Toes to nose

Splashdown by Jon Bowen

It doesn’t take much, for everything to feel like it’s slipping away. For all of your productive behaviours to lose their momentum, and the unhelpful habits to gain the power of a runaway avalanche.

Like any feelings, they’re only temporary of course – but it can be tricky to be mindful of that in the moment, not just with hindsight.

In the moment, the feelings arrive like unwanted guests, with no indication of how long they will be around, when you can expect to see the back of them, or when you will be back in the saddle.

The reality of course, is that we determine whether a guest is welcome by how we frame their visit. We choose the frame. But we often forget that the choice is ours.

There doesn’t have to be unwelcome guests in the same way that there doesn’t have to be unwelcome feelings. There are just guests and feelings (and events and deaths and lottery wins and cancer, and birthday presents).

“for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” – Hamlet, Act II, Scene ii

What’s important, is how we relate to them. How we choose frame them.

Feelings like this can be an indicator that we’ve strayed from the path we set for ourself. An sign that we just need to re-orient and start walking the right direction again.

In The Art of Possibility, Ros Zander describes taking a kayak lesson and having the instructor repeat to them constantly, what to do in the event that they fall out of the boat:

  • Toes to nose (so your feet don’t get stuck in the rocks under the water)
  • Look for the boat

It’s repeated over and over during the briefings to help generate a helpful, automatic response in the face of a challenging circumstance.

Toes to nose becomes a way to avoid further trouble (you’re already out of the boat), and then looking for the boat is the first step to getting back on the path.

Sometimes just stopping and acknowledging what’s going is a good “toes to nose” practice. Ceasing action for a moment so you don’t get your feet caught in the rocks. The water might buffet you around a little, but by stopping you’re better able to re-establish which way “is up”.

Then, look for the boat.

You might not get back into it in one movement, but you just have to make sure that your next move is in the right direction – That you’re not headed away from the boat.

Find the smallest, most simple move most consistent with heading in the right direction. A single action with a positive effect.

Small steps build momentum and a vector. They have direction. They create movement and change and can be all you need to get back in the boat.