flowing motion

Posts Tagged ‘persistence

A sheepdog taking a break in some wool, Victor...
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As energetic as a sheepdog!

On another one of my many international flights, a hyperactive attendant was running up-and-down barking orders like a sheepdog as one of my fellow passengers put it. Hyper-energetic people can be tiresome!

Initiative

For a few days now, I’ve been writing about initiative because I’ve become irritated with people sitting around complaining about the recession and ‘all the bad people’ who brought it about.  These complaints claim no responsiblity and worse, promise no contribution to getting us out of this mess.  Before I became too irritated and bossy like a diligent sheepdog, I decided to use a week to review the essence of initiaiive.  Why is it that sometimes we get on with things, and other times we do not?

3 types of initiative

Michael Frese of Giessen University divides initiative into self-starting (jumping in and making tasks our own), proactivity (mentally preparing ourselves and learning about the world) and persistence (dealing with distractions on their own terms and coming back to our own goals).  Self-starters may seem the opposite of planners and persistent people may lack flexibility.

In truth, we need to understand how the world works so we can make an adequate set of plans.  If we do that, we can distinguish between distractions that call for our attention right now, and our own goals that we will get back to soon.  Then we find that our work rate goes up, and we feel goal oriented and on top of our to do list (and the world).

When is it time to chill?

But do we want to be hyperactive all the time – like the flight attendant who behaved like an a collie dog herding sheep?

  • Sometimes we are on a learning curve.  When we’ve had bad news – and what else is the recession than bad news? – then we also have to go through an emotional curve of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  That is our goal and our task immediately – to be patient with ourselves and to work through the curve.
  • Sometimes it is time for a rest.  We want to be like the collie in the picture who is taking a rest in the wool!  There is time for everything and recreation is important.
  • Sometimes it is time to wait.  On these long-distance flights, the worst thing we can do is look at the screen telling we how far we still have to go.  12 hours, 11 hours – it will drive you mad.  Sometimes our task is to wait.

Can we afford to wait?

That doesn’t mean we are doing nothing though!

  • The pilot is driving the plane.  Everything is in hand.
  • We are allowing a well understood process to unfold.  Should we be required to help out, in an evacuation for example, having listened to the safety instructions, we’ll act promptly and decisively.
  • We understand that people around us may be restless, disorganized, agitated or confused.  We make a comfortable social bubble where they can settle down and relax for the ‘long haul’.
  • We relax ourselves knowing that we will need energy for sorting out hassles at the other end.
  • And we enjoy the flight – the movies, our book, a bit of day dreaming, the life stories of our neighbours.

Sometimes initiative means chilling because initiative means letting a process unfold the way it should!

The right speed and the recession

Having lived through an economic melt-down before, I’ve learned we can predict ahead how people react.  These are my estimates.

  • A lot of people will ‘hold their breath’ for another year hoping that the recession will just go away.  They are ‘happy’ to be in the denial or anger stages.
  • Many people will ‘bargain‘ and try to cope individually.  They will trim expenditure and try to be extra-sweet at work to avoid redundancy.
  • Some will lapse into nostalgia and talk endlessly about better days.
  • A handful will find opportunities and be working on them regardless.

What will the first four groups do in a years’ time when the world has moved on?  I think the fifth group needs to think ahead to how to incorporate people who will not have made much preparation for 2010.

Come with me!

What is your feeling about the speed at which we will adjust to the crisis?

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manchester airport
Image by rogerbarker2 via Flickr

The recession is like a plane journey

When I lived in New Zealand, I flew a lot.  Thirty-six hour journeys in the main.  After a while, it was possible to get it down to a fine art.  Everything was just where I needed it.  I knew the oddities of the airports en route, and the vagaries of a chain of flights through countries with their own distinctive cultures.

I walked into an aircraft, put my hand-luggage overhead, and sat down with exactly what I needed – book, hard case to protect my glasses, pen and passport if I anticipated filling in forms before we touched down.

And then someone sat down next to me and started bobbing up-and-down. First, they had forgotten this. Then they had forgotten that!  My heart would sink!

What can psychologists tell us about being cool, calm and collected?

Why is that some people cannot get their act together?  Why are others cool, calm, collected, and seemingly in control of every thing going on around them?

Action theory

Yesterday I listed three types of initiative described by Michael Frese of Giessen University.

Self-starters are quick to action and equally quick to figure out what works and what doesn’t. In an aircraft, they get their junk into an overhead locker quickly, clear the aisle, help other people, hold up no one, yet are comfortable and ready to go.

Proactive people think ahead.  They have what they need in the outer pockets of their hand luggage.  They are dressed for a wide range of cabin temperatures and take off a jacket or put on one without a fuss.  They know that alcohol will worsen the cabin-induced dehydration and they claim all the water they can see.

Persistent people are amazingly flexible.  They know that they are not in control and ‘read’ what is happening around them, less to join in, and more to help everyone else get settled.  They know they can get back to enjoying a quiet and peaceful flight when every one else is settled.

Can we be self-starting, proactive and persistent all at once?

Of course, we would like to be!  We all like to be in control, calm and dignified!  But can we be prompt to act, yet planful?  Can we be flexible, yet persistent?

The three styles of initiative are brought together with three key psychological concepts: goals, plans and feedback.

Goals are amazing.  When we decide what we really want to do, we become self-starters.   We jump into tasks and nothing can stop us.  Oddly everything becomes very easy too – or as we say, ‘the universe conspires to help us’!

Plans allow us to anticipate the various ways something can pan out.  So we learn to allow for other people’s needs and we budget a little time and energy to help them out.

Feedback tells us if we are on track.  If we have a realistic mental model of what will unfold, we can say to ourselves – my long term goal is to have a restful flight and my short term goal is to help my neighours get settled.  Then we can follow both plans simultaneously.

German and American psychology

The big difference between German and American psychology is the recognition of these three concepts.  American psychologists talk a lot about goals and to a lesser degree about feedback.  Germans place a lot more emphasis on plans.

We are able to make plans when we understand how the world works.  Hence, education is important.   So too is experience.  So is a good attitude to errors.  An error simply alerts us to the possibility that something needs to be understood.

For example, on several occasions as I stood exhausted and bleary-eyed in Australian passport queues, something went wrong with their computers and it took over an hour and a manager to sort it out.  The third time it happened, I stepped round the counter and watched how they resolved the problem.  To cut a long story short, it seemed that the clerk had entered the country code for my passport incorrectly.  I could see that this would happen again.  Thereafter, my passport proudly carried yellow stickies with the message “The code for xxxxx is yy!”  Understanding the objective world and the priorities of others is so important to maintaining our own bearings.

When I understand the “noise and whip of the whirlwind”, I find it so much easier to deal with the “noise and whip”, or to use another metaphor, to give unto Ceasar.  Dealing with distractions, interruptions and errors may take a little time, but I don’t muddle them up with a commentary on what I am doing.  I deal with the distractions on their own terms, and register as feedback solely whether or not I am free to pursue my own goals!

When I am aware of what is going on around me and I have dealt with the odd things that come up, then at last I can act more like a self-starter – pursuing goals, doing what needs to be done immediately, being more mindful, and finding flow.

All three – goals, plans and feedback – work together.  Sometimes I am on a learning curve.  And I need to get through up that curve to arrive at a point where I am self-starting, proactive and persistent – or to anyone else – cool, calm and collected!

So what should I do about my disorganized neighbours?

Well, neigbours on long-distance flights, as in life, can be interesting or dull.  They can genuinely require help, or just be the most feckless, disorganized wretches that it is possible to imagine.

It doesn’t matter which they are. They are. They simply ‘are’.  We take them as we find them.  I’ve found myself reading for hours to an 8 year old travelling alone and on another flight, moving seats to allow an engineer travelling from Melbourne to Rwanda to use my seat to sleep.  I’ve shared a beer with a fireman from 9/11 and translated for seamen determined to drink the bar dry as they flew from Cape Town to Beijing.

They each had their goals, their plans based on their understanding of their world, and their judgement of the situation.  They’ll settle soonest if they can explore the situation they find themselves in, learn what works, and balance up alternative plans.  The sooner they can do that without distraction from me, the sooner they will settle.

And talking about the recession?

Like most people, I am exasperated by the mess made by the banks.  I am not even sure why we continue to pay people who are manifestly not competent in the business they have chosen.

I am also looking forward to the point where more people around me are ‘up to speed’ on what is happening in the world of international finance.  I’ll even be happy when more people around me are actively trying to find out what is happening.

I would like to see people setting positive goals.   Too many goals seem to be persistent in the wrong way  – hanging on to what we thought would happen – and no longer relevant to what is happening.  As we learn about this new world, we must find goals that are attractive in spite or even because of the mess. We will still have to deal with the mess, but it won’t bother us half as much if we have our own goals on the horizon.

And then we will find ourselves more active – less inclined to groan when the alarm clock goes off.

The truth is achieving goals is simple – the universe really seems to help us.  Deciding on our goals is the hard part.


Come with me!

So I’ve begun.  Today, I flicked open my SEO notebook at the back and started jotting down key figures on the British economy as I found them in various articles.

How are you learning more about the financial system and the economy?

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A financial earthquake

For five years, I lived in New Zealand – earthquake country.  Every household was asked to keep sufficient food and basic supplies for a week.  I religiously rotated tinned food and bottled water (yep that too!).   And next to the food and water store was a medical aid kit, matches and candles.

The so-called ‘recession’ is not unlike living in earthquake country.  We don’t quite know what will happen.  But we know the worst could happen at any time.   And it makes sense to be prepared.

Some people are so spooked, though, they are doing the equivalent of retreating indoors and not coming out!  My colleague in the next office at work had taken some elementary surgery lessons.  When I lectured on intiative, I used to quip that a sensible person should buy a house next door to him!

So what is initiative?

What is an adequate response to the unpredictable and unknown?  What is a sufficient response to prepare us for whatever might happen?

Michael Frese of Giessen University breaks initiative into three parts.

Self-starting

Self-starters get going quickly.  When they are given a task, they dive in, explore, and make it their own.  Gen Y are self-starters, and they confuse Gen X and Baby Boomers who don’t expect young people to step up and own their work.

Self-starters also like feedback.  They continuously monitor what is working and adjust quickly.  Gen Y, too, are notorious, of course, for asking for feedback!  They are results-oriented.

Self-starters aren’t likely to be phased by a recession.  They’ve tightened up their finances already, and they are keeping an eagle-eye on their cash flow and credit lines.

They’ve already started exploring what their customers want in cash-distressed times.  And they are experimenting with new lines.

Above all, self-starters are asking their customers for feedback about their tweaked services.  Self-starters are quick to action and they are continuously monitoring whether their activities are taking them towards their goal.

Proactivity

Proactive people are not just quick to action, they think ahead.  They are the planners of the world.  Because they are so good at thinking ahead and planning for various alternatives, sometimes they seem lazy.  They are those quiet people who don’t have to run around.  They’ve played through so many scenarios in their heads, they are ready for whatever comes up!

The proactives among us have already talked to everyone who remembers past recessions and they are able to run foward-cashflows for several scenarios.   They are on the look out for opportunities and they are busy working out how to arrive at the end of the recession in style & ready for the upturn.  They may even be organizing people and resources to exploit new opportunities!

Persistence

Persistent people are not stubborn.  They are quite flexible!  When distractions come up, they give them full attention, and then return to their work.  German psychologists have shown, for example, that expert computer programmers don’t make fewer errors than novices.  They just solve errors faster.  Getting back to our goals is important.

Persistent people know how to ‘conduct their blooming in the noise and whip of the whirlwind‘.  They know their strengths and their purpose in life.  For them the recession is not a distraction.  It is another context in which to make their special contribution to the world.

What’s your pattern?

I was always a bit of a self-starter – I always started an exercise before the teacher finished explaining!  I certainly feel alive when I am out-and-about the town talking to traders and the people I am inviting to my community site, Olney100.

With age, I’ve become less proactive.  I’ve come to believe the world is less predictable than I thought in my younger years.  And I would like to have better economic and financial knowledge!  Until I do, I’m working on two principles. We will find salvation by looking after each other and developing new industries which have the potential to sustain our standard of living.

Though I am a completer-finisher, with all the turmoil I’ve seen in the last ten years, I’ve come to believe that positive psychology is key.  It’s important to focus on what really matters in life.  If something makes me unhappy, I consider getting rid of it!  If a mortgage is keeps me awake at night, maybe I should lose it or radically restructure.  I am a work psychologist and I live in a town of 8000 souls.  A company of 8000 employees is small for me – so this is not the best place to live!  Nonetheless, I like it, and the best thing I ever did was to write down on a piece of paper 6 months ago this question: how can I bring my work to Olney?

Positive theorists estimate we can radically change our lives in one to two years by focusing on those things that are deeply important to us and simultaneously important to the well-being of others.

If you are being pulled in several directions at once, maybe you need the courage to write your direction down on a piece of paper and trust to your persistent instincts to work out an answer?

Come with me!

I don’t want to be over prepared for the recession.  Nor do I want to be frozen in fear.  If I were to sum up the work on initiative in three words, they would be : mindfulness, solidarity and self-compassion!

  • Have you done what needs to be done and have you made your work-routines your own?
  • Are you working with other people and sharing know-how about how to do business in a recession?
  • Are you being kind to yourself (and others)?  Do you recognize what you want out of life and what you uniquely contribute?  Are you allowing your special contribution to this world to work its way to the top-of-the-pile?

[MSC : Mice Seek Cheese]


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