Hitting the target

We don’t always hit the target.

As professionals, the essence of what we do is to hit targets. It feels great when we do but the nature of hitting targets is that sometimes we miss.

And the whole point isn’t to hit the target every time. What counts is that we aim and fire. And do it again.

Collectively, we lose more not from the targets that were missed but from the attempts that were never made.

Please continue to aim. And to fire.

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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 better type of mistake

A better type of mistake is one you haven’t made before.

A better type of mistake allows you to learn from what just happened.

A better type of mistake raises more questions than it provides answers. The kind of questions that are worth investigating.

When we’ve had a bad run, we tend to prioritise avoiding mistakes. We retreat, shrink and play it safe. We’ve lost the stomach for the process of growth.

Over the long run though, retreating is a worse type of mistake. Temporary shelter to rest and recover is fine but permanent bunker-building will diminish who we are and what we can contribute.

So, rather than avoiding all mistakes or just making the same ones over and over, maybe a more useful move is to find better mistakes to make.

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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 time to celebrate small victories

When the going gets tough, we tend to underestimate the value of a small victory.

If the bigger picture stuff seems chaotic, just like we’re living through with this pandemic, then we can get derailed and lose our focus. Understandably. It’s entirely human to be swayed by the emotional impact of hazardous circumstances.

It’s easy to lose hope, to stop believing in the value of progress and to become apathetic. This can interfere with our capability to perform at a basic level, which quickly creates an unwelcome feedback loop as our underperformance aligns with the negative mood music.

The antidote is to keep notching up small scores on the board.

As an example, in recent weeks I’ve worked with clients who are struggling with their inability to get ‘deep work’ done while they share the same space as their children. I feel their pain.

Faced with this dilemma, there are two broad options. The first is to abandon the ambition and retreat into struggle mode. The alternative is to shrink the target and try to hit it more consistently, in this instance finding ten to fifteen minutes of deep-ish work whenever possible.

A previously insignificant achievement now becomes a small victory. And these are victories worth pursuing and celebrating.

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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.

Lighting is everything

Theatre professionals will tell you that lighting is everything.

Lighting creates atmosphere, builds mood, sets expectations and develops characters. What we experience is directly impacted by how the subject is lit.

This is also true in our professional worlds, even if the ‘lighting’ isn’t actually coming from above the stage. Our work is impacted by how we illuminate our area of focus.

Right now, much of the lighting is ominous and shadowy. The pandemic and the economic depression are casting dark shades and spotlighting worried and frightened expressions. The more we tune into the news and social media, the more dramatic the scene seems to appear.

It’s hard to perform at our best in such lighting. We’re more likely to be in a state of psychological contraction, more prone to fear, suspicion and doubt.

The good news is that we have the capability to adjust our own lighting.

We can choose different colours and brighter lights. We can decide to turn some dramatic effects off.

By being more discerning in what information we consume, whom we allow into our conversations, what we seek to focus our attention on, we can transform the scene we work in. And in doing so, we can optimise our lighting to bring out the very best in our own performance.

Lighting is everything. Adjust yours accordingly.

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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.

You are out of contract

In recent years, providers of services such as TV, phone, utilities and so on have moved to a fixed-term contract model. Usually the contracts run for 12-24 months.

An interesting thing happens when, for whatever reason, they make a significant change to the service: you are released from the obligations of the original contract, even if just for a period of 30 days or whatever.

The logic is clear: we made a deal based on a certain set of terms but now the terms have changed, we need a new deal.

This pandemic has changed the terms of your contract with the working world. You are now out of contract.

The terms of what you signed up for at the start of this year were based on norms that had evolved in the preceding decades. Those terms did not involve working entirely from your own home. They didn’t include also caring for children and other dependents once schools and care facilities shut. Being prevented from engaging with your colleagues and clients in person was not specified.

Given these disruptions in circumstances, we need a new contract.

This new contract involves a reset of expectations on both sides. 

Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones. Maybe you’ve already found a new thriving equilibrium with your work, based on a set of new terms that works for all parties. If you are, you’re in a small minority.

Much of the “just get on with it” messaging has been rooted in a belief that the pandemic-related restrictions were short-term. But the more we learn, the less likely that appears. And even though you may now enjoy a pint or shop at Penneys, the more we emerge from our lockdown the more we realise we’re coming back to a different world.

So, it’s likely you have unfinished work on agreeing a new contract. And most of that work involves getting clear on what’s most important to you:

  • What work am I committing to?
  • Why am I doing this work?
  • How can I do this work while honouring my other obligations?
  • How can I do this in a way that is sustainable over the long term?
  • How can I do this so that I thrive and perform at my best, and avoid burnout and derailment?
  • How does my employer/customer need to adjust their expectations of me, in a way that’s beneficial for them?

The old terms are no longer available. Your professional future depends on agreeing terms that work in the new reality.

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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.

 

In praise of deliberate practice

Anders Ericsson – apparently not inclined to practice tidying his desk

Maybe it has something to do with the name of my business but over the years I’ve had quite a few people get in touch looking for help with “working smarter, not harder”.

After a while I began to notice a trend. Those who were more focused on the ‘working smarter’ piece of the puzzle tended to make progress more readily. But those who fixated on the ‘not harder’ element tended to get bogged down.

Perhaps it’s due to the inherent delusion in expecting greater rewards for less effort. Perhaps it’s related to a more ingrained habit of avoiding the reality that needs to be examined.

As a species, we’re suckers for shortcuts. Give us a catchy, reality-compressing slogan and we’re ready to jump off a cliff.

For us as professionals though, much of the pursuit of ‘hacks’ is a distraction. Our path to progress and mastery needs to travel through the essential experiences of full engagement and the uncomfortable expansion of our capability.

Renowned psychologist Anders Ericsson passed away this week. His research on performance has been popularised via the contentious 10,000 hours concept, spreading like wildfire after Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers was published.

His greatest legacy may be the attention he has brought to the idea of deliberate practice – the systematic approach to improving a specific set of skills, including a greater focus on feedback and external guidance. Deliberate practice is in contrast to what he called naive practice, which is what most of us are doing most of the time.

Working smarter is dependent on deliberate practice. Progress depends on a commitment to improvement, to mindfully assessing what needs to change and remaining open to the challenge of external coaching/teaching.

And what’s often underappreciated is the immense satisfaction and joy that is generated from an investment in such practice. Learning to ‘love the grind’ may well be more useful than coveting the results.

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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.

 

 

If I had the lockdown over again…

This pandemic is a long way from being over, but it feels different now, right?

Restrictions are relaxing, places are reopening and there’s a lot more movement of people.

I’ve noticed some have begun referring to the lockdown in the past tense. And I’ve also noticed that some aren’t excited about going back to ‘normal’.

We’re in the early days of an unexpected phenomenon: lockdown nostalgia. Remember when life was simpler?

The flip side is that for many this brings feelings of regret of an opportunity lost, or a chance missed. “I never got around to doing that”, or “I wish I had done this”.

The good news is that it’s not too late.

Those feelings of regret are useful, as they help us to see what’s important to us. In other words, they help clarify our values.

And the antidote to regret is to act in accordance with our values. Regret feeds our wisdom and we’re better off when we act from that place of elevated wisdom.

So, here’s a useful exercise: sketch out some answers to the question, “If I had the lockdown over again, what would I do differently?”

(Capture as many answers to that as you can. Write it down, rather than just ‘thinking it through’. To help, use the more/less/stop/start categories.)

That list can now inform what you need to prioritise in the coming days and weeks. Make that stuff happen. Lockdown or no lockdown, keep doing what’s most important for you.

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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 moment of truth

We know we’ve lost our way when being honest is now celebrated as unusual and refreshing.

In the public domain, and sadly in many professional circles and environments, our relationship with the truth has evolved for the worse. Facts, such as they are, often only exist to be manipulated to suit whatever worldview is dominant.

All too often in the modern workplace we hear phrases like, “How do we spin this?”, “We can’t say that”, “What do they want to hear?”. Data, and messages, are manipulated to advance an agenda or to protect us in a power imbalance.

All of this provides cover for us as individuals when we don’t want to face up to our own truth. Falsehoods in our outer environment makes it easier for us to lie to ourselves. 

Our human minds are gifted at weaving complicated narratives that often allow us to avoid the truth of our situation and create an alternative reality that presents us as the hero or the victim. All of which takes us further away from showing up as we need to show up in the world.

Acceptance is a viable alternative to avoidance, but only if we practise it. We can honour our own values rather than going with the flow, but only if we do the work of raising our awareness and committing to valuable action.

We often hear in media presentations that this is ‘a moment of truth’, a dramatic turning point where good or evil may prevail. But it’s useful to notice that each of us has many moments of truth every day. Moments where we can avoid or accept, act with integrity or act to manipulate.

So, while it’s easy to get swept up in disdain for the spin, bluster and propaganda in many parts of our public domain, please remember that you still have the power to act wisely in your own moments of truth.

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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.

Simplifying the Great Reset

As the Covid-19 crisis unfolded, we saw a rush of commentary proposing that this was going to be a Great Reset.

This crisis, it was claimed, gave us a chance to start again, to tear up the rule book, even to reverse trends of injustice and inequality.

Of course, a lot of this is wishful thinking even if it’s coming from a place of loving intention. Just because any of us have an opportunity to change doesn’t necessarily mean we will take it. And it’s also possible, sadly, that we might change for the worse.

But a few months on, I’m noticing a new interpretation of the Great Reset concept: a feeling of shame for not having changed enough. I hear musings about “wasting the lockdown”.

In response, may I suggest a simplification of the Great Reset intention, in a way that makes it more relevant and actionable for us all?

Here’s a question worth asking:

How can I serve more effectively and with greater ease?

By working through that question we can shake off that feeling of carrying the world on our shoulders and instead make the kind of progress that brings us the most joy.

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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.

So, who am I now?

In almost every coaching conversation I’ve had in recent weeks, I’ve heard some version of “I’m not sure why I’m finding all of this so hard”.

What’s interesting about that observation is that I hear it across the spectrum, no matter how well, or badly, coronavirus has changed our circumstances.

One factor that’s worth exploring in this regard is our identity – how we see ourselves and how we present ourselves when we show up in the professional world.

This crisis has shaken our belief in who we are. Most dramatically, if your job has disappeared or your business has evaporated then your role in the world isn’t the same as it was two months ago.

Even for those of us with less obvious displacement, the nature of our working lives has altered significantly. Maybe you were used to spending several weeks a year traveling internationally? Maybe you spent most of your time out and about meeting clients and colleagues? Maybe the time you spent up close with others was what brought you most joy?

If we’re to believe what the scientists are telling us, then that world is gone – either for a long while or for good.

So, who are we now?

As the answer to that question begins to unfold, it’s important for us to acknowledge the loss of who we used to be. We need time and space to process that loss.

If a colleague recently lost a loved one, we wouldn’t encourage them to shake it off and try harder. Yet, that’s what we seem to be doing to ourselves and others right now.

All forms of loss generate grief and more suffering is inevitable if we try to ‘hack’ or suppress the grieving process.

We will still work. We will still thrive. We will continue to serve and to create value. But we’ll do it best when we acknowledge our humanity rather than deny 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.