Tag Archives: choice

What Craig the IT Guy Taught Me About Life, Death, and Work-Life Balance

By John Rex, President at Rex Executive Leadership and Friend of Simple Intentions

0800317_ITGuyVirtually all my clients say that they want improved work-life balance. Here are four tips from the WW work-life balance initiative I led at Microsoft.

It was awful to learn that Craig, from IT, had passed away from a heart attack while working late at the office. I didn’t know him very well, although over the past two years I had come to appreciate his ready willingness to help with my computer problems. Not being close to Craig, I debated attending the funeral service, but in the end, I decided to go. When my wife and I arrived, a colleague pulled me aside and anxiously asked, “Would you mind saying a few words about Craig?”, then added, “He considered you a dear friend.” Although I was a bit surprised by the request, I figured that several people were being asked to share their memories of Craig, so I said “sure” and began gathering my thoughts.

As it turned out, I was the main speaker at the service, followed by Craig’s thirty-something son. Only the two of us spoke to the small group of people in attendance. I don’t remember what I said about Craig, but I’ve never forgotten his son’s remarks: “I don’t really know my dad. He was never home. He gave his entire life to the company. I don’t know what else to say about him.” That was all he said, and then he sat down. As an extreme example of what can happen when someone overinvests in a single life priority, it was a profoundly sad moment to me.

Among the various important topics that my executive coaching clients bring to me, achieving work-life balance is almost always near the top. In fact, virtually all my clients say that they want improved work-life balance. I heard the same from people I worked with during my 20+ years as a CFO at Fortune 100 companies.

While serving as CFO of Microsoft North America, I led a global initiative to improve work-life balance for over 1,100 finance professionals. At the outset of this project, I read everything I could find on the topic; I also spent many hours interviewing work-life balance experts. Based on that research, our task force rolled out a worldwide training program that helped instill behaviors which ultimately improved work-life balance satisfaction by double digits. Following are the highlights I gleaned from the research, along with the associated tips we taught finance professionals.

Highlight #1: Work-life balance is a misleading term. It implies that work and life are two separate things and that one increases only at the expense of the other. The truth is, work is a subset of life’s activities and only one of the various important elements that compose a life.

Tip: Shifting your mindset to think of work as one of the several essential elements of an integrated life, rather than something separate from your “real” life, is a vital step toward finding satisfaction with the whole. To help shift your mindset, cut out the term work-life balance from your vocabulary and replace it simply with life balance.

Highlight #2: Because our individual values define what matters most to us, apportioning time to activities that are congruent with our values is key to living a balanced and satisfying life. Since each person’s values are unique to them, no two individuals’ criteria for prioritizing time will be the same.

Tip: Know your values so you can thoughtfully prioritize the activities of your unique life. Explore and record your values. A close friend, partner, or coach can help you with this.

Highlight #3: Given that most vocations involve dependencies upon others, sharing our boundaries for work can significantly reduce confusion and false expectations, which in turn lessens the pressure to extend work beyond the outer limits of our values.

Tip: Meet with your boss(es), peers, and subordinates and discuss your mutual aspirations for life balance. Share important personal routines (“I drop my kids off at school each morning.”), communication preferences (“For urgent matters, text or instant message me.”), boundaries (“Sundays are my faith and family days.”), and so on. Ask for each other’s support. Memorialize your agreement via email or an informal “contract” or team charter.

Highlight #4: When it comes to juggling professional and other tasks on a given day, I have found that most people fall into two groups – those who compartmentalize tasks and those who mix them. Compartmentalizers prefer keeping work in one bucket and other activities in another. When they are at the office, they avoid mixing non-professional activities with the workday. When they go home, they avoid taking job-related work with them. By contrast, mixers prefer – and sometimes need – to alternate professional and personal activities throughout the day, both at the office and away. From my observation, neither of these styles is better than the other; they’re just different.

Tip: Determine whether you compartmentalize or mix tasks, be OK with your style, and communicate it to those you work with (see Tip #3 above). A close friend, partner, or coach can help you identify your style.

In addition to the tips I have shared, many of my executive coaching clients ask about techniques for better managing their time. Two valuable resources for improving productivity, both on and off the job, are David Allen’s book Getting Things Done and the website lifehacker.com.

If I learned one lesson from Craig the IT Guy, it was that the priorities we choose in life matter – and not just to ourselves but those around us. As I work with my executive clients, I continually strive to keep their particular values at the forefront of our coaching agenda. If I can help them more thoughtfully make choices aligned with their values, my hope is that someday they will look back on their life’s journey with a sense of satisfaction and wonder as they consider a life lived with integrity and purpose.

Note: Some identifying details in this article have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

 

[This article was originally posted on Rex Executive Leadership]

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Rethinking the Good Life

By Joanna Fuller, Friend of Simple Intentions

Photo by Alex Holyoake via Unsplash

In 1932, at perhaps the most devastating point of the Great Depression, Helen and Scott Nearing moved from New York City to a run-down maple sugar farm in rural Vermont. No longer able to make a living in the ‘wage economy,’ they set out to subsist on the land—building a simple home from stones found on the property, growing their own food, and bartering for necessities they couldn’t produce themselves.

The Nearings chronicled their sixty-year adventure in homesteading in the book The Good Life, which later came to be regarded as the pre-eminent how-to manual for the post-WWII back-to-the-land movement in North America. In it, Helen Nearing recounts the daily routine she and Scott maintained, along with their many and frequent guests:

Each day was divided into two main blocks of time—four morning hours and four afternoon hours. At breakfast time on week-days we first looked at the weather, then asked, ‘How shall we arrange the day?’ Then by agreement we decided which of these blocks of time should be devoted to bread labor and which to personally determined activities. Of necessity the weather was the primary factor in making the decision.

Suppose that the morning was assigned for bread labor. We then agreed upon the tasks that each member of the group should take on—in the garden, in the woods, on construction, in the shop, at sugarmaking or packing. If one’s bread labor was performed in the morning, the afternoon automatically became personally directed. One might read, write, sit in the sun, walk in the woods, play music, go to town. We earned our four hours of leisure by our four hours of labor.

[…] We took our time, every day, every month, every year. We had our work, did it and enjoyed it. We had our leisure, used it and enjoyed that. During the hours of bread labor we worked and worked hard. We have never worked harder and have never enjoyed work more, because, with rare exceptions, the work was significant, self-directed, constructive and therefore interesting.

It sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? And yet there was much more to the Nearings’ motivation than a desire to step off the proverbial treadmill and lead a simpler life. Their decision to homestead was also driven by their commitment to social justice.

Scott Nearing was an accomplished economist, a professor at the Wharton School, and a devout Socialist. Eventually fired for what were considered to be highly radical views, those views formed the cornerstone of the Nearings’ lives, and livelihoods:

We left the city with three objectives in mind. The first was economic. We sought to make a depression-free living, as independent as possible of the commodity and labor markets […] Our second aim was hygienic. We wanted to maintain and improve our health […] Our third objective was social and ethical. We desired to liberate and dissociate ourselves, as much as possible, from the cruder forms of exploitation: the plunder of the planet; the slavery of man and beast; the slaughter of men in war, and of animals for food.

The Nearings believed that the so-called American way of life—centered as it was on a relentless pursuit of profit—had not only depleted the earth’s natural resources, it was also only achievable for an elite few, who benefited from a concentrated distribution of resources at the expense of an otherwise impoverished class.  In his essay The American Way of Life, written in 1949, Scott writes:

The United States is fabulously rich. It also spends more on military preparations than any other nation. Its citizens are surrounded by public enterprises, such as highways, schools and hospitals, and by privately owned gadgets—automobiles, telephones, radios, electric refrigerators. But are bigness and manyness a sound measure of success?

Eighty years later, Nearing’s question is still relevant and the need for conversation around it is more important than ever. Since then, the consumption required to achieve our American aspiration of the ‘good life,’ has only escalated. In her book The Overworked American, sociologist Juliet Schor notes that by 1990, we could produce our 1948 standard of living in just six months’ time. And yet, household debt has never been higher and leisure time—or time spent not producing—has never been lower. According to Schor, the result of this cycle of work-and-spend is that Americans feel more overworked and stressed out than ever before. All that economic growth and we’re not even happy.

But there’s a bigger problem.

If the Nearings were concerned about the planet in 1932, consider this: According to anthropologist Dr. Jason Hickel (citing a footprint from the Global Footprint Network):

Right now, our planet only has enough resources for each of us to consume 1.8 ‘global hectares’ annually—a standardised unit that measures resource use and waste. This figure is roughly what the average person in Ghana or Guatemala consumes. By contrast, people in the US and Canada consume about 8 hectares per person, while Europeans consume 4.7 hectares – many times their fair share.

Equally disturbing: Hickel reveals that the wage gap that fuels our addiction to cheap consumer goods is perpetuating global poverty and instability.

These figures aren’t meant to depress, create shame, or point fingers, rather I believe Hickel is inviting us to objectively explore what’s going on in the world around us. This isn’t about guilt or judgement, but rather an invitation to create deeper awareness around issues that affect all of us living on this planet.

Dr. Hickel goes on to lay out a persuasive argument for why it’s time to ‘de-develop’ rich nations if we’re serious about not only saving the planet, but also about ending global poverty. Moreover, he posits that de-development is not necessarily incompatible with wellbeing:

If we look at measures of overall happiness and wellbeing in addition to life expectancy, a number of low- and middle-income countries rank highly. Costa Rica manages to sustain one of the highest happiness indicators and life expectancies in the world with a per capita income one-fourth that of the US.  In light of this, perhaps we should regard such countries not as underdeveloped, but rather as appropriately developed. And maybe we need to start calling on rich countries to justify their excesses.

It’s a radical idea…or is it?

Hickel acknowledges it’s one that would require enormous political and individual will. After all, it’s not necessarily in our nature to seek a lower standard of living. But he also points out that a growing number of people in the developed world believe we need to try to reverse our habits of consumption – and that doing so might just increase our overall happiness.

Personally, I am still at the beginning stages of this journey but it’s encouraging to see the simple living movement continue to re-invent itself, with people like Joshua Becker, Dave Bruno, and Marie Kondo, to name just a few, role modeling and bearing witness to the benefits of owning and producing less. But as the Nearings knew, living simply is about much more than de-stressing or pursuing the good life for ourselves. Rather, it’s essential to live in a way that affirms the belief that our ‘good life’ should not trade on the exploitation of the earth or its people.

I’m not saying this will be an easy journey or even that any one individual living a simple life is the solution. Will moving into a tiny house or giving up my iPhone save the world? No. That will require governments and international institutions taking enormous steps in the areas of policy and economic reform. But those things won’t happen without a massive cultural shift – which starts with each of us deepening our awareness around the impact of our daily actions – and advances with each of us re-thinking what it means to live the ‘good life.’

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The Real Problem With E-mail

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

062017_EmailDespite what you may think, the real problem with e-mail has nothing to do with e-mail. The problem is not the volume of e-mail you receive. Nor is it that messages are poorly crafted, often lacking details and specific requests. The issue isn’t that subject lines are misleading and your peers don’t understand the difference between CC, BCC and TO fields. These are all annoying and unproductive aspects related to e-mail. However, “fixing”, even eliminating, these aspects won’t solve the main, mostly unspoken issue with e-mail.

The real problem with e-mail is we have forgotten there is a human being on the other side of the message. A human being seeking connection, making a request, asking for help or in some cases offering help. In our hurry to slam through our inbox and knock it off our “to do” list, the bid for human connection has become a casualty of the exchange.

E-mail has evolved into a powerful tactical and transactional tool, yet at the same time, it’s also the primary business communication tool. Which is why it makes sense that e-mail has become such a pain point — as the speed at which most people “attack” their inbox leaves plenty of missed opportunity to understand what is a transactional message and what is a bid for relationship building.

Hence the disconnect — we keep trying to solve our e-mail problems with productivity tips; when instead of color-coding, flagging or filing in folders a slew of half-way communicated messages, we could choose instead to craft a few carefully, intentionally worded communications with the purpose to connect and be of service to those on the receiving end. Sure, your inbox may be at zero, but was the information you wanted to share complete and more so, how did your message make the person/people on the other end feel?

When listening to people talk about their relationship with e-mail, many people hold a belief that e-mail isn’t part of “work”. How can it not be part of work? E-mail isn’t just something you do — it’s a chance each day, with each e-mail you write, to be the person you want to be. Each communication you craft is an opportunity to reflect what you really want to say and how you really want to show up and who you are.

What if instead of focusing on the next ten e-mails you have to “pound through”, you became fully present on the one in front of you? What if you imagined the face of the person or people on the other end of the communication looking to you for a response, guidance or acknowledgement? What if you slowed down your inbox time and really read the message and looked for the request for understanding, approval or connection?

With each e-mail you send, you have the power to make someone feel important, acknowledged, respected or heard. You also have the same power to make someone feel dismissed, disrespected or unimportant. The choice is yours for how to be in relationship with your e-mail, and with each message you send you get to make that choice again and again.

 

[Note: This post originally appeared in Thrive Global]

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I Will Turn on the Light

By Chelsea Elkins, Simple Intentions Marketing & Program Manager

060917_TurnontheLightFear can do strange things. With an electric power, it can alter reality, shift perspective, and make the strongest of us tremble. Fear can be gripping, all encompassing, and can make you feel certain of something that is just not true. Fears might be passed down from those who raised us, conditioned into us by society, or sparked by an insecurity.

The great thing is that not everything we think is true – and that includes our fears.

The tricky thing about fear is it feeds. It can feed on someone’s opinion of you, the evening news, or often your own thoughts. When someone says something unsavory about you (that some small part of you, in the back of your mind, also fears is true), does that mean it’s fact? Is your fear validated? It often feels this way, but in many ways this naysayer is simply turning on a light for you. Illuminating a negative belief you have about yourself, so that you can see it in the light for what it is. So that you can decide if it is something you truly believe.

When we shine a light on our fears, we witness them for what they are – and that can be scary. But what we end up seeing is often smaller, uglier, and much less frightening than what we once perceived (think the Harry Potter Limbo train scene). It may invoke pity or even compassion, for self or others, but it does not wield the same power. Turning on the light eradicates the uncertainty of what a fear consists of – and eliminating uncertainty itself helps diminish fear.

This is also true for someone else’s fear or anger or doubt – even if it’s aimed directly at you. Turning on the light means having the clarity of mind and self-possession to observe an emotion or fear trying to cling to you and to say “that isn’t mine” – and mean it. Even if that feeling or belief was “yours” yesterday or 5 minutes ago, you can drop it at any time. Shining a light means creating depersonalization around others’ thoughts and emotions. When someone doubts us – instead of feeding on that doubt and making it our own – remember that it does not belong to us, it is not ours, and we do not have to pick it up.

I recently learned an exercise to help me with this.

The Whiteboard Meeting.

Pick a fear or an unpleasant thought about yourself, sit down and have a meeting about it. Actually.

Visualize the uncomfortable chairs, clicky pens, stuffy conference room, the whole shebang. The exercise is to fill a whiteboard about a specific fear with your members of the board. Each board member stands for a unique belief you have about that fear, representing the diversity of thought we all have in our minds even about a single subject. (Stay with me.) Have each “board member” write on the whiteboard a unique thought related to that fear. Be specific. What is it exactly you are afraid of? At first, some of your more outspoken and historically negative board members will clamor for attention. You might be barraged with things like “I’ll fail at this because…”; “I’m not good enough”; “If I do X, I’ll lose Y”. Write them all down without judgement until these “fear thoughts” eventually run out of steam, leaving only half the whiteboard filled.

That’s when it’s time to hear from the rest of the room. What about your thoughts that stem from a place of courage, trust, empowerment? How does that change the tone of the board? Fill the rest of your whiteboard and notice the diversity of thought. The other side of the room might say things like, “I already have most of the tools and resources I need to be successful”; “My family and friends support me”; “I am enough”; “If I do X, I might lose Y but I’ll gain Z”.

When the whiteboard is filled, step back and look at everything together. This is it. All your thoughts on the matter. And, without shame or judgement, observe which thoughts have gaps in logic, which thoughts are empowering, which thoughts are operating from a place of insecurity. What on the board, after seeing it in the light, do you genuinely believe? What do you want to be true? Through observing the many realities your mind sees as possible, you will discover that while the fear thoughts can often feel like the only reality or truth, there are actually many truths to choose from. And you have the power to do just that, choose. To say thanks but no thanks to the fear thoughts and say yes to what’s on the other side.

This exercise can be as literal or figurative as you want. Use post-its and fill up a wall. Write in a journal. Use your imagination. Where different tiny hats and talk in accents. This is your party, as they say. The Whiteboard Meeting can help answer the question of what beliefs about yourself you want to let go – and which you need to actively choose again and again.

The saying “if you’re not scared then your goals are not big enough” has long intrigued me. But I realize now that the phrase is only half complete. Because for every part of you that is scared, there is another that is thrilled, delighted to rise up to the challenge. To truly complete the phrase, I know I must only turn on the light.

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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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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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