Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’

For the past six weeks, I have been taking a course called “A Beginner’s Guide to Irrationality.”  There is something about the title that immediately captured my attention.  I am so often baffled by the things human beings do.  Things that are seemingly irrational and counter-intuitive.  The course put a lot of that into context and explained some interesting things.  I kept meaning to write about different topics the course covered: lying, choices, motivation, and on and on, but here I am after finishing the last week of video lectures and writing about Emotion.

coursera course participants(As an aside, I took the course through Coursera, an online education site that allows you to sign up for courses taught by professors at major universities for free!  My course was taught by a Duke University professor of Behavioral Economics and Psychology, Dan Ariely, and I have to say I was impressed by the content and enjoyed it a lot.  In addition to the material, it was a fascinating process noticing my I-Need-to-Do-Well self coming forward, feeling great joy (well, maybe not great joy, but definitely some level of joy or validation) from getting 100% on the first quiz, and then deciding not to take any more quizzes, not do the reading and not to write the paper.  I was determined to go into a learning environment that could be purely about enjoyment/learning and not about performance.  I was shocked, but not surprised how hard it was.  The thing that helped me let go and try it this way was this graphic on the course webpage showing where the more than 30K participants are from…yes, 30 thousand people!  10K in the U.S., 51 in Nigeria, 51 in Kazakhstan, 287 in Czech Republic and on and on.  I am but a drop in the bucket and no one cares how much I do or do not participate.  Freedom from everyone but myself!)

So, back to emotions.  The professor starts his first lecture of the unit on emotions explaining that emotions are really our core, our most ancient self.  Yes, we know that, even if we often forget it.  His two following points about emotions are not surprising either:

  • When they arise, they take over
  • They are more short-lived than we think

That brought up a few thoughts for me.

When they arise, they take over:  Yes, makes sense.  Crimes of passion, unsafe sex, freaking out in a disaster.  Logic out.  It also makes sense that they are more short-lived than we think they will be.  Apparently, studies show that people always assume that emotional states will last longer than they end up lasting.  Like in a divorce…people predict they will be miserable for a long time, but turns out that feeling goes away faster than they thought.  Or, in a new love.  People predict the great feelings will last for a long time, but they also fade out fairly quickly.  It’s kind of like we go back to our set-point.  That place where we usually hover.  (This New York Times article about happiness looks at that idea of a set point.  If you read it, ignore the researcher’s comment about life coaches being light weight!  We’re not trying to be academic and precise.  We’re trying to support individuals in an authentic and yes, imperfect way.)

That all makes sense to me up to a point.  I think while the actual emotions probably do fade more quickly than we think, I feel like many of us are left with something else: a shadow emotion or something like that.  An emotion that may not be active, but that is there influencing how we live our lives.  And that shadow emotion can stay with us for a long long time and dictate how we live our lives.  What I’m curious about is whether it is an emotion that didn’t get fully expressed and that’s why it stays or is it that the memory of the intensity of the emotion is so strong that on some deep level we will do anything not to experience it again.  Maybe it depends.  Maybe it’s something else.

What I do know is that is that feels like many of us are ruled by our deepest most primal emotions to one degree or another.  Not the ones that are flaring up now, but these shadow emotions that stand in the way.  They’re so deep and core that often we don’t even really know what they are, which makes them harder to deal with.

The thing that really strikes me here, and I think bares repeating is how powerful emotions are.  How in a non-emotional state we can and would make a whole series of decisions about certain things, while in an emotional state that all goes out the window and we make completely different decisions.  But are we ever is a completely non-emotional state?  I suppose that is the deeper question.

I have had a recurring theme lately with several clients.  It’s about what it takes to get where they want to go…the path to reaching their goal/s.  As the CEO of LinkedIn, Jeff Weiner, says (among other interesting things about being a leader, sticking to your plan, trusting your instincts, etc) in a New York Times interview sent to me by a client, “You can’t realize your goal if it’s not defined.”  So basic, but so true.  For many people defining a goal is the first part of the process of working with me, but others come to work with me with a very clear goal in mind.

The thing is, as clear as that goal may be, many of them also assume there is one specific path that will get them to that goal.  They hold on to what they assume/know is the path, but that assumption or knowledge actually keeps them from making progress and moving forward.  I ask them what makes them so certain there are certain specific steps on the way to their goal.   They strain against the steps they have laid out for themselves, and are unable to let themselves take a different approach because changing the path feels like giving up on the goal.  So I ask:  what if another action, however counterintuitive, is actually a required step to attaining your goal?  For example, if someone’s goal is to have financial and personal stability, it might seem counterintuitive that they take a trip around the world for a year, spending savings and moving from place to place.  But maybe that is the very thing that will let them get what they so badly want.

Often the most important thing is action and movement.  Without it there is no change.  No achieving your goal.  If you’re stuck, step back and ask yourself what you’re holding on to that is blocking you.  A literal example:  if the goal (a swimming pool, lake, mountain, house) you want to reach is just over a brick wall in your path, you might slam your body into it a few times, you might try pushing the wall over a few times, or pulling out bricks.  But after a while, bashed and bruised, you’d probably try to climb over it, find the end and go around it, dig under it…anything except walk into it again!

Remember your goal…hold on to it tightly, but open your mind to the fact that the path there may not be what you expect.

** Another of my long-neglected drafts finally being published.

I really liked this opinion piece from the New York Times: The Rise of the New Groupthink by Susan Cain.  Her first sentence, “Solitude is out of fashion” immediately resonated with me.  But it was the last sentence of the paragraph that struck that note of, Yes!  That is so true!  “Collaboration is in.”  I’ve noticed it especially in comments my kids make about school.  Collaboration is the new Holy Grail, and it kind of pisses me off!

I’m not against collaboration…it can be wonderful.  But a lot of collaboration is just draining and unproductive, and no one seems to want to admit that.  Why do we need a Holy Grail.  Can’t we just accept that different things work in different circumstances and for different people.   I have found myself flat-footed a few times when my son has complained about his teacher’s insistence on making it work with everyone. I want to back the teacher up and take his side, but I lack conviction because I am pretty solitary worker.  I mean, I get it, they’re kids, they do have to learn how to get along, and all that.  But can we also acknowledge that collaboration doesn’t always work?

Near the end of the article, the author explains that most humans have two contradictory impulses:

…we love and need one another, yet we crave privacy and autonomy.

To harness the energy that fuels both these drives, we need to move beyond the New Groupthink and embrace a more nuanced approach to creativity and learning. Our offices should encourage casual, cafe-style interactions, but allow people to disappear into personalized, private spaces when they want to be alone. Our schools should teach children to work with others, but also to work on their own for sustained periods of time.

So, how does this relate to coaching you may ask?  Well, I have seen many creative and solitary people become dispirited by the constant feeling they don’t fit in and are different.  So they try to adapt.  And that is often the wrong thing to do.  Wrong in the sense that when you go against who you are and accept that your ways are wrong, you can’t shine.  Although there are plenty of exceptions of people who have stood their ground and done amazing things, the majority of us don’t necessarily have the singularity of vision and the strength of ego to constantly go against the tide.  We put so much energy in trying to just stay afloat that our creative genius is drowned.  I see it again and again.

After reading this article, I will say to my son:  You’re right.  It does sometimes suck to work with people. And that’s okay.  Sometimes it’s great.  Go off on your own.  Be brilliant.  Then ask for feedback and interaction.  Then go away alone again and see what you believe and stand by it.

How do you work best?  Do you like working in a group, alone or a mix?

I wrote this post nearly three months ago, when I had recently come back from a month-long trip to the East Coast.  I never managed to push the Publish button…I’m not sure why.  Too busy?

This article in the NY Times really resonated with me.  The author, Tim Kreider, starts out:

If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.”

I was already cringing by that point, hearing myself say those words.  And then he goes into something I’ve written about in this blog, and also thought a lot about.  Choice.  Busyness is not a choice for everyone, but for many people it is.

It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.

We create the circumstances that make us busy.  I sometimes think I’m a slacker because I actively try not to be too busy.  I hate being too busy!  I’m not at my best when I’m running in ten directions at once.  There is no time to think.

Writing this blog gives me time to think.  If I see it that way it doesn’t feel like something that makes me busier, but instead something that makes my life richer.  So, if you’re still hanging in there with me, please expect more.  Soon.

How busy are you?

P.S.  A friend wrote me this morning and reminded me of the great ending to the article…for those of you who don’t read it, here it is.

I suppose it’s possible I’ll lie on my deathbed regretting that I didn’t work harder and say everything I had to say, but I think what I’ll really wish is that I could have one more beer with Chris, another long talk with Megan, one last good hard laugh with Boyd. Life is too short to be busy.

I had a moment of clarity a few months ago about a decision, and it gave me a new sense of calm.  The cool thing is that my gut had already given me this information and told me what to do.  But I couldn’t explain it…and I like to be able to understand and articulate the choices I make.

The background is that I joined Facebook a few years ago…for a day.  After a few friend requests, my mental alarm sounded…GET OFF!!!  So I did.  There were lots of reasons not to get off, not the least of which is all the flack I get from friends for not being on Facebook.  But my gut won out.  I deflected all the “shoulds” coming my way, but not without a little doubt about my decision.  No, not doubt, but instead a lack of clarity.

So, here’s what I realized (and let’s be clear…this is not a rant against Facebook or people who use it):  I need and want a certain type of connection with people and when I don’t get it, I feel frustrated.  This is about me and my expectations, but I live with me so I have to take those into account.

Despite not being on Facebook, a few people have “found” me in other ways on the internet.  I’m always surprised when someone reaches out and I get that rush of being sought.  So I sit down and write a long email catching them up on me and asking questions about them.  And then almost always, I don’t hear back.  Never again.  That deflates me and in the end the whole exchange seems pointless. I realize that is not true for everyone, but I kind of go on the assumption that if someone is reaching out they are ready to engage.  And despite the fact that I know many (most) people are not like me in that way, I can’t reset my expectations and feelings.

And that’s why the culture of Facebook is not for me.  It lets people get snippets of information and share their own snippets, but from my perspective there is no real connection.  I imagine myself with a list of “friends” and all I would see is missed connections.  I know that’s just me.  For some people that list represents real connection.  Maybe it’s because I’m an introvert.  Maybe it’s just my personality.  For better or worse I want what for me feels like a real connection and dialogue.  Even if it’s infrequent.

It’s funny because I get a lot of comments about not being on Facebook and some people see it as me withholding or not wanting to get involved, but it’s actually quite the opposite.  I want to dive in and be involved.  I don’t want to view it all from a safe distance.  Facebook would overwhelm me and I would always feel like I was not responding to people’s comments, photos, etc.  Again, totally about me.  My husband, who has tried again and again to get me on Facebook, is perfectly happy with the setup.  As are millions of others.

But I can’t believe it’s a good fit for everyone.  I have had clients and friends tell me how much it stresses them out and yet how much time they spend on it.

So, why write this now?*  Partly because I got tired of going over it again and again in my head (clearly this is something I want to communicate).  And then I read a piece by Jonathan Franzen in the NY Times and it has a similar underlying theme…or at least that’s how I read it.  (Click here to read the article.)

Ever since my moment of clarity, I don’t feel cornered or pushed to try Facebook and that is freeing in a social media world.  Right now, it’s not for me.  That might change.  I’m open to that.

* The truth is that this is a pretty old post that I had saved as a draft and worked on off and on for months.  Not sure why I didn’t publish it.  But yesterday I read another NYT article that clinched the deal.  The article, Don’t Tell Me, I Don’t Want to Know by Pamela Paul, resonated with me and even made me feel a little bit proud that I listened to my gut and stayed off Facebook.