Iconic motivational speaker Wayne Dyer pulled out an orange at one of his talks and asked, “When you squeeze an orange, what comes out?”
The audience paused, unsure what he was getting at.
Dyer encouraged an answer: “Would apple juice come out? Grape juice?”
Audience members giggled at the seemingly ridiculous question. Then someone said “orange juice.”
“Right,” he said. “Orange juice. Why?”
“That’s what’s inside,” someone answered.
“Exactly!” Dyer said. “What comes out is what is inside.” Dyer took a beat, a moment for the idea hang there. “So when someone squeezes you,” Dyer said, “pushes you, puts the pressure is on you, what comes out? Whatever is inside you will come out.”
What comes out when you squeeze those who focus, manage their time and energy, and prepare? Poise.
Poise is not being numb or lacking feeling. Poise is not pretending or posturing that everything is OK. And poise is not putting on a fake smile to give the appearance of having it all together.
Poise is an inner confidence that radiates outwardly. It is the calm within the squall. And poise is recognizable—from the outside by observers and on the inside by those who have it. It’s having the composure to not get rattled in the heart of challenge and adversity. And it is self-reinforcing: the more you have it, the more you believe you deserve to have it, and then you have even more.
Self-Control: When I was younger, I used to get quickly bent-out-of-shape when things didn’t go my way. Whether it was a small inconvenience (a delayed flight), a slight annoyance (inept cashier), or a small adversity (flat tire), I almost always reacted in a way that didn’t serve me well. I was easily bothered by disappointing news and was quickly frustrated by people who tested my patience. This was during my playing days and my frazzled mindset plagued me on the court as well. If a referee missed a call, my frustration would linger for several possessions. In almost every area of my life, I made it a habit of letting the little things get to me. It was self-defeating and it was exhausting.
It took years of internal work, heightened awareness, and a more enlightened approach, but I stopped viewing things as happening to me and begin accepting that things just happen. I shifted my focus off of the actual event and instead focused on my response. My friend Derin McCains, who is the mental performance coach for baseball’s San Francisco Giants, once told me that “Our emotions are designed to inform us – not direct us.” That is such a powerful truth. Emotions are information, not instructions.
There is nothing inherently wrong with emotions like anger, sadness, frustration, or disappointment. A problem only arises if we then allow those feelings to dictate our actions, if we partake in destructive behavior because of those emotions. As I’ve said countless times to my twin sons. “It’s OK to be upset at your brother. It’s not OK to punch him!” One is natural and acceptable. The other is optional and damaging.
Regarding poise, one of the most important skill sets we can possess is the ability to recognize, understand, and regulate our emotions and process them in real time. That is what we mean by emotional intelligence. For me, any time I am feeling angry, sad, frustrated, or disappointed, I go through this 3-step process:
- I acknowledge how I am feeling and give myself permission to feel that way. I don’t suppress or resist.
- I try to dig a little deeper and find the root of why I am feeling this way. The real cause is rarely on the surface. What’s on the surface is almost always a trigger for something deeper and it takes effort and self-awareness to get there.
- I don’t allow myself to react on impulse, as that usually will result in stacking a negative behavior on top of a negative feeling (which only makes things worse). Instead, I take a few beats, and decide on a response that will move me forward and improve my situation.
Our response is our own. You can’t always control the input, but no matter the situation, you always control the output. That’s the essence of poise.
Trevor Moawad, a brilliant mental conditioning coach who sadly passed away very unexpectedly last year, emphasizes what he calls neutral thinking… which is judgment free-thinking, especially in crises and pressure situations.”
He teaches that “we elevate the past. We give it too much importance.” This is something we are all guilty of. We all project the past onto the future. When we imagine an upcoming event, we often just superimpose our previous experience onto it, expecting things to play out similarly. In doing so, we bring along those judgments, assumptions, and conclusions. Those things keep us stuck, unable to change the future because we act as though it’s already determined.
Neutral thinking is characterized by a calmness that is neither toxic positivity (which can veer from reality) nor negative thinking (which never helps). It’s intentionally detaching emotion, and viewing the situation as neither good nor bad, neither right nor wrong. It just is.
Quick math: if a coin lands on heads five times in a row, what are the chances it lands on heads the sixth time?
The odds don’t change because the coin doesn’t know what just happened. Failures cannot affect your present if you don’t let them. It is your choice whether or not to bring the past into the present—whether that’s a childhood failure or what happened five minutes ago. Neutral thinking is what gives the confidence to Steph Curry to keep firing away, no matter what his shooting percentage is that night. Each shot is its own moment, a chance to execute mastery, and it is wholly disconnected from the missed ones. He is the flipped coin, indifferent to how he just landed. Poise stems from not letting what just happened negatively affect what will happen next.