Leadership Tip: Taming the Dragon

dragon

Dragon image by chriscalf.com

“Why are you crying? I think you’re making much more of this than you need to.”

I said nothing. I just stood there, head hanging, limbs trembling,  weeping and snotting into my goggles.

I was at the bottom of a very steep, very long ski run that had pushed all my limits – physical, mental, emotional.

My counterpart was my oh-so-supportive husband.

But he was right, of course.

The run was not that hard. It was perfectly groomed. There was hardly anyone around. There was good visibility. I didn’t fall. It was steep, but I took it one turn at a time and made it to the bottom without losing control, smashing into anyone, or careening off the side into oblivion.

So why then the histrionics? Why a visceral reaction that made me want to spew, cry, and rant all at the same time?

Our fears can come up and swallow us big time, especially if we let the stories we tell rage like dragons.

And that’s what happened down the Monster Run.

My inner dragon raged against everything that was threatening me: “Your husband is an insensitive a**hole for forcing you down this behemoth. You’re going to make an idiot of yourself – you look like a fool crawling down this hill. You’re going to crash and hurt yourself! You’ll never ski well, you’re a loser.”

It wasn’t pretty. No wonder I wept at the bottom!

And these kinds of stories does one powerful thing:

The stories create a deep, powerful anchor in our psyche about challenging personal limits. If we go beyond the known then the dragon roars! Leaving the lair of the known and facing the wilds beyond spells danger. The self-talk dragon guards its lair and likes to keep us deep inside, safe. Better not to dare than to face the wrath of the dragon!

And yet something in us calls for something greater. We see others sail forward around us – enjoying the slopes – whether in business, or in our personal lives. They’ve obviously  tested the boundaries, found them flexible, and reaped the rewards of fun and freedom in the process. Have you not longed for the success and achievements of others? This is your inner hero being called to step up and be what you long to be.

How then do you tame the dragon within?

1. You start by deciding you are in control. You get to choose your experiences. You get to choose your reactions too.

2. You foster a dragon-tamer’s voice: stern, supportive, positive. Some strong self-talk is required. I’d practice beforehand. Journal some key phrases if it’s a particularly big dragon (like fear of heights, or public speaking, or proposing!). Things like “You can do it. One step at a time,” and my personal favourite: “BREATHE!”

3. Challenge the dragon. Get out of the dragon’s lair and try something edgy, on a regular basis. Being a leader means being uncomfortable – a lot! So get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Consider taking risks is like developing your dragon-taming armour: it can be heavy, awkward, itchy, and makes you sweat but will keep you alive and safe.

4. Feed the dragon happy pills. No, I don’t mean take drugs. I mean reinforce your success and point out your achievements every time you push those dragon’s boundaries.

That’s what I did when my husband told me I was being a sookie-la-la by crying over a ski run. After I finished sobbing, I pointed out to him that even though he could swoosh down the slope whistling dixie, for me it was a Big Deal. The steepness, the heights, and pushing my skiing skills to the limit was confronting. I told him I was proud of myself for trying. That this was tough medicine to help me stretch my paradigm. I agreed with him that my reaction was ‘all psychological’, but it was still there anyway and that cracking through it took a bit of effort. I needed to challenge the comfortable and sometimes that is Very Scary. He listened but the talk was really for me – for my inner dragon.

Two things happened the next day:

1. My husband adopted a supportive and encouraging approach instead of a tough love one. (Hooray!)

2. I did that run again. And this time it was No Big Deal.

Coach’s Challenge: What dragons of yours need taming? What can you do today to get started?

zoeski2

On the Hill of Horror, taming my dragon

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