Citizen, Father, Leadership, Marketer, Musician

Discovering competence

Most of us have been in situations where we arrive on a scene, especially when joining a new group, and learn that something is going terribly wrong. The Boy Scout group planning an activity is disorganized. The band uniforms to distribute are all in a giant unsorted pile. The last guy wasn’t enforcing the rules so violations are commonplace. The previous leadership didn’t put key systems in place to make it easier to make decisions. So you must decide whether to let it rot, or whether to step forward and exert your will to course correct.

But sometimes, you discover competence. The people in the group you’ve joined have already figured things out. Processes are in place and they work. There are precedences which guide behavior, or a positive culture focused on getting the job done. Inventory is organized; leaders are stepping up, setting examples, and giving direction; exceptions are flagged and handled. Sure there are problems, but they are identified, triaged, and assigned an owner. The primary decision is not whether to help, it’s to decide where and how you can contribute to them moving faster and being more successful.

Don’t let that joy of discovering competence go unacknowledged. Remind the competent that they’ve come a long way and are doing a great job. Give hearable praise about why what they’re doing is making a difference. Because there’s a good chance they’ve forgotten while they target the blemishes and try to keep the positive energy moving forward.

Human, Leadership, Marketer

Puzzles

When your brain is fully engaged in a challenging puzzle, the rest of the world can fade away.

It could be a pencil and paper puzzle, like a cryptic crossword clue or “who owns the zebra” logic puzzle. It could be the situational puzzles that come up in complex board games, like how am I going to get the most points from these three moves, or which sequence of cards can I play to win on this turn. Or it could be work puzzles, like how to structure a fluid organization, hire and fire the right people, and what processes to put in place to get the most efficiency out your employees.

Whatever the challenge, fully grabbing your brain’s attention and finding flow is enough to melt away the worries, the stress, the what-if’s, and other chatter that can occupy thinking bandwidth and negatively affect your mood. Even if a temporary respite, it’s better at bringing joy than any drug could be.

Father, Marketer

New room

The first grader looked up at his father. “Good luck in your New Room today, Daddy,” he said.

The child knew what it was like to go into a New Room, having done so both for kindergarten and for first grade. It meant new friends to make. New authority figures to respect. New toys to play with. A new place to sit. New opportunities for fun.

It also meant unfamiliarity and worry. It meant being unsure of what to do next. It would be re-learning routines and adapting to a different culture. It would be finding your place all over again.

“Thanks, buddy,” said the father, as he headed into the joys and uncertainty of his new job.

Father, Human, Marketer

Savoring the announcement

When you have really great news that you want to share with everyone, you’re just bursting at the seams to get it out into the world. They’re engaged! He got the job! She got her acceptance letter! We’re expecting! Whatever it is, you probably want to blast it out to the world all at once and bask in everyone’s congratulations.

But there’s a calm before the storm. It’s a brief period for us to sit back and enjoy that emotion of triumph. Call it “congratulating ourselves first.” It’s a moment of reflection that’s worth taking, both to acknowledge the big win while also staying humble as we remember all the steps leading up to this point.

Once you start taking the victory lap — and yes, you deserve that victory lap of friends’ adulation and positive energy — it becomes more about the news itself than about you. So make sure to claim that joy quietly before the parade starts.

Athlete, Father, Leadership, Marketer, Musician, Runner

Showing you still know how to do it

Ever find yourself in a situation where you have to tackle a specialized task, and flex muscles that you haven’t used in a while? And imposter syndrome starts to set in?

Maybe it’s helping your child with his algebra homework.

Maybe it’s cooking or baking a complex recipe for company coming over.

Maybe you’re taking the field/pitch/gym/rink as an athlete for a sport you abandoned years ago.

Maybe you’re up in front of others and you have to convince them that you know what you’re talking about, like teaching a class, leading a group exercise, or presenting at an event.

Maybe you’re showing off a talent of yours in a performance, like singing or dancing or acting, but it’s been a long time since you last took the stage.

It’s like riding a bicycle – once you learn how, you can always do it… right? You know that you know how to do it. Well at least, you knew how to do it, once upon a time. You’re pretty sure you can do it again. All the evidence shows you can do it. And yet, deep down inside, there’s a tiny but convincing voice saying oh my god what are you thinking you haven’t done this in forever how dare you think you can do it again oh god oh god this is crazy you know you can quit now and you won’t be embarrassed this is nuts stop stop STOP…

There’s joy in re-discovering that yes, you can still do it.  And in the satisfaction of telling the tiny but convincing voice of your lizard brain to shut the hell up.

Human, Marketer

Using consistency to choose happiness

In my last post’s story, the always-happy friend is concerned about self-consistency. That’s not surprising, because consistency is a great tool to persuade our brains to behave the way we want to behave.

Psychologists will tell you that, as humans, we want to be (and to be seen as) consistent with our self-image. We want to follow through on our commitments. We want to live up to statements we made. We don’t like wrestling with the cognitive dissonance of behaving inconsistently. Our “lizard brain” takes over the decision-making process.

This leaves us open to manipulation (for good or ill) if someone can get us to express the behavior they want us to emulate. For example, clipboard carrying researchers who asked “Do you consider yourself a helpful person?” before inviting people to participate in a survey saw their volunteer rates shoot up from 29% to 77.3%, as detailed by Robert Cialdini in his book Pre-Suasion, among many other examples of influencing people.

But it also gives us a tool for self-programming. For instance, many weight loss approaches have been shown to work because they create habits through self-consistency. You stood up and told your Weight Watchers group what you were going to do this week… how can you go back on that now? Rather than just counting calories, you promised to avoid carbs or sweets or dairy… and are you the kind of person who goes back on promises? Your desire for consistency can convince you, at that moment of truth, to think I’m not a person who buys a candy bar in the checkout line as that belief becomes part of your identity.

So, as extreme as the “if I were any happier, I’d be twins” guy may have been in his response, he does provide a model for all of us. Wouldn’t we all like to say, in that moment of truth:

I’m not the kind of person who stops being happy when bad things happen to me.

I’m not the kind of person who gets angry at others and looks for someone to blame when my plans are disrupted.

I’m not the kind of person who lets problems take away my joy for more time than it takes to experience those natural negative emotions.

It’s up to you to decide how you want to program your brain. But if you don’t make a  conscious effort to decide, your programming will be decided for you by your unfiltered life experiences.

 

 

 

Athlete, Human, Husband, Marketer

Out of sync with the world

You’re ready to go. You’ve got this. You come out of the gates at full speed. Chaaaaaaarge…!

But wait – the world has different ideas today. What’s the old Yiddish saying? “Man plans; God laughs.” Maybe the emails and calls you’re waiting for don’t arrive. Decisions aren’t made, leaving your work in limbo. The injury is worse than you feared. The cost higher than budgeted. The time it takes longer than expected.

It’s frustrating when plans change from things out of your control. What we can control is our reaction… which initially often has no joy in it. But the joy is there… because in deciding how to react, we take control of our reality. A setback is a chance to reevaluate. The forced replanning is an opportunity to make plans more impervious to disruption. The delay is a moment to breathe. You’re out of sync for now, but you know what flow looks like, what Felix Felicis tastes like, what the effortless effort of wei wu wei feels like when you’re totally in the groove. But not now. Not today.

Fine. Sometimes the joy plays hide and seek, and you’re “it.” Unfair? Maybe. So what? Count to ten and go find it — ready or not, here you come.