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Monday, April 13, 2009

Yin/Yang: The Missing Ingredient to Your Success

(This is from my Improvised Musings E-Zine. Sign up for it now and get the MP3: "How to Think Quick" Free!!)

What does almost getting sideswiped in a parking lot have to do with the concept of Yin and Yang and your success? Keep reading...

I was driving in a parking lot one day and I was approaching a woman who was backing out of her spot. I clearly had the right of way, but you never know, so I proceeded with caution. She was pulling out slowly, but did not stop even though I was almost directly behind her. I looked into her car, and I saw that while she had her head turned enough to see straight back, she probably couldn't see me coming from the side. Her hairdo may have had something to do with this. She had a great big head of hair that the eighties would be jealous of, so the large 'do was helping to hinder her vision.

I give a quick warning honk of my horn, and to her credit she instantly stops and then turns her head and sees me. Crisis averted.

Granted, this is not the most exciting story in the world. Had she hit me, it would have been exciting. Awful for me, but exciting for you. I rather like the way it turned out.

Even though the story is not super exciting, it really got me thinking. What is it that compels people to look straight back when in a car and not expand their awareness to see who may be coming from the side? My knee-jerk answer is "stupidity." But there maybe something more...

I think the issue is less a question of intelligence (or lack thereof) than it is about focus. The more I let this incident marinade in my head, the more I started to see the bigger picture in the world.

I have trained in the martial arts for 20+ years and taught and performed improv comedy for 16+ years. Looking back, I have noticed one common trait amongst the best martial artists and the best improvisers:

The have the ability to stay incredibly focused on one thing while still being aware of everything around them.

(Note: I started to talk about this idea in my blog post: Shangrila May Be Closer Than You Think)

Let's look at the the two parts of that statement:

"The ability to stay incredibly focused on one thing" -

Great martial artists must be very focused on their opponent and techniques. Great improv comedians must be focused on what they are doing and saying. In a nutshell, this comes down to being present.

You have probably encountered this idea in your personal or professional life. Instead of multitasking or splitting your focus, the most productive and effective people focus on one thing at a time with intensity. Pick up any time management book or program, and this will be one of the key principles. The woman backing out of the parking spot was doing this. She was focused very intensely on what she was doing (backing straight out). (Here's a great post on intense focus by Steve Pavlina. Steve has some great articles on various development topics.)

However, in my experience, this is only half of it. Intense focus without awareness is not enough.

"While still being aware of everything around them" -

This is the part that many people miss, and isn't really talked about when it comes to time management or productivity.

The martial artist, while intensely focusing, must be aware of his environment. Another opponent could attack, there could be dangerous things around them, or there maybe an opportunity to get out of the fight. The improv comedian must stay aware enough to see what his partner is doing, how the audience is reacting, and how things are going. In a nutshell, this comes down to being open.

In your own personal or professional life, this means being aware of the affect your words, attitude and actions are having on the people around you. Also, be open and aware to what's going on in the world, what market changes may be happening, and what trouble may be on the horizon.

Being singularly focused allows you to get things done quickly and efficiently. Being open and aware allows you to improvise and adjust so that when Ding Happens, you don't get sideswiped.

On the surface, these two ideas seem to contradict each other. How can you be singularly focused while also being aware of what's going on around you??

Not only are these ideas not contradictory, but in fact they are necessary for your long term survival and success. Singluar focus engaged your conscious mind. Open awareness utlizes your peripheral senses and intuition. This is straight Yin/Yang: "complementary opposites within a greater whole" (that's from the good people at Wikipedia )

Chances are it's the open awareness you need to practice. Most of us are pretty good at being able to singular focus. Even if not, it's an easy concept to grasp.

Start practicing expanding your awareness. Meditation, journaling, quiet listening and people watching, are simple ways you can start practicing right now. Training in the martial arts or learning improv comedy are also immensely helpful, if the instructor understands these concepts (sadly, many do not).

Oh, and whatever you do, always remember to look both ways when backing out of a parking spot!

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