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

Joy is not all ponies and rainbows

The last two posts make it sound like choosing happiness is easy – just a matter of programming ourselves to always do so. Let’s be realistic, and not buy completely into the hype.

First of all, many people are playing life on “hard mode,” as they fight chemical dependencies, depression, or other neurological illnesses. Those require more than a personal choice. They require professional treatment, sustainable management, and the joyful support of friends. The choice is often to recognize and accept those requirements, and to take action.

Secondly, while we can reprogram our lizard brains with some success, it’s not a panacea for all emotional reactions. We get annoyed, we anger, we feel helpless, we worry, we mourn. That’s as it should be.

Finally, it’s hard. We’re not only fighting evolution, we’re fighting our own learned habits. We are constantly tempted to enjoy the short-term “joy” of recreational complaining, of vengeance, of being the victim, of blaming others. (The Internet is built on those instant dopamine hits.) It’s the easy path with a quick reward, but one that sets us on a programmed path for long-term unhappiness.

Optimism is not the opposite of realism. We can expect the best while preparing for the worst. We can seek joy in hard work. We can look for happiness in the face of suffering.

Finding joy can be hard. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be worth it.

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.

 

 

 

Human

Day Two

As humans, we are pretty good at mourning endings and celebrating beginnings. In fact, books about change management often advise to do just that, to mark the transition from old to new, put the past squarely in the past, and chart out a new path forward.

But what happens on Day Two? Week Two? Month Two?

If we’re lucky, we still have momentum. OH YEAH I’M TOTALLY GONNA KICK SOME BUTT JUST YOU WATCH HERE WE GO. That’s right – I find a little self-psyche-up helps take on the self-psych-out. If we’re not lucky, the temptation to procrastinate rears its ugly head, and we have to fight through the desire for “do it later” instead of “do it now.”

Inevitably, we know that at some point in time, enthusiasm fades. (“Uhhh… what did I resolve to do again?”) Unformed habits become stillborn. Our brains resist extinction of the old ways and try to steer us back towards the comfortable, well-worn path we know and love. Bloggers like Steven Pressfield and Seth Godin often warn about this Resistance, this Lizard Brain, this reversion to the norm. It’s the enemy of progress. It’s a fake joy, designed to avoid discomfort now by killing a chance for future joy.

Let’s look to keep the joy going. Let’s define a new norm. Find that flow again. Refuse to let “Day Two” be “Day Minus One.”