If I am not taking action, it is often because I do not truly believe that the action will achieve the end goal of pain avoidance, or deliver the gain.
The Pain Avoidance Driven Life
There are a set of things we do because we “have” to. These tend to be actions driven by pain avoidance.
It is not hard to get a sick person to take painkillers. They directly remove a current, real pain.
It is not hard to get a hungry person to eat. The food directly removes a current, real pain.
It is not hard to get a scuba diver to come to the surface when they run out of air.
It is not hard to get myself to sleep when I am tired.
It is not hard to get myself to go to the toilet when I need to pee.
I don’t need any boss or discipline to do these tasks because the environment will just ramp up the pain steadily until I have no choice but to take action.
An entirely pain-avoidance driven life will inevitably leave a growing feeling of overwhelm.
The Gain Driven Life
“The things that will bring you the greatest results in your life don’t have a deadline.” Steve McClatchy
Perhaps the greatest positive of gain driven action is that it is entirely discretionary. It is driven by choice. It is the tool by which I change my fate. It is the set of actions that define what type of human being I have chosen to be.
There is no need to take these actions.
In many cases, I live an internal fantasy life based on “I could do this, I could do that” that allows me to feel like I am the type of person I intend to be… but only in my own inner life. Not to the world. Not in any meaningful way.
Anybody could write a blog post.
Anybody could go for a walk.
Anybody could eat 10% less calories for lunch today.
…and the fact that I know that I could is often my own barrier to actually doing. I can maintain my inner image of myself as the highest potential version of me… without seeing that my daily actions are not reaching this potential.
Resilience: the ability to stay creative and motivated in an environment of chaos and change.
Personally, I faced a huge time of chaos and change in late 2008. My company was going bankrupt and my family was falling apart. It is from this time of great difficulty that I learnt most about myself and about what it takes to get me out of bed with energy to make a positive difference during the day. I gave a talk recently about resilience. This post is a summary of my notes on becoming resilient.
There are 3 ingredients of Resilient Human Beings:
These are three ways of being that resilient human beings possess:
They Face Reality
They Find Meaning
They practice Resourceful Action
1. Face Reality
Self Aware, highly open to feedback
“Hope is not a strategy” Colin Powell
Victor Frankl said that the only group with survival rates worse than pessimists were the optimists. Neither see reality as it truly is. Both distort reality. The pessimists were dead in 1 week, optimists were dead in 1 month. The conditions in the camps were not going to get better.
Humans have a natural tendency to claim credit for gains and blame bad luck for losses. We win a bet on a horse race – we attribute it to our knowledge of horses and racetrack conditions. We lose a bet on a football game – we attribute it to a lucky goal against the run of play. In both cases, we distort reality. This distortion means that we cannot learn effectively from experience.
It requires discipline and practice to maintain an emotional state that allows us to act positively after a loss, and to learn how to improve ourselves for the next time.
When I spent a day with Kilian Jornet, one of the most striking elements of his personality was his ability to see success and failure, winning and losing from a humble, ego-less perspective. In a race, if his ski binding were to break, there is no anger… he says “anger is an indulgence” – each second of anger is a second where the other competitors are making progress while I engage in self-indulgence.
I have been part of an Entrepreneurs Organisation forum group for 9 years. Each month I spend 4 hours sharing experiences of life. There are 3 rules to the group – total confidentiality, proactive sharing and only share personal experience. Nobody gives advice. I share a challenge I am facing and I receive feedback that helps me see where I am not seeing the situation clearly.
All emotion is a distortion of reality. Emotion arises when reality is different from my expectation of how reality should be. The greater the emotion, the greater my refusal to accept that the world is not the way I would like it to be. Great joy? I expected less from the world. Great frustration? I expected too much from the world. It is my expectations that are blinding me to the objective reality.
Tony Robbins says “there are no unresourceful people, only unresourceful emotional states”. Resilient people cultivate resourceful emotional states.
Doctor John DeMartini says that the universe is always in balance. The problem is that our perception is only of a small part of the universe. If we observe one part of an experience and feel proud of ourselves – it is because we are not observing the negative impact of our action. DeMartini believes that no action is good or bad. Only actions that align with my highest values are inspiring.
2. Find Meaning
“I am a necessary part of something”
Victor Frankl tells of his first revelation of the importance of a meaning in one’s life. One morning in Auschvitz he was walking out to work. His thoughts: “should I trade my last cigarette for some soup? how will it be to work with this new foreman?”… Suddenly he noted “How banal! I will not survive unless it is for more than this.” He spent time imagining a future that would inspire him. The vision of the future that gave his life meaning was a vision of himself lectures on lessons from camps to hundreds. He worked to create a meaning for himself. There was an important human project that only he could complete. He must survive to publish his book and share his experiences and lessons with the world.
Around the age of 50, Carl Jung visited the Plains Indians of New Mexico. He spent some days with a tribal elder called Mountain Lake. Mountain Lake believed that if the tribe stopped performing their rituals, the sun would stop rising in less than 10 years. Imagine the sense of connection he must have with the world – to so deeply believe that the universe needs him and his people in order to keep functioning.
I was in the bank earlier today to open an account for my daughter. Three people work in the branch. They didn’t look like people who feel that the universe needs them. They don’t even act like the bank needs them. They act like they are not necessary for the world, and that the only thing that matters is accumulating a safe pension fund. Their approach to their work was more characterised as “waiting for 5pm”
The book Sapiens helped me understand that there are three types of truth – objective, subjective, inter-subjective. Objective truths are true in the world – one plus one equals two, this is an Apple Macbook Pro. Subjective truths are true for me – I am warm right now, I feel engaged and excited by the ideas of this blog post and look forward to hearing other’s comments and questions. Inter-subjective truths are particularly special for humanity – they are beliefs that are not objectively true, but enough people believe them that they work as objective truths. Money is an inter-subjective truth. A dollar or euro bill is a piece of paper with some marks on it. However, I know that you will accept it as valuable. Given that I believe that you believe that it is valuable, it is valuable. (There is definitely a future blog post coming on the idea of the inter-subjective truth)
For the purpose of psychological resilience: subjective truth matters most. Subjective truth is not restrained by objective truth (There is another whole blog post on the degree to which subjective truth can diverge from objective truth). Resilient people cultivate belief in ideas that serve to give you peace of mind. Reincarnation is not an objective truth. It is impossible to prove objectively in the world. However, subjective truths are essentially a matter of choice. It is important to be careful about what beliefs we are willing to accept. If I cultivate a belief in reincarnation will it make my anxiety about this life less? Is that a good thing?
We are creatures in need of meaning in a universe without intrinsic meaning. We are blessed in that we each individually have the capacity to create meaning for ourselves. The meaning does not come from outside. The meaning comes from a decision inside ourselves to cultivate a sense of purpose for myself. How to find this purpose? I have 2 questions:
Who inspires you? What do they do or have that makes them inspirational to you?
Who do you want to inspire? What do they need from you?
3. Resourceful Action
A quality of resilient people is that resourceful action is a habit. It can be thought of like the bounce of a ball.
Lets imagine a ball. You drop the ball, it hits the floor… it rebounds. Bounce is an intrinsic property of a ball. Resilient people make the habit of “bouncing back” a natural part of their response to situations. Resilient people constantly gather resources, seek out small opportunities where you are out of control (speaking to strangers, giving a presentation, dancing, sports); Under pressure we collapse back to our practiced habit.
Resilient people practice resourceful action as a daily habit. Daily ingenuity in little challenges leads to habituated ingenuity when faced by major challenges and stresses.
I recently enjoyed a 3 and a half hour podcast interview. Tim Ferriss interviewing Cal Fussman. Initially I thought “3 and a half hours? that must be a mistake”. However, 200 minutes later I was still gripped by the interview. Tim asked Cal how he learnt to interview people so well. Cal spent 10 years backpacking around the world… with very little money. Every time he got on a bus or a train, he needed to find a person on the train that might invite him to stay. He would walk down the aisle looking at strangers thinking “is this someone who might invite me to stay?” He then had to have a conversation that was sufficiently deep so that the stranger invited him to stay. Over 10 years he became very successful in having conversations that led to an invite to stay. Years and years of practice connecting with strangers led him to be able to connect in seconds to Mikail Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan, Mohammed Ali… some of the hundreds of world leaders that he has interviewed for his column in Esquire magazine.
The company UPS has a motto: “do what it takes to deliver”. They expect individual drivers to be resourceful. Within 2 days after Hurrican Andrew in 1992, UPS drivers were delivering packages to people in their cars, in hotels, in civic centres. No manager could have given them instructions on how to find people – the drivers were operating in their habitual mode – “do what it takes to deliver”.
Victor Frankl speaks of the resilient being on constant lookout for resources. They collected string, wire, cigarettes, spoons… anything – knowing that it might come in useful in future.
You can practicing Fertile Inventiveness with 5 daily habits. C.H.A.I.M.
Practice the 5 Steps of C.H.A.I.M. –
Connect – make a human connection today. Meet a stranger. Reconnect with an old friend or family member. Make connecting to others a daily practice.
Humour – laugh at crazy situations, even better: laugh at yourself. Remember Rule #6.
Assistance – get someone to help you today. Even if you don’t need their help, get in the practice of allowing others to help. Develop a deep sense that you can trust that others will help you.
Inner World – take time to imagine and visualise. Remember your dreams. Write a journal that captures the images, ideas and symbols that have an importance to you. What images inspire you? What faces inspire you? Take time to live in this inner world.
Mastery – what are you excellent at? If you can’t answer you must start working. Pick anything, but become a master in something. Music, theatre, greek history, drawing, film reviews, medieval travel, kung fu…
[update] Iñaki sent me these words of Marcus Aurelius that sum up these 3 aspects:
Objective judgment, now at this very moment. Unselfish action, now at this very moment. Willing acceptance—now at this very moment—of all external events. That’s all you need. MARCUS AURELIUS
Resilience summarised by Iñaki:
“See things for what they are. Do what we can. Endure and bear what we must.”
These are the three characteristics of mentally strong people. I think the poem “If” is a wonderful summary of the attitudes that allow for resilience.
This is a workshop I teach: Becoming Psychologically Resilient: The 3 Practices of High Performance. Get in touch if you are interested in running this session for your company or team.
Another note: Resilience is neither good nor evil. It is the capacity to keep going in the face of challenge. I would prefer that you work on goodness and personal integrity before you become resilient. Sadly, evil people and selfish people can be resilient and keep sharing their nastiness even as times get hard.
I’d love your feedback. How do we teach these practices? How do I help students develop resilience? Do leaders need special types of resilience (is it harder to stay resilient as an individual marathon runner, or as the leader of a tribe?) I’d welcome your comments, questions and reflections.
Companies today aren’t managing your career. You must be your own HR guru. That means it’s up to you to identify your place in the world and know when to change course. It’s up to you to keep yourself engaged and productive. This is the premise of Peter Drucker’s 2005 HBR article “Managing Oneself”.
Peter Drucker asks some great questions the article (available as a short book). This is a very brief summary of his article. (The summary image above is a wonderful thing to print and keep in your notebook.)
What are my strengths? Feedback is the only way to find out. Do you have a systematic process for getting feedback on your behaviours?
How do I perform? How do I learn best? Don’t struggle with modes that don’t work for you. (on Mastery)
What are my values? “What kind of person do I want to see in the mirror in the morning?”
Where do I belong? Mathematicians, musicians and cooks are mathematicians, musicians and cooks by the time they are 4 or 5 years old. Successful careers are not planned, they happen when people are prepared and positioned for opportunities that suit them. Knowing where one belongs can transform an ordinary person into an outstanding performer.
What should I contribute? Given my strengths, methods and values: what is the great contribution to what needs to be done? Don’t look too far ahead – 18 months is the range of good planning. Define courses of action: what to do, where and how to start, what goals, objectives and deadlines to set.
Responsibility for Relationships: Adapt to what makes those around you successful. Adapting to what makes your boss most effective is the secret of managing up. Take responsibility for communicating how you are performing; take responsibility for building trust
Final thoughts from Peter: In management…
Success is at best an absence of failure
People outlive organisations
People are mobile and will move
We must manage ourselves, and help others manage themselves
This is a great summary video of a book that had a great impact on me back when I was 23 years old. I was working for Accenture (in those days, Andersen Consulting) and the organisation shared this book with all employees. There’s a photo there of me there on the right with my leather bound edition of the book.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is one of the most influential books in self-development.
A good gardener creates the conditions for growth of a garden, but cannot force the flowers to grow in an exact way. The good gardener creates the conditions and accepts what arises.
The bad gardener fights what arises. The bad gardener hacks and chops and fights against the natural growth of nature.
The good gardener changes the conditions and different plant shapes and varieties arise.
In each case the attitude of the gardener is “Interesting! I wouldn’t have expected that.” Creative indifference as a gardener is a deep curiosity, and an openness to delight in the million and one ways that nature can arise.
Good Teaching as Good Gardening
I want to teach more as a gardener than as a sculptor.
Up to now I often find that I am trying to remake a participant into my image of what she could be – I am metaphorically hacking off bits of stone and adding bits of paint.
A good gardener allows the plant to grow in its own unique way. Nature is difference. Nature is no straight lines, no leaf exactly like any other leaf, no flower exactly like any other flower.
I want to focus more on creating the conditions for growth in the classroom, during the breaks, during the lunches… that would allow the participants to grow in their own individual way – and have less fixed ideas about how each individual will use those conditions. I want to be willing to allow the person to become who he is to become, rather than my ideal of what he could be.
“Don’t let success go to your head and failure go to your heart”? Daphne Maxwell Reid, Aunt Viv on Fresh Prince.
Will shares his experience of failure:
“After Earth comes out, I get the box-office numbers on Monday and I was devastated for about twenty-four minutes, and then my phone rang and I found out my father had cancer. That put it in perspective—viciously. And I went right downstairs and got on the treadmill. And I was on the treadmill for about ninety minutes. And that Monday started the new phase of my life, a new concept: Only love is going to fill that hole. You can’t win enough, you can’t have enough money, you can’t succeed enough. There is not enough. The only thing that will ever satiate that existential thirst is love. And I just remember that day I made the shift from wanting to be a winner to wanting to have the most powerful, deep, and beautiful relationships I could possibly have.”
Will says that in his house they have this quote up on the wall:
“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.” Pema Chödrön
Will summarises the meaning of these words for his family:
“We call it leaning into the sharp parts. Something hurts, lean in. You just lean into that point until it loses its power over you. There’s a certain amount of suffering that you have to be willing to sustain if you want to have a good life.”
Here’s a picture of EO Barcelona Learning Chairman Toni Mascaro welcoming over 100 entrepreneurs to the event.
Disengagement: The “Quit and Stayed” Employee
I recently posted about the 4 paths of our working lives – and one path is Quit and Stayed. These category of people are those who have emotionally given up on their jobs, but they still keep sending their body in to sit at the desk and collect a salary.
Ridgely shared statistics on the impact of disengaged employees on a company.
An indifferent employee costs you $2,246 per year according to Gallup. An actively disengaged employee costs you more than $25,000.
33% of American employees change jobs every year. 90% leave jobs for reasons to do with “attitude“, not skills.
Recruiting expert Brad Smart (author of Topgrading) shares evidence that 1 bad hire costs a company 5 times their salary (and 10-15 times for senior hires)
Apart from the financial cost, there is a painful emotional cost for all those who must work in close proximity to this disengaged individual – they suck your passion. I know that the best way to increase team performance is to remove the disengaged team members.
According to the AONHewitt definition, engaged employees want to:
Stay (intent to stay with the organisation)
Say (speak highly of the organisation to others) and
Strive (make an discretionary effort to deliver results)
Ridgely shared that engaged employees deliver:
37% less absenteeism and turnover
48% fewer safety accidents
41% fewer safety defects
21% higher productivity
22% higher profitability
How do we Achieve a Culture of Engagement?
Ridgely explained that people are different and seek to express themselves in different ways. If we try to be everything for everybody, we end up frustrated and wasting our time.
Do you understand the different personalities of the people that you work with? I have done so many psychological tests that I assume that everyone knows these tools (I studied psychology at university…). When I was 14, my father brought home a Myers-Briggs test and did it on all of the family.
What about you? What are you? What types do you get frustrated by?
The Why types
Ridgely worked through a short coaching process where each participant was able to identify their primary “why” from a list of 9 “Whys”. The 9 whys are:
By the way, I came out as a 7 – Master. My “why” is to seek mastery and understanding above all else.
Infographic: Employee Engagement
One of the challenges of important life lessons is that we need to be reminded every day. Now that I have just written a blog post about how people are different, I am primed to not over-react when I meet someone who is a “5 – Right Way” and has a constant focus on what the precedent is, what is proven, what is low risk… all perspectives that I find tiring. However, tomorrow I will forget and will overreact again.
What can company leaders do to create a culture where we actively seek to empathise with each person’s primary purpose?
I found an infographic that describes the problem of employee disengagement and 6 things that CEOs can do to create engaged employees. Click on the infographic to get a large version. (Personally, I think that the yellow colour scheme is a bit aggressive):
Inspire employees through purpose
Align employees behind your strategy
Develop line managers
Be Fair (in process, in resource distribution, in relationships)
First, you may ask, what is “Strategic Unavailability” anyway?
What is Strategic Unavailability?
If you say “yes” to every request for your time, money or attention you will have none for the areas that are your own personal priority. If you want to achieve success, you must retain most of your resources and dedicate them to one to three areas of your choosing. Thus, you must learn to say “No”.
Saying “No” is hard. It also has several negative consequences in polite society.
Far better than the use of the word “No” is the use of a series of tactics that come under the general concept “Strategic Unavailability”.
At the very simplest, the idea is to avoid being there when someone might make a request that will take away your time, money or attention. The key is to retain “plausible deniability” during your use of the tactic. Some tactics require greater acting capacity than others. Beginners would be best avoiding these high acting requirement tactics.
The aim is to keep time for the important 1, 2 or 3 priorities that you have decided for yourself in your profession. It is a total waste if you use the freed-up time to watch CSI Las Vegas or re-runs of Downton Abbey.
Some simple ideas for achieving “strategic unavailability”
Go to the toilet when you know someone is approaching your desk
Work from coffee shops, other people’s offices or meeting rooms during dangerous periods
Return phone calls when you can see that the person is away from their desk (go to voicemail)
Return phone calls after work hours
Delay email responses until tomorrow morning (you can write them today, but don’t let them leave your outbox until tomorrow morning)
Receive an important phone call just as a meeting is reaching the moment where actions will be assigned to people (either phone a friend style, or develop your acting abilities)
Use an old iPhone that regularly runs out of battery (this is a highly plausible tactic, mine is down to about 2 hours of battery)
Always ensure that you are involved in at least 3 projects, and demonstrate massive productivity in the first week of exposure to any new manager or colleague.
“Forget” to switch off the direct to voicemail setting on your phone
Tell your colleagues/team that you have an open-door for them – but that you request that they batch their problems into groups of 10… they can’t interrupt you unless they have accumulated 10 specific issues that they cannot address without your input (usually #1 gets resolved before they get to #5…)
Regularly ask “what could you do to move this forward that does not require anybody’s approval?”
Work with headphones in (whether you are listening to music or not, this also works on airplanes when your neighbour aims to talk for 14 hours)
Keep a charity box on your desk and ask for donations whenever anybody approaches (if you have kids, then ask visitors to your desk to sponsor your kid in a race or something). Bonus edition is to have stickers so that when one person donates, you give them a sticker and then they let others know to avoid your desk unless you wish to donate.
Cultivate a freakish interest in Star Wars, or World Wrestling Foundation, or ancient Greek philosophy, or NLP, or furniture upholstery and engage all visitors in a deep discussion about the merits of your hobby. Freaky hobbies with a plausible connection to your work are ideal.
When asked if you are available to meet, say “yes, I am free this Friday at 6:00am” – puts off all but the most keen time thieves. You will very rarely have to do it.
Bring a regional speciality food to work – I recommend any Icelanders to use “rotting shark meat in vinegar” – and request that anyone who comes to your desk try it.
Have a large audio recorder device and make a big show of switching it on when anyone comes to interrupt you – tell them that you are on a personal efficiency drive and are making a detailed study of all your interactions and all requests
Cultivate a mysterious illness with unclear symptoms
Remove all other chairs from your office (this made a massive improvement on my meeting time when I was running an airline); another variant is really uncomfortable chairs (especially very low seats)
Eat a rich curry or garlic dish for lunch in your office
Keep saying “that would make a great tweet!” and write down some banal saying from the other person
Advanced Strategic Unavailability
I need your help. What else works for you?
PS You better be very good at establishing a great reputation before you engage seriously in these tactics. If you are not viewed as a strong performer, if you are not delivering measurable results and if you are not gaining good exposure to senior influencers – fix that first (check out The PIE Model). These tactics only work if you are perceived as an “A” player…
I know plenty of financial advisors who would love to spend a few hours reviewing my investments, cash position, investment goals and helping me make a realistic plan.
I know how much I spent on food, travel, housing, school in the last month, year and if I did the sums I could calculate a rough lifetime spend.
You can always earn more money.
Organisations spend small fortunes developing capital expenditure budgets and operational budgets and auditing the cash of the business.
My time, in contrast, goes un-managed. Most organisations have no systematic procedure to eliminate time wasters. They place clear objectives for the use of every dollar, but no barriers on the expenditure of another hour.
My first girlfriend used to tell me that time is like money but with one major difference – at the end of every day, everything you have left unspent is taken away from you. Imagine if you started every day with €240 and you knew that at midnight, any left unspent will be taken away.
Imagine Managing Time Like Companies Budget Capital
Imagine if every month, instead of receiving a bank statement, I received a time-statement: a detailed breakdown of where my hours have been put, how many were invested and how many just dripped through the cracks.
Would it change how I spend my time? Would it reduce facebook and increase playing with my daughter? Would it reduce email and increase face-to-face meetings? How would the measurement change me?
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