The following is an excerpt from Barry Johnson's upcoming book AND. Advance Readership of the book as it is written is available here.
Chapter Three – How?
How do you achieve something special?
Keeping with the metaphor of Activity AND Rest, it is clear that we all find ourselves living within this polarity and we do it more or less well. But what if we want to run a marathon? This desire to do something special, something beyond the day-to-day routine, leads to leveraging this polarity rather than just living within it.
How do you leverage polarities? – Think “S.M.A.L.L.” to go big.
S.M.A.L.L.: Seeing, Mapping, Assessing, Learning, and Leveraging
Seeing – In one sense this is a problem to solve: How do I develop the capacity to run a marathon? The first thing we need to do is see that there is an underlying polarity to leverage in order to run a marathon. One underlying polarity is Activity AND Rest. We can’t just start running 26.2 miles. We will have to build a training regimen that intentionally leverages Activity AND Rest.
Mapping – The Polarity Map® is a wisdom organizer. The wisdom about the content often lies within the experience of the person or group creating the map. The map increases our clarity about what we need to pay attention to in order to leverage a polarity. In Figure 1, on the right, we can see the elements to a polarity map. We have the two poles, Activity AND Rest, connected by “and,” with the infinity loop oscillating between and around them. We also have clear upside benefits from focusing on each pole. A positive result of Activity is “Increased endurance +A.” A positive result of Rest is that our “Muscles build +C.” It is worth noting that muscles build on the Rest part of the cycle. The map also has clear downsides or limits to each pole. The negative result of Activity without Rest is “Muscle Injury -B," while Rest without Activity leads to “Muscle Atrophy -D.”
Notice that the infinity loop goes high into the upside of the two upper quadrants and goes only slightly into the downside of the two lower quadrants. This distorted shape of the infinity loop reflects the desire, with all polarities, to maximize both upsides while minimizing both downsides. When this is done well, the natural tension between the two poles becomes a virtuous cycle, symbolized by the upward spiraling arrows lifting the runner toward the Greater Purpose Statement at the top of the map: “Run a Marathon.” If we over-focus on either pole to the neglect of the other, the natural tension between the poles becomes a vicious cycle, symbolized by the downward spiraling arrows leading to the Deeper Fear at the bottom of the map: “Can’t Run a Marathon.”
Assessing – Once we have this more complete picture of the polarity, we can assess how we have been doing with this polarity recently. See Figure 2 below.
How am I doing at maximizing each upside? For example, in Assessing +A, I could ask: “How much endurance do I have right now? How far can I run without overdoing it?” In Assessing +C, I could ask, “Have I been getting enough rest to support a more strenuous work out?” How am I doing at minimizing each downside? For example, in Assessing -B, I could ask: “Do I have any sore muscles or injuries I need to take into account?” In Assessing -D, I could ask: “Do I have any stiffness or weakness from inactivity recently?” The combination of the 4 quadrant assessments gives us an overall picture of how I am doing, at the present time, in moving up the middle of the map from “Can’t Run a Marathon” to “Run a Marathon.” How close am I to running 26.2 miles?
Learning – What can we learn from our assessment? You could be coming off a serious case of the flu that had you in bed for the last week. Or, you could have been so busy the past few months that you haven’t taken time to do any regular workouts so your endurance has been lowered. What ever you learn from your assessment, it will give you a starting point from which to move into your final step in preparing to “Run a Marathon”= Leveraging.
Leveraging – The first four steps: Seeing, Mapping, Assessing and Learning, are about understanding our present situation. This final step is doing something about it. This involves
- Action Steps to maximize each upside
- Early Warnings to minimize each downside
In Figure 3 below you can see examples of these elements that you might build in to a workout routine.
Action Steps Maximize each upside:
Action Steps +A: Your schedule would include running further most workout days. There will be exceptions when you need to hold at a certain distance or cut back a few days before the marathon. But the general process will be to gradually work up to 26.2 miles.
Actions Steps +C: Because your muscles build on the Rest part of the cycle, you need to get adequate downtime between workouts.
Early Warnings minimize each downside:
Early Warnings -B: How will you know, early, that you have over-focused on Activity to the neglect of Rest? One possible Early Warning is feeling tired when you wake up in the morning. Maybe you had to work late the evening before so you didn’t get your normal amount of sleep. If your workout schedule had you running 15 miles that morning, you might cut back to 10 miles to avoid over-extending yourself and getting a muscle injury.
Early Warnings –D: How will you know, early, that you have over-focused on Rest to the neglect of Activity? An example could be that you miss a workout day. For some reason, you had to get into work very early and had to skip your morning workout. Missing one workout is not a problem in the overall managing of your training. At the same time, it is an early warning that you can’t continue to miss workouts or you will undermine the endurance you are working to build +A.
Anyone preparing to run a marathon will do some version of these 5 Steps. They will know that preparation includes both Activity AND Rest. They will not waste time arguing whether they should do Activity OR Rest. They will do both to get the benefits of each while minimizing the potential downsides of each. Though all of us live within the polarity of Activity AND Rest, only those who intentionally leverage it will be able to run a marathon.
This reality will be true of all the polarities in this book. They are immediately available because we live in them or they live in us. If we see them as an “OR” choice, we are in trouble from that point forward. The “AND” perspective is essential.
The marathon example demonstrates two more realities I have mentioned about polarities. My oldest son, Tim, has qualified 5 times for the Boston Marathon. But he has not run in all of them. Once, after qualifying for the Boston Marathon in the Detroit Marathon, he decided to significantly reduce his time from previous Boston Marathons. Figure 4 summarizes what happened. In his enthusiasm to reduce his time, he over-focused on his endurance +A and did not pay adequate attention to down time for muscle build +C. This resulted in shin fractures -B. As mentioned earlier, when you over-focus on one pole to the neglect of the other, you always get the downside of the pole on which you over-focus.
There is a second reality that builds on the first. If you continue to over-focus on one pole to the neglect of the other, you get the downside of the other pole as well. Getting the downside of both poles is pictured in Figure 5. First Tim got the muscle injury (-B). Then he was so limited from his injury that he found himself in the downside of Rest (‐D) as well. Instead of running the
Boston Marathon, he becomes the “couch potato” he wanted to avoid!
Some assume that if you focus on one pole, at least you get the benefits of that pole. Getting these desired benefits, we might think, make it worth tolerating the downside of the pole. Unfortunately, that is not how polarities work. The over-focus on one pole will, eventually, lead to your losing the very benefits you value about that pole. In Tim’s case, his strong desire to increase endurance (+A) led to a situation of muscle atrophy (-D).
Though all of us live within the Activity AND Rest polarity and have it available as an energy system to leverage, we can’t all run a marathon. If we have a Greater Purpose to do something special, something out of the ordinary, like Run a Marathon, it helps to be intentional about leveraging one or more key polarities. In this case, one key polarity for running a marathon is Activity AND Rest. This involves a 5 step (S.M.A.L.L.) process: Seeing, Mapping, Assessing, Learning, and Leveraging. This process is useful with all polarities.