HYCS #50 – Lighten Up

HYCS #50- Lighten Up

It’s normal to tense up when we’re nervous, but it’s not helpful. Try this instead.

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Reading Time: About 1 minute

Assignment Time: A split-second

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A colleague is helping me develop some new skills, and we’re laughing a lot. It’s a beautiful day, we’re working outside with the horses in the Stanford Red Barn Leadership Program, and in just an hour I get to go from learning from one colleague whose skills I deeply admire to another who’s skills we both deeply admire. What’s not to like? I’m enjoying every minute of this extraordinary day.

We stop by a stall to say hello to a horse named Kal. The barn is dark and quiet, and Kal is standing in the back of his stall. He doesn’t approach when we walk up. In fact, he doesn’t look interested in us at all. Instead, he seems droopy and withdrawn. My colleague and I exchange glances. Do we leave him to his thoughts or wait awhile to see if he changes his mind?

We decide to stay. I notice we’ve become as quiet and careful as the barn we’re in, and almost as gloomy.   I find this funny, and start laughing, which sets off my colleague. And guess who pokes his head out of his stall?  Mopey, grumpy Kal sticks his head between us and becomes interactive-horse.

At first he laughs the way horses do, stretching his neck out and curling his lip up. Next, he rests his chin on my colleague’s shoulder and closes his eyes. Moments later Kal rakes his nose from my waist to my shoulder in a way I interpret as playful. Then he settles in for the rest of the 10-minute conversation, his head between us.

How Do You Lighten Up?

I’m easily amused, and laughter is almost always just below the surface. I’m curious to the point that I can make a nuisance of myself. Curiosity and humor are natural to me, and very contagious.  

Anxiety is contagious too. Rather than form a partnership with a client based on mutual anxiety, why not make a lighter choice? And it is a choice. I’m not talking about trying to jolly someone out of their terror, or refusing to acknowledge the gravity of their situation, or clumsily imposing your mood on others. I’m talking about letting yourself stay relaxed and open, curious and amused when those are available to you. And letting your client stay where they are while letting them know they are welcome to join you in your calm, your curiosity, or your amusement.


There is a trick to this, and you’re going to have to find your own way into what comes most naturally to you.  Maybe you are naturally irreverent, or helpful or kind.  You may want to ask someone who knows you well about the quality you have that helps them lighten up.

To lighten up, I have to first let go of self-judgment. That means I accept whatever is arising in me without deciding I know what’s best, and express it without knowing the outcome. It’s very much like when a balloon escapes your grasp: There’s a split-second where regret and joy are equally possible. Joy is lighter, so I choose it.