Category Archives: Choice

Moments to Unlock and Unblock

By Elaine Jones, Market Intelligence Lead at Microsoft and Friend of Simple Intentions

051117_Unlock+UnblockRecently, I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes on leadership, from Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” I had asked my toddler daughter to fetch me a book from the top of the counter one evening. She happily skipped to the counter to get it, only to be an inch or two too short to reach it. In between suggesting trying a step stool and thinking I should just do it myself, it struck me that Eisenhower may be only half right.

We all encounter situations where the lack of motivation for change seems senseless. We assume positive intent, and are sometimes even certain that motivation is plentiful. Yet nothing happens. I call these situations the “Eisenhower Trap”, just because someone else wants to do something you want done, doesn’t mean something gets done. These situations look like this:

  • A close partner with the same vested interest in success consistently pushes back on every proposal, clearly emotional about the disagreement
  • A motivated employee is unable to stretch themselves to a higher level of performance at work
  • That person on the team who somehow always manages to find a fault with the plan, or casts a negative light on a piece of good news
  • A colleague stuck in a job they hate and aren’t doing well in, but persists on the job day after day
  • When I need to make a difficult decision, and speak to everyone I know, hoping someone will give me the encouragement to avoid a difficult choice

I’ve realized that each of these situations represent an Unlock or Unblock moment. In each of these situations, a critical Unlock or Unblock action is needed to be able to progress the situation. Recognizing which of these actions is better suited for the situation goes something like this for me:

In Unlock situations, the individual,
– Seeks permission or approval
– Experiences fear or anxiety of failure
– Feels inadequate about qualifications or knowledge

In Unblock situations, the individual,
– Seeks authority or empowerment
– Experiences internal or external conflict
– Meets disapproval of their opinions or thoughts

To Unlock the situation, I focus on easing the fear and doubt by offering encouragement and support. I praise the effort instead of the outcome, and marvel at how amazing it is and feels to take the first step, to be brave and to try something new for the first time. I offer safety nets, yet quite frequently find that I do not intercede publicly on their behalf, instead, I provide pointers and feedback privately to turn good into greatness. This belief in the intrinsic abilities of the individual to accomplish greatness may feel like a loan, a leap of faith, but I am seldom disappointed.

Situations where someone needs to be Unblocked feel inherently different. My trust in their abilities feels less like a loan and more like a payment overdue. I am publicly standing with someone in this situation, and lend my authority and opinion openly in support of the person I intend to Unblock. I reward and praise their accomplishment, deliberately looking for ways in which their ideas, even negatively, improve a project, remove risk, and give credit to the good of their intentions. Once whatever is holding them back is Unblocked, they take off like a launched rocket, releasing the pent-up passion and ideas that were waiting to be expressed.

In some sense, Eisenhower’s quote could be flipped around: “Because they want to do it, Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done.” Trust that someone else wants to do what you want done. Now, Unlock or Unblock their way there.

 

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My New Trick Journey

By Dayna Lee Cohen, Customer Events Manager at Insights and Friend of Simple Intentions

Blog_NewTricks_Dayna_0427Old dogs are the best dogs. Puppies, like babies, get more attention, but it’s the old dogs who really embody the traits of what I love about the species; they are the most loyal, loving, and soulful…they are the sweetest and most comfortable.

I am an old dog. I initially shied away from attaching that moniker to myself, but it’s true. And when I think about the behaviors of old dogs, I realize they are my behaviors, and the aforementioned traits could also be applied to me. And that was pleasing to me.

For the first time in years, my mom spent the day at my house yesterday, and it was so wonderful to have her. She is a REALLY old dog and likely would not appreciate being called so. Part of the time yesterday was spent showing Mom new dog tricks – her dog, Zoe, has recently become a part of my family as Mom can no longer accommodate a pet where she’s living – and I have been working to teach Zoe new habits and behaviors.

I began my mindfulness journey at roughly the same time Zoe arrived in our household. Coincidentally, Zoe and I have both learned new tricks over the past few weeks.

Here are Zoe the Dog’s:
1. No pee or poop in the house
2. Sit
3. Speak
4. No licking (still working on this one)

And here are mine:
1. No electronics in the first hour upon awakening
2. Take time out of each day to have moments of fun and distraction
3. Acknowledge the positives – all of them, large and small
4. Be quiet sometimes (still working on this one)

I know you are wondering how to teach an old dog new tricks and it’s pretty simple, really – There are three key steps:
– Repetition
– Praise/acknowledgment
– Treats

The first two techniques remained the same for Zoe and me – it was the third step that had to be redefined to fit my life. There was never a chance I would reward myself with the Newman’s heart-shaped peanut butter dog treats Zoe loves so much, even if peanut butter is my Desert Island Food. And I was mindful to abstain from treating myself with human food as well – this was my NEW trick journey, after all.

So here is how I decided to treat myself:
– I treated myself with love
– I treated myself with peace
– I treated myself with second chances (and third & fourth…)
– I treated myself with time

By the way, Mom was amazed at all of Zoe’s new tricks, and when I actually contemplated the broad scope of my own altered behaviors (my new tricks), I was pretty in awe of mine as well!

It wasn’t always easy to remember my commitment on how to treat myself and initially I landed on the gaps (no one said it was easy to teach an old dog new tricks, did they?). However, I was able to recognize and replace my self-criticisms with facts and compassion.

One of the best factors that contributed to the success of my new tricks experiment was a trusted mentor and friend’s lack of judgement, and her largesse in holding me able to create and complete the best version of my desired behavior changes that I can manage in each moment and within my own circumstances.

I realized recently that treating myself in a meaningful way is a process, a “trick” if you will, that I will need to repeat over and over until it becomes something I naturally do without thinking – sort of like when my other dog, Moses, starts rolling over before I actually give the command. He already knows what to do – and someday soon, so will I.

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Reclaim Your Power in Toxic Situations

By Christopher Littlefield, Founder of Acknowledgment Works & Friend of Simple Intentions

[NOTE: This post originally appeared on LinkedIn]

Few things seem to have the ability to drain our energy more than dealing with toxic people. In the workplace, we may have to frequently interact with a co-worker, manager, or direct report who seems to constantly be releasing negative or “toxic” energy. I’ve created five simple steps to help us take responsibility, create accountability, and reclaim our power in any unpleasant situation with a “toxic” colleague.

The first step is to stop associating the colleague with toxicity. How we talk, speak, and think about an individual or a situation dictates how we relate and react to it. If I believe someone is “toxic”, even a simple invitation from them to lunch starts to appear suspicious and malicious. Shift the associations and you’ll start to shift your experience of how you view this person.

Second, ask yourself, “What have I decided is true about this person?” Often, we may write someone off the first time they do something we do not agree with. The disagreement could have happened months ago, but since then we have been gathering evidence that they are a jerk. Acknowledge to yourself when and what YOU decided was true about them. They were not born toxic, it was a label that was given to them.

The third step is to try listening to the person from a different angle. In the book, The Art of Facilitation, Dale Hunter suggests listening for the motivation or “hidden commitment” behind an unpleasant interaction. As an example, after an important meeting your boss says, “I can’t believe you said that it front of our client, that was so stupid!”

Possible hidden commitments that may have caused your boss to use “toxic” rhetoric include:

  • They may be committed to the outcome of the project.
  • They may be committed to your growth.
  • They may be committed to doing what they feel is perfect work.
  • They may be committed to the client.
  • They may be committed to a promotion to help support their family.
  • They may be committed to not making a mistake.

The fourth step is to simply remember that this person, consciously or unconsciously, is doing what they think is best. Assuming positive intent can make all the difference in diffusing a toxic situation.

Finally, the last step to overcoming toxicity is to write your colleague’s name on a piece of paper and take 5 minutes to write a list of things you appreciate, admire, and have learned about/from them.

When we shift our relationships to “toxic” co-workers, we gain the power to understand the deeper meaning beyond difficult communication, stay present, and shift the atmosphere of the situation to calmer waters. When we are in alignment, we are able to set the boundaries of what kind of communication is acceptable in the future.

I find that even in the most difficult situations, once we show a colleague that we can see through their fire to what fuels them (their commitments), we are able to gain their respect and gain their partnership.

Now go reclaim your power.

 

Christopher Littlefield is the founder of AcknowledgmentWorks. He trains leaders around the world in the Art of Acknowledgment and Engagement. His work revolves around the understanding that at the heart of all of our relationships is the experience of feeling valued. Watch Chris as he shares his research at TEDx Beirut.

 

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Breaking the Cycle

By Chelsea Elkins, Simple Intentions Program & Marketing Manager

033017_BreaktheCycleThe term ‘vicious cycle’ has always peaked my linguistic interest, both attracting and repelling me. I find more and more that there is a callous reality to the phrase that exists in my day to day world. It reflects a biological concept I learned in high school – a social translation of positive feedback. To pull straight from the textbook (since I got a C in that class), this process is characterized by “the enhancement or amplification of an effect by its own influence on the process that gives rise to it”. In other words, it’s a system or cycle that intensifies by creating a stimulus which triggers an effect that causes more stimulus which triggers a greater effect and so on.

In biology, positive and negative don’t translate to good and bad. Positive feedback just means that a cycle continues to grow by feeding and stimulating itself until it reaches its peak. An example in nature is the process of childbirth: a laboring mother releases the hormone oxytocin which stimulates contractions which causes more oxytocin to be released until the baby is born.

Recently, I can’t help but apply the concept of positive feedback to social systems around me. When cycles, whether internal thought patterns, workplace practices or societal systems, feed on themselves, enhancing and amplifying in the process, it can make a good thing better and a bad thing worse.

Our lives are surrounded by systems and cycles, some that benefit society and others that do not. The latter I’ll label as unhealthy positive feedback and takes the form of damaging systems or detrimental cycles in our world. Some recent acclaimed examples in American media include the still embedded justice systems that promote sex and gender discrimination that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks to in her book, My Own Words, as well as Academy Award nominated documentary 13TH which addresses systemic racism through mass incarceration. On a smaller scale, a workplace example that comes to mind is the system of rewarding employees who work long hours. This reward system often encourages employees to work longer hours and more frequently, which offers more rewards, etc…

How then do we break out of a cycle that’s not serving us personally or that isn’t serving a certain group or society as a whole? This question can feel daunting on the best of days. A sense of helplessness may swell at the thought of how to incite change in an unhealthy system, especially when it has been in place for a long time. Luckily, the first step is relatively simple.

I believe, truly, that the first and I’d argue most important step towards changing a cycle is to simply be aware. Really, just that. When we cultivate awareness around what unhealthy cycles or systems are around us, we start to shine a light on them, however dim that light might feel at first. This may be as simple as keeping up with current events, reading the written works of someone who inspires you, or asking your hard-working co-worker how she’s feeling with the never ending long hours. Collect data on the impact of the system in question – who does it negatively impact? Who does it positively impact? Do the benefits outweigh the cons? There’s no action to take – simply become aware of what cycles are around you and if they benefit or harm you, and if they benefit or harm others.

Once a basic awareness foundation is laid, the next step is to expand it. Go beyond the effect of the cycle and determine what your part is in the system or cycle in question. Acknowledge, without judgement, the ways in which you might feed the cycle. Did you give a shout out to your co-worker who’s been working 12 hour days at your last meeting? Explore all corners openly and honestly – and recognize that the cycle may very well be needed right now. Perhaps this is the busiest time of the year and long work days are currently needed. Just maintain awareness. If 6 months go by and the norm is still a 60-hour work week for your team, it’s time to reassess if this is a system that is still serving you and is still serving the whole.

To stress a point, creating awareness does not mean to blame (others or self). The purpose here is to become acutely (maybe uncomfortably) aware of what the cycle is, who the cycle impacts, and how we personally fit in the cycle. With that knowledge in place, we can make an informed decision on how to proceed to the next step. This step is still simple but at last requires some action: simply, to make a choice. It’s time to choose to either continue moving with the cycle or to make a new choice, even if small, that may help disrupt it. Perhaps in the next team meeting, you still give your co-worker a shout out for her hard work – and then start a discussion around team capacity and how to create sustainable success going forward. The smallest of choices may inspire others to do the same, creating its own positive feedback system – one whose results are more desirable.

Positive feedback in nature is extremely important and many of our social systems are incredibly needed. But it is up to us to determine when an internal thought cycle is damaging. When a workplace system is no longer sustainable. When an ingrained societal cycle is, well, vicious. And when it is not. It is up to us to first cultivate our awareness and shine a light on an unhealthy system. Something as small as that may start its own domino effect – and eventually break the cycle.

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Slowing Down

By Melisa Portela, Simple Intentions Lead Consultant: LATAM Region

Some years ago, I was in a coaching session, taking the role of the coachee, when my coach stopped me and said: “Let me interrupt you for a second. I want you to look at the speed of your speech. What does that say to you? What would happen if the rhythm was much slower?”

I was left speechless… and then I realized that, in my hurry, I was not allowing space for things to happen – both in the present coaching conversation and across my life.

I began to become aware that whenever I ran errands, the speed of my pace was incredibly fast. It was as if I thought someone was trying to catch me, and I had to prevent that from happening. I started taking an inventory of the speed in all areas of my life: work (not leaving even a minute to pause, because, I would say to myself, that is what they pay me for. To work!); gym (jumping, non-stop, from one exercise to the next); personal time (fragmented and inconsistent).

It was as if I was watching a movie of my life, with the same ending time and time again – one where I was racing to complete the “shoulds” in my life. I was so afraid of what could happen to me if I allowed space and put my guard down, that I suddenly was aware that I had become my own prisoner. That realization came as quite a shock, but, however uncomfortable, it was also a relief to understand. I knew the power was in me and the choice was mine to change my movie, to change my life.

I knew I needed a shift, so, little by little, I started to gain awareness on the choices I was making and how I was living my life, allowing space for things to flow, letting go of the need to control. It wasn’t easy at first, because old habits and conditioned behaviors always find a backdoor to let their way in, but, with enhanced awareness, you can catch them… and tell them they are not welcome anymore.

It is incredible all the things we can perceive when we slow down the pace. We notice other people´s expressions, recognize the feelings they are experiencing; witness a full range of colors previously unnoticed; become aware of the clouds reflecting on the glass buildings; hear the unspoken words; even hear the sound of our own breathing.

Now that I have slowed down, I am conscious of the camera recording my movie. I’ve finally slowed down enough to create the space to fully see myself and my actions. And I know that my movie is continuing to change as I become more aware, more connected with every slow, deliberate step I take.

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Cultivate Awareness to Manage Your Attention

By Carson Tate, Founder of Working Simply and Friend of Simple Intentions

There are certain work or career beliefs that we’ve convinced ourselves are true.

Things like:

  • – Work-life balance will always be a struggle.
  • – You get ahead or you get noticed by replying to each and every email.
  • – The loudest or most-often-heard vaoice in the meeting is best-suited for a leadership role.

These beliefs are just not true. But office politics, water cooler chat, and even pop culture have shown us otherwise, which is why it’s sometimes hard to get out of these belief cycles.

There is no better time than NOW to debunk these so-called truths and embrace a new work belief:

We have more control than we realize.

For some this is a bold, new truth that calls us to muster up a lot of confidence, courage, initiative or moxie. (All of which we are completely capable of.) We will all eventually get to that place, I promise. In the meantime, there is an easy, strategic place to start with launching this new belief. We can start by becoming more aware of what we pay attention to and how we pay attention.

Our brain’s wiring lends itself towards being distracted. Just think about how many times a day you find yourself checking your email, your favorite social media feed or just staring off into space. If we want to strengthen our voluntary attention–the attention we have direct control over—we must improve our focus and ability to proactively complete our work.

The first step in this process involves cultivating awareness. Learning to do this begins with a simple but surprisingly powerful exercise—the attention awareness exercise. Select a span of four hours, either during the workweek or on a weekend, as your tracking period for this exercise. Then choose an attention tracking tool that works for you: pen and paper, the notes feature on a smart phone, or a dictation device. Every time your attention wanders, you lose focus, or you are interrupted either by others or yourself, make a note on your attention tracking tool.

You may want to devise different symbols to refer to your own personal “distractors.” For example, I have had clients use hash marks to denote the number of times their attention wandered and create abbreviations for the people, things, ideas and emotions involved – for example, P = person, F = feeling, C = child, E = email, W = web surfing, and S = social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so on).

And, yes, the exercise itself is also diverting your attention. However, there is a method to the process. The attention awareness exercise enables us to see, literally in black and white, how often our attention wanders and the triggers that cause this to happen. We must notice that our attention has wandered in order to do something about it. I would suggest to repeat the attention exercise multiple times during a workweek and at different times of the day – we want to have enough data to thoroughly analyze our attention awareness trends.

Now that we have our attention data, we can start the path towards change. Review the data and notice any trends or themes:

  • Was it more difficult to focus right before lunch time or dinner time?
  • Was it difficult to focus after a long meeting or a difficult conversation with a family member?
  • Was it easier to focus after a walk or a workout at the gym?
  • Were there specific time periods during the four hours that it was easier to focus?
  • Were there specific projects or types of tasks that you could focus on for longer periods of time?

Keep notes on the trends and themes that emerge.

The second step to strengthening our voluntary attention involves optimizing the physiological conditions necessary for ideal attention management. It is ideal to create an environment that supports unique attention management needs and minimizes the impact of the hardwiring of your brain. When we are tired, hungry, or stressed, we are fighting an uphill battle with our attention. Guess who is always going to win – your brain! If you are up late the night before finishing a project, you may not have the ability to focus on a complex task at eight the next morning. If you’ve just had a very difficult conversation with a colleague or spent an hour consoling an upset friend, be aware and plan accordingly; your voluntary attention muscle is already fatigued due to this interaction.

Plan your self-management activities with all of these factors in mind. Keep packets of nuts, granola bars, or dried fruit in your office drawer, pocket book, briefcase, and/or glove compartment of your car to stay properly fueled for maximum focus. Create a playlist of soothing and energizing music to help you relax or recharge after stressful interactions and conversations. Keep comfortable shoes in your desk drawer or in your car or work bag so you can go for a quick walk up and down the halls of your office building or outside your office building. Physical movement is one of the most effective ways to mentally reset and discharge negative energy. And you do not have to walk long to benefit – ten minutes is all it takes.

When TV hostess and media mogul Martha Stewart was asked how she manages to accomplish so much during a day, she responded by saying, “I used to get tired before I started working out on a daily basis. Even a half hour makes a huge difference to the body’s energy level over the course of a day. Eating healthy, fresh foods is essential. With nutritious diet and exercise, I can get a lot done in a day.”

By optimizing the physiological conditions required to manage attention, boosting our sense of focus is completely attainable.

The third and final step requires that we retrain our brains using a “brain reboot”. Refocusing is hard because we have trained our brains to work on a variety of things simultaneously. How common is it to check email during a conference call? Or to feed a child breakfast, unloaded the dishwasher, and pack lunches all at the same time? Multi-tasking habits does not improve productivity; instead, it undermines our ability to focus.

In order to refocus, visualize a reset button in your brain and say, “I need to hit reboot and get back on track.” According to Dr. Srini Pillay, clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, this takes the spotlight off the distraction and puts it on redirection—the refocusing of the task. By frequently rebooting the brain, it is being rewired for optimal functioning.

Another approach to brain rebooting is the use of breathing to restore focus. Try taking a deep inhalation breath, pushing out your navel, and then powerfully expelling the air by slightly bringing in your stomach. Repeat this breath five to seven times and observe how the tension and mental chatter in your mind dissipates. Another breath that also short circuits the mental chatter is to place your tongue on the roof of your mouth and blow out as if you were blowing out candles on a birthday cake. As you blow out, count to seven. You can now regain your focus.

Someone once told me, – whatever it is you think or believe, it’s true; meaning that if I believe I will always struggle with work-life balance, it’s true; or if I believe someone else deserves a promotion more than me, that’s true, too.

The same goes for the control we think we have or don’t have – if we believe we don’t have control over our choices in a situation, we won’t. But that’s simply not true. We have more control than we realize.

So, start with practice – begin with cultivating awareness to pay better attention. Once the belief exists that we can control how or what we pay attention to, we can start to take bigger steps towards exercising more control and debunking work truths that simply aren’t true.

 

Carson Tate is a productivity consultant and the founder of Working Simply, Inc. She is the author of Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style and serves as a coach, trainer and consultant to executives at Fortune 500 companies including AbbVie, Deloitte, Wells Fargo and United Technologies.

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Sit Still

By Nicole Christie, Principal + Creative Director of NICO, Inc. and Friend of Simple Intentions

010417_sitstillA friend once asked me what would happen if I stopped changing things. I was at the tail end of several major life transitions—divorce, cross-country move, job change (all at once)—and, as she said, kept “flipping stones” when I felt discomfort. Whether that was buying a new item of clothing, finding someone new to date, seeking a new project or client, I was always in motion. And it was resulting in a lot of mistakes due to snap decision-making.

That’s what happens when we don’t give ourselves time to be still. To be thoughtful. To get real about our values, our intentions, our “why.” We’re driving in fog, but instead of slowing down—or even better, pulling over to let it clear—we turn on our brights, step on the gas, and drive off a cliff.

Because just like when we’re behind the wheel, if we can’t see clearly, can’t think clearly, it’s best to stop. This is a REALLY hard lesson if you’re a control freak like me and want to MAKE SHIT HAPPEN. But when we force it, we get in our own way. We take wrong turns and get lost. And while sometimes detours are pleasantly surprising, that’s not often the case when they’re taken in haste.

So let’s not be in a hurry to go nowhere fast. Let’s acknowledge that lack of clarity is a sign to stop. To gather our thoughts and let things play out. To sit still until we can see the path ahead of us, then take it one slow, intentional step at a time.

 

 

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