Monday, January 28, 2013

Life lessons from the swim meet

Our new Aquatics Center, opening fall 2013. WKArchitect sketch,
I was timing for my son's high school District Swim meet on Saturday. Day One had been cancelled due to "inclement weather" on Friday and so everything was rolled into a super-sized meet on Day Two. Unlike regular season meets, swimmers for all eight teams were competing; there were hundreds! The scene inside the pool could have been described as controlled chaos. Certainly anyone susceptible to sensory overload would not have lasted very long. The space was filled with humid heat and glaring light, echoing with voices, music, loud whistles, cheers. I was timing, and as evening turned into night, I really needed to concentrate on what I was doing. I needed to prompt myself to be "in the moment" on more than one occasion (especially during eight heats of the 500-yard race!) But the young athletes competing displayed an extraordinary amount of focus. I know some of my son's teammates well, and they all surprised me with their ability to shut out all distractions and  

I am sure if you culled my blogs over these many months you would find a few on the importance of focus. We all know focus is something we should have pretty much any time we try to accomplish anything. Certainly it is a tool we should pull out of our toolkit whenever we need to communicate effectively, or otherwise get someone to "go along" with our thought processes. For how can we expect anyone to follow our logic or listen to our message if we ourselves are unfocused, unclear?

We know this, but often put ourselves in situations where -- in spite of the fact that focus is very much what we need -- we excuse ourselves because we "just can't." There are so many reasons: it is too late in the day, I haven't prepared, my glucose level is low, I didn't sleep well, this room isn't right, I don't really like the person I'm talking to, I do really like the person I'm talking to, and on and on...

In acting we need to focus, too. When I ask my beginning students why, they most often answer: you need focus so you remember the lines. That is not it at all. The goal of acting is to create onstage the reality the playwright has given you. You can only do that by focusing: on the character, on her needs, and on the actions she takes to satisfy those needs. And perhaps this is where acting, like swimming, differs from what we spend the rest of our time doing, in what we think of as real life. In acting, in musical performance, in dance, as in sports, the actions themselves are what you are doing. In life we forget. Actions do speak louder than words, but most of us get caught up in the talking and thinking and forget the doing.

A good tip for effective communications: next time you need to get an idea across, or connect with someone on a deeper level, ask yourself "what am I doing?" before you speak. Make an action plan. And then breathe, dive in, and do it.

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