A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle
In a previous post with a similar title, I wrote about the importance of accountability along with grace when, for whatever reason, we show up with less than 100%. My dear friend, Captain Luis Perez, thought the article was maybe a bit simplistic and wrote in to offer some additional context.
Whenever Luis speaks about how our brains perceive and respond to stimuli I listen. He has spent much of his adult life studying what has become popularly known as “mindfulness.” Mindfulness in and of itself is a good thing, Luis might say. But it’s not the goal. The goal is “awareness without judgment.” Mindfulness is a tool that leads to awareness. Awareness without judgment leads to better response.
The “100% of 80%” article dealt primarily with attitude, and it remains valid as far as it goes. I wrote there that in the real world we sometimes just don’t have our full capacity for any number of reasons. This was in response to a Headspace program in which the host suggested that we simply choose to be ok with whatever capacity we happen to have on that day and leave it at that.
I thought that was too easy. I offered that our best response would be a determination to give 100% of whatever capacity we show up with.
Luis suggested that I might have misunderstood. In fact, Luis imagined, the Headspace host was going far deeper than addressing our attitude. He was pointing out that when we recognize that we’re not performing up to standard, such a normally healthy circumstance can create a less-than-helpful mental state and an internal conversation that spirals toward even worse performance if we can’t let it go. That would not be an ideal response.
Importantly, it might have more to do with awareness than attitude, and according to Luis’s thinking, that was likely what the Headspace host was addressing. He was saying it’s good to recognize the situation, then accept the fact, be ok with it, and move in the direction of repairing rather than kicking ourselves. I’ll buy that.
I continue to maintain that attitude is an important component of performance. That’s my “Type A Captain” coming out. Luis agrees that excellence begins with attitude, and he points out that awareness is the next necessary evolution for best performance. My Type A self is listening.
Since he can bring his full 100% to the conversation, I’ll let him take it from here. His note follows, edited for clarity and brevity.
I always like reading your Captain’s logs. They inspire me and make me reflect. Here are some reflections about your “100% of 80%” article.
Unless we are aware of every thought bouncing around in our minds moment to moment, how do we know we are providing 80, 90, or 100% of our attention to what is happening right in front of us in real time? (Captain’s note: Actually, we probably aren’t and don’t. In the previous chapter it took Coach Bob to bring that reality to his player’s attention. So we might need some help with recognizing what’s important in a given moment. Luis explains further…)
According to most research, on average “we are missing 50 percent of what is happening in front of us.” (Amishi Jha, Peak Mind: Find Your Focus; Own Your Attention; Invest 12 Minutes a Day, HarperOne, 2021) Incredibly, when you think about it, we are still able to accomplish many tasks like driving cars and flying airplanes while not having our full attention on what we are doing with our bodies. As a matter of fact, I am sure you have written many articles in your mind while still driving home from work.
The practice commonly known as meditation that you are now engaged in using Headspace is what will slowly increase your awareness of what is happening in your brain, that is, all the incoming data together with your subconscious processing, that is taking your focus away from the present moment.
Because our thoughts and emotions are an ever-present threat to our attention system, constantly tugging our attention away from present moment awareness, sometimes we might not “show up with 100%” for what we are attempting to accomplish at that moment. We might miss an important detail or make a mistake.
And then we catch ourselves. Or, in the previous example, Coach Bob notices and brings it to our attention. At that moment of noticing that something isn’t right, the recommendation to “recognize it and be ok with it” has more to do with acknowledging the mind pattern that will be created by “not being ok with it,” rather than with acceptance of mediocrity. And, I would argue, the patterns created by “being ok” and not “being ok” are opposites and may result in very different outcomes regardless of attitude or intent.
While I wasn’t there, I know Coach Bob, and imagine that the way he told his player to “get back out there and give me 100%” was encouraging rather than accusing. And I’m sure it had the effect of returning the kid’s mindset to the task on the field rather than sending his brain into guilt and self-recrimination. But what if Coach Bob had a different style and chewed the kid out rather than steering him back to proper awareness for the moment?
The problem is that if we hold ourselves to a standard of 100% effort and attention 100% of the time, we might find ourselves getting disappointed or upset when we don’t meet that standard. The moment one gets upset or disappointed at not having shown up at 100%, or put another way, the moment one decides to hold oneself accountable in the traditional sense, is the moment when a less-than-helpful mental loop is likely to begin. That loop has the potential to take our attention even further from what we are engaged in. That, of course, is not the desired response to a mistake!
This is not to say that 100% effort and awareness is not a worthy goal. It is to say, however, that being human, it’s unlikely we’ll be in a place to give it 100% of the time. How we respond to that understanding makes all the difference.
In other words, if we are flying and we make a mistake, should we beat ourselves up about it for whatever period of time before we set about repairing the mistake? Or should we keep flying the aircraft with our full attention on what is happening in front of us, maybe repairing the mistake right away rather than taking even a small amount of time to dwell on the error itself? The aircraft will certainly not wait for us to think about the mistake for too long before things can start to go bad.
The recommendation from the Headspace host would probably be something along the lines of “note the mistake, be ok with it, and keep flying. Once on the ground, debrief, evaluate, and learn.”
Cheers, indeed, Captain! Thanks so much for taking the time to share your wisdom!
And there you have it, folks. Captain Luis and I agree on the need for personal accountability. As he often does, he has given me a clearer understanding of how that might look in an ideal world. And, of course, how we can move ourselves in the direction of manifesting that ideal situation more and more frequently until it becomes the default response when things start to go bad.
Awareness without judgment. Move toward repair rather than recrimination. That’s the goal. Can we be ok with that?
Thanks for reading!
Mark graduated from the USAF Academy in 1982. After nine years as a pilot on active duty, he left the military to join a commercial airline. In addition to flying B-737s around the country, Hardcastle spends time in the Rocky Mountains and serves on the artistic staff of the Colorado Children’s Chorale. He lives in Centennial, Colorado, with his wife and four children. Need some help figuring out why you’re on this planet? Want to talk about discovering your mission and purpose? Contact Mark today at 720.840.8361 to schedule a free personal consultation. He can also deliver an inspirational keynote or workshop for your organization! email: firstname.lastname@example.org for information.
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