January 19, 2013 11:04 AM

The Empty Cup Strategy

A fictional situation (that is all too real)...

Imagine this: you have an amazing day at work. A big project got completed, you were called out in terms of your excellence and other moments of pride and distinction from your peers ensue. You can't wait to get home and share the news with your family. You walk through the door, smiling from ear and ear and you're suddenly ambushed by kids fighting, and a spouse who has spent the day cleaning snot and separating the rug rats. Those two dramatically disparate emotional sides usually leads into some kind of argument or moments of frustration. It's a story that unfolds - in one way, shape or form - multiple times a day all over the world.

The problem.

We approach each new scenario with the emotions and experiences that are spilling over from our last scenario (and the ones before that). Prior to Twist Image, I held a job where I was editing a local community publication, writing freelance on the side and coaching close quarter combatives. As I would go through my day - inching ever closer to my time in the gym - I would have some great training sessions and some brutal ones. At one point, I was trying my best to figure out where the lack of consistency was coming from, so I spoke with my coach (Tony Blauer). After some back and forth, it became clear that I was brining my daily luggage into the gym. If my mind was wandering to the stuff that had happened prior to walking through the doors, it was very hard to advance, stay focused and (to be frank), not get punched in the face repeatedly. Not fun. As we all know, when it comes to any form of physical activity, focus (along with proper training) is core. Back then, I was equally fascinated with literature about martial arts. That literature, which was also laced freely with Eastern philosophy, would often talk about "emptying the cup."

A powerful lesson in learning, growing and focus.

Spend a week emptying your cup before each and every new scenario you encounter at work. If you had a rough conference call with a client, don't drag that emotion into a creative brainstorm. If your boss was tough on you, don't take it out on a fellow team member on a status report. Seems obvious enough, doesn't it? Still, nobody's perfect and we don't do this often enough. This year - like every year - I will be attending the TED conference in Long Beach. It happens at the end of February and this is always a hectic time at Twist Image. Once the cab driver drops me off at the airport prior to my flight out West, I always stop in the airport lounge, find a quiet corner and sip on some tea. I use that moment to cleanse myself, to reframe my life and to empty my cup (in this case it's literal and metaphorical). I do everything within my power to enter the week of TED, empty, available and ready for anything. Not carrying any preconceived emotions, not bringing any business or personal issues along for the ride. It's not easy, but it's something to focus on. Two years ago, after a particularly motivating TED conference, I dedicated myself to adding more and more moments of emptying the cup into my life. It started with the transitions between work, community work and home life, and it's edging closer (with a lot of hard work) to daily transitions between meetings and interactions with people.

I am learning a lot. You can too.

The process of the empty cup strategy has been enlightening. It's not just about being better at relationships, it has been an integral part of my personal development and education. I not only learn so much more about myself and others, but I'm better able to always put myself in the mindframe of being "the constant student." If my cup is empty, it's an opportunity to grown, learn and think without bringing in my own personal history and experience - which can often cloud my ability to be truly open and, in the moment. Just imagine - for a moment - that this type of thinking was pervasive throughout your organization (from the c-suite down to the admin staff). What could customer service look like? What could your meetings look like?

What about you? What's your empty cup strategy?