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Seize the Initiative (aclairefication)

On November 15, 2012, in Syndicated, by Association for Software Testing
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Antistress Autoreverse

So last year I joined the YMCA. My employer works in this space and they supplement our memberships … on the condition that we attend with a minimal frequency. Nothing to understand your customers quite like becoming their customer! However, working out isn’t really my thing. The “race to nowhere” has no appeal for me. But I went anyway, determined to learn something. Despite my stubbornness on that point, the inertia of years of study was hard to overcome. I needed backup.

Joining the coach approach program was explicitly about wanting to make improvements. The Y coaches promote “adopting healthy habits and changing the way [the participants] live their daily lives.” I knew I wanted to make a change, but I also knew that I didn’t want it badly enough to go it alone quite yet. Having never had a personal coach, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. What I encountered resonated with my recent experience learning about the role of ScrumMaster.

In particular the sprint activity of retrospective is “an opportunity to learn how to improve.” Defining success in this particular context was the first step. My ScrumMaster watched the process and guided it, making it okay to talk about uncomfortable topics, but it was up to me to do the work. The first big step was being able to establish a safe environment to talk with a more experienced and professional person about a potentially sensitive topic.

In the case of my workout routine, this was my minimal compliance rather than wholehearted adoption of lifestyle change. My Coach Approach coach helped me to develop a vision for the future that would be better than the past. We focused on setting goals while recognizing that the plan had to fit into my work/life balance with the loose structure of frequent check-ins rather than plugging my height, weight, and weight loss goal into a one-size-fits-all spreadsheet.

I was surprised to find that discussion about my health could be fun when my counselor was so friendly and supportive. I would have expected an intervention to be really uncomfortable. Retros can be that way sometimes. But they can also be a welcome change of pace. Roughly every 2 weeks – after we catch up on socializing and the excitement we’ve had since our last chat – my coach and I looked at the artifacts of my progress, paying attention to the time line of events going on in the background and how that influenced the results. Keeping this cadence allowed us to build a healthy relationship that encouraged risk-taking and speaking from the heart. So when my coach suggested adding a weights routine to my cardio, I felt fine with scoffing openly and she felt fine with reminding me of my goals, not allowing my emotions to derail the discussion but remaining fully present and focused.

As our meetings progressed, she offered appreciation of the progress I made, while encouraging me to try new approaches that could yield better results. Even when I felt like I was backsliding, she found a way to put more emphasis on understanding what I had accomplished and focused on encouraging me to keep going. We talked about what parts of the routine were working well, what lessons I learned (like when I hated the treadmill but loved the AMT – hey, participation in individual exercises is optional!), what I could do differently next time, and what might need more scrutiny. We tried to analyze the problems and propose solutions to the boredom, considering a variety of alternatives. It was honest but not accusatory. (Hey, eveybody gets bored with the routine.)

So I’ll admit she’s done me some good. I agree with another participant who said, “My personality is better, my production has gone up, my mental clarity has improved, and my energy level has increased dramatically.” Granted, I just have a lot of energy in general, so I wasn’t likely to sit back and passively take it in – well, as passive as you can be while sweating profusely. I started to recognize my excuses as just excuses, feeling more empowered to modify the situation, learning to manage that impulse to excuse myself from the hard work of changing. Accepting that I actually knew something about working out and lifting weights and could be responsible for designing more of the workout and analyzing my progress on the path to wellness? Yeah, last week was weird.

One ScrumMaster wrote, “At the end of a successful project, everybody says, ‘Gee, I wish we could do it again.’ Using this definition, was the project a success?” Well, I can’t say that I’ve enjoyed every moment of it, but figuring out that I could test software and sweat profusely at the same time? Priceless! But seriously folks, having my coach express sincere and significant appreciation for the care and work I put into making progress sent the message that she cared about and me personally, not just reducing the failure rate of some anonymous gym member. And that’s where the magic happens.

(Special thanks to my dev James who pointed out that coach approach is workout retro!)
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