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Finding Yourself in a Box: How to Break Free When You're Forced to Play Small

As a high performance coach, I work with leaders, entrepreneurs and top athletes who are used to operating at the highest levels. My clients thrive on big challenges and audacious goals that allow them to continually push the boundaries.


But what happens when circumstances force you into a much smaller box than you're accustomed to? Perhaps your startup has downsized and your responsibilities have been cut back. Or you're an elite athlete sidelined by injury. Or maybe corporate restructuring has put your grand ambitions on indefinite hold.


When you're forced to dial it way back and "play small" for a while, it can be incredibly frustrating, disappointing and demotivating. You may feel stifled, bored and restless like a racehorse stuck in the starting gate. If this goes on for too long, you could start to atrophy and lose your edge.


However, this predicament can also be approached as an opportunity if you have the right mindset. Here are some tips for not only surviving but thriving when the circumstances force you to temporarily downshift:


Reframe Your Perspective

The mental game is everything. Instead of viewing this situation as limiting and unfair, try to reframe it as a chance to pause, refresh and reload. Top performers sometimes need to forcibly take their foot off the gas to prevent burnout. Use this as an opportunity to recharge your batteries and work on areas of your game that may have been neglected.


Focus on What You Can Control

When faced with adverse circumstances beyond our control, it's easy to slip into a victim mindset and feel helpless and resentful. But you always have a choice about how to respond. Channel your focus and energy inward on the areas you can directly influence - your preparations, processes, self-care, attitude, etc. Double down on your fundamentals and craft.


Find Smaller Challenges

While your regained influence or playing field may be smaller for the time being, you can always find or create smaller challenges to conquer within your constraints. Like a diamond cutter working with a tiny gem, look for micro-opportunities to innovative and make the most of the space you have. Where can you uncover inefficiencies and optimize? What can you do to separate yourself even in this limited sphere?


Get a Fresh Perspective

Use this intermission to step back and gain some critical distance from your normal mode of operating. Observe your field with a beginner's mind and see what new insights you can extract. Read books, listen to podcasts and talk to peers in adjacent fields. You may rediscover your deeper motivations and fashion a new, improved approach when circumstance allow you to shift back into high gear.


Appreciate the Pause

At the highest level, performers are cyclical breathing in and out between periods of intense effort and recovery. Appreciate this respite not as a prison but as a chance to restore balance to your life. Invest quality time with loved ones, pursue personal growth, and nourish all aspects of your humanness. This pause may be preparing you for the next great climb.


The forced timeout is extremely unwelcome for those who only know how to operate at full intensity. But exercising the ability to play small, while challenging and uncomfortable, strengthens a different set of muscles and resilience that serves the high performer well in the long run. Use it as a chance to realign, renew and awaken new perspectives. Before long, the door will re-open to much vaster landscapes - and you'll be ready to soar.


Contact Meredith to learn more about our high-performance coaching programs and how she can help you achieve peak performance!

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