by renita kalhorn
“I think of intelligent optimism as a discipline, the rigorous discipline to stay in the state of mind of possibility.” Ben Zander, The Art of Possibility
A few weeks ago I was up in the Boston area for meetings, and visiting my dad in Concord. Today, around 5:30 pm — rush hour — we were driving toward the city to pick up my sister at the airport. There had been quite a bit of discussion beforehand about what time we should leave to take into account the traffic and as we headed in, sure enough, there were lines of cars in every direction.
“Look at all the traffic!” I kept exclaiming (because I’m from New York where, you know, we hardly have any). “There’s only one person in each car! It’s bumper to bumper! How do they do this everyday!?” And then my dad demonstrated why he’s a master of the silver lining. “Well, let’s just be glad that all these people have jobs,” he said.
If you’re someone who believes in looking at things just the way they are, you probably find perennially positive types like my dad annoying and Pollyanna-ish. Come on, be realistic, you’re thinking.
The thing is, there is no one, singular reality. There’s always an alternative view and we get to decide what it is. When you’re driving down the street, you can notice all the potholes — or, just as realistically, how much of the street is pothole-free. You can fixate on the “no thanks” you got from the potential investor/client — or, on the fact that you had a meaningful two-hour discussion.
When you’re able to home in on the brighter side (and it takes practice, for sure), you’re more likely to keep on going in the face of difficulty, to not give up. Studies show that pessimists are more often right — in fact, there is no solution to this problem! — but optimists, by virtue of their persistent nature, are ultimately more successful. (In a study of law students, Suzanne Segerstrom, PhD, found that a person’s level of optimism in the first year of law school corresponded with his or her salary 10 years later. On a 5-point optimism scale, every 1-point increase in optimism translated into a $33,000 annual increase.)
So how can you get better at this “look on the bright side” thing if it doesn’t come naturally? Anytime something unwanted happens, practice finishing this sentence: “Well, at least…”
“Well, at least I didn’t spill coffee on my suit/dress.” “Well, at least I was able to meet with the CEO.” “Well, at least I had the courage to ask for the raise.” “Well, at least I finished the race.”
If you can’t find a positive slant, ask a natural optimist; they’ll find an angle. Like Henry, my four-year-old nephew, said about his classmate: “She’s kind of mean and bites…but she can count to ten.”
As coaches, we commit to “walk the talk.” As such, we embrace living lives that are balanced and fulfilled, both personally as well as professionally. Part of this balance means we take time to enjoy the summer holidays. While we will continue to work on a number of assignments and remain dedicated to our partnership with wonderful clients, we will take the month of August off from writing our blog. If you have some time and wish to explore some of our past blogs, simply scroll down and check out the Archive.
If you, too, are able to make this a month when you slow down the rhythm of life, take a step back and enjoy the beautiful season with family and friends – congratulations! This is another step towards building sustainable happiness and well-being. And leaning back breeds creativity – as seen in August’s The Economist: In praise of laziness. C u in September!
a highly effective + ridiculously under-utilized technique for getting people to (gladly) give you what you want
by renita kalhorn
Recently I was coaching a group of Navy SEAL officer candidates. Obviously, with all the hours of fitness training and time they’re dedicating (some of them drive four or five hours each way to the gatherings), they all want very much to be offered a SEAL contract. They also want to avoid the fate of an earlier candidate who told the board, with sincere intention and intensity, how much he wanted to be a SEAL and the extreme sacrifices he had made to get there – and who, ultimately, was declined.
He made the mistake that many people make when they are asking for something, whether it’s an introduction, an interview, a job or a raise. They state their case from the least compelling point of view possible: their own.
“Going to business school will help me transition from consulting to finance.”
“I need this raise because we’re having another baby.”
“I want to pick your brain so I can get my book published.”
No matter how sincere or earnest the reason, guess what the listener (at least subliminally) is thinking: “Yeah, so what? Why should I care?”
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD
So that’s the paradox: to get what you want, you have to momentarily set aside your own desire and put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
Because the most effective way to get someone’s attention is to position your request from their point of view. (Isn’t that what works with you?) Show someone that helping you get what you want is somehow relevant to them and they will be much more receptive to listening to what you have to say. (Savvy parents get this when they say to their children: “If you are dressed and ready to go in 10 minutes then you’ll have time to get an ice cream cone before we run errands.”)
To be able to empathize with and understand what’s important to another person even as you have your own urgent wants — now that is a useful and powerful skill.
COMMITTED BUT NOT ATTACHED
First, put aside your attachment to what you want. (Go ahead, just put it right over there.)
Now look at the situation from their point of view: try to understand what they want, why they want it and how they feel about things. It takes ingenuity and patience to think it through (especially if you don’t know them well) but a little strategic forethought does wonders to remove obstacles.
Here’s what presenting your case from the other person’s point of view looks like:
Want the job? Explain how hiring you will make their life easier and make them look good — not why you want to leave your current job. (In the case of the Navy recruiting board, yes, they want men who are dedicated to becoming a SEAL, but more importantly they want someone who has a balanced outlook and will be a good fit with the SEAL community.)
Want someone to take your cold call? Acknowledge that their time is valuable: “I know you’re busy so I’ll make this brief. I’m calling to see if I might be able to help you save money on your company’s health insurance.”
Want more time to produce a deliverable? Instead of telling the client you’re backed up until Friday (your POV), tell them it’s in their best interest that you take the time to thoroughly research the case in order to deliver the most informed advice possible and avoid issues down the line.
Want to ask a favor via email? Start by talking about the person you’re writing to: thank them (for inspiration, insights or information – it doesn’t have to be earth-shaking to be gratifying) or comment on a recent accomplishment (check their Linkedin account, blog or Google). No-one — no matter how famous or busy — is going to stop reading about how great they are! Once you’ve established a relevant connection, they’ll be much more receptive to helping you.
Of course, this all presumes that there is overlap between what you want and what they want, that there are mutual benefits to be had. Taking some time to think strategically from the other person’s point of view will help them see the connection and smooth your path to getting what you want.
by carolyn mathews
Most of us have likely heard the suggestion to “think positive” when we are in tough or distressing situations. For some people, this may truly be more difficult than for others. Although well meaning, suggesting positive thinking may result in a rebound effect.
Researchers at Michigan State University have discovered brain markers that indicate a propensity toward positive or negative thought. In other words, we tend to be hardwired biologically. The researchers recorded brain activity while showing graphic images to study participants. Positive thinkers showed less brain activity than negative thinkers. What’s more, the request to decrease negative emotions backfired to make negative emotions worse, shown by increased brain activity.
The take-away? Suggesting to people that they think more positively in tough situations or transitions probably won’t work. If they were hardwired for this, they would probably be doing it already. (This, in part, is what concerns me about the self-help, positive thinking industry. But I digress…) What works better, according to lead researcher, Jason Moser, is to have the person “think about the problem in a different way, to use different strategies.”
As a positive psychology practitioner, one of my first strategies to help someone navigate a major life transition would be to employ relevant character strengths, such as creativity, judgment, bravery and hope. (Other character strengths may also be useful for some people in considering the problem differently, too.)
Creativity: Thinking of novel and productive ways to conceptualize and do things.
Judgment: Thinking things through and examining them from all sides.
Bravery: Not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty or pain.
Hope: Expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it.
Boosting the use of these strengths in difficult times may be just what is needed to help the person navigate the tough times without the added (and useless) pressure of also having to “think positive.” Even if they are not among your top character strengths, they can be boosted. For brief definitions of these suggested character strengths, see below. Then, think about ways you can use them as you find yourself reacting to difficult situations. They may just help move you from negative thinking to useful thinking.
Source: VIA Institute on Character. For more complete definitions of these character strengths, or to learn more about other character strengths, go to www.viacharacter.org
by carolyn mathews
It has been a while since I last posted here. Mostly, that was due to changes in my professional life. The changes are positive (more transitions), yet it left me uncertain which direction to take with my writing. Things are settling down in that regard.
I can also blame one of my clients, who unbeknownst to her, influenced the lack of posts here. During the holidays, this client went on a social media diet in response to coming down with a bad case of “social media fatigue.” Working fulltime and also running her own business, her time feels precious. Yet she found herself drawn to social media not only to post, but also to read others’ posts to stay on top of things, socially and professionally. For her, the answer was to unplug. No photos of her dog (whom she loves very much). No checking to see what others were doing in their daily lives. No reading blogs. No posting about her business.
Many unplugged days later, my client found that although the world moved on without her postings, she was no less informed about the important things. And, her business did not fold. This revelation prompted her to make some changes. First, she hired an intern to take over the social media strategy for her business. For her personal postings, she decided in the New Year her use of social media would involve being mindful and intentional about what she shared. Additionally, she was willing to try curtailing her use of social media by checking in and posting briefly only three times a day. The result? She feels more relaxed and is getting more done in the workplace and in her personal life.
Which brings me full circle back to my lack of postings on my blog, Facebook page, and Twitter account. I have always intended to share information that inspires, drives change, and/or entertains. Intentional? Check. Mindful? I wasn’t sure. I felt pressure to “post early and often” enough to remain in view. Why? Social media experts suggest business owners post frequent blogs; and newsletters; and tweets; and photos to remain top-of-mind. I followed this advice. However, I find myself deleting many of these from other sources because I feel too overwhelmed by the amount of information I receive. It wasn’t that I found no value in their messages; it was simply too much from too many sources. If I felt this way, what about my “followers”? Could the social media experts be wrong? I don’t know.
What I do know is that by following my client’s lead, I feel refreshed. My business still exists and continues to flourish. I am now both, mindful and intentional, in my use of social media. This means that you may hear from me less often sometimes, and more often during other times. My posts still aim to inspire, drive change, and entertain. And I will mindfully consider how often I post, and my reason for it, as I consider the receivers of this information.
by renita kalhorn
“How dare they cancel at the last minute? They’re supposed to give you 24 hours notice. Your time is valuable. How dare they waste your time, you could have scheduled 10 different things instead, your time is valuable, you know…”
Aargh, that’s what the yammering voice in my head sounds like when it gets on a roll. Around and around it goes in this endless loop luring me with the promise that eventually it’ll come to some kind of conclusion. After falling for that one more often than Charlie Brown fell for Lucy holding the football, I finally realized there was no end to the endless loop.
My rational mind, of course, understands that thoughts aren’t real. That it’s just my ego mind producing an endless stream of commentary — opinions, complaints, justifications, criticisms — like bubbles from a bubble blower. Still, the thoughts ring awfully true, they seem to know exactly what my insecurities are and the emotions they trigger definitely feel real.
One day, when the chatter reached a fever pitch, I desperately needed relief, some peace and quiet. So I decided to give my ego mind a whole different persona. I named her Matilda and found the perfect mascot…one that that would remind me that the ego may be misguided but it’s not evil. One that I couldn’t take too seriously.
This did two things: 1) it helped me take a step back from my thoughts so it was easier not to get caught up in believing they were true and 2) it gave me a sense of control. Now instead of identifying with the self-talk, I immediately recognize it as Matilda and have conversations with her, gently but firmly, like I might with a child. So I:
Acknowledge her. She earnestly wants to help and resisting just makes her more insistent. “Thanks for sharing, Matilda, I appreciate the input.”
Negotiate. When you start to change your behavior and leave behind old beliefs and coping mechanisms, the ego mind is afraid you’re going to leave them behind too (that’s why they’re always creating drama). “Hey, don’t worry, I’m taking you along on this journey. There are going to be some changes but they’ll benefit you too, I promise.”
Set boundaries. “Okay, Matilda, got it. I need to focus on my work now. Can we talk about this later?”
Call her out. It doesn’t matter how positive your circumstances, the ego mind will always find something to fret about. Matilda had been quite vocal in her concern about a client deal and when it came through, I swear, she was quiet for a moment, as if to regroup, and then launched into a tirade about something else. So busted. “Really, Matilda? Really?”
We’re not trying to get rid of ego mind – after all, it’s what gives us our distinct personality traits, habits and preferences. But it’s not the one in charge. You, your true core self, is. Remember that.
by pamela welling
Mick Jagger strikes me as the kind of guy who’s got it all figured out. In fact it’s likely you have the same opinion; the Stones have rolled past their 50th anniversary milestone and Jagger & co. continue to pull in the pay days and professional respect of peers despite being the right age for the rock n’ roll retirement home.
From the outside it looks like Jagger had this long term career path planned the whole time. Of course, the reality is quite different and reading an old 1980’s interview with David Bowie recently reminded me of this. At the time, Bowie and Jagger were collaborating on the old Martha and The Vandella’s hit, ‘Dancing in the Street’ as Jagger tried hard to distance himself from his own back catalogue and craft a new image away from his band mates. Jagger’s attempts to be seen as a stand alone solo artist were stalling, and Bowie noted that his frustration with being tied to the Stones and perceived inability to launch his own projects brought Jagger to tears on more than one occasion.
So it begs the question; When it comes to career planning, how do we figure out if it’s better to stick or twist?
There are many examples of long established careers with deep expertise in one area and The Stones are the pinnacle of this in the public eye. As I think about their success and tenure I can’t help but reflect on the projects, plans and career paths I’ve deviated from in an attempt to shake things up in my own professional life. I find myself wondering how things may have panned out differently had I chosen to stick with some of them- maybe I could have made it as the next big fortune cookie writer! However, in the current economic environment we are all being urged to diversify, blend, adapt and above all else be flexible and open to new paths and experiences. Confusing? I think yes, and even the greatest professionals experience the dynamic tension between growing and twisting vs. deepening and sticking.
There are a many different tricks and tools that can be put to good effect to help with this conundrum and as a first step, I recommend that my clients put names and numbers to some of their decisions points to help them get clarity. Here are a few questions that should help you get closer to the information you’ll need to make an informed choice:
Have you fallen into the passion pit? How many times have you sat at the bar with your friend the designer/writer/scientist/armpit sniffer/researcher/teacher and walked away feeling so incredibly enthused by the tales of their professional high jinx that you are ready to call your boss and give your two weeks? It happens to us all, even when we are in jobs we like (maybe even love). One of the biggest challenges my clients face when it comes to researching a new job is separating their friend’s love for what they do with hard data on whether it would be right for them. An easy fix is to write down three things you know your new gig must have before sitting down to talk to others about what they do. At the end of the meeting pull out your list and rate on a scale of 1-10 how closely the new gig would map on to those three decision points, with 10 being a perfect fit. If you hit a score of 5 or less on two of the three areas then beware- you’re falling in love with her passion, not with her gig at the deodorant testing lab.
Are you doing it just because it is cool? We all feel tremendous pressure to go towards things that are Sexy Right Now (big data, anyone?) It is the same pressure Jagger was likely feeling back in the 80’s when every successful front man from David Lee Roth to Morrissey were jumping ship to launch solo careers and cast off associations with their previous band mates. As you think about a twist, use your personal board of directors to help you cut the signals you should be listening too from the noise that surrounds you so that you don’t lose sight of the career elements that will continue to bring you joy despite what the cool kids think.
Does it really have to be a total twist? I’ve worked with many coaching clients who have been ready to walk out on their high paying corporate gig to go and write their Life Story from the beach in Hawaii- in fact I have one coachee doing exactly that, successfully, right now- it can be done and for my client it was absolutely the right move for her. But to figure out if it’s right for you the first challenge is understanding exactly what is driving your desire to change- is it really time to pivot, or is it a case of office culture gone bad and a toxic boss to boot that’s got you dreaming of the beach? If it’s the latter, twist company but stick with your title and career content.
These questions are a good start to help you get clarity on whether you should stay put or make the jump. But remember, despite our best efforts not all changes happen. Jagger failed to create a long lasting solo career and identity away from the Stones, but it all worked out for him in the end, and as you chew over your stats and decision points, here’s a look at what things might have looked like if Mick really had made a break, enjoy (warning: explicit language!):