My husband and I recently spent a weekend at a bed and breakfast inn in New Hampshire. One of the selling points of this particular B&B was that the room had its own fireplace. When we came back from dinner, I set about making a fire for us. I'm not exactly Mountain Woman, but I know how to make a pretty good fire. Try as I might, though, I could not get this one going. Neither could my husband . . . until he figured out what was wrong. He said, “There isn't enough draft from the flue. We have to open some windows. " Which of course made perfect sense: midwinter in New Hampshire, open some windows to let in some cold air so we can have a nice cozy fire! One thing I've learned being married for 28 years is that the path with heart doesn't always “make sense. " He opened some windows a bit and in no time we had a rip-roaring fire.
Lighting and tending a fire requires attention and skill. Sometimes the fire gives dramatic cues – a spray of sparks, a burst of flame. And sometimes the cues are subtle – as in the case of the missing draft.
Igniting and tending the fires of personal intention also require attention and skill. Getting the fire going in the first place typically requires three elements:
- Clarify your intention.
- Identify some next steps.
- Get started taking those next steps.
The greater challenge seems to come during next stage, which requires that you:
- Take the action.
- Listen to the information that the action produces.
- Apply that information to determine your next step.
This stage can last a very long time. You essentially repeat these steps until you reach your intended goal, change your intention, or lose heart and let the fire go out. Did you know that the most common reason people let the fire go out is that they haven't learned how to listen to, and apply the feedback from their actions?
Here's an example. A small business owner I worked with several years ago wanted to increase her customer base. Although her marketing strategy was delivering very poor results, she remained stubbornly committed to it because, as she put it, “it should be working. " Meanwhile, her business was dropping off and she was getting more and more discouraged. Her fire was going out, but she was unwilling to move the logs around, use the bellows, or put on another log. I could not convince her to use the feedback. She eventually stopped working with me and closed the business.
Another client of mine used “negative" feedback much more effectively. Her intention was to strengthen her boundaries at work and to stop doing other people's jobs at the expense of her own. This meant going against her natural instinct, which was to always help other people. When she started paying closer attention, she noticed that she felt angry when she was doing work that she didn't want to be doing. She learned to use the anger as a cue. As soon as she noticed herself feeling angry, she would step back and ask herself whose work she was doing. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the anger signaled that she was doing someone else's work. She would then do something about it, such as return the work to the person whose job it was. Over time she became quite skilled at this and learned to not take it on in the first place unless she really wanted to and had the time for it.
THE FEEDBACK OF “YES"
It's just as important to honor the positive feedback – no matter how subtle or unusual it looks. While engaged in some activity, you may feel flow, or you may have the sense that you're just getting going and you don't want to stop. This is feedback that you are on course. Don't discount it. Let it in. It will fan the flames of your intention. Or you may notice a delightfully synchronous occurrence. As my friend Chris sat in her mountain home writing about her connection with animals, her cats gathered outside her window, looked toward her and meowed. This is the feedback of “yes. "
And every once in a while, your action will result in what I call a “huge nod from the universe. " You will experience a resounding “yes!" A client of mine had a very clear intention to reach more people with her work. One of her action steps was to hold a series of workshops. Several things happened. First, a local retail store decided to sponsor and publicize her workshops. Second, the turnout for these workshops was high. Third, the response at these events was very enthusiastic. Her energized, excited participants swarmed around her after the workshops to express their appreciation and gratitude. They became private clients, they signed up for her clinics, and they came back to her subsequent workshops with friends in hand. Can you imagine how this positive feedback affected the fire of her intention??? Like putting a match to crumpled newspaper under kindling. Foooooom! A HUGE flame!
Sometimes the huge nod from the universe seems to come from within you: the creative breakthrough you experience after writing every day for several months; the blast of exhilaration you feel finishing your first Walk for Hunger; the sheer fun of finally “getting" swing dance in your body. These are vivid experiences of affirmation. The message is clear: “keep doing this. "
Possibly the hardest feedback to interpret is what feels like no feedback at all. You see minimal results - neither a yes nor a no. Often this means there just isn't enough information yet. Hang in there, keep doing what you're doing, and pay attention. Sooner or later, you'll receive the critical mass of information you need. I urge you to pay attention to the information your actions generate in a way that keeps the fires of your intention burning. If your actions are producing satisfying results, know that you are on course, and see if you can turn it up a notch. If your actions are not bringing satisfying results, do something different. You may need to open a window!
Answer these questions:
1. What are you working on, currently?
2. What action steps are you taking toward reaching your goal?
3. What is the feedback from taking these steps?
4. Are you using that feedback to determine your next steps?
Copyright 2003 Sharon Teitelbaum. All rights reserved.
Sharon Teitelbaum, http://www.stcoach.com , a Work-Life and Career Coach, works with high achieving women with young children, people at mid-career, and professionals seeking greater career satisfaction and work-life balance. She coaches by phone and in person in Boston. Her newsletter, Strategies For Change , offers practical tips for work-life success.
Getting Unstuck Without Coming Unglued: Restoring Work-Life Balance , Sharon's first book, was published in 2005.
A motivational speaker, Sharon also also delivers keynotes & workshops on work-life issues. Clients include Children’s Hospital Boston, SunLife Financial, Arnold Worldwide, and many parent and alumni groups. She's been featured in national publications including The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, and Working Mother Magazine.
Married for 30 years, she is the mother of two amazing young women.
If you're considering hiring a coach to help you with challenges like these, contact me for an initial consultation at no charge.