Back Off! 12 tips to destress your commute

The pickup truck turned on its brights as it bore down on the bumper of my vehicle.  This was the driver who just did this in my rear view mirror to two other drivers.  He slides to the left of the lane, implying that I am driving too slow, and flashes his lights three times….now five times.  Everything in me wants to not give this person their way.  I’m quickly creating a story about this driver and it is not favorable.

 

The city in which I commute has dramatically seen its traffic increase – more people have moved here and the creation of new construction zones only adds to the congestion.  My commuting stress inspired this post and in fact, it was created while I was commuting to a client today as one of my stress management techniques.  I know that my worst behaviors come out when I am driving. Is it testosterone, competitiveness, a sense of fairness?  What keeps triggering me to become more aggressive while driving and to detest my commutes?  Who caused this to happen? Yes, I have become my own worst enemy behind the wheel, but today it stops.  I decided that I am never again going to have a crummy commute.  (Can we just make those kinds of decisions for ourselves?)

We know that stress causes fight or flight reactions.  Fight shows up for me behind the wheel.  The brain’s amygdala is hijacked. It’s me or him (sometimes her) – a binary choice.  Our stress levels go down when we have many choices. This idea of going from a yes/no, true/false paradigm to a multiple-choice paradigm has helped me not only with driving, but with other scenarios in life when I feel triggered, angered, or am frustrated.

Perspective taking is such a great gift.  I can ask myself why that driver must have that lane.  Why are they riding the tail of my car? Who knows? Why do I care so much? What would happen if I just focused on safely getting to my destination?  Is that spot that I have on the road really mine?  What would happen if I imagined there were no other drivers on the road and I was just in my own experience, safely getting to my destination each day?

I challenge you as I challenge myself with the following alternatives:

Option 1: Be quiet with my thoughts.  Well, that would be a novel idea!  When did that last happen?

Option 2: Listen to some relaxing music.  Allow the lower volume and slower tempo to have an effect.  Sing along if that is relaxing or enjoyable.

Option 3: Breathe deeply.  Take 3-5 deep breaths. It helps us to relax and enhances mental acuity.

Option 4. Enjoy the scenery.

Option 5: Do something creative – brainstorm and dictate into your phone.

Option 6: Talk (hands-free) to a loved one on the phone.

Option 7: Learn a language.  It’s a great way to turn frustration into enjoyment and productive time.

Option 8: Listen to a book or podcast.  Learning and enjoyment will follow.

Option 9:  Practice gratitude.  This could last your whole commute!

Option 10:  Pray.

Option 11:  Take a new way home.  It’s good for your mind to notice new things.

Option 12:  Try the right-hand lane (for those in the US/Canada) and see what happens.  We still get to our destination.

We can spend a lot of time in our vehicles. I’m hoping that you can find less stress in your commute as a result of trying some of these ideas.   I’m expecting to experience the same thing myself.

Hope for Control Freaks

control-freak-dogs-2

His 360-degree feedback results were full of critique. They indicated that he delegated poorly, had to be involved in everything, and was highly impatient with others. That one of his direct reports noted he was “overbearing in discussions and a poor listener” sent Marcos over the edge when we discussed his results. Not only had he been unaware of the intensity behind the comments, he hung his head and admitted that for this seemingly high achiever, these observations were all too familiar in his career.

What a deceptive concept control can be. We believe we have much more of it than we actually do. An expert in child development notes that parents believe they have control over their children long after it has faded. Control issues apply to most aspects of our careers and experiences in leadership as well. Controlling behaviors include manipulation, coercion, being domineering, and micro-managing. Why are people called “control freaks” instead of “control ninjas”? I wouldn’t sign up to be controlled.

Shirzad Chamine’s Saboteurs assessment (link below):

http://www.positiveintelligence.com/assessments/

lists Controller as an “Anxiety-based need to take charge and control situations and people’s actions to one’s own will. High anxiety and impatience when that is not possible.” I’ve created that kind of stress and sabotaged myself (and others) in the process. If I set my expectation that I will win the raffle, buy many tickets to increase my control over the outcome and then get disappointed that I didn’t win, who did that to me? I think it was me. Our belief system can lead us to think that if we don’t “control” an outcome, someone else will. Many control freaks would agree.

Many corporate leadership programs are now featuring the concept of VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous). After a number of challenging campaigns, military leadership was on to something with this acronym. One could say that VUCA is the opposite of control and if we are honest with ourselves, it applies to our careers and professional lives. If there is truly less in our control than we think, why not give up, toss up on our hands and say “whatever”?

The great news, despite our illusory desire to control outcomes, is that we always have the power of choice that we can exercise.  Choice allows us to respond vs. react. Choice creates options when we are faced with VUCA conditions.

The Serenity Prayer* reminds me that I have choices. In fact, letting go can be one of the most powerful choices I can ever make. I don’t need to, nor can I control something that I let go of. It frees me to get out of a control paradigm to move into a choice paradigm. By accepting what comes at me as simply an experience, I can exercise choice constantly, consciously raising my energy

When you are tempted to control vs. choose, try these questions:

  • What is truly in my control vs. outside of it?
  • What illusion of control am I believing at this moment?
  • What am I actually fearful of?
  • Why waste energy on something I cannot control?
  • What choices do I have that I might be missing?

Choice is free, practical, available for daily use and it produces results.  I am comforted by the fact that I always have more choices than I can see at any one moment. Decrease your control freak stress and increase your calm and throughput by constantly exercising choice. It will make a positive and powerful difference.

*God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

 

6 tips to easier networking

Business professionals network for many reasons. While some people want to sell something, others want to meet people that could favorably influence their career.  Others have relocated and want to establish themselves in a new community.   Effective networking is not for the faint of heart, but it doesn’t have to be sheer pain either.  As an executive coach, I challenge clients to reframe their reality.  Reframing how we think about networking can help us do it more effectively and successfully.   Try these 6 ways to increase your networking efficacy.

networking

Have realistic expectations

You won’t know everyone in the room by the end of the night, so don’t expect to.  Do you want to measure success by the size of your stack of business cards by the end of the event?  That could be indicative of too many superficial conversations.   A few quality conversations constitute success.  I was recently contacted by someone I had met at an event almost a year ago.  What did they remember about me that caused them to call? How did I show up that evening that made our interaction memorable?  As I think back to it, we found that we had a number of things in common and we made a point to get to know one another.

Take the focus off yourself

Almost everyone likes to talk about themselves.  If you are nervous about meeting others or sharing about yourself, try going on the offensive.  “Tell me about you!” “I would love to hear more…” “I like hearing about…..”  When our focus is not on ourselves, we don’t have any pressure.   The other person we are having the conversation with feels honored and respected that we listened well.  They will remember us as someone at the event who cared to know them.

Practice curiosity

People are incredibly interesting.  Each person has stories and enjoys sharing them when they are comfortable doing so.  Asking open-ended questions about the topics they are disclosing is a great way to get a conversation going.  Let’s say they just shared about an amazing vacation they just completed.  While I love vacations, I’m sure their vacation was unique in many ways which prompt questions: How was that experience for you?  What was the best part for you?  What would you do differently next time?  What are 2-3 other places on your vacation bucket list?  What do you find interesting about those locations?

Be yourself 

I have my networking heroes – people that can “work a crowd” or simply can engage others with ease.  How do they do that?  For starters, they are comfortable in their own skin.  They aren’t pretending to be anyone else but themselves.   We can do the same thing for ourselves.  Trying to be someone we are not can create an imposter syndrome.  Authenticity, confidence, and vulnerability are people magnets.  They come from the integrity of knowing who we are, what we stand for, what is real about us (including our faults), in addition to knowing who we are not.

Keep easy questions handy

“What brings you to this event?”  “How’s your experience of networking going this evening?”  “Tell me about the most interesting person you met this evening….perhaps I should meet them.”  “What’s the best networking event you have gone to this year?” “What’s your most effective networking question?”

We can talk with anyone about anything if our questions express sincere interest and we feel comfortable about asking them.

Take a friend with you

Networking can bring out memories of junior high dances where the safest spot was against the wall with my buddies.  Having a friendly face at the networking event can be reassuring.  If you can resist the temptation to hang out only with your friend vs. just knowing they are there doing what you are doing, it can increase your resolve to be effective at the event.  You can always meet with your friend later to talk about what you both accomplished.  It’s not much different from having an accountability partner as you work at goal achievement.

You next job will likely result from someone you know who knows someone else.  Effective networking is an essential skill that doesn’t need to come with pain and discomfort.  Practicing it and gaining comfort with it is one of the best activities you can do for your career growth.

Avoiding slow death by budget

As a former controller and CFO, I have overseen many budget seasons.  You can feel it coming – college football starts, there is a chill in the air, everyone is too busy, in too many meetings, and people are on edge.  It comes every year.  Don’t Mondays happen once a week?  No surprise.  You may think your organization is unique but likely it is not.  Businesses need to strategize and plan for the future.  They need to attach numbers to a plan. It’s how it works.  However, there are budget games played, and they can drive us nuts.

I can speak from experience.  I’ve been on the side of setting goals for the organization, and I’ve been on the side that receives them ‘from on high’.  I confess that I have been caught up in those budget games – it’s easy to let it happen.

budget-game

From the executive board room we hear the following statements wafting through the air:

“We need a double-digit revenue growth – give me numbers to support that.”

“Keep your expenses flat….better yet, what can you give back?”

“Our shared services allocations are out of control – what value are we getting from them?”

“Sales is totally sand-bagging – they can do better than that.”

These are all statements we might hear as we are immersed in this busy season.  I’m asking you to change your budgeting mindset.  You can let the budget games throw you for a loop, or you can take it in stride and not let them knock you off your game.  What could you hear that might surprise you?  In reality, probably very little.

Some suggestions to make yourself budget-ready:

  1. Prepare three scenarios so you are ready for anything that comes your way.
  2. Consider who your low performers are.  You may be asked to cut staff. Perhaps you should not have waited until the budget season to deal with their low performance.  Deal with them.  They likely know something is coming and you will feel better about not avoiding the situation.
  3. Accept that strange behavior will happen. People will get territorial.  Some leaders will be irrational. That’s their problem. You don’t need to join in.  Strong leaders always look at what is best for the organization first. Be one of them.
  4. Free up your brain. Don’t get lazy and play the – “let’s increase by 3% game since that’s what people expect in their paycheck”.  What could you do differently?  What would transform your area of responsibility? What would infuse growth and value into the company?
  5. The budget is both a reconciliation and iterative process. Acknowledge that multiple passes through it is natural.  “Top-down” and “bottom-up” approaches rarely come to the same point on the first try.  Patience with the process increases our objectivity so we can agree to a number. Expect to revise your numbers – it’s going to happen.
  6. Realize that great business planning (which includes the budget) can and should acknowledge business realities while at the same time allow for aspirations, stretching, and reaching for the next level of performance. There is a natural tension that exists between setting a high goal and managing the belief of what can actually be done. It’s always there, so acknowledge it. It’s healthy. If it were your business, you would want to improve performance.

 

You control you.  Remind yourself of that constantly in budget season.  You can expend, waste or invest energy during this budget season.  Which one will it be?  Rise above the budget games and advance your business forward.

Tired or relaxed?

Here’s a fun little post from Paul Hellman that I appreciated. What if we indeed replaced “tired” with “relaxed” in our messaging to both ourselves and others?  It makes for some interesting dialogue.  The four box model referenced in the link below is a good one to keep in mind.  Everyone wants to be more “in the flow” where productivity is effortless – calm energy.

calm

Is it as simple as replacing words?  Well, yes and no.  The word replacement is simple but believing what we are saying is another matter and of more import.  It’s worth a try!

Express Potential Tip

5 Steps to Decision Making Excellence

5 Steps to Decision Making Excellence

Should we invest in this new technology ourselves or outsource it to a developer?  Should I leave my current job for the one that looks great in the media advertisement?  Should we buy the house or rent for another few years?  Does waiting to make this decision improve or diminish my chances of a “good” decision?

Waiting for a Sign

Decisions can be so weighty.  The stress of decisions can be increased when the clock is about to expire.  How can we find an easier way to make and live with critical decisions?  Try these five tips to facilitate better and faster decision making.

1). Choose clarity over certainty

It is said that our intuitive mind processes at exponentially greater speeds than our analytical mind.  While difficult to believe, there are many times we have figured out what decision to make before we do a pro and con list about the decision.  However, many people simply trust facts and numbers more than gut instincts.  In Pat Lencioni’s The Five Temptations of a CEO, he reminds us of the competition between clarity and certainty.  When we are clear, we don’t need more proof of a direction – we can proceed.   Asking myself if I will care about this decision five or ten years from now can also bring clarity.

2). Forget about failure (at least for a moment)

Fear of failure can paralyze us from making sound decisions.  Try reframing what you are thinking about failure related to a given decision.  If life is simply a series of experiments, we could take more chances, “fail” more often, and progress farther and faster due to not being stuck in indecision.  Allowing ourselves to “course correct” toward our goals is a gentler way of looking at the impact of our decisions vs. a pass/fail model.

3). Assign probabilities

Studies indicate that many of our worries never actualize.  An executive coaching client recently shared this thought on worry:  “Worry is nothing more than negative forecasting”.   My former CFO once stated that we should take risks when the odds are in our favor (and this was before The Hunger Games!) What data supports that a risk is worth taking?  What’s the worst (or best!) that could happen?  How realistic are my expectations about the impact of my decision?

When we assign a probability and validate the likelihood of something occurring as a result of our decisions, we can more adequately size up the impact of those decisions.

4). Phone a friend

Two heads truly can be better than one.  It is presumptuous to think that I can see things from all angles.  I have biases that taint objective reality.  By calling on someone else to help me think through my decision, I stand a better chance of making a decision that considers all possibilities. It also mitigates fear of failure.  It’s true that friends will have biases as well.  I’ll take my chances, however, on a broader field of vision via multiple inputs to increase my competence in decision making.

5). Break it down into steps

Some decisions seem so large in our minds that we simply defer, avoid, or punt.  We determine that the implications are too substantial that we don’t want to face them.  Taking smaller steps in a direction that we want to go can be an alternative way to make large decisions more “bite sized”.  What is one step I can take now that moves me forward?  What steps could I take that allow me the ability to still keep options open?  Where can I foresee future points of measurement that validate the smaller decisions that I am making?

The decision making process can be intimidating if we allow it to be so.  Try these five steps to see if your next decision is that much easier and more sound.

What’s in your story?

Self-talk continues to be one of my favorite areas to focus on to help my clients get results.  We are constantly talking to ourselves.  What are we saying?  Why are we saying it? Are we aware that we are saying?  What if we don’t like what we are saying?  For over a year, I have been practicing self-talk daily and it is making a difference.  A big difference.

Please take a look at the following article related to self-talk to see what you can learn as well.

 

http://www.performanceleadershipinstitute.com/executive-forum/the-power-of-personal-narrative-does-your-story-hold-you-captive-or-set-you-free

 

 

 

First and lasting impressions

The power of our brains continues to amaze me.  This whole idea of profiling could actually be a real thing based on the article link below.  As I work with coaching clients, I find that they are driven crazy by the fact that others “put them in boxes”.   When they acknowledge that they do the same thing, it changes things.  How do we “unbox” someone?  How do we get them to unbox us?

first-impressions

Our minds are doing an important thing by processing as fast as they do. Using your body to send the right signals is an important point from the article. The practical suggestions are just that – we take in our first experience with others using all of our senses.  Positive first impressions can help us long down the road by not creating boxes that we need to later reshape.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/carolkinseygoman/2015/05/08/why-first-impressions-stick-and-what-you-can-do-about-it/

Optics are everything

In the past five years or so, I have become acquainted with the Johari window. It is an incredibly helpful tool as I attempt to bring the most value possible to my executive coaching clients.

johari-window

It is a fact that we can be blind or unknowing related to many things including those pertaining to who we are and how we show up.  In Seth Godin’s blog post today (inserted below), we are reminded to be observant.

I didn’t see it because I wasn’t looking

My friend Alan came over to dinner the other night. Unbeknownst to me, he had a few plastic scorpions in his pocket (a reminder of a recent adventure).

I saw a plastic scorpion on the bowl of nuts, but I didn’t see it, I just moved it aside and went ahead preparing dinner. A few minutes later, I saw a second plastic scorpion on the counter, but again, I didn’t actually see it, didn’t pause or consider it, I just moved on. It took until the third plastic scorpion before I said, “huh.”

This is one reason we feel the need to yell ‘surprise’ at a surprise party. Because we all have blinders on.

The people who are the very best at noticing what’s happening notice it because they’re looking.

“You can see a lot just by looking.”

 

How might we better achieve our goals by being more observant?  By being in the moment more often?  By noticing all going on within us and around us?

Much of the executive coaching work that I do is around our leveraging our personal energy for success.  When we are in catabolic energy (weak, victim, conflict, apathetic, self-absorbed), we are de facto, myopic in our outlook.  We don’t see options and choices.  We feel trapped and stuck. It’s much easier to blame someone else for where we are at than to accept responsibility and take action.

All it takes is raising our field of vision by 10% or 20% to see that we actually have many more choices than we acknowledge.  The more choices we have, the more we can take action.  As we take action, our anabolic energy (power, opportunity, intuition, curiosity, creativity, solution-orientation) rises and we actually become even more observant.  We are very powerful beings – while observation may seem like a passive activity, I believe it is actually an active one.  It can be easier and seemingly safer to not notice, not look up, not acknowledge what is going on.

In hockey, it is said that those who skate with their heads down are not only subject to injury (imagine a 6′ 4″, 240 pound defenseman looking to level you to the ice), but are less productive in the game. They simply can’t see the beautiful pass they can make or skate to space to position themselves to score.

Here’s to lifting our heads up and truly seeing and noticing the incredible possibilities that exist right now.

 

 

 

 

 

Nearly impossible

A number of months ago, I ran across this mini-blog post from Seth Godin. While it is so subtle, it is so important.   When I went through coaching school, we were taught about “limiting beliefs”.  These are beliefs that we have that limit us in some way.  If I believe something to be impossible, I won’t try to do anything about it.  But if it is “nearly impossible”, I look at it and think about it differently.  I will assess the odds and probabilities of possibly accomplishing it, perhaps with great effort or sacrifice.

It’s not that I want to try everything that is “nearly impossible”, but it is more of a lesson of reminding me of how I believe in anything.  If I believe an event is a 50/50 that it could occur, how accurate is that?  Could it really be 60/40 or 70/30?  If I can’t independently or factually confirm any of these values, then it really comes back to my beliefs about it.  What if I tweak my beliefs by just a bit?  Does it change the reality?  Could I achieve more if I just tweaked my beliefs? This still has me thinking.

From Seth:

The difference between impossible and nearly impossible

Is as big as any difference we encounter. All we need is ‘nearly’ and we have completely transformed the problem–changing it from one to avoid to one to commit to.

Here’s the hard part: having the ability to see (and to announce) the ‘nearly’ part.

Almost every breakthrough comes from someone who saw nearly when no one else did.