My audience shifts somewhat uncomfortably and laughs nervously looking around them. We are in a ski resort and they are learning to telemark ski. “You want us to clap a rhythm?” This is a make or break moment in my style of teaching, rather like dealing with Cai, it is not a moment for words, it is a time for action, a time to picture myself as the Pied Piper of Hamlin and lead convincingly in a way that looks fun and engaging.

Before I have time to turn around I am at the head of a line of happy clapping shufflers, alternating between their left and right feet leading, bending their knees and genuflecting to the snow gods. Smiles light up their faces.

In 1972 Timothy Gallwey wrote a book called the Inner Game of Tennis, among the many tips for coaching sport that he shared, one stands out to me. Rather than focusing on what should be, observe what is; both with accuracy and non-judgement. More often than not we focus on the wrong thing. Gallwey asks students to say “bounce” when the ball touches the ground and “hit” when the ball meets the racquet. His reasoning being that if a person’s observations are accurate their body will adjust and correct automatically to achieve the best performance.

In 1999 John Jerome wrote a book called the Sweet Spot in Time where he delves into the art and physiology of excellence. As the title suggests rhythm plays a large part in this process. A majority of grace and power lies in timing; whether that timing is synchronous or not depends on the activity. For instance running is a very synchronous activity, if you spend more time on your left leg than your right then not only will it look and feel ugly, it will cause any number of issues in other areas. A tennis serve on the other hand is asynchronous and involves a number of sequenced actions. When the timing is right, the ball flies of the racquet, if you swing at the same speed and the timing is out then the result is nowhere near as good.

As I walk into work I cannot help myself. I feel the need to watch people run past me and wonder how much more efficient they might be if they contemplated the two concepts I have just shared. I also wonder whether if they had a coach who did what we did when teaching skiing how they might find their performance improve without even contemplating it. By being aware of what is happening without questioning why, the improvements occur naturally. By clapping with the lead change, participants were able to hear if their changes were rhythmical and synchronous or not. Before my eyes the stuttered, lurching shuffle of a beginner inevitably transformed quickly into the fluid dance of someone far more experienced. More importantly it did not appear to be laborious, just a natural change and the participants were not even particularly aware. The more I think about that class, when the skiers thought less about what they should be doing, they became better and it happened more quickly.

So my questions today are, what is the rhythm in your life,and how do you observe what is truly happening without judging yourself?


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Job Hunting and Skiing the Trees

When I started teaching white water kayaking I was usually given 10 students and an assistant and off we would go on our merry way to find some mellow moving water. As the students gained confidence and skills we progressed to minor rapids. On reaching the top of a rapid we would park our boats and walk down the bank looking at what was to come. My spiel went something like, “ok guys, you are doing really well and this is suitably challenging for you – you are going to have a blast. Now, what I want you to think about is avoiding the obstacles. See that tree over there, stay away from it. That hydraulic is evil and what ever you do keep your boat away from the pour over, it could kill you.” Then we would get back into our boats, I would demonstrate the line and wait in a position of maximum usefulness at the bottom.  They were sent down one by one and inevitably there was carnage.

It took me a long time to figure out why I was massacring my students. They appeared ready, they had plenty of confidence and enough skills and there they were swimming while I was picking up the pieces. I cannot remember what the catalyst to change was; I think I need to thank an old canoe instructor called Ray Goodwin, the remedy was simple though. Just by reconfiguring the talk along the bank to, “ok guys, you are ready and this is going to be a blast. What I want you to do is to look for your line. First of all, do you see that brown tongue of water there, well put your boat on it. Then head for that flume in the middle and finally follow that v down between the rocks. It will be great.”

What a different result. Smiling kids, dry, upright and full of pride. Perhaps you have a similar story, skiing the trees is my favorite. I start by recognizing I am in a forest, then I look for white and link it together. I have enough evidence to recognize what happens when I look at the trees. Being in the forest is a buzz, now that I know I can safely navigate my way through them I love it. Life is so much more fun and exhilarating. Then there is the added bonus that the snow is often better.

I am going to finish with the words of one of my heros, Yvon Chouinard, climber, blacksmith and founder of Patagonia. “I love recessions for business reasons. Number 1, a recession kills the competition. Number 2, your customers stop being silly and stop buying fashion stuff. They buy things they need and things that will last a long time. They don’t mind paying more as long as it is high-quality. What they do is what we should all be doing, which is consuming less and consuming better.”

It is pretty obvious with the current economy we are in a job hunting forest. What do the patches of snow look like for you, how are you going to link them and what is the high quality you are selling to potential employers?

Originally posted in http://denver.jobing.com/Community_Blog.asp
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