Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Dealing with Ideas that Won’t Die

Sometimes, I have an idea that just won’t get out of my head.

I’m trying to prioritize my efforts and focus on what I am doing.

I have scheduled when I am going to address this idea.

I’ve put all the sub-ideas and research in its own little pile to be dealt with later.

And yet, the idea still knocks around – taking up valuable cognitive bandwidth.

It happens.

I find myself asking two questions of this idea when it does.

  1. What is so compelling about this idea? What is the fantasy surrounding it?
  2. Am I using “researching” this idea as an excuse to avoid the challenging part of my current project? Is this just resistance in disguise?

Usually, the idea speaks to a “fantasy self” that I am nowhere near becoming.

The idea also tends to be in the “hobby” area of my life.

The area where I am not necessarily wedded to it becoming part of my professional identity, but “wouldn’t it be nice if…”

The area where if I DID decide to “go pro,” I’d probably be disappointed.

And…I’m procrastinating.

I don’t want to do the hard thing I have to do to get my current project done.

The more fear around the hard thing I need to do around my current project…the more likely I am to start fantasizing over this distractor-project.

I don’t really have a tidy answer other than – see the distractor for what it is, write down what you need to so you can address it later, and get back to work.

As soon as I come up with a way to get rid of the distractors altogether, I’ll let you know.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Making Decisions

Think about the last time you made a major decision.

How long did you agonize over that decision?

Did you create lengthy advantage/disadvantage lists attempting to gain clarity?

Now remember when you asked your wise friend about what he or she would do. 

How quickly did they give you sound advice? Was that advice something you had already considered? Was it creative? Did they point out something you didn’t consider?

Now, remember the last time a good friend asked you for advice.

How quickly were you able to help them?

How creative were you when you helped your friend make a decision?

How confident did you feel about your advice to your friend?

Evan Polman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison confirmed in his research that we have a much easier time giving advice to others than we do deciding for ourselves.

“When people recommend what others should do, they come up with ideas and choices and solutions that are more optimistic and action-oriented, focus on more positive information and imagine more favorable consequences. Meanwhile, when making their own choices, people tend to envision everything that could go wrong, leading to doubt and second-guesses.”[1]

They didn’t uncover why we tend to be more conservative when we make choices for ourselves, but my experience is that as the decider – we are the ones who ultimately live with the consequences of the decision. The risks feel (and often are) greater.

As the advisor – we are detached from the risks and consequences of the decision. If our friend chooses one way or the other, the impact on us is often minimal compared to the impact on our friend.

Polman recommends viewing yourself in the third-person to gain some detachment from the decision-making process.[2]  This technique helps you view your situation and the decision differently.

Getting advice from friends who you know have your best interest at heart and whom you have respect for helps as well.  Asking friends helps you begin developing your support network around the change and provides information on how the change will impact them.

My experience has been that advice from friends that are directly impacted by your decision tends to be more conservative (and thoughtful) than advice from friends who aren’t impacted at all. They have skin in the game.[3]


[1] https://hbr.org/2018/11/why-its-easier-to-make-decisions-for-someone-else

[2] https://hbr.org/2018/11/why-its-easier-to-make-decisions-for-someone-else and https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0146167211398362

[3] Polman is not asking whether the impact of the decision on the individual plays a role in whether the response demonstrates a cautious mindset or an adventurous mindset. My suspicion, based on personal experience, is that the less the decision impacts an individual, the more likely they are going to demonstrate an adventurous mindset. I hope to see research asking this question – because it would have significant ramifications for how managers and leaders make decisions (or whether they SHOULD be the decision-makers in given contexts).

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Discipline of Not Doing

NOT doing is one of the disciplines I and my clients seem to struggle with.

I have something that needs to be done! Why can’t I just do it NOW!

I personally feel this impulse when the things on my current to-do list don’t excite me. Often, this lack of excitement is a result of the task being in that dreaded dip. The grinding part where I am too far from the start to stop and too far from the goal to see it. The part where I just have to suck it up and do the work for the sake of the work.

I also encounter this feeling when I find I suddenly have some slack. The temptation to fill that slack with more work is great.  Particularly in our hustle/grind/just do it environment. Being busy allows me to avoid more uncomfortable activities, such as self-reflection. 

“Busy” is a badge of honor.  We can justify busy to others.  Reflecting and integrating looks a lot like “doing nothing” and, therefore, is much harder to explain.

Filling the slack, or starting another “new” thing when I have other things to do, is hazardous.

The “new” thing invariably takes more time, energy, and resources than initially predicted. “This will be quick” is a signal that I am about to lose focus on the important things I need to be doing.

The “new” thing still leaves all the “old” things unfinished; noshing away at my cognitive load and energetic resilience.

The “new” thing adds to the workload. It only takes 1 or 2 “new” things and the unfinished “old” things to find myself suddenly over-worked and stressed.

Occasionally, I get impatient because I have a thing that I know needs to be done in the future. My ego wants to “get ahead.”

Another warning that I am about to go off track is the voice that says, “If I get this done now, I’ll be ahead of the game.”  This voice has caused me more work than any other voice I have in my head.

Certain activities need to happen in a certain order. For example, if I decide to do a rewrite of a chapter while the chapter is out for review and before I have received the feedback, I’ve just doubled my workload. I will still need to do the rewrite.

The discipline of finishing what I have started and staying focused on what I need to do right now is, for me, one of the most challenging disciplines I practice. 

It requires saying “not yet” to great ideas and opportunities – some of which may pass me by.

It requires having faith that the work I am currently doing will result in a positive outcome.

It requires being OK with not “getting ahead” of my tasks.

It requires being OK with giving myself some slack when I am blessed with it.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Fake It Till Ya Make It

I don’t think we have a true notion of how our identity needs to shift when we make a change until we get into the change.

Furthermore, we tend to get into change initiatives from where we are now. Our old selves.

There are rare instances where we can completely cut off everyone who knew us before, dramatically change environments, and comprehensively forget our entire past.

Even if we manage to successfully abandon the people and the environment, the scars from the past still linger. Old behavior, beliefs, and decision-making processes still surface (barring a major brain-health crisis).

I think we can take advantage of our inclination to “system-design our way to change.”

The adjustment I would make is to add a consideration of who we want to BE at the end of the process.

How does our identity need to shift for us to be successful?

What changes do we need to make to our beliefs?

The valley of change is where the lessons of identity occur.

As you practice, is the identity you need to adopt to be successful with this change fulfilling?

Are you finding yourself knocking up against a deep-seated value that you do not want to let go of?

Are you becoming someone you would be proud to be? Is the identity change an improvement?

How are your relationships with others? What is changing around you as you take this journey? Are those changes helpful or harmful?

“Faking it till ya make it” has some value. It allows you to test a new identity. It allows you to experience a new way of being and seeing whether it truly fits.


One word of warning: There’s a thin line between “faking it till ya make it” and being inauthentic.

I’ve found it helpful to be clear about the changes I am trying to make (to the best of my ability) and recruit supporters (when I can).

If it is a change that requires some stealth – action over words.

People will figure it out eventually and make their decision.