What’s in the Way is the Way

Key Point: The great Stoic, Marcus Aurelius, wrote: “The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

The ability to overcome obstacles to our progress is a vital part of our growth and development. Dr. Peter Jensen, Canada’s great sports psychologist, tells an engaging story of a highly touted Canadian speed skater who failed miserably in her first Olympic Games. Peter was talking to this skater’s coach after the unexpectedly poor performance. At the same time, the skater was alone off in the corner, spinning on a stationary bike as part of her post race recovery and quietly sobbing in deep disappointment. A young sports psychologist working with the skater was going over to console her, but was deftly intercepted by the wise coach who asked the well-intended psychologist: “Why would you rob her of this moment?” The skater was then thoughtfully left in her own “white space” to fully absorb the entire experience of what happened. There was plenty of time for coaching/counseling intervention later. Of course the beautiful lesson in this story is that the best thing that can happen from our failures is to take the time to embrace the struggle, a critical component of self-awareness and understanding of what got in the way… Surely, as the ancients have advised, “that is the way.”

Dr. Jensen points out that success and winning comes from climbing the confidence/competence staircase. You add competence and it builds a little more confidence. When you get more confident, you put yourself out there and build a little more competence, and so it goes. And you need the struggles and disappointments as experienced by the speed skater noted above. Those moments create energy to go forward and if you think about it that way, it is about having a continuous growth mindset. (And by the way that skater went on to remarkable performances, including future Olympic gold medals).

Finding a way also requires the ability to imagine. Imagery is a language that the body, mind and spirit understand. Our bodies do not distinguish between what’s imagined or real. Imagery, whether we realize it or not, proceeds everything we do. Positive images support success, while negative images undermine. And powerful imagery is more than visual. Ideally, it involves creating a very specific and vivid picture of what’s possible, engaging ALL the senses. This mental image translates to the body and mind, pumping out positive emotion that leads the way with positive energy most often resulting in improved performance.

Character Moves:

1. Embrace challenges, obstacles, blockages and failure as part of what we need to find the way. Coaches can help us, however we most often advance more successfully when we struggle and take the lead in finding our own way. That energy of disappointment when channeled to progress becomes a tailwind to achieving a higher level. Do not rob yourself of the moments that ultimately shine a light on the path forward.

2. Learn the power of imagery. Is there anywhere in your work/life where imagery could play a bigger role in enhancing performance? If so, mentally practice using imagery. Become more aware of your own imagery and increase the vividness by developing all the senses. The greatest athletes in the world put imagery to work… Why not you?

Picture the way in the Triangle,


One Millennial View: When I first read about the coach interfering with the psychologist, asking, “Why would you rob her of this moment?” Part of me wanted to use my “imagery” to punch that coach in the face. “Uh, what moment? Her total misery? Cause she’s upset, you jerk… Why make her dwell on it?” As I read on, I now understand the importance. I happen to be an immediate fixer… The faster things can be fine, the better. But, sometimes when you don’t have that “psychologist,” or “simple fix it,” there are those moments where you devise your own plan of change/action/future success, and once that’s accomplished there’s no better feeling. So I guess, why you want to rob yourself of that personal achievement? Let’s just hope it doesn’t always take until the next darn Olympics!!

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Stay left of your BUT!!

Key Point: It is important for us to be thoughtful and aware of our self-talk.  Most of us spend an awful lot of time talking to ourselves. Yet we may not appreciate how our self-talk creates vivid images that evoke feelings, which often powerfully translate into self-fulfilling behavior and performance. You’ve likely heard the story about golfer’s who negative self-talk… “Geez, I’m likely going to shank this shot.” And of course, the body is happy to comply. Somehow if one says, “don’t bonk,” our action somehow forgets the “don’t” part.  On the other hand, we know that visualizing an outcome we desire can result in remarkable performance. Audience griping musicians, gold medal winning athletes, life saving surgeons and others often visualize the preferred ending before starting their “performance.” 

Dr. Peter Jensen is an internationally recognized authority on high performance. Since completing his Ph.D. in sports psychology, he has attended seven Olympic games as a member of the Canadian Olympic team and has worked with more than 40 medal-winning athletes and coaches. He is the author of The Inside Edge, which offers advice on improving personal and organizational performance under pressure. Recently Peter posted a white paper that included five things we can do to move the stories we tell ourselves from hindering to helpful. Here are Dr. Jensen’s recommendations: 

“1. Challenge what you believe.

American sociologist Louis Wirth said that the ‘single most important thing you need to know about yourself is what assumptions are you operating on that you never question?’

2. Reframe your inner dialogue.

Consciously work to make your self-talk more ‘action oriented’. Self- talk oriented around ‘what else can go wrong’ or ‘now what?’ is less helpful than seeing a problem for what it is, a puzzle to be solved. The truth is that we all have a long history of solving the problems put in front of us and dealing with change. A quick level- headed look back at how we felt about other changes when they were first introduced and where we are now in relation to them demonstrates that we are very good at this but don’t have to go through it with the same angst we did last time.

3. Breathe!

When you find that your inner stories or choice of words are creating stress or pressure, follow your mother’s advice, step back, take a few deep breaths, and move to a more appropriate mindset.

4. Stay left of your ‘but.’

A hockey coach I know encourages his players to ‘stay left of your ‘but.’ What he means by this is on those occasions where you are telling yourself a story such as, ‘I know I should be 
more patient with her but…” Simply stay left of your but and do what you need to do.

5. Question your self-talk.

Finally, spend some time asking yourself questions about what you’re saying to yourself. ‘Where did this come from? Is it helpful? Do I have to, want to, think like this?’”

Character Moves: 

  1. Start with no. 5. Become much more aware of your self-talk. How do you talk to yourself? What are you saying? Why? Is that how you would talk to your most loved ones?
  2. Really try staying to the “left of your but.” Watch and listen to others (to learn rather than judge). Once people cross over to the right side of the “but,” we often forget what was on the left. The same thing happens inside our heads, hearts and hands. Stay to the left!! 

Staying left in the Triangle,


One Millennial View: You’ll hear phrases like “fake it till you make it,” “it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission,” and “you can’t win if you don’t play.” Part of me loves advice like this, it fires me up and motivates. On the other hand, it can also be frustrating because guess what? It demands risk, it’s not easy, and it’s all action-oriented that dares you to “just go for it.” If you notice, it also encourages you to disregard the “but.” When it comes to significant issues like our employment, the absence of a “safety net” in these situations can evoke hesitation… At its worst, it can cause us to stand still. The next time my inner monologue is second guessing itself, I want to remember I’ve gotten this far, so perhaps I can jump more often… At the very least, keep marching forward.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

The Nonsense of ‘Retirement’

Key Point: I think much of the current conversation about retirement needs to be refreshed. I’m not sure asking “when are you going to retire?” is very useful or meaningful. On the other hand, there is reasonable merit regarding questions related to planning for getting older and the changes that go along with it. One day all of us will be in a position where we will not be earning direct income because we are no longer able or want to. And ideally we will have reasonable flexibility as we are impacted by deteriorating health connected to living and dying longer. However, that is different than “retirement.”

Because I’m getting closer to the 65-year-milestone, people are constantly asking me if I’m going to “finally retire.” Or they ask me if “I need to be working to keep active,” (like I need to punch a time clock to ensure the vital organs do not atrophy… Geez). Sometimes the not so veiled suggestion is that I must want to keep working because I didn’t manage my money well. After all, who would want to keep “working” if they didn’t have to? Somehow retirement and choosing how to live gets wrapped up in the same sandwich. 

So what if we changed the focus about retirement, to living the life we want NOW? Whatever or whenever that is. The depth and breath of what we can really choose to do is certainly related to our bank account. But the idea of waiting for “retirement” to have better control of how you prefer to live is just giant dumbness. How would our life change for the better if we chose to live more how we want to on a daily basis? This includes meeting obligations in the various roles that define who we are AND making choices related to deferred gratification. In fact, people who can defer immediate gratification actually “accomplish” more. Yet, we need to choose more NOW. Drifting along waiting for something like retirement is the wrong mindset. It is likely to end badly. I recently heard an Olympic gold medal winner wisely note, that if you weren’t good enough for yourself before the gold medal, you wouldn’t be good enough for yourself after. If you can’t live the life you want now, it’s questionable that you will at some later date. 

Fortunately, I’m graced with the idea that all I need is the day in front of me. Give me the day and I will make it interesting and valuable. I do not understand the concepts of being bored, or waiting to be happy or fulfilled “one day.” That day is today. I’m looking forward to having another one tomorrow.

Character Moves:

  1. Absolutely plan for being unable or not wanting to earn direct income one day. It is going to happen. Remember to do so while living the life you want to live now. This includes deferring some gratification, but does not include waiting for so called “retirement” for fulfillment. It does require understanding that contentment and happiness comes from purpose, delivering value and contribution to others.
  2. Do not ask the question, “When are you going to retire?” Always ask what’s fulfilling for you now and what steps you’re taking to keep living life to the fullest.

No retirement in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: How many times a week do we hear “find out how to make an income doing what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Or banter about what we’d do with $500+ million when that office Power Ball collection comes wafting by? Funny enough, most people don’t dream of still “working” when imagining that bank account… But I too believe that unless you’re contributing, even if it’s through a passion of yours, then life would be boring and unsatisfactory. Despite how much we occasionally dread it, we’re not only showing up to the office for an income. We likely chose our professions because parts about them make us happy, and it feels good to be a relevant team player and help build something… No need to ever “retire” that feeling. 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis.

The Winter Olympics and Gold Medal Careers

Key Point: When we play not to lose instead of playing to win, too often the very thing we are desperately trying to protect happens… We lose. We succeed more often if we play to win. While watching the Canadian Women’s hockey team beat the Americans for the 2014 Winter Olympics gold medal, after the latter had a two-goal lead late into the game… You could see this phenomena take place in HD… It was literally evident in the eyes of the players. If you watch most gold medal winning performances, the winners are on the edge. They have adopted the “play to win” mindset. Champions make a conscious decision to focus everything on the action required for winning and not the actions to prevent losing. Too often the medal “favorites” disappoint and in retrospect, realize they unconsciously or consciously focused on preventing mistakes rather than creating the winning moves.

In Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman’s new best selling book, Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, they do a great job combining science and story telling. While there are numerous lessons to be learned from the book, if there’s one thing I want to draw your attention to, it’s this: Competing well means taking risks that are normally constrained by fear.

A post about Top Dog reinforces the message of focusing on playing to win: “We definitely don’t want to use any of the science to pigeonhole people,” Merryman says, but what the authors learned shouldn’t be ignored. “There isn’t an ideal type of competitor… Po and I write about how people can be playing to win or playing not to lose.” The difference, she explains, is that playing to win means focusing on success, whereas playing not to lose focuses on preventing mistakes. “I think it’s easy to switch into that playing-not-to-lose mentality… But if you want to grow, if you want to challenge yourself, if you want to innovate, you have to force yourself to be playing to win.”

Watching the Olympic athletes and reading the great stories in Top Dog are very instructive for our work life and us. Our personal spark will likely never ignite, or be expressed, when our orientation is just to get through the day. Competitive fire will only flourish when long-term goals are high, and when it’s accepted that risks and mistakes go hand-in-hand. We might not like to be judged, but having our reputation on the line can unleash intense effort and creativity. Self-accountability includes playing to win. Respect involves putting fear and related stress under our control, and accepting the mistakes associated without destructive self-blame when we fall. Abundance focuses on the rewards and spoils of winning rather than the false safety of not losing.

Character Moves:

  1. Take a moment to examine whether you are playing to win or not to lose in your career. Are you looking for ways to stretch yourself and “ski jump,” or are you focusing on lying low and “playing it safe?” What will this strategy bring you? What does “safe” really mean?
  2. Know what playing to win looks like in your environment. It does not mean being irresponsibly foolhardy. However, it does involve risk taking. And like former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously said (and the Top Dog authors note): “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.”
  3. Take Bronson and Merryman’s scientific based insight to heart: “Come out of the shadow and seek opportunities where you’re going to get the credit or the blame – more than likely, you’ll try harder, throw yourself into it, and surprise yourself.”

Play to win gold medals in The Triangle,



Lorne Rubis

Lorne Rubis

The constant in Lorne’s diverse career is his ability to successfully lead organizations through significant change. At US West, where he served as a Vice President / Company Officer, Lorne was one of only seven direct reports ...
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Character Triangle

Our character is exclusively ours. We define it by how we think and what we do. I believe that acting with Character is driven by what I call the Character Triangle.

What, exactly, is the Character Triangle (CT)?

The CT describes and emphasizes three distinct but interdependent values:

Be Accountable: first person action to make things better, avoiding blame.
Be Respectful: being present, listening, looking again, focusing on the process.
Be Abundant: generous in spirit, moving forward, minimizing the lack of.

Read more about the Character Triangle


Be Accountable

Be Respectful

Be Abundant

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