We’re all familiar with that awful feeling of being stuck on a plateau, in a dry spell, up a river without a paddle, whatever you want to call it. After the excitement and challenge of learning something new, we get to the point of proficiency, and there is where you’ll encounter the deadly lull.
This is because your brain lights up to new challenges, releasing that feel-good chemical we call dopamine as a reward for reaching new milestones. You know what I’m talking about: that feeling you get when you finally nail the recipe that you never figured you could make, or hitting a personal fitness goal you thought impossible. It’s the joy of landing the big job, acing the tough class, or taking on a project that’s ripe for new personal growth. In other words, it’s the satisfaction that comes after long hours of frustration and failure where you go, “I got this!”
Unfortunately, once you get it, “its” magic wears off a bit. You do this new skill over and over, until your brain no longer feels challenged by what once took your full concentration. Welcome to proficiency, where it’s not a big deal anymore. It’s expected.
Author Whitney Johnson argues that the way to combat a plateau is to implement some personal disruption, writing that “We may be quite adept at doing the math around our future when things are linear, but neither business nor life is linear, and ultimately what our brain needs, even requires, is the dopamine of the unpredictable. More importantly, as we inhabit an increasingly zig-zag world, the best curve you can throw the competition is your ability to leap from one learning curve to the next.”
Don’t think of seeking out new challenges as a task you must do in order to meet the demands of the world at large. Instead, do it for yourself. Want to get that burst of accomplishment you used to get when you were still learning? Then seek out new tasks that push you outside where you’re already proficient. This is where real growth happens, and real growth leads to mastery.
Last year around Thanksgiving I wrote a blog post about our choice to be thankful, even when things are tough. The process of writing the post reminded me that when I stop to consider my blessings, I can’t help but be truly thankful. What gets in the way of this, I wrote, is the distraction the holiday season brings with it: the planning, the baking, the cleaning, rearranging our homes for relatives, and on and on. We often get so caught up in the chaos of the holidays that we forget to enjoy them for what they are.
Thankfulness, gratitude, feeling blessed–are these feelings you’re in tune with this season? If not, I challenge you to think of all the people in your corner, all the opportunities you’ve been given, and even the mistakes you’ve made and (hopefully) learned from. When you truly consider these things, I doubt you’ll have trouble finding a reason to be grateful.
There are times when life is tough, and I don’t say that in the cliche, “life gives you lemons” way. I know many who’ve been laid off, or lost their home, or spouse, or struggle with a debilitating disease. Things none of us could possibly predict spring up on people for no clear reason, and this happens all the time. It’s one of the unfortunate parts of being human. I know that we all struggle, and I know our struggles don’t always seem fair. How do you stay thankful even in the midst of hard times?
From my experience, the answer is found in surrounding yourself with people close to you. It’s almost magical how being around loved ones transforms your view of the situation. When I go home after a bad day, the last thing I think will help is talking it over with my husband. “How’s talking about it going to help? I’m a person of action!” I think to myself. But without fail, talking to my husband does help. Does it change the situation? Of course not. But does it realign my perspective and my priorities? Absolutely.
At the end of the day, our happiness comes from the relationships with friends, family, and our greater community. Which is why Thanksgiving is such a great time: It offers us a chance to reset our priorities precisely because we find ourselves surrounded by our greatest cheerleaders. Take the opportunity this season to express your love and gratitude to these wonderful folks. You know who they are.
When done properly, delegation is a win-win. You end up saving time, and the person you’ve passed work onto feels valued for their unique skills. Why is it, then, that more people swamped with work don’t delegate?
Because Delegation Takes Up-Front Work
Many leaders find that it takes them more time and effort just to bring others up to speed, when what they’re trying to do is lessen their workload. Why delegate if it ends up being more work in the first place?
It’s true that you’ll need to work harder and longer when you’re preparing to delegate tasks. There will be meetings, training, negotiations, and the inevitable hiccup. But if you take the necessary time to delegate in a meaningful way, you’ll end up saving far more time and energy in the long run.
How do you do this?
Know Your Team
This is where it comes in handy to know the people who you work alongside better than just knowing their name or where they went to school. When you’re familiar with their interests, passions, and experiences, you’ll find delegation much easier. You won’t be guessing, fingers crossed, that George can take care of the task you’re passing off. You’ll be confident that he can, because you know George, and man is George competent.
What’s more, knowing your team will let you sleep better at night. Just as every mother must let their children go off into the real world at some point, so too will you need to let go of the desire to obsess over the tasks you’ve passed on to others. They’ll appreciate that you trust them enough to leave it in their hands, and you’ll be able to focus on other things.
If you’re delegating to a group of people, you’ll need to hold a meeting or two beforehand to help build unity within the group. They’ll go off and tackle bits of the greater project, sure, but it helps them to know how their contribution functions within the whole. It also helps you stay mentally organized as you’re the one keeping track of all the loose ends.
Which leads to…
While you should trust your team to perform well, it isn’t micromanaging to do frequent check-ins on status. Keep it friendly, and be open to their feedback. They often have great ideas to contribute and they’ll feel appreciated when you take their ideas seriously.
If you’re worried that it may be too hard to ensure that your standards are being implemented by those you’ve delegated work to, fear not, but be sure to…
Have Clear Deadlines, Goals and Expectations From The Get Go
And be specific about them. It’s better to over-prepare in the beginning and be able to ease off as your team gets up to speed than it is to go into a project unorganized and be forced to pull people off projects.
At first glance, confidence and arrogance share many of the same trademarks: head held high, an ability to dive in and speak up, and a sense of pride in accomplishments. Upon deeper examination, however, arrogance and confidence stand in stark contrast with each other. The best way to distinguish between the two is to ask yourself, “Upon what grounds am I basing my pride?”
1. Cockiness is delusional.
An arrogant person believes their accomplishments are the result of their inherent greatness. They assume, with or without evidence, that they’re better than most everyone else. They don’t take into account the people around them who’ve helped them in the past, or the special circumstances they arrived in that gave them a boost. They lack a sense of gratitude toward the world.
You can see how arrogant thinking is faulty thinking, since nobody became great all on their own. Every present accomplishment is one of a long line of accomplishments, each building off the previous one. No one, regardless of their intelligence, courage, or ambition, can take all the credit for the great work they do. We don’t exist in a vacuum, we exist in a community. Arrogant thinking likes to ignore this fact.
2. Confidence reflects reality.
Healthy confidence, on the other hand, is the practice of learning to ignore what I like to call the “self-saboteur,” that little voice in your head that whispers, “Don’t ask that question, you’ll look stupid,” or, “You aren’t at all prepared to take that on, don’t even try.” The self-saboteur constantly makes you doubt your every thought, motive and goal. In the same way that arrogant thinking is based on lies, the self-saboteur lies to you when it neglects your abilities and undermines your judgment. We must learn to ignore this liar.
Those with confidence issues chronically refuse to give themselves the credit they deserve. Not only is this unfair, it creates an untrue public persona. Why should others place their faith in you when it is clear to them that you don’t have faith in yourself? This can lead to a dangerous downward spiral of self-sabotage at its worst.
If you struggle with self-confidence, reverse the spiral by acknowledging your strengths and achievements. Own it. It is okay to feel good about your talents. You can, and should, pat yourself on the back when you accomplish a goal. And don’t worry about bragging. If you’re worrying about bragging, you probably aren’t arrogant. That thought doesn’t cross the arrogant person’s mind.
3. Confident people learn from their mistakes. Arrogant people do not.
The confident person sees every failure as a necessary setback which brings them closer to excellence in the long run. In fact, without failure, there can be no excellence. They acknowledge their mistake and move forward with an enhanced knowledge of what not to do. The arrogant person, on the other hand, believes they are incapable of failure. Someone else must be to blame, not them, and so the cycle of entitlement continues.
While the arrogant person is still stuck in their deluded world, you’re miles ahead, having grappled, learned and grown.
There’s true power in thinking for yourself. We need only look at history to see that the great minds–Edison, Einstein, Galileo, Newton–all shared in their questioning of the status quo, and found breakthroughs that have impacted society up to present day. They thought for themselves.
Like all of our cliche phrases, thinking for yourself isn’t very well defined. We might hear someone explain, “That gal over there thinks for herself,” and we’d nod our heads approvingly, not really thinking about what that actually means. The best definition I can come up with is someone who doesn’t just assume that the usual way of doing business is the best way. These type of people don’t feel comfortable operating unless they have a full understanding of why their role is necessary. They aren’t afraid to experiment with “what if” scenarios. They trust their instincts and their ability to reason their way to innovation.
These kind of people find themselves in an awkward position in the professional world. On one hand, the mavericks provide innovation, and innovation is what fuels thriving businesses. So we all rely them. On the other hand, they’re often perceived as the rebels, the trouble-makers, the ones who won’t get with the program and shut up. They’re often ridiculed, dismissed, or persecuted for their beliefs and actions.
If you’re an outside the box thinker, congrats! We owe the world’s innovations to your kind. Here’s some advice to keep you optimistic about this strength:
1. You’ll encounter resistance and doubts. Don’t be discouraged! Keep challenging the norm, but do it in a productive way, which leads me to…
2. Be patient and humble. Although can expect to be rejected and misunderstood, persistence wins in the end, as like-minded people tend to flock together and feed off each other’s energy. Keep in mind that every new idea isn’t automatically better, and it takes time for people to grow accustomed to change.
3. Give the outside the box thinkers on your team room to experiment. As a manager, you may be hesitant to encourage your creative types to explore, but you’ll be rewarded in kind by an improved dedication and some really stellar ideas on their part.
Deep within all of us beats a primal desire to contribute something of value to this world and to stand out as a positive person in the eyes of others. Great managers make this happen.
It’s always nice to find authors who base their ideas in good research. The quote above comes from the book Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People, and its author, Edward M. Hallowell, M.D., does just that.
It turns out–surprise–that happy workers are better workers, but what makes this book interesting is the way it explains the brain science behind why this is true.
Although it is primarily directed at managers, its insight applies to all of us regardless of our position. One of the book’s main themes is that the human brain is wired to work hard, and we are fulfilled when we are fully engaged in our work. Even so, Hallowell points to several common pitfalls people encounter even in work they enjoy. Examples of this are feeling disconnected from peers, feeling overworked, and being afraid to take risks.
The formula for what Hallowell calls “shining”–excelling in your work and feeling fulfilled–is a concise, five step process:
1. Select-choosing the right job
2. Connect-interacting face-to-face with peers on a daily basis
3. Play-having room to experiment and get creative in your position
4. Grapple and grow-being challenged, but not overwhelmed
5. Shine-when all the above steps come together, you find real excitement in your work
Many clients come to me feeling unsure about whether they’re in the right job. Although we’re often able to work together to make positive changes within the job itself, there are cases where clients would do better to fill a different role. But you can’t know what job is best for you until you know your own strengths, and this is where Insights comes in. I’ve helped numerous people “re-calibrate” themselves by helping them fully appreciate the unique strengths they bring to their teams. Once you get that big ball rolling, the rest follows. You connect more easily with your peers. You feel comfortable in your ability to experiment, or “play.” You’re confident in your ability to take on challenges. And you find fulfillment in your job, as it is based on something you’re good at doing, and like doing. But it all starts with being in tune with yourself.
Hallowell, Edward M., MD, Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, 2011.
“Type A” people are too often misunderstood as overly strict and tightly wound when it comes to organization. Actually, we can learn from the type A’s out there. Their strict adherence to systems of organization may seem strange to a “go-with-the-flow” type of person, but they pay such close attention to sticking to the systems not to be weirdos, but to make things easier on themselves.
A timeless philosophy from the culinary tradition epitomizes the power of a well-organized work space:
Mise en place.
It’s French, and it translates roughly to “everything in its place.”
Going the extra mile in preparation for tasks helps you. It makes you work faster. It minimizes stress. It gives you free time. Imagine you’re a chef and all the things at your desk are different ingredients. Putting all the things in their place makes work flow beautifully, which is what mise en place is all about.