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Don’t Zone

When I leave my house to go to work, I pull out of the driveway, turn left at the first stop sign, turn right at the next stop sign, go straight through the following stop sign, and then turn left at the signal. I carefully maneuver through this part of the drive because I pass an elementary school and the masses of people dropping off little ones requires attention and care. Then it’s like my mind zones out. Sometimes I find myself about to get off my exit without recollecting how I got there. Does anyone else find that freaky? It’s especially disconcerting when I need to head a different route and fail to make the appropriate turn(s) and when I “come to” I have to backtrack and waste precious time.

The book “Smarter, Faster, Better” by Charles Duhigg (I highly recommend it, by the way) contains a chapter that highlights the benefit of being intentional by running scenarios through, at least in your mind if not in reality. This is because when the mind and body are under stress the tendency is to do what it has already experienced. This is why we do fire drills, earthquake drills (for those of us Californians), and active shooter drills. If we practice something it creates a neuro pathway that the brain selects if intentional thought isn’t available to make decisions because our mind is “racing.”

A memorable part of that chapter are two flights that experienced trouble; one crashed killing all on board and the other made it to safety with no loss of life, despite potentially fatal damage to the aircraft. Upon reviewing the black box recordings of these two flights, the mind of the pilot in the plane that crashed was obviously “racing” and wasn’t able to think through the problem at hand because he hadn’t created pathways prior to this tragedy to handle this type of stress. On the other hand, the pilot of the plane that landed safely was known for doing drills with his crew before each take-off. He simulated various potentially difficult scenarios and required verbal and physical response to the situation as it unfolded in the drill. The difference was life and death.

Do I think that we will save lives by running scenarios? Probably not. Do I think practicing scenarios can be the difference between success and whether or not you are “with” your team? Definitely. Now I make it a practice to run through the driving route in my head as I pull out of the driveway so that if I do zone, I’m more likely to get to my desired location. I’ve also realized that when I keep my mind focused and stay away from the “zoned” arena I am far more engaged, which means those around me tend to be more engaged. Remember, how you are “with” those around you dictates whether or not you’re becoming your best leader. If you do not practice focusing on observing what is going on around you as you move through the routines of the day, you are missing opportunities to connect, grow, and learn not only about those with whom you interact, but also yourself.

Don’t zone. Be with.

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