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Would You Walk 20 Feet Across an Eight-Inch-Wide Plank of Wood Laying Flat on a Sidewalk?

If your legs are fine in general, this probably would be no problem at all. You may have to adjust your balance slightly at times, but you could do it. With some practice, you could do it easily without ever feeling the need to balance yourself.

Now, let’s suppose we took the same plank, and placed it three feet in the air between two platforms, and still above the sidewalk. Would you walk across it then?

Three feet isn’t very high, but it is high enough that if you fell onto concrete from this height, you could potentially hurt yourself.

And this added risk changes things. Because it brings emotion into the equation.

By the way, for the purposes of the exercise here, the plank is strong enough to support your weight if you walk, but not if you crawl. You have to walk.

Added Emotion Causes You to Trust Your Ability Less.

When you walk across the plank that lays on the concrete, you have no fear as there is no risk. You walk confidently. When you walk across the raised plank, there is hesitancy, trepidation, and you take much more care. You don’t walk as naturally, and this all by itself makes it harder to balance.

Perhaps you still don’t think the three-footer is too high and you are fit and spry and even if you fell it would be no big deal. So, let’s take it up to 10 feet. If you fall from 10 feet onto concrete, your almost assured of getting injured with the potential of serious injury. A lot of the people who would do the three-footer, are definitely not doing the 10-footer.

What if we put some money on the table? What if we said you would get 20k for walking the ten-footer? Suddenly lots of people who wouldn’t do it just to do it, would try it. And if we raised it to 20 feet, 50 feet, 100 feet?

This line of questioning can get really interesting as you keep going and raising the stakes and the height. Risk versus reward versus skill.

This analogy is useful for many things, and we’re going to focus on the skill aspect for this article.

The Plank Walk Represents a Skill/Competency

Walking is a fundamental thing in life. Combined with balance, we raise the fundamental. Becoming proficient at walking balanced in a circumstance requires some training and practice. Balance requires the use of muscles. Not just the big ones, but all the little, tiny ones. It also requires some equilibrium. These things can be developed and practiced.

For example, if you stand up and lift one leg up, you can probably balance on this leg for a bit. But try doing the same thing with your eyes closed. It’s a whole different ballgame. If you practice this for a bit, you get better and better at it.

In business and life, the more skilled we are, the more confident we become, and the less emotion there is in doing the skill. That seems basic, and it is to a degree.

Here’s where it gets tricky. When the stakes get raised.

There are many scenarios in which emotions can run high and the risk is great. Negotiating, sales, conflict resolution, problem solving, decision-making, and all kinds of important conversations with clients, employees, and leadership, to name a few.

These situations can represent a 3-footer, 10, 20, 50 or a hundred feet. At the hundred-foot mark, essentially everything is on the line since no one is going to survive a fall onto concrete from this height.

The higher the stakes, the more fundamental mastery you have to have. Yes, you have to prepare and be ready, but there is one thing you cannot prepare for…the emotions you will feel in the moment. You cannot simulate it.

In order to best be able to handle the situation in the moment, is to be so fundamentally skilled you don’t have to think about your next words or steps. You can’t cram for it. You can’t rely on some preplanned technique.

It comes from consistently working on your fundamentals and taking on bigger and bigger challenges, to cultivate the comfort with the emotions of the moment.

You have to walk the plank over and over on the ground and then raise it up and walk it over and over.

There are no quick fix techniques for serious situations. The minute you are in them, your planned technique will ultimately be smashed, and you will have to operate on instinct and training to navigate your way. This is why even when I train leaders at the highest level, I still drill the basic fundamentals of interpersonal and productivity skills. If these are not mastered, only luck will get you through a high stakes situation. And luck is simply not a sustainable strategy for a successful long-term result.

Fundamentals are the key to an awesome life.

I hope this serves you well.

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Many Blessings, Todd

P.S. If you are in need of coaching or training for your organization, reach out to me.

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