Starting from Rock Bottom

(IMAGINATION+COMMUNICATION=”LEADING UP” IN A SANE SYSTEM)

Hello again!  I hope you’ve been practicing your Love Zone and Spider Sense skills, for three reasons: first, because it’s wonderful to learn that you can do real magic; second, because “leading up” requires such magic, and third, because if you’re in any relatively sane systems, using your magic will create rapid, exciting changes in your life.  When this happens, please write to me about it (martha@marthabeck.com) so that I can ooh, aah, and write you up in future “Team Profiles.”

Assuming that you’re getting in touch with your magic, let’s talk about exactly how you can begin leading from the rock-bottom of a sane system.  Remember, we defined a sane system this way:  “Situation X, and its leaders aren’t perfect, but on the whole they’re just, fair, responsive, and well-intentioned.”

Caveat Dux (Leader Beware)

Ironically, a healthy, sane system, with kind and intelligent people above you in the power structure, is the place where you’re at the greatest risk of failing to develop your essential Team leadership skills.  Your most probable “failure mode” is falling into the role of the faithful, childlike follower, waiting for your superior to give you assignments, fulfilling those assignments, and getting rewarded with money, privileges, approval, or whatever.  

dux following their dux (leader)

Ducks following their dux.

 

If the powerful people in Situation X are just and kind, you may go on and on playing Follow the Leader, expecting others to come up with all the right instructions for your life.  And nobody has those instructions except you.  No parent, mentor, or guru, no matter how inspired or motivational, knows what your superpowers are, or how you’re supposed to save the world.  Because you have a natural urge to fulfill your destiny, this means that your leader will eventually disappoint you.

I can’t count the number of clients who’ve told me, “I expect you to give me a clear map of my future and make it easy for me to follow the map.”  I’ve also had dozens of people say, “I want to do what you do, so clearly, I’m meant to work with you.”

There are all kinds of problems with this logic.  Aside from the fact that I have no idea what your destiny holds, I have high anxiety, generalized bewilderment, and the attention span of a gnat.  if you really want to “do what I do,” that doesn’t mean tucking in behind me or anyone else; it means making up your life as you go along, relying completely on your intuition and internal compasses, always terrified of the unknown but constantly sailing into it, having no other captain to chart the course or steer the ship. 

So remember this:  Your destiny is not to be with the “powerful” people you admire.  Your destiny is to be like them.  

 

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Lessons from the 4-day win experiment

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Pamela Slim

I promised to report back today on the success of my 4-day win, which I shared earlier this week in Death to procrastination:  Use the 4-day win to get your goals moving.  I encouraged readers to share their own goals and we got some specific examples from Mike, Andy, Latarsha, Rosalind, Billionaire Strategies, Glenda, Kizla, Jan Marie and Judy (see comments on the original post).

My 4-day win involved working on a book proposal, a task I have tried to accomplish in the past (without success, and with great consternation).  My specific goals and rewards are in this worksheet (click to enlarge):
Pams_4day_win
Here are three lessons I learned from the experience:

  1. It makes a HUGE difference to set a small, feasible goal each day.
    I have a classic case of what Martha describes as “monkey brain,” skittering from one bright shiny object to the next when I have loads of work to do.  But with a very small, specific task to accomplish each day, I had no problem getting the work done.  I didn’t feel pressured or rebellious and actually accomplished much more than my daily goal.  My thoughts flowed, and I didn’t exhibit usual signs of stress like a pounding heart, tight throat or pressure at my temples.
  2. A daily reward really works.
    I have had a lot of writing projects lately, and have been wanting to work on a very personal post about immigration, using photos of a farming family I stayed with in Mexico over 20 years ago. All the photos were in slide format, and I recently had them scanned into digital photographs.  Even though I was dying to look at the photos, I made myself wait until I accomplished my daily task.  The anticipation really built up and heightened the enjoyment of the reward.  Opening up each photo, I actually got tears in my eyes from connecting to such an important part of my past. It was a wonderful emotion to associate with my book proposal.
  3. When you accomplish small wins, you can stop and relax instead of living in a constant state of stress and dread.  I have been an “all or nothing” kind of gal for some important projects in the past, either whittling away hours and hours on small, insignificant tasks to avoid a big project or pounding away at the keyboard for hours on end up to the last second of a deadline.  I noticed it is much more stressful to avoid a task rather than to do a small portion of it.  When I accomplished my daily goal, I was able to step away from work and truly relax, which energized me for the next day.

The 4-day win really worked for me.  I am excited about incorporating it into my life and sharing it with my clients.

Alright Mike, Andy, Latarsha, Rosalind, Billionaire Strategies, Glenda, Kizla, Jan Marie and Judy, how did it work for you?

Death to procrastination: Use the 4-day win to get your goals moving

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It has been 15 days since dawn of the New Year and you may be like me:  running around like a rabbit on a 5-shot latte, skittering between the computer keyboard, stacks of books and piles of paper. At this point in the calendar, one of two things usually happens:

  1. You power through your goals and objectives, meeting timelines like a well-oiled Swiss train, confident that this year, like last, you will keep your word and complete all your resolutions
  2. You look at the piles on your desk, pinch the roll of fat at your waist, stare at the blank page on your computer screen and say:  “LOSER!  Once again, you have proven that you have less initiative than a slug in a salt factory.  Now go shove some cookies in your mouth, PRONTO!”

By making your goals broad and far-reaching, you guarantee that they will be immediately sabotaged by your inner meanie.

What’s the alternative?

Instead of beating yourself up, try a 4-day win, which hails from Martha’s book of the same name. The focus of the book is losing weight, but the tool can be applied to any goal or project.

What is a 4-day win?

A 4-day win is a simple method for breaking large, overwhelming goals into comfortable, bite-sized pieces that are accomplished over a four-day period and anchored with rewards to encourage positive behavior.

Once you complete a 4-day win, you take your buzz of accomplishment and create another one.  And another, stringing them together until they become your finished book, or hot body or whatever else you are trying to manifest.

(It reminds me of one of my favorite cartoons which shows a frantic man in the shower with suds on his head screaming “Honey, get me out of here!  The label says ‘Lather, rinse, repeat!’”)

Why four days?

According to Martha:

“When I started exploiting this little bit of psychological numeracy in my coaching, I found that people who had trouble starting a week-long program of change jumped right in if I asked them to sustain a new behavior for just 4 days.  I also discovered that after the 4 days, the inertia that had been keeping them locked into a pattern of action-or inaction-had changed and was now actually pushing them forward.  Even though I specified that they were free to step making a change after the 4-day period, they often said they’d rather continue, because they’d already blasted through the initial resistance and were starting to see positive change.  This happened with so many clients that I started to call it “the 4-day win.”

How do you construct a 4-day win?

Step 1: Pick a goal

Look at your to-do list and pick a juicy goal such as:

  • Write a book proposal
  • Create a website
  • Lose 10 pounds
  • Cook more nutritious meals for your family

From this goal, choose a task that you would like to accomplish in one day.  Example:

  • Write a book proposal → write the first two pages
  • Create a website → design the layout of the home page
  • Lose 10 pounds→exercise for 30 minutes
  • Cook more nutritious meals for your family → cook a meal using all organic ingredients

Step 2: Play halvsies until your goal is ridiculously easy to attain

We start out with what we think are realistic goals, but most of the time they are not, otherwise, we wouldn’t struggle to complete them.  So take your goal from Step 1 and halve it until you know with confidence that you can actually get it done.  Example:

  • Write a book proposal→ write the first two pages→write one paragraph
  • Create a website → design the layout of the home page→choose three colors for your design
  • Lose 10 pounds→exercise for 30 minutes→do 10 squats
  • Cook more nutritious meals for your family → cook a meal using all organic ingredients→add an organic carrot stick to your plate of Kentucky Fried Chicken

Keep playing “halvsies” until the goal feels just South of totally realistic, and just North of so easy it is insulting.

Step 3: Identify a reward

For each daily accomplishment, choose a small reward that will make you happy. Something like:

  • Play 20 minutes of Spider Solitaire, uninterrupted by toddlers or a nagging wife (my husband’s favorite)
  • Read the new issue of People magazine in the bathtub (my favorite)
  • Eat one piece of really good chocolate

Step 4:  Identify a 4-day reward

Think of an additional, slightly larger reward if you manage to keep your ridiculously easy goal for 4 days.  Depending on your budget and taste, this could be something like:

  • A pedicure with an extra decal on your big toe
  • A nice dinner at your favorite restaurant
  • A hike on your favorite trail on Sunday, regardless of how many piles of laundry are sitting on the washing machine

Step 5:  Make sure the action and reward are linked

Martha says:

“If you meet your ridiculously easy daily goals, you absolutely must give yourself the reward. Same with your 4-day goal.  You must also resist any temptation to give yourself the reward if you don’t meet your goals.  If you do all this and you still don’t take any action, reduce the task, increase the reward, or do both, until you start moving.”

Finally …

Fill out a sheet of paper with your own four day win just like the picture of mine here (click to enlarge):
Pams_4day_win

Post it in at least three places:  Your bathroom mirror, your refrigerator door and your workspace.  Check off each day you manage to complete your ridiculously easy goals.

I am seriously going to do my 4-day win
.

If you are motivated by public accountability, write yours here in the comments.  Five days from now (January 20) I will post about how I did on mine and encourage you to do the same.

Final thoughts on the number 4

I couldn’t help but share some additional information on the significance of the number 4, courtesy of my distracted mind combined with Google:

The number 4 in the Tarot :

“Four is the number of manifestation and material reality. There are four elements, four sides of a square, four cardinal directions of a compass, four seasons, four winds, etc. It is a number of order, structure, power, and earthly dominion. Four is the number of the prototypical complete family: a father, a mother, a son, and a daughter.”

The number 4 in Numerology :

“In the Jewish religion, the number four is significant because of the Tetragrammaton, the four-letter name of God which is so holy it is never spoken. In Chinese numerology (as well as that of other Oriental languages), the word “four” is a homonym of the Chinese word for “death”. As thus, some hospitals do not have a 4th floor.

So perhaps “death to procrastination” is more than a dramatic headline after all!

-Pam


Pamela Slim is a Martha Beck certified coach and author of Escape from Cubicle Nation

How to Be Wildly Successful

1446406_66287862It was a problem I’d never anticipated: My brainy daughter was having trouble in school. Katie began teaching herself to read at 15 months and tested at a “post–high school” level in almost every subject by fourth grade. Yet her middle-school grades were dropping like a lead balloon, and her morale along with them. I cared more about the morale than the grades. I knew Katie was quickly losing something educational psychologists call her sense of self-efficacy—her belief that she could succeed at specific tasks and life in general. People who lack this trait tend to stop trying because they expect to fail. Then, of course, they do fail, feel even worse, shut down even more, and carry on to catastrophe.

I couldn’t understand what put Katie on this slippery slope. True, some people seem genetically inclined to believe in themselves—or not—but experience powerfully influences our sense of self-efficacy. I knew Katie had been confident as a preschooler, but her current trouble at school was destroying her optimism. I tried to help in every way I could. I created homework-checking systems, communicated with teachers like bosom buddies, doled out penalties and rewards. Mostly, though, I just kept cheering Katie on. I was sure that if she would stop hesitating, believe in herself, and just throw herself into the task at hand, she’d get past the problem.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

It took years of confidence-battering struggle—for both Katie and me—before I finally got the information I needed. It came from a no-nonsense bundle of kindly energy named Kathy Kolbe, a specialist on the instinctive patterns that shape human action. Kathy’s father pioneered many standardized intelligence tests, but Kathy was born with severe dyslexia, which meant that this obviously bright little girl didn’t learn in a typical way. She grew up determined to understand and defend the different ways in which people go about solving problems.

The day Katie and I met her, Kathy was wearing a T-shirt that said “do nothing when nothing works,” a motto that typifies her approach. On her desk were the results from the tests (the Kolbe A and Y Indexes) that my daughter and I had just taken to evaluate our personal “conative styles,” or typical action patterns.

“Well,” said Kathy, glancing at a bar graph, “I see you both listen better when you’re drawing.”

Katie and I stared at each other, astonished. Bull’s-eye.

“And you’ve both had a zillion teachers tell you to stop drawing. They said you could do only one thing at a time, but that’s not true for you two, is it? You have a hard time focusing if there’s nothing to occupy your eyes and hands.”

Unexpectedly, I found myself tearing up with gratitude. I’d never realized how frustrated I’d been by the very situation Kathy was describing. Katie sat up a little straighter in her chair.

“But,” Kathy went on, “Martha, you go about problem-solving in a different way from Katie. There are four basic action modes, and you’re what I call a Quick Start. When you want to learn, you just jump in and start messing around.”

Another bull’s-eye. I cannot count the times I’ve been defeated, humiliated, or physically injured immediately after saying the words, “Hey, how hard can it be?” But that never seems to stop me from saying them again.

“Now,” Kathy went on, “Katie’s not a Quick Start. She’s a Fact Finder. Before she starts a task, she needs to know all about it. She needs to go through the instructions and analyze them for flaws, then get more information to fill in the gaps.”

To my amazement, my daughter nodded vigorously. I’ve never understood why some people hesitate before diving into unfamiliar tasks or activities. I couldn’t imagine wanting more instructions about anything.

“There are two other typical patterns,” Kathy explained. “The people I call Implementors—like Thomas Edison, for example—need physical objects to work with. They figure out things by building models or doing concrete tasks. Then there are the Follow Thrus. They set up orderly systems, like the Dewey decimal system or a school curriculum.

“And that, Katie,” she said, “is why you’re having trouble. The school system was created mainly by people who are natural Follow Thrus. It works best for students with the same profile. Your teachers want you to fit into the system, but you have a hard time seeing how it works. If you question the instructions—which you absolutely need to do—they think you’re being sassy.”

Katie nodded so hard I feared for her cervical vertebrae. I was stunned. I’d spent years trying to understand my daughter, and a veritable stranger had just nailed the problem in ways I’d never even conceptualized. Katie wanted more instructions? You could have knocked me down with a feather.

Basic Instinct

I’ve told this story in detail because since meeting Kathy, studying her work, and seeing how dramatically it affects people and their productivity, I’ve become convinced that many of us feel like failures because we don’t recognize (let alone accept) that our instinctive methods of acting are as varied as our eye color. Our modus operandi shapes the way we do everything: make breakfast, drive, learn math. Not recognizing natural differences in our conative styles—assuming instead that we’re idiots because we do things unconventionally—can destroy that precious sense of self-efficacy.

Imagine a race between four animals: an otter, a mole, a squirrel, and a mouse. They’re headed for a goal several feet away. Which animal will win? Well, it depends. If the goal is underground, my money’s on the mole. If it’s in a tree? Hello, Mr. Squirrel. Underwater, it’s the otter. And if the goal is hidden in tall grass, the mouse will walk away with it. Now, all these animals can swim, dig, climb, and find things in the grass. It’s just that each of them does one of these things better than the others. Putting all four animals in a swimming race, say, would lead to the conclusion that one was better than the others, when the truth is simply that their innate skills are different.

If we’re in an environment (such as school, a job, or a family tradition) that asks us to act against our natural style, we feel uncomfortable at best, tormented at worst. Even if we manage to conform, we don’t get a high sense of self-efficacy because although we’ve managed the efficacy part of the equation, we’ve lost the self. When we fail, we feel like losers; when we succeed, we feel like impostors.

Thanks to Kathy’s work (and centuries of psychological work on conation), I’ve stopped asking others to match my instinctive style. I no longer expect squirrels to swim and otters to climb trees. As a result, I’m better able to support myself, my children, and everyone else I know. Here’s a quick primer on how you can do the same:

Accept that you have an inborn, instinctive style of action

Just learning that there are four distinct patterns of action was a huge aha for me. When Katie and I accepted that we simply had different ways of doing things, our relationship and her confidence began to improve immediately. To identify your own action-mode profile, you can take a formal online test (the Kolbe Index at kolbe.com; there is a charge), or just observe your own approach to getting something done. To give you an example, people with different profiles might respond to a challenge—let’s say, learning to crochet—in the following ways:

  • Quick Start: If you’re a Quick Start who wants to crochet, you’ll probably buy some yarn and a hook, get a few tips from an experienced crochetmeister, and jump right into trial and error.
  • Fact Finder: You’ll spend hours reading, watching, asking questions, and learning about crocheting before actually beginning to use the tools.
  • Implementor: You pay less attention to words than to concrete objects, so you might draw a pattern of a crochet stitch or even create a large model using thick rope, before you go near a needle.
  • Follow Thru: You’ll likely schedule a lesson with a crochet teacher or buy a book that proceeds through a yarn curriculum, learning new stitches in order of difficulty.

None of these approaches is right or wrong. They can all succeed brilliantly. But someone who’s programmed to use one style will feel awkward and discouraged trying to follow another. We can all master each style if we have to, the way a mole can swim or an otter can climb trees, but it’s not a best-case scenario.

So I finally stopped pressuring Katie to act like her Follow Thru teachers or her Quick Start mother. Instead I helped her find detailed information and gave her time to absorb it. She recently devoured a 1,000-page book on Web site design that I would not read if the alternative were death on the rack. It took her a month to finish the book. The next day, she made a Web site. Spooky.

Play to your strengths

Once you know your instinctive style, brainstorm ways to make it work for you, not against you. For starters, choose fields of endeavor where you feel comfortable and competent. If you love systematic structure, don’t become a freelancer. If you are crazy about physical models, don’t force yourself to crunch financial statistics for a living.

To really boost your sense of self-efficacy, think of ways you could modify your usual tasks to suit your personal style. For example, Kathy suggested that Katie might ask for permission to do detailed research reports in place of other school assignments. I nearly threw up at the very thought, but to my astonishment Katie agreed enthusiastically.

Of course, you’ll inevitably interact with people whose instinctive patterns are different from yours. Otter, Mole, Squirrel, and Mouse may all show up in the same family, workplace, or book club. Occasionally, it’s fine to conform, using styles of action that don’t come naturally—but do it consciously and for a limited time, or your sense of self-efficacy will suffer. And finally…

Team up with unlike others

As long as Otter, Mole, Squirrel, and Mouse are forced to race in the same terrain, at least three of them will be out of their element, looking and feeling like failures. But think what they could do if they pooled their skills. They could access resources from the water, earth, trees, and fields, combining them in ways none of the animals could achieve alone. They could rule the world! (Or at least the backyard.)

This is the very best way to leverage an understanding of conative style—to create useful, complementary strategies instead of disheartening, competitive ones. Many of us have spent a lifetime trying to be what we’re not, feeling lousy about ourselves when we fail and sometimes even when we succeed. We hide our differences when, by accepting and celebrating them, we could collaborate to make every effort more exciting, productive, enjoyable, and powerful. Personally, I think we should start right now. I mean, hey, how hard can it be?