress.
I had to make it to the transition area 6/7 before noon if I did not want to miss the cut off time and stand to be pulled from the course. The blisters on the balls of my feet were killing me.
I had been moving so well through the first five legs it was devastating to see how dramatically my progress had slowed. It was about 10km into leg 6 where the wheels really fell off. I had stopped to adjust my left sock and shoe to see if I could deal with the blister that now felt like it was opening up.
I had been doing the mental math on the timing since the disco rave party aid station at checkpoint 5b at about 2am this morning. I was in good shape to make the 30 hour cutoff at that time. I knew however that at the rate I was travelling now my chances of finishing within that time frame had all but evaporated. My feet felt like I had been running on broken glass for the last few hours. I could imagine them bleeding into my socks. I knew they weren’t but based on how they felt I could certainly imagine the raw flesh oozing bodily fluids of all nastiness. Things were starting to look bleak.
I needed a new mission. I needed a new destination, a reason to keep moving forward. Something, anything that I could grab onto and hold out hope for. As I grappled with the reality that the 30 hour finish mark was outside of my reach I also realized that once I was out on leg 7 I would be allowed to finish the race no matter how slow. The guys at CP5b had mentioned the noon cutoff for transition area 6/7 and that became my new goal. As long as I was out on leg 7 by noon I would be ok to finish at my leisure.
After pausing to take in the beauty of the surrounding mountain scape and snap a quick picture I dialed the phone to call Michelle. As the phone started to ring my resolve crumbled and I broke down into tears. The enormity of the disappointment sinking in. Her first reaction was to ensure that I was OK, that I was safe and free from harm. I assured her that I was and resolutely stated “New plan. There is no way that I am going to make the 30 hour cutoff. You are going to get me off leg 6 by noon. I need you to bandage my feet and get me back out on course so I can finish this fucking thing.” She acknowledged the new plan and I hung up and continued on my way.
This is why I run. This is why I do what I do. It is not for the moments of triumph for which I run but rather for the moments of adversity. I do it so that I can practice pushing through.
As I continued to slowly move forward I received a few texts from Michelle encouraging me not to give up on the 30 hour dream. Shortly after, I received a note from my friend Steve Baker who had obviously been chatting with Michelle. He encouraged me to keep moving and not drop the dream. He told me there was still hope.
I cursed him.
My feet were on fire! I could barely walk, let alone run. I was starting to get annoyed with their insistence that I still had a shot at making it in under time. Did they not understand? These were some of the most painful moments of my life. I had to walk on my heels lest the balls of my feet make contact with the ground and send a bolt of pain through my body.
Then it happened. The text that set me over the edge. Michelle says “Ok, we’re going to come cheer you on at checkpoint 6C.”
All I could think about at this moment was “What the fuck do you mean you are going to come cheer me on?? I don’t need cheering on. I need you to bandage my fucking feet.”
Fortunately I lost cell reception right about this time and rather than send back an asshole-esque response I was left to stew in my own misery for a while. I vacillated between the anger of “WTF?!? Cheer me on???” and “Mike, settle down. She’s been out here crewing your sorry ass for the last 25 hours.”
I wasn’t thinking clearly at all and knew this all too well but I could not figure out why she had suggested that she was going to come “cheer me on” when it was clear that I needed her medical skills as an RN to bandage my badly blistered feet.
I persisted in spite of the head trash.
I finally pulled up to check point 6 Charlie to see Michelle and Steve there. I immediately started with the “I don’t need you to cheer me on, I need you to bandage my feet.” to which Michelle calmly replied. “You know I can’t give you aid on course or you will be disqualified.”
Cue the shame gremlins.
I guess I did know that. Now don’t I feel like a giant ass. Fortunately for me there was a medic at the checkpoint. So I sat down and asked him to have a look at my blisters and see if there was any way he could bandage them.
After removing my shoes and socks he and Michelle both looked at my feet. I watched him look at her with a puzzled expression. He said quietly “Those aren’t blisters… that’s trenchfoot.”
I continued to insist that I simply needed a bandaid for my blister.
Michelle just looked at him and shrugged “Well, let’s put a bandaid on it and send him off then”
Which is exactly what he did. He put some kind of bandage on which surely provided no relief as my feet were complete hamburger but at least it made me feel as if something were being done. The scene was surreal. I remember watching another runner, Rachelle, who I had taken training camp run by as I was putting my shoes on. Our eyes met briefly but both looked vacant. She carried on and I wondered if she still had a hope of making cut off.
We put my socks and shoes back on and I took the last of the nutrition offered at that checkpoint and off I went.
Huh, nope those bandages did not do a thing. My feet were still on fire and the ground was not getting any smoother. I felt every pebble and rock underfoot. Each stone felt like little razor blades shredding the bottom of my feet even further. To distract myself from the pain in the bottom of my feet I turned my attention to what I assumed was my big toenail now removed from my toe and floating haplessly in my sock. Yes, I would go on to lose four toenails that day.
I had roughly an hour and a half to cross the remaining 7 kilometers to get me into the transition area 6/7 before the noon cutoff. Again, not the end of the race but simply a milestone that would allow me to keep going. Leg 7 was only about 8 miles and the easiest leg to complete by far. I had run it at training camp so I knew that once I got out on course for leg 7 I would be able to finish the whole 100 miles regardless of the time.
The pain in my feet was unignorable. My mind started telling me stories. You know, that little devil on your shoulder that looks for the easy way out? I can picture that little demonic Mike standing there whispering in my ear. “You know Mike, if you just move a little bit slower you will miss that noon cut off and you will be done. You can sit down, have a beer and no one will think any less of you. You put in a valiant effort.”
I have to tell you that little fucker was tempting.
Fortunately my better angel on the other side was equally as vocal. “Dude! Are you kidding me?!? You didn’t come here to run 92 miles and get pulled off course! Move your ass!!”
I kept willing the transition area to appear but it never did. I ran (well, hobbled) the long road that weaved up and down over rolling hills. I had run the same section earlier as it was a shared section of trail coming in off leg 5. I knew it was longer than it appeared. And then I saw it. I wasn’t sure if it was a mirage or if it was reality. I saw 3 silhouettes up on top of the next ridge. Wait, was it really three? I thought it was but now there is only one. Maybe my mind is playing tricks on me. I have been running for over 28 hours now so that is quite likely.
As I got closer I realized that it was Michelle out on course walking the course in reverse to come and find me. I feared that she was going to tell me I was done.
She did not.
She walked along beside me as I hobbled and I remember saying “I’ve got nothing left” to which she replied “yes you do. It’s only about 250 meters up the road then we turn down the hill into the TA (transition area). You’ve got 15 minutes til the cutoff. Let’s go.”
As I wrestled with my mental discipline I recalled a conversation I had with Dave Proctor earlier that year. Dave is a world record holder, ultra marathon runner and someone who has become a friend. In one of our conversations Dave had said “The mind only knows two things… the words that we tell it and the pictures that we draw for it.”
As those words came to me I realized that the only way I was going to complete this thing was to drop that story of “I’ve got nothing left” and turn that into “I’ve got a little bit left”
I sighed and kept moving. After I walked what must have been a good 500 meters with still no transition area in sight I said “This isn’t 250 meters” Michelle simply said “Well… you know I’m not that good with distance…”
Instantly deflated I said “I’ll never make it in time”
“Well, here’s the thing. I kinda lied to you about the time as well. You’ve got 22 minutes left as of now so MOVE YOUR ASS Cameron!”
So I did.
Over the ridge and down the last hill into the transition area. I came in with 9 minutes to spare before the cut off. Eager to take a seat and get some rest I started moving toward a nearby chair. Before I got there I was intercepted by my run friend Steve Baker and Michelle who stripped off my pack, wiped me down, refilled my water and loaded me back up. Maybe 2 minutes total in transition Michelle said “Steve is going to pace you in on the last leg”. Just like that we were out on leg 7 moving toward the finish line. The leg that took me one hour and 45 minutes at training camp took me over 3 hours to complete that day. Poor Steve has never moved that slow in his entire life.
The pain in my feet was immense however the feeling of crossing that finish line was incredible. I was almost two hours over the cutoff time but I had finished. I had completed my very first 100 mile race.
As I came down that final stretch I looked out to see that Brian, the race director, had left the finishers arch up for me and was standing there at the finish line. There were also close to a dozen of my run friends that had also made the trek back to the finish line 2 hours after the cutoff to cheer me in.
The feeling was incredible. I had recorded a lot of video footage that day and Michelle made sure to have someone capture the finish on camera. She also had the presence of mind to ask me how I felt on camera. My reply was a jovial “I feel like I just ran 100 miles!”. It is pretty amazing to be able to go back and revisit that moment caught on camera.
I had struggled, I had suffered, I had persevered.
Ultimately I had endured. I have never put myself through anything more challenging than those last 10 miles or so. Frankly I really did not know if I would be able to do it at the time. But I did. We did. Michelle and I had done it together and it was now time for a beer! There is no question in my mind that this was a team effort. This was not something I could have done alone.
So when you ask me why I run stupid long distances, the answer is two words. “Controlled adversity” I put myself in these circumstances of discomfort in order to practice resilience in environments where there is an out. It is about practicing in the calm to prepare for the storm. No matter how calm the waters at the present moment we know that at some point in time there will be a storm.
Our ability to weather the storms that life throws us is directly related to how much effort we put into preparing when the seas are calm. For me ultramarathons are a fantastic way to build not only physical fitness but to really practice that mental resilience that we don’t always get challenged.
While you may not be prepared to run 100 miles to practice your resilience I suspect that there are many small opportunities that life provides you to practice resilience that you may not be leveraging to their full potential. So my question for you is this. Where can you use your everyday challenges as opportunities to practice in the calm to prepare for the storm?