Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Do you feel guilty if you sit still?

My life as a comma

I find it hard to sit still. My mind is always buzzing. The moment I sit down I usually jump up again because I think of things I've forgotten to do, can't forget to do or have to do at that moment. When I do sit down, my husband says it's just a comma in my life!

In fact, unless I am on holiday I feel really uncomfortable, even guilty, just sitting down to read a magazine or novel. And watch a movie or TV during the day? It would be simpler, emotionally, to fly to the moon.

Can you relate to that?  What is it that drives this behavior? And what implications does it have, not only for rest and recharging but also for creativity and innovation? 

And how does this spill over into our lives at work? How can we be energized and efficient, reflective and strategic if we don't sit still long enough to let thoughts percolate? How can we build trusting relationships with the team around us if we don't stay still long enough to be emotionally engaged in the relationship?

The boss who never stops

I thought about Peter. He was a man I worked with many years ago. Peter arrived in the office at 7.30am and was usually the last to leave. He was always on the go - visible, active, always busy but he didn't get the results that we anticipated. And his relations with his team were poor.

That made me think about a CEO I worked with for a number of years. Let's call him Simon. Simon was another of those people always on the move. Yet I spent most of that time trying to get him to stay out of the operational areas and focus on being ‘emotionally' available to his executive team. The challenge was that his comfort zone was in the operational area where he had excelled and charted his very successful career.

Our boss didn't know us

To put it bluntly, he was shy and uncomfortable talking to people who weren't his buddies. And it showed. His staff meetings and presentations made us all see and feel his discomfort. He shared plenty of facts and figures, strategy, plans for the future and intelligence about what the competition was up to.

But he never engaged us on a personal level.  although he was always busy, we didn't know anything about Simon. And we certainly didn't believe he knew anything about us.

As a result, people switched off, felt uninspired and did not feel they could raise questions that were on their minds. Simon lacked personal credibility as a leader even though he was a smart and likable man and a great engineer. 

Inevitably the good people took their ambitions, ideas and innovative ‘what if's' elsewhere and the organization lost serious intellectual capital.

If only Simon had taken the time to do the things that really count: ie get to know people personally, share stories, pay attention to their individual needs, goals and aspirations, help them overcome their concerns and encourage and reward their enthusiasm. And as a leader, that was his job.

Guilt in the home

I also thought about two women I am close to - a friend and a family member. One works extraordinarily long hours (over 13 hours a day) in a very senior role, then spends almost all of her non-working time looking after her young daughter. Yet she feels guilty if she reads a magazine for 5 minutes or takes time to exercise.

The other woman has just had an operation to remove a cancerous growth. 48 hours after the operation, she is feeling guilty because her pain and exhaustion mean she has to sit still.

Too much activity can sabotage us

As a leader and change catalyst, engendering trust, building relationships, listening to others and garnering emotional commitment are mission critical skills. How else can we get our people on board with cost cutting, streamlining processes, with changing or eliminating practices and behaviors they know and are comfortable with? How else can we excite their curiosity and passion about a new version of the future and what it might mean for them?

Three fundamental of successful change

ChangeTrack Research (CT0508
has identified three fundamentals of successful change:

* Change must make a positive difference to the bottom line
* Trust in leaders. If it evaporates, change falls over
* There is no such thing as ‘one size fits all'

So while Simon and Peter were setting out to achieve the first, their inability or unwillingness to be ‘still', to be in relationship with their people long enough to work on the other two fundamentals, meant that neither they, nor the companies, achieved their full potential.

What drives this behavior?

Perhaps it's a gene and generational thing. I recall my mother, who never sat still herself, made sure that we were always doing something. Sitting and reading was only permissible if it was homework and all the housework was done (almost an impossibility). That's my recollection yet it's probably faulty because we now know that each time we recall a memory, we refashion it into the new context. That's both the ‘beauty and the beast' of neuro-plasticity.

But unless and until we examine our behavior drivers, we simply keep doing them and they become ingrained, habitual and hard to change. Even though I know that the implications I draw from my memory may not be accurate, the ‘guilt' attached to sitting still feels real.

Visibility at work

And at work, what do we value? What have we habitually valued over the years? Even though organisations talk about focus on outcomes and results, how many managers do you know, still feel uncomfortable if someone is not in the workplace, is working from home, seems to be spending a lot of time talking to others or conversely doesn't seem to be doing very much at all? Why aren't they DOING something!

The Almond Effect®

Of course I suspect our amygdala is  involved in this. So I ask what are we anxious (fearful) about that conjures this need to be constantly on the move and be suspicious of others who aren't?

As I have discussed many times, The Almond Effect® is when our amygdala triggers reactions to perceived threats that are simply psychological not physical. It doesn't make it any less real of course.

And thoughts are just that. They are simply constructs in our brains. We can change those thoughts and the feelings and behaviors that go with them. We can apply STAR to these behaviors:

* Stop and catch yourself moving, moving, moving whether it be in your mind or your body

* Think about what's driving your behavior and what would be the consequences if you were ‘still' and reflective for a period

* Act differently - set goals for how long you will be 'still' and 'present' for others

* Rewire - ask yourself if anything disastrous happened when you did reach your goal and stayed ‘still' whether in mind or body. When you realize it didn't, rewire that insight and reflection into your memory.

My goal

So I have just been still for the last couple of hours writing this blog. 

Admittedly I am on a plane so that may have an influence! But I am practicing what I preach and am re-training myself to be still both in my mind and body, in the office and at home.

Practicing Mindfulness is one part of that strategy and we will come back to Mindfulness, its role in focusing attention and controlling stress and anxiety (The Almond Effect®) in another blog post. 

In the meantime the goal I'm aiming for? That my husband tells me I've progressed from a comma to a semi-colon and so I'm aiming to be ultimately to a page break!

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