Trying a Different Way of Being

April 3, 2024

By Lisa McNeill, PCC

Coaches help clients try new ways of being. And sometimes we are served by trying it ourselves.

These last three days I have been in an all-day online class with a spacious 1.5 hours for a mid-day break.  While most days, I don’t take the time to walk at lunch, each day I have allowed myself nearly an hour of walking through the woods, down to the bay. 

I set a quick pace, taking a longer trail, hoping to make it all the way down to the beach before turning around to walk back. I was making great time and getting good exercise, but the sun and the golden grasses at low tide made me stop at an overlook at the marsh. The colors were stunning.

The overlook is just an outstretched spit of land with a beautiful old tree from which a tire swing hangs.  Bushes and brush scattered along its edges create a narrow trail that opens to the full grandeur of the marsh.  For that moment, I was delighted – filled with gratitude and joy.

And then my brain kicked in. I looked at my watch and turned to continue my quick-paced walk. I turned back to the marsh for one more look. For what?  Why was I turning back, I asked myself. Why wouldn’t I?

If I didn’t get going…what? I might be late for my class. I could take a shorter trail home. 

I wouldn’t get to my goal for the number of “steps” or the miles I targeted. And? Maybe I would walk more later in the day or longer tomorrow.

This time I really stopped and looked around. I caught my breath when I saw a great blue heron out in the marsh grasses – one of the most deliberate creatures I have ever observed.   I looked out across the bay waters and noticed two parasailers gliding out by Sandy Neck lighthouse. I laughed to myself that I wouldn’t want to be up there in the cold.  I felt the warmth of the sun on my face, and I listened to the dried leaves rattling in the breeze.

I was aware of my surroundings and of what was happening inside of me.  A practitioner who preaches awareness was aware!

I soaked it all in and I was aware of the slight tug in my head that said, “This was nice, but now it’s time to go.”

At this point, I wouldn’t make it down to the beach, but I did want to get to the creek – one of my favorite spots in the world.  I took one more deep breath and one more scan of the landscape before I turned to continue.

As I walked, I thought about my pace and my well-developed skill of packing a lot into the time I have – to go right up to the limit and be proud of being able to “do one more thing.”  My husband sometimes says that I fit five pounds in a one-pound bag.  Translation: Sometimes I try to do too much with the time I have. The upside: I get stuff done!  But when I use this well-developed skill too much, I get burned out. Sometimes I get frustrated, and sometimes people get frustrated with me.

This is something I have been working on. So, I asked myself, “What does it mean for me today and right now?” I decided I would experiment with trying to give myself more space and not be “doing” right up to the last minute. 

By the time I got to the old wooden bridge over the creek, I had decided I would give myself some time at the creek and take the short trail home so that I wouldn’t be rushing to log on for the afternoon session.

To be honest, I still felt a little pull towards trying to walk a little further, get more steps, walk a little faster.  It was interesting to me that I still felt that bit of tension even though I had made the decision and felt good about it.  I mean, it was not a big decision to make. It didn’t have any real significance – nothing bad would happen if I failed.

It felt good to notice that tension and even the idea of failure. I don’t like to fail, and yet I talk to my clients about failures being opportunities to learn.  I was happy to be walking and thinking about all of this. Thinking in this context: what does failure look like?

And that’s the thing about identifying an area to work on and then developing a small experiment to try out a different way of being or behaving. The stakes are low, and it enables you to observe what happens.  You can ask yourself: How do I feel when I do this? How are others responding? Is this way of being beneficial to me, and in what situations? When can I use this way of being to support my intentions?

In my coaching, I work with clients to create simple experiments and then to reflect on them, to help them to notice how they feel or dig a little deeper when their stakes are low.

On this day, my experiment was to try a new, more spacious way of being.   I had a thoughtful walk back by way of the shorter route that was just as lovely.  I felt a sense of ease rather than anxiety about being late. I had time to make a perfect cup of tea, sit down at my laptop, take a few deep breaths, and look out my window with contentment before logging on to be fully present and ready for my afternoon session.

Lisa McNeill is an ICF-certified coach and consultant who works with leaders in a wide array of industries as well as those in transition. Throughout her career, she has worked to build and develop strong teams in international to grassroots settings.

Photo: Lisa McNeill

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