Have you ever looked at the other side of the coin? It’s as easy as 1–2–3!

goldmapleleaf

Sometimes in life, there comes a moment when circumstances for change are forced upon you. Events such as redundancy, divorce, illness or the death of a loved one will generally upset the delicate balance in your life and bring about changes that you may not be ready for. Some people manage to make the best out of it and actually benefit from the change; others wallow in despair, longing for what they have lost, and have great difficulty in getting back on their feet. Which category you fit into depends upon your attitude and perception of the situation.

One thing is certain: the trend today is that it’s never too late to reinvent yourself. In a blog post entitled “On Changing Careers”, Dick Bolles – whose best-selling book What Colour is your Parachute sold over ten million copies – points out that you’re never too old to change your career and rethink yourself anew. And why not – the conditions have probably never been better. The Internet has brought information and knowledge to our fingertips and connects us in ways that make some traditional networks obsolete. This provides new conditions and, therefore, new opportunities. The challenge is daring to explore them!

Many people are simply afraid to make the move; some may be forced to do so by their circumstances, whilst others may feel that it’s time for a change or may just be curious. Whatever your personal situation is, I’d like to share my 1–2–3 process with you, in the hope that it will help you in your decision-making. We’ll start with our coin because, as the saying goes: “there are two sides to every coin”, and it’s always worth looking at both sides.

The other side

The other side

1. The “other side”

Whether positive or negative, one side of the coin will be easier to see than the other, depending on the situation and your personality. After all, if you want to see the other side of a coin lying on the table, you will have to put in some effort by flipping it. Whether you see the advantages or disadvantages first is not relevant; the fact remains that you will have to put in some effort if you want to see the other side. So, whether you get carried away by the euphoria or depressed by the events, you should sit down and take the time to look at the other side.

Take a piece of paper and make a list of advantages on one side and disadvantages on the other. For some, this exercise might be difficult as they may be blinded by the situation. If this is the case, you can always enlist some family members or good friends to help you out; they may be impartial to your situation and see things you may have missed.

2. Who am I today?

Now that you have a more balanced picture of the situation, you should be ready for the next step: turning the situation to your advantage. The first step here is to develop a good picture of your own strengths and weaknesses in today’s context. Most people have been conditioned by years of traditional and institutional beliefs that attitudes and behaviours should be corrected and that people should be shoehorned into an idea of perfection. However, research has shown that it is much more productive to focus on developing people’s strengths and providing opportunities where they can thrive. For employees, this is much more positive and rewarding because it is easier for them. It also allows them to shine, which helps boost their self-confidence.

Regardless of your self-image, I find that the best way of developing a true picture of yourself is to start with the Johari Window.

Johari_Window

The Johari Window – named after its inventors, Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham – is a communication model used to improve understanding between individuals. It is often used in team-building sessions and in self-help groups. It is a structured way of mapping out your strengths and weaknesses. It also involves dialogue with others and an element of introspection – both of which are necessary in creating an honest picture. The key to success in this exercise is to treat feedback as a gift given to you. No matter if it’s negative or positive, feedback helps you paint your picture, and you are free to interpret it as you wish. There is almost always a kernel of truth behind every piece of feedback, even the most negative. It’s up to you to interpret it and pull the right conclusions from it. Besides, by taking this attitude, you won’t be so easily offended by the person giving you feedback.

3. Building the “big picture” puzzle

As the subtitle says, this is where you piece it all together. But before you jump into brainstorming and the elaboration of your opportunities, there is one more conditioning step you need to go through.

As we are constantly bombarded by messages, our brains handle information based on the filters we have developed around our beliefs and context. This causes us to process information without really thinking about it. How many of us have family members or friends who keep trying to “sell us” on the benefits of what they do, but we never consider it because we categorically believe it is not for us. The point here is not about that particular person or idea; it’s about the need to reset your compass and consider all options. I believe in the interaction of people and the notion that we each have a message to convey when we meet and interact. Our task is to find out what that message is. Could it be possible that you have unconsciously ignored certain messages recently? This is why it’s worth reflecting precisely about this point by making a list of potential messages you may have missed but which would be useful to consider.

Now you are armed and ready to put your picture puzzle together. You have analysed your situation, you have a good grasp of your strengths and weaknesses and you have raised your awareness of what the world around you has to offer. You now need to put the pieces together by making connections between the three elements and developing your hypotheses and options.

A good way to round up the exercise is to map your ideas/options in the following matrix:

EffortRewardmatrix

 

This will help you choose the right options!

Francis Lambert – Zabok, 4 February 2013

How elastic is your ego?

Have a look in the mirror! Photo courtesy of IKEA: http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/40213759/#

Have a look in the mirror!
Photo courtesy of IKEA: http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/40213759/#

The other day my wife and I had a fight, and she called me an egotist. Although there are always at least two viewpoints to every argument – and I don’t want to get into too much personal detail here – the statement made me reflect. Although I did not agree with her point of view, in essence I had to agree that I have an egotistic streak in me. But isn’t that a good thing? How can you ever be confident and successful if you don’t like or respect yourself? Certainly a measure of egotism is healthy. But the question is how much is good and how do you know when to tone down or ramp up your egotism?

It’s clear that for any relationship to work, there needs to be some kind of balance from both sides – and I suspect there is no real recipe or formula. The equilibrium in each relationship will lie at a different point, probably between 40 and 60 per cent, depending on the individuals. Only the involved partners can define the point of equilibrium, as it is dictated by their own comfort levels. With equilibrium, love and respect can flourish and relationships can develop to the point where the “whole” is greater than the sum of its parts – well in theory at least.

Where things go wrong is when one partner perceives a deviation from the equilibrium.  This is also where the dynamics get complex. As individuals, we all have our own view of what is tolerable and what isn’t: our filters. Then there is the individual temper or the fuse; some people have a short fuse with frequent eruptions, others have long fuses that don’t erupt often but produce much larger eruptions when they do. As people we are all just different, and it is our ego that guides us when we judge and react to our partners’ actions or words. It is also our ego that gives the elasticity to the equilibrium point. Some people would call this the “give and take” of a good functioning relationship. Are we willing to accept certain things, tolerate others, ignore the little things because we are focused on the whole? The problem with ignoring the small things is that sometimes they are like a tiny stone in your shoe; the moment you feel something you can decide to ignore it or take the time to remove it. Even if you decide to ignore it at first – the stone might not be painful, just annoying – sooner or later you will sit down, take off your shoe and try to remove the irritating object. It all comes down to tolerance, and it is your ego and personality that set these tolerances.

But just like an elastic band, your ego will lose its elasticity if it is always stretched. Through constant over-stretching, it loses its ability to contract back to its original form and becomes damaged. The good news is that by becoming more aware of your situation you can protect the elasticity of your ego. By clearing up perceptions and by removing the tiny stones in your shoe immediately, you won’t have to test the elasticity of your ego.

Francis Lambert – Zabok, 30 November 2013

The duality of individuality

Is the glass half full or half empty?

The answer to that question is limited only by our imagination, and each one of us will have a different way of answering it. Some of us will respond instinctively, others will analyse the glass, trying try to calculate where the 50% mark lies, so that they can give an accurate answer. There will be others who will try to figure out why you are asking that question in the first place, in order to come up with the answer they think you want to hear.

Each one of us will process the question in a different way. This happens because the sum of our life experiences is what drives the response process. We all have different frames of reference. That, amongst other things, is what makes us individuals. Although we all share similar emotions, such as motherly love, anger, rejection, success, pride, etc., the environment, timing and context in which we experience these emotions is different for all of us. This makes the mental imprint we have of that experience unique. It is precisely these experiences that we then use as filters to process situations and information during our lifetimes. A child has a relatively clean mental slate, and it is easy to understand the weight and importance that these mental imprints can have on a child’s future.  When and how this happens early in life makes a huge difference to a child’s potential. In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the story of Lewis Terman and his still-running longitudinal study called the Genetic Studies of Genius (known today as Terman Study of the Gifted). Terman was convinced that geniuses (people with an IQ higher than 140) would achieve great things in their lifetimes. As it turned out, all he was able to prove was that, when it comes to their achievements in life, geniuses are also normally distributed. However, when the data is segmented in a different way, it shows a clear correlation between social class and academic performance. This is related to upbringing and the tendency for well-to-do families to encourage and support academic education, whilst the socially disadvantaged parents generally have little time to encourage and support their child through education, and in some cases may even be ashamed that they themselves do not have an academic ability.  We all see the world through different eyes, and no two eyes are the same. When we answer the question about the glass of liquid filled to 50% capacity, not only is the process of answering different for each individual but also it all happens in the blink of an eye.

So what gives us the ability to do that? Well, it’s our brain, of course, but more interesting it’s the duality of our brain. On the left side of this organ there is the rational part that thinks through problems and structures thoughts – this part will filter the challenge itself, in terms of physical and factual data. On the right side is the emotional part that filters a different type of data: body language, context, company, etc. Each part plays its role in transforming this data into information on which we make a choice of responses. Whilst we have the ability to think rationally, we are driven by emotions. This is why in the US supermarkets when you get your receipt you see in big letters how much you’ve saved, while the total of what you’ve spent is in normal text – they want to make you feel good about how much money you have saved at their store, never mind that you’ve maxed out on your credit card!

Modern psychology has made a lot of progress trying to understand how the two sides of the brain function and complement one another. There have been many analogies used to describe the tension between the two halves, but perhaps the most vivid is the one used by the psychologist Jonathan Haidt (Professor at New York University Stern School of Business) in his book The Happiness Hypothesis. Haidt sees our emotional side as an elephant and our rational side as its rider. Sitting on top of the elephant holding the reins, the rider may give the appearance that he is in charge, but, in fact, if the elephant were to see a mouse or be in any other way scared, it is quite clear that the rider would not be able to hold the elephant back, no matter how hard he pulled on the reins. It is precisely this tension between the rational and emotional sides of our brains that makes it so difficult for us to change. The elephant side is instinctive, and always on the look out for instant gratification. The weakness of the elephant is the rider’s strength: the ability to plan long term – the knowledge that calories saved today will enable me to lose weight. Put another way, everyone knows that smoking is bad for you (rider), but getting the elephant to stop procrastinating and coming up with excuses is difficult indeed. The challenge is for our riders to keep the elephant on the path long enough so that we can reach our destination. To achieve this the rider needs to resort to tricks, such as avoiding people who smoke when you are trying to stop smoking, or strategically placing a device that makes pig noises every time you open the refrigerator door.

There is no strict recipe for this: everyone is wired differently, every situation will require different measures and certain things will work for some people but not for others. It is important to recognize that the rider needs to and can manage the elephant – even if this occasionally requires putting a blindfold on the elephant’s head. Learning to manage our elephant is not that difficult: the rider needs to observe how the elephant behaves, orchestrate life with fewer temptations and reward the elephant for every step it takes in the right direction. After all, gratification is what it is craving!

Francis Lambert – Zabok, 17 December 2012 (originally written 29/05/12)