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How Can We Change Our Fear DNA?

Everyone I talked to last week agreed that it has been really tough to think strategically.  Worrying about the potential long-term challenges of working from home and making decisions about how to re-enter public spaces is keeping our brains occupied with the basic need for safety.

Looking Back to Look Forward

In the middle of feeling stuck trying to edit content for a website refresh, I attended a webinar that reminded me how I got there.  I recalled from my training in systems theory that we tend to repeat patterns passed down like DNA through generations.  Judy Wilkins-Smith suggested I look back at which of my ancestors might have been afraid of losing income, consider their circumstances, accept their decision, and then make a conscious decision to respond in a different way.

Fear as a Gift

Judy offered a new perspective on fear – consider it an opportunity to grow instead of something to avoid.  Thinking about a time when I overcame fear took me back to jumping off the high dive at the neighborhood pool for the first time.  Very scary before I did it and a little less scary each time afterward.  That jump gave me the gift of courage, which is what I need now to keep moving forward and trying new things.

I invite you to consider which of your ancestors experienced something similar to whatever it is you fear right now and then decide how to use that fear in a constructive way.

 

Why is it that every time my laptop acts up, the IT expert says, “have you tried rebooting it?” Because it works! It cleans up the junk and gives me fresh start. That sounds like a great way to start off a new year.

Here is some junk that a reboot might clear out of our minds:
• Old grievances – imagine how energizing it would feel to let go and forgive
• Self-doubt – envision what could be possible if you move forward with confidence
• Ruminating thoughts – consider what inspiration could occur if you get off the gerbil wheel

A good way to get things out of your mind is to write them down, preferably on paper. Research tells us that handwriting increases neural activity in the brain, similar to meditation, but use your keyboard if that’s the best option to get you moving forward.

I invite you to take a deep breath and visualize rebooting your mind, then commit to taking action today.

On a recent episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Jerry Seinfeld and Eddie Murphy are driving around in a Porsche Carrera talking about anything and everything.  Seinfeld says, “You know when you see two people talking, one of them is giving the other one advice…saying something like, ‘What I’ve learned…’ or ‘In my experience…’”

It’s funny because we know it’s true — we’ve all been on the sending and receiving end of unsolicited advice.  As this Psychology Today article confirms, however, being told what we should do actually makes us feel defensive.  When a coaching client asks for advice, I remind them that my job is to help them find their own answers.  If they insist, I might say, “What I’ve seen others do in a similar situation is…” and then ask, “How do you feel about that?”  Research tells us that giving advice appeals mostly to the rational parts of the brain.  I also want to engage the feeling part of the brain so my client can make the best possible decision – and own it.

As I’m writing, I realize that I need to practice this approach more in my personal life.  Is there anything you might need to change in how you respond when someone asks for advice? Here is a Harvard Business Review article that might be helpful.  Notice I didn’t say that you should read it!

Have you heard (or made) any of these comments when a new leader is brought in to change things?

  • I’m excited!
  • I’ll wait and see how it goes…
  • That isn’t the way we do things here.

The people who are excited typically like change and can adapt easily.  Getting the “waiters” and the “naysayers” on board can be more challenging.  Some experts advise against trying to convert the naysayers but they may have institutional knowledge or customer relationships that are too valuable to lose.

The naysayers are often people who helped build the company or the department.  While they may acknowledge that things aren’t perfect, they are proud of their contributions.  Honoring the past and inviting their input can help them embrace change and move forward.

During his three terms as the mayor of New York Ed Koch asked everyone he met, “How am I doing?”  He didn’t want to wait for an election to find out.  How did you do last year?  Did you ask?

The more senior your role, the less likely you are to have a formal discussion about how you’re doing.  Many companies have moved away from formal evaluations completely.  Whether you get formal feedback or not, you may be reluctant to ask your boss for informal feedback because:

  • You don’t want to be micromanaged
  • No news is good news
  • It’s the boss’s job to initiate these conversations
  • You might have to make some changes

If it is important to you to know what you’re doing well and how you could improve, and you work for someone who isn’t good at giving feedback, you owe it to your boss and yourself to find an approach that works well for both of you.

Real time feedback is best but not everyone is comfortable with that.  Ask your boss what she or he prefers.  You might get the best feedback during conversations over coffee.  If more structure appeals to you, you could suggest regularly scheduled discussions focused on one or two key areas.

If you don’t ask, then how will you know how you’re doing?

My sweet 87 year old mother-in-law passed away recently and my husband wrote and delivered her eulogy. It was a wonderful tribute to a very loving, caring person with a great sense of humor and an amazing amount of tenacity. I couldn’t help but think about my own life and how I might be remembered. The idea of writing my own eulogy seems like a good way to assess my priorities and commitments to myself and to others.

If you decide to explore this yourself, here are some questions to consider:

  • What words did you live by? One of my favorites from Gandhi is “You must become the change you wish to see in the world.”
  •  Which accomplishments made you the most proud? These might be personal, professional or both.
  •  What will people miss most about you? This would be a good question to ask someone close to you.

Once you are clear about the kind of person you want to be, I invite you to identify anything you need to change, how you will do that and who will hold you accountable. You never know how much time you have left so don’t delay!