By Andrew McConnell, co-founder and CEO of Rented.
I’m a big proponent of a consistent morning routine. Much like Michael Phelps had a routine he followed for years on his way to becoming the greatest Olympian of all time, I like to set the tone for my day by having my own routine and morning rituals.
Part of my morning routine is sitting quietly and counting my breaths, i.e., meditating. On a recent morning, as I sat in my usual position and spot, Hurricane Larry was on its way to my doorstep. With the sliding doors open, I could hear the rough waves outside crashing, as well as the wind getting stronger and louder.
At the same time, I noticed my breaths were much faster and shallower than usual. The beauty of this normally quiet period in my day is that it provides me with time for self-reflection. As I observed my breathing, and what was happening to it, I began to realize that I was no longer setting the tone for my day, but rather letting the tempest around me do so for me. As I realized this was the exact opposite of my purpose in building the routine in the first place, I began to see the similarities in my business.
In business, we have our own rituals and routines. From weekly all-team meetings to quarterly board of directors meetings and from weekly action plans and task lists to annual strategic planning cycles and more — in our businesses, we seek to control the cadence of our work. As we, for example, build that strategic plan, we come up with the tactical steps to execute in order to achieve the targeted results.
And yet, as soon as the plan is down on paper, even before we have finished aligning on the next actions, life happens around and outside of us. The market evolves, competitors do what competitors do and change their pricing, products and/or go-to-market approach and clients provide constant, and often contradictory, feedback. While it’s easy to develop a business plan in a quiet office, executing against it in the noisy real world outside is a far different, and far more difficult, endeavor.
In such an environment it’s easy to lose the internal focus you once cultivated and to instead get reactive. It’s easy to have your mind hijacked by events and circumstances beyond your control. Easy, but unhelpful and, indeed, detrimental. Whether it’s a physical hurricane, a competitor changing their pricing or Covid-19 wreaking havoc on the entire world, the most natural thing to do is to throw out all your well-laid plans and to just start swatting at what is right in front of you. Perhaps the most unnatural, and at the same time most helpful, thing you can do instead is to stop, retake control of your metaphorical breath and dictate your own tone as to how to respond.
How do you do it? The answer is to BREATHE.
Be conscious of what is happening.
The first step in breaking out of reactivity is to recognize when it is happening. Are there any triggers for you personally or for your business that you can identify as early warning signals?
Rest before doing anything.
Once you notice it happening, you will want to do something immediately. Don’t! That would be pure reactivity. Pause first.
Evaluate what is happening around you.
How did this start? What changed, and how?
Assess what is in your control and what isn’t.
Much of what has changed is unlikely to be something you alone, or your business on its own, can change. What does remain in your power and control?
Take control of your decision-making.
Now put yourself, and your conscious mind, back in the driver’s seat of your decision-making.
Harness your ability to actively, not reactively, formulate a plan.
Rather than just acting or speaking off the cuff, with the benefit of once again being in control, take ownership of formulating the plan you want for the objective you desire.
Execute, (re)evaluate and evolve.
With your mindfully developed plan in hand, go execute against it, but in so doing, keep your antennae up for those early warning triggers to identify when and how things have changed and when and how you should actively and consciously do the same.
The answer to successfully dealing with events and circumstances beyond our control is not to ignore what is happening around us. Even after recapturing control of my breathing I eventually had to bring the patio furniture inside and close all the doors and windows as the winds picked up. Even as Covid-19 raged and travel shut down in early 2020, we at my company proactively decided to cut prices for our clients to help them weather the storm, which built enduring loyalty, and we also chose to invest in building more technology to serve our clients more effectively and efficiently in the future.
The point is that the answer is to be in a place where you are actively deciding on the right course of action for you and deliberately executing against it rather than blindly and reactively responding to what is happening beyond yourself and your control. Whether in business or in life, the best routine is the one you decide on.