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Calm is Contagious (#79)

Last week, I had the privilege of attending and speaking at my third Tugboat Institute Summit, promoting the Evergreen business movement of market-leading businesses looking to make a dent in the universe.

One of my favorite speakers at Tugboat is Commander Rorke T. Denver. Rorke has run every phase of training for the U.S. Navy SEALs and led special-forces missions all around the world. His lessons on leadership, such as last year’s takeaway on “playing without a safety net,” are incredibly insightful and valuable.

This year, while leading a segment on the “warrior mindset,” Rorke was asked about the biggest lesson he learned from his time in the Navy SEALs; the answer was surprising.

To graduate from SEAL basic training (BUD/S), something approximately only 25 percent of those who start will do, there is a final exercise that requires rehearsing a mission and then executing it on time. About midway through the mission, his group realized they could not complete it on time. In response, the class leader was frenetically running around screaming at people, which only served to make effective decisions impossible.

Having witnessed this erratic behavior, a Master Chief Petty Officer, the most senior enlisted member of the U.S. Navy, gave Rorke’s group an invaluable piece of advice that he’d learned from another Master Chief during the Vietnam War. The advice he gave was simple: “Calm is Contagious.” He explained that their team members would mimic or amplify their behavior, whether that be calm, chaos or panic.

There are definitely a few times in life when we need to fully engage our fight or flight response with an appropriate level of panic, adrenaline and even stress. However, when a leader of one of the most elite and deadly military units in the world counts his biggest learning as “Calm is Contagious,” it should give us pause to how we approach many of our everyday situations.

We all want to be around people who are calm and in control. But we also have an opportunity to be that person for our colleagues, our families and even ourselves. Our ability to calm ourselves and reduce stress fundamentally changes how we react and how we make decisions.

Given that others are likely to mimic or amplify your behavior, think closely about what you want that behavior to be.

To watch Rorke tell this story himself, check out this YouTube video.


Quote of the Week

“Pretend to be completely in control and people will assume that you are.”

Walter Isaacson

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Putting Yourself First (#69)

As my flight got ready to take off this week, I watched the safety video that includes the familiar message I have now heard hundreds of times: “In the case of an emergency, secure your own mask first.” The airlines remind of this each and every flight because they’ve learned that we are more likely to focus on helping our kids first than ourselves, which could do more harm than good. This pragmatic tip is really an important metaphor for how we should live our lives.

For example, many of us don’t prioritize our own life goals and needs. We put ourselves last and too often say “yes” to other things and people, which divides our energy into too many disparate activities. The result is that we aren’t as successful, nor are we as effective at helping others as we could be.

There seems to be a lot of confusion around the concept of putting one’s self first and being selfish. I, personally, don’t see them as one in the same. Being selfish is more about believing that the world revolves around you and your needs and not caring about the well-being of others; putting yourself first is about not compromising your own needs.

If we don’t put ourselves first, then everyone we come across tends to get a suboptimal version of us. To be at our best – for ourselves and others— we need to make sure we are living in a way that leaves us happy, healthy, and rested. Some of the most generous and giving people I know are those who are very disciplined about their own priorities and goals.  The result is they have the capacity to give the most in a sustained way.

Here are three simple tips to help you get better about putting yourself first:

  1. Saying No: If we say yes to everything everyone asks us to do, we will never be in control of our own priorities. Think about using the “hell yeah or no test” to decide when to say no and relieve yourself from the associated guilt.
  2. Prioritize Basic Needs: Sleeping, eating, and movement (exercise) are all basic needs that should be an uncompromising priority in our lives. To point number one, this often requires saying no to other things.
  3. Keep a Journal: I keep coming across article after article about the benefits of journaling. An interesting aspect of this practice is that it provides a window into your stream of consciousness, self-accountability, and mindfulness.

The next time you find yourself making an excuse for something that you want to do for yourself, I encourage you to take a step back and consider the three tips provided above. If you are constantly putting your own needs and goals behind those of others, you’ll likely end up being too tired or resentful to enjoy your own success and achievement. Putting yourself first isn’t selfish; it’s often the best thing you can do in the service of others.

Quote of the Week

“Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.”

Eleanor Roosevelt 

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Stressed Out (#68)

Every day, people all over the world wake up stressed. Some will be worrying about how they’ll find food or shelter for the day; others will be thinking about a presentation they are giving for the first time; and there are even those who will be legitimately stressed about coordinating the management logistics of their multiple multi-million dollar homes. Regardless of the reason, they’re stressed out.

At his speaking engagements, one of my mentors and coaches, Warren Rustand, often offers a $10,000 reward to anyone who can leave the room and return with a can of stress. His rationale behind this compelling offer is that “stress is an internal response to an external force.” It’s something we bring onto ourselves in reaction to what’s going on outside of us.

Stress emanates from pre-historic times. By boosting our adrenaline and fueling short-term improvements in attention and memory, it’s a biological purpose is to temporarily trigger our flight or fight response. The operative word being “temporary.” The problem is that most of us are functioning in stress mode far longer than our bodies are designed for, and its making us increasingly sick and unhealthy.

According to my good friend Dr. Heidi Hanna, a leading expert on stress, the biggest issue with our current stress epidemic is that most people don’t fully understand what exactly is stressing them out. She explains that “In today’s hyper-connected society, we have access to more stimulation and information in one day than we are wired to process in a lifetime.  Because the brain is hard-wired to constantly crave more, most people struggle to disconnect and recharge even when they have time to do so.”

To reduce stress, she suggests building in time to regularly recharge throughout the day by meditating, breathing deeply, and taking the time to reflect on things you are grateful for.

Recently, Warren and Heidi teamed up for a fascinating video discussion on stress. Warren’s belief is that a main source of stress stems from uncertainty in our lives and that we can improve our stress levels considerably by focusing in on three seemingly unrelated areas to stress:

  1. Clarity of Vision (Why). Understanding what we are here to do; our purpose.
  2. Certainty of Intent (How): Clarity about our actions and goals in service of our purpose.
  3. Power of Values (Who): Understanding what our core values are; our core values relate to number one and number two, and allow us to make key decisions more easily.

At the end of the day, the way to prevent or alleviate stress is to be more aligned in our lives, have greater clarity about our actions, and believe that we have control over each and every situation. That feeling of not having or being in control is frequently the greatest cause of stress. While not a quick fix, taking these steps will help to reduce the pressure from external sources of stress and make us happier and more productive.

Quote of the Week

“If you ask what is the single most important key to longevity, I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress and tension. And if you didn’t ask me, I’d still have to say it.”

George Burns

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Getting Uncomfortable (#61)

In theory, the more comfortable we are, the more successful our lives should be. However, the opposite has been proven true. The more vulnerable and uncomfortable we get, the more successful we can be.  It turns out that comfort often creates complacency and avoidance; it gets in the way of what we really want.

Think about all of those difficult decisions or conversation that you have put off. In most every case, it only serves to delay the inevitable. From personal experience, when I procrastinate having a challenging conversation or making a difficult decision, it’s because I’m trying to make too many people happy. However, it comes at the expense of getting the outcome that I really want and is a drain on my energy and productivity.

In my quest to get better at getting uncomfortable and addressing things head on, I’ve sought experts on the topic, such as Dr. Brené Brown. She’s spent the past 13 years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame and is the author of three #1 New York Times bestsellers: Daring GreatlyThe Gifts of Imperfection, and Rising Strong.

After thousands of interviews with high achievers, her assessment is that our willingness to be uncomfortable is actually one of the greatest contributors to our ultimate success. Our ability to “lean into discomfort” and walk towards (not away from) uncomfortable situations defines who we are and our capacity for success.

She states that, “When we step back and examine our lives, we will find that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous, and hurtful as standing on the outside of our lives looking in and wondering what it would be like if we had the courage to step into the arena—whether it’s a new relationship, an important meeting, the creative process, or a difficult family conversation.”

I’d encourage you to watch Brené’s TED talk on The Power of Vulnerability. It’s one of the top 5 most watched Ted talks in history. You can also listen to her podcast interview with Tim Ferris.

I’ve mentioned this before, but regret is about what we don’t do, not what we do. When faced with a situation that requires you to be vulnerable or uncomfortable, making the choice to be brave will likely lead you to the best outcome.

Quote of the Week

“He or she who is willing to be the most uncomfortable is not only the bravest but rises the fastest.”

Brené Brown

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