Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Sustainable Change Begins with Noticing What is Already Working

I sometimes say to people. "I am not a therapist. I do not want to be a therapist. I do not believe that people who work with me are broken." The result of working with me (one to one or in a class) is frequently that people feel better. We don't get there by focusing on what is wrong.

This can be hard for people to understand. Like me, they learned to believe that focusing on what works is okay for academics, but not good enough for the "real" world. In the "real" world, people have problems that cause them real suffering. What kind of person would ignore those problems to focus on what works? It sounds a little like a case where the rich get richer, doesn't it?

It is. The more we assume that we have the strengths, skills and resources to live satisfying lives, the more we live satisfying lives. The more we assume that we will become happy after our problems are solved, the more problems we find that need solving. Problems are like the Hydra - when you cut off one head, two more appear.

Here's the alternative: offer all of your curiosity and attention and effort to identifying all the resources you have that allow you to achieve what you need to be happier and more satisfied. Dr. Barry Duncan is the author of What's Right with You?  In this five minute interview, he explains why he believes that people have what they need to solve their problems and live their lives well.

In this video, Dan Heath explains how 'bright spots' enable us to navigate through periods of change, feeling better and doing better.


It's not easy to look at the bright spots instead of the problems. It takes a continual refocusing of our natural attention (we automatically search for disasters-in-the-making). It requires our best analytical thinking and more than a little detective work. It's not easier than wallowing in despair. It just works much better.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Bring out the Best

What's the difference between your best result and your typical result?

Sometimes the world does align to support your performance and you get a personal best result. But that's probably not what came to mind first. Research shows that we usually attribute our best performances to our own skills, strengths and effort. We believe that we have more influence over our outcomes than is probably the case. What came to mind first was probably your own skill, attitude or effort.

Before you rush in to correct this error, consider its usefulness. Whether or not it is true that our efforts determine our results, it is a useful belief that motivates us to change the only things we can change: the factors within our own control. To get a personal best, we believe that we need to be our personal best.

We use a different version of this logic when we are managing the performance of others. We attribute much of their success to circumstances outside their control and blame their less-than-stellar performance on their lack of skills or knowledge or effort. This, too, is useful. As managers or coaches, it motivates us to create the conditions and motivation to bring out the best in our people.

There are three essential steps in bringing out the best in ourselves or others:
  • Be clear about what we want. The desired result provides a yardstick for measuring achievement. Without it, we do not know if we've hit a best performance.
  • Create congruence. Set up external and internal conditions to support the same focus.
  • Identify a leverage point. Micromanaging of yourself or others is exhausting. Find just one change to make that will have a disproportionate influence on the attitudes and efforts necessary to a best performance.
At its best, NLP (neurolinguistic programming) is a set of techniques for observing the alignment of internal and external conditions that supports a personal best. It provides processes for defining desired results, creating congruence, and testing for leverage points that will allow one to make the biggest change with the smallest effort. This means, in part, that NLP observes the mind/body/brain system when it achieves its best results, and reverse engineers the process to make it replicable more often.

Your personal best depends on the way that your attitudes and actions line up with your circumstances. Some of that is out of your control. But working with your best self to make your best choices makes your personal best more likely in every situation.