9/9/21: Use word cues to focus better in challenging situations

Sent 9/9/21


This week's Think Better Newsletter is about using word cues to get through difficult portions of races (or training, or...life). 

The Idea

In a team meeting early in my career at Apple I had a teammate who wasn't explaining a process very clearly. I could see where the problem was and felt terrible watching him get skewered by our manager so I jumped in and explained the situation. The meeting seemed to move on smoothly.

After the meeting my manager pulled me aside and asked me not to do that again. She said she admired my desire to help others and to advance the meeting but that I needed to get comfortable staying out of some interactions. My inclination is always to help, to contribute, to clarify, to solve. But sometimes the best course of action is to simply observe. (Note: every company has their own hidden training program, too!)

After that conversation I created a little phrase for myself to quiet the impulse to jump in. I used to just repeat the words, "Not yours." When I felt antsy or awkward I would wait, repeat "Not yours" to myself, and sit ready to answer should anyone ask my opinion. 

Being ready for a situation isn't just about knowing what action you plan to take. It's also about anticipating how you're going to feel in the moment. This is true whether you're working, studying, dating, or racing.

When we prepare for races, we often think about pace, position, and our overall plan of execution. But we don't always prepare for how we're going to feel at the various stages of the race.

But we can prepare for that. We are always going to have moments of doubt. We are always going to question whether we can hold onto the pace we've set. We are always going to berate ourselves for ever thinking that entering this godforsaken race was a good idea in the first place.

Pain, doubt, hopelessness, confusion... You're going to experience one or more of them. So prepare for them. Have a plan for how you intend to block them out or overcome them.

Sometimes, it can be as simple as having a word cue to think about.

The System

I spoke with 2004 Olympian Carrie Tollefson on Fueling the Pursuit and she has a simple system she uses to help get through these periods of negativity. She calls them word cues and she uses them as part of both her race preparation and execution.

Carrie divides each race into phases and picks a simple phrase to focus on during that stage of the race. When she won the US Olympic Trials 1500 meters in 2004, for example, she divided up the race into 4 laps, and gave each a word. One of her words was "sit" and she chose it to emphasize being patient and not leading (which is ironic after the fact, because she led the entire race). 

In each stage of the race, she focused on her word cue. As negative thoughts and self-doubt tried to creep in, she pushed them out by focusing on her word cue.

Before you start the race or workout, or before you go into that class, meeting, or dinner date, take a moment to anticipate how you might feel and how you want to act. Pick a word that will trigger you to feel how you want to feel, and focus on that to help you get through the difficult patches.

The Question

What is a word cue you could use to get you through the next difficult situation? 


Go Be More,

Bryan Green
Author of Make the Leap: Think Better, Train Better, Run Faster and the companion Think Better Workbook
Co-host of the Go Be More Podcast
Co-host of the Fueling the Pursuit Podcast

"Every habit is made of three parts: a cue, a routine, and a reward. Most people focus on the routine and behavior, but these cues and rewards are really the way you make something into a habit." — Charles Duhigg



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