Go deep. Immerse, and learn something new.

mindfulI thought he was kidding. Until I watched him do it right in front of me. He didn’t do it fast and flashy like a televised spectacle, but he solved the Rubik’s Cube before my eyes in a few minutes. I was impressed, but not in the kind of way that I felt inspired to try it myself. Just impressed.

“Here, you try. I’ll teach you,” Jason said.

I hesitated. I needed to think about this. Maybe I didn’t have what it takes. Since I was a kid it had seemed impossible. We used to “solve” it by taking it apart and reassembling it in order.

“C’mon, we’ll have time while we watch the kids’ swim meet.” It was true, we would have hours to kill while the kids waited for their turn to compete in 30-second events at the swim meet that afternoon.

“OK, what first?” I said. And for the next few hours I went from overwhelmed confusion to steadily learning concepts, patterns, and strategies in different situations. I knew, of course, that it wasn’t impossible. I only initially felt it was impossible for me.

I filled two pages in my notebook with formulas called FaRT, TURTLE, Right TOP and Suicide, with drawings depicting which cubes will move where, using what sequences. I learned patterns for varying situations, and developed memories of the twists and turns of the cube. Jason remained a patient tutor throughout the exercise, and often mixed up the cube to build particular puzzles I was having problems solving. It was sometimes frustrating, sometimes surprising, and increasingly addicting.

This was an immersion – and exercise in mindful learning. Ellen Langer describes in her book The Power of Mindful Learning, mindful learning occurs when we are present, focused, curious, and intellectually adventurous. And the result is you learn faster, have greater memory retention, and enjoy the learning more.

As Langer describes, three valuable characteristics are present in mindful learning moments: novelty-seeking, persistent engagement and open flexibility.

The first is an interest in novelty and the confidence in our ability to learning something new. With a growth mindset we adopt the belief that we have the capacity to learn something new. The second characteristic is persistent engagement in the activity. With a heightened level of engagement, we are more likely to notice changes in the situation, the context and the environment. That heightened sense of engagement in the activity, decreases what researchers call “change blindness” – that is, an ignorance of changing circumstances. This persistent engagement requires, of course, that we remain interested in the activity. But the thing about those who curiously seek novel experiences, is that they are often more inclined to remain engaged in new learning activities.

And finally, mindful learners develop the flexibility to adapt to dynamic environments. In novel learning environments, unexpected things occur more often. A key trait of mindful learning is an ability to adapt flexibly despite changing, and often unpredictable environments.

Go ahead. Learn something new.

Investing in others is investing in yourself

“Teaching is the highest form of understanding.”
– Aristotle

tutorSometimes Charlie, who is two years older than Will, comes and helps out at our U11 soccer practice, just as he did this evening. Eleven year old son Will often finds his brother’s presence annoying and intrusive at his practice, but the other kids really like it.

Charlie uses his bigger size, speed and ball-handling skills in a helpful and instructive way. He never tries to score a goal and instead uses his experience and skill to distribute the ball around the field to the younger players. But here’s the thing: I’ve been thinking this isn’t just a charitable exercise for Charlie. I think he may get just as much out of this mentoring opportunity as the younger players. He gets an opportunity to teach, and in the process develops his own skill and confidence.

Often kids who perform below their peers are presented with remedial learning materials that meet their level. So, for example, if a sixth grade child is doing fourth grade level math, they may be asked to work on fourth grade math until they elevate their skills to meet their classmates. It can be humiliating and discouraging to be identified and asked to do remedial work.

But there are other ways to enhance learning in students – by asking them to help others. And interestingly, sometimes being a tutor to another can be a more effective learning tool than being tutored.

Once upon a time (in 1970), two researchers at Stanford tried something a little different. They took two groups of sixth graders. One half were high-performing readers, the other half low performing readers when compared to their sixth-grade peers. The researchers asked both groups to participate in sessions tutoring kindergarten kids with their reading.

All kindergartners who received the tutoring learned reading skills faster than their peers who did not receive tutoring, and later performed better in reading exercises. It made almost no difference to the learner whether their sixth-grade tutor was one of the high-performing students or not. Also, all kindergartners reported looking forward to their sessions with their sixth grade tutors, and described the sessions as fun and enjoyable.

How talented the 12-year-old sixth grader was at reading had almost no effect on how well the five-year-old kindergartner learned from them. All kindergartners improved equally well by having a sixth grade tutor. The better sixth grade students did not necessarily make better tutors.

But here is the real surprise: While the high-performing sixth graders who participated in the tutoring program did enjoy the program and reported a positive experience, those lower-performing sixth graders who engaged in tutoring showed a much higher increase in social attitude, school attendance, and self-esteem. In other words, the tutoring exercise had the greatest positive social impact on the lower-performing sixth grade students – precisely those least likely to be chosen as tutors, but had zero impact on the quality of the tutoring itself. The lower academic-achieving sixth graders were just as effective as their top-performing peers at being tutors to kindergartners.

When we participate in teaching, coaching and mentoring activities, often we gain the opportunity to learn as well. And as this small experiment demonstrates, often those with less mastery are the ones with the highest benefit when they reach out and take the chance to be a coach or mentor to another.

A word of caution of course…if you have never gone ice-climbing, you probably aren’t suited to teach it. But just because you believe you aren’t talented or expert at something, doesn’t mean you don’t qualify as a coach or tutor to another who is much less experienced. And in teaching, you may make the greatest leaps in learning.

Relentlessly Positive, Personal and Specific

Before the game I approached the other coach. Usually we share a few friendly words with the visiting coaches, but I wanted him to understand what he was up against.

So after we exchanged handshakes and said hello, I pulled him aside out of earshot of our teams and said, “Look, I just want you to know we’ve lost every single game this season. We’ve been getting crushed actually. I don’t think the boys are frustrated, and we certainly focus on teamwork, hard work and fair play, but honestly we’ve been getting killed. By everyone. I just thought you should know. So maybe if it looks you’re having a runaway win, please keep that in mind.”

He looked at me and said, “We have too! We’ve lost every game!” Perfect. And so with that understanding between us coaches we opened up another U11 boys soccer game on a beautiful Saturday.

And sure enough, the game was fair and competitive. From the opening whistle both teams had their share of small frustrations and grand triumphs. There was more generous passing, more vocal encouragement between the players, and less complaining about positions. In fact, several players were asking – nearly begging – to play defense. It was a glorious moment of camaraderie.

Early in the second half, we found ourselves in the strange, and foreign, position of leading by one goal. Coach Scott and I agreed we were quietly cheering for the other team to score. And wonderfully, they did score to tie it up. In the end, we astonished ourselves and won the game. Afterwards, the moment of both teams slapping hands and congratulating each other felt honest and earnest. I heard very few complaints about either the referee or opposing players.

I’ve participated in a number of coaching clinics, and read quite a bit of material on youth coaching, and developing talent. Curiously, there remains a fairly large minority of parent volunteer coaches nationally who have the perception that learning constructive coaching techniques from experts, and attending coaching certification and counseling is unnecessary and without value.

And yet, these same studies reflect that once coaches adopt “relentlessly positive” approaches to both skill development on the field and social development with their teammates, some pretty remarkable things happen. To begin with, while up to 26% of kids nationally quit sports, only 5% of kids quit the game when they have a coach trained in Coaching Effectiveness Training (CET). Not only that, those children who started the season with lower self-esteem and played for a “relentlessly positive” coach showed a greater increase in self-esteem over the season.

I had an interview last week in New York with child psychologist Joel Haber who affirmed these methods and reminded that positive coaching still needs to be personal and specific, not just positive. Saying “great job!” isn’t nearly as effective as say something specific such as, “I like the way you always stayed in front of the attacker when defending. You stayed in front of him and pushed the ball to the outside. He never had a chance to get by you. That worked great.”

Joel also reminded me of the downside of negative coaching. When a child leaves the field during a game and you point out something they did wrong, it leaves a powerful emotional wake. It not only conveys the message that you were disappointed, it won’t increase their learning and performance later either. When they go back on the field, their head will be filled with what not to do, instead of what to do. It has a paralyzing effect.

Parents: Your Kids Are Watching

parentsarewatchingAside from a smattering of applause here and there, the parents were completely silent. And myself, as the coach, instead of standing on the sidelines and giving instruction periodically to players, I was sitting on the bench watching quietly, with a clipboard updating positions where the kids were playing on the field. And keeping track of time remaining in the game.

We were participating in a weekend of “Silent Sidelines.” Aside from light applause, parents and coaches are all asked to remain silent throughout the game. The point of the exercise is to give the game back to the kids because it is, after all, a game. Instead of listening to the often confusing shouts of parents and coaches who can succumb to “joysticking” players from the sidelines and providing specific kinds of shouts and directions – “Move left! Farther! Faster! Pass Pass! Get back on defense! Quick!” – the adults stay quiet while the kids work it out themselves.

During these games, the only thing you hear is the kids talking to each other on the field. And over the course of the game their banter got louder and more assertive. They gained confidence in supporting each other, and less distracted by the usual noise from the sidelines. Almost universally, everyone participating last weekend agreed it was a valuable exercise.

I embraced the notion of “giving the game back to the kids” to the extent of even allowing them to pick their own positions during substitutions. The only provision, of course, was that kids could not choose the same player to substitute for. It worked for the most part. I had to intervene a few times when kids all wanted to play the same position.

The exercise reminded me of David Kelley, CEO and founder of IDEO, the premiere design and innovation firm. As you can imagine David has often assembled and led team meetings populated with sharp, creative and opinionated people. I had an interview with Stanford professor and writer Bob Sutton who described David’s behavior at these meetings. When things are going poorly – when there is a lack of focus and agreement and direction – Kelley will spend a significant amount of time at the front of the room guiding discussion and reinforcing ideas from everyone. And when the discussions are going well, he will move to the back of the room, and only punctuate the discussion with occasional provocative questions.

And when meetings are going very well, if you aren’t paying attention, David might slip out the door. Because he understands not only that the best ideas come from the people in the organization but also that his presence can possibly stifle conversation, and get in the way. He calls this “Managing by walking out the door.”

Double-check your gear, take some lessons and have a backup plan

SailingIntoTheStormWe live on a street called Bayview. There’s no view of the bay. At least not from our house. The actual view of the bay is through the trees about a quarter mile beyond a stand of pines down to a boatyard behind our house. With three young kids, living by the ocean I felt we needed a boat, right? A sailboat would heighten our senses, present new challenges and landscapes, offer new adventure.

I knew enough about sailing I guessed, but my wife thought otherwise, and so I settled on purchasing something smaller, a day sailing vessel. I went on Craigslist and found the perfect thing – a little 13 foot O’Day sailboat, with room for myself and a couple kids. Perhaps I could even convince my wife to venture out with me and a picnic basket. I contacted the owner and hatched a plan to purchase the boat, with trailer, on our annual excursion to Mooselookmeguntic Lake in Maine.

I knew my wife wouldn’t have patience for the transaction and so I took our boys to close the deal at a sprawling farm near the lake. The owner said he had never sailed the 1973 O’Day but had all the rigging, sails, and original paperwork. It appeared to be neglected, fairly unused, yet preserved well beneath a canopy of tarps to shelter the boat throughout the winter months. I handed over the $800, hitched the trailer and boat to our van and rolled off to our vacation camp to admire the boat.

The lake is over 16,000 acres and runs predominantly north-south. Our cabin was situated on the south-east shore of the lake, and there was a nice boat ramp on the southern end of the lake, perhaps 2 miles from our camp rental. Perfect. I made a plan to launch the boat at the south end, sail east around Toothaker Island and then north a mile or so to our camp. A perfect maiden voyage to test the vessel and my skills.

The following morning we towed the boat to the launch, and I inexpertly rigged the sails and mast. In a last-minute decision I decided not to bring my oldest son, who looked longingly from the beach as I set out. It proved to be a smart decision.
Of course I hadn’t checked the wind direction or strength or developing weather, and set out with cheerful smiles from the little boat. What I didn’t know was that the wind was developing quickly, and increasing in intensity from the north. To get home I would be sailing into strengthening wind. And from where I launched the boat I was sheltered by Toothaker Island just a half mile north of me. As I approached the end of the island intending to tack north, I saw whitecaps and wind whipping directly ahead where the island shelter ended and the open uninterrupted lake started.

Then as I neared the end of the shelter of the island I noticed my feet were getting wet. I looked down to discover water streaming up from the bottom of the boat and realized I had forgotten to plug the drainage hole with the steel plug I left in the car. No problem, I place one foot firmly on the hole to stop the leak, and struggle to maintain a straight line across the wind.

So it goes, as I near the open lake and the wind increases unprotected by the island, I pull hard on the tiller to maintain course, and something snaps. It’s a thing I learn later is called a pintle. It’s what holds the rudder in place. Half of it broke off. Now as the open lake approaches, and the racing winds increase, I’m suddenly aware I’m in a strange boat, with an open hole in the bottom covered only by my foot, a wobbly rudder, and a mile of open water ahead.

I have perhaps a minute or two before I clear the end of the island and take the full force of the winds broadside. The far east coast of the lake is perhaps a mile or more away. I think about ditching, turning into the rocks on the end of Toothaker Island. If I wait any longer at all, I’ll be beyond the shelter of the island and into the lake, and in the swell of the waves and the full strength of the wind. Testing the tiller I find I have almost no ability to climb the wind, I can’t turn north, toward home.

Here’s my thought process: If I ditch into the rocks of the island, I’ll be safe, yet lost alone on an uninhabited small island, with the boat likely damaged. If I continue into the open swells and increasing winds, the tiller could either snap completely off, or possibly hold at least until I make land on the far side. If the remaining pintle fails and the rudder comes loose altogether, then I’m set adrift. I’ll simply drop the mainsail and drift with the wind and waves to the south end of the lake. I decide sinking won’t happen. I have no experience to know this is true as the water seeps past my foot covering the hole and the waves wash over the side, but I’m confident in my hunch.

I go for it. The winds increase as I leave the protected lee of the island, and I loosen the mainsail to dump the wind, and somehow manage an agreement between the wrecked rudder and the winds to hold a course directly east to the far side.

Miraculously, I land on the only little beach on the whole rocky coast, which happens to also be at the home of a lovely couple who take me in, dry my off, and offer a ride home to my camp. I decline the ride of course, because of pride and the need to digest the adventure on my walk around the lake back to our cabin.

Over the next few days I made trips to the hardware store, did some homework on boats and sailing, fixed the rudder and sailed it safely back to our cabin. Taking calculated chances makes for good memories and adventures. But check your gear, take some lessons first, have a backup plan, and take a deep breath.

It’s not about who, but how you do it

passing-the-baton

I don’t believe in failure. It is not failure if you enjoyed the process.”
– Oprah Winfrey

Drummer Hoff was one of my favorite childhood books. It’s a story about people who, in turn, provide pieces of a cannon (“Sergeant Chowder brought the powder, Corporal Farrell brought the barrel…”), and then finally it’s Drummer Hoff who fires it off – KAH-BAH-BLOOM! It’s a lesson in teamwork, a lesson in process.

In 1985 Michael Jordan was Rookie of the Year. Yet after just a couple of seasons, critics were whispering if he really had what it takes to bring the Chicago Bulls to championship level. Then Jordan learned to play defense as well as he could score. Then he honed his team instincts, and then came the 1990-1991 season which started an eight year run in which Jordan would lead the Bulls to six Championships. Even the great Jordan couldn’t do it alone.

I recently participated in a 4-hour client presentation with five of my colleagues, all from different parts of the company. It worked beautifully, and we all agreed that each person had played a unique and crucial role. We started by envisioning the outcome. Then, we created a process for composing and delivering the presentation to fulfill that ambition. Finally, we chose the right people to play each position. We didn’t start with the people.

The how is the process. The who are the people who perform the tasks. Yes, the impact, the why, matters. But after settling on the why, think about the how.

Here’s a few reasons why how beats who:

  • Process is replicable and scalable. When the process isn’t clearly identified, evaluated, and constantly improved, the results aren’t easily repeatable. When we place results alone as the overarching goal, we de-emphasize the process that got us there.When we de-emphasize the process, we can’t easily retrace our steps and examine, dissect, and replicate how we got there.
  • Process emphasizes networks, not heroes. A results-only culture can provide too much focus and reward on sole contributors, creating superstars deemed irreplaceable. Results then can take on a heroic quality. This has a doubly negative effect because it not only relies on the elusive and unqualified “talent” of an individual, but also handicaps that individual with a superstar label.
  • Process builds integrity. If it’s the results that count, not how we got there, then we risk inviting unethical behavior to gain the result. The global financial crisis taught us that predatory lending bankers with little oversight and with quick money as their sole motivation were gleefully willing to game the system to their benefit.
  • Process cultures remove blame and heighten intelligent risk. Results are the culmination of a series of decisions that are sometimes intricate and often involve many stakeholders. Individuals at all levels of the process chain contribute decisions that eventually lead to an outcome. It’s possible that a strong, high-quality decision can lead to a poor outcome for reasons entirely beyond the control of the person who made the decision.

You have great taste. And it’s killing your work.

wine_taster_1What’s your most enjoyable pop music out there today? Mumford & Sons? The Lumineers? Carly Rae Jepsen?

Please. Get that weak sauce out of here. For ten minutes of toe-tappin, wide grinnin joy, try Andrea Perry. She has been quietly producing inspiring music in her home studio in Austin TX, and she has the catchiest beats and phrases around. And no one digs a deeper groove than Mofro.

Read non-fiction? I once sent a note to Dan Coyle after reading a chapter in which he managed to metamorphose a car chase and a bank heist into a tale of accelerated learning and developing remarkable talent. Brilliant. And don’t get me started on Laura Hillenbrand. I just finished Unbroken and can’t shut up about how marvelous it is.

We have opinions. That’s ok. Just don’t let it kill your work. After I listen to Willy Porter, I get inspired and walk into the living room and pull out my guitar. Then I make some noise on the guitar, and sadly know that I’ll never sound like him. But again that’s half the point – only Willy Porter sounds like Willy Porter. You don’t need to sound like him. You only need to sound like an inspired version of you.

Years ago, for months I went out to the Portland Headlight with our dog, at dawn, at dusk, under blue skies, in the falling snow, when storms were looming, to take photographs of that beautiful lighthouse. Then one day someone said to me, “You know, that’s the most photographed lighthouse in the world.”

I almost quit the effort. And then I didn’t. I decided that of the millions of prints and postcards of the Portland Headlight, at the very least I would produce a signature image – something perhaps not iconic and sublime, but at least my own.

Here’s the thing: what often inspires us to paint, write, play, dance, or join the masters soccer team is that we know excellence. We recognize beauty and talent and art and skill when we see it. And then we have a go at it ourselves and find it intimidating. We decide we suck.

Remember these truths:

  • You will learn something. It’s impossible not to. You just decided to learn how to make crepes from scratch? Yes, they will probably be sad, tired crepes your kids won’t eat the first time, but you are guarenteed to learn something. You’ll wind up asking your friend the french chef or wandering through recipes on epicurious
  • You will get better. Well, you may actually get worse before you get better. It’s ok. It’s common. But you will improve. Incrementally, in fits and starts until you turn that killer riff into a full song, that idea into a full blown argument.
  • People are cheering for you. Really they are. People want you to succeed. Even that cantankerous curmudgeon in the IT department who ignores your pleas for help. When they took a chance, pitched a new idea and stood out on a ledge at the last department meeting, you were impressed.
  • People will jump in and help you. I have a friend who talked about creating a distillery. He decided to just get started – start creating what he dreamed of instead of talking about it. Then all kinds of people came out of the woodwork to help. What you chat about over the water cooler is valuable but it isn’t action. What you draw on the back of the napkin is interesting, but it isn’t compelling until you take hte lead – take the chance. And when you do, others see what you’re attempting and recognize intersections of where they can help.

Something interesting happens when you start by creating value and realizing your ideas. People show up, They show up with ideas, support, and energy because they sense something being realized and want to be a part of it, they want to help.

Show up every day, and never believe you are a genius. But do believe that every once in a while one might visit you and blow pixie dust on your work.

And no one says it better than Ira Glass

Connect with Purpose, and Connect with Results

Here is a brief excerpt from OutThink on the power of integrating the human factor in our work. Enjoy!

TurnerThe profession of radiology has been progressing over the past fifty years in terms of how people are trained, the equipment and technology used, and immediacy of feedback.

Yet despite these advances, error rates often remain statistically significant and frustratingly high depending on the type of reading performed – bone density, chest radiographs, mammograms, gastrointestinal, and beyond. According to Imaging Economics, the reading error rate can vary from 2% to as high as 20%, depending on the scan, the clinician, the environment, and even the time of day. And up to eighty percent of the errors are perceptual errors. That is, the information was present and shown on the film or scan, but not identified and seen by the radiologist.

Yehonatan Turner, M.D., was a radiology resident at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem in 2008 when he decided to experiment with humanizing the process of reading radiology scans, to learn what affect it might have on the quality of the reading and the error rate of the clinicians. He and his colleagues performed an experiment in which they asked 267 patients for their permission to be photographed before their CT scans. A Computed Tomography scan is a more detailed X-Ray exam that focuses on a specific part of the body and yields a more detailed image of what’s inside the body.

Those 267 patient photos were submitted within a total of 1,137 CT examinations and would automatically be presented to the radiologist when evaluating the scan. Seventeen radiologists performed the readings and the results were quite surprising:
   • 80% of incidental findings were not reported when the photo was omitted with the scan
   • Radiologists reported a greater sense of empathy and care when evaluating the scan
   • Duration of scan evaluation did not increase

Anecdotal comments included, “The patient photograph prompted me to relate in more detail to the CT” and “It enabled me to feel more of a physician.”

In other words, accuracy went up, empathy went up, sense of connection with the patient went up, and there was no additional time required. Remember the end result – the purpose – and your impact will soar.

Endings are just new beginnings

BRASIL X HOLANDA - COPA DO MUNDO 2010 ÁFRICA DO SUL - ESPORTES - 02/07/2010

“The real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back. That’s real glory. Thats the essence of it.”
― Vince Lombardi Jr.

“You guys were just great! Well done. You all played really well.”

No one said anything. Our ten-year old soccer team had just lost. We got crushed. Badly. I was the coach and trying to cheer up the boys.

Later while walking to car, my son Will said, “Dad, why did you say all that stuff about us after the game? We sucked!”

Praise and recognition is a tricky motivator. And when we have setbacks, praise rings hollow. It doesn’t sound believable and we often don’t feel like we deserve it. Specific feedback is better. Praising specific plays, moves, passes, shots, and attitudes is both more believable and memorable. And it’s even better when the praise is specific to the individual.

There are varieties of incentives we can use to motivate and encourage others, but as we know from research, it’s a sense of progress in meaningful work that is the strongest motivating factor around. And when things go well, things tend to go well. That is, wins beget wins. Naturally, when the team has a winning game in which they play well together against a fairly matched opponent, the team feels positive, acts more cooperatively, enjoys the game more, and plays with more assertive confidence and control.

But something interesting happens during setback events. Not only does the team act less supportive with one another, but they respond less to praise and recognition. They will also feel more restricted in their actions. Team members begin to develop a perception that they can’t (or aren’t permitted) to take risks, be assertive. Sure, sometimes we throw a hail mary pass or take desperate chances, but they aren’t often elegant and inspired chances. More often we retreat.

You’ve seen this before in sports. When one team starts losing, they play more defensively, more conservatively, and take fewer chances. And because of it, often start losing even more. The same is true in our work. In fact, we’ve learned that negative events and setbacks have a far bigger impact on our emotions, our perceptions, and then our actions in our work. As researcher Teresa Amabile found:

The effect of a setback event on happiness was over three times as strong as the effect of a progress event on happiness, and the effect of a setback event on frustration was almost twice as strong as that of a progress event on frustration.

Understand a setback for what it is. It’s just an event, a moment, an opportunity to learn. It doesn’t define you. What defines you is what you do next. Remember to celebrate endings, because they represent new beginnings.

When we leap

leaping

Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records.
– William Arthur Ward

It’s an astonishing thing to observe people who encounter obstacle after hurtle after challenge, and yet seem to only gain strength and confidence and power after each, seemingly insurmountable, roadblock is set before them. There’s a great scene in the animated movie KungFu Panda II in which the bad guy – an evil peacock – laments, “How many times do I have to kill the same panda?!” because the Panda, of course keeps getting stronger throughout the movie, until the end in which he’s catching blazing cannonballs and throwing them back. All because he’s found inner peace.

Terry Fox was like that. He developed cancer in 1980, and while still in the hospital, decided to run across Canada to raise money and awareness for cancer research. We lost Terry to cancer but only after he had run a couple thousand miles across Canada…on a prosthetic leg. His mother Betty Fox kept Terry’s legacy and spirit alive for the last thirty years.

In the book Born to Run, we learn Scott Jurek had such an alchemy moment at the 2005 Badwater Ultramarathon. It’s a 135 mile ultramarathon. Run in Death Valley at temperatures typically approaching the mid-120s. After Scott collapsed after (only!) 55 miles in a ditch in 125 degree heat in a catatonic stupor, he laid in a bucket of ice and searched his mind for ten minutes. Then stood to run the next 80 miles in record time to win the race.

I’ve watched my mom, Bev Hunter, conjure resilience and calm in the storm of cancer. Harnessing the cumulative strengths of her community, her faith, her research-driven analytical mind, family, and joie de vivre, she has transmuted obstacle into power, challenge into growth, fatigue into enlightenment. Erik Weihenmayer uses that term Alchemist to describe just such people who turn adversity into strength, a challenge into innovation, a smack-down into power.

I certainly agree we have the ability to surprise ourselves. If you watch kids, they do it all the time while testing the boundaries of their own possibilities. And then they move on to the next challenge. We often reflect that what seemed daunting and impossible at the time, seems small, easy and controllable in retrospect.

But the key is to take the leap, sign up for that daunting project, or impossible race, or mythic challenge you might think is beyond you. Build those capacities, strengths and creative resources now, because you never know when the world is going to sign you up for something beyond your control.