by Bill Sanders, Principal and Sr. Consultant with Roebling Strauss
The look of horror as the cell-phone user finally realized that her car was already halfway in my lane as well as her instant overcorrection made it clear that she wasn't trying to run me into the retaining wall. Once she was clear, I down shifted and moved along to well outside her space. In years past I would have ranted and fumed in my helmet. This time I smiled that I'd dodged yet another potential calamity, refocused on riding and continued on my way.
The difference was my state of mind. I ride motorcycles. I put between 10 and 15 times the mileage on motorcycles than I do on automobiles every year, despite the fact that they are inherently more dangerous, require more more time to gear up and get started, and can be uncomfortable in the heat, rain, and cold. As a result, and because I want to keep riding, I've spent a lot of time learning how to stay safe.
There is a lot to riding safely, but one particular skill set is now showing up in other key areas of my life; state-of-mind management or state management, for short. In motorcycle safety we are advised not to ride when we are overly tired, angry, distracted with personal problems, or even when overjoyed. In short, if our state isn't calm and attentive, we riders are less likely to detect threats, more likely to over correct, and less likely to maintain a healthy safety margin of space. Since as I mentioned I really like to ride and always want to make it home in once piece, state management is something I've committed to master.
Things are really no different at work except perhaps in the white collar world, a poor outcome is much less likely to result in an emergency room visit. When we are overly tired, angry, distracted with personal problems, and yes, even when overjoyed we are less likely to detect threats, more likely to over react to colleagues, and less likely to notice opportunities. Your career is not your life, but it pays to invest in skills and here are two that I've found extremely valuable for me.
1. A Positive Mindset - Dr. Martin Seligman, one of the key contributors to the positive psychology movement, has through clinical research, linked happiness and gratefulness. I had the privilege of meeting him earlier this year at a conference in Atlanta where he shared the following recommendation (paraphrased): When your head hits the pillow at night, think in detail of three things that went well for you that day. And when you wake up in the morning, think in detail of three things you for which you are grateful. He said that it could become a tremendously addictive habit and would positively affect one's outlook, sleep, and general wellbeing.
I attempted this and found it difficult to remember until I was referred to The Five Minute Journal, which is built upon some of Dr. Seligman's work and acts as a physical reminder for me to do the exercises. Others close to me have noted that I'm simply happier and appear less stressed despite the busy schedule. Do some research. It might change your life.
2. Operate from Intent - Especially powerful, being clear on your intention helps clear the clutter away. When I get on a motorcycle, I'm there to ride. I don't want to do it out of habit; I want to engage and increase my enjoyment of the experience, my skills, and my safety. And that means not being distracted by what I need to get done today, a tough conversation with a coworker, a cell phone text, or even a bee flying into my helmet.
This part of your state, being clear on what you are working to accomplish right now, this instant, can double or even triple your productivity.
And it works in reverse as well. When others interrupt you, don't deliver as promised, or say hurtful things, pause and look for intent. Assume goodwill until you have real evidence otherwise. In my example above, the clear look of shock and fear told me that the driver had no intention of trying to run me into the retaining wall, she simply was distracted and didn't see me.
In addition to all the other things you already know to do (eat well, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, etc.) these two disciplines will help give you an edge in managing your state. And that will not only improve your ability to self-manage, it will also make for a much less stressful holiday season and provide a great start for 2016!
Bill Sanders is Principal and Sr. Consultant with Roebling Strauss, a boutique consultancy that specializes in delivering dramatic improvements in organizational effectiveness: co-founder and Advisory Board Member of Will Someone, software that facilitates and supports team alignment through commitments: and Co-Lead Link of the Finance Circle for Great Work Cultures, a community dedicated to creating a new norm for work cultures that optimize worker effectiveness and human happiness. Connect with Bill on twitter at @technacea.