IN the opening chapter of The Art of Possibility, Roz Zander writes about a life lesson she learned on a white water rafting trip.
The rafting company put people through substantial training before going out on the water. One key element of the training was “Toes to Nose.” When you fall out of the raft into the thrashing water, they were taught, bring your toes to your nose and look for the boat.
Toes to nose keeps your feet from getting caught in the rocks below and brings you to the surface, where you can grab an oar or rope from the boat closest to you. The trainer drummed this mantra into people’s heads til they rolled their eyes. It had to be completely automatic, he said.
During the actual rafting trip, Roz was thrown into the roiling water. The sudden shock of cold water, the absolute roar in her ears, the darkness of being submerged! In the midst of massive sensory overload and the adrenaline rush of mortal crisis, she remembered and executed toes to nose. Presto! She was suddenly at the surface, visible to the instructor on the sweeper raft, who pulled her out of the water.
There is great value in having a survival mantra such as this for your everyday life. When crises and demands pile up and you are suddenly underwater . . . it can be a lifesaver to have an automatic instruction for yourself. The instruction has to be simple enough that you remember it when you’re completely overloaded.
For a software engineer with a work crunch at work and approaching finals in her MBA program, the mantra she finds most useful is “‘Good enough’ is good enough.” This simple slogan helps her manage her shrill inner perfectionist, who wants perfect results on all fronts, 24/7. In real life, that’s neither an option nor a requirement. For example, she doesn’t really need to ace her finals.
An executive director I know recently recognized how drained, miserable, and resentful she is of all the other people she takes such good care of: her staff, clients, board, and husband. Her new survival instruction is, “Take care of yourself too!”
For an investment banker who takes work home every night but doesn’t do it, much to her own growing panic, the directive that makes a difference is, “Do what you have to do first. Then do what you want.”
In a post-event interview, Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was asked, “How did you feel after you doubled the triple axel?” She responded (and I paraphrase), “I’m trained to go right on to the next move. I don’t have the luxury of thinking about what I just did. I just moved on.”
I personally am benefitting from “Just move on.” There is always time for analysis later, if that’s appropriate.
So . . . what’s your life-saving mantra, and in what situations does it serve you? Consider drafting a candidate or two to test over the next 6 weeks: simple instructions which could offer you some safety when you get bounced out of the raft. See if you can come up with your own “toes to nose” to deploy into the New Year.