Carrot or Stick?

How do we get people to fall in line?  Is it best to use a carrot (incentive plan, appreciation or chocolate cake) or a stick (“you’re grounded”, late payment fees or speeding tickets).  As Daniel Pink outlined in his book “Drive”, it can be a puzzling question.  There is a study outlined in a book done by Dan Ariely where three different groups in India were given tasks to do in a same period of time but they were compensated at three different rates.  The equivalent of $.50 (a day’s pay), $5 (two weeks pay), or $50 (five months pay).  The group at $.50 and $5 were comparable in results but the $50 group underperformed! More compensation had the opposite affect.  Those who receive the larger amount of incentive actually perform slower.  This really doesn’t seem to make sense.  Wouldn’t more money mean more output? Wouldn’t 5 months pay drive performance in an underdeveloped  country?  It didn’t. Carrot or Stick

I was in training at a “Telling Ain’t Training” workshop taught by Harold Stolovich.  In one of the sections of the training, we all did a Boggle challenge with 16 letters to use to make as many 3 letter+ words as possible.  On my page, it stated that “You have 3 minutes to make at least 20 words of 3 letters or more.  People at your level usually obtain this result.” Half the group had this instruction, the other half did not have it.  I was in the group that had the expectation that I would be able to make at least 20 words.  My brain locked up!  The expectation for performance shut my brain down.  The group that didn’t have the expectation of 20 words out-performed my group. So how do we go about motivating people?  How do we get them to perform in a maximum way?

Here are some tips to drive performance:

1. Simple.  If the job is simple, the carrot will work.  If it doesn’t take creativity, imagination or analysis, then use the carrot.  I have a very weak stomach.  If someone says their kid is throwing up at home, I immediately feel queasy.  I inform you of this because once my beloved dog got sick in the middle of our living room.  I went to my purse and took out a twenty dollar bill, gave it to my son and said “Take care of it.”  Simple and straight forward.  Telling him to clean it or be grounded, would not have worked. There are times when a carrot will work.

2. Pain.  There are some things that require pain to drive performance.  Pain generally will work if the result is immediate and is obvious.  If there is going to be a painful result, such as a late fee, or loss of use of a cell phone (oh no!) and the person knows that will be the result of paying the bill late or staying out past midnight; it will drive performance.  I implemented a wellness program some 4 years ago in which the penalty was up to $200 more per month additional for health insurance premiums.  We had 100% participation.  Most other wellness programs with a reward attached were considered successful with 30% participation.  Pain works in the right situations.

3. Autonomy.  Most of us want to decide for ourselves what we are going to do today.  Micro managers who dictate every “dot of an i and cross of a t”, in the long run actually diminish performance.  I can assure you that if I come in the house and tell my son to clean his room “right this instant”, I am not likely to have a great outcome.  But, if I say, “I’d like your room cleaned.  Can you get it done by 6PM when your grandparents arrive?” the outcome will likely be better.  Now my son understands the rationale and is given the latitude to decide when and how he will get it done.  Autonomy sparks performance.

4. Time Warp.  I get my best work done early in the morning after I have mediated, eaten and exercised.  My daughter gets her best work done in the afternoon and rarely is well rested.  My son is a night owl.  His peak performance could be from 8PM until 2 AM.  Here is the problem.  Many bosses, teachers and organizations want you to work a certain set of hours….or else! So what are we giving up in creativity and performance by shoe horning folks into certain hours.  Find your (or your employee’s) best time warp.

There is a time and place for all carrots, sticks and autonomy.  They all don’t work for all situations.   If you want to drive the best performance, you might want to try out a few of these ideas to see if you can move the needle on performance.

Listen up

I recently read Daniel Pink‘s book “To Sell is Human.”  His premise is that everyone is selling; that we are all trying to move people.  So teachers are trying to get students to do their homework.  Doctors are trying to get people to take their medicine.  We are all trying to move someone to do something.  The most interesting chapter was on improvising and a company called “Performance of a Lifetime” created by Cathy Salit. In this class executives are taught how to improvise which involves an intense amount of listening.  If you think about it, we can’t improvise without listening.  We can’t move people without listening.  We can’t sell without listening. images 6

My son and I share a love of listening to stories.  One of the things I look forward to on a long car trip with him is that he is always game to listen to Story Corps, Radio Lab or The Moth podcasts.  These are all documentary type radio shows where people share their stories.  They can be deeply personal, a guy recounting how he met his fiancé who later died in 9-11, or a story about how some people see more colors than others (could it be me?) or mad cap drug induced adventures in Morocco.  The thing is, if you aren’t good at listening, you will miss the meaning of the story.  And it takes practice.

So what could you be missing?  Here are some tips into how to improve your listening skills:

1.  Pause. Daniel Pink and Michael Segovia, an outstanding MBTI instructor, both recommend that you pause. Dan Pink recommends 5 seconds and Michael recommends 10 seconds. In Michael’s case, every time he asks a group of participants if they have any questions, he would count to 10 in his head.  This seems like an eternity. But for those people who prefer introversion, they need that time to reflect. Dan, on the other hand, pauses at the end of someone else talking.  It lets you reflect on what they said. Pause, digest and truly listen.

2. Eye to eye. If you are physically in the room with someone, make eye contact.  Hold their gaze when they are talking.  Be in the moment. If they are on the phone, cut all the technology. Don’t be reading emails, texts, messages, Facebook updates or playing Soduko. Imagine them being in front of you and making eye contact. Can’t you always tell when you are speaking to someone over the phone and they are distracted? We all can. Tune in and turn off the clatter!

3. Understand.   Stephen Covey said “Seek first to understand and not to respond.” If you’re busy planning your response (re: argument, counter point, brilliant repartee) you are not listening.  Ask questions that help you understand their point of view.  “What do you think your boss meant by that comment?” “How is your relationship with your Mother?” “I can see you feel hurt, what do you want to do about it?” Do a deep dive into their story. Don’t give advice. Just seek to understand.

4. Mirror. In one of the exercises that Dan Pink did in Cathy Salit’s class was to mirror someone else’s movements.  Now this type of mimicry would be over the top in real life, and cause a fist fight between my brothers and I when we were kids in the back seat of our Country Squire station wagon.  But subtly copying someone else’s stance can create some symbiosis. They lean back in the chair, you lean back. They lean in, you lean in.  This creates a sense of connection. Mirror others to build confidence.

5. Generosity. Listening is about being generous. Selfless. As a great facilitator from Inscape Publishing once said “It’s all about them.” As in your audience.  It’s time to hang up your one-ups-manship.  Your friend is talking about their trip to Hawaii? There’s no point in butting in to talk about your honeymoon in Maui.  Your co-worker just finished a year long project? Now is not the time for a diatribe on the messy project you are in the middle of that just got delayed….again.  Your spouse had a horrible day yesterday? Now is not the time to bring up the Honey Do List. Give them the gift of being the center of your attention. Completely with no strings attached.  Be generous.

6. Yes, and.  One of the exercises from Cathy Salit’s workshop is something I have experience in one of my classes while earning my Masters.  In the class, we had to plan a fictitious class reunion.  First, we were instructed to say “Yes, but.” When that played out, the energy in the room diminished.  None of the ideas had any traction. Everyone was a wet blanket suffocating inspiration.  In the next round, we were instructed to say “Yes, and.” One word changed, and we all had possibilities. We were intently listening to everyone’s ideas and building on them. Next thing you know we were holding the reunion in Rio with limos, samba lessons and caipirinhas.  Try it. It’s inspiring.

Listening is a way to be present and take in the person, loved one or group interaction around you.  It can be a gift to yourself and others to just show up and “be there”. One of the most effective ways to do that is to LISTEN.

Hold ’em or fold ’em

One of the most difficult decisions in life can be when to give up and throw in the towel.  Taking the step to cut your losses – whether it’s a relationship, a job or terminating that employee who just isn’t turning around – is a painful arduous decision.  Frequently, it feels like you are the failure.  “If I was just a little more patient…hard working…helpful…compassionate….fill in the blank.”  Some of us carry the burden of someone else’s failure. images 3

It can be a tricky decision to know when to cut the ties.  As Kenny sings, “Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.”  Perhaps it is always a gamble.  Maybe the person you are leaving really is “the one”.  Maybe this next job isn’t the dream job.  Maybe that employee can turn a new leaf.  There are no crystal balls.  There is only the decision.

So how to you determine if it’s time to cut your losses?

Here are some ideas:

1. Time.  Put a little time between you and the incident or the, “Why don’t you sleep on that?” syndrome.  Your boss blew up at you.  Your partner embarrassed you in front of some friends.  The employee just pulled a knucklehead move and everyone is talking about it at the water cooler.  This is not the time to make a decision.  Your blood pressure is up, that vein is bulging at the side of your temple and your lizard brain (that isn’t very rational) is in full control of your brain.

Give yourself a time out.

2. Distance.  Put some distance between you and the incident.  I’m not suggesting an impromptu trip to Paris (although it would be fun).  Leave the office and take a walk in a local park.  Leave the spousal argument and go to the movies.  Take a mental health day and go get a pedicure/haircut/facial/whateveryouwant. Stewing in the same house, office or classroom as the object of your ire is not going to help you get perspective.

Get some distance.  Literally.

3. Write.  Dump all your concerns on a page.  Don’t edit.  Just dump.  If you need some ideas, read a great book by Mark Levy called “Accidental Genius“.  He recommends “free writing” to work out problems, coming up with new perspectives and just enhancing creativity.  One of his ideas is to have a conversation (on paper) with someone else.  So explain your situation to Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, or Helen Keller.  Take both perspectives (yours and your historical figure) as you “talk out” the situation.  You might get done and figure out that Helen told you to appreciate what you have and go back to work.  Gandhi might tell you to move on.  You don’t know what you might come up with until you start writing.

So write.

4. Third Party.  Get a third party.  BFF.  Marriage Counselor.  Career Coach.  Your Dad.  Talk to someone outside of the situation.  Find someone unbiased.  Your best friend at work isn’t likely to be unbiased about the boss.  Your Dad won’t be unbiased about your spouse.  But if you switch them up, you might have an un-jaded perspective.  I find that the insights of others can be enlightening.  It’s a great way to test your assumptions and to clarify motives.

Get perspective.

5. Decide.  Are you in or are you out?  Make the decision.   Whatever you decide, make the commitment.  If you are in, then you are All In.  Don’t decide that you hate your job and then stay; retiring but still showing up for work.  Give it your all.  You can’t stay on the fence.  That’s not fair to anyone.  If you decide to stay with your partner, then stay with all your heart.  If you decide to fire the knucklehead; then do it with grace and dignity.

And move onDecide, commit and have not regrets.

This process can be painful.  These are crucial decisions.  Hopefully, these are rare events in your life, they have been in mine.  But hanging out on the fence can be even more painful to everyone involved.  It’s time to decide – hold ‘em, fold ‘em – there is no in between.

Keep your hands off my stuff

Hands-Off-Mat-MT-2673Seth Godin wrote a recent post called “Possession Aggression.”  It’s a short post but basically he says that it’s hard to give something substantial away but it’s even harder to take something away from someone else.  The person, department or organization starts building their world around their stuff and it gets incorporated into how they view the world.  I actually think that this is where silos start getting erected.  Accounting handles those reports, lay off! Human Resources sets up the company picnic, hands off! Thanksgiving is always at Mom’s house, back off!

Why does it become a personal affront when we try to change?  Even if the organization, the department or the extended family would be much better off with a change in who handled the stuff.  After all, it is just dinner.  A report.  A picnic.  Suddenly paranoia sets in.  Didn’t they like the way “we” handled it.  Maybe we didn’t serve enough gravy.  They didn’t like the way the report looked.  The picnic was boring.  Turn off your dictator and get off the paranoia train;  easier said than done.  We all just want to keep our stuff and for everyone else to keep their paws off.

So here are some steps to letting go of our stuff:

1. Detach. Take a step back. Take a few slow deep breaths. And detach.  Get some perspective on the situation. Sometimes our emotions go on overload and we can’t seem to get off the paranoia train.  Get off at the next station.   Give yourself some space and silence.  When someone has just absconded with your favorite project, decided they would take over the retirement party or delegated making the apple pies to your cousin (even though everyone knows your apple pies are the best);  it’s important to take a step back and detach.

2. Reframe. Once your heart rate has returned to normal and you can gain a little clarity, reframe the issue.  Stand in their shoes.  Especially the cousin who may have never made pies before.  Did he ask to make the pies? Is this a stretch goal for him? Did he just finish a baking school course and wants to test out his skills?  We can get caught up in being the victim and lose our perspective. Put on a different pair of glasses and reframe.

3. Awfulizing. I just learned this word from Michael Segovia who is a tremendous Myers-Briggs facilitator for CPP.  I can fall victim to awfulizing.  I can turn my stubbed toe into an amputation in the blink of an eye. So if my boss’ door is closed all morning, I’ve gone to the mail room to get a box for all my personal effects because I must be getting fired today.  Try to stay focused on the facts.  My boss’ door is closed.  Stop. There are millions of doors that are closed. Chill. Out.

4. Check in.  Check in with whomever you believe to be the absconder of your stuff.  Find out their perspective.  “Hey Suzie, I just found out you’re responsible for Joe’s retirement party. Let me know if you need any help.” You might find out she didn’t even know. You might find out she’s terrified.  You might find out she’s excited by the challenge and would love your input.  You won’t know unless you check in.

5. Clutter check.  Most of our plates have been too full since…well…graduation.   We all hold on tightly to our stuff.  It’s time to check the clutter in our life.  So many of us feel that our value is measured by the amount of balls we can juggle in the air at once.  If we are in a circus, that is true.  In life, we are not.  Take an inventory of what is important and on track with your values.  Let the rest go.  Dump the stuff that is cluttering your mind and life.  And, most importantly, don’t take on new stuff that doesn’t align with your values.  So if there is a new project that someone “volentold” you for, that isn’t an absolute yes…it’s a no.  Stay away from new stuff that isn’t your passion. And you won’t be inadvertently taking someone else’s stuff.

6.  Examine fear. When you do the clutter check there is likely to be fear that bubbles up…rather grips you.  If you let go, how will they do it without me. Everyone is so dependent on you, that they can’t possibly do it on their own.   I can remember leaving one HR job for another some 15 years ago. I felt sure the place would fall apart without me. Employees wouldn’t get paid. Benefits would fall through the cracks. I would let people down. They were fine.  We all survived. The bad news is that we are dispensable. The good news is that we are dispensable. Let go of the fear.

Possession is 9/10th’s of the law. Perhaps this why we guard our stuff with such fervor.  It’s amazing how it can weigh us all down; whether literally with physical possessions or figuratively with obligations on our time.  It might be time to cull out the stuff that is holding you back.

Get out of the box

I just finished a book called “Leadership and Self Deception: Getting out of the Box” by the Arbinger Institute.  According to the book, “the box  is a metaphor for the experience of self-deception. In  the box,  we distort how we see ourselves, others, and even the world of work in order to justify what we haven’t done (or what we have done that we might regret).” When we are in the box, we are pointing our fingers at everyone else.  We rationalize outcomes looking to diminish our role in any failures. images 2

I am constantly in the box.  I’m pretty sure that I rarely have ventured out of the box.  If the bed isn’t made, it’s my husband’s fault.  I’m impatient because my son isn’t ready to leave, it’s my son’s fault.  I’m leaving work late because a coworker needs some advice, it’s my coworker’s fault.  It’s amazing.  I’m never at fault.  Geez.  I must be perfect. And quite the bulldozer as I roll over everyone in my life.

So obviously, I haven’t perfected getting out of the box however  I am starting to realize steps to take to get there:

1. Wake up.  One of the things I realized is that I am so frequently gliding on auto pilot.  I’m not paying attention to my own thoughts and how “me” centric I can be.  The first step is I need to pay  attention to my view of the world and change the focus to others’  desires.  As Cher said in Moonstruck, “Snap out of it!”

2. Flip.  Change perspectives.  I’ve spent countless hours surfing bleachers as my son is a high school wrestler.  If you have never watched a match, the big take away is that in a matter of 2 seconds, who ever has the upper hand can change without notice.  Your son is on the bottom, down on points when suddenly,with 8 seconds to go, he flips his opponent and pins him for the win.  You can flip your perspective just as quickly.  What’s it like being on the receiving end of me?

3. Service. Be of service to others.  Be the giver.  Hold the door open.  Let the car in front of you merge in.  Put the kids to bed, even if it’s not your turn.  The way out of the box is to focus on the needs of others.  If I  start with service,  my focus is outside instead of inside. Live the Rotary International motto, “Service above Self.”

4.  Let go of reciprocity.   I think this is where I get hung up.  If I stay late to work on a report for my team, I expect something in return.  Maybe it’s a “thank you” or some quid pro quo on the project that I’m spearheading.  If I mow the lawn, isn’t my husband going to make dinner?  I need to let go of the prospect of reciprocity.  When I start looking for the pay back, I end up back in the box.  Suddenly the focus is on you again.  Let. It. Go.

5. People versus Objects.  The biggest take away from the book is that I have to see people as, well, people.  The minute I  start to see people as objects, I am  back in the box.  If you think about it, you can’t have a relationship with an object (at least not a healthy relationship).  Once you’ve turned your partner, your child, your colleague into an object, the relationship transactional.  A means to an end.  You are back in the box.

I am a work in progress.  I appreciate that the book acknowledges that everyone has this problem.  None of us are living outside the box all the time.  Gives me room for hope.  It gives us all room for hope.

Setting Expectations

Last week’s post was looking back over the past year to craft an annual performance review; perhaps even more critical than that is setting expectations for the coming year.  This may be for yourself (I’m finally going to pay off that credit card), for your assistant (he’s going to be an Excel ninja by May) or for your family (Disney in 2013 or bust!).  These can be called development plans, business plans, goals, intentions, metrics, departmental vision statements…it’s all pretty much the same thing.  We all need a plan. images 6

Your family isn’t going to get to Disney unless you’ve outlined a few things.  When can you go?  How are we going to get there?  How much do we want to spend?  How much can we afford to spend? What do we want to see when we get there?  All of this requires research, discussion, cooperation and planning.  Your family can’t decide today to go to Disney tomorrow.  It’s going to take a plan.  The same is true in getting your assistant to be an Excel ninja by May.

So how do we go about planning and setting expectations? Here are a few ideas:

1. Reflection.  Take some time to reflect.  This might sound crazy when you have technology and commitments fire hosing you all day.  It’s hard to make a plan if you don’t close the door, turn off your notifications, take a deep breath and reflect. The stage of your prefrontal cortex is so full of actors, it’s important to sweep the stage, send the actors to lunch and let your grey matter get some breathing room.

2. Storm.  Brainstorm some ideas.  Dump it all on paper. Disney. Sea World. Busch Gardens. Grand Canyon.  Las Vegas. The Moon.  There are no bad ideas.  You can eliminate ideas after the fact.  Afraid of heights? Grand Canyon. Allergic to fish? Sea World. You get the idea.  Dump first and then eliminate.  What about your direct report? Excel training, Powerpoint class, karate retreat, Outlook seminar.  Get a manageable list of options and then move on to the next step.

3. Collaborate.  Sit down with the family, the direct report or your partner.  Go over your list of ideas.  Get some feedback.  Ask for help.  Get on the same page.  If your spouse hates gambling, nix Vegas.  Your kids have been to Disney twice and want to try out their Spanish, add Cozumel to the list.  If your assistant really wants to try their hand at Access instead of Excel; on the list it goes.

4. Align.  Now we have to figure out what aligns with the family budget, the corporate mission or your long term plan.  If the corporate plan is to move to a different platform from Access, we may need to investigate other platforms.  If we really want to be able to purchase a new home this year and need to keep costs to a minimum, we may just want to drive to Miami, stay at a friends place and test our Spanish out on South Beach.  Make sure the expectations align with the long term goals.

5. Resources.  What’s available to make this happen?  Do you have an internal expert on Access?  Did your colleague just send their assistant to Access training last year?  Do some research on best practices.  If you want to increase customer satisfaction by year end, what do you measure now that you can use for a baseline for next year.  Or what can you create.  Is your car going to make it Miami?  Does your swimsuit still fit?  Sometimes the investment into a different, seemingly less expensive goal can out weigh the original goal.  Make sure you know the resources available.

6. Memorialize.  Put pen to paper.  Write down what you have agreed to and how you are going to measure success.  Need to have $2,000 saved by June for the trip in August.  Your assistant needs to select an Access class to take by March 15th and to complete it by June 15th.  Spell out what the plan is.  Make sure we all have a copy.  Writing it down creates a greater commitment.

7. Check points.  I frequently drive to Charlotte, NC.  I know that there is a rest area right outside of Greensboro which is about half way.  It’s my checkpoint.  My feedback.  Even if I don’t need the facilities, it’s a mental checkpoint of my progress.  When working on performance goals or planning the family trip, make sure you check in with each other to see how progress is.  Hotel reservations? Budget on track?  Class signed up for? Customer service scores going up?  Project started?  Don’t set up a plan and leave everyone in the dark.  Set up some check points.

Arriving at your final destination is what it’s all about.  If you want to get from Point A to Point B, you’re going to need a plan.  If you don’t have a business plan, or don’t have buy in from your assistant, or haven’t collaborated with your family, it’s likely to fall flat.  Don’t head out aimlessly, make sure you have planned your goal and communicated your expectations.

Rising to the Review

For many of you out there, this time of the year is when the rubber meets the road, when your boss let’s you know where you stand or, as the leader, you need to size up your direct reports.   Yep, you guessed it – The Dreaded Annual Review.  Ugh.  As a Human Resource professional, I have read thousands of annual reviews.  Some well crafted, some not.  Some meandering diatribes that serve no purpose but to prop up the author, some with one or two sentence milk toast generalizations that do little more than say “hey, you showed up for work.”images 2

I’ve wondered sometimes what would happen if we had to give an annual review to our spouse or visa versa.  I can imagine my husband saying, “Great job this year on Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner but can we back off the bell peppers for 2013?” It’s really difficult to summarize the 2080 hours of work into one or two pages of meaningful, pertinent, impactful prose.

Here are some pointers on how to survive the process:

1. Embrace.  This is going to sound counter intuitive but – try to embrace the process.  If you dwell on the dread, you will delay the inevitable and suffer the process; whether giving or receiving.   Drafting the review hours before you have to sit down and give the review will not be your best work. It will be rushed, poorly thought-out and not likely to be thorough.  If you set the intention that you look forward to the process, the end product will be all the better (and it will won’t be as painful).  If you’re about to receive a review and aren’t open to constructive criticism, you won’t be able to benefit at all from the process.

2. Document.  The traditional advice from a Human Resource professional is, “Document, document, document.”  I’m not advocating “building a file”, I’m advocating that you make detailed notes throughout the year. Many annual reviews are a reflection of what has happened in the last two months.  All the great breakthroughs and successes from last February are a faint memory.  Memorialize the high points as well as the low points; there will be both.

3. Dissonance.  Most of us look for consonance.  We look for information to back up our beliefs.  So if we think that our assistant is sloppy, we look for more information that backs up our belief that he is slipshod.  So all we will see is misspellings, input errors and crumbs on the keyboard.  Look for the dissonance; seek out neatness, examples of straightforward execution, tidiness.

4. Equilibrium.  Seek out balance.  Focusing on only negative feedback can be demoralizing.  Only “pumping sunshine” can be just as detrimental.  Most of us want to know what we can work on to get better.  In a recent training there was an excellent analogy that a tri-athlete is constantly working for better form and time.  You never “arrive” at perfection; we are all works in progress.

5. Craft. Craft the message.  Phrasing developmental feedback in the form of what the person can do “more” of is important.  As I have posted before, trying to do “less” is much more difficult to measure.  Doing “more” is proactive.  So I should suggest that my assistant be “more” detail oriented instead of being “less” sloppy.  Stay away from negating words like “but” and “however”.  They erase any words before them.

6. Eyes.  Get a second set of eyes to read what you have written.  Getting a second opinion from someone you trust is important for perspective.  Sometimes we get caught up in our own “junk”.  You could end up dwelling on Excel techniques for a third of the review and not realize that you’ve lost balance in the appraisal.   You may use euphemisms that are lost out of context.  Having a second set of eyes can help clear up the message.

I hope this has alleviated some of the dread and challenges that come with drafting annual reviews.  You can make a difference with a well crafted appraisal and investing the time to deliver a balanced, well thought out message will be appreciated by the receiver.

Biting your Tongue

You need to get good at biting your tongue if you have a teenager, spouse/partner or boss.  Don’t meddle in things that don’t concern you or that aren’t in your span of control.  In the case of a teenager, you have NO span of control; in the case of the partner or boss, only as it is bestowed upon you.  I’m not sure if it’s a gender thing but I have a real hard time staying out of what does not concern me.  I need to back off and bite my tongue.images 3

Giving your opinion on your children’s clothing, dating or music preferences is a losing proposition.  You will not gain any trust or confidence if you are criticizing your teenager’s latest clothing ensemble or iTunes download.  The Romeo and Juliet effect is alive and well.  The more you say that you don’t like “skinny jeans” or gages or head banging music (I don’t even know what the real name is…but it’s awful), the more your children will embrace it.  You strengthen their ties to whatever is the object of your disgust.

It’s not easy but there are ways to bite your tongue (without literally biting your tongue):

1. Divest.  Don’t invest your ego and the judgment thereof into your offspring, friends and co-workers.  Getting wrapped up in “what will the neighbors say?” is a losing proposition.  I can remember my son waiting for the elementary school bus at the top of the driveway, wearing sandals and no jacket on a cold windy day practicing his karate moves.  I had to let go.  The neighbors still loved him and, as far as I know, didn’t call child protective services.

2. Suspend. Quit judging by your own standards.  Just because I get up at 5:30 AM to go for a run doesn’t mean my spouse will or wants to or will dare to.  Suspend judgment.  We all make our own path.  If your assistant wants to wear THOSE earrings with THAT dress, so be it.  If your boss wants to move a meeting because she’s got a hair appointment, so be it.  Let the judgment go.

3. Empathy.  Stand in their shoes.  There was a time when high top chucks were in style.  I owned a pair or two of bell bottoms.  My daughter came home from a hiking trip with a swath of bright red hair.  I remember dying my hair blue/black at age 20 testing my independence.  I bit my tongue and gave her a hug.

4. Silence. Speak when spoken to. Think whatever you are thinking, just don’t say it out loud.  If no one asked your opinion, don’t give it.  It’s amazing how powerful silence can be.  If they do, be judicious with your comments.  As Thumper’s Mom said “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”.

5. Positive. Look for the good in all.  Reinforce the positive.  You may not like most of the presentation your friend gave at the conference but you really liked the slides.  Compliment the slides.  Your son hasn’t shaved in two months but he got a haircut last week?  Compliment the haircut.  Find the good and reinforce.

Suspending judgment can be liberating.  Worrying about what someone will think about this or that can weigh you down.  Don’t be responsible for carrying the burden.  Let go.  Bite your tongue and revel in the freedom.

Turn Over a New Leaf

This is the time of year where many folks start gathering up their New Year’s resolutions.   We start putting together the list that will cure all our ills and bad habits.  We decide it’s time to turn over a new leaf.  Lose 50 pounds, quit smoking, get out of debt.  Pick your leaf.  You might be ready to tear up that leaf by the second week of February.  You’ll be sore from that new exercise regime, or blow $100 on that new Thai restaurant, or break out the plastic again.  Why can’t we stick to the same leaf…new or otherwise?

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There is a lot of scientific evidence that is available now to help show you the way.  If you really think it through and set up a plan, you can succeed.  There are ways to anticipate the self sabotage. To be one step ahead of yourself and anticipate a few faltering steps.  If you understand your willpower and can short circuit your “auto-pilot”, there is hope that you can achieve your greatest desires.  You can succeed in turning over that leaf.

Here are a few steps:

1. More.  It is much easier to get behind the concept of more versus less.  Drink more water versus drink less soda.  Exercise more versus eat less.  It is so much easier to say, “Yeah, I ran more miles this week than last.”  But how do you know if you ate less, without meticulous logging of every calorie?  Even in the during performance reviews, it’s so much easier to ask someone to do more of something than less.   Frame your goal as something you want to do more of.

2. Identity.  Kelly McGonigal in her book “The Willpower Instinct” calls this your “Want Power”.  Think about how you want to identify with yourself.  It’s not that you want to save more as much as you want to see yourself as a “financially stable” person.  So when you make choices, you see yourself in the condition you are aspiring to.  So, if you identify with being a long distance runner, you aren’t likely to stop at McDonalds.

3.  Plan B.  Make sure you have a back up plan when hunger, stress and fatigue kick in.  These will happen.  Maybe not the first day, but at some point, you will be standing in the check out line at the Piggly Wiggly, a half hour late for your Zumba class, starving to death and that York/Reeses/Milky Way/(fill in your favorite candy) will be calling your name.  There are times when making a good choice will be impossible.  Your willpower is at its brink.   Pick the “regular size” versus the “king size” bar; choose gum or a bottle of water.  Pick a new default when your back is against the wall.

4. Schedule.  I’ve been a Franklin Covey Facilitator for several years.  One of the principles that has always been esposed in their “Focus” and “7 Habits ” courses is to schedule the big rocks.  The big rocks are the important goals in your life.  Whether it is training for a marathon, a happier marriage or being financially stable, if you schedule time in advance, you are much likelier to actually show up.  So plan a date with your partner, schedule ten miles for Saturday morning or spend Sunday afternoon working on your business plan.  Scheduling it will ensure that it happens.

5. Imagine temptation.  Envision your worst case scenario.  What bump in the road is likely to show up in the first week or so?  Birthday cake at work during your first week of your fitness plan: imagine yourself emailing that you have a conflicting meeting and turn it down.  You’re running late to your child’s concert and the only choice is fast food: imagine yourself ordering a salad and bottle of water.  Visualizing “the higher path” will help you actually follow through.

6. Compassion.  Forgiving yourself for any slip ups is critical.  Assume before you start that you will.  Because you will.  There are vacations, snowstorms, fires to put out and sick babysitters.  Showing yourself compassion is critical.  If you know that you can forgive yourself, you are much more likely to be successful in the long term.  Take care of your inner dictator.

All these steps involve taking the long view.  Pick the leaf that is most important (don’t pick a whole pile) and pull your full attention to it.  Imagine your future self. Make decisions based on their best interest. When you don’t–and there will be times when you don’t–practice forgiveness.  When you are successful with the first leaf, there will be will be others to take on.

Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbors Goods

It seems like every year around the holidays, I am invariably invited to a holiday party involving a game called “Dirty Santa”.  If you are not familiar with the game, participants bring a wrapped gift that is worth a certain amount like $15 and everyone draws numbers. Number 1 picks out a gift, and unwraps it. Number 2 gets to decide if they want to “steal” Number 1’s gift or pick out a new gift.  This goes on until all the gifts are selected and then Number 1 gets a second and last chance to look at all the gifts and decides whether to “steal” once more. images 1

I find it ironic that we play this game during the holidays.  During a time of giving and selflessness, we play a game that encourages coveting thy neighbors goods.  When we played this game a few weeks ago, I pulled “Number 1” which is an advantageous position. You get the last “pick” but I have to say that I was robbed at least four times during the game.  By the third time it happened, I quit getting attached to whatever I selected.  It’s strange to not know when  someone was going to come over and take it.  I ended up with a gift I really like, a scarf from Italy, but I could have just as easily ended up with cheap men’s cologne (a clunker gift from a game a few years back).

I think these experiences have something to show us.  Don’t covet.  Yours, mine or theirs.

So here are some ways:

1. Detach.  Detach from the objects in your life.  I was on a business trip in Charlotte.  I left my favorite blouse and skirt in the hotel closet.  I didn’t realize it for about a week.  They were gone.  I resented it for weeks.  Every time I was getting ready to travel, or wear the perfect matching earrings, or shoes, it brought it up again.  I was filled with regret and continued beating myself up.  Water under the bridge.  Let. It. Go.

2. Content.  Have you ever noticed that when you are looking for a new car, all you notice is the make and model you are interested in on the road?  Or if, as I did, you really wanted a convertible, you regret it for months and start looking at the make you bought as a convertible with jealousy? Be happy with the toys you have.  Be content.

3. Path.  We all make our own path.  We all got here from different places.  Some went to college, some didn’t, some stay in the same town their entire life and some don’t. Some people value Ferrari’s and, others value surf boards.  If I grew up in Italy, I’d probably value that Ferrari and if I grew up in Florida or Hawaii, the surf board.  Don’t judge others by what they covet.  You don’t know their path.

4. Seek experiences. In an article in Psychology Today by Dr. Melanie Greenberg, she writes “Research studies show that spending money on experiences, such as family vacations, educational courses, or psychotherapy provides more happiness ‘bang for the buck’ than spending money on possessions. That is because much of the pleasure of possessions seems to be in acquiring them.” The lift you get from the purchase is short lived.  Buyer’s remorse.  Take a class, go to the musical or sign up for coaching.  Go for the experience.

5. Boost your set point.  There have been many theories that you might get a brief bounce in your happiness set point after winning the lottery, tie the knot or buy that new house.  Eventually you will return to your original happiness level (after the honeymoon is over).  The good news is that according to an article in American Psychological Association by Zak Stambor called “Is our happiness set in stone?’ we can change our set point.  He writes, “research shows that people can increase their happiness by making a conscious effort to count their blessings, reframe situations in a positive light or perform kind acts.” Reframe and count your blessings.  It’s difficult to covet when you are grateful.

My parents have taught me to not covet material objects.  The Christmases of my childhood were not blow out Toy-fests.  They were times of family, food and Monopoly marathons.  Outside of an Easy Bake Oven, I can’t remember many of the gifts from my childhood but I do know that I always want my brother, Rick, on my Pictionary team (he is a great artist) and my dad on my Trivial Pursuits team (retired History teachers are awesome teammates).  Enjoy your holiday and count your blessings.