What Simone Biles can teach us about mindset

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Did you see Simone Biles stumble during her balance beam routine in Rio? If you didn’t catch it live, it was still hard to miss. The media replayed her stumble again and again, accompanied by their gloomy commentary:

“Simone Biles stumbles on balance beam, settles for bronze”

“Simone Biles’ quest for five golds in Rio halted by bronze in balance beam.”

As a mother and as a life coach who helps women move away from the trap of perfectionism, the negative spin made me cringe.

“Good grief,” I grumbled to myself. “Is this how the media is going to shape Simone’s story, with an emphasis on “falling short”? At this point, she had already won three golds and had just medaled again, this time earning a bronze. Those are epic accomplishments!

Fortunately, I didn’t need to stew for long. What unfolded in the follow-up interviews with Simone blew me away – with delight. Although the media tried to make the story about disappointment, she would have nothing of it.

SHE would write her story.

In interview after interview, Simone pushed back on the negative spin and directed the emphasis where it belonged – on a story of accomplishment, right-sized reflection, and intention fulfilled. I loved witnessing her strong sense of self and sparkling growth mindset.

Here are highlights of Simone’s take on her performance:

1. “I’m not disappointed in the medal that I received, because anyone would love to have a bronze at an Olympic Games.”

Love it. She is choosing to celebrate what she’s accomplished. An Olympic bronze? Hardly “settling.” It’s a BIG deal.

2. “But I’m disappointed in the routine that I did – not so much the whole routine – just the front tuck, because the rest of the routine was pretty good.”

So spot on. Here she helps educate and broaden our understanding: Every routine is made up of many, many moves. To let one move define an entire routine is oversimplified and unfair. Yes, she acknowledges disappointment in one move – the front tuck. But, she appropriately puts the stumble in context and chooses to pay attention to the many, many moves that went well.

3. “I think you guys want it [five golds] more than I do. I just want to perform the routines that I practice.”

Beautiful. I love how strong and clear she is in her stance. She had no interest in carrying the burden of others’ expectations of her. That’s not her job. Her job was to focus on her intention – to perform the routines she’s practiced. Her priority was process, not outcome.

4. And, last, Simone showed her confident good humor when she tweeted this:

Simone tweet

So, what can Simone teach us about mindset?
1. Success is how you define it.
2. Acknowledge what didn’t work, but don’t let it overshadow what DID work.
3. Stay grounded in your intent. It will guide you.
4. Keep your sense of humor.

Mindfulness Isn’t Always Pretty

“Don’t close the door and expect me to hear you!” I sharply bellowed to my teenage son from my office. “Come HERE and talk to me.”

It was an urgent moment…my heart was pounding and my patience was potato chip thin. Five minutes prior, I was intently at my desk working on a deadline. The next thing I knew, my son stormed my office in a panic and started barking orders while hovering over me and texting in my ear.

My stress response went from 2 to 10 in one whirling dervish moment. Then, as quickly as he came, he left and closed the door behind him, leaving me all whipped up and bellowing after him.

Why the drama? There wasn’t a life-threatening situation at hand. We weren’t even in the middle of a heated argument. Here’s what happened: Last week he advanced to a national school competition (hooray!), and he just got a text from his teacher, urging everyone in the group to book a particular flight ASAP. When we did a quick check, we saw there were only 4 seats left. Uh-oh. The urgency ramped up.

Did I handle this moment with zen-like calm? Definitely not. Did I see the joy and humor in the scramble? Not a shred. I do remember swearing a few times, though.

But then, twenty minutes into the frantic dash, I had a moment. I became aware of my stressed out, knee-jerk response. I noticed it. Hmmmm.

What came next was a small gift. I started to relax, just a little. I even laughed once. Interestingly, my son relaxed a little, too, and laughed, too. The stress meter started to go down. And, bonus, we got him on the flight.

This, to me, is what mindfulness looks like in real life. It’s not some super-human ability to stay calm, present, and on-point. It’s quite the opposite. It’s a day-to-day, moment-by-moment practice of trying, and often falling short, to be aware of my thoughts and actions. This awareness gives me freedom to enjoy my response or choose something different. That’s all.

Some moments I do it better than others. That’s why it’s a practice. But for me, the effort is always worth it.

A Radiant Beam of Light

A moment of positivity is a wonderful thing. It can untangle a knot of insecurity in one radiant beam. Recently, I was reminded of this at parent-teacher conferences for my son.

I was chatting with my son’s Spanish teacher, Mr. Owens. As we were wrapping up, I looked over my shoulder to see if the next parent was waiting in line. Nope. Excellent, because I wasn’t ready to leave. Not just yet.

I had a question I’d been fretting about for 25 years. And because Mr. Owens seemed so caring and positive, I made up my mind: the time was right to ask it.

But first, let’s flashback to 1978. I was in junior high Spanish class, Day 1. Señorita Currie briskly entered the classroom and spoke to us in Spanish…exclusively. Uh-oh. As the period progressed, the other students seemed to catch on. I did not, however. I had no idea what she was saying.

For the next 45 minutes, my heart raced and my ears buzzed. A knot of insecurity formed in my stomach. “How will I ever survive this class?” I worried.

Well, I did survive, because I learned how to compensate with written homework. But my struggle to understand conversation followed me through four years of study. Privately, I came to an obvious, disappointing conclusion – “I’m not good at languages.”

Now, flash forward to 2012 — full-blown adult life. After a whirlwind, first-ever trip to France, I fell in love with Paris and vowed, “I will return someday!” To keep the dream alive, I decided to take a French class.

Starting a new language was exhilarating! But, as I advanced, the deer-in-the-headlight feeling returned.

So did the nagging belief I’m not good at languages. And this time, with the help of the internet, I had even identified a plausible self-diagnosis – “auditory processing disorder.” (Thanks, Dr. Google).

Finally, let’s return to 2015. I’m now sitting across the table from Mr. Owens, and I see my opportunity. Surely, in his years of teaching Spanish, he’s come across students with my condition. Surely, he could shed light on this, once and for all.

So, I took a deep breath, and my question tumbled out: “Are some people not able to learn a language?”

He paused and quizzically replied, “Tell me more.” I quickly poured out my story, complete with my armchair diagnosis. (I know this probably sounds ridiculously dramatic, but I was feeling very vulnerable. I braced myself, ready for confirmation that, indeed, there was no hope for me. Au revoir, Paris.)

But that’s not what came next.

Smiling, Mr. Owens said, “I think learning a language is a lot like an unfolding flower. It takes time to unfold.” Then, he leaned forward and added, “You speak English beautifully. You learned that language well.”

I was speechless. As his words sunk in, I began to grin from ear-to-ear. I learned to speak English. Of course, I can learn another language!

Ka-pow!

A 25-year insecurity, a false belief, was untangled by one radiant beam of light. I’m sure Mr. Owens had no idea how much his words meant to me.

A moment of positivity is a wonderful thing.

Merci beaucoup, Monsieur Owens. Merci.

How about you? Is there a limiting belief that is holding on to you? Is it time to bring it into the light?

LIFE IS MEASURED IN MOMENTS

Before speaking to a group or leading a workshop, I always set an intention for myself. It goes something like this: “I open myself to offering a moment of encouragement or inspiration to someone today.” This simple focus calms my nerves and reminds me I can’t control how, or if, my message lands. My job is to put in the effort, let it flow, and stay open to what unfolds.

A few weeks ago, I led an Intention Workshop at a women’s retreat. There were lots of nice moments during the workshop, yet there was a particularly special moment that unfolded after the workshop.

A woman I’ll call Stacey arrived just as we were finishing up. As the women in the group gathered their things and left for their next activity, Stacey lingered.

“How was the workshop?” she wistfully asked. “I really wanted to make it, but I had to drop off my kids at their friends’ houses, and we were running late.”

Boy, do I get that. One of the hardest things for us women to do is give ourselves permission to take time for ourselves, then call on favors to make it happen.

I pointed to the white board and gave her a quick summary of what we’d discussed. She nodded intently and continued to linger.

Hmm. Okay. I then walked her over to a table covered with Intention Cards and gave her another quick overview, this time of the activity we’d done. She nodded intently and, again, continued to linger.

Suddenly, I got it. Even though the workshop was over, she needed a workshop. Right now.

Opening to the moment, herpes treatment I invited her to pick three Intention Cards that were speaking to her today. She eventually narrowed it to one: KINDNESS.

Holding the card gingerly, she whispered, “I’ve been so short with my family lately…so hard on them. I think maybe if I were kinder to myself, I would be kinder to them.”

There it was. Her raw, tender, deeply felt need: self-kindness. Taking an index card, I carefully wrote a simple intention and handed it to her, for her consideration:

“I open myself to one moment of self-kindness today.”

She took it, held it over her heart, and started to cry. I gently asked her if the intention felt doable. She paused and tentatively said, “Yes, I think so.” I smiled and shared that, actually, she’s already fulfilled her intention, because she did herself the kindness of coming to the retreat. She smiled and breathed deeply. Then, she dabbed her eyes, pulled herself together, and left to join the boisterous conversation in the hallways.

As I returned to tidying up the room, I steeped in the moment, so grateful for our time together.