Monday, June 17, 2013
Book Review, Professional
Sometimes clarity comes in the most unlikely places. It's often hard to realize how much impact having a clear understanding of who we are and what we believe in can have on our professional lives. As many of the book reviews lately have been about personal growth, , I'm including a review of another book that I read for personal development that can be applied to business as well. Many of these book reviews are building to a post that is in my backlog that needs some foundational underpinning which is found in the references I'm now reviewing.
As the Train song Bruises says, "We've all got bruises." We've all got things that have happened to us that we need to heal from. So when we're talking from the perspective of Changes that Heal: How to Understand Your Past to Ensure a Healthier Future, we're talking about things that we can do that will help us heal from the hurts of our past. Changes that Heal provides some specific, practical guidance on how to move past your hurts and reach a place of strength.
I'm constantly reminded in my consulting practice about how personal hurts, injuries to self-esteem, value, and appreciation, ripple through meetings as one person triggers another and a simple misstatement of words becomes a full-blown disagreement or a knock-down drag out fight; all for a misspoken word and an old wound.
In Changes that Heal, Henry Cloud, who also co-authored Boundaries, says that as children of God we start out life incapable of doing the four things that God can do:
- Bond with others – To connect in a meaningful way with other humans
- Separate from others – Learn when and how to be apart from others
- Sort out issues of good and bad – Identify what is good for us and bad for us
- Take charge as an adult – Be in peer relationships where you have to take responsibility appropriately
In fact the book is laid out along the lines of these four things – after the topics of grace, truth, and time are covered.
Grace, Truth, and Love
There are enough songs about love and its power that you don't have to read 1 Corinthians 13:13, "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.", to realize that love is what it's all about. As I mentioned in How to Be an Adult in Relationships, however, in the ancient Greek in which the New Testament was written, there are three words for love. One of the challenges that we have in communicating in English is the lack of precision when we speak of love. We're not clear what exactly we're talking about. Love is one of those words, like trust (See Building Trust: In Business, Politics, Relationships, and Life), that is difficult to define. In fact, many of us believe we know what the definition is – until we try to define it. Cloud's approach to defining love (Agape) is to say that it comes from the components of grace and truth.
Grace itself is a particularly difficult word to explain. It's difficult because it means so many different things to so many different people. Grace can be elegance in motion. Grace can also be a blessing that we do not deserve. It's often used in conjunction with the word mercy, but mercy refers to (in terms of How to Be an Adult in Relationships) acceptance and allowance for someone or something that temporarily fails to meet a standard. Grace is, however, a blessing on top of mercy. Grace is free and unmerited favor. It empowers the person to make a change – a radical change. Cloud discusses grace as the relational aspect of God's love. It's how we're connected to him.
According to Cloud, Truth is the structural component of God's love. It is the structure that life hangs on. Truth is the definition, the standard, the boundary. Truth is fact. It gets past perceptions (in as much as we humans can) to define what is good and what is bad.
Both grace and truth are necessary. The structure needs to be malleable – it must allow for grace. If you're required to be at work at 8AM but your car breaks down, you have both the truth that you weren't there and the grace that you will keep your job – and perhaps not even be docked the time that you weren't there. Only grace doesn't have any standards. Truth has standards which no one can meet all the time.
Cloud asserts that the major barrier to growth is guilt and that grace and truth are so powerful because they help to address this barrier. Grace says that you don't need to feel guilty because not only are you forgiven but you are blessed in spite of the transgression. Truth holds up the mirror so you can see clearly how your behavior isn't right. I don't agree with Cloud that guilt is the barrier, I think it is shame.
Sidebar: About Guilt and Shame
There's a lot of confusion about guilt and its relationship to shame. Cloud doesn't specifically address this relationship but because Cloud feels so strongly about how guilt is a barrier to growth, I'll say that I don't believe that guilt is the barrier to growth – I believe that the barrier to growth is shame. The distinction is that guilt is negative feelings about something you've done. Shame is feeling bad about who you are. One focuses on the action and the other on the actor. Guilt says that wewish we hadn't done something. Shame says that we wish we weren't the way that we are.
Guilt is normal. It's expected. It's changeable. You can change your future state by not doing the action again. Shame seems more permanent. Shame is about the character of the person and feels more condemning and harder to change. Of course, we learned from Mindset that we are changeable. However, shame makes you feel powerless.
It's a Process and it Takes Time
More than any other part of Changes that Heal, the chapter on time seems like it's the obvious thing that people miss. If you've ever seen the Selective Attention Test you'll understand how sometimes we can get so focused on one thing that we can't see the obvious. (I won't give it away if you haven't seen the video.) I feel like in my world I see people all the time that get so focused on their pain – and making it go away NOW(!) that they forget that getting into their problem took time and so will getting out of it.
I took a trip to Mt. Rushmore via private plane with my brother and a good friend of mine several years ago. When we took that trip, numerous things went wrong and we never got some of the end experiences we wanted – although throughout the trip we were constantly reminded that it was about the journey. Some of the feeling that it was about the journey was seeing a museum named Journey. Some of the belief that it wasn't about the destination was hearing every Journey song known to man. However, the message was loud and clear that our schedule and our plans weren't the only option. We learned that we couldn't control our schedule. We couldn't control the time aspect of our trip. Things were going to take what they're going to take.
The trip was a flying trip, as I mentioned, so I think that a flying analogy may help to understand what Cloud is saying. He's saying that change is a process – which you have to work on yourself before you can work on your relationship with others. So thinking of a plane, you have one source of power – the engine and the propeller it's attached to. All you can do with the engine is make the aircraft go forward. You can't generate lift directly.
When you're on the runway cranking the engine up to full power and you let off the brake, the airplane starts to slowly move forward breaking the bonds of inertia. It takes a relative eternity as you accelerate towards the end of the runway. As more and more momentum builds there are a set of secondary forces that start to take over. Air over the wings starts to generate lift. You're still applying power to go forward. More and more the plane gets lighter on the tires. Once the forward momentum gets high enough the lift force generated exceeds the force of gravity and the plane takes off.
The airplane didn't generate lift directly. It generated forward motion and allowed the air – the invisible presence around us – to generate lift. The motor in the plane isn't capable of lifting the plane directly. It doesn't have the power to pick the plane up – it only has the ability to move it forward. It has to allow the air to do its job of creating lift.
The interaction of these forces is important because people want to soar – to escape the pull of their past. That isn't what has to happen first. What has to happen first is you have to break free from the inertia. You have to work on yourself, on healing, and on growing. You have to generate forward momentum before you can fly.
Healing is a process. You don't walk into a hospital and instantly get healed. Wounds heal over time. They may scab over. They may hurt every time you bend or move for a while. Eventually, over time, the wound may disappear completely or leave a permanent scar – a place where you are reminded of what has happened even if it doesn't hurt any longer. We can't short circuit the healing process. People who try to run or do activities before it is safe to do so often create more damage than the original injury. They're trying to short-circuit time, and that doesn't work.
I was watching a video series where James McDonald was delivering content from his book Lord, Change My Attitude: Before It's Too Late. In that discussion he mentioned that people come up to him and tell him that they want his life. They as how they can be like him. How can they get the same things that he has? He relates his feelings as they say it. Did they want the years of struggling? Did they want the long hours of studying? Did they want the hardships? Clearly they wanted what he has now – success. However, he didn't become a success overnight. You can't become successful overnight either. You have to struggle through years of obscurity. You have to anguish over hard issues. You have to experience pain and growth. Cloud quotes an old proverb "The longest distance between any two points is the shortcut."
One final, corporate example before we leave this critical section on time. Sometimes business pundits talk about Walmart's "overnight" success. The problem is that Walmart languished for years before the explosive growth began. Not to say that it wasn't profitable or that it wasn't growing – but the explosive growth, the real momentum, took time to get started. It took time to get the model right. It took time to get the right people on the bus. (a la Jim Collins' Good to Great)
No matter what it is in life, it takes time to get it right. There are no shortcuts. There are no microwave ovens on life.
As I've mentioned before, we're social creatures – us humans. We're designed to be connected to and connected with other humans. However, sometimes we forget this is a fundamental part of our human nature and it's possible for people to isolate. Here are three stages of isolation:
- Protest – We protest the lack of relationships (or appropriate relationships)
- Depression and Despair – We feel like that we're a fault somehow, as if we'll never be connected to others
- Detachment – We give up. We block out our needs for connection with others. We deny an essential part of ourselves
In our society, we have more and less acceptable forms of detachment. An alcoholic is not lauded for his love of alcohol. However the workaholic is praised for his productivity. Anything that keeps us from connecting to others is a barrier between us and ourselves.
Defense and Moving In
Sometimes the biggest challenge to working on an issue is getting past the defenses. Some of the defenses that we have against seeing our own limitations are so powerful that they deny reality. They prevent us from realizing that we're using defenses. It becomes our greatest challenge to see ourselves with integrated self-images - to recognize ourselves for both our good and our bad qualities. Here's a list of common defenses that we all use:
- Denial – It's not just a river in Egypt. We simply deny that we have any problems. We're focused completely on the fact that we're without fault – or at least this fault.
- Devaluation – Yes but… The love and connection that is offered to me is devalued so that it doesn't count. The emotional isolation I'm experiencing isn't my fault because the connections that are being offered to me aren't valuable.
- Projection – This is the act of taking your feeling and ascribing it to someone else because you don't want to own it. "I'm not angry; you're angry – and it's making me angry."
- Reaction Formation – This is saying that I'm the opposite of what I'm really feeling. Instead of saying I feel sad I say that I feel happy.
- Mania – I'm hyperactive but disorganized.
- Idealization – I visualize myself as perfect. I believe that it's impossible to have a fault because I'm perfect.
By contrast, here are the things you do when you're moving into the wound and the process of healing:
- Realize the Need – I accept that I have a need be bonded and attached to others.
- Move Towards Others – I recognize that I have to move towards others – not expect they will always move towards me.
- Be Vulnerable – I must be vulnerable to get close to others. If I live behind impenetrable walls no one will ever be able to get close.
- Challenge Distorted Thinking – I recognize that my perception is distorted and that some thoughts and feelings distort it further. (See Bonds that Make Us Free, Leadership and Self-Deception, and Anatomy of Peace for more information.)
- Allow Dependent Feelings – I have to allow a level of attachment to another person to be connected to them. I must care about them.
- Become Comfortable with Anger – As I mentioned during the review of Emotional Intelligence, Anger is disappointment directed. I can use anger as a tool to better understand my relationship to others.
- Be Empathetic – I need to share (or mirror) others' thoughts, feelings, and emotions to truly connect with them.
- Rely on the Holy Spirit – I have insufficient power on my own, but through the Holy Spirit, I can do all things.
- Say Yes to Life – I must internalize that to be fully alive is to be connected with God and others.
Don't Think about Polar Bears
There's a funny little trick that happens when we focus on not doing something. We end up reinforcing what we don't want. We do it by keeping the very thing we want to avoid in our heads. The heading for this section tells you not to think about polar bears. You're not supposed to remember that they're big, white, and live at the North Pole. However, just by reading the words polar bear you thought of one. The more I tell you why you shouldn't think about polar bears – because they're evil, or they'll make your toes turn white, or whatever, the more you'll think about polar bears.
Jonathan Haidt discusses in The Happiness Hypothesis that holding on to a negative thought is a difficult process because the very act of monitoring what we're thinking requires that we think about the thing we're trying to prevent thinking about in the first place. A more effective strategy is the strategy discussed in numerous books including The Information Diet, Introducing the Psychology of Success, and How Children Succeed -- that is to think of something else. The research upon which all of these books draw was around delayed gratification and whether children could not eat one marshmallow for a few minutes so that they could have two marshmallows later. The most successful groups for the marshmallow test distracted themselves. They didn't worry about thinking about the marshmallow, they simply focused on other things.
Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to not think about the past, to avoid the time and place that we were hurt, that we focus energy remembering the event we're trying to not think about. You may find that focusing on healing and on other things can be therapeutic.
Fences with Gates
There's an old saying in computer security that the most secure computer in the world is locked in a vault in Fort Knox, turned off, and unplugged. That's true. It's completely secure. And equally useless. You can't be in a relationship with someone – and therefore learn from the experience – if there's no way to get to you.
Relationships are a delicate balance between allowing people in to help you and allowing too much so that they will harm you. Cloud suggests that we need fences with gates. That is, we need to have boundaries and we need to know when the boundaries aren't necessary. We need to know how to let the right things in – and keep the wrong things out. We have to have permeable boundaries.
The book Beyond Boundaries discussed protective boundaries and defining boundaries. Defining boundaries are the fences. Protective boundaries are the gates. Deciding when and where you need them is the key.
If you're thinking that you can get by with only boundaries, and that you don't need to know anything about permeability or gates, consider that the only sea in the world which has no outlets is called the Dead Sea.
Fail Small, Fail Often
I love Mythbusters for more than just the explosions. I appreciate that they frequently do their experiments in small scale before going to a large scale. This allows them to fail more often – which on the surface seems to be a bad thing. However, failing more often and quicker in the small scale means that the large scale experiments are more likely to be successful. That's an important aspect of their success at testing myths.
For myself, I had a friend say to me that I never seem to fail. After the long pause followed by a roar of laughter, I commented that I fail all the time. They didn't believe me, but from my perspective, I do fail all the time. Different marketing approaches fail. Different product ideas fail. Different development spikes fail. However, these all fail and I learn from each failure – and I don't do it again. I believe my friend was trying to say that, like Edison, I keep at it until I get success.
In order to succeed you have to be willing to fail. You can't know if you're able to ride a bike until you take the training wheels off. You can't know if you can do it on your own until you've had to do it on your own.
Skills for Becoming an Adult
I would be remiss to not share the 10 skills that the book calls out for becoming an adult. They are:
- Reevaluate Beliefs – I reevaluate my beliefs based on what I know. Humans are lousy at reprocessing what we know when our awareness and values change.
- Respectful Disagreement with Authority Figures – I acknowledge and accept my disagreements with authority figures – and choose healthy ways of dealing with them.
- Make Your Own Decisions – I don't allow others to make decisions for me – I own my own life.
- Practice Disagreeing – I need to accept that disagreeing with others is natural and healthy.
- Deal with Your Sexuality – "'Children don't talk about sex', but adults can. Stop whispering!"
- Recognize and Pursue Talents – I will practice the skills that I've been given – with acceptance that failure is a pathway to growth.
- Discipline Yourself – I will be responsible for my own discipline.
- Gain Authority Over Evil – I have the ability to resist evil and temptation.
- Submit to Others out of Freedom – I will submit to others out of love and respect for them.
- Appreciate Mystery and the Unknown – I recognize that I'll never know everything. I'll accept that there are things that I cannot know.
We've all been bruised. We've all been hurt – and we're all going to be hurt again. We must accept that we must take responsibility to create the Changes that Heal in our own lives.
Saturday, June 01, 2013
Book Review, Professional
It seems like nary a week goes by that I don't think "When will that person grow up?" This happens to me both in my personal – and my professional life. It's hard to see how the book How to Be an Adult in a Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving could possibly have professional value, but it does. No matter how much we might try to keep our personal lives and personal health outside the office, it leaks in and changes our ability to get things done. At the core, How to Be an Adult in Relationships speaks of five A's which David Richo believes we all need. They are:
- Attention – Consciousness of the other person and their needs
- Acceptance – Accepting the other person's reality as theirs, even if we don't agree
- Appreciation – An attitude of gratitude for the other person
- Affection – Demonstrating love for others (in whatever way they can receive it)
- Allowing – Permitting the other person to live their life without our attempts to control
Of these, affection is the trickiest one for me since it relies on being able to be affectionate in a way that the other person can accept. Gary Chapman's book The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts is a classic work that exposes that people have different ways that they receive and give love – and that some ways are more impactful than others. We often associate affection with the kind of contact that high-touch folks like myself enjoy (i.e. snuggling), but it could just as easily mean acts of service.
A key part of Richo's argument is that you should not get more than 25% of your nurturance from another person. I'll admit that this is perhaps the hardest thing that I had to come to grips with in the entire book and I wanted to argue against it until I took a step back. Even in the best relationships you should still have other activities – activities that you enjoy outside of the relationship. You still have work, from which you, hopefully, derive some value from beyond a paycheck. As I started thinking about all of the different ways that someone could be nurtured through their lives I began to wonder if 25% isn't right.
In truth, I don't know what the right answer is and I don't think Richo does either. The point being made – and it's a good one – is that you cannot rely on a single person to give you everything you need. Not only do you need to seek out others, but you also have to work on self-care as I mentioned in my review of Beyond Boundaries. Self-care, taking responsibility for nurturing ourselves, is equally important as relying on other people because other people are going to let us down and we need to know how to accept and allow that.
Staying Too Long
How do you know whether someone is just going through their own time of need and doesn't have anything to offer for the moment or whether a relationship is critically flawed and cannot be repaired? That's a difficult if not impossible question, but it's a question that deserves an answer. We've all stayed in relationships too long – both personally and professionally. We've lingered in a dating relationship because we wanted the attention. We've stayed at a job too long because we couldn't get up the courage to start the job search process again. We've stayed in a job role because the organization "needed" us to stay there – even after we knew that it had become soul crushing for us.
In some cases our reality distortion (See Beyond Boundaries) causes us to delude ourselves into thinking it will get better. We decide that instead of a permanent issue it is only a temporary thing. That it's not really as bad as we think. We apply full cognitive behavior therapy [CBT] (see Redirect) to ourselves and try to sooth the pain that we feel at the loss that we know needs to happen. If we're particularly good at CBT, we'll delude ourselves to the point that there's no longer a problem.
Love is a tricky thing – particularly in English. The ancient Greek had three words that are all translated into love: eros, philos, and agape. Eros is romantic or sexual love, philos is brotherly love (and where Philadelphia gets its nickname as the city of brotherly love), and agape is God's love. If you just start with this, is there any wonder that there is some confusion about what we mean when we say love? We all know what we mean when we say "I love you" to our parents or siblings. However, the same three words mean something completely different when expressed to your spouse.
However, the different types of love aren't the only issue we face when talking about how we love. Another issue is how we define love. How do you know when you're in love? Is it the time you spend together? Is it the butterflies in your stomach? Perhaps it's the warm feelings you get. The problem is that these aren't a definition for love.
Neither is a deeply intimate emotional connection. That should be a part of a romantic relationship – but it doesn't define it. You may have friends to whom you can tell "anything." (Based on some of the quite depressing research you may not have a close confidant either, but I hope you do.) That friend is likely not a romantic interest. So while you may love them in the philos and agape senses of the word, you probably don't love them in the eros sense of the word.
Another popular definition for love is commitment. That is a level of responsibility to another human being (not responsibility for, see Boundaries). However, commitment isn't all love is. Commitment is the residue of the feelings and emotions. It is the residue of the trust and intimacy that have developed. So while love – in all its forms – has a component of commitment to it, that commitment isn't the litmus test for whether love exists.
So, why then is there all this talk about love in the context of business? Well, the answer is that it's evidence for me that we simply don't have a good understanding of our relationships. There has been more written and sung about love than any other word – and most of us don't really know what it is.
By Excess and Deficit
One errs by excess and the other by deficit. What one person has in abundance the other cannot muster. Consider the twin ideas of truth and grace which are interwoven through the Christian bible. A person with too much truth and not enough grace will be cold and callous. That person may be right but no one will want to hear what that truth. There's an old saying that no one cares what you know until they know you care. Conversely, someone who is all grace and no truth will be friendly but won't be able to have the hard conversations. Finding the balance between truth and grace – and delivering the messages with love – is perhaps one of the hardest things to do in relationships of all kinds.
An overeater is plagued by an excess of food. The anorexic is plagued by a lack of food (fear of becoming overweight.) One errs by excess and the other by deficit. When being an adult in a relationship it's critical to find balance in our lives – or at least accept that others need balance in our relationships - so that we neither smother nor starve our relationships.
How to Be an Adult in Relationships includes two acronyms that I thought were useful. The first is SEE. It's when you recognize that you're reacting inappropriately. It stands for the three most common causes:
- Shadow – The part of us that we disown, repress, or deny
- Ego – We're fearful of not being accepted
- Early-Life Issues – We're reacting to a hurt that we experienced as a child that was triggered by the situation
The other acronym, FACE, directly addresses the inflated ego:
- Fear – Afraid that we won't be accepted
- Attachment –We won't get the outcomes we want (Buddhist teachings warn against attachment)
- Control – A belief or desire that we can control circumstances or other people
- Entitlement – We deserve something (See Anatomy of Peace)
Being an adult requires quite a bit of emotional intelligence, awareness of who you are, and ultimately where your boundaries are. As I leave this book review, I want to acknowledge one key feature of this book that is unique. How to Be an Adult in Relationships includes a great number of journaling questions. It is designed for you to be able to read and ponder and learn from the material in a deep way. This is a great way to really grasp the material and apply it to your life.
Saturday, May 25, 2013
Book Review, Professional
As with my review of Boundaries, I had read Beyond Boundaries: Learning to Trust Again in Relationships some time ago. I had held back posting a book review of it because I didn't think that I was reading it for professional growth. However I realized that we have relationships in business that are sometimes more complex, confusing, and more difficult than other non-professional relationships. So I decided that you might like to know more about how relationships work and what you can do to improve them all.
I believe firmly that trust lies at the very heart of all relationships. I remember organizations where the management team trusted one another and things worked relatively well – and conversely, where management teams quietly and secretly waited for a fellow team member to break their word – to violate a trust – so that they could point it out or publicly shame them. To paraphrase Building Trust, trust is the lubrication that organizations need to get things done. I've written reviews of three books directly related to trust (Trust & Betrayal in the Workplace , Building Trust: In Business, Politics, Relationships and Life, and Trust Me: Four Steps to Authenticity and Charisma), because it is so foundational to every relationship.
There are two additional aspects of trust that Beyond Boundaries exposes. The first is the Hebrew word 'batach', which is most commonly translated as trust, but conveys a sense of carelessness. It's not carelessness as in recklessness, but rather careless as in without concern. It's this kind of trust that the author suggests primarily to expose an ability to be your authentic self in the relationship – rather than trusting that if you do things exactly right the other person will be tolerant of you. This has the ring of Authentic Trust from Building Trust but is a bit more complete and encompassing than the view expressed there. Its knowing that you can trust the other person as completely as anyone can ever trust another human being.
The second is a breakdown between functional and relational trust. Functional trust, according to Townsend, is an alignment between what someone says and what someone does. Everyone has some level of misalignment between what they say and what they do – however higher levels of functional trust exist when the difference between the two is minimal. Someone who is known to keep their word would be said to be worthy of a high degree of functional trust. Relational trust is an ability to be safe with someone – exposing your vulnerabilities and feelings. In other words, it is awareness that you can be your real, authentic self with someone. Relational trust is about the complexities of trusting in a relationship. Knowing that there will be misunderstandings – but knowing the other party won't willfully harm you.
Trust is important, but truth – and biases – are important to relationships as well.
Truth and Biases
Truth, as much as we may want it to be a single thing, is influenced by our perspective. One person's hero may be another person's villain. We all have biases from our background and from our perspective which influence our version of the truth. One of the most common issues with the "truth" is fundamental attribution error, which was discussed in Switch and in The Advantage. Fundamental attribution error is the tendency to attribute our behavior circumstances, and that of others, to character. We give greater grace to ourselves for making a poor choice because we can see the circumstances a bit more clearly. For others, we generally believe that they have a character flaw that made them behave poorly – even if the circumstances might have been particularly awful.
Kurt Lewin described behavior as a function of both person and environment. That is to say that it is the two of these combined which will determine the action. For instance, if a loaf of fresh bread is in front of you, no one is looking, and you've had no way to feed your family – I absolutely expect that you'll steal the bread (and feel bad about it). If I only told you that someone had stolen a loaf of bread, you might think less of them – until you realize there was no other way to feed their family. Certainly my point isn't to condone stealing – my point is to expose the fact that none of us are safe from being a product of our environment.
The fundamental attribution error is important in the context of relationships because we can consciously reverse the bias so that we give others "the benefit of the doubt." In fact, research seems to show that couples in which one person has a slightly more positive view of their partner than the partner does of themselves tend to have better relationships. The better we are able to think positively about the other person in a relationship, the more likely that relationship is to be positive.
No matter whether you reverse the fundamental attribution error or not, there's some sense of a distorted reality around your "truth." Of course, there's our perceptual bias, but there's more than that. The fundamental attribution error is a close cousin to confirmation bias: the tendency to find evidence to support our positions while ignoring evidence that would contradict our stance. The problem is that if you're in a bad relationship – at home, with a boss, a subordinate, or a peer – you tend to distort reality if you decide to stay in the relationship. You'll say that your boss isn't really that bad or the subordinate doesn't really make that many mistakes. This distortion of reality is necessary to survive in the relationship, but when the relationship ends, how do you deal with the distortion that you've created? The hardest part is realizing the distortion exists, since more than likely you won't have even seen the distortion happening. You will have created a reality – a "truth" – around how you want that other person to be – whether that is who they are or not.
One thing that wasn't but could have easily been covered in Boundaries is the idea of different kinds of boundaries. Townsend asserts in Beyond Boundaries that there are two kinds of boundaries: defining and protective. Defining boundaries are the boundaries that define who you are and are immutable. That is, if the boundary changed it would change who you are. A boundary such as whether you would commit adultery may be a defining boundary – changing it might change your definition of who you are.
Protective boundaries are provisional and will change as the need to protect yourself changes. If you need to protect yourself from verbal abuse, you might set a boundary that you won't be with your mother-in-law except when your spouse is present. As you work with your mother-in-law to not be so critical, you can remove that boundary. Protective boundaries are like a scab over a wound. They're there to protect the wound from further damage – and are designed to be temporary.
I promised in my review of Boundaries that I'd be coming back to victimhood again. There are some key perspectives that Beyond Boundaries adds to the working definition of victim. Perhaps most importantly is the perspective that 'you can't outsource your health'. This hearkens back to the idea that no matter who created the wound, you're ultimately responsible for healing it. It means that you have to take an active role in your recovery. You can't turn it over to a counselor, a therapy group, a spouse, etc.; you must take responsibility for recognizing your hurts and working on them. If you feel like you're not heard at work, which triggers some deep feeling that you weren't listened to as a child, it's your responsibility to communicate clearly your thoughts in ways that are difficult to ignore – without being aggressive. For instance, if you didn't feel heard in a meeting, you can send a follow up email about what you understood from the meeting and highlighting your idea that you feel didn't get appropriate attention.
Another poignant concept raised in Beyond Boundaries is that the process of grieving converts a wound into a memory. It removes the poison so the wound can heal. If you're constantly feeling injured in a particular way, it's possible that you've not completely grieved the situation. It's an important part of being able to move on to grieve for a lost relationship. The other person in the relationship didn't die – but the relationship might have. One of the interesting times that grief is appropriate is when someone gets a new job. Even when the job is ostensibly better in every way, the person changing jobs is invariably sad at the loss of friendships from their existing job.
Another perspective that can definitely help reduce the chance of staying trapped in victimhood is to recognize our part in the relationship issues – no matter the size of our role. If one percent of the relationship issues are our fault – then we have something we can work on. (I'll assure you there are always more than 1% of the relationship issues that are your fault.)
I mentioned in the review of Boundaries the tendency for rescuers to get caught up in others' problems so much that they fail to look at themselves. So in Beyond Boundaries, I was triggered to think of Acts 20:35 – which says that it is better to give than receive. It occurred to me that this is the mantra of the rescuer. It's better for me to give to others than to receive their care. However Beyond Boundaries hints at the idea that it's better to give AND receive. In other words, giving is great, but if you never accept the care of others and if you never do self-care, you'll burn yourself out. Similarly, we need to open ourselves up and become vulnerable to others. The only way to connect with another human is to open yourself up to them. So I'd say that it's better to give and receive. It's better to offer to listen to others and to offer them the opportunity to listen to you.
The final nail in the coffin of victimhood is an integrated image of ourselves and of those people around us. Let's focus on ourselves for a moment. Everyone has attributes that are great. They're our strengths and our power. However, just as everyone has great attributes, everyone has poor attributes, parts of themselves that are perceived negatively by others or are self-limiting. There are no exceptions to this, everyone, no matter how great, can improve. One challenge is that the way that we view ourselves most frequently isn't as one person who is powerful and vulnerable, special and normal. We tend to see one or the other of the two scenarios; rarely do we see ourselves as both at the same time. At the point at which you can see your flaws and your attributes side-by-side and allow them to exist in a single image of yourself, you'll have conquered victimhood – and made progress on the way to being highly self-actualized and able to face whatever life throws at you.
In terms of your relationship with other people, you'll tend to see them as either all good (white hats) or all bad (black hats). It's very difficult for us to see someone as great at work but not a very good community man. It's hard to believe that a congressman who has done such great things for the community might be committing adultery on his wife – or at least it used to be hard to believe this. We tend to over-generalize information about a person into other areas. In viewing other people, we need to realize that competence or character in one area of their life doesn't mean that they have competence or character in another area of their life. We can't project their attributes in one area to another area.
Do vs. Connect
Are we human doings or human beings? While the answer should be human beings, we spend a lot of our time doing things. Part of that is a holdover from our evolution as a society. In early agrarian cultures we had no free time. As a result, we created a tendency to do things all the time. We rarely relaxed or took in what it meant to be a human being – instead of just the sum of the things we were doing. As society has shifted over the last 100 years or so, we've developed more leisure time. We're needing to learn how to become more of the human beings we were created to be – to move past the always busy, always working, always engaged human doings that we had to be for so much of our history. Beyond Boundaries may be just the book to help us with that transition as well as learning to trust again.
Saturday, May 18, 2013
Book Review, Professional
I read the book Boundaries: When to say YES, and How to Say NO to Take Control of Your Life some time ago. However, it fell on the other side of the line between personal and business. While much of the stuff I read, as you might expect, applies to both my personal life as well as my professional life, I generally share my thoughts on the books if I think there's a reasonable amount of business value. Somehow Boundaries just seemed more like personal maturity than professional maturity. That being said, I've been putting a bunch of other pieces together including things I read in Emotional Intelligence and ultimately decided that the growth that comes from Boundaries applies to both my professional and my personal life – and therefore it would be something to share here.
What is a Boundary?
A boundary is a clear dividing line. It separates you from others or what you will do from what you won't do. It's not a barrier – it doesn't prevent problems – it simply allows you to see when there is a problem and allows you the clarity to know what to do about it. Boundaries are essential because they make other decisions about life, relationships, and interactions easier to process. Sometimes defining boundaries helps us to define who we are. It helps us to know what we shouldn't take responsibility for.
One of the most common boundary issues with humans is codependence. Codependence is where someone doesn't have boundaries between their own feelings and the feelings of someone else. They subjugate their feelings for the feelings of someone else. There are times where it's appropriate to support others and to do things for them – but the key is that there are times. If every time you're with someone it's all about their needs and desires and feelings and never about yours, then you're probably not being very honest with them or more importantly yourself. We all have some level of codependence; we're social creatures after all. The problem comes when you're always submitting to others.
There is a level beyond codependence that is enmeshment. This is where you literally cannot see where you end and the other person begins. If the person you're enmeshed with is feeling bad you're feeling bad. There's no differentiation between you and them. It is relatively easy to see the problem with enmeshment – just because someone else is feeling bad, it shouldn't mean that you must feel bad too. Boundaries are there to protect you from becoming so enmeshed in another person that you can't have your own thoughts and feelings.
One of the warning signs for codependence is being a rescuer. Rescuers are constantly helping others out, getting them out of jams and binds. Of course, it's morally good for you to help others so it's sometimes a difficult line to walk between knowing when to help someone else and when not to. A good boundary here is whether it will harm you or not. It's good to help others when you aren't harmed (or are not likely to be harmed) in the process. If you loan a friend $100 and you can afford to do it – no problem. If you loan a friend $100 and you can't pay your electric bill – big problem. I realize that this example is an over simplification, but the point remains.
I am a rescuer. I love helping my friends. However, I also know, from How Children Succeed, that I can't always help my friends. Sometimes they've got to suffer through the situations that they've created so that they can learn. Rescuing someone from the consequences they created is bad, as you're preventing them from experiencing the important life lessons that they need to learn. Conversely, rescuing them, or helping them, with situations which they didn't cause can be good for both parties.
The book Thinking, Fast and Slow made the point about differential value of gains and losses. That is that a small amount of additional money doesn't have the same impact as the previous unit of money – and that we feel losses more deeply than we feel gains. The same is true of supporting others. If you can do something quickly that would be difficult or impossible for the other person to do there is positive energy created in the relationship. If, however, you put more energy in doing something for someone than it is worth to them, you're creating a deficit. Rescuers sometimes fall into the trap of spending more and more effort to do things for others. It may be the same thing that was done last week but this week it takes more energy. Eventually the rescuer is exhausted and the person that they're rescuing is not that much better off.
Another challenge with rescuers is that sometimes the rescuer is doing the rescuing to avoid looking at the deficits in their own lives. They look at others and help because they can't bear to look at their own vulnerability and fragility. When this is happening it's more than a boundary problem. There's a problem with the purpose for the rescuing. It's not about altruism – instead, it's about the rescuer needing a distraction.
Luckily I don't struggle with every portion of creating good boundaries. Folks who know me won't accuse me of being a peacemaker – that is, someone who has to have peace (tranquility in the language of Who Am I?) all the time. Boundaries are very difficult for a peacemaker because knowing what your boundaries are will create conflict. Someone will want you to go further than you're willing. They'll want you to give up more than you can. The great paradox with the peacemaker is that sometimes small conflicts allow you to avoid larger conflicts.
Consider how this works in terms of a rocket. It gets launched on its way to the moon but it's a little bit off course, just a fraction of a degree. Correcting the course early on means a very small amount of energy to change the direction. As more and more time progresses the actual position gets further and further away from the real target. Making the course correction will take more and more effort as more time goes by.
Relationships are like this because we sometimes have small misalignments between expectations and goals and instead of working through the discussion – and potentially even conflict – we ignore the problem and allow it to get bigger with the passage of time. Sometimes it's a minor annoyance like how the toilet paper is hung on the roll (and this is a minor thing, ladies) which becomes a big issue because it gets converted from a small item into a belief about how you feel about the other person or how they feel about you. If you're like most men I know, the way the toilet paper hangs on the holder means nothing about how someone cares about you. It can, however, grow into an issue if not discussed.
In this case there's a very minor chance of a conflict and yet many people won't mention the frustration about the minor item for fear of a big blow-up. The irony of this is that it's the lack of the small conversations that creates the big blow-ups. Small disagreements and negotiations about expectations up front can mean that the larger blow ups never have to happen. If you're a peacemaker, then boundaries are going to be hard – but worth it - for the long term peace that you desperately want.
The book speaks of ten laws which are useful to consider:
- Sowing and Reaping – The other person in a relationship must reap what they sow, I cannot interfere in this process without harming them.
- Responsibility – I must be responsible for myself; and responsible to others. I cannot be responsible for others.
- Power – I have power over only myself and never others.
- Respect – I must respect others' boundaries and they must respect ours.
- Motivation – Why am I doing whatever it is you're doing – because I want recognition or because I'm trying to do the right thing? Our motivation must be right.
- Evaluation – I must evaluate the other person's feelings, but communicate with them none-the-less.
- Proactivity – To grow and change I must proactively work on myself and my relationship with others – not be passive and then aggressive.
- Envy – Focusing on others outside of our boundaries isn't healthy for me.
- Activity – I am responsible for actively creating and maintaining my boundaries.
- Exposure – To be effective boundaries must be known. They must be exposed to others.
One problem that I'm painfully familiar with – something that I want to highlight from the book – is the tendency for some folks to act and feel like victims. Certainly there are people who have been victimized and do deserve our sympathy and support for how they've suffered. However they must take their own responsibility for healing from those hurts. That, on the surface, can sound cruel, but it's certainly not intended that way. It's about taking responsibility for the recovery they so desperately need. There's an old joke, "How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?" The answer is, "One, but the light bulb really has to want to change." Unless the person who has been victimized decides to not be a victim any longer, a victim they will remain.
From my perspective, victimhood, or being a perpetual victim, is characterized by:
- A lack of ownership or responsibility for the wounds or the choices that were made
- Being defined by the events or circumstances that caused the wounds
- Inability to move through or past the pain
I'll be talking more about this in a review of Beyond Boundaries: Learning to Trust Again in Relationships – however, for now, know that I believe that victimhood is a critical problem facing relationships both personally and in business.
One problem which is common to those with boundary issues is a lack of self-care. Self-care activities are those things which you do because they revitalize you, they energize you, and they make you feel better about you. Often codependents and rescuers see their desire for self-care as selfish. They shouldn't need so much time to themselves. They shouldn't need to care for themselves when others are hurting so much. However, if anyone fails to care for themselves, they'll ultimately find that they become rundown and are unable to care for others. Without proper self-care, the short-term benefits of giving additional help will come at a massive cost, compromising the ability to continue to give over time.
One area of self-care which is particularly challenging is the need for space. While every human has a built-in need for social connection, we also have a need for space. The space we need allows us to think for ourselves, so that we can ponder our own thoughts without others intruding. Space is as necessary as darkness, so that we can see the light, and rests in music, so we can hear the melody. Space is essential for allowing humans to be human.
Ultimately and paradoxically, the greatest thing that one can do in order to support others is to insist on taking care of themselves. To keep the right mindset about supporting others we have to believe that we are well cared for – of course this is easier if we really are well cared for.
If you struggle with any areas of setting boundaries – this book may help.
Monday, May 13, 2013
Professional, Book Review
There aren't many books that I read under protest. I don't mean protest in the sense that someone else is forcing me to read a book, as much as I mean that I'm forcing myself to read it. The E-Myth Revisited is one of those books that I didn't want to read. I had been exposed to The E-Myth years ago. I knew the fundamental premise behind the book: Make a system for everything. Once you've made a system, any lemming can run the system and you can franchise it. Yea, that's a massive over-simplification but it's mostly on target. It's an old book. Published in 1995, it's definitely long in the tooth. However, as it happens, someone recommended it to me.
Strangely, it was someone who I really didn't trust, respect, or even like. I believe that she so massively misread and mishandled a situation so badly that I didn't want to speak with her again. Her parting shot at me – a final attack – included a note that I should read The E-Myth Revisited. I suppose most people would have just written it off however I knew there had to be something there that I had missed in the past. I was right. While the fundamental premise didn't really fit my situation, it was something that I could learn from – and I think you might be able to learn something too.
Perhaps my greatest struggle with the book is that it doesn't really fit my line of work. I deliver professional services and develop intellectual property. In truth, neither of these activities are good candidates for systemization. So the idea that my business could really be systematized and licensed as a franchise was just not compatible with my worldview. It still isn't.
I don't believe that you can systematize a professional services company. There are large consulting companies that are built on an army of well-meaning, bright but under-experienced folks executing poorly documented frameworks that are supposed to allow anyone to execute a large project well. In practice, I see numerous failures, cost overruns, and problems that are quietly swept under the rug as the large consulting company marches on to the next deal. (I have to say not all of the larger consulting companies are like this but more than a few are.)
Intellectual property systemization is actually pretty interesting because I've spent much of my life in organizations that do intellectual property work. Book publishers are in this line of work and I've been close enough to see how trying to systematize book publishing has destroyed quality. Speaking with one of my publishing friends, we were discussing the failure rate of book projects. We were talking about schedule failures (late to market), writing failures (never finished), and sales failures (not enough sales to cover expenses.) The scary thing was we were talking about a net failure rate of 50% or more. Half the books that some publishers were producing would never cover their own production costs.
I mentioned that you shouldn't expect more than an advance when I talked about the math in Self-Publishing with Lulu back in 2009. (If you're interested in a more detailed background on publishing and how it works, you can still get an eBook I wrote in 2001 – A Beginner's Guide to Successful Technical Publishing.) Book publishers make money before your royalty is earned out – but you can pretty quickly see that it takes more than a few thousand books sold for a publisher to really make money.
If professional services and intellectual property aren't businesses to franchise, then what kinds of businesses are? In short, business-to-consumer companies. If you're trying to interact with consumers, you'll find that having a standard plan to deal with the regularly transitioning workforce is a good idea. Having a system allows you to create a copy of your business in another area (that can be relatively close by) which accesses a completely different set of people – because most consumer businesses are inherently driven by location and proximity.
Some business-to-business companies can benefit as well because they're doing relatively mechanical, algorithmic, repeatable work as well. Even if you don't franchise your business-to-business company you'll want to pick up the operational efficiencies that come with having a well-defined and well understood process.
One of Gerber's fundamental beliefs is that there are three key personalities in each person and that these three are needed for an organization:
- The Technician – The technical expert with the skills at the core of the thing that the organization sells.
- The Manager – The orchestrator of work. The "Negative Nellie" which views all challenges as problems to be solved.
- The Entrepreneur – The visionary with the ability to see the needs of people and design solutions for those needs.
Gerber further believes that most small businesses are created by folks who are good technicians – they're passionate about what they do and are frustrated with the way that other companies are run. They experience increasing annoyance at the way others are running the business that they are incited to believe that they can do it better. The person who is naturally comfortable being a technician takes on the roles of entrepreneur and manager.
I've certainly seen many organizations like this, and to some extent, my organization fits this. I started a consulting company to do it better. To focus on quality and customer satisfaction, to avoid being a body shop and to make a real difference – of course, I may not have achieved my goals.
Aim, Objective, Fire
"If you don't know where you're going then any path will take you there." – Scarecrow, The Wizard of Oz.
In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey said "Begin with the end in mind." It's no surprise that figuring out where you are trying to get to is an important part of feeling successful in your business and in your life. Yes, most people don't have a vision for what they want, much less how to get there. Knowing where you want to go, in Gerber's language, is your primary aim. It's the answer to questions like:
- What do I value most?
- What kind of life do I want?
- What do I want my life to look like, to feel like?
- Who do I wish to be?
The last question harkens back to Who Am I? , but in general the questions are to help you evaluate your organization and what you need to do – slowly but deliberately – to get where you want to go. If you value your time at home with your family in the evenings, creating a restaurant isn't likely to be the best fit.
I want to be able to make it easier for folks to learn – to demystify technology and increasingly enable people to bring forth change in organizations. I greatly value being at home so that I can interact with my son, Alex. Thor Projects, my consulting business, isn't the best solution to being home since many of my clients are remote and want me to travel. As a result, I've shaped my rate structure to favor me working remotely for the client (from my home office.) I not only want to be able to work from my home office, but I also want to see and enjoy nature as I'm working. As a result, I've put a large number of windows in my office. In fact, I rarely have the lights on in the office during the day – I enjoy the sunlight through all the windows.
Ultimately, I recognize that the structure of a consulting company doesn't have the flexibility I want, and so I started AvailTek to hold the SharePoint Shepherd's Guide and other intellectual property. In the end, this will allow me to educate more people and will allow me the flexibility to spend time with Alex. I've still not transitioned to full-time work with AvailTek – even though we've been selling the Shepherd's Guide for 5 years now.
The path to the primary aim is the strategic objective. Creating a product company that is capable of sustaining my financial needs is my strategic objective. In my case, getting AvailTek started and creating the content for the SharePoint Shepherd's brand is all a part of my strategic objective.
Gerber doesn't spend any time on this topic, but it is a significant part of my experience in the challenges of organizations. That is, converting the strategic objectives into tactical goals and activities. One of the most common occurrences I see in the organizations that I work with is that strategic objectives never get converted into goals and executable tactics. For me, it's the day-to-day activities driven by the goals that move an organization forward. It's great to know where you're going, but eventually you have to figure out how to get there.
There's a fair amount of appropriate criticism for technical certification programs. At any gathering of technicians, especially in conversation over a couple beers, you are likely to hear their complaints about how their hands-on expertise cannot be captured by a multiple choice test. They are – of course – correct. However, they fail to realize that the goal of a certification exam isn't to measure the skills of an expert. Instead it's designed to be a winnowing tool that employers and hiring managers can use to sort out the unqualified from the qualified.
At the heart of any certification exam is a passing score. That is, a standard. It's a standard that says below this you do not pass and above this you have met the minimum requirements – the standard. In that way, every certification is a standard. Knowing this allows you to focus on the right question, which isn't whether the certification is good or bad. Rather, the right question is "Was the certification standard set correctly?" That's the true measure of the value of a certification.
In the context of creating your business, it is the standards that you set which make the business. What is your standard for responsiveness? Cleanliness? Technical skill? When you put all of these standards together you get the organizational standards – and the promise that you make to your clients.
Having a standard is uncommon. Setting high standards is even less common. Being able to articulate what your standards are is less common than it should be.
Start Playing Games with Me
In the context of business, when we say that the management is playing games with us, we almost always think of this in a negative context. We feel manipulated and we don't like it. However, playing a board game at home with your family doesn't feel manipulative.
Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi (of Flow fame) interviewed hundreds of creative leaders and summarized a key point from those interviews, thusly, "You could say that I worked every minute of my life, or you could say with equal justice that I never worked a day." That is to say that those who are in flow – those who are enjoying their work - never feel like it is work.
Gerber shares that people need to want to do work more than they want to do not-work. While a bit oversimplified the core rings true. You want people to be excited to do their work enough that the distractions aren't consuming. We've all seen employees of other organizations checking their cell phone, chatting with other staff members, and generally being distracted from the customers in front of them. If you make the process of being engaged in what you want your employees to do more interesting than the distractions, then they'll pay better attention to the customers – or so the reasoning goes.
I'm reminded of the suggestions from Drive about how to motivate people. Most workers today are heuristic learners and therefore need to be motivated by mastery, autonomy, and purpose, rather than carrots and sticks. Creating an environment of positive reinforcement for a job well done can be a powerful way to keep employees trying to one-up each other's level of service to customers – without giving them anything except for good service.
Even in my own work there are times that I just really don't want to work. It's amazing to me just how powerful cognitive dissonance can be. That is the desire to do the things that you need to do – and your deeply held desire to do something fun – to reward yourself for a job well done. I find that the better I define small rewards and the clarity around what my end goals are can help me to be more effective at staying on task.
There is No Spoon
Another of Gerber's assertions is that our work becomes a mirror of how we are inside. That is to say that the more chaotic that we are inside the more chaotic that we make our world outside. While there's a certain truth to this, I believe that there are times when we will seek the opposite of what we have inside to allow us to focus on changing our world. However, the line from the Matrix, "There is no spoon," is appropriate here. Much of what we make of our world is how we see it.
I'm reminded of the story from Switch where BP decided they weren't going to drill any more "dry holes." In short they decided that the culture was changing from one which accepted "dry holes" (oil wells without oil) to one where "dry holes" weren't acceptable. They needed to know for sure that there was oil at the bottom when they started drilling – or they needed to not drill.
In the context of your organization, what do you accept as a part of your culture that you shouldn't? Is it workers who are late to work? Is it a level of distractedness when customers are around? Or maybe it's just that management isn't reading books like E-Myth to make the organization better…
Tuesday, May 07, 2013
We're putting the finishing touches on the SharePoint Shepherd's Guide for 2013 and I was trying to figure out the best way to point users to the right site template to use. As a part of that I decided that it would be fun to stack rank order the site templates that will be used the most – so that I know where to position them on the decision tree. Here's my order from most frequently to least frequently used:
- Team Site
- Project Site
- Publishing Site
- Publishing Site with Workflow
- Enterprise Wiki
- Business Intelligence Center
- Community Site
- Records Center
- eDiscovery Center
- Document Center
- Community Portal
- Enterprise Search Center
- Basic Search Center
- My Site Host
- Developer Site
- Product Catalog
- Visio Process Repository
Do you agree with this order? -- Or do you have your own?
Saturday, May 04, 2013
Professional, Book Review
What makes a child successful in life? In my review of Emotional Intelligence I mentioned that tests of emotional intelligence were generally more indicative of long term success than measures of intelligence. However, emotional intelligence – as it was defined in the other book, isn't all there is to the puzzle. Paul Tough tackles the challenge of the other indicators in his book How Children Succeed. One interesting bit is that Paul is a journalist. That is, his experience is on reporting on other people's discoveries. That's both good and bad.
The good is that he's able to see things objectively. He's able to draw on multiple sources and correlate differing but related points of view into a single path. The bad is that there's not the same depth or passion that you'll find in a book written by a practitioner. That's not to say that How Children Succeed isn't well researched. It is. That's not to say that it's not well written, because it is. What is does say is that if you're looking for the richness you would expect to find from someone that has spent their entire life struggling with the question – you'll need to look elsewhere.
One measure of how well a child will succeed is to measure the number of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE). That's really all of the major life stressors that they experience as a child. Major life stressors are things like deaths in the family, moves, divorces, etc., the things that trigger stress in a child's life. It seems that the problem with these experiences is that they may accidentally cause the stress response – the Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis – to get stuck in the on position. The HPA axis refers to the interplay of hormones in the endocrine system that are characteristic of stress.
With the HPA axis stuck on, children are basically trapped in fear mode all the time. Fear, as we learned in Drive, prevents people from being creative or taking risks – risks that are essential to growth. So the higher the ACE score, the greater is the likelihood that a child will grow up with developmental problems. Effectively, a child's executive function is compromised. That means that they won't be as able to regulate their emotions or to delay gratification, and will have sub-normal ability to use working memory. Working memory is the space that you use to work with information. Consider for instance, how many numbers you can remember. It turns out that most adults can hold about seven digits of a number in their head at a time (unless we chunk the data as we learned in Information Architecture – Blueprints for the web). The seven digits that we can hold in our head is working memory. With extended periods of HPA axis activation, this working memory is restricted.
Beyond the developmental problems, the HPA axis wasn't designed to be left on – or even to be hyposensitized. The human biology evolved the HPA axis to allow for short-term focus. It was never designed to be left on for extended periods of time. It evolved when there were periods where we were in eminent danger from a predator. If we didn't run right away we'd become lunch for a hungry lion. However, the threats we face today rarely have to deal with life and death situations really. Most of the time, our brains make the situation feel life-and-death, which triggers the HPA axis, although in reality, few of us often fear for our lives.
As a point of fact, humans are the only known animal which can trigger their stress response in a way that's not precisely coupled with the events in the outside world. We can "stress ourselves out." In ways that no animal in the rest of the animal kingdom can, we are able to motivate and drive ourselves. This is good when we're delaying gratification and working on future events, but it's bad when we forget that stress is designed to be a short term thing.
Ultimately, since you can't always control the number of ACE events which can trigger a bad stress response, what can you do to make things better? It turns out there's something you can learn from a rat.
You No Good, Dirty Rat
ACE events may negatively impact a person's potential for lifelong happiness and success, however, there's a curious activity in mother rats that seems to counteract the negative effects of stress in rats. The curious activity was special attention that the mother rats showed in caring for their young – specifically licking and grooming. Mother rats could nurture better rats – better at socialization, curiosity, and maze navigation. (Maze navigation is apparently a useful skill for lab rats.) It was discovered, through the magic of gene sequencing, that the high levels of caring (bonding) switched on a part of DNA that allows the hippocampus to process stress hormones better.
Licking a child will pretty much universally get you a "yuck" from the child and any other person in the area. Of course, it's not really the licking that was causing the better response. It was caring. It just happens that rats show caring through licking and grooming. Parents can help their children better cope, and possibly counteract the long term effect of stress by connecting with them.
Safe to Be Vulnerable
As I mentioned in my review of Emotional Intelligence, one of the great paradoxes of life is that to be vulnerable you have to feel safe. Until you feel safe you won't be vulnerable. Parents who make their children feel safer create a foundation from which their children can leap. That means that the more you bond with, connect with, and care for your child the more they will be able to, and interested in, exploring. So, socioeconomic factors may lead to levels of success and happiness – but that success and happiness are not solely related to the family's income. They are really related to how safe a child feels. How many, or few, ACEs they have – but more important than that how they're nurtured. Nurturing a child can be a challenging task even for a healthy adult.
Nurturing children when your own internal state is locked into a fear mode is an almost impossible task. If you were parented with bad habits it's hard to break those patterns and provide a secure base for your children. It's hard for you to portray safety when you internally don't feel safe because your own HPA axis is locked in the on position.
Creating a place of safety isn't the only challenge. There's also setting up an attitude of persistence that needs to be considered as well.
Grit for Polish
When you subtitle a book with a word like grit, there's got to be something that backs it up. Grit, as defined by Angela Duckworth, is "self-discipline wedded to a dedicated pursuit of a goal." Emotional Intelligence called this persistence. So what makes grit so important? Well, it keeps children in the game long enough to become good at it. Having read Outliers, I have no doubt that there are times in every great person's life where they felt like they weren't going to make it. Where they felt like they were stuck in relative obscurity but they were doing what they loved so they kept learning and trying to get better. That's a dedication to a purpose that Paul Tough might define as grit.
Many folks will equate grit with gritty. However, I do not. I think about how grit is used to polish mirrors. Grit in successive levels of fineness can put a mirror-finish on a surface. I vividly remember using sandpaper with progressively finer grit to polish axels on my son's Cub Scout pinewood derby racers. We would do all sorts of things to the axels to reduce the friction. Grit can be used to make something "better" than when it started. That's what I believe grit does for children (and adults.)
Curiosity Killed the Cat
Plato indicated that the desire for truth (curiosity) is one of the greatest motivators in life. This is certainly true for Plato, but not for everyone. In Who Am I? we learned that curiosity is one of the sixteen key desires. In How Children Succeed Tough speaks only briefly about the value of curiosity. However, the point is made that curious students are better students. Curiosity is the fuel that grit consumes to reach a goal. It is the spark that gets things started.
What Kind of Character
Character is a difficult thing to define. Unfortunately, Tough doesn't really do much to illuminate this topic. There are scattered references to different bits of self-control and self-management, both of which are covered in more detail in Emotional Intelligence. There are references to virtues – but I found the discussion in Heroic Leadership of much more practical value about instilling virtues. So in this way, I'd say How Children Succeed probably doesn't meet its subtitle, however, it's still a good read and gave me plenty to think about.
Monday, April 15, 2013
A few years ago I posted that I had taken a standup comedy course. I didn't do much with the class after I took the course. I did another course on Improv with Michael Malone, but didn't do anything with it. However, I've decided to start to try to get up on a regular basis. If you are in Indianapolis and want to know when I'm going to be doing comedy (so you can come laugh at me), I've created a mailing list you can sign up for at http://eepurl.com/x9j0z I'll use that list only for sending out comedy updates. This Wednesday (April 17, 2013) I'll be at Morty's Comedy Joint at 8PM if you want to come.
Wednesday, April 03, 2013
Book Review, Professional
I read a lot of content on psychology. I love learning more about how people think. I am intrigued by different attempts to understand the human condition. However, I don't find myself interested in studying the neurology of how the brain works. In Emotional Intelligence, I got both neurology and psychology in one convenient package. The neurology is of lesser practical value than the psychology is to me but it is nice to have support for some of the psychological ideas about how we believe the brain works through an understanding of the chemical and electrical interactions between different parts of the brain. So while I wasn't looking for the neurology, it was very helpful in terms of validating the psychology.
Emotional Intelligence as a book has components which I can't really process well. Certainly the neurology is a part of that, but more broadly, I think that there are some important lessons to learn that are woven into the text. Let me catch you up to speed on what emotional intelligence is, and then explore some of the nuances of the book.
Most of us have heard of the intelligence quotient (IQ). This measure was designed to assess how smart someone is, however, the way that it measures "smartness" is somewhat narrowly defined in the context of academic learning. It says nothing about how socially aware or in touch someone is. Further, IQ isn't the strongest predictor of success over the long term. In contrast to IQ, the model of multiple intelligences was put forth by Howard Gardner as a model for depicting how people are gifted towards different aspects of the human experience. The idea is that individual areas of intelligence are only loosely connected to one another. Strength in one area doesn't necessarily imply strength in another area. One particularly interesting intelligence that has emerged from Gardner's thinking is Emotional Intelligence (EI). That is, how emotionally aware and connected a person is to themselves and to others.
Speaking as someone who has reviewed content for technical accuracy and clarity for dozens of years, I can tell you that statistical sampling doesn't work when it comes to content. An author can be absolutely brilliant on one topic (say hard drives) and completely incompetent on another (say networking.) Overall they're gifted. Individually they may – or may not – be in a given subject area. Because of this, it's easy to resonate with me that we can have areas of strength and weaknesses in our intellect.
The Neurology of Love and War
You're "keyed up." You walk across the room unable to hear the voices around you because your heart is pounding out a lightning fast rhythm on your eardrums. As you reach the girl you so desperately want to ask out your mouth goes dry. Your brain is deep within a sympathetic arousal. Your brain has determined (incorrectly) that this moment is critical to your survival and if she says yes you'll take flight and if she says no you'll want to fight. Your body has prepared itself for battle. Your focus is so narrow you barely register the other people – even her best friend that she's talking to when you walk up. In your head, she's become the central threat of your world.
Six months from that moment, she's said yes and you've been dating. This is when you're both relaxing hand-in-hand, leg over leg, on the couch watching a movie, you're likely experiencing a relaxation or parasympathetic arousal. That is, your body detects no danger and has lowered its guard. As a result you're ready to work with your girlfriend on planning anything – even if it's a wedding.
You're seeing rather extreme examples of the neurology that happens in all of us every day. Sympathetic arousal quickens our pace, focuses us in on one or a few things, and gets us ready to fight or flee. This is the body's normal response to stress and one that's triggered by the amygdala. Conversely, a state of relaxation allows us to see more of the world. We're able to see a broader view and accept views that may not be our own because we feel safe.
In Drive, Daniel Pink talks some about how we manage stress and how motivators narrow our focus. Fear works the same way. We ignore the extraneous to focus on the thing that we believe to be the most critical to our survival. When we're in a sympathetic arousal state – for any reason - we're going to be focused. That can be bad because the mechanics of our brain that manage stress weren't designed for the kinds of stress we encounter today. Focus is important if you're trying to run away from a lion on the plains of Africa – it's less useful when you're trying to determine which college to go to.
The Neural Shortcut
Fear flashes. In an instant you feel it. You saw something that you don't even understand and now you're afraid. How does that work? How can you be afraid before you even understand? In short, your amygdala. The part of your brain inherited from reptiles which is responsible for emotions and the fight-or-flight response. It's raised the alarm. But how does that happen before you can even understand what it is that has been done?
Well, that comes from signal splitting and two different processes which are evaluating the signals as they're coming in. The sensory input that you're getting is routed to two different parts of your brain. The amygdala which is like the Paul Revere of the brain raising the signal that the British are coming. The frontal lobe also gets a copy. A more recent invention of neural biology, the frontal lobe is our rational consciousness. It carefully considers what we're getting and does enhanced pattern matching to classify the information we're getting. The frontal lobe doesn't make many mistakes but in doing its careful analysis it tends to take longer than the amygdala.
From an evolutionary perspective having a few extra milliseconds to know about a threat can mean the difference between escaping a predator and being its next meal. So the amygdala makes a quick evaluation, determines that it saw a gun. It triggers the rest of the brain into alert. It causes the endocrine system to release chemicals and Paul Revere is on his ride through the body to mobilize every muscle. Sometime later – in the next few milliseconds – the frontal lobe makes its evaluation of the input and decides through longer evaluation that it's a toy gun or it was just a kid's finger playing a game of cops and robbers. The frontal lobe then explains "false alarm" and your brain – and body start to come down off of high alert.
The problem is that it's too late to halt all of the effects. The chemicals that were released in those few milliseconds are already flowing through your body and while they have made you ready to move – to fight or to take flight – they've also altered your mood. The effect of that short flash can last hours. In Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink, he speaks of the framing of input and how sometimes people make bad split second decisions because their perception is altered by the environment. Gary Klein in Sources of Power goes to great lengths to explore how people make decisions – and in the latter half of the book describes how the context of events often times do change the decisions.
Daniel Kahneman speaks more directly about this in Thinking, Fast and Slow. He speaks about how we have a quick mind that works all the time, silently taking care of things until it discovers it doesn't know how to process something, when it then engages a secondary and slower system. The trick is that the automatic, everyday fast system doesn't always engage the secondary processes when it should. We can say the same thing about our emotions, sometimes we're not aware of the need for some rational counter balance to our feelings.
Emotional Hijacking and Cognitive Incapacitation
What about when the frontal lobes can't reign your emotions back in? At some level you're aware that someone didn't intend to make you angry. They're not really a threat. They can't really harm you. Despite this, there's a feeling that you just can't shake and more importantly, you're doing things that you know are ultimately very destructive to you, to others, and to your relationships. Welcome to emotional hijacking. You quite literally don't have the capacity for reason. Temporary insanity defenses sound insane – except that from a neurological perspective there's support for this happening. The amygdala takes over control and any of the expectations of a civil society are off the table.
The normal circuitry in the frontal lobe for telling the rest of the brain and body that the amygdala is "crying wolf" are shut down. The frontal lobe simply doesn't have the ability to regain control. Eventually the amygdala won't be able to sustain control and will give up – however, that can be hours away.
There's a different kind of problem that sometimes occurs as well. It's not about a quick emotional hijacking based a single event. It's a slow, building level of saturation in the system from which it becomes impossible to think. Consider the quote from Ghost Busters -- "I'm terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought" – Dr. Egon Spengler. The line is funny because it's not an emotional hijacking – the character is aware of his feelings but he's not wrestling control from rational thought. Instead the ability for rational thought is suppressed due to overload – due to flooding. Rational thought is slower and too much input and memories have overwhelmed the ability to process.
So what do we do about it? Earlier in my career I worked for Woods Industries and one of the product lines was surge suppressors. They work based off of something called a metal-oxide varistor (MOV). A MOV has high resistance at low voltages and low resistance at high voltages. So when the voltage is high (like during a surge) the resistance is reduced and current can flow more freely. What happens is that the MOV shunts the power to ground, suppressing the surge. This works great. However in the process of shunting the power sometimes the MOVs build up damage. The damage comes in the form of a pathway inside the MOV which doesn't work the right way. Bad patterns develop which make the MOV less effective.
The key is to develop positive patterns that create easier pathways to follow when there's a chance of emotional hijacking or cognitive incapacitation. In the case of hijacking, it might be a habit of counting to ten before taking an action – basically breaking the hold of the amygdala by introducing a short break. Addressing cognitive incapacitation might require a longer period of time – and an agreement to walk away from the conversation (or confrontation) for a while so you have time to process everything that is coming at you and everything that you're feeling.
The Tale of Two Minds: How We Do Emotional Processing
It's widely believed that talking about your anger makes it better. It's called cathartic. The only problem with this is that it's not true. There seems to be no therapeutic benefit from talking about your anger. In fact, talking about it in the wrong way can actually reinforce and intensify the feelings and make them more difficult to deal with. If you think about what's making you angry – if you focus on it, you reinforce the anger – rather than releasing the energy from it. A more effective strategy is to tear the emotion apart and figure out what is causing it.
I once listened to the audio version of the book Destructive Emotions which was a dialog with the Dalai Lama. In that book there was a comment that in eastern philosophy "anger is disappointment directed." That one statement has been, perhaps, one of the most valuable things I've ever heard. It allows me to ask the question when I get angry… what am I disappointed by? This allows me to try to process my emotions and figure out what's behind them. Fear is similar. Fear is that we feel threatened. A good question is: how do I feel threatened? Once I get that answer, I can ask the "Why?" question.
This activity is the frontal lobe processing the emotions that were triggered by the amygdala. Processing emotions can be very healthy as it allows you to learn how to self-manage your emotions – once you're aware of them.
The Voice inside Your Head (Cognitive Therapy)
"You're not good enough." "You'll never be fast enough." "You're not as smart as your sister." "You're amazing." "You're special." "You bring smiles to other people's faces." Some version of one of these is playing in your head from time-to-time. It's an internal tape. It's a sort of background noise to the way that you think. These little voices keep talking to you over and over and over again. Eventually, whatever those voices say is what you're going to believe.
One of the most effective therapies developed has been cognitive behavior therapy. That is the process of changing the voices in your head from relatively negative voices to more positive voices. The voices that we start out with are ones which are echoes from what our parents, friends, and our relatives have said. They make up our core beliefs about ourselves and while our core beliefs about ourselves can't be changed directly, these voices can be changed.
This is particularly true of how we see emotion. If we believe that our anger is justified then our internal voice may reinforce it. If, however, we view the way that we've acted as a result of our anger as bad we may choose different ways to express our anger next time. A voice that says I'm a good person but that I've chosen some bad approaches will be more effective than I'm a bad person and I'm doing bad things.
It turns out that there's a difference between guilt – admitting I've done something wrong – and shame – believing that I'm inherently bad. A voice that tells me I'm a good person who made a bad choice. By being conscious of the voice that's playing inside our heads and shaping it in more healthy ways, we can shift our feelings by creating better emotional reactions.
Of Self and Social (The Heart of EI)
What is emotional intelligence? According to Goleman, there are four keys to emotional intelligence:
- Self-Awareness – This is an awareness of what you're feeling (and thinking). It's about knowing you're grumpy, angry, hurt, or tired. You can't very well be in touch with yourself if you can't describe your feelings.
- Self-Management – The first step may be awareness that you're angry – but what if the anger isn't appropriate or it isn't appropriate to express? Self-Management is a set of skills that allow you to regulate or manage your feelings.
- Social Awareness – Knowing how you feel may be essential, but in relationships with others the ability to detect their emotional state is critical. It's the foundation of empathy and the ability to be in relationships with others.
- Relationship Management – Being able to be in relationships is the pinnacle of emotional intelligence. Knowing how to relate to others at a deep level enriches lives.
Characteristics of Character (Enthusiasm, Persistence, Hope, Unflappable)
What makes someone successful in life? I'm not just saying successful in terms of being financially wealthy but rather successful in a more holistic view of loving their life. As it turns out some of the most telling factors for how successful someone will be in life aren't about IQ. They're more about Emotional Intelligence. It turns out your ability to monitor your feelings, distract yourself, manage your responses, read others' emotions and feelings, and ultimately manage your relationship with others is more important than any other factor in terms of your long term success.
A famous study most often referred to as the marshmallow experiment tested delayed gratification (which is essential for self-management and relationship management) by offering kids one marshmallow now – or two if they waited. This isn't interesting in itself. What's interesting is that those preschoolers who were able to delay gratification and get the two marshmallows showed significantly more successful measures of life. In other words, something as simple as whether you can delay your own gratification has a substantial impact on your long term success in life.
However, delayed gratification isn't everything. Persistence has its place. Consider Lincoln. Our most beloved president had a string of political losses before becoming president. His wife was widely reported to be a very difficult woman to live with. Yet, through set-back after set-back he managed to move forward in his life and lead the country through one of its darkest hours. Consider Einstein. Most folks believe that he was a brilliant man – and he was – but what they don't realize is that he struggled in school. He often spoke of the fact that he wasn't smarter than others – just more persistent. If persistence makes folks like Lincoln and Einstein … sign me up.
What is perseverance when you have no enthusiasm or passion for what you're doing? You may keep moving forward but it will grind you down. It will wear at you. We've all seen the army of bitter people who continue to struggle to move forward but they aren't enjoying their world. They're simply surviving. There's something to be said for bringing enthusiasm to each new challenge. Consider Edison. He was creating things that didn't exist before. While we may be mystified by LED and compact florescent bulbs, consider a time when even the incandescent bulbs didn't exist. Candles and lamps provided light at night. Edison reportedly had a thousand failures at creating a light bulb, however, he refused to count them as failures. Instead he chose to say that he had discovered a thousand ways NOT to make a light bulb. That's enthusiasm.
Oprah liked the book The Secret and drew heat for it. The central premise of the book (as I understand it, having not read it) is that you attract what you think about. If you think positive thoughts positive things will flow into your life. I don't go this far in terms of my beliefs, however, I will say that looking for the positive in every situation – finding a way to cultivate your hope for a better future is important. As I mentioned in my review of Who Am I?, Viktor Frankl, a concentration camp detainee, observed that folks who had a meaning for their life were the ones that survived – hope is that sort of meaning. I hope (or believe) that my suffering will serve others – and in that I can survive even the most miserable circumstances. Hope is a key characteristic of a happy life.
Hope waxes and wanes in each of us, however, there is a characteristic of unflappability – an inability for people to be disturbed by what is happening around them. Unflappability can actually be caused by two different things. One is an inability to process your environment emotionally, which would be bad. However, there's another side. That side is the mastery of the ability to be aware of and manage your emotions so well that seemingly nothing fazes you. This can be very healthy.
The Great Paradox: You Must Feel Safe to Become Vulnerable
I learned more about how trust is reflexive – that is, the more you trust, the more others trust you - from Trust & Betrayal in the Workplace
and Building Trust: In Business, Politics, Relationships and Life. There's a sort of inherent elegance in this. There's almost an innate understanding that you trust those who trust you. However, there are parts of the human experience in which the way to get trust is counter intuitive. Trust is allowing yourself to be vulnerable – vulnerable to a failure in another person.
However, someone else being vulnerable to you isn't going to be enough for you to be vulnerable. You have to feel safe. Certainly trusting the other person is a good start, however, you have to feel safe in general. The trick is that being safe and feeling safe aren't the same thing. Many people have an anxiety when flying on a commercial plane. Of course, flying in a commercial plane is substantially safer – statistically speaking – than driving your car to the airport to get on the plane. This doesn't stop the anxiety.
Conversely, you probably feel very comfortable in your own home. However, in-home accidents are a leading cause of death. So while you should feel safer in an airplane and less safe at home, the opposite is true. It's an odd thing to realize that you have to feel safe to allow yourself to be vulnerable.
Finding Emotional Intelligence
No one book will dramatically change your life and improve your emotional intelligence overnight, however, if you're looking for a way to get in better touch with your emotions, to control your responses, to understand others, and to be in relationships with others; Emotional Intelligence is a great place to start.
Friday, March 29, 2013
Book Review, Professional
After trying to figure out the meaning of life, trying to figure out who you are has to the biggest question of life. Over the years, countless folks have tried to simplify the complexity of people, their motivations, desires, and their expected behavior into a set of simplifications that would allow people to be classified. Some of them with more success than others.
They're looking for the displacement (Archimedes') method for measuring an irregular solid – something that makes sense, is relatively easy to do and has good results. Whether you're fond of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), Disc profiles, the Enneagram, or something else, many people have tried to figure out how to classify people so that they can better understand themselves and others. In Who Am I?: The 16 Basic Desires that Motivate Our Actions and Define Our Personalities Steven Reiss shares his research into the sixteen desires that he believes motivate our lives. They are (in Reiss' words):
- Power is the desire to influence others.
- Independence is the desire for self-reliance.
- Curiosity is the desire for knowledge.
- Acceptance is the desire for inclusion.
- Order is the desire for organization.
- Saving is the desire to collect things.
- Honor is the desire to be loyal to one's parents and heritage.
- Idealism is the desire for social justice.
- Social Contact is the desire for companionship.
- Family is the desire to raise one's own children.
- Status is the desire for social standing.
- Vengeance is the desire to get even.
- Romance is the desire for sex and beauty.
- Eating is the desire to consume food.
- Physical Activity is the desire for exercise of muscles.
- Tranquility is the desire for emotional calm.
Reiss is careful to point out that this is the refined list of the most important characteristics to influence behavior and that some desires – like the desire for shelter may be important to biology but not psychology.
The idea is that people are motivated to behave in ways consistent with their desire for these 16 areas of their life. That doesn't necessarily mean that someone who is a high-status person will always seek status rather it means that someone who is a high status person will seek status to reach their perceived normal level. If they get too much status they'll find a way to lower themselves. It's all about a natural desire for where you are at – a sort of normal set point, not some absolute desire. This is consistent with the way I view the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) as well.
From my point of view we have a natural place where we exist on any scale – whether it's Dr. Reiss' scale of honor or whether it's the intuiting-sensing scale of the MBTI. From that natural set-point we have a set of adaptation skills. That is a range in which we're comfortable operating. If we're a highly internal person (MBTI type I) then we might be OK in gatherings of 20 people or less. Or perhaps we're OK in groups up to 100. However, when we're at Disney World waiting for Space Mountain we might find ourselves overwhelmed. Mostly changing our core motivations isn't something that is generally believed is possible – at least it's not easy. However, creating a range of where we're comfortable operating is something that we can do.
For instance, it's possible to condition ourselves in areas just outside our comfort zone to expand it slightly. Like sitting in the middle of a busy mall for 10 minutes before heading home. This conditioning may not change our core desire for tranquility (Reiss) but it will, over time, change our ability to accept a different level of tranquility than we would prefer.
Just as we can change our comfort zone for a particular motivation we can also have others influence our behavior through social conditioning (upbringing, culture, etc). For instance, consider a person with a high romance component who is taught that sex before marriage is bad. In this case, the person may not do behaviors that bare out their natural desires, but they still may have them. It's worth mentioning here that Kurt Lewin said that behavior is a function of both person and environment. That is just because someone is naturally inclined one way doesn't mean you can't create an environment that will discourage that natural behavior.
Means and Ends
Aristotle divided human motives into means and ends. Ends are the things that you want intrinsically. Means are what you want in order to get to the ends. For most folks (except perhaps those who are high saving) money isn't really the goal. Money is just a means to whatever ends they want whether that's a better car, a vacation home, or something else. They say that most marriages end over fights about money – however, I'd put forward the idea that marriages end because of a difference of ideals and it just happens that money is the means to most of those ideal ends. Separating the means and the ends is useful because it changes the reasoning for behavior. Someone who likes physical activity may exercise because they enjoy it – thus it's an end. However, someone who is high on romance may do exercise in order to reach their ideal form of beauty – thus exercise is a means.
It's been said that our addictions are the result of our natural desires gone awry. They may have gone awry because of a bad set of situations that have "taught" us the wrong answer – like an elephant that won't escape when tied with a rather flimsy rope. The elephant has a specific kind of learned – or in this case conditioned – helplessness around pulling loose his leg. An addiction is a habit that has such control over us that we quite literally feel powerless to stop.
It's our strong desires that drive our addictions. Our natural desires are under-met and therefore we create solutions which eventually ensnare us in a hopeless attempt to figure out how to get our needs met – generally with an unfulfilling approach.
The Meaning of Life
Reiss toys with the idea of the meaning of life through referring to the works of a former concentration camp prisoner, Viktor Frankl. Frankl observed that the survivors of the camp were those that found a way to divine meaning from their lives. It didn't matter who was strong or weak – it was most important that the person be able to find meaning in their life. This is consistent with The Time Paradox, The Happiness Hypothesis, and Stumbling on Happiness. People who had the ability to stop chasing the everyday addition to distraction and were able to find meaning in their lives are – overall – happier than their peers.
Not Being Understood
I have a high need to be understood. I've spent a ton of time learning how to communicate more effectively, considering different learning strategies, better learning how to predict what others are thinking, and so I was encouraged by a rather short section in the book on understanding – and how there are two different drivers for a lack of understanding:
- "Not Getting It" – This is driven by a serious value system difference that makes it impossible for two people to understand each other. Further communication on the matter will make the problem worse, not better. Please excuse a rather sensitive example that I'll use here. I don't accept or agree with adultery. I just don't. No amount of discussion with someone who has committed adultery will make me understand it. I have several folks I've met for which this is a reality – but no amount of discussion about it will make me understand.
- Misunderstanding – Generally further discussion can clarify any misperceptions that have come to be between two folks who are misunderstanding one another. I find that often if I just focus on one word at a time – verifying the shared meaning of one word after another we'll eventually find the misunderstanding.
Perhaps equally intriguing was the ideas that there are two factors that make understanding more difficult:
- Self-Hugging – The natural belief that our way is the "right" way to do things. For instance, whether toilet paper should unroll over or behind the roll. Whatever your belief is – you believe that your answer is right. This is a result of confirmation bias (we see what we look for).
- Everyday Tyranny – The belief that what is right for us is right for everyone. For instance, I've been an independent consultant most of my adult career. It's right for me – but I know many people where the challenge and lack of stability would drive them mad. Imposing what works for me on to others would be a form of everyday tyranny.
The Psychology of Dependence and Religion
It used to be believed that dependence was a sign of a weak will and by extension the idea that people are dependent on God (or religion) were somehow psychologically weaker or less advanced than those without a belief in God. Certainly there's a pattern, which Stephen Covey describes in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. However, the point of interdependence – which Covey recommends – is a selected dependence on others. It's an intelligence and awareness about the dependence.
Dr. Reiss states that there's no statistical difference in the psychological health between those who have religious beliefs – and those who do not. On the other hand, churches and synagogues in the United States provide more than twice the philanthropy of social causes.
Putting It Together
So the book included a quick and simple approximation of the assessment test which I codified into an Excel Spreadsheet which you can find here. If you're interested in finding out more about who you are, I highly recommend Who Am I?