Closing the wisdom gap

 

We accrue wisdom over time.

As a reasonable approximation, the more experiences we have the greater wisdom we accumulate.

It mightn’t feel as linear as it’s represented in the graph. There can be periods of great learning, followed by times of consolidation. Certain events unfold and open up new worlds of knowledge that previously didn’t seem relevant to us.

But pound for pound, you’re wiser now than you were last year. Or in your last job. Or the last time you did the thing you’re now on the hook to deliver.

Here’s an uncomfortable question for you: why isn’t that always obvious in your performance?

Or put another way: why do we sometimes behave as if we’re way back on that wisdom curve?

Do we just forget what we’ve already learned? Are we too busy to remember? Are we too busy to notice we haven’t remembered? Are we too stressed to notice we’re too busy?

Being aware of the wisdom gap is a useful benefit of coaching. Understanding what is impeding us from performing to our potential helps us refocus and re-engage more meaningfully.

But regardless of our relative levels of self-awareness, we can immediately improve our odds of doing better by asking, “Based on what I know about myself and the work at hand, what can I do now to give myself the best chance of success?”.

The more often we ask, the more we narrow that wisdom gap.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

 

 

The upside of clarity

In a coaching conversation, the first response to a challenging question is rarely the most significant. Or honest.

We’re masters at presenting the best version of ourselves. This is especially true of professionals. We feel it’s expected of us and we play the part accordingly.

In response to the question, “How’s everything going?”, we tend to give an enthusiastically positive answer 90+% of the time. There are lots of reasons for this: we want to believe things are going well, we’re conditioned to be positive in most high-performance cultures, we don’t want to be getting into the weeds with everyone we speak with etc. etc.

So if we want others to believe we’re ‘doing well’ and we want dearly to believe it ourselves, what happens when on occasion we, inevitably, are not doing so well?

Are we creating problems for ourselves by ‘staying positive’? Are we doubling down on our delusions, widening the gap between our reality as we feel it and our reality as we present it?

These are important questions, which we rarely ask.

In the field of process improvement, the foundation of progress is understanding the “as-is process” i.e. what exactly is happening right now. Until there is clarity on what is actually happening, all attempts at improvements are based on hunches, biases and conjecture.

Similarly, for us to improve our decision making, performance and overall well-being, we need more clarity on how things really are. Non-judgmental reflection can help us gain a deeper understanding of our circumstances and raise our awareness of our relationship with those circumstances.

Perhaps the reason we mostly avoid such work is that we find the prospect to be uncomfortable, despite the fact that we rarely, if ever, regret overcoming that resistance.

Maybe then, instead of chasing more sophisticated ‘solutions’ or operating in the delusional realm of where we should be, we just need a little more courage to slow down and open our eyes more clearly to what’s right in front of us?

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

Staying sane in crazy times

It’s not easy for us to be performing at our best right now, is it?

Whatever we might consider ‘ideal conditions’ to be, we’re certainly not experiencing them as you read this.

Whether it’s the horror of war or the grimness of a pandemic, the mood music is discordant. Most of us are ‘getting on with it’ but finding our steps forward to be somewhat heavier than before.

And yet, there are people on this planet enjoying the best day of their lives today. The sun is shining in a lot of places. Some professionals have never been in greater demand. Some businesses have never had such opportunity.

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If you’re not middle-aged or older, you should ask your parents about a newsflash. Newsflashes disrupted normal programming. And the news tended to be pretty big.

The concept of a newsflash is largely irrelevant in 2022. We now live in a world where BREAKING NEWS is breaking all the time. Our phones are pinging with updates. We’re scrolling (apparently ad infinitum) seeking a fresh angle on something that already changed four times today. We have an uninterrupted stream of novelty just awaiting our (ever dwindling) attention.

I’m not making an argument in favour of saying life was better before the internet and 24-hour news media. I am, however, reminding you that we haven’t yet evolved to have a stable and healthy relationship with an endless feed of drama.

We’re still the same human beings who lived in fear of not knowing the right answer when put on the spot by our school teachers. Now, we have access to unlimited knowledge in our pockets. So the question arises, what constitutes enough knowledge?

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Making sense of the world around us is not something we should take for granted.

We need time and space for reflection, for making new meaning from the things that happen to us and from the events that play out around us.

It’s hard to put things in a useful perspective if we’re immediately seeking an alternative reality or chasing a fresh distraction.

And it’s probably time we took stock of the damage we’re doing by not allowing ourselves that time to breathe. We’re cultivating an unhealthy impulse to avoid our proximate reality while feeding an addiction to seek external immediate gratification.

So, how do we cope better in this environment?

The most common advice, and perhaps most useful, is to do a lot less passive observation and a little more purposeful action.

A psychologist interviewed in Ukraine this week has got the right general idea.

It’s worth remembering that while we can’t change certain events in the world, we can work on improving our relationship with those events.

We can consciously choose to engage further where required, or disengage when our attention is better used elsewhere.

P. S. Both the above cartoons are by the renowned New Yorker cartoonist David Sipress.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

Permission to feel

Given our social nature as humans, we have an unhelpful tendency to pass judgement over how people should feel in a given situation.

I feel a certain way. My ‘in group’ feels that way too. What’s wrong with you that you feel differently? 

In our professional roles, we need to take care to give others the permission to feel what they are feeling.

We owe it to our colleagues, to our staff and to our clients to give space for them to acknowledge the full range of their emotional response to whatever emerges.

This isn’t the same as saying “anything goes”. Acknowledging how someone feels doesn’t mean we encourage them to act in whatever way they’d like.

As professionals we’re aware of the significance of culture in a working environment. But not all of us work in a culture that’s in alignment with our own values. That can be challenging and stressful. Many of us make trade-offs in order to pursue our ambitions, whether financial, status or otherwise.

Cultural norms shouldn’t prevent us from acting in a way that honours who we are. So, no matter how myopic, toxic or obsessive a culture can be, we can choose to behave in our own way in our interactions with others. And perhaps the most useful example of that is easing up on pressure and judgement on how others are feeling.

Of course, the pandemic era has given us plenty of experience of this phenomenon. Through all the various phases people have had different emotional responses and if this difficult period has given us anything, perhaps it’s to remember that all emotions are valid.

It’s ok that you feel the way that you do. It’s ok for me too.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

 

A to Z of coaching: J – Joy

Joy, in the professional context, is underrated. It’s often confused with fun. It’s associated by many with not working hard enough or being unserious.

That worldview denies the reality of experiencing joy when we are at our best. It fails to notice joy at the intersection of effectiveness and ease, and discounts the value of the liberating lightness of a joyous experience.

After two years of working through a pandemic, our reserves of joy are diminished.

We stand to benefit, now more than ever, from creating opportunities for joy in our professional lives.

Joy doesn’t just arise momentarily when success is achieved. It’s present in a good job done well, for the right reasons. It arises when our interactions are meaningful, and expansive. It’s in moments of noticing, and appreciation.

Designing for joy is a good use of your time. Once you shift your mindset from viewing joy as a ‘nice to have’ to something that allows you to perform optimally, then your task is to create, or re-craft, opportunities for joy in everything you do.

Of course, designing for joy is useful for teams and organisations too. Don’t skip the important work of doing it for yourself first.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

Bathwater and babies

“Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater”.

That’s a grim sounding idiom, isn’t it?

It comes from an era when you literally threw your bathwater outside, but it turns out to be quite applicable to a modern phenomenon in our professional careers.

In responding to negative events, we can over-correct and end up diminishing ourselves in the process i.e. the baby goes out with the bathwater.

We diminish ourselves by dropping standards, retreating beneath our potential, downgrading our habits and losing belief in our ability to contribute.

Setbacks are setbacks, but they don’t need to define us. We compound the setback by moving down a gear and allowing the circumstances to dictate how we respond.

Dirty bathwater shows up in different forms:  pandemics, asshole bosses, economic downturns, personal crises, market disruptions and so forth.

We have to move past all of these things eventually. And we do that by honouring our own capabilities, by building on our hard-earned assets and by remembering our own worth.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

A to Z of coaching: I – Indifference

In coaching work, the exploration of the reasons behind our indifference to something can often lead to useful breakthroughs.

When our performance dips below the level we would like, or when our sense of weariness or dissatisfaction is growing, it can be worthwhile to investigate where our concern, sympathy or interest has waned.

At our best, we are alert and aware. We can discern between what requires our attention and what is less important. We are clearer on what improves as we devote our interest to it and what doesn’t require our full engagement. We can see the signal through the noise.

But when we’re sub-par, we begin to miss things. We gloss over, lose touch, become indifferent.

Why? What might be behind that?

Has something become misaligned with our values? Have we issues arising from conflict with others? Are we actively practising aversion from discomfort? Are echoes of past traumas causing us to turn away?

In creating the space to explore and understand this better, it might be helpful to recognise the benefits of adopting a more compassionate approach. And in doing so, the words of meditation teacher Joseph Goldstein may well be useful:

“Compassion is the motivation to alleviate suffering, to alleviate harm.

When it’s developed, it opens us to whatever suffering is in front of us and it overcomes the arising of indifference and inaction.

It’s not enough to admire the quality of compassion from a distance. Our practice is about making the compassionate response the default setting of our lives. This is the power of practice. This is what practice means.

Instead of falling into indifference, instead of conditioning apathy, we practice compassion so that it becomes the habit of our mind and heart. 

As we learn to open to our own pain, our own suffering, our own difficulties, of how to be with them with an open, receptive, compassionate attitude of mind, we then have greater strength and courage to be with the suffering of others – because we’ve practised it.”

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

Ah, I give up

The Covid situation is bleak again. Ah, I give up trying to plan anything now.

The evenings are dark. Ah, I give up on trying to exercise until the Spring.

There’s a pile of books I still haven’t read. Ah, I give up on even looking at new ones.

Social media is getting even more divisive. Ah, I give up trying to engage with it.

I’ve never been heavier. Ah, I give up on trying to lose weight until after Christmas.

The working from home era is such a drag. Ah, I give up looking for a better job until things improve.

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We all get fed up. It’s understandable when circumstances are unfavourable, or when we’ve just had enough of something. But being fed up doesn’t have to automatically lead to giving up.

That said, there are times when giving up is exactly what we need to do.

Every individual, when reading the list above, will find themselves resonating with some more than others. We’re all at different stages in our relationships with activities and commitments. What might be useful for some to give up on now may well be entirely counterproductive for others.

A good friend or confidant is sometimes better able to see when it’s in our interest to give up or persist. Maybe we’re stuck in a rut of low mood or riding high on a wave of delusion.

So, maybe now is a good time for you to give up. Or maybe it’s exactly the time to persist. Just ensure you’re clear on the difference, and why it’s in your interest to consider those choices carefully.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

Is eco-anxiety real?

There’s a stubbornly persistent school of thought in the world that anxiety is “all in the head”.

This worldview projects downward from the ‘tough’ to the ‘weak’. Anxiety is ungenerously framed as lacking the required nerve, or not being able to tolerate the hard stuff.

Some organisational cultures still incubate this worldview and permit the dehumanising of employees in the name of results.

It is perhaps then no surprise that some have reacted with eye-rolling resistance to the introduction of eco-anxiety into the contemporary conversation.

To answer the headline question, eco-anxiety is very much a real and lived experience. Anxiety tends to thrive at the intersection of fear and uncertainty and given the emerging climate crisis, it seems quite logical to be both afraid and uncertain about the medium and long-term prospects for our planet.

The lack of an appropriate response to environmental challenges is rooted in denial and ignorance. And when it comes to eco-anxiety, denial and ignorance will only compound the problem.

Accepting that people are experiencing this along the full symptomatic range allows us to be empathetic, and accordingly more solution-focused. Perhaps the most tragic element of eco-anxiety is to increase the likelihood of disengagement and feelings of despair and helplessness, just at the time when more coordinated action is required.

It’s ok to be anxious. It’s human nature. Accepting it is the first step to dealing with it in a more useful way.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

Being right vs Doing right

We get hung up on the need to be right.

A lot of suffering and waste ensues when we over-attach to an internal narrative around the significance of our role in any evolving human engagement.

While reputation has value, we tend to overinvest in our internal evaluations of it.

Consistently doing the right thing will enhance our reputation more than any negotiations about our reputation with ourselves and others might.

(‘Doing the right thing can be upgraded to ‘doing the useful thing’).

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.