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Learning agility and using fear as a catalyst

When learning something new, we instinctively keep it close and secret until we feel confident that we’ve got it down pat. Usually this is because we feel embarrassed by our clumsiness with new skills. However, we can’t learn until we apply our skills, which means a bit of screwing up. You’ll find that even though screwing up might be hard on your ego, it’ll increase the rate at which you learn and respond in unique situations.

This is because of a special nerve in our bodies, called the vagus nerve. As Christopher Bergland explains in this article on Psychology Today, “When people say ‘trust your gut’ they are in many ways saying, ‘trust your vagus nerve.’ Visceral feelings and gut-instincts are literally emotional intuitions transferred up to your brain via the vagus nerve.”

Bergland goes on to say that we can teach ourselves to respond positively to the “gut-feeling” we get from the vagus nerve by being in tune with the loop between our bodies and minds and using this awareness to our advantage. Instead of choking under pressure, which comes from a negative response from the vagus nerve, we can control its signals and stay calm under stress.

Now, I’m not saying that you should go out and look for the most stressful situation you can find and purposely make your learning experience as intense as possible. Many people thrive under pressure, while others do much better using more gradual methods, and I understand that. I do want to encourage you to push the limits you think you have when you’re taking on something new, because:

  1. Most of us underestimate ourselves.
  2. Most of us overestimate the thing we’re learning.
  3. You won’t really know how true either of the above are until you go out and see for yourself.

Examples of diving in:

-Giving a presentation using material you’re new to. Of course, don’t do this at your next big, job-on-the-line presentation, but do try out new materials, approaches and styles when you have a less career-defining presentation.

-Teaching yourself a skill that is outside your normal set of skills. If you’re a numbers wiz, try out some of the good literature. If you’re an extrovert, try meditation. If you’re shy, try the above suggestion!

-Wearing your mistakes as badges, knowing that each falter invariably pushes you closer to mastery.

How do you deal with handling pressure? How does it impact your ability to learn?

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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white-flag

Our society goes on and on about the power of persistence. We’ve all heard the story of Thomas Edison trying thousands of times before finally getting the light bulb right, or of Martin Luther King Jr. bringing about social change against enormous odds. We idolize figures who strive against great obstacles and persevere, unwilling to give up.

To be sure, persistence and resilience in the face of hardship are admirable characteristics. But many blame themselves unfairly for not having success with something that might not be feasible. There are circumstances that no amount of will power can impact, and these are the times when the courageous thing to do, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, would be to let it go and move on.

But you may be wondering, how do you know when to let it go? Wouldn’t we still be using gas lamps if Edison had let go of his vision to invent the incandescent light bulb?

It is tough to know when to count your losses when you’re right in the thick of it, be it a project or goal or what-have-you. Making it harder still is that social stigma of being a perceived failure. However, there are a few key questions you can ask yourself that will help you know if you should let it go (for now!), and help yourself in the long run.

1. Is my goal feasible? Ways to determine this: Do I have a detailed game plan? What are the concrete steps to achieving my goal? Can I do it on my own? If not, who have I enlisted for support?

2. Am I making progress? If you’re heart is truly in it, you’ll see results, even if they are miniscule. But if you find yourself drifting away, it may be because deep down this project isn’t right for you at this time, and there’s absolutely no shame in acknowledging that.

3. Has the process thus far had an overall positive or negative effect on my life? There’s healthy stress that motivates us to keep going, and then there’s unhealthy stress, which crosses over into other parts of our lives and brings our general happiness down. If the goal feels like a burden you cannot handle, then it may be time to let it go.

4. Do I really, truly, deep down want this?

Consider these questions, and be okay with setting things aside if that’s what you feel is best for you. Acknowledging that you may need to let it go for a bit shows great maturity and self-awareness, and that’s something to be proud of! Remember: in the long run, you’re preparing yourself for even greater success.

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busy calender good

According to this Harvard Business Review blog post, we’ve been thinking about it all wrong when we talk about time management. It’s like dieting vs. being healthy, says productivity expert Jordan Cohen. You may diet all you want, but that doesn’t necessarily make you healthier. In the same way, you can “manage time” to a tee, but this doesn’t automatically boost your productivity.

This certainly made me raise my eyebrows upon reading it. After all, the concept of time management is considered a given in business and leadership circles. But when I thought about it more, I realized there’s truth to this. Time isn’t what you need to rearrange in order to succeed. Time is the constant. When we talk about time management, then, what we’re really talking about is managing our workload. If we rely too heavily on managing our time, we run the risk of neglecting the real problems we run up against when our workload overpowers us.

Solutions to workload management are:

Saying no. You have the power to turn things down, even though this is something that is tricky for a lot of people. If you’re scrambling to get anything done, if you’re having trouble taking care of basic things in your personal life, or if you don’t have free time where you can relax, then you have over-scheduled yourself.

Experimenting with different workload management practices. The saying goes that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If you consistently find yourself drowning in work, seek out new self-management approaches. Mix it up. Change your schedule. Don’t settle on one “right way” to get things done, because you need to be able to adapt and get outside of your comfort zone in order to succeed.

Keeping track of what works for you, and what needs to change. Piggybacking in the above point, we are creatures of habit, and often we find ourselves deeply entrenched in bad habits without even realizing it. If you struggle with being on time, pay attention to behavioral patterns that might be the real reason for your tardiness. Look over your week and take note of where you succeeded to meet your goals, and where you fell short. Ask yourself what you might change to do better next week.

There are many resources available to help you find work load management ideas and insights. For starters, check out the Mindtools website. It has quizzes, goal-setting resources and scheduling advice.

Have a great week!

 

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bookshelf_header

As you take your summer trip, lay out on the beach, or simply lounge in your backyard, a great book can really be the icing on the cake.

I’m often asked what I’m reading as it relates to business and leadership, so I thought I’d share a few of my personal favorites on the subject. Since it’s summer, I kept the textbooks off the list. But don’t be fooled: While they may be “light” reading, the insights they carry pack a punch.

1. Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown.

daringgreatly_final525-resized-600Brown shares an idea that at first seems counterintuitive: that we draw courage from being vulnerable. But in her engaging style, she soon demonstrates how this simple principle can transform the way we take risks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. The Art of Procrastination, by John Perry

the art of procrastinationThis book is short and sweet, but it tackles that challenge we all face. Namely, how do we battle that urge to put important things off? Perry suggests that we shouldn’t try to stop procrastinating all together, but that we can learn to use procrastination as a tool to our advantage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Love Leadership, by John Hope Bryant

love leadershipBryant elegantly lays out why leading with love is the most powerful way to lead. Packed with personal stories that really drive the message home, this book has had a great impact on me, as it has helped me grow into a compassionate leader.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni

5dysfunctionsWritten as a fable about one terribly dysfunctional fictional company, Lencioni reveals his five dysfunctions–absence of trust; fear of conflict; lack of committment; avoidance of accountability; and inattention to results–with engrossing characters and stories. We learn how teams should operate by seeing a demonstration of all the wrong behaviors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy reading!

 

 

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In this snippet from one of her talks, Dr. Sheila Murray Bethel gives us her five characteristics every good leader needs.

Her five F’s are:

Fast

Focused

Flexible

Fluid

Futurized 

I like how she not only establishes some very important leadership attributes, but also stresses the importance of being able to jump from one skill to the next. In a leadership role, you need to be fast on your feet as things develop on the fly. At the same time, you must stay focused on the project and on the people working with you. The attribute that lets you do this is flexibility. You must be able to be on high gear in one moment, then slow it down to address the needs of an individual, and then turn it back on high gear.

From experience, I can tell you that all this running around and focusing on all the various needs of the organization gets exhausting. Many leaders burn out pretty quickly. This is why I think Dr. Bethel’s last point, being futurized, is a very fitting point to end on. Having vision and being forward-thinking are what keep you centered and motivated. So, while you might get tired from all the running around and changing gears to address new developments as they pop up, you won’t burn out, because you know what you’re working toward.

What are your thoughts on Dr. Bethel’s five F’s? What kind of leadership principles are on your list?

Have a great week, it looks like spring is finally upon us!

 

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building-blocks

For those of you just getting started on your career, or for those who may be in a transitionary period, you may be running up against the “catch-22” of the job hunt. You know what I’m talking about, that annoying part of a job advertisement that says “entry level position,” followed directly by “three years of experience required.”

Here are a few tried-and-true ways to get the career ball rolling. Remember, the beginning of anyone’s career is often sluggish, so it’s imperative that you follow the Three P’s, and stay patient, persistent and positive.

1. Take Any Opportunity That Comes Your Way.

Even if it’s volunteer work or an unpaid internship, if it has anything to do with your field, say yes. You can’t afford to be too picky at first. Any experience looks great on a resume, but more importantly, any experience equips you with the confidence in yourself to meet your career goals.

2. Be Conscious of Your Personal Brand.

What are your strengths? Where do your interests lie? How do these apply to the field you’d like to break into? How will employers perceive you, and more importantly, how are you demonstrating your skills and strengths? These are questions that you must be able to answer in order to be a competitive prospective employee.

3. Network, network, network!

Do informational interviews. Follow up on leads. Keep your LinkedIn profile and your resume current. You never know if and when you’ll encounter the big breakthrough, so be ready at all times.

4. Don’t Be Discouraged.

Sometimes the market is just plain old tough tough, and that’s not your fault. All you can do is your best. Don’t let a bad economy make you feel like you’re not qualified. Staying proactive even in when jobs are scarce will show employers your resilience, which will help you land the job when the time comes.

5. Take Advantage of the Internet.

We live in a unique time: the information age. There are countless online resources at your disposal, including social media sites, job listings, blogs, and event notifications. Keep your eyes peeled and learn all you can.

Good luck!

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Arrogant-man

At first glance, confidence and arrogance share many of the same trademarks: head held high, an ability to dive in and speak up, and a sense of pride in accomplishments. Upon deeper examination, however, arrogance and confidence stand in stark contrast with each other. The best way to distinguish between the two is to ask yourself, “Upon what grounds am I basing my pride?”

1. Cockiness is delusional.

An arrogant person believes their accomplishments are the result of their inherent greatness. They assume, with or without evidence, that they’re better than most everyone else. They don’t take into account the people around them who’ve helped them in the past, or the special circumstances they arrived in that gave them a boost. They lack a sense of gratitude toward the world.

You can see how arrogant thinking is faulty thinking, since nobody became great all on their own. Every present accomplishment is one of a long line of accomplishments, each building off the previous one. No one, regardless of their intelligence, courage, or ambition, can take all the credit for the great work they do. We don’t exist in a vacuum, we exist in a community. Arrogant thinking likes to ignore this fact.

2. Confidence reflects reality.

Healthy confidence, on the other hand, is the practice of learning to ignore what I like to call the “self-saboteur,” that little voice in your head that whispers, “Don’t ask that question, you’ll look stupid,” or, “You aren’t at all prepared to take that on, don’t even try.” The self-saboteur constantly makes you doubt your every thought, motive and goal. In the same way that arrogant thinking is based on lies, the self-saboteur lies to you when it neglects your abilities and undermines your judgment. We must learn to ignore this liar.

Those with confidence issues chronically refuse to give themselves the credit they deserve. Not only is this unfair, it creates an untrue public persona. Why should others place their faith in you when it is clear to them that you don’t have faith in yourself? This can lead to a dangerous downward spiral of self-sabotage at its worst.

If you struggle with self-confidence, reverse the spiral by acknowledging your strengths and achievements. Own it. It is okay to feel good about your talents. You can, and should, pat yourself on the back when you accomplish a goal. And don’t worry about bragging. If you’re worrying about bragging, you probably aren’t arrogant. That thought doesn’t cross the arrogant person’s mind.

3. Confident people learn from their mistakes. Arrogant people do not. 

The confident person sees every failure as a necessary setback which brings them closer to excellence in the long run. In fact, without failure, there can be no excellence. They acknowledge their mistake and move forward with an enhanced knowledge of what not to do. The arrogant person, on the other hand, believes they are incapable of failure. Someone else must be to blame, not them, and so the cycle of entitlement continues.

While the arrogant person is still stuck in their deluded world, you’re miles ahead, having grappled, learned and grown.

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