“I need to feel more centered,” said my awesomely talented client during a coaching conversation about careers, strengths, and personal choices. I nodded sagely, feeling a bit like the pot agreeing with the kettle. Then, I wondered, what does that mean?
I believe that feeling centered means we’ve managed to balance the forces in our lives.
That astoundingly acute observation (insert applause and virtual fireworks) takes me back to my college days as a Mechanical Engineer, where we learned about physics. I loved physics. It was a magical blend of math and motion – the “why” we fall from the tree. Part of that discussion included the exploration of centrifugal forces (bear with me – you’ll enjoy this!) And here’s the rub – we all have centrifugal forces in our lives that throw us off track faster than a snake can spit.
What the heck are centrifugal forces? Well, the word centrifugal is a blended series of letters that belie the havoc it represents. It comes from Latin – centrum, meaning “center”, and fugere, meaning “to flee” (thank you, Mr. Wikipedia). Anytime fleeing is involved, you know trouble is right around the corner.
Centrifugal forces make us flee from our center (or yank us from it). They tend to compound with distance, meaning that the further away you move from your center, the stronger the forces feel. The stronger the forces pulling you away from the center, the more difficult it is to return to the center. And say hello to why it’s so darn hard to stay centered. Still struggling with it? Here’s an example we can all relate to.
Remember being on a merry-go-round when you were a child? How fun and cute we were, sweet little dumplings clinging to the bar of the merry-go-round as it slowly turned about its axis! We waved to our proud parents, giggling with joy at the centrifugal forces we were so bravely enduring.
Enter Uncle Jerry. Uncle Jerry didn’t have kids, but he liked to tease and torture them. “Let’s go faster!” shouted Uncle Jerry, giving the merry-go-round a great shove, and then another, and then another. The merry-go-round’s speed increased by 3,000%, and all the darling children were tossed off the ride like marbles. Uncle Jerry had upped the centrifugal forces.
This physics problem has two variables: a) distance from the center, and b) speed. In our example, we were typically on the edge (far from the center) of the merry-go-round. The distance from the center was not a problem until the speed became such that the centrifugal forces increased under the influence of Uncle Jerry. Then, we were not fine. In fact, we were toast.
If we’d been at the center of the merry-go-round when Uncle Jerry decided to play games, it would have not thrown us off the ride. We would have rotated but would not have experienced strong centrifugal forces. In fact, there is a micro-dot at the precise exact center of the merry-go-round that does not move, regardless of how fast the it spins.
That, my friends, is the definition of finding one’s center.
Our center is that spot in our mind, our soul, our heart, our gut, where we remain unmoved (not unaffected, but choosing not to be dislodged) by the forces around us – family, friends, work, health, money… where we just exist, free from worry and filled with joy. Where is that spot? It is different for each one of us, and there is no singular map to its location.
Our job is to determine where our center is, and to recognize which forces we succumb to most readily – or even willingly. What forces drag us from our center and fling us off whatever small patch of serenity we’ve created in our world?
For me, those forces are a combination of an infinite sense of urgency about work, the desire to please everyone at the same time, and my “Inspector Clouseau” tendencies which we discussed in detail last week. It’s a dreadful combination.
One other depressing fact about this topic is captured in the photo above. (My image of Mr. Peacock has been modified by the radial blur function in photo shop.) Notice that the larger the distance from the center of the photo, the more blurry things become. In other words, it’s a catch-22. You can’t see well when you’re far away from the center because it’s too blurry. If you can’t see well, it is impossible to return to the center. What’s a wanderer to do?
Well, whilst there is no map, there is a compass – and each of us has a “true north”, we just need to learn to listen to it. This is part of self-leadership and it takes practice.
A couple of ideas.
- Shut down the merry-go-round and start over. Stop the madness. Take a weekend off from any obligations, and then slowly restart, making small choices which slow down the ride. It’s not easy, but it’s easier than it sounds. A few weeks back we spoke about creating quiet spaces in your head. It’s a good place to begin.
- Give yourself a sixty second time out. When you begin to sense those forces (we do have an internal alarm system), hit the pause button. Seriously. Sixty Seconds. Get a drink. Blow your nose. Whatever. If you pause and listen and feel (do NOT react to whatever is happening) for sixty seconds, you will find a crumb of information that can tell you what’s going on – what the force is and how you’re reacting. In that moment, you can change course back to the center. It can be as simple as saying, “Can I have a day to think about that?” instead of saying “Yes,” and then regretting it because it used valuable time, money, or resources that you actually can’t give right now.
- My friend Vicki Flaherty has taught me to say “and” instead of “but”.
“Yes, I’d love to support you on this project, and I have to determine how it fits into our team’s priorities.”
“I’m so sorry I have to miss the wedding, and I look forward to catching up with you one-on-one to hear all about it.”
“And” is taking care of both you and them.
Maybe if we try these ideas and minimize the centrifugal forces in our world, we can support one another as we navigate toward our center.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. What forces pull you off track? How do you recognize when it is happening to you? How you deal with them (or not – that’s okay, too!)