“Watch your thoughts, for they will become actions. Watch your actions, for they’ll become… habits. Watch your habits for they will forge your character. Watch your character, for it will make your destiny.”
A couple of weeks ago I was taking William (my 5 year old son) to football practice. School holidays. I had a business client call at 10 am.
I hate having these calls. Not because they are business calls, but because I have to use a meeting dial-in thingy. You know the kind where you have a pin number and a telephone number to call – everyone dials in. They never work properly.
I am dropping William off, there’s at least 80 kids. Mayhem. I am hurrying things along. Going over instructions to him, kissing him good bye. At the same time, I’m feeling anxious about making the call. My emotions ebbing and flowing from anxiety and fear to joy and pleasure (whilst hugging and kissing him). My emotions driven by circumstance, and my response to it.
All living things have dispositions or tendencies to respond to things and certain ways…
Just as a flower has an inherent disposition to lean towards the sun, and birds and butterflies are disposed to fly. Human beings have dispositions to respond emotionally to other people.
We don’t even notice that constantly emotions are being drawn out from us. Our emotions sway back and forth depending on what we are in counting. When we experience something pleasurable we feel pleasure. When we do something frightening we subsequently feel fearful.
When we walk into that board room with dread we feel anxious. When we stand up and present to large auditorium we may experience calm because we see ourselves having a conversation. Or the complete opposite we experience an “inner turmoil” because we choose anxiety rather than joy.
These reoccurring experiences feed up signals to us. Signals that tell us to respond in a certain fashion. So we do. Our responses become our habits.
This is what life is about…
Moment after moment in which people encounter one another reacting in an infinite number of ways and pulled to and fro emotionally. Human life – business – consists of people constantly bumping up against one another and reacting passively.
I believe not one of us can escape this, be it a child on the playground responding to bullying or a leader of global business or nation. Every single human event is shaped by our emotional experiences. And when we retell it we create a narrative or story filled with emotions as we see them.
What if you could choose your emotions – respond not react?
We can redefine the way we communicate. And we can choose the emotion we wish to bring to bear. We can, with practice, choose the intensity of these emotions too. And when we do, we live truthfully – we live with purpose and have the impact we desire.
David, a CEO of multi-million pound advertising agency wanted to get better a public speaking. That’s it he thought.
“Deon you can help me present better to the board. You can help me get rid of my nerves emotions when at conferences.”
90% of the time that’s what people believe they need. That is what people see me as being able to help them with. But its only the “habit”. It is only the surface of the pond.
Deep within the pond (of you) is a rich source of energy and power, that feeds life and everything that comes into contact with it. We should all be striving to move from a state where we just randomly respond to things emotionally, to a state where we are able to respond with propriety or better ways of responding. That’s truthful leadership.
Developing propriety does not mean overcoming or controlling the emotions. Feeling emotion is what makes us human. It simply means cultivating our emotions so that we find better ways of responding to others. We can start to respond to people in ways that we have cultivated instead of through immediate emotional reaction, refining our responses through rituals.
Most of us have certain rituals without even noticing. A morning cup of coffee, family dinners, a couple’s regular Friday date night or a piggy back ride for the kids at bedtime. We consider these moments important because they give our lives continuity and meaning and bond us to our loved ones. Confucius says that all of these moments are potential rituals that teach us about who we are.
Stop the auto-pilot!
Consider a simple fact that we all engage with one another multiple times a day. We run into a friend and we say,
“Hey how’s it going?”
“Great, how about you?”
The bear facts connect you for a moment before you continue on. Then he/she introduces you to someone else. You greet them and make breezy chit chat about the weather (if you’re in the UK), the surroundings or some recent news events. We run into a close friend at the supermarket you stop your carts and give each other a warm hug,
“How have you been?
“The kids are great.”
You have a short animated conversation and promise to make a date for coffee before you go your separate ways. Its per functionary. It isn’t present-momentness. It isn’t response-fueled-emotion.
On these occasions we use different greetings, and different sorts of questions and use different tones of voice when talking to different people. All of this we do subconsciously – we adjust our behaviour – the very words we use depending on whether we are talking to a close friend and acquaintance or someone we just met, your mother or father our boss or coach or your child’s piano teacher.
We modify the way we speak according to who we are with because we have learnt this is the socially appropriate thing to do. And because we are with different people in different situations all day long everything we do shifts constantly. Equally we do this at work.
Over time we may begin to question who am I then? If how I am being is constantly and consistently driven by what I believe is socially acceptable “habitual doings” then what is the real me?
And we do do this in the office right? We accept it because it’s called culture. The way things are done around here. Why can’t you be the one that stands out from the crowd? The one that is remembered. The one that sets the culture?
You are in a meeting, which you have every Monday morning. You could choose to change the way you are in that meeting. The way you address people in that meeting. What happens to you then? What happens to the people in the meeting? What impact does this have?
Human beings are creatures of habit…
We become accustomed to doing the small things like standing to the side to let a stranger pass by. And we do these things, like most of our communication with others at work and in life, not conscious of what we are doing.
We can have an impact on how others feel when we have a clear intention, about how we will be. We can truly know who we are when we loose our desire to go through life performing most social conventions by wrote – loosing our power (and ourselves) in the process. I know I have. Hanging onto rituals that do not serve can profoundly set us on a path of vanilla. Seth Godin is all about finding your purple cow. What’s yours? You? Then be it!
Changing our ritual habits can help us become better people. Better leaders. We must become aware that breaking free from our normal ways of being is what makes it possible to develop different sides of ourselves. Using emotion we choose.
We can then be present and almost (wanky word warning) transformative, allowing us to become a “different person” for a moment. Creating a short lived alternative reality that returns us to our regular life slightly altered. Not focused on our predetermined view of what we think we must be.
How can I apply this to business…
Have a clear intention for how you want to show up. This includes knowing what emotion you want to bring to bear.
Observe yourself every time. Begin to cultivate a sense of awareness that allows you to evaluate your effectiveness. Not measured against what you think others expect of you.
And do, do, do. Joda in the swap said “there is no try, just do.” Just do it, observe self and then do it again differently.
You will be amazed at the clarity of purpose you develop and the impact you have on others.
Take a chill-pill and feel the emotions you know are right, to feel.