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.

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!