During a recent visit to the car dealership to get my oil changed, I decided to go for a test drive of a new car rather than sit down and write this blog. Usually, I feel like a creative genius sitting in that waiting room with my headset on, pounding away at the keyboard. Today, I felt that nagging question of “what am I going to write about” hanging in the back of my mind.
With a classic case of writer’s block going, I went for a test drive. It was an avoidance strategy for sure. Perhaps a very expensive one if my avoidance led to getting a new car.
I did what any good test driver of a new car would do: opened it up on the highway to see how fast it accelerated. For a few seconds anyway. As we were making the same circle that salesman has likely made hundreds of times, I asked him how he felt being in the passenger side of a car with a complete stranger flooring it and otherwise putting a car through its paces.
Here is what he said: “I don’t get scared when someone is seeing how fast the car can accelerate or they try the brakes. What scares me is the people who don’t realize just what a bad driver they are.”
His statement reinforced an insight that has been percolating with me for years. It’s something that will be percolating for the rest of my life.
Awareness matters. So does intention. And they are closely linked.
Being unaware (ignorant) can create unfortunate consequences – in domains far beyond test driving a car. Ignorance simply means you are operating based on an unconscious choice and you do not know what you do not know. Like a driver who is oblivious. Like a boss who doesn’t understand the impact s/he has.
What the car salesman basically said was that intention makes his job less scary.
There is a lot of power in intention. This is not a newsflash. There have been books and movies made about the power of intention.
Yet, like anything with depth, there is a WORLD of difference between knowing something in theory and actually putting it into practice.
It’s the “putting it into practice” that has been percolating with me for the last several years.
Being intentional requires awareness and discipline.
Intention to me means that you are operating by a conscious choice. You made a decision and you are acting on that decision.
It means I have to pause to decide on my intention for anything that matters. It’s one of the key leverage points I can use to run my life (instead of letting my life run me.)
So how did I do on that slippery slope of test driving a car? Did I fall prey to the salesman’s charms and drive out with a new car? (By the way, I genuinely am in the market for a new car – and I also love the game of negotiating.)
In this case, when I decided to actually do a test drive, I also decided that my intention was to learn about the car, get a first offer and LEAVE. No matter how good the offer.
The deal they put in front of me was actually pretty good – and I honored my intention. It kept me from making a rushed deal, and when I do buy, it will be on my terms.
Being intentional helps you create the terms for your life. It puts you in the driver’s seat. You can’t control what happens in so many cases.
Intention allows you to respond rather than react.
Where are you exercising the discipline of intention? In what ways are you letting your life run you? What decisions do you find particularly difficult?
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By: Lynn Carnes
In the last several months, I have had a series of difficult conversations. What made them difficult for me was this: I was afraid that the other person would be unhappy as a result of the conversation. To some degree or other, I was delivering “bad news”, and just that characterization set me off into “I-don’t-want-to-have-this-conversation-land.”
For almost every leader I’m working with right now, that is familiar territory. Whether delivering the “bad news” of budget cuts, unwelcome mergers, constricting regulations, or failed business deals, they are leading people through change that they would rather not have to do.
Often, no one wants the change – yet they have to lead through it.
Just the thought of delivering bad news can send people into one of two reactive roles. The first is placating. I know this one well. When I go to placating, you get the power to negotiate all kinds of concessions from me. When I’m playing “Patty Placator”, my stance is “Please don’t cry – here, have a lollipop.
The second is to disregard. When I go into disregard, you will get the message loud and clear that I don’t care about you, what this news means, or how you are impacted. When I’m playing “Debbie Disregard”, my stance is “Get over it.”
Both of these stances are great – for making me not have to deal with emotions of the situation. Neither will lead to real change. Why? Because both let the other person off the hook. If I give you a “lollipop” to make you happy, you get to keep rocking along as is. No change required. If I disregard how my news is impacting you, you are justified in fighting the change, either above or underground.
It’s difficult to envision another path. How do you both care about how your news is impacting someone and still move things forward?
It takes practice, self-awareness and wisdom to stay on the “change tightrope” and move things forward without resorting to tactics designed to keep you and everyone else comfortable.
Change is not comfortable and neither is delivering unwelcome news.
Several years ago, we spent the day on the lake with two sets of friends who had young children. One of the families brought along a puppy they were helping find a home. I smelled trouble early on, because the kids from the other family quickly fell in love with the puppy. As the day wore on, I started thinking that this puppy might have found his new home. Also, in the back of my mind, I was wondering “are they really going to take this puppy on their 7 hour drive home?”
The drama came to a head when we dropped the first family off. The big question was this: would the puppy go with the original family or stay on the boat to go home with his new favorite children? “Please Mom, please, can we keep him?” echoed over and over again.
That was when I witnessed the change tightrope in action more clearly than I ever had until that point. The mom gently looked at her kids and said “No.” All kinds of wailing and moaning and begging could be heard across the water. They were SO upset. I’m waiting for her to tell us to go back and get the puppy. (I would have gone back to get the puppy.)
She didn’t yell, tell them to shut up, capitulate or explain. She simply circled her arms calmly around both kids and let them cry it out on the short ride back to their boathouse. By the time we pulled up, the eyes were dry and the children moved on.
When I reflected on the incident, I realized that she helped those kids accept that they would not get what they wanted by deeply embodying her decision. She left no room for argument yet she still stayed connected to their pain. She was ok within herself with them not being happy. This is an incredibly difficult balancing act.
It’s so tempting to…
…explain – we don’t have enough room in the car
…or capitulate – ok, we can have the puppy
…or yell – are you crazy?, we don’t need a puppy
…or tell them to shut up – I don’t want to hear it
…or do any of the other actions we develop to avoid feeling uncomfortable.
This mom tolerated her discomfort to support the right decision and by doing so, ultimately helped the children accept that decision.
When we are under pressure to lead in situations where people are not doing to be happy, we need good strategies for managing our discomfort as well as theirs. Here are some tips I’ve found useful over the years:
What is your favorite strategy to avoid your own discomfort? (I go back and forth between placating and capitulating) How do you deal with delivering bad news? What practices do you have to keep your inner strength in place for moments like this? Where have you compromised relationships because it was easier to cut the other person off rather than tolerate the discomfort of disagreement? What conversations are you having right now that involve delivering bad news or have high stakes?
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My theme for this week seems to be adrenaline. Let me start by saying that there is a joke in our house about who is the real adrenaline junkie around here. I contend that it’s me. And I got a lot of adrenaline this week. It’s left me pondering how to use this involuntary pulse of fight, flight or freeze energy pulsing through my veins. What would happen if I actually channeled it instead of running away or curling up in a ball of “make it go away?” What is the best choice to make between that moment of stimulus and response? And how do I continue to build the inner fortitude to tolerate discomfort and get comfortable with being uncomfortable?
From the outside looking in, almost no one would see me as the daring one. So if I’m the one who is such a chicken, how can I be the adrenaline junkie?
It’s all a matter of perspective. I’m married to a “mountain dew” man who does everything from extreme scuba diving to sky diving to horse endurance racing to doing back flips off of giant boathouses. By all accounts, he looks like the adrenaline junkie in our household. He has spent his whole life doing brave and daring things. Most activities don’t even touch his fear system. So while he is considered an adrenaline junkie, he has to work VERY hard to get a hit of adrenaline.
Me on the other hand? I was raised in a “don’t go near the edge” household and I didn’t. As a result, I was generally a careful child who turned into a fearful adult. (I hate admitting this.) My fear system gets jacked with the slightest hint of danger. Because my threshold is so low, I get hits of adrenaline all the time. That’s why I say I’m the true junkie in our house. I’m the one getting regular doses of it
So what happened this week to fill me with adrenaline? Oh let me count the ways. It started with the spider on the boat platform. No, I’m not scared of spiders. (I used to be but that’s another story.) When I saw him as I was stepping on the platform to ski, I moved my boot so as not to step on him and the boot suddenly slipped out from under me. Imagine the feeling of hitting wet ice, add a boat with jagged edges to fall on and you will get an idea of the next move. I managed to sit back into the boat without doing the splits or crashing onto my knees.
Once I recovered my “poise” I realized that I had taken one of the biggest hits of adrenaline in my recent memory. My heart was racing, my stomach was flipping and I generally felt incapacitated. I looked at Jen, my driver/daughter who knows my tendencies and me so well and said “I can’t ski like this.” I sat on the boat and said “Give me a minute.” Of course, adrenaline takes awhile to drain from your system and I said as much. She offered to ski and let me get calmed down. That was certainly an option.
And then it hit me. (The perspective, that is – not more adrenaline.) My body had just inadvertently created tournament conditions for me. The feeling I was having was no different than the feeling I have before skiing in a tournament. Being able to perform with that kind of energetic surge in the body is a hugely valuable skill, and one that I have not mastered. This was my chance to practice with the inner feeling of true tournament conditions.
So I looked at Jen and said, “Let’s see if I can use this. I’m gonna ski.”
The first pass proved why tournament conditions are so difficult. I overshot every buoy. Even though I had anticipated being stronger than normal, it was difficult to corral all the energy surging through my body. Had I been in a tournament, my performance would have been short lived.
It was on the next few passes that I started understanding how to channel the energy in a productive way. When my mind caught up with my body’s enhanced capabilities, I skied my best of the summer to that point. By far. In fact, the next day, I was missing that surge when I skied.
I came to see the adrenaline as enhancing my capabilities rather than debilitating me.
Over the past few years, I’ve been “rewiring” my brain to make it less sensitive to those fear hits. For example, the first time I drove a boat through a ski course, my heart was pounding and the boat guides seemed to scream past me at mach 4. Now I drive said course every day at faster speeds with advanced shortline skiers – deliberate practice and familiarity have made the once scary now the norm.
But of course, you know my lessons on managing fear and adrenaline were not yet over. I’m sure you have heard the old saying “If you fall off the horse, you gotta get back on.” I got to test that one as well.
A friend invited me over to ride her horse, which was one of my very favorite things to do as a young woman. Almost all of my riding had been on the very calm, nose to tail riding horses typical of public riding stables. Yes, I had been on “real horses” – but not that often. And all of my riding has been “western” riding. The difference between “western” and English are much more than a different saddle.
We started with catching and grooming my mount, which gave the horse and me a chance to know each other and build trust. Smart move. Then we mounted up in the ring and I started learning how to ride all over again. Different saddle, different reins, real horse. And unlike my ski, the horse could feel my every emotion. Just knowing that made it a little harder for me to settle in at first.
After a while, I did begin to get comfortable and we started speeding up. Just like in snow skiing, it’s important to learn the basics of how to slow down before you get too much momentum. In this case, it’s with a live animal who understands specific signals. The first couple of times were ok – I was able to get him going and stop without too much trouble.
Then while the horse was moving in a quick gait, I inadvertently gave a “go” signal when my deepest desire was to stop. Before I knew it, we were running. This was certainly not what I expected! You can imagine what happened inside of me. My body was now in full flight or fight mode. I was literally in flight mode – and I would have loved to be able to fly off that horse and land on my two feet.
My friend was calmly giving me instructions on what to do. I’m not sure how she could be so calm while I felt like I was on a runaway train. Damn, why won’t this horse stop? Needless to say, when we got stopped, my first instinct was to get off that horse!
She knew better and I knew better. That horse would never respect me again. First we debriefed in those few minutes while I was still astride him. We realized my western riding style conflicted with his training. My stop signal was confusing to him and my adrenaline sense of flight came through as the stronger signal.
So I went back to walking for a few minutes to regain my composure and reconnect with the horse - while my system was pulsing with the huge hit of adrenaline. In this case, I intentionally channeled that feeling into deep focus, connection and gratitude with the horse. He did eventually slow down and he was simply doing his best to please me. And I had managed to stay on through the whole thing. Whew!
You may be wondering what all this talk about adrenaline has to do with business. At work, we rarely talk about it in these terms. We don’t say “Wow, when you called my idea stupid, I got a hit of adrenaline.” Or “Dang, I get super-scared when I see you and your boss talking because half the time, it means I’m getting in trouble for something I’ve done.” We are mature, powerful business people – so we frame those adrenaline hits as “just business” or we don’t even realize that we are in a reactive mode.
That lack of awareness can cost us.
Here’s the problem with adrenaline. We don’t really have a choice about when it hits us. It’s based on our history, our personal fears, our experiences with parents, teachers or bosses. When that stimulus hits us, we start operating in fight or flight mode when the conditions actually call for us to be calm and reasonable. We are more likely to escalate a conflict, to take something personally, to get hurt or defensive, or just pick a fight.
All that energy surging through our system tells us to DO SOMETHING and we do.
It’s just that we then do something that is probably an overreach for the situation.
You may be thinking “Ok, I get it. I don’t want to overreact and I don’t want to damage relationships. So I will quit having adrenaline.” If it were only so simple. Our inner nervous system decides when we get adrenaline. Our conscious mind has little or nothing to do with it. Unless we do serious self-awareness training, we will get hit when we get hit.
So we first have to learn to deal with the adrenaline hits we get. Start by being aware. Recognize that when you have that pit in your stomach or the leap in the heart, there is a chance that you are surging with more energy than usual. That signal designed to keep you alive and when it hits us in a business environment, it drives behavior that does not match the situation. Learn when your tendency is to fight, flee or freeze.
You may also want to consider doing some inner work to rewire your system to tolerate and normalize those situations that trigger you. You can desensitize yourself if you deliberately practice doing so.
What are your tricks for not letting your fear system override your good judgment? How do you make yourself aware of that choice point between stimulus and response?
Please let me know in the comments – I love learning from you!
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