Three day weekends can throw our sense of timing off all week. In this video we share a #smallpowerfulpractice to help you get back to feeling centered and in your routines as quickly as possible.
If you’ve taken any training with us you know that we often give you little exercises like a breathing mindfulness practice, or simply crossing your arms differently than you normally do. To see a short video of one of these practices, please visit our youtube channel. youtu.be/4pI16xV6ka8
These practices can take only a few seconds but they can make profound changes in your life. A large part of that has to do with brain chemistry. You’ve heard of fight, flight, or freeze. When we are stressed our brains go into survival mode. Our bodies automatically engage the sympathetic nervous system – heart rate increases, adrenaline is released, our guts tense, and we get ready to defend ourselves or run away as quickly as possible.
The problem with modern life is that our brains don’t know the difference between an imminent saber tooth tiger attack and too many deadlines and not enough time to get everything done. The stress response is the same.
When our brain and body is in emergency mode, creativity and problem-solving shut down. (Seems counter-intuitive to me, but I didn’t design the system :) ) These small practices we give you can literally reset your brain chemistry in a matter of seconds, allowing you to enter the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) that helps us rest and recover instead of fight or flight. When the PSNS is engaged, the heart rate slows, muscles and gut relax, and breathing returns to normal.
These little practices that we give you can short circuit the emergency response. Studies show that taking a few deep breaths engages the PSNS. Smiling while you’re doing it gives even more benefit. Visualizing that you are closing down all the open “tabs” in your brain, actually helps you concentrate. Spending ten minutes thinking about things you’re grateful for not only changes your brain chemistry, it helps you feel more satisfied with your life.
If you’re like us and love to geek out on brain science and its relationship to living the good life, this article explains a lot of the physiological stuff that happens when you take a few slow deep breaths. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/neuraptitude/201602/the-science-slow-deep-breathing
Using these little practices even once can totally change your day. But using them regularly, over time, can add up to feeling more comfortable, fulfilled, and resilient in your life, even without changing any external circumstances.
We talk a lot at HPG about the Four Rules of Confrontation. Many people cringe when they hear the word “confrontation,” but our contention is that disagreement and differences of opinion are normal parts of being human.
Confrontation means bringing those differences out into the open and examining them, communicating openly, and reaching mutually agreeable solutions. It doesn’t have to be violent or even argumentative if we use a few simple tools.
Honesty allows us to fairly assess a situation and make reality-based decisions. If we try to hide ourselves or what’s going on, it becomes increasingly difficult to reach good solutions.
Necessity asks: does it need to be said? Does it need to be said now? Does it need to be said by me?
Kindness guides us to be generous, sympathetic, compassionate, and gentle when discussing difficult topics. It also reminds us to approach situations with curiosity rather than judgement, to understand the other’s point of view.
When we speak honestly, openly, and directly from our own First Person perspective, it disarms argument. No one can say that our understanding, or the things that happen to us, are untrue. It also leads us to ask about the other’s perspective and experiences so that we can come to a mutually beneficial way of moving forward.
As any of my colleagues will attest I love metaphors
Lately we have been thinking a lot about being under full sail in our business and the best way to serve the needs of our clients. I was in a great training last week and one of the presenters was talking about the need for ballast in achieving goals. She reminded us that great sailing ships would never have made it across the oceans had they not had solid ballast to offset their sails. The weight of the ballast provides a counterbalance to the force of the wind in the sails and keeps the ship on track.
So we started thinking – what is our ballast? What keeps us balanced and moving in the right direction? Our mission, our business plan, our products? In order to truly sail freely and well, we need to make sure our ballast is distributed so that our sails can catch the prevailing “winds” of opportunity blowing our way. Is our mission evident in all that we do? Do we reflect our values and beliefs in our approach? Are our products representative of our standards?
Does your company have the ballast it needs to accomplish its goals?
We did a training this week on the traps of bad leadership. In part, we talked about the traps that we can fall into when we lack self-awareness. You may think that self-awareness sounds pretty fluffy, that mindfulness is all very nice but what does it have to do with my job? In fact, self-awareness is intensely practical and can help us establish and maintain easy, peaceful working environments.
There are four major pitfalls that we can run into:
No one wants a Jekyll and Hyde boss. Chris Hallberg, author of "The Business Sergeant's Field Manual" says that "clear and consistent leadership and management simplifies the work environment. This gives staff members the chance to focus on the work that needs to be done — rather than the politics of navigating a tricky business relationship.” You don’t want your people having to waste energy worrying about which version of you is going to show up today. Consistency applies to how we treat others, as well as our mood and tone of voice. Of course, everyone has bad days, but we need to be sure we don’t take them out on those around us. We have to be non-judgemental observers of ourselves, so that we can be mindful and intentional about our actions, to ensure that we are showing up consistently.
Not being aware that there is a problem, makes it really hard to solve the problem. Further, lack of self-awareness can lead us to miss the fact that our behavior is actually contributing to the problem. Being in denial can make you feel like you’re being attacked when you receive negative feedback, because it appears to come out of nowhere.
Which leads us to our fourth trap. Ego worries what will people think of me? Ego says I got this; I don’t need any help. Ego whines that no one ever listens. Essentially, ego puts self over the team. It’s easy to see how that can be detrimental to accomplishing goals when someone else is doing it. Much harder to get out of our own way. It is really important to be able to ask if it’s ego that driving a decision (will this make ME look better?) or if it’s really the best for the team as a whole.
Without being immensely self-aware, we stand almost no chance of sustained success in relationships with people or achieving company goals. The good news is that self-awareness is a learnable skill that can actually lead to more personal freedom and flexibility, and more success and effectiveness in all areas of our lives.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this boss vs. leader thing.
I love the values that are behind the words on the Leader side of the table. I absolutely believe in empowering people to do their best, giving them the tools to excel and permission to innovate. But…I don’t always come out as well as I would like in this comparison. It is difficult to put my ego aside and get away from the need for everyone to do things the way I think they should be done.
Here are some of the ways that I tend to fall into a bossy position:
I am a person who usually thinks things through and looks at a lot of angles before I bring things out into the open. By the time I bring an idea to a team, I am already invested in my idea of how it should go, and I have a lot of data to back up my position. Once I’ve thought something through and come up with a solution that seems right to me, it’s hard for me to change the direction of my thinking. That puts me in a position to want to force my will on others, rather than inviting collaboration.
For me, the solution to this is to work with a team earlier rather than later in a project. I actually tend to have better ideas when I have the opportunity to do some brainstorming and playing around with ideas with other people. My creativity is spurred by working with others. But I have to make sure I’m prepared for a flexible mindset.
When I am in a position of power, I can fall into the “because I said so” trap. Again, this is partly a function of my certainty that I’ve thought something through very thoroughly and you should just accept that. In addition, my ego and pride want you to acknowledge how smart and methodical I am.
What I’ve come to find out though is that when I try to make decisions for people when they should be making decisions for themselves, I deprive them of their power, and of their pride in ownership of a project or decision. I have to remind myself often that my way is not the only right way, and that my partners and coworkers are capable adults.
In order to foster innovation, I have to consciously choose not to be stuck in my version of reality. The beauty of creativity is that it can lead to new thinking and new results. A couple of months ago our theme of the month was play. I learned that the type of play that gets the best results is non-directed, with no rules or goals, just imagination. That means I have to let go of preconceived notions. I have to let go of my fixed idea of how to get to the goal, or even what the goal is. I’m not good at spontaneity without warning; I can do it, but it helps if I know it’s coming.
I have also been prey to the “it’s easier if I just do it myself” mentality. Explaining exactly how something should be done and then making sure it got done exactly how I wanted it done, takes more time than just doing it myself. But I read a great article recently about how this is attitude is not of service to anyone. I like this quote, “Even if you are a talented [submit your talent here], running a business requires a tremendous amount of planning and managing. If you’re too busy [submit your talent here] and not spending enough time managing the course of your business, you’re going to stagnate your growth.”
Thinking I can get away with not delegating is also linked to my fantasy that there is a lot more time in a day than there really is. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to be busy all the time any more. I want to have some breathing room in my life, time for relaxation, for quality time away from my work, and for feeling uncluttered and joyful. When I am operating from an overly inflated opinion of my capacity to get things done, I am always pushing.
Related to that is the difficulty of asking for help. To be a part of a supportive culture requires me to admit I don’t have all the answers, all the energy, or all the time necessary to operate by myself. In fact, I don’t want to be an island. Isolation can be lonely even for this introvert. I love to feel that I am part of something larger than myself and that we are working towards a common purpose.
In going through this list, I notice a pattern. The bossy stuff comes from my fears – that I will not be respected and recognized for my accomplishments; that working in partnership will be harder than working by myself; or that if you really knew how not-together I am you wouldn’t want to work with me. And of course, these fears influence much more than my work life.
The good news is I don’t have to be ruled by my fears. I can move away from bossiness and towards my ideals and values by slowing down, practicing mindfulness, being flexible, and remembering what I want.
In another the participants played the telephone game, to learn about communication. Rather than just talking and imparting ideas, we give people a chance to loosen up, have some fun, and to bring up issues in a less hierarchical environment.
We also play a lot in our corporate retreats. Full days of making business plans, timelines, and marketing strategies can get heavy. We keep our energy up by being silly, and we sometimes laugh really loud, but it actually helps us get things done. I’ve heard that laughing can be as good as a trip to the gym.
Because of all these benefits, gamification has become a popular corporate tool of late, especially in Silicon Valley, I think. In settings where creativity is necessary, leaders are trying to find ways to encourage employees to think outside the box.
As I’ve looked for items to post this month, I’ve learned the type of play that gets the best results is non-directed - no rules or goals, just imagination. The kind that little kids do before they go to school and start learning about games with rules. This Wikipedia article on gamification discusses the difference between games–which have rules, goals, and structure–and play which is spontaneous and free.
I was kind of shocked to realize that according to those definitions, I almost never do much actual play. I do physical activity, but there’s almost always a goal in mind, like kayaking up to that bridge, or hiking to that waterfall. I’m currently training for a triathlon so my exercise is very goal oriented – five more laps, one more mile…
My husband often plays with our dogs. They roll around and tug on things and all three of them are grinning with pure joy. But I’m too much of a wimp to join them; I get hurt too easily. It makes me a little sad when I watch them because I feel like I’m too grown up.
So, now I am on the lookout for an activity that makes me feel like that. That I can do for the pure joy of letting go of expectations and limitations. For the creativity and imagination. For time with no pressure to do or achieve anything. For just enjoying my friends' company. For no reason at all.
Anyone want to come over and build a fort in the woods with me and maybe pretend we are drinking tea out of acorn caps?
In Stuart Brown's TED talk, "Play is more than just fun", he tells the story of a polar bear and a husky, pictured here by Norbert Rosing. The bear approached the tethered dog with an "I'm going to eat you stare". The dog responded with a play posture. And, it changed the dynamic. They had a great time. And, the best news of the day - the dog didn't become lunch for the bear.
You can see it all here:
Play has many benefits. Most keenly for the dog, it changed the power dynamic of the play participants. The bear, at 1,200 lbs, clearly has the upper hand (paw?) in any encounter with a dog. But, when they - and we humans - step into that parallel universe of play, so much shifts.
And, not only does the power dynamic shift - so does our thinking. When we, even as adults, engage in something just for fun, play does great things for the brain. Nothing lights up the brain like play, says Brown, and puts impulses into our pre-frontal cortex (our executive function - locus of rational, decision-making). Socially, play activity helps build trust between participants.
In my workshops, I use play as a device to build creativity. Why? Because it's hard to execute a suggestion like "just be more creative." But, when I encourage folks to be like kids again and pretend to be anything - an insect, a bird, a cat - and then consider something from that perspective, they have great fun. AND, their creativity gets a real boost.
As the creativity expert Edward De Bono has said, "If you can change your perception, you can change your emotion and this can lead to new ideas." I've used DeBono's 6 Thinking Hats method - which asks us to look at a problem from 6 perspectives - to help teams be more creative in their problem solving. Each viewpoint is called a hat (white hat = facts; green hat = ideas; red hat = gut reactions, etc). We take turns putting them on (figuratively, though wearing real hats can be awesome), and looking at the problem from each hat's perspective. It seems way more like play than work.
And, here's one of the benefits that Brown mentions early on: everyone gets a turn, and so the power dynamic in the room is leveled out. Egos seem to fade; people don't pull rank. Everyone's in it for the fun of solving the problem.
Work that looks like fun? I'm all for it.
I am training for a triathalon. I know! I had a hard time believing it at first too.
Several years ago I heard a radio interview with a triathlete. Each race differs but the standard is more or less swim a mile, bike 25 miles, and run 5 miles. I’ve never been a good runner, but there was a time in my life when I could easily swim a mile and/or bike 25. I decided I wanted to get back to that place.
I finally made the commitment in early February of this year. I am not participating in any organized race, just going to pick a day and do it for myself. Just to prove that I can. I picked September 21. It’s the harvest season and it seemed like this would be my project, the thing I would “grow” this spring and summer.
So, I sat down and crunched some numbers and made a spreadsheet. Starting from zero and getting up to the above goals in 7 months meant I would have to add .2 miles per week to my running capacity, 2 miles to my biking game, and 2 lengths of the pool to my swim.
Those tiny increments seemed easily doable. The only challenge really would be to stick with it. I’ve tried to create exercise goals for myself before, but never been able to sustain them. I knew there was no way I could accomplish my goal unless I made slow and steady improvement. I couldn’t train once a month and expect to reach my goals.
One mile is 70 lengths of the pool I swim in. My first try I did four and that felt like a lot. The next time I did ten. Now I am up to 40 (over half a mile) and it feels like a nice workout. My last bike ride was 19.5 miles. It was exhausting. I would not have been able to walk, let alone run 5 miles after that ride. But I made it and will do it again until it becomes easy.
As expected the running is the hardest for me. And so it is the training I least like to do. It took me about six weeks to figure out that one of the reasons it didn’t feel like I was making as much progress is that I thought that there is no way to rest while running. On a bike you can coast down hills. In the pool you can back stroke while you catch your breath. But there’s no coasting in running. Then I remembered a friend who had run the New York City marathon by running half a mile and walking half a mile the whole way. Walking is the resting of running!
My running endurance is now slowly improving. My last time out I ran about a mile out of 1.6 mile total distance covered.
Apparently, I had a lot of fixed ideas and expectations for how this was going to go. I am disappointed that I have not lost any weight yet with all this extra exercise. But I have noticed that things are a lot less jiggly. Maybe the weight loss will come.
There have been some completely unexpected benefits. My mood has improved. (Should have listened to that therapist all those years ago who told me that moving was a better antidepressant than pills.) I’m getting to spend time outside in what I think must be the most beautiful spring in the history of springs. Someone told me I’m glowing the other day. Most importantly, I’m feeling more confident.
This feels like the first goal I have chosen purely for myself in my life. No one is making me do this. There’s no prize at the end, no public recognition. When I gave myself the pep talk about consistency I had no idea if I’d be able to keep up with it. I had no idea if I’d be able to reach my goal. I still don’t .
It’s always easy to get distracted, to find that thing that’s more important. Especially in this case when I have no outside accountability, no consequences if I don’t make it. For some reason, I am keeping up with it. The most unexpected benefit is that I am keeping a promise to myself. I’ve not been really good at that in the past; I’m much better at keeping promises when there’s someone holding me responsible. Whenever I open my spreadsheet and mark down that I’ve been able to go a little farther than last time, I’m keeping that promise to myself.
I’m also learning something about incremental benchmarks along the way. I set a stretch goal and gave myself plenty of time to reach it. Because the end was so far off I felt like the whole thing had a lot of time to fall apart. Each time it doesn’t fall apart I have an opportunity to celebrate getting a little closer and not giving up. There’s still that voice that’s telling me that I won’t make it but it’s getting drowned out by a lot of celebrating these days.
My next goal is to learn how to really internalize all these lessons. I’m not sure what will motivate me when I pass this goal. I’m kind of afraid that I’ll just stop on September 22, but I’m hoping I will be so in love with honoring the promises I make to myself that I’ll keep going.
I had no idea that this was going to be a process of inner growth. I thought I was setting myself a purely physical challenge. I shouldn’t have been surprised. I know perfectly well that any time I can’t do something, going deep and looking at what’s really holding me back will probably get me past the resistance.
I LOVE finding growth opportunities where I least expect them.
I’ll keep you posted as I progress, but right now, I gotta go for a run.
I’ve been speaking recently about the importance of taking regular action – exercise and meditation, as examples.
Not only does repetition help root a practice more firmly in our neurology; repetitive actions change us over time.
Think of the long-term results from 2 common practices - cardio exercise and mindfulness meditation. As a result of a long-term cardio exercise:
And, a long-term meditation practice:
I can testify to the truth of this in my own physical and spiritual exercises, and in my other daily exercise - photography. Yes, on a daily basis I may feel more relaxed, more energetic, more centered. But, not every day. Yet, years later I can report:
Repetition changes us, whether or not we’re happy with our daily efforts. Sure, we have days when we can report, “That was a great run”; or, “I went really deep during that 20 minute sit.” But, on other days, we may feel unsuccessful as we attempt to just watch our thoughts; or, our run time was not up to our usual standard.
Such judgments can lead to disheartenment, or, worse, to abandonment of our routine. This is when a change of mindset is so helpful – doing for the sake of doing, rather than doing for the sake of success. This is not to dissuade you from setting goals, but, rather to encourage a longer view.
The doing changes us, a bit each day. So, keep doing.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle