Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Aim Between The Trees

When I lived in the mountains, I had the good fortune to ski with people who were far better skiers than me; professional instructors, ski patrollers and mountain guides. Few things encourage skill development more than having to keep up with people who are better at something than you are (which is a whole other blog post in itself).

In addition to skiing with people who raised the bar for me, another benefit of skiing with pro instructors was free ski lessons worth thousands of dollars. You see, good ski instructors are natural educators; they love to teach, it's in their blood, and even when they're off the clock, they can't stop. Those on-piste and backcountry days with my new friends were liberally sprinkled with friendly advice. I quickly learned to keep my mouth shut, smile and nod, and apply what they were teaching me.

One of the most obvious yet important tips was that when you're moving downhill at high speed, don't fixate on the obstacles like rocks and trees, look between them. Where you look is where you steer. If you stare at an immovable object, your brain will steer you towards it. Look at the space between the trees, and that's where you brain will steer you.

Simple advice, and it's true whether you're skiing, biking, driving a car, or even living your life.

The temptation to fixate on the perils of daily life is almost irresistible: losing your job, breaking up a relationship, or whatever. When a big scary iceberg is looming in front of you, it's hard not to focus on it.

Yet you must not. You need to be aware of it, and you have to be prepared to deal with it, but staring at it and obsessing over it is no more effective than a deer's strategy of staring at the oncoming headlights.

If anything, fixating on your obstacles to the exclusion of any thoughtful problem solving is a self-sabotaging behavior. If you obsess over it and worry yourself sick over it, you risk steering yourself towards exactly that outcome: the one you didn't want in the first place.

If you fear losing your job, and you subconsciously decide that it's a predetermined outcome, guess what? You're going to push yourself over the brink, maybe without even knowing that you're doing it.

The space between the trees is the positive outcome you want to have happen. Focus on it, plan for it, and take the steps you need to make in order to reach it. The trees and rocks are still going to be there, that's the way life is, but steer between them, not straight at them.

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