May 12, 2020

A Four-minute, Foursquare Foray Into Focus and Alignment

This morning I got an “I’d love to pick your brain” email from a friend and member of my community. It was the second one from this person in six months. In Conscious Leadership, I talk often about full-body yes and no as a key element to conscious decision-making. But I confess that even with the concept in mind and extreme attention on it, I still get unsteady in the face of a direct request. It’s not that I don’t know whether I have a full-body yes or no; I know it immediately, I just get busy shaming myself about being stingy with my time. I want to be nice. I want to be liked. I want to be generous. 

I write about this topic once every year or two. I endeavor to set clear boundaries, I pause things that aren’t fun anymore (like events about women or focused exclusively on female attendees), and I say it out loud so that I can refer people to it and not restate the most recent boundaries in email responses. 

So, apparently, welcome to my quasi-annual reassessment.

The thing that gets lost in this internal boxing match of judgments, negative emotions, and the sheer weight of “should” is that every time I say “yes” to something to which I feel a “no,” I am saying “no” to something else to which I might feel a “yes.” 

Since it’s generally more productive to move toward an idea, this year’s annual review takes a new tack with an exercise you can do at home.

STEP 1: Take a 3x3 Post-it Note, small index card, or napkin. Then draw a foursquare court on it (two lines to create four boxes).

STEP 2: Jot down your four primary areas of focus for the next month. Make these more general than “take out the trash once a week” and more specific than “solve global warming.” Steer clear of grouped things like “transform the marketing team by adding paid search, building out an Instagram channel, and creating a content marketing flywheel.” Tie them to the current reality of your work and life on a one-month time horizon. They need not be measurable; these are simply four things you want to put your attention on.

Ready? Go. Stay with your gut. Avoid the magnetic attraction of obligation. Forget what people might think of you. Be absolutely sure you have a full-body yes to all four things. You’re all by yourself; be honest.

Here’s mine (and yes, I had to shoo away some stories about selfishness to get to this):

STEP 3: Look at your four boxes and be sure they’re consistent with the above criteria. Then circle the one that is truly most important to you. For me: 

STEP 4: Turn over your Post-it and on the back, using the same level of abstraction and time horizon, write down one thing you imagine you would need to let go of in order to truly focus on your top four. This is another meaningful place for honesty. The thing you might need to let go of is probably something that gives you material benefits (affirmation, validation, adrenaline, money, pride). It’s important to remember that a commitment to honoring your full body yes requires some willingness to let go of the nos and the maybes.

Here is mine, acknowledging both a want and a need to decline “pick your brain” meeting requests for the month:

STEP 5: If you want to try one more step after the awareness this exercise hopefully provided, ask one person on your team or in your family for one simple thing that might give you even more accountability around your areas of focus. Perhaps the thing you need to let go of is your aversion to letting other people down. If so, a nice accountability push might be to ask one person to email you on each of the next four Fridays to ask you whom you imagine you let down that week. 

I find this evaluation more relevant than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic, when time and days of the week have become so slippery that my boundaries are more fuzzy than usual. I also want to acknowledge how hard it is to give up the thing we say we need to give up. There are unconscious commitments to that thing. That’s why we’ve been doing it. So be gentle and merciful with yourself. This is not an exercise designed to enhance self-flagellation; it is an inquiry that is oriented toward building self-awareness and leaning into your Zone of Genius.


Sue Heilbronner

Sue Heilbronner is the CEO of MergeLane and a Conscious Leadership executive coach and consultant.

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