Starz and BBC are running a TV series through the summer that is based on the notion that none of us die (Torchwood: Miracle Day). Life goes on and on. We are all rich in the most valuable and precious resource of all – time.
Stephen Cave, is the author of a forthcoming book Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How it Drives Civilization. He points out that the death-defying scenario would likely result in action losing purpose and time losing value. In this sense he concludes that immortality would be awful and we “should toast our finitude.”
This ties into my previous blog about having a sense of urgency for taking action on things that move us forward. That is, let’s not look back when we’re 90 and regret what we didn’t do.
I also want to emphasize that personal and professional growth and development also includes taking action to stop saying and doing things that impede our progress. As an example, this week I’ve moved the ball forward in some ways and also given up yardage. I invested in celebrating with friends, went out of my way on my bike ride to stop at a roadside lemonade stand, and put some money into a parking kiosk for a stranger who had no cash in hand. I also acted petulant when some trivial thing didn’t work out and employed poorly timed humor at my wife’s expense.
Character Move: In the end Living in the Triangle is about saying and doing more of the better things more of the time. Over time and with conscientious attention each of us can improve our record so that our iterative development is truly moving forward:
- Spend time determining what inhibitors you will stop doing and what you will do less of, and write them down.
- Commit to learning What and How* you can either stop doing them, or do them less often.
None of us has found an elixir of immortality. Our life is defined daily by our words and action. Start fresh each day. Today do less of one thing that diminishes yourself or others.
One Less Thing in the Triangle,
* What and How is referenced in the ground-breaking work of John G. Miller in QBQ! The Questions Behind the Question.
I took a personal development course a number of years ago and I recall the instructor discussing the importance of taking action in achieving a better state of being. He referred to a conversation he had with a career hospice nurse to make his point. The nurse was asked to summarize what message would come from the dying, if she had to succinctly summarize their perspective as life ended. Her comment was, “Be nice and do it now!” In fact, her contention was that people reflecting on their lives regretted more what they didn’t do versus what they did.
The other day I was reading Dan Pink’s blog and he referred to a study by Mike Morrison of the University of Illinois and Neal J. Roese of Northwestern University asked 370 Americans about their lives’ deepest regrets. Overall, there wasn’t a difference between regrets over actions taken versus actions not taken. Prior research had shown that regrets focusing on action were more common than those focusing on inaction. But people regretted inaction far longer than actions (there are other interesting aspects of this study you can read about in Pink’s blog). I think this observation by the Northwestern research may reinforce the more anecdotal summary of the hospice nurse and fits with my observation. So what are you waiting for – do it now! Please don’t be 90 years old wishing you did something.
Ok, I recognize that this is easier to say than do, so I have some guidelines to help you turn inaction into action. Fear is one of the big blocks to action. Another barrier is not having a model and mind set for action and decision making. The following includes recommendations from Marelisa Fabrega’s Abundance blog and Rosalene Glickman’s book on Optimal Thinking.
Character Moves for Taking Action. Whenever you begin to feel afraid ask yourself the following questions:
- What am I afraid of?
- What is the best way to overcome this fear?
- What action can I take to get over this fear, or to act in spite of this fear?
Write down your answers to the questions. Sleep on it and reflect on your answers. What are you afraid of?
Apply the core of Glickman’s Optimal Thinking action framework:
- Define the problem.
- Define the time frame in which the decision needs to be made.
- Make a list of all your possible options.
- Eliminate any options that are unrealistic.
- Write down the advantages and disadvantages of each option.
- For each option, rate each “pro” and “con” and rank (where a “10” means that it’s important, and a “1” means that it’s not important at all).
- Score each option. For each option, add up all of the points for the “pros” and all the points for the “cons”. Subtract the total for the “cons” from the total for the “pros”, and that gives you the score for that option.
- Choose the option with the highest score.
- Then make the decision. Take the action. Execute. No Fear meets up with reasonable and rational optimal thinking.
No regrets because of inaction in The Triangle,
I have noticed a lot of us have been grousing about the “win-lose” behavior going on in Washington. When we observe it, we find it dysfunctional and even disgusting. We say things like, “Why can’t they just work together?” “Why can’t they put the good of the country first?” “Why is it always about me instead of we?”
So, my thought is why don’t we make sure we all demonstrate the right behaviors at work first, and then we have a better platform from which to advise and pontificate to our politicians. We have (in most cases) control over how we think and act at work. My belief is that if we all take care of what we can directly control, it will roll out to others we expect better from. A recent blog from Shawn Murphy outlined excellent guidance in this regard. I’ve replayed his advice in my Character Move below and added a few of my own comments.
- Come to meetings seeking to hear solutions, to reconcile differences. Too often we wait for someone to stop speaking only to throw in our contrarian opinion. It’s an insidious behavior that too often attempts to make another person wrong. Its intent is to make ourselves right, to look good. It sends the conversation down a rabbit hole. Another meeting wasted. Another day without progress. Another day robbing optimism. What does an offering hand look like when this happens? Redirect the conversation by reminding people that, “We’re here for solutions, and pushing personal agendas will not be tolerated.”
- Establish a new precedent for intolerance of harmful exchanges. When teams come together, I expect healthy conflict. It’s characterized by ideas clashing, but with willingness to understand the other person or group’s viewpoint. Listening occurs. And if the exchange goes beyond healthy conflict, any person in the group stops the conversation. That person points out that the current direction is not going to address the team or meeting’s purpose. No more sitting silently thinking, “This is a waste of my time.” Speak up.
- Remember that constructive relationships are vital. Our organizations face their own set of wicked problems. A sure path to finding solutions is leadership that demands higher level of integrity in the interactions and value placed on relationships. Allowing behaviors that sabotage progress and weakens relationships simple lets wicked problems prevail. We each need to model the leadership that unites people to achieve results together. Invest in building constructive relationships with all “camps” at work.
Relationship Building in The Triangle,
The above phrase is from a CNN Money blog entitled The Booming Business of Fear. The article highlights consumer behavior when FEAR swells up and overtakes thinking. People hide cash in the craziest places and the sales of safes, guns, gold, and other “fear-based items” goes up dramatically. As an example a company called Maximum Security, which sells the above and more, has seen revenue climb 30% over the past few weeks.
So what does one do at WORK when FEAR hits the market like it has the past few weeks? It may be counter intuitive but it is not the time to hide; hoping that those with the ability to take action won’t notice. It is the time to make sure your value is understood and noticed.
- Take a hard look at what you’re doing and how it creates value in your organization. Make sure you know and that you’re meeting or exceeding expectations.
- Ask your boss what and how you can help him/her navigate their challenges. Sincerely show that you care about the pressure they’re under to perform.
- Avoid any unnecessary drama. The last thing anyone needs to deal with is some distracting “drama.”
- Make sure you have a backup plan. If business changes dramatically you may get caught up in a layoff regardless of all of the above. Do not avoid this thinking. A job cut can happen to the best of us for no rational reason other than the reactive behavior of leaders acting on fear.
No Hiding in the Triangle,
With all the negative stuff all around us, I thought the best gift I could give my readers is to share an outstanding video by Harvard’s psychologist and lecturer Tal Ben-Shahar. It has been one of the most popular videos on the Big Think web site. He has a very practical approach to happiness supported by research… not just fluffy talk.
- Take 4 minutes and 33 seconds to watch the video. Take notes. Do not get distracted by other things when you’re watching and listening.
- Determine how well you are applying the five things he outlines in the video. Take action based on your self assessment.
- Share the video with people you really care about.
- Recognize that genuine happiness is really more in our control than we realize.
- Put stuff that’s not in our control where it belongs.
Five Happiness Actions in the Triangle,
Alex, one of our top sales people, asked me the other day what was wrong, “You look so serious and almost mad.” Geez I thought, I’m pretty focused but certainly not “mad” at anyone. But I needed to remind myself that a leader’s mood will spread like a virus throughout his or her organization. Any emotion of the leader will spread quickly; positive or negative. While happy moods and especially laughter are the most contagious anger and despair in the boss can upset the whole group quickly too. If Alex thinks I’m worried and stressed out it becomes a negative distraction to him in his sales role. Sorry Alex…and to everyone else for a mood contagion that was a negative vibe.
So here’s the point. What we focus on largely creates our emotional state.
- Recognize that self awareness is a vital place to start. We have to be able to recognize and describe our emotions. What are we feeling and communicating?
- Focus on what needs focusing on but remember we can choose to communicate confidence or despair, and everything in between. What do we want to communicate? Choose it consciously and carefully.
- Get feedback on the vibe we send… ask, watch, listen, learn.
Mood Awareness in the Triangle,