Monday, February 9, 2009

Break Through Your Brick Walls

Breaking Through Your Brick Walls

Seeking to appreciate is about making relevant and useful connections with other people and their circumstances, to help you advance the goals you have for your life.

Sitting on my desk is a little peel-off calendar titled “Zen: 365 Daily Thoughts and Inspirations”. Today’s quote comes from Henry Miller who writes, “The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”

When the quote above is about things like grass…well, good for the grass. Not real inspiring when we’re dealing with difficult people or when you’re knee deep in bills trying to figure our how in the world you are going to make it all work with nothing in your account.

Let’s face it; trying to imagine these circumstances as “awesome and indescribably magnificent” sounds like a big waste of precious time! When you’re banging your head up against the brick walls in your life, the last thing that makes sense is stopping to study the grass.

Why would anyone spend time trying to appreciate the very things that are standing in their way of being productive, focused, energized, committed, and ultimately, happy with the situation at hand?

Okay. So I gave the answer away. But still, knowing this and doing something about it are totally different. It’s like putting down the chocolate cake to lose weight. Sounds simple enough, and yet the weight loss industry is booming in profits off people fighting this battle.

If dealing with difficult people were easy, there would not be 1 million Google results on the topic. If the financial issues facing many families today were easy to fix, we would not see unemployment rates, foreclosure rates, and divorce rates at all time highs.

What to do?!?! Give your head a break.

5 Actions for Breaking Through the Brick Walls
1. Be curious about the world around you
2. Discipline your thinking in the moment, and quietly observe
3. Make connections with people and resources
4. Practice thinking with empathy for the other 270 degrees
5. Make decisions to best meet your goals…not to satisfy your feelings

The remainder of this blog post will focus on #1. You’ll want to sign-up and visit this blog again soon for numbers 2-5.

First, a little science.

Those of you looking for the golden pills to life, are about to move away from this blog. If you can spare one more moment, please let me tell you these 5 actions work BEST for the impatient; those seeking critically practical advice, people who others don’t describe as a” people person” but perhaps “passionate under pressure”, and people who stay as far away from “woo-woo” as possible.

Turns out, this advice is practical. It’s actually logical, and it is proven to work. While coaching people through hundreds of challenges, taking these action steps has been like putting the chocolate cake down for people who have hit the emotional brick wall. For the left brained, practical/logical person, 1, 2, and 4 are particularly difficult. For the right brained, creative, relationship-oriented people 2, 3, and 5 are particularly difficult.

No matter who you are, your issues are complicated and they can get emotional. When you are banging your head against the wall, you have feelings that you don’t necessarily want to experience.

During times of stress, frustration, and chaos you are physiologically hard-wired to let your emotions drive the decision-making bus that rests just above your neck.

In fact, this bus-driver has a name, it’s called your Amygdala. Your amygdala is a funny little almond shaped portion of your brain nestled just at the bottom of your brain stem where your emotional center (your limbic system – right brain) and your center of reason (your prefrontal cortex- left brain) meet. Under every day, normal circumstances these two systems work together to help you be balanced in your decision-making.

When you are upset or anxious, however, it’s a whole new story. Your adrenal glands basically send your amygdala a big, red, flashing signal in the form of adrenaline which tells your brain you are in grave danger.

When man was first fighting off saber tooth tigers, and other prehistoric wild animals, this primitive brain function helped to save his life. Today however, your brain rarely knows whether something is actually life threatening or not.

When you are dealing with difficult people, getting upset about your finances, career, or what have you…your brain gives you all the energy and blood you need to fight the situation, or run away as fast as you can.

Basically, all of your body’s blood is being used in the most emotional area of your brain. The challenge is to perceive the signals, and retrain the neurons to fire in the left prefrontal area, rather than in the right as they are ignited by the amygdala.

During times of challenge, if you take a step-back, you might just find the very tools you need in order to bust through to the other side of that brick wall you are beating your head up against.

Like I said at the beginning, seeking to appreciate is about making relevant and useful connections with other people and their circumstances, to help you advance the goals you have for your life.

So, I’m not telling you to become best friends with your arch nemesis, nor am I saying that stepping back will give you a truckload of golden financial pills. Stepping back will provide you with perspective - just what you need. After all, its the "old way of thinking” that got you up against the brick wall to begin with.

Be Curious About the World Around You

Try these questions on for a minute:
How does so and so perceive me (think about that difficult person)?
What does so and so needs in order to be successful once they leave these meetings (again, think of a difficult person)?
What are my chances of meeting the type of people I need to know, to help me with my financial situation?
How will I ever get advice without having to pay for it?

Pay close attention to how you answer these questions right now. Let’s move on.

For fun I looked up a few synonyms for the word “curious”: inquisitive, interested, questioning, searching, inquiring, peering, puzzled, peeping, meddling, prying, nosy (yes, it was actually fun –sick I know).

There is a booming business rooted in curiosity. After all, enquiring minds want to know! To be clear, I am not saying be curious, like the camera-toting paparazzi.

I am saying that being curious about challenges you face begins by being interested in other points of view… as if you don’t already have the answers. You know someone who has actually been interested in you like this.

In fact, think about someone you highly respect. What characteristics does this person have? How does this person treat you? What value did or does this person offer you? Do they have little idiosyncrasies that are easy to overlook? How did this person show you they were interested in you? As you think about this character in your life, how do you feel?

Ok. You also know plenty of the other type of people. Its “them, those people” that don’t make sense. You know the ONES that get under your skin. Think of just one person like this. How does this person treat you? What value have they offered you lately? What little habits do they have that drive you crazy? Are you genuinely curious about why they do what they do, other than to add to your collection of stories that prove they are ridiculous and that you are right? Do you care much about what circumstances led-up to their reason’s for acting the way they do? If you better understood why, would you be better off? Now how do you feel, thinking about this person?

Most issues stem from not understanding enough about another person, a situation, or a topic. “If they only knew what it does to my work when they miss the deadline!” “If they just understood the process, they would complete it properly!” “We just need to get them to understand!”

In my work, we have department information sessions aimed at helping employees from outside areas better understand what the function does, why they do the things they do, and what happens to the work when challenges and obstacles creep into the process.

It’s kind of like watching HGTV, the Food Network, or the Discovery Channel when you have a slap on the side of the head, “ah-ha” moment.
Oooohhhhh! So THAT”s why you have to prep before you move forward”, or “Ohhhh! So THAT’s how they get the those little ships inside the glass bottle!” or “Oh, so when you mix these two things together, it’s the perfect storm. Got it.”

Most people simply want to be understood, without being made to look like the ‘Bad Guy’.

When you genuinely get curious about other people, finances, and anything you don’t quite get…you naturally become drawn to better understand until a time comes that you feel you’ve gained enough information to move on.

Again, your brain is hard-wired for it! For example: have you ever purchased a new car, or started collecting something rare? If you are the car buyer, do you all of a sudden start to see that car everywhere you go? If you are the collector, do you all of a sudden start meeting people who collect the same stuff?

Here’s another example. Whatever you do right now…don’t think about a red car. Do not picture a red car in your head. Do not imagine a red car you typically see in a parking lot.

Can you not notice the red car? NO! When you give your brain instructions to notice something (even when you say don’t notice)…the only thing it picks up is “notice”.

When you choose to start paying attention to the things that you need to better understand, your brain will get to work and search for ways to learn more about these. You are hard-wired to make sense of the world around you.

If however, you don’t care…and the answer you give your brain is, “I don’t care.”, or “I don’t know”, or “because he is X” or “because she is Y”, or “because, because, because…” you get the point. You have told your brain that you are done with the search, and you stop. There is no more reason to keep learning. You’ve satisfied the need to know.

Remember, the goal of seeking to appreciate is to help you achieve the goals you have set for your life. If your goal is to make more money, you’ve got to get curious about how to do that without the answer of, “I don’t’ know how” or “I’ll have to wait until…”. If your goal is to work better with difficult people, you’ve got to get curious about how to do this without the “but I’ve tried” response.

Getting curious is about asking your brain questions…so that the new answers, like the brand new red car, and the rare items you collect…all of a sudden, POP-OUT.

Try the questions below, without the same old answers:
How might so and so perceive me? What can I do to change this?
I wonder what so and so needs in order to be successful once they leave these meetings?
I wonder how or what type of people I would need to know, to better understand my personal financial situation? I wonder who I know already?
I wonder how I could get advice, without having to pay a large fee?

Seeking to appreciate begins with getting curious about the world around you. Seek to make connections. Once you connect, the pathway to reaching your goals will be waiting. Take the steps!

1 comment:

Ken Banks said...

Right on Kathy. Welcome to the blogging world. I am glad that I was curious about what you had to say. great stuff. Looking forward to more insights like this.
Ken Banks