22 Feb 2017

How Shifting Can Dramatically Improve Your Performance.


I want to share two stories with you today. These are typical of the kinds of Shifts my coaching clients talk to me about. I call them ‘one-degree’ Shifts, and I’ll explain why below. Of course, there are other kinds of Shifts – and I’ll write about those in future blogs, but for now let’s see if Anthony and Patricia can inspire you to cultivate the habit of the ‘one-degree’ Shift.


Anthony’s story

I’ve been doing this for 20 years, but I’m still awed by the ceremony of it all. The oak panelled walls, the feel of the gown around my shoulders and the weight of the horsehair wig on my head. The advocates chatter in a low hum around me, and I can taste the anticipation on the back of my tongue. The clerk calls the court to session and we rise in unison as the Judge walks to her seat at the high oak bench. We await the silent signal to resume our pews. The proceedings begin. The courtroom is packed with journalists, parties, members of the public and lawyers. It’s my turn to speak. I rise. My voice cracks. I struggle to find my words. Everyone is watching. I gulp and eventually a stream of intelligible submissions breaks through. Once I’ve said my piece I sit back down. ‘Oh God, why did I sound so nervous? Did everyone hear my voice crack? Will they think I’m a rookie? Will the journalist make a report about the shaky-voiced Advocate?’ My inner critic is doing cartwheels. Then I remember that I can Shift. I am here to serve my client. What matters is that I do my best for him. What others think of me is not important; it’s the cogency of my arguments that I need to focus on. The next time I get to my feet to make my submissions, my voice is crisp and clear, my focus is razor-sharp and my intention is to serve my client to the best of my ability. Of course, if I’d shifted to serving before the court convened, I wouldn’t be able to tell this story. But there it is. My Shift helped me serve my client, and incidentally helped me perform better because my focus was on him, not on me.


Patricia’s story

It was my first Board meeting. I was excited to be appointed to this non-executive role in an organisation that is, frankly, fascinating. I had studied the Board papers as if preparing for an exam. I wanted to make a good impression. There was a stiff and formal atmosphere as everyone took his or her seat around the Boardroom table; one or two tight smiles of recognition were directed at me, but it was hardly a friendly welcome. The walls were heavy with imposing portraits of leaders past, set against a deep burgundy backdrop. The gilt frames ensured the viewer appreciated the importance of the man displayed there. Every frame contained the picture of a man, I realised. And as I looked around the Boardroom table, little had changed. I was the only female in the room, apart from the note-taker. The meeting was formally convened by the Chair(man!) and we shortly came to the topic that is my specialism. That section of my board papers was covered with scribbled notes and bright green highlighter pen that I self consciously now realised could be seen by those seated on either side of me. I instinctively pulled the papers in closer, as if they might read my answers in this exam. The discussion livened up and I made one point after another. My self-consciousness had disappeared and I was animated about a suggestion that seemed an obvious solution to the problem under discussion. I was brought up short when the man on my left rolled his eyes. Was that directed at me? Had I been talking too much? It was only my first meeting. Maybe I should shut up, say nothing for the rest of the meeting. Will that cancel my over-indulgence out? Then I Shifted. I consciously noticed my thinking. I had been pushed in to free-fall by the roll of an eye (well, two – it’s difficult to roll a single eye, I imagine). As soon as I noticed my thoughts, I became calm. I let them settle. I focussed on why I was there. This was my area of expertise and if my suggestions were driven by my desire to do the best for the organisation, then that was all I need concern myself with. The ‘eye-roller’ could go and wiggle his eyes at someone else!


The one-degree Shift

In each of these stories, the protagonist made what I call a ‘one-degree Shift’; like a ship that alters course by one degree and reaches a different continent in a month, the habit of ‘one-degree Shifting’ means that you reach a calmer and more empowered state as a result of ritualising that habit. In the first story the one-degree Shift was from worrying about the opinion of others to focussing on serving his client. In the second it was – again – from worrying about what others thought, to contributing her expertise in the discussion. We spend so much time fretting about the good opinion of others when we could simply make a one-degree Shift to serving in what we do. That takes the focus from ‘me’ to the job at hand. Ironically, once the focus is Shifted, your performance improves.


Today, choose to notice when what you are thinking or feeling is not enabling you to be at your best, and then make a ‘one-degree Shift’ to service, or compassion or curiosity – or to whatever is going to make you calmer, happier or more fulfilled.