Image by Gerd Altmann
MAY 2018: The Namib Desert, Southwestern Africa
I’m alone. Even with my eyes closed, the sun is still bright enough to make me see spots. I manage one more step before my legs betray me. As I crumple to the ground, the burning sand sears the throbbing blisters on my palms.
As my breathing steadies, I take stock of the situation. The ocean was difficult, but this—this is just brutal. I struggle into a sitting position and fight the urge to take a sip from my hollow canteen. I have no idea where the next water source will be.
I can feel the flaming tongues of panic starting to lick at the back of my mind. I have to make a decision, fast. But my body feels broken, and my mind is blank.
Fortunately, I came prepared. I rummage through my dusty pack until my fingers brush against familiar edges. It’s not a sat phone or a Bear Grylls-approved survival knife. It’s a small black Moleskine notebook.
LEADERSHIP LESSON: WRITE AND REFLECT
Reflection and contemplation aren’t just for lazy Sunday afternoons. They are the means by which incredible solutions are discovered for impossible problems. Your mind is your best resource. It’s a catalyst for miracles.
I have a few fundamental skills. One is my ability to suffer longer, harder, and more efficiently than the average person. Another is my ability to identify the best goals for me and my teams in almost any situation. But my final gift is one you may not expect from a professional jock.
I daydream. A lot. And you should too.
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I’m fascinated with human performance. The things we can do, the limits we can reach, are astounding. And that’s not limited to the realm of the physical.
Our brains are powerful, more powerful than any wave, storm, or other mishap could ever be. In any situation, no matter how intense, as long as there is some physically possible solution to be found, the six inches of gray matter between your ears will be able to find it. Solving problems is what all of our brains were built to do.
You don’t have to be an Ivy League professor or a surgeon to use this ability. The issue with most people is not that their brain is too weak to get the job done; it’s that they never even give it a chance to try.
When things start going off the rails, our first course of action is usually to act. It’s only natural; it’s a primal reflex. But we’ve come a long way from Homo erectus, and your mind is up for more of a challenge.
Accessing the problem-solving power of your mind is not about pushing; it’s about stopping. Mental processes are at their most effective during times of stillness, but we’ve stopped giving ourselves that opportunity.
From sunup to sundown we’re all shoving an unending cavalcade of information into our minds: The meeting is at six. Traffic is horrible today. I hate my interns this summer. This podcast is amazing. I love Game of Thrones. I should work on that expense report. I wonder if I have time to call Mom before bed. Snore.
Because we keep forcing our minds to process, we never give them space to think, and by doing so, we take away their ability to solve. It’s a simple problem to fix. Turn off the tap. Take away all that input, and I think you’ll be amazed by your new outputs.
Drive to work with the radio off. Sit in your hammock without a Kindle. Hold your spouse without speaking, or listening to music, or watching TV. Take a page out of my book from the Atlantic, and just . . . be.
Once you start, your mind will go to work. Don’t fight it. This isn’t about meditation; the goal isn’t to stop thinking. It’s to start thinking properly.
The more time you give yourself in this form, the better you will get at thinking. Your brain will start to prioritize quicker, analyze faster, and serve up better solutions. This is the greatest superpower of the human race. Stop wasting it.
I daydream constantly. I miss almost every TV show that anyone cares about, but I don’t mind. I may not know who Jon Snow’s real father is, but my notebook is full of ideas, it’s full of visions, it’s full of solutions. But my story isn’t the only one worth telling.
If you took the time to engage with this process, you would start seeing the lessons in your own life. You could write a book of your own. I’m not afraid of a little competition.
Give yourself time. Turn off the tap. Use your mind as it was meant to be used. And write stuff down as often as you can. You never know who might end up reading it.
I snap the Moleskine shut and take a deep, steadying breath. The endless ocean of sand stretches around me in all directions. I’m no closer to my goal than I was before I fell, but now my mind has done its job.
I have an idea. I have a solution. I have a plan.
I stand shakily to my feet and point myself west. It’s time to put one foot in front of the other again. It’s time to go to work.
©2019 by Jason Caldwell. All Rights Reserved.
Excerpted with permission from Navigating the Impossible.
Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers. https://bkconnection.com/
Navigating the Impossible: Build Extraordinary Teams and Shatter Expectations
by Jason Caldwell
World-record endurance athlete and professional leadership coach Jason Caldwell draws on his amazing experiences to show how anyone can build and lead teams that accomplish incredible things. This book is a distillation of Jason's worldwide speaking programs delivered to packed crowds at Fortune 500 companies and universities worldwide. It is the answer to a question he is constantly asked: How were you and your teams able to accomplish such seemingly impossible goals? And it's also a guidebook that can teach anyone how to do the same. (Also available as a Kindle edition and as an Audio CD.)
About the Author
Jason Caldwell is the founder of Latitude 35, a leadership training firm that operates around the world. He is also an adventure racer who currently holds over a dozen world records across five continents. He has worked with companies such as Nike, Booking.com, and Santander Bank and has offered programs at institutions of higher education including Columbia Business School, the Wharton School, and the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.