change

How to be smarter than a rat

A few days ago I woke to the sound of scampering feet in the attic, sighed, did the research, and bought a dozen T-Rex baits.

The instructions were clear: Lay the traps for a few days without setting them or baiting them.

Rats are smart enough to avoid novel objects in the environment when there is no prior record in their brains (or a negative experience). 

Our brains haven’t evolved that much after all. Whenever we encounter a new idea or a change, it takes less than a second for our brains to compare the new experience with our prior records. If there’s no match, the intuitive response is to reject the new stimulus. 

Here’s how we can be smarter than a rat. Don’t avoid the “trap.” Wait 90 seconds before reacting. Train yourself and your team to respond with a neutral “that’s interesting.” or “let’s thing about that” then start to think about ways in which it could work.

Make this a best practice; it’s one of the components of Google’s “psychologically safe” teams, in which no idea is immediately judged. 

During the 90 seconds, gather from the team ideas why it could work, or part of the idea that could work, no judgment allowed.

Your final decision can go either way. All you have to do is to fight off your instinctual response to discard novel stimuli before your “new brain” has a chance to evaluate them. 

This one small switch should make a big difference in psychological safety and trust, as well as to generate a whole bunch of useful ideas.

Life Becomes Real at the Point of Action

I love that quote from Plato. Reality is in doing, not wishing or wanting. Making the Decision. Starting. Persevering. When Diana Nyad was asked how she accomplished the swim from Cuba to Florida, she responded: “Just do it, find a way, never, ever quit.” Sounds easy.

Start with What – Not How

“How did she do that?” OMG that’s amazing – how do you do all that you do?” Questions involving ‘how’ lead you into a jungle of confusion. Never ask how. Only decide what. In an ideal life plan, you’ll have created your matrices of overriding life visions (e.g. happiness and joy, creative and meaningful work, health and fitness), then broad actions that will lead to the fulfillment of those visions, then specific actions that can be accomplished now. Always start with the vision, then work back to broad action. When an action shows up that is part of the vision, make a decision to do it. It wouldn’t have shown up if it weren’t meant for you. Make the decision to do it, despite all reasonable evidence that it wouldn’t be possible for you (the hows don’t line up).

Once you decide, and become committed to the decision, then committed to your commitment, all sorts of ‘hows’ will show up. The time off will appear. Extra money will show up. People and events will conspire to show up to help lead you to complete the commitment. But if you don’t decide, then commit to the decision, these hows never show up. I don’t know how it works but Goethe was absolutely right. It just does.

Don’t Know Your Vision or Purpose?

Flip a coin. Turn right. Do something. Move. Don’t wait until you uncover your meaning. The meaning develops while you’re on the way. Move in the direction of your most probable purpose, or one that draws you more than others. If you wait until you find your perfect purpose or your “why” before moving, you might never move at all. A completely new life can begin any day of the year, any hour of the day any moment of the hour, at the time that you make a decision that it will.

If you are reading this in context of organizational change, know that a clear direction is never needed for you to take charge and change your section or area of work. If you are aware of your company’s values and mission, you have the authority and responsibility to continually move in the direction indicated by the mission. As a leader, you need only begin to act like one. Behavioral change creates attitude change.

Make the Decision and Start

A wish won’t do it, a dream won’t do it, a Vision Board won’t do it, a resolution won’t do it. If you just ‘think’ and ‘believe’, you won’t ‘grow rich’ unless you take action. Self-mastery and accomplishment involves ‘acting upon,’ not just ‘wishing about.’ You have to actively work on what you want to accomplish in order to make it happen.

Do you find that you keep enrolling for new courses yet fail to apply what you learned in the last one? Attending seminars to find out more, taking sales courses to learn better closes – might be a beginning, but it’s only when you undertake and complete the thing that is hard for you, that your self-confidence grows.

How Strength Grows

Strength grows with the actions you take during the journey toward the finish. The steps are only the externals. The real reward lies in what happens in between. It is in the striving that self-esteem grows the most. The more you actively and positively engage in the challenge, the more you realize that you have the potential to emerge stronger. Henry David Thoreau said: “What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.”

Thomas Paine’s 1776 treatise proclaimed that, “we are standing at a point where we can create a new world.” He didn’t say we are standing at a point where we can imagine a new world. The word create is an action verb that involves movement, or the ‘doing of.’ You might be standing at the threshold of new ventures or new decisions that might take you to where you have never been before, and you have a choice to make. ‘Trying’ to do it, starting it tomorrow, working only when you feel like it, allowing yourself excuses, wishing for it – these neither begin it, nor complete it. Just do it.

Balanced or Burning Out?

Burnout is a gradual loss of energy that develops from wanting to succeed, caring a lot, and lacking a turn-off switch that makes you stop when you’ve done enough. You’re probably even missing the system that monitors “enough.” Here’s a link to a quick assessment to find your Zone: Safe, Caution, or Danger.

Burnout creeps up, stealing energy as it gobbles up your life. The best way to deal with it is to prevent it.

Below are the seven usual steps. They’re not symptoms–just a description of the progression of the disease. The steps reflect the assessment.

1. The Need to Prove Yourself. You have a new job. Your want to prove yourself. You’re determined.

2. Work Harder. Because you want to prove yourself, your expectations are high. You focus only on work, and take on more and more. You like to do everything yourself. People will admire that.

3. Neglect Basic Needs. You now have no time and energy for anything else. Friends, family, and basic needs are unnecessary or unimportant. They cut down the time and energy to spend on work.

4. Isolation. Being cut off (you’re working so hard), you don’t have energy or time for activities and friends. Your emotions get narrowed.

5. Warning symptoms. Physical symptoms begin. Your neck is stiff. Maybe mild digestive issues. Your eye twitches.

6. The Spiral. Your mood had changed – you’re more irritable. You have an extra glass (or two) of wine in the evening.

7. The Steep Spiral. You have lost track of your personal needs. Your focus has narrowed. You feel kind of empty and use overeating, sex, alcohol, or drugs to cope. You might feel exhausted, hopeless, indifferent, and believe that there is nothing for you in the future. You’ve hit bottom, and can stay there, or re-charge. It’s not a good place to stay very long.

The Law of Circulation mandates that energy circulate throughout your life space. If events and tasks are added to your world and not enough is removed, then a blockage or overflow must result. As you add each new task, consider what can drop off the bottom. In the meantime, list every task or activity you carry out in a sample day. Rank each from 0-100 in long-term consistency with what you say is important, and with its pay-off. Drop the bottom 20% of the list. Ink in dates with children, spouse or friends, favorite exercise, a hobby. It’s not too late. Do something about it now.

Five Things You Should Never Do

Change demands energy! Here are five energy wasters that seem subtle, soft, and innocuous. But they are choices that absorb a lot of energy. If you make changes in any of these areas, you’ll have a lot more energy to spend on making worthwhile changes.

1. Don’t do anything for anyone over the age of 18 that they can and should be doing for themselves. This behavior weakens the recipient and usually causes resentment in the caregiver. Resentment is powerfully disabling and leads to other bad habits you don’t need. If you are rescuing anyone over 18, you are not helping them. Rather, you are meeting your own unmet needs and it is time to meet those from other sources.

2. Don’t try to fix them. Similar to #1, this drainer tries to change what can’t be controlled. The motivation is typically a kindly one, a genuine effort to make sure that others are safe. You believe that you have the answer to other people’s problems and if only they would listen to you, their lives would be better. Unfortunately, youNot to do create only resentment in both them, and in you–after all you have done for them! People don’t want to be told what to do. Your greatest gift would be to accept them the way they are. It’s not your path. Let them live their lives. If they ask for help then step in, but otherwise, read #1 again.

3. Don’t react to bad behavior. Take nothing personally, it’s never about you. Don Miguel Ruiz’s analogy of our individual theaters and personal movies is helpful. Each of us is sitting in front of our own films, in our own theaters. We are the star of our own movies, with our chosen cast of characters. Some have leading roles, some supporting roles, and many are extras. Issues develop when we demand to be the star of someone else’s movie, or we insist on a larger role than their script calls for.

People run their own script and their own movie. Other people’s behaviors are not directed at you. Stop being injured over the injustices that people do to you, because they are not doing it to you. They are just doing it. When you can get this, you free up more energy you need to prevent the injustices from being done in the first place. It is a more effective use of energy to instruct others how to behave in your presence, and what minimum standards you expect.

4. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Comparing yourself to others, either in a positive or negative way, is doomed to failure. Don’t compare. Instead, measure your growth as a rough percentage of change using your own baseline. Ask yourself: “Am I a percentage better at this than I was last year? Six months ago?” Perhaps 20% better? If so, your goals are being met. The only comparison to do is with your former self, and the only projections will be to your future self.

Others will always have more or less than you have, because they are walking on a different path. Is the path better than yours? No, it’s just different. You label it as better. Comparing yourself is a low self-image activity, one that you no longer need. It is energy not well spent, because it doesn’t change where you are and move you toward where you want to be.

5. Don’t get impatient. Not for them. For you. Sure, it can make you unbearable to be around. But you are just wasting energy getting mad at situations and other people, wishing they would do things differently, wishing they would get out of your way, wanting them to be different than they are. Hitting the elevator button repeatedly and yelling “Hurry up!!” won’t bring the elevator any faster.

Impatience is one factor in Type A Behavior. The hostility that goes along with impatience can, and will, kill you. Choose where you spend energy. Discipline yourself to ‘let it go.’ When you are tempted to intervene in others’ lives in ways such as giving advice or hurrying people up, just relax, take a big breath, and let it go. Repeat this sentence whenever you feel frustration with the way things are: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Lack of patience can result from a belief that the world should center around you and not interfere with your comings and goings. People should do things your way because you know better. If everyone did what they were supposed to do, the world would be a better place and you would be much happier. If you can see that this thinking isn’t paying off, congratulations, you’re half way there!

Better to “Want” than to “Get”

Next time you announce a new incentive program, or the possibility of an award, start measuring productivity, well-being and satisfaction month by month until the actual award period, and for a couple of months afterward. 

The ANTICIPATION of a reward feels better than receiving the actual award and is more motivating. It is a quirk in the structure of brain’s reward system.

The Nucleus Accumbens is a part of our brain that plays a key role processing rewards like sex, food, and financial gains. Experiments have measured the activity level of the Nucleus Accumbens during the reward process. During the anticipation phase, activity level in this area is high. When the reward is received, activity levels in the Nucleus Accumbens drop off. Rewards, like making money, are well, rewarding …. :-) but people are more stimulated and motivated by the anticipation of the gain.

1. Plan longer-term rewards into the system and keep reminders visible.

2. When you want a higher than normal activity and productivity level, count on the period before the reward, not during or following it.

Keep layers of goals active for yourself AND for your team. Dreaming about future rewards helps people stay motivated to achieve goals that can only be earned through patience and commitment.