We hear the benefits of being results oriented all the time. It is important to have goals, to aim high, and to focus on outcomes. But as we have been told since we were kids, too much of a good thing can hurt you.
There are three critical areas that suffer if you are too results oriented:
(1) Your experience
(2) Your performance
(3) Your sustainability
Let’s start with your experience.
When my kids were young, they loved writing stories. As a family, we’d go on long road trips and by the time we reached our destination, they had woven delightful tales with colorful characters and loads of drama.
But at school, when they were given the assignment to write a story, they were not all that happy. Suddenly someone was making them do it and grading their performance. The writing was no longer an activity they had chosen for themselves. Their attention had shifted from doing the writing for the sheer joy of it to doing it for the benefit of a grade.
What does a child’s writing assignment have to do with your experience?
Most of us chose our professions as a matter of preference, because they were aligned with something we had interest in or a passion for. But when we become more fixated on the paycheck than on the work itself, the work can become a bit of a drudge.
Even smaller activities like projects can become laborious when you put more weight on achieving a desired outcome than on the process of doing the work itself.
But if you stop caring about results, how will you ever achieve anything?
The problem isn’t your desire to achieve results. The difficulty arises when you attach those results to your state of well being. Suddenly whatever you are doing becomes a means to an end. An end you feel you simply must achieve to avoid pain and achieve pleasure.
When the stakes become too high, the joy of doing the work itself gets sucked out of the process. And so do you. Your focus is no longer on immersing yourself into the work and enjoying each step, but rather on making sure you can achieve the outcome you believe your happiness depends on.
When you place your happiness on achieving some future state instead of enjoying where you are and what you are doing right now, you will never be truly happy. And your work will not only be less than fulfilling, the results of it will also be less than optimal.
This leads us to the second problem with being too results oriented.
The irony of being too focused on results is that you are less likely to get good results.
When you go from pouring your attention and energy into the process to simply achieving an outcome, whatever you are working on is missing one very key ingredient: YOU.
If all you care about is achieving the goal, your mind is on some future state. This means you yourself are not fully present and engaged. And when you are not fully present and engaged, the quality of care and love that you would otherwise pour into your work is simply not there.
The result is crappy products/services and poor performance.
You will not tap into the same level of creativity. You will not make the same connections. You will forget about whoever is the end user or beneficiary of the work you are doing when your focus is more on what you have to gain than anything else.
This is like trying to play tennis by focusing your gaze on where you want the ball to go instead of looking at the ball itself. You will likely miss the shot every time.
And when you don’t get the results you so desperately desire, you will begin to have trouble in the third area that suffers when you are too results oriented: sustainability.
What does sustainability have to do with performance and results?
Sustainability is simply your ability to stay with something long enough to experience a return on your investment of time, energy and effort. It’s what allows you to stick with the plan you have outlined that will ultimately allow you to achieve your goals.
Sustainability is important because without it, you never gain momentum
Momentum is what allows you to go from starting something, to making progress, to achieving a desired result, to excelling at achieving a desired result. When you are too results oriented, you risk falling into the trap of judging your performance based on what you are able to achieve right out of the chute. And most people don’t perform very well when they first start something.
Expecting results without momentum is the curse of the perfectionist.
The perfectionist wants to begin everything at the same level of proficiency that a master would achieve. They compare their results to those attained by people who have spent years of their lives practicing. And they fail to recognize that people who are masterful began their crafts making mistakes, looking foolish, and getting less than desirable results.
So they quit. They never allow themselves that crucial period of trying something, getting it wrong, making small adjustments and trying again. And again. And again.
They reason they were never cut out for that kind of work. And they cheat themselves of the sweetness of achieving results they could have enjoyed if they would have just stuck with it.
But you don’t get rewarded for effort — only results, right?
It’s true that most companies don’t reward people a whole lot for the effort they put into something unless they reach their goals. But you will never achieve your goals if you do not apply sustained effort. The effort ends up rewarding you. And the reward is results that are not only high quality and long lasting, but also deeply gratifying.
It is possible to be too results oriented. And when that happens, three primary areas will suffer
(1) Your experience. Being too results oriented sucks the joy out of your work and leads to increased levels of stress and anxiety. When you equate a desired outcome with your state of well being, the stakes become too high and you will fail to enjoy the journey that leads to your ultimate destination. Work becomes a grind and the quality of your life will suffer.
(2) Your performance. The irony of being too focused on results is that you are less likely to get good results. When your energy and attention goes to some future state, you will vacate yourself from the present. This negatively impacts your creativity and the special touch only you can bring to your work, resulting in crappy products/services and poor performance.
(3) Your sustainability. When you judge your success based on getting stellar results out of the chute, you will experience frustration and a feeling of inadequacy that may lead you to abandon your efforts altogether. Great results require great sustained effort and momentum. This can only be achieved with repeated practice, and the willingness to make mistakes, learn from them and try again and again.
Should you stop caring about results?
Of course not. It’s true that you need to aim high, get clear on the goals you want to achieve and envision what it will be like when you do. But then you need to shift your primary focus from achieving the result to pouring your heart and mind into the process. Your reward will be not only achieving your desired destination, but also enjoying every step along the way.
You’re agitated and a little resentful – and you may feel like a bit of a victim.
And then suppose you lift your head and notice that the concrete you are lying on is green. Widening your view, you see that the objects being hurled at you are tennis balls. And they are coming from a machine that is firing them over a net. As you continue to look around, you notice there is a racket within arm’s reach.
And then you remember – ah yes, I signed up to learn how to play tennis.
This image came to me after I collapsed in overwhelm when what felt like a relentless barrage of requests for my time, emails that screamed to be answered, projects that needed to be advanced, tasks that demanded completion, and all manner of life’s little unforeseen chaotic events yammered for my attention.
How would I get it all done?
Well, I’ll tell you one thing. Cowering in fear does not help.
And neither does even the most justified of indignation and resentment.
I realized this when I lifted my head to take a good look at what was in front of me. And I also realized that all these challenges I was facing were related to things I chose to take on and/or really care deeply about, like:
Up leveling my business so that I can make a bigger impact doing what I truly love.
Being more involved and present with my three children – who inevitably are in constant need of something, often simultaneously, usually in three different places.
Honing my martial arts practice – and being more involved in the nonprofit organization that has given me the opportunity to learn it.
Becoming a better writer and speaker.
Being able to do more of what really matters to me in less time.
Getting better at anything is a decision that you make to be in the game.
It’s easy to forget that the game you’re playing is one that you chose for yourself when those balls are coming at you full speed, one after the other. But the simple shift of mind that comes from going to a helpless victim to someone who has willingly stepped onto the court is one that makes all the difference in the world.
Think of anything in life you feel like you “have to” or “should” do. More than likely with that frame of mind, it will feel heavy and cumbersome. But find something about that same activity that you want or care deeply about, and suddenly everything gets a little lighter.
We find reserves we didn’t think we had. We rise to the occasion. We notice the racket that lies within our grasp and begin to use it to hit some of those balls.
The more you play, the better you get.
I confess. I’ve let a few balls slip here and there. And I’ve hit some in directions that were anything but where I intended them to go. But the less I care about needing to get it perfect, the more I want to play the game.
And the more I play, the more of those balls I’m able to return.
And the more of those balls I’m able to return, the higher my confidence.
And the higher my confidence, the easier and more fun the game gets.
Rest assured, there will be days when it feels like we are being pummeled. But perhaps the reason those balls come at us harder and faster is because we are ready to advance to a whole new level – one that allows us see what we’re really made of. And maybe, just maybe – the only thing we really need to focus on is showing up and being willing to play.
We’ve all been to a lot of classes – whether on leadership or related subjects – where we sit passively and listen to someone teach us things from a workbook or a power point presentation. Some of these classes infuse us with new ideas and inspirations, and others do not. Either way, the chief challenge is coming back to our daily work and implementing what we have learned. Class or no class, putting into practice the ideas and insights we get on a daily basis is a challenge. It is a challenge because it calls for us to integrate them into a way of doing things that we have established for ourselves over a long period of time.
To change, grow or improve in any way, we must consciously look at ourselves.
We need to look at both what is working and what is not. Often we are so accustomed to running from project to project and meeting to meeting, that we aren’t even aware of the dynamics at play under the surface. This frenetic approach leads to a pattern of similar results, similar experiences, and inevitably similar frustrations, and often the feeling that there has to be more to it than this.
The truth is, you already possess within you the core essentials you need to be successful.
The question is, are you using them? And are you using them to the best of your ability? If the answer is no, it doesn’t matter how many new tools you acquire or methodologies you learn. Our chief challenge is not to continue looking to others for solutions and answers, but instead to take the time to tap that part of ourselves that remains our purest potential. The prerequisite for being an effective leader of others is to learn to lead ourselves.
Michelangelo once said “The masterpiece is already in the marble.”
The same is true for each of us. Our chief task as leaders is to chip away at the stuff that surrounds the masterpiece. What stuff? You may ask. The habits, patterns and approaches you’ve been utilizing over the years that are no longer getting you the results you want. And the inaccurate beliefs, assumptions and doubts you have about yourself, others, and what is generally possible in any given situation. These are the major factors that keep you from unearthing your best work.
So how do you chip the away at the extraneous?
The part that is especially challenging for people is that they often don’t even realize they are operating from a mindset that isn’t serving them. They may recognize the results they’re getting aren’t what they’d like without necessarily realizing that the core issue lies within them. And the tricky thing is that until you recognize that the mindset you have isn’t serving you, you will continue to make decisions and attempt to solve problems operating within the very frame of mind that is keeping you from seeing the outcomes you want.
Here are some steps you can take to shift into a way of thinking that allows you to bring out your very best – and in the process help others to do the same.
The first step is to TAKE RESPONSIBILITY.
The next time you have an experience that doesn’t go the way you’d like it to, replay it in your mind and try to identify the role you played in it –not only with your actions (or lack of action) but also your thoughts – what you were believing at the time, where your focus was, and how others reacted to you. Ask yourself what you would do differently next time. Then envision what that would look like and feel like if you were to have the same situation, but a more favorable response. In this way, you can allow your experiences to teach and mold you into something better – even the ones that are less than optimal.
The second step is to PAY ATTENTION.
You are bound to fall into old patterns again and again, but the more you become aware of them, the less compelling they become. At first you may not catch yourself until after the fact, but over time you will find you can interrupt the cycle sooner, until finally you are able to head it off at the pass and choose a different response altogether.
The third step is to IDENTIFY WITH THE MASTERPIECE, NOT THE MARBLE.
You are not your thoughts, your patterns or your habits. You are much bigger than that. Once you are aware of how those things are operating in your life, you free yourself up to choose new ones. Rather than chipping away at the marble, you will begin to grow from within it, busting through the constraints that no longer hold you captive. Instead of dwelling on your limitations, focus on your strengths. Instead of putting your attention on the things you don’t want to see, begin identifying with what you do want and recognize that you have the ability to achieve it.
As you begin to clear the debris from your view, you will see things in a whole different light – including those around you that you have the opportunity to lead. These folks are far more likely to take their cues from your action than your words. And when you begin to help them identify with their masterpieces as you have learned to do, there is nothing you cannot achieve.
If you are interested in additional strategies for inspiring and motivating yourself and others to higher levels of performance and impact – as well as greater fulfillment both on and off the job, check out The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive. Registration for the fall program is now open. Enroll by 9/1 with the code EARLYBIRD2 to take advantage of the early bird discount!
Can you recall what you were doing? What you were thinking about? How you felt? What was it that inspired you? And what did you end up doing as a result?
Wouldn’t it be great if you could replicate the feeling of inspiration and translate it into measurable results any time you wanted to? As a leader, your chief mission is to bring out the best in others and focus their unique talent, style, energy and passion into the creation and achievement of something that serves a greater good. The ability to inspire and motivate is critical. But what is it exactly that makes a leader inspiring – and more importantly how can leaders facilitate others to take inspired action?
STEP 1: Before you can be inspiring, you must be inspired.
Chances are the last time you became inspired, you were not feeling stress, anxiety, worry or overwhelm. And it probably didn’t happen because someone told you to do it. The greatest creations and most significant accomplishments of our time started with a single thought that most likely originated when the minds that conceived them were relatively quiet. It is not uncommon to hear inventors, artists, writers, entrepreneurs, leaders and others say that ideas such as these seemed to originate from a source greater than themselves – and that the most inspiring of these thoughts was in service to a greater good.
The voice of inspiration often starts as a small still whisper that competes for our attention among all the other things we think we need to be doing. How will you quiet yourself for a few moments today and elevate your attention from problems to possibilities so you can hear what it is telling you?
STEP 2: Before you can truly bring out the best in others, you must start with yourself.
Every one of us has faults and weaknesses. But we also have unique combinations of talent, energy, style and passion that mingle together to form vast pools of possibility. You are capable of far more than you ever dreamed or realized is possible and so is everyone around you. These core qualities lie deep within us waiting to be tapped and harnessed.
True strength is not boastful or proud but rather quietly confident and unassuming. It is also incredibly engaging and uplifting. When you shift your focus from your doubts and fears to your strengths and abilities, you will see the way to rise. And in doing so, you will allow others to do the same. As you focus on people’s true potential and treat them as though they are capable of achieving it, they will prove you right – often surprising and delighting themselves in the process. The ability to do this is one of the marks of a true leader.
STEP 3: Remember to block and tackle.
Getting people to focus on possibilities and believe in themselves is a huge part of exercising inspired leadership, but it won’t get you all the way there. To leverage people’s strengths and make the most of emerging opportunities, inspiration must at some point turn into ACTION. The trouble is, somewhere along the way our egos have a tendency to try to steal the show. Being fear based, the ego would have us occupy ourselves with doubt, skepticism and anxiety over the potential for failure and any corresponding loss of power, prestige or approval.
This is where MOTIVATION comes in. Motivation is about getting people to move. And sometimes you have to remove barriers that are in front of people before they can do that. Obstacles could be physical, organizational or mental. Good leaders are instrumental in detecting and removing them, whether they are in the form of skill deficiency, inadequate equipment or resources, or a lack of confidence.
You can soothe the clamors of the ego by mitigating risk, increasing the odds of success, and helping others to recognize what they have to gain as a result of exerting the effort necessary to succeed. With the parking brake removed, action and results can begin to accelerate.
In every organization, in every person, and in every moment, there lies possibility and untapped potential. What will you do to recognize it and apply it toward something remarkable?
If you are interested in additional strategies for inspiring and motivating yourself and others to higher levels of performance and impact – as well as greater fulfillment both on and off the job, check out The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive. Registration for the fall program is now open. Enroll by 9/1 with the code EARLYBIRD2 to take advantage of the early bird discount!
If you answered yes, you are not alone.
Many high achieving professionals feel as though they have way more to do than they have time to do it. Their ambition, drive and passion have served them well, and gotten them to a nice place, but still they know they are capable of more. More visibility, more opportunity, more income, and dare I say – more freedom to enjoy their careers and their lives.
The daily grind has a way of keeping us tethered to the ground, feeling as though our best is just around the corner, if only we can get through what’s in front of us, which is often an accumulation of projects, events and other commitments that ends up growing far faster than it shrinks. Every once in a while, it becomes apparent that something’s got to give.
But who has time to slow down when there is so much more to get done?
The fantasy many of us have bought into is that if we just work longer and harder, we will get there. And despite our longing to find balance and the sweet spot that will finally allow us to relax and be more effective, we often act in ways that bring greater levels of anxiety and toil. As leaders, we also unwittingly create entire cultures of people who emulate our frenetic behavior in the name of getting ahead.
The hamster in the wheel doesn’t realize he isn’t getting anywhere.
And before he can, he must realize that he is, in fact, in a wheel. Our wheels are much more sophisticated and deceiving than those of the hamster. Because initially, our wheels do get us somewhere. It’s just that over time, they lose traction and become stuck in comfortable ruts. And we don’t realize when we’re stuck, because it doesn’t seem possible to be standing still when you are running like hell.
Are you ready to stop the madness and take things up a notch?
Can you conceive of finding a better way to do things? How badly do you want it? Bad enough to try something that goes against every compulsion you currently have to keep doing what you’ve been doing all along?
Consider the prerequisite for successful change.
Have you ever noticed that when you upgrade software, the program often needs to uninstall or extract something before it can successfully run? Gardeners know that new blossoms proliferate when the old flowers and branches have been pruned. Bargain shoppers know that stores sell older merchandise at a significant discount to get it off the shelves to make room for what’s coming in the new season.
How about you?
What tried and true ways of doing things have lost their leverage?
How willing are you to recognize that perhaps there is a better way of doing things than what you’ve done up to this point? All change begins with awareness that is coupled with desire. To move beyond your madness, try the following:
- Pay attention to the times during the day that you feel the most anxious, stressed, or tense. Recognize the pattern of thought or behavior you are engaging in that may be causing this discomfort. This may be a prime area for you to make a shift.
- Ask yourself some discerning questions such as, “What small, but powerful change could I make today that would allow me to be more effective and make the most of my opportunities?”
- Notice what catches your attention in the coming days. The answers to your questions will reveal themselves to you, but you must open yourself up to them and be willing to listen.
Once you begin to notice that the patterns and triggers that create the highest degree of anxiety, stress and pressure – and the impact they are having in your life, they begin to lose their hold on you. When you open yourself to new ways of doing things, you move from a point of view to a higher viewing point – one that allows you to see solutions that may have previously evaded you. Allowing yourself to envision and believe in a new way of doing things will transform your frustration into fuel and help you summon the courage you need to overcome obstacles along the way.
If you are interested in specific strategies for breaking through old habits and patterns that no longer serve you so that you can create more freedom and flow in your work and your life, check out The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive. Registration for the fall program is now open. Enroll by 9/1 with the code EARLYBIRD2 to take advantage of the early bird discount!
Supercharge Your Summer: Three Strategies for Vacationing in a Way That Replenishes You and Skyrockets Your Performance
Time to rest and recuperate, enjoy our loved ones, and have some fun. But all too often, vacation creates stress for high performing executives who dread coming back to loads of email and other work that has piled up, and spend their time away preoccupied and worried about what’s happening at the office or getting sucked into email and phone calls.
It’s not uncommon to come back from vacation feeling like you need another vacation.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you approach your vacation with the same level of thoughtfulness and intention that you do with any project you undertake, you can create experiences that not only revitalize yourself and enable you to reach a new level of performance, but also increase the strength and effectiveness of your organization.
Here are three strategies for accomplishing this:
(1) Make the decision to completely disconnect.
We all know our electronic devices need to be recharged to work properly.
And it’s a no brainer that they charge more efficiently when we are not using them. However, we often fail to grasp that to replenish our energy, creativity, resilience, determination and focus – we too need to go offline.
It is often our underlying (and unexamined) assumptions that keep us from truly relaxing.
We are conditioned to believe that the harder we work, the more successful we will be, and that taking our eyes off the ball (even for a day, let alone a week or more) can lead to things spiraling out of control. As a result, many of us have a hard time letting go. We approach our vacations with one foot in and one foot back in the office, checking our phones and becoming preoccupied with work. In this state of mind it’s easy to get sucked back in to anything that appears to be less than optimal.
Few of us realize that this belief itself is the problem.
It is often the assumption that we cannot afford to let go that leads to most the stress, pressure and overwhelm we encounter when we return from our much-needed breaks. Like our cell phones, which are constantly searching for a signal and downloading messages, we too are expending energy even as we try to recharge it. In addition, this belief leads us to become far more susceptible to distractions that take us away from what we are doing in the moment. It also keeps us from doing the preparation necessary to ensure that others can handle things without us while we are away.
Once you realize this underlying belief is the culprit, you can substitute it with a new truth.
Chances are that voice in your head that compels you to check your phone will continue to speak. But when you begin to see the fallacy in that assumption as well as the pain it creates, it doesn’t have as much of a hold on you. You can begin to entertain the possibility that disconnecting will truly serve you (and your organization) and act in ways that make that true. And when you fully commit to a vacation that allows you to go offline, you are better able to prepare in ways that make that possible, which leads to the next strategy.
(2) Prepare people in your organization to handle things in your absence.
Most executives would benefit by delegating and empowering others more in general.
Often senior leaders find themselves unable to act strategically because they get bogged down in operational tasks that they really shouldn’t be involved in. So, creating a plan to prepare others to run things in your absence will yield dividends for you (and your organization) long after your vacation is over.
Take some time to identify what is most likely to hijack your relaxation, and plan accordingly.
Identify people in your organization whose skill, experience and passion are a good match for things you would normally handle yourself. Then take the steps necessary to bring them up to speed and put them in charge while you are away. Create and communicate guidelines that will help them know what to do in situations that would cause you the greatest stress, so they can make solid decisions without you. Taking these steps not only helps ensure consistency and effectiveness while you are away but also develops key players on your team that, given the right opportunities, can make a bigger impact.
When you return, follow up to help your people integrate what they have learned and build on it.
In addition to increasing their own capability, their fresh perspective may yield insights into how things can be handled more effectively in the future. Additionally, the confidence you place in your staff can go a long way in making them feel valued and appreciated. As a result, you’ll open doors to new levels of performance that benefit your entire organization.
(3) Set and communicate boundaries and expectations in advance.
Most of us are accustomed to setting up automated “out of office” messages in our mailboxes.
But we often fail to communicate and manage expectations in advance. As a result, people can feel caught off guard and demanding of your time while you are away. Or, you can feel inclined to respond to something that really isn’t all that urgent, out of fear of damaging a relationship or letting a ball drop.
Take the time to talk with others about your intention to completely disconnect while you are away.
Make it clear that you do not intend to check email or handle phone calls. Remind them of the guidelines you’ve set on what to do in your absence. And clarify your intention to use this time to replenish your reserves so that upon your return you can more effectively serve them.
When clients understand that you have taken steps to ensure they will be well cared for and know who in your organization to contact for what, they are much less inclined to interrupt you. If you discuss in advance what things can be done before and while you are gone and what is better delayed until your return, you will be able to leave with the peace of mind that everyone is on the same page.
Don’t underestimate the power of your example.
Leaders set the tone in organizations more by what they do than what they say. And if you interrupt your vacations to get involved in work, others are likely to feel compelled to follow suit. As a result, the energy of your team wanes, tempers flare, and performance begins to decline. People work harder than ever but don’t seem to get a lot done, or they burn out altogether.
When you apply these strategies, you’ll exercise true leadership – showing others how to truly revitalize themselves and their performance by modeling it yourself.
If you are interested in more strategies, approaches and tips for revitalizing yourself and your organization, check out The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive. Registration for the fall program is now open. Enroll by 9/1 with the code EARLYBIRD2 to take advantage of the early bird discount!
~ Henry B. Adams
Like many of us, I grew up thinking that things happened in a linear way.
First this, then that. One building block upon another in a definite order. Cause and effect. But over the years, I’ve noticed that life isn’t always like that.
Often it seems life is a series of random events that don’t seem to make much sense.
But when you have a larger vision and experience that vision as though it has already happened, you can begin to see this apparent chaos in a whole different way. Often what we experience is a chain of seemingly disjointed events that are in reality very connected.
Think of watching a movie of a glass shattering, only in reverse motion.
Pieces fly together from all directions in a disjointed fashion and assemble into a perfect whole. Each piece is absolutely necessary, though, in and of itself, incomplete and inconceivably connected to a larger picture.
We will experience ups and downs and travel roads that deviate from what we anticipated.
Nevertheless, these seemingly divergent paths may in fact be prerequisite to experiencing the totality of our vision. At times the healing process entails pain, discomfort or other symptoms. While we may point to these as signs of illness, we could alternatively consider them evidence of our recovery.
Seasons will change, and so will we.
A phase of growth and expansion is often preceded by a period where things unexpectedly fall away. We can look at the void as a loss, or recognize it as the space necessary for new creations to take root and flourish.
We may not initially realize the significance or relevance of our chaotic experiences.
But in hindsight we often realize the importance of enduring specific challenges, setbacks, delays, or what felt like irrelevant nuisances. These obstacles give us a greater perspective on who we are, deeper appreciation for where we have been and where we are going, and compassion for others who have experiences similar to our own.
As we rise up to these little challenges, we find strength we didn’t know we had and realize we are far greater than we thought we were. And as leaders, we can help others appreciate and leverage their own chaos as well.
Appreciating the perfect order unfolding in our lives more of an art than a science.
Most of us never really take the time to recognize it. If you are interested in leveraging the seeming chaos in your own life and life’s work, I encourage you to check out The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive. Though the spring program is now full, you can get on the waiting list for priority access to the fall program kicking off in September. For more information, visit The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.
“Yeah.” He answered without missing a beat.
“Would you have any hesitation going snowboarding again after your wrist heals?” I inquired.
“Nah!” he replied. “Let’s come back for sure.”
This is an excerpt of a conversation I had with my son at age thirteen on the way to urgent care after his first attempt to snowboard. I was inspired by his lack of hesitation. And his courage. But most of all, with his mindset.
Mindset is the key to overcoming setbacks. Your mindset determines—to a large degree—whether you see the experience as a success or a failure. And the way you see the experience will have an enormous impact on whether or not you will try that experience again.
What’s the big deal if you don’t try an experience again?
Well, the problem isn’t so much the broken bone—in my son’s case—which will inevitably be accompanied by a certain amount of pain. The problem is letting the setback deprive you of a future that could bring you an immense amount of joy and satisfaction. And most people let seeming setbacks deprive them of joy and satisfaction more often than they realize.
It could be the proposals they poured their hearts into to that never really went anywhere. Or the promotions they were working toward for months that ended up going to someone else. Perhaps it was the first time they went out their comfort zones, only to feel as though they landed on their backside with nothing but broken bones to show for it.
Confusing Skill with Potential
You confuse skill with potential when you decide that you’ll never be good at something because you didn’t get it right the first time you tried it. Or the second time. Or the tenth time. Most people do not have a high degree of skill when they try something new. But doesn’t mean they don’t have an enormous amount of potential.
When you confuse skill with potential, you tell yourself a story that has you making an assessment of yourself based on a very limited amount of data. The story goes like this: “Boy, I was really bad at that. I’m just not cut out for it. I should leave it to other people who actually have talent.”
You allow it to keep you from trying something again. And trying something again is exactly what you need to do in order to gain the very skill you are having difficulty executing. So your story becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You miss out on the joy of ultimately mastering that skill. And so do all the people who would have benefited from what you could have accomplished if you did.
But that’ s not the only story that can get you into trouble.
Taking an Experience Personally
When you take an experience personally, you make it more about you than anything or anyone else. Your universe constricts and you become the center of it. You feel hurt and rejected, or angry and resentful. You replay events in your mind and question what you did to screw things up. You think, “if only I would have done this, or been more like that, things would have gone better.”
You become so fixated in feeling wronged or victimized that you render yourself powerless. In an effort to avoid being hurt again, you may hedge your bets, fly under the radar, try not to get your hopes up. And this act of withholding keeps you from doing the very thing that could allow you to succeed next time.
Often, setbacks have nothing to do with you as a person.
You lost a big client. Yet in retrospect, you realize the client was a huge pain in your rear end, sucking up time and energy that you could have dedicated to someone you really love to work with. And if you take it personally, you’ll keep your perfect client from seeing the very thing in you that could cinch the deal.
What If It Was Personal?
But what if it did have to do with you? What if you came on too strong? Or too meek? Or if there was something you could have done to get that promotion, keep that client, succeed with that proposal? Well, if you take it personally you may never have the courage, the confidence and the open mind it takes to solicit or receive the feedback you need and to act on it in a way that allows you to succeed next time.
There is a difference between taking things personally and learning what you could do differently next time. Taking things personally causes you to contract. And learning allows you to expand. Which will you choose?
My 13-year-old son reminded me of the importance of mindset in my own life.
Though it’s not likely that snowboarding will be in my future, there is a good chance that I will fall the next time I try something new. When I do, I will remember how his lack of regret and eagerness to try again kept him from an unproductive mindset.
And I will pick myself up, tend to my broken bones, and allow myself to enjoy the joy and satisfaction that comes from getting back on the slopes.
Aligning your mindset with your desired outcome is an essential and often overlooked practice – a major focus of The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive. Though the spring program is now full, you can get on the waiting list for priority access to the fall program, kicking off in September. For more information, visit The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.
You notice that it has been freezing up a lot. At first, it didn’t really bother you. But now these little glitches are happening so often that you’re having trouble getting things done.
When you look into the problem, you find you are not the only one that has been experiencing it. Much to your relief, a new version of the program is being rolled out that has fixed all the bugs. And happily, this updated program is now available for you to download.
The same thing happens to each of us.
We are cruising along doing what we’ve always done only to find it just isn’t working so well anymore. We aren’t getting the results we wanted. Or worse, what worked before is actually causing new problems. And despite our best efforts, these problems are throwing a big monkey wrench in things.
So how do you find a bug in your program?
First, you start by recognizing that you aren’t getting the results you want. And then you work backward. Finding the bug in your program requires that you detach from your actions in such a way that you can observe and evaluate them.
One way to do this is to replay events in your mind to identify any causal factors.
You can do this in the car on the way home from work as you mentally review the day’s events and evaluate what went well and what didn’t. You can journal about it. Or you can talk with someone who is an objective third party, like a friend, family member, mentor or coach.
The bug in your program is almost always a knee jerk reaction.
Knee jerk reactions are the product of conditioning—what happens when a behavior becomes so automatic that you no longer need to think about it. And conditioning is good when it leads you to behave in a way that is constructive—like when you practice a new skill over and over again until you can do it without having to remind yourself of each step.
But conditioning that leads you to spring into action when what you really need to do is give a little more consideration to your response can get you into trouble.
There is a neurobiological component to conditioning.
Every time you practice something or respond to a stimulus in a certain way, you are creating neural networks in your brain. Neurons that fire together wire together. And the more they fire, the stronger and more automatic their connections (and your behaviors) get. Conversely, when a neural network is interrupted or not used for a certain period of time, these connections begin to weaken.
Once you have identified the bug, you can begin to eliminate it.
Simply being aware of a knee jerk reaction will begin to loosen its grip on you. This is not to say that someone could instantaneously eradicate a bug and immediately improve his or her results. It takes time. Awareness is half the battle.
Initially, errors are not caught until after the fact, but with increased awareness and attention, you can notice them sooner and sooner. The time it takes to realize blunders drops from hours to minutes, and, with continued diligence, you’re able to take steps to correct them in real time. Ultimately, you can get to the point where you can prevent yourself from engaging in this automatic reaction altogether.
As the bug is eliminated, the program can be upgraded.
Upgrading the program is a matter of replacing an old behavior with a new one. Unlike software upgrades, this one doesn’t isn’t a matter of a simple download. It requires attention, thought and persistence.
As mentioned previously, neural networks that correspond to old, undesirable patterns of behavior weaken when they are not engaged. And as they weaken, repeated practice allows new neural nets to be formed that support a more desirable behavior.
But doesn’t creating new neural networks require a huge amount of practice?
The interesting thing about the formation of these neural networks is that they do not have to happen in real time. Research has shown that mentally rehearsing a new pattern of behavior leads to the same growth in neural networks that physical practice does.
Really. If you replay the situation you wish you could have handled differently and “edit” your action to the desirable choice, you are literally rewiring your brain to act the correct way in the future.
Doing so will allow you to create and increasingly rely on new neural networks when in situations that necessitated different responses. Gradually, you are able to replace your tendency to demand compliance with a more thoughtful, respectful, and engaging approach to influencing others.
Let’s review the process of upgrading your internal programming:
- Step One: Find your bug. The first step is to recognize when you have a tendency to engage in behavior that keeps you from getting the results you desire. Most likely this will be a knee jerk reaction that propels you into action before you have a chance to think.
- Step Two: Disempower your bug. Becoming aware of behavior you fall into and the impact it has on your effectiveness ultimately weakens its hold on you because while it still may be automatic, it is no longer unconscious. Though falling into old patterns when you know better is frustrating, this awareness is a sign of tremendous progress.
- Step Three: Substitute a new program for the old one. As your old habits and the corresponding neural nets that lead you to engage in them begin to weaken, you can replace them with new behaviors. The more you practice these new behaviors (whether physically or mentally), the stronger the new neural networks and your new patterns will become. And the less you engage the old behaviors, the weaker and less prominent the old neural networks (and the corresponding behaviors) get.
If you find yourself engaging in behavior that is interfering with your effectiveness, the most important thing to remember is that you are not the program that is running it. You are the programmer. You have the ability to consciously choose the behaviors and the responses you have to any given stimulus.
Though interrupting and upgrading your internal programming takes time, the results will be well worth your effort. And the best part is that you don’t have to lodge a complaint with or rely on anyone but yourself in order to do it.
Now if only we could keep those darn devices from freezing up!
A client told me in a recent meeting. He added, “I come into the office and there are papers flung all over my desk, half started projects buried in piles with new requests heaped on top of them. But I never seem to have time to go through them because by the time I get there, a line of people waiting to talk to me has already formed outside my door and I have no choice but to spring into action. And my days are full of requests that add new papers, projects and action items to a pile that grows faster than it shrinks.”
He felt like Sisyphus – like he was constantly pushing a big rock up a hill only to have it roll back down as soon as he got near the top.
“What do you think I should do about it?” he asked me. I knew he wouldn’t like my answer.
“Move into it,” I told him. “Tell me more about how starting your day like that affects the quality of your life.”
He was perplexed. “Why would I want to move into something so awful? Shouldn’t I be figuring out how I can move away from it? Rise above it?”
He was essentially living as Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, constantly reliving the same day over and over again. However, there are hidden gifts in such a predicament.
That is the reaction most of us (including yours truly) have when faced with an unpleasant predicament. But rising above an unpleasant predicament often requires us to change habits or patterns that are ingrained and comfortable. And initiating and sustaining a change like that requires fuel — fuel that will allow us to break through our obstacles and limitations at the very moment when it seems most difficult.
Change occurs when the pain of the current state is greater than the perceived pain of making a change, and the pleasure of making a change is greater than the pleasure (or payoff) of staying the same.
When you truly move into your frustration, you begin to open your eyes widely to recognize the impact a problem is having on your life. You allow yourself to accept that this pain will continue until you do something about it. And until you are truly ready to do something about it, you will continue to do what you’ve always done and suffer as a result.
This can be done long before you know what that solution is. And just as you can move into your pain, so too can you move into the pleasure of what life would be like without your problem. This too, serves as fuel that will ultimately allow you to do what it takes to create and implement a lasting solution.
Moving into your frustration illuminates not only the problem, but also the underlying factors that contribute to and exacerbate that problem. It gives you insight.
Most of us instinctively move away from pain, firing shots over our shoulder at what we believe to be the antagonist without really recognizing or locking onto a target.
To really know what needs to be done to slay the beast, my client needed to take a closer look and recognize what it eats, how it grows stronger, and how he might unwittingly be feeding and nurturing it. That’s exactly what moving into the frustration with a spirit of curiosity does.
When he got curious about his predicament, he began to notice that he had a tendency to book his appointments back-to-back, starting first thing in the morning and say yes to more things than he could realistically accomplish. He realized that he didn’t have a clear sense of what was truly a priority and that in the absence of that clarity, he was making everything number one — except his own sanity.
The more awareness he cultivated in the presence of his frustration, the more he began to identify and understand what was really causing your frustration. This also led my client to discover and embrace the third gift of frustration.
Insight opens the door to possibility. Once you have an understanding of the factors that cause or contribute to a problem, you begin to recognize a multitude of options that can lead to lasting resolution.
In the days and weeks that followed, my client identified a number of strategies that could potentially work for him, including scheduling, communication, and delegation tactics.
The next time you feel like you are living the life of Bill Murray’s character in the movie Groundhog Day, remind yourself that frustration comes bearing gifts. Reliving the same experience over and over again isn’t so bad if it ultimately yields fuel, insight, and possibility. Move into your discomfort, pay attention, get curious, and connect the dots. Then, you too will find a way to transform your frustration into freedom.
If you are interested in additional strategies for recognizing and moving beyond self-limiting patterns of behavior and thought, I encourage you to check out The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive, an exclusive twelve-week group mastermind/coaching program/online training course kicking off the week of March 20. The program is a blend of online leadership development, small group mastermind, and one-on-one coaching, and is limited to eight people.