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On the rollercoaster of life, self-awareness pays dividends

01 May 2020

This week I was invited to be a panellist in a webinar hosted by a fantastic human being – Tim Mullen, leader of the Heelix Group. The focus of the webinar was leadership in the new age. Throughout the webinar, one of the aspects I tried to draw attention to is the need for all of us, not just leaders to be more aware and in tune with ourselves and our surroundings. 

We all now know that we are going to be thrown some significant curve balls – bush fires; droughts; COVID-19; economic challenges: it’s how we deal with these that defines us. Working harder to be open, in tune with myself and others and ready is one of the biggest practices I am experiencing right now. It is a work in progress. What is striking is that signs, signals, messages and solutions are all around us to help overcome the struggles of life. Here’s a story on just that...

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been conversing with many of the members of the Australian National Soccer Team. Just keeping in contact with them whilst they’re in lockdown around the World. This is a time where we need to be even closer to each other despite the real and perceived restrictions we have on our freedom. 

For elite sportspeople, exercise and training is part of their DNA. It’s at the front of mind. Get the practice and training right, add an openness to growth and learning and success on game day success is more likely.  In fact, this habit of a performance improvement mindset brings game day, to be every day.  Same for musicians. In truth, the same for all of us. It requires enormous discipline to do this every day, particularly in isolation. 

One of the boys based in the UK got talking to me about this and what he’d been doing to keep himself alive and kicking. He loves music so we shared some time on what we’d been listening to. We’d both been inspired by a number of music documentaries we had been watching. I mentioned The Who and Kate Bush who are two of my favourite artists. He mentioned a documentary about Nina Simone on Netflix. I’ve seen it advertised and know something of her music given I like jazz but knew very little else. So, I tuned in. A documentary about an extraordinary talent with a back story about civil rights in the USA in the 1960s. 

I thank my Socceroo friend in England – a wise young head indeed. His sharing of this knowledge has led me to looking at things a little differently. Here’s why.

I mentioned a few weeks ago, our work and income had flatlined at the start of the COVID-19 lockdowns. Most of XVenture’s work is face to face with individuals and teams. Fear turned to excitement – we found a new idea – XVenture Mind Games -Staying Connected, fusing Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence and fast experiential learning on emotional agility and resilience in a competitive setting. This is for anyone who yearns for social interaction and wants to get ready for our new World. Our team was like a group of musicians writing an album. We worked all hours to write, film, build, record, test, verify and be ready for launch. Mind Games was ready to go.

We sent out some letters; some notes; some publicity pieces, panelled in webinars and made some calls to people who I thought might be interested in our new project. I was excited about the project. Excitement turned to doubt within days. The phone or email wasn’t exactly hot! How many out there have experienced this?  The answer is – most of us. However, most of us move on to something else or dwell on the disappointment and not take real note of the experience in- depth. Certainly I have to put my hand on heart and be truthful that the early disappointment got to me.

You may have read the stories of JK Rowling being turned down by twelve publishers before her break with Harry Potter. Anita Roddick was turned down by every bank for her Bodyshop idea. Then there’s The Beatles: turned down by Decca record company because they weren’t very good! 

It’s an interesting phenomenon dealing with rejection. My mammalian instinct just wants to know. Do you like it or don’t you? Yes or No? I can handle this but the struggle is with the not knowing. Anyone who has a dog and takes them for a walk will see their behaviour towards other dogs: They want to know. Are you a friend or foe? Nothing in between and no dog is excluded! It’s the same when you are creating something fresh, something new, not been done before – the mammalian brain kicks in big time – does someone like it or don’t they? Having a number of friends who are very successful artists, this is what can keep them awake. 

The challenge with the human brain is that we also add another major component - indifference. For the most part we are indifferent to what’s around us and what others are doing. It’s pretty obvious given there are 7.8 billion people in the world so how can we be interested or care about everything. But if you want people to care and show an interest, it requires time and effort to move someone from being indifferent. The risk is that when you’re in a mammalian state of mind, the habit is to perceive indifference into a negative. It must be that people don’t like what you’re doing. This is what happened.

We got a few nice responses initially and some media interest too. Friends and family were as always encouraging. However, the initial low response did deflate us.  However positive we are, we can easily magnify things that aren’t quite right in our life and this then becomes heightened and the focus of our attention. If we’re not careful it can take over and our energies and efforts slide. The future seems less clear. Disappointment translates into fear of failure; fear of not being included; fear of no earnings; fear of being irrelevant. Doubt sets in. Is this idea a no brainer or indeed a non-brain idea! I needed some inspiration. This is the time when you need your greatest levels of resilience.

Then I took some time out and watched the Nina Simone documentary. This line hit me like a stone-  

“I tell you what freedom is: no fear!”

You see, we all need a bit of helps to get us along the roller coaster of life. We need to be constantly tuned to those moments where we notice ourselves dropping our guard and accepting defeat at an early hurdle. It reminds me of one of the early thought leaders talking about resilience: Epictetus, the first-century Greek philosopher:

“Every difficulty in life presents us with an opportunity to turn inward and to invoke our own submerged inner resources. The trials we endure can and should introduce us to our strengths…Dig deeply. You possess strengths you might not realize you have. Find the right one. Use it.” 

The Nina Simone story was on this occasion what I needed. Recalibration time. It provided me with a spark to assess myself, my behaviours, the signs and signals I was sending. I’m generally a positive person but I realised that despite my best intentions, when I’m feeling uncertain, I can also send signs and signals which aren’t wholly positive. There’s nothing wrong with being uncertain but being aware of how others read these signs are important. I know I was affecting my team and I had to press the rewind button and create a new version of the track! It’s important to remember that the mind is all about the processing and transferring energy and information. It is both within us and between us. The important thing here is to be constantly aware of this.

“I tell you what freedom is: no fear!”

I am indeed free. I have the freedom to watch great documentaries such as the Nina Simone story.  I have the freedom to create. I have the freedom to think, to act, to change and reshape what I do, what I say and profoundly, what I feel. It was just what I needed. Remind myself about the opportunity to help people move forward with a new sense of energy despite the uncertainty.

No fear! I felt like I’m back into my performance improvement mindset and The Promised Land is a clear picture again. Our team renewed our wedding vows and rejigged plans and our approach with a vengeance. How bizarre is this - Within a few hours, wins began to happen. Last week, we ran the very first live webinar VR learning program across the World with organisations from business, sport and education. On Saturday we followed up with a family-based program across Australia and New Zealand and then on Monday with a World-class University in Germany and one of the biggest sports brands in the World. Now others are confirming their interest and understanding of the value of this unique way of learning.

I have to finish on another musical line - Having watched the Nina Simone documentary I saw the Kate Bush one for a second time. During the program, Elton John was interviewed. He said her work with Peter Gabriel helped him at a significant moment.

"….no one wants you when you lose.

Don't give up. Cause you have friends.

Don't give up. You're not beaten yet.

Don't give up. I know you can make it good."

Whilst I won't let others’ indifference get in the way of the joyful experience I am having with the XVenture team and those who have experienced Mind Games, I do believe this is a time when we need to encourage each other. We need to show interest and support where we can. It doesn’t mean saying yes. It just means you show care. One of the greatest of all leadership and coaching qualities.

I’ve shared this story before. Elvis Presley’s late tour manager Joe Esposito once told me that his phone stopped ringing after Elvis funeral. Years later the same people who chose to distance themselves were once again trying to make contact again – he was then touring with the Bee Gees! Too late perhaps?

The last few days have been wonderful. Thanking Quentin Hull and Ned Hall at ABC radio for their enthusiasm and support. Jo Knox at HR Daily, Bjoern Eskofier at Friedrich - Alexander University, Tim Mullen at Heelix and Terry McFlynn at Perth Glory and Jackson Irvine of Hull City and the Socceroos who suggested connecting with Ms Nina Simone. All encouragers. All nudging us to be more self-aware. We all need this. Life is good. I’m very thankful and indeed an optimist.

 
By Mike Conway:CEO XVenture. Hon Prof UOW. Emotional Agility/Mind Coach Socceroos.
Tech Director UOW/Tottenham Hotspur Global Football Program

 

Want to participate? Head to www.xventure.com.au/mindgames to book your team in to participate in XVenture Mind Games - Staying Connected - the new benchmark in remote team learning – from social isolation to social interaction...

 

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These terms and conditions are be governed by the laws in force in the State of New South Wales, Australia and each party hereto irrevocably submits to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Courts of that State.