Seek practice, not perfection.

In speaking with a client today, discussing a recent failure to win some new business, she said, “You know, I notice in recounting this event that I really expect myself to be perfect, to do everything right.”  She was caught in a cycle of assessing what she did wrong, identifying plausible reasons for not winning the client, and beating herself up for this 'failure.'

As someone who considers myself a bit of a perfectionist as well, I could empathize with the constraint she was feeling, and hear how she was trapped in a No-Win situation.  So we began to explore how this expectation she has is limiting.  Being a perfection-seeker doesn’t mean you end up doing things perfectly all the time, but it does give you a pretty serious yardstick to measure yourself by, for good or for ill.  One could say that it has you operating in a context where failure is predictable, even.  As a perfectionist, do you find yourself saying, “See, there it is, I did that PERFECTLY!” or perhaps more often identifying flaws of how things haven't turned out as perfectly as you had hoped? 

Nothing and no one is PERFECT, but that doesn’t keep some of us from expecting or demanding perfection…of our performance, in our relationships, in the environment around us.

What became clear in our coaching session is that her need to be perfect (undistinguished, in the background) limits how much risk she was willing to take on, keeping her from being bold, perhaps standing in her way of fulfilling on some really big ‘wins' -- which are all things she'd really like to experience in her business.  

My client was freed-up in the moment to see the pattern, and courageous enough to be willing to interrupt it.  Launching a new year in business, she decided to look for opportunities to take risk in her business — places she could hold up a new yardstick, swing out, go after jobs that interest her even though she may not be able to demonstrate perfection.  She has opted for a temporary mantra to “seek practice, not perfection.”  


What? You're Not in the Mood?!

You are down, you feel a bit off, disconnected, even.  Maybe you are in a dopey mood and just want to pull the covers over your head.  There's probably some negative or disempowering conversation happening in your head, am I right?  But it's not a crisis, nor an entirely unfamiliar state, come to think of it -- you'll shake it off soon enough. It's no big deal, except have a social occasion to attend! 

This leaves you a bit conflicted, because you generally enjoy people's company, having good conversation and socialising.  Sometimes you are even the life of the party!  But right now you are NOT THAT.  In your current state of mind, you'd really rather skip it, and your mood isn't helping!  

So what do you do?  Many people in this circumstance will bow to their feelings in the moment, and change plans.  You might be tempted to make some excuse (which you know is both lame and untrue, but who wants to broadcast such feelings?!?) or just fail to show up. 

There is an alternative -- 3 Simple Steps to Getting Connected -- which may lead you a different way, and leave you feeling proud of yourself, rather than sheepishly letting your emotions get the best of you.  This presumes of course that you don't opt out of your commitment, and you go anyway, despite your feelings.  

Here's the way to alter what comes next: 

#1 Come out of yourself and your own problems.  While your mind really wants to distract you with your own little pity party right now, you will need to set this aside.  Stop dwelling on your view of your own issues for the next few hours and look outside yourself.  The ticket to connecting with others is to be 'out here' with others, not inside your own head. It's a good signal, and should be a relief, given you aren't having much fun preoccupied with the noise in your head anyway!

#2 Listen, listen, listen... to others. You aren't feeling very conversational right now anyway, so don't try to manufacture something to say -- just to make conversation, be polite or clever.  While you enjoy engaging in good conversation, your mood isn't the best starting point at the moment, so fire up your listening skills and use them authentically.  Make it an experiment to find something more interesting to pay attention to, right now.  The quality of listening you provide will directly correlate to the quality of the conversation that emerges, particularly if you...

#3 Get interested in discovering another.  To discover what's interesting about those around you, you need to generate real interest. While that might seem hard, it can't be any harder than listening to the tapes playing in your head -- it's really just a muscle to practice.  If you think about it, surely you can probably remember a time when someone was so genuinely interested in what you were saying, you found yourself with pearls dripping off your tongue, amazed yourself at what you were recounting, the insights that arose.  You may not have recognised yourself as the wise, clever, amazing conversationalist you were being.  Consider that you showed up that way because you had a genuine listener.  Now, you can play that role for another -- and it's a self validating circle of engagement!  

So, next time you aren't feeling social, or are a little disempowered, don't let your feelings, which are temporary, get the best of you. Alter your experience instead.  The access to enjoying yourself is by taking charge of your own thinking and intentionally practicing 'ways of being' that allow for connecting with other people: take the attention off yourself, listen actively, and generate genuine interest in others.  

Good luck, and let me know how it goes.  

Are you a Change Maker?

Are you in some way or another in the business of change?  If so, I have a challenge for you, more accurately an enquiry to engage in.  However, it begins with an assertionYour effectiveness is directly correlated to the language you use and will determine your success or failure to affect the change you want to cause.  Duh, right?  Or, perhaps you have no idea what I'm talking about.  When you describe the situation you are in, or the circumstances you face, or the challenge you have ahead of you -- otherwise known as your reality -- your words are 'infected' in ways you are unaware of. 

I was at a recent social gathering, made up mostly of business people, educators, government types, and some activists, all interested in the area of sustainability.  I had a bit of an epiphany as I was listening to the presenter of the night.  He was sharing about his life, the various ways he's engaged in and supporting sustainability efforts, and at some stage near the end as he answered an audience member's question, he said, "you know, change is hard."

Holy Toledo!  Immediately after he uttered these words, I was aware of the impact of this statement -- I envisioned a barbed-wire fence being erected around my visionary efforts of making a difference. I wanted to interrupt him, stop him dead in his tracks and argue with him, but my manners kicked in, realising how rude it would be to derail this good man's time in the spotlight.  However, I did begin to mull over the nature of the barrier now palpable to me in the space.  And, I suspect he, as well as others in the room, was unaware of the crippling effect of the conversation or context he is perpetuating with that statement.  Could it be that perpetuating this myth -- Change is Hard -- is in fact getting in the way of people's honest efforts at causing change?

After my immediate emotional response of annoyance (..."Just how stupid can you be," my judgemental self queried inside my head, "If you are in the change making business, why create a vision of the future as HARD -- isn't that like burying a landmine in territory you hope to conquer?"  Or in a commercial setting, like trying to sell a car, say a Maserati, and in the process telling a prospective buyer that it is hard to drive?  Hmmph, bad idea!  No better to suggest someone move to an Apple Macbook for all its cool features, but in the next breath tell them that the switch from Windows to Apple is a 'tough road to hoe.'  From a sheer marketing perspective, it makes no sense to put a barrier in the way if you want someone to alter their behaviour. 

Why are we all so darned attached to the notion that Change is Hard?  And why is this useless, seemingly destructive conversation hanging around?  First of all, this is not a truism, but there are very few people who will disagree with you if you make that statement.  Change in and of itself is not hard, but on a societal level, many of us have agreed upon the norm that it is.  In actual fact, the actions we take as we change behaviours are not hard, in and of themselves, they are just different actions from those we were taking before.  

Some aspects of making change can occur as challenging, but actually the actions themselves aren't intrinsically hard -- that is really only a story we've wrapped around the oft felt desire, as humans, to stay in our comfort zone, doing what is familiar and what we know how to do, even to the degree that we can do so mindlessly, or even counter-productively.  The other side of the coin in this story is that doing what is familiar is easy...that's no more true as a story!  

Let's make it real with an example:  I've decided I want to lose some weight, and I start with trying to eat a bit healthier.  I'm currently in the habit of eating potato chips for an afternoon snack when I stroll the park for some fresh air on my afternoon break.  Buying an apple is as easy as buying a packet of chips, right?  Walking and eating chosen snack -- materially no difference in scale of difficulty.  Disposing of the rubbish (apple core or plastic packaging) afterwards -- pretty identical as a task.  Is one action really harder than the other, if you take a closer look?  Nope!  

Ah, but you say, it has to do with will power, that's why it's hard!  Granted, that could impact your choice -- you want the chips more, you like the taste better. However, the bottom line:  you know one is healthier than the other and it's an obvious choice if you have decided you want to lose some weight.  Okay, I know I'm being a bit 'thick' in suggesting there is no impact or challenge involved, of course there is.  But, what if the experience of "hard" comes from what you choose to say about it?  

If you bring some awareness to your language, you could say apples taste much better than chips, or you could just as easily say you like chips better!  You choose what to eat in your actions, what if that is impacted by what you actually say about the  apple or chips?  You could say you enjoy yourself more when eating the chips...or the apple -- it's all made up!  What story about this simple action do you choose to repeat (either to yourself or others) -- in light of the fact that you have a new found commitment to your health?  More importantly, are you a lazy linguist who perpetuates the story that "changing my eating habits is hard"?

Anyone who really wants to accomplish something new that requires changing a  habit has the power (and is the only one with it!) to do so.  It gets a little tricky when it comes to changing others, however, because at the end of the day, ONLY the person in the driver's seat has the power to take a new action; I couldn't do it for them even if I was a military dictator.  

Alas, if I look at what I say, and map on the notion that my behaviour is directly impacted by the words I actually speak, I will have more power eliciting change in both myself and others by paying attention to, and changing, the stories I tell.  In the case of supporting a friend who wants to get on the healthy eating program, I'm quite certain it would be wise of me to refrain from the utterance, "Potato chips are the best!"  

Now, if you've been mulling over what change you are hoping to cause in the world, how about take a good hard look at the words actually coming out of your mouth -- become a detective for any language you are using that is working against your cause -- and stop saying it, NOW!

Good luck, change maker.