Do you look for solutions to problems or problems to solutions?

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 In many different ways I’ve written about being open to new ideas and change. In my book I shared a story about snowboarding through a gladed run. This particular story spoke of the importance of looking and moving to the spaces around the problems and not looking at the problems themselves. If you want to hit the trees, I concluded – look at the trees. If you want to ‘hit’ the fresh powder, well then …(For that full story click here, but I’ll also put a link at the end of this message.)

Previous to this post, I’ve also written about the value of being young and naïve vs. well seasoned and experienced. I have found that it’s not uncommon for experience to sometimes act as a burden when it comes to problem solving. When we think we know it all we start to become those who know less and less. At some point, because of our experiences, we inadvertently become closed off to challenge of new or changing ideas. That’s when we hear from others, or think to ourselves, “I’ve been doing it this way for X number of years – why would I / should I change?” Our well-honed routines provide us with the comfort that we know what we are doing but they put us at risk for becoming less curious about what we could be doing differently.

So, I come back to my opening remark; do you look for solutions to your problems, or do you find yourself finding problems in your solutions?

This isn’t the type of message where I offer an easy fix-all solution. There isn’t one. It is simply a question that I ask of myself, and I am suggesting that you ask it of yourself. I believe that simply this act of self-reflection will lead you to do a bit of both, which is, in my humble opinion the right way to go. In order to perform at any efficient level you must be looking for solutions to problems but you also must have a sense of what problems might arise.

Having an idea that a problem might present itself is much different than assuming that a problem will present itself. The former allows you to anticipate change and challenge; the later leaves you unwilling to change at all.

 

Before I sign-off – another self-reflective question; (and it’s one of my favourites!) In conversation do you listen, or do you wait to talk? !

 

 

Previous posts on being open to new ideas.

See the Spaces – an excerpt from The Power of More

What are you Listening to?

SEE THE SPACES

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PowerofMore_bookjacketSee the Spaces

An excerpt from The Power of More, How Small Steps Help You Achieve Big Goals

 

… I was burnt out, exhausted both physically and emotionally. I needed a change, so at the age of twenty-eight I retired from sport. Or so I thought. The next year would help to remind me of some important and really doable goals that I had once set for myself.

In my retirement I unwrapped myself from my overprotective lifestyle and learned to snowboard in Whistler, B.C. I thought this would be a good time to go and play on a mountain instead of at a lake; I affectionately referred to this season as “the year of the broken bone.” Before retirement, my health had affected not only my performance but also that of my rowing partner. In this “arranged marriage,” Kathleen Heddle was my dependant, and I was hers. If I got sick or injured, I took Kathleen down with me; a port is no good without a star- board. This had made me particularly sensitive to the dangers of getting injured by doing something dumb. There would be little forgiveness if I showed up with a non-rowing injury. I had pretty much turned myself into a one-trick pony in bubble wrap. This was the first thing I wanted to change. I wanted to have fun, to be carefree, and I was prepared to accept the consequences. For the first time in a long while I felt as if I could take an unplanned risk. What joy!

Living in Whistler and learning to snowboard was fantastic, but I still craved structure and focus. At the suggestion of a friend, I took a course, got certified, and—with the help of Intrawest, the company that owned Whistler Blackcomb was quickly teaching adult beginner snowboarding. What a blast! I would free-ride in the morning with the other snowboard instructors, and then, from ten to noon each day, I’d teach a class. Saying that I snowboarded with the other instructors may be a bit of a stretch. The truth was that I had to do everything I could just to keep them in my sights. If this was a cup (of rice that) I was trying to fill, mine was still mostly empty.

Just as I hoped to progress and learn every day, I watched the other instructors improve their abilities too. They kept trying to get more height off a jump, to do a new trick, or to master a bigger feature. I watched how they would try every day but never put a timeline on their learning. They were definitely ambitious about snowboarding, but they were also patient. It made me realize that I had forgotten patience when I was rowing. I was also struck by how playful sport can be— there was so much joy.

The lifestyle I created as a snowboard instructor made a few other things apparent to me. Not the least was that I wasn’t cut out to be a great snowboarder! I missed Continue reading

Finding Calm in the Midst of Chaos. Parenting vs Doing Nothing….a comment on my productivity

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Confucius says "Doing Nothing" above the throne room in the Hall of Union and Peace

Confucius says “Doing Nothing” above the throne room in the Hall of Union and Peace

As an Olympic Champion who’s been to 9 Olympic Games in various roles, I’ve been physically exhausted, emotionally exhausted and mentally exhausted. Until I became a parent – I’d never been all three at the same time.

For the first 5 months of our daughter Isabel’s life, other than parenting, I felt that I was getting nothing done. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do (or to create) something more… it’s that I wasn’t physically, emotionally or mentally capable of doing much of anything. My brain’s logical and creative side shut down, giving way – I assume – to let myself develop some survival techniques – aka-parenting skills. I’ve loved it, but at the same time it has been frustrating to feel so…limited. This wasn’t what I’d hoped for.

While I was pregnant I thought I’d have lots of time to write and read during my maternity leave. I was looking forward to the time that I would have to think stuff through – I get a lot done when I’m at peace and doing nothing. I was going to branch out and put all of my creative thoughts to page. After all – there would be huge chunks of time when I’d be doing nothing but watching a baby. (A naïve mistake I realize but this is what I thought.) Ha! While I did have time, small, randomly spaced blocks of time, I had no idea that I would have no thoughts! (None that I could remember 5 minutes later anyways!) Exhaustion has a way of throwing your mind into utter chaos.

I always find my most, creative thoughts in the steady beat of repetition; this is my idea of peace. Long steady-state rows, runs, bike rides and even walks provide my brain with the white noise that it needs to clear through the chaos of everything and find inspiration. In 2007 in Beijing, I learned the wisdom that accompanies making time for doing nothing. That year I went to China 5 times helping Canadian athletes and teams familiarize themselves with Beijing and the sports venues that would host the 2008 Olympic Games. I became quite the tour guide of the Great Wall, the Silk Market and the Forbidden City. The later, the Chinese imperial palace, was where the Emperor (and Empress) lived and presided over court. It is also where first became aware of the Confucius phrase Doing Nothing. Continue reading

Expectation Can Be the Enemy of Play

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I learned more about the importance of Play from my bronze than any of the races in which I won.

I learned more about the importance of Play from a bronze medal than any of the races in which I won.

When I was asked to do a Tedx talk, I knew that getting a point across in 20minutes – being both informative and entertaining – would be tough. When the Walrus Magazine asked be to be part of their speaker series, WalrusTalks, where the speakers are only given 7minutes!, I was pretty sure that the task would be impossible. But… what kind of motivator would I be, if I turned down opportunities and challenges because they seemed to be a bit challenging! I had to heed my own words, break it down into bits – and… try.

The theme that the speakers were given was simply “Play”. I could do anything I wanted to from there.

I knew I could have addressed the value of play in the way that structured-play is used by Right to Play around the world to build communities. They use play to educate and empower children and youth to overcome the effects of poverty, conflict and disease in disadvantaged communities. Through Play one can teach important lessons such as disease prevention (HIV, Malaria, and other waterborne illnesses) and inclusion of those are living with those illnesses. 

I could also have discussed the importance of more unstructured-play for kids (and adults!) in our own communities. Our overly scheduled and observed lives leave less and less room for our imaginations and/or creative problem solving.

But I decided to address the play that should exist in, but to often is missing from, our work.

We all work. Whether that be in the form of a job from which we earn a paycheque, or work as school, sport, raising a family…  I don’t believe that work should always feel like a burden or a grind, there should be (must be?!) some part of it that is enjoyable – and even fun.  The people, what you get from it (intrinsic), what you get for it (altruistic), the mere act of doing or completing a task.. on any given day it might be different, but when we can recognize some element of what we are doing as enjoyable and even playful – the quality of not only our work – but of our lives goes up exponentially.

For my Walrus talk on play, I spoke about about my Olympic bronze medal, the one of four Olympic medals that I have that is not gold. I shared my observations that what was missing from that race was joy.

Play can exist in the hardest most challenging things that we are doing. It doesn’t have to be all skipping and smiles, it can be as competitive and focused as you choose. Try not to feel burdened by the expectations that come with work, but rather lifted and inspired by those expectations. Learn to frame joy and play as YOU like it.

It’s only 7 minutes… well – okay – I failed there… It’s about 11minutes, but it’s fairly short and to the point.

Expectation is (Can be!) the Enemy of Play