Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Are you Confident? Are you Smart? Are you into P & P? (Procrastination and Perfectionism)


At a workshop I attended recently, I learned a lot but I also got some interesting surprises from talking to several of the participants.

There was one guy (let's call him Dan) who quickly, though not deliberately, drew attention to himself because he was so smart, really low key, gentle, not arrogant - and, as I said, smart.

Have you come across this sort of person in your life? Their brains are so logical and considered. You (if you're like me) could be getting swept up in a new idea, a fabulous insight, a moment of clarity when suddenly, out of left field, comes this rational, logical, thoughtful, challenging question that makes you bolt upright and stop dead in your tracks thinking: ‘Why didn't I think of that? Good point' causing you to reconsider and evaluate and hopefully get even more out of the moment.

Dan asked those kinds of questions.

Smart people procrastinate

Later he and I were paired in an activity - and here came my surprise. Dan told me his biggest challenge was procrastination. He wanted to write on a subject that was a bit ‘out there'; a new approach to science fiction but he couldn't quite get around to it. He'd start then walk away. He couldn't stick at it.

He'd go to his study to write but then get side tracked into checking his email, following up a query from someone else, remember that he needed to do something else in the office, create a list of things to do, deviate off into checking something on a website etc etc and then suddenly the day was over and he'd got no further with his writing.

And this had been going on - not for months, but years.

I was really surprised. I had make this sub-conscious assumption that because Dan was smart, he was confident in his own abilities and would just go ahead and ‘put it out there'.

But as he talked about his situation, it became clear that Dan was concerned about putting ideas down on paper that he wasn't convinced were 100% right.

So rather than go with a 90% conviction that his ideas were good, he didn't do anything at all towards his dream goal.

Confident people procrastinate

Surprise number two was similar. Again paired up in an activity, another participant, someone who I knew as a confident successful colleague (let's call him Liu), asked me to help him work through an issue - again it was procrastination.

In this case, Liu was completing some media work, creating three sets of CDs. Although he'd made several CDs before, he thought these were the best he'd done. They were all recorded and edited. The contents listed, the artwork almost completed but Liu couldn't get around to finalizing the production details for the duplicator to generate the finished product.

He told me there was probably only about another 4 hours work in the project. But instead of completing it, he found himself watching replays of the rugby, working on other projects, playing with his son, simply finding plenty of other things to do rather than the very thing that he most wanted to do - or so he said.

Neurotic Perfectionism

The problem with these conversations were that they were too close for comfort! I recalled speaking with a friend from Western Australia many years ago about this very subject and she described it as neurotic perfectionism. And so I confess: I am a sufferer.

The conversations with Dan and Liu got me wondering again: what is it that holds us back from starting or finishing certain things? What is it that makes us knowingly procrastinate - and then, and here's the worst part, beat ourselves up for doing it?

And why is it that so many people seem to share this predicament? The more people I talk to about my growing interest in this topic - the more people say to me: 'when you find the answer - let me know!'

Is it perfect?

Well I wonder if no matter what excuses or reasons we use, the real answer comes down to this...fear of failure. If we set ourselves really high standards, a state of perfectionism, then if what we produce is not ‘perfect' by our standards, then we see this as failure. And rather than risk failure and disappointment, we don't do it at all.

Or perhaps we don't know when to finish, to say that what we've been doing really is good enough now. We don't have the courage to draw a line in the sand and say: OK that's 85% of total perfection - it's enough; I'll now complete the project, tick the box and move on to the next one.

It's our amygdala again

A wonderful friend gave me a book by Lafferty and Lafferty called "Perfectionism: A Sure Cure for Happiness" (1996 Human Synergistics, Inc). It's an easy read and an insightful book on the subject. I recommend it.

Here's one sentence that made me sit up and take notice:

"Perfectionism is a personal defense system that originates in overcompensation for an overall deep sense of not being worthwhile."
 
And another:

"The origins of perfectionism rest in the perceived inability of the child to ever do well enough: to be acceptable, and to be seen as loved and important. Perfectionists believed they could not please some important figure in their life, and are symbolically still trying."
 
Does this sound like The Almond Effect® to you? It did to me.

I don't know what might have caused the proclivity for procrastination for Dan. But when Liu and I talked, he reflected on his early childhood as a "new Australian" in the days of the White Australia policy and people whispering about the ‘Yellow Peril". (My grandmother spoke like that. She would never eat Chinese food and sadly, even rejected a gift from my brother when he was 10 years old because it had "Made in China' stamped on the bottom. Decades on I still remember that.)

Liu recalled that as a young boy and even as a young man, he never felt he would be good enough, would never get the blond blue-eyed girl of his dreams (he did!) and always felt like a second class citizen.

I asked him whether this made him as afraid of success as he was of failure? His answer: "If the CDs are as successful as I believe they could be, I'll probably feel like a fraud!"

This certainly got me thinking that procrastination could be as much about the fear of achievement, about feeling not worthy as about fear of failure.

I wish I'd said something then

And I wondered if the fear of looking stupid, looking foolish, not living up to someone else's expectations, not being good enough carried through into our reluctance to speak up at work, to challenge our colleagues, our bosses, to ask questions in meetings, to put our hands up for projects and new roles?

I've come to the view that procrastination (if it's not simply laziness and I doubt that it is for most people I've spoken with) really must stem from fear. And if we do procrastinate, then the one thing we mustn't put off is trying to understand what we are afraid of, and assess whether the fear is warranted or not.

Be a STAR

I'm applying my STAR technique to unravel what's going on.
  • Stop and catch yourself allowing fear (new or old and habitual) preventing you from doing what it is to want to start, say or complete. Notice when it happens and what you do when it does. What do you feel when you ‘walk' away, at the time? Later in the day?
*       Think about where it's coming from? Where did it all begin? What are and have been the consequences? Does the degree of fear and the consequences warrant the outcomes so far? Is this what you want to continue to do going forward? What's the worst thing that could happen if you put your fear on hold, turn your almonds (amygdalae) down (because you can't turn them off), feel the fear and do it anyway? What's the best thing that could happen? 

*       Act Just do it. Choose something you have been procrastinating about - and don't put off deciding to do this!
 
*       Rewire When you've achieved even one step closer to your goal, give yourself a pat on the back. Well done. One less step to go. Let it sink into your brain that you have made progress and that it went OK. Rewire your brain to the feeling of achievement rather than the fear of failure. 

What to do next: do this now


Choose just one thing: for example having the conversation about your workload with your manager, facing up to a difficult situation with a team member about the progress of a project, talking to your partner about something they say to the children, even a task as painful as sorting out the belongings of someone you've lost to cancer. It doesn't matter whether it's major or a minor thing - just choose something that you beat yourself up for not doing.

Then set yourself a deadline, decide on your reward for doing what you are going to do - and just do it. No more planning, no more being sidetracked, no more worrying about carrying out a little more research, consulting with another person, doing the ironing, preparing for next weekends BBQ, just do it.

 
They don't have to be big steps - just one at a time. Work out who has been holding you back. Mentally thank them for helping you to achieve your best but let them know you can do it without them now and do even better things that they will (or would be) proud of.

And when you achieve that outcome that you have been procrastinating about - make sure you collect that reward you promised yourself. It's not an indulgence - it's the way the brain's neurons learn that the new pathways are the better ones.






PS Help me with my research on this

If you have any examples of procrastination that you think may be due to fear of failure or fear of success or indeed some other reason, then I would love to hear from you. Happy to offer some thoughts about how to deal with it if I can - especially if you're not sure where it's coming from. Confidentiality 100% guaranteed. Click here.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Can you say NO to your boss?

What have the deaths of 18 month old twins and a murder-suicide got to do with saying no to your boss?

Quite a lot if you ask yourself - how could this happen?

Some years ago, the twins died, apparently from malnutrition, and their bodies left in their cots for over a week. The alarm was raised only when their 11 year old sibling noticed the smell.

The murder-suicide happened after the perpetrator mailed a stream of letters to the media warning of his intention.

Another example - surveillance camera footage from China showed a two year old knocked over and dying on the road. 18 people passed this child before anyone stopped to do anything to help.

And in Connecticut, USA in a similar horrible incident a 78 year old man was left lying in the road after being hit by a car, ignored by bystanders and motorists alike. It made me giddy with disbelief to watch it.
 
What was your reaction to those stories?

Mine was - didn't the neighbors notice anything? Why didn't the media do something? What were people thinking to leave the any injured child or a paralyzed man lying helplessly on the road? These were my thoughts but the critical question is, would they have translated into any action on my part? On your part?

The Power of Fear

Let's consider some other situations.For example:
  • What do you do when you hear the alarm go off in a neighboring property? Do you call the police or choose not to get involved? An Australian 000 operator - that's emergency services like 999 (UK), 911 (USA), 111 (NZ) - said on the local radio that the majority of calls to 000 about burglar alarms were not concerns that a robbery might be taking place but complaints about the noise!
  • What would you do if you suspected that your brother or sister might be dealing in drugs?
  • Why do you put off having that important conversation with your spouse about the spiraling credit card debt?
  • Why do you put off having that important conversation with your spouse about what's happening to your relationship?
And at work:
  • What would you do if you saw your manager instructing staff to ‘cut corners', putting employees' safety at risk to reduce costs?
  • What would you do if you saw a fellow employee falsely trading in foreign exchange options - to the tune of $118 million dollars and getting a performance bonus of over $100, 000 for his work? (This was what happened in 2005 at NAB.)
  • What would you do if your managers were both ignoring potentially catastrophic warnings from you and other engineers about the dangers of launching a spacecraft on a really cold day and failing to adequately report these technical concerns to their superiors? Click here if you want to know where this happened.
  • What would you do if you strongly suspected that your most successful salesperson was sexually harassing a colleague but no formal complaint had been made?
  • What would you do if your boss asked you to do something that was:

    1. Ethically but not legally wrong? 
    2. Against the best interests of the shareholders
    3. Contrary to the strategic direction of the company?
    4. Didn't contribute to the strategic direction of the company
    5. Required you to work such long hours (for the 4th week in a row) that your family life was beginning to fracture?

Are we callous? Or are we afraid?

Have you, have we, lost confidence in our ability to get involved, to tackle the really difficult situations in our lives? What holds us back?

Are we fearful and therefore so protective of our self-interest that we don't step in when we should because we are concerned for the consequences?

How prepared are we to accept responsibility for what goes on in our own lives and in our community, our workplace?

Our ‘almonds' (amygdalae) have a lot to answer for. When we find ourselves in such situations, The Almond Effect® mobilizes and propels us toward actions that ensure our ‘survival'. But how many of the examples I have given truly put us in physical harm's way?

Most of them, and particularly the work ones, raise questions about our values and our ethics and how far we are prepared to confront our fears to act? How comfortable are you living with the knowledge that you did not act.

If you find yourself saying: ‘I should have...', then it's time to think and focus some more on what held you back.

The impact of fear on company culture

Clearly these are conversations that go to the core of who we are and what our companies stand for. But they are hard questions. I wonder if such courageous conversations had been held and resolved, would the outcomes have avoided the corporate collapses like HIH, Enron, WorldCom, Global Crossing, Qwest, Dynegy, CMS Energy, Tyco, Peregrine, Sunbeam, Baptist Foundation of Arizona?

Would employees, shareholders and all the other stakeholders have been spared not only financial devastation but also the very high personal and professional cost?

Most of these companies were destroyed by a culture of unethical conduct, greed and dishonesty. But surely not everyone in these companies subscribed to these cultures? So why didn't they speak up? Or did they just leave?

Tips for saying no to the boss

Standing up for yourself, your company, your department, your team or even for the best interests of the boss themselves, can be hard. There is a good chance it will set off The Almond Effect® just thinking about it!

So there are a number of components to the preparation to be able to do it.

The first is to manage your own reactions. That's where STAR comes in.

STOP - Catch your fears. What is it you are feeling? How is it going to express itself? Blushing, stuttering, passivity, anger? What emotions could you be dealing with when you speak up?

THINK - Why am I feeling this way? What in the past history of my dealings with this boss, or any boss, has caused me to experience these emotions? Where did they come from? Are the situations the same? What's different? What were the consequences then? What would be the consequences now?

ACT - Prepare yourself. There are many ways you can do this. For example, rehearsing, visualizing, and calming exercises. For resources for more ideas click here.
 
REWIRE - When you've had the conversation with your boss, whichever way it went, talk it over with your mentor, coach, partner, friend -anyone who can help you analysis what worked, what didn't, and what you would do differently in future.

And write it down somewhere so the next time you want to say ‘no' to the boss, The Almond Effect® won't get in your way.

Managing upwards - a free guide for you

In addition to STAR, the most effective way to be able to say ‘no' to the boss and keep your career and yourself intact are to:
  • build your credibility
  • earn the respect of your boss
  • understand where, when and how they like to hear ‘no'
For more information and a short PowerPoint I've prepared that gives more information on how to do this, click here.

Managing your fears - an essential work and life skill

Identifying and managing our fears has major ramifications for the way in which we live our lives - far beyond how we respond to a shadow in a dark lane or a noise in the grass.

And managing our fears in the workplace is an essential success factor both in the short and long term. Step one is to recognize when our fears are holding us back. Step two is to do something about it.
Please feel free to forward this to a colleague


Friday, April 04, 2014

PTSD may be a consequence of where you live.

We usually think of PTSD in the context of war, dreadful car accidents or other scenarios that evoke horror.
What if PTSD could be a consequence simply of where you live?

This is an interesting article on PTSD and your postcode.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Changing the Old Guard in IT

Do you agree with this approach?

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Do you ever feel like a fraud?

If you ever feel like a  fraud, an imposter - maybe in a job, doing a presentation, leading a project?

If so, please watch this.

You'll learn what you can do about this - simply and clearly.

And pass the link on to anyone else who feels (wrongly)  scared they might be 'found out'.


Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are  TED talk video

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The world's best computer?

Check out this list of 10 things your brain does on automatic





Your amazing brain

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Great exercise for helping people manage feelings during change



This is a worthwhile talk on managing the human side of change from Jason Clarke, an innovation practitioner.

If you just want the exercise, it starts at 4.07