Monday, May 30, 2011

Dream Less... but Expect More!

We have all been told, on numerous occasions I'm sure, to dream big, that if we can't dream it we can't
achieve it. The cold hard truth is though... Dreaming doesn't make it so. It turns out that thinking about what we want in life doesn't get us closer to achieving more. However, becoming clear about what we 'expect' will.

The Placebo Effect in medicating and treating individuals is well documented. A sugar pill, administered to a patient who expects it to reduce their pain, will typically experience pain relief. The patient expected the 'drug' they were receiving to be effective, to a certain degree, in reducing their pain and therefore they experienced that degree of pain relief.

In a well-known study, students were divided into two groups; high and low IQ. Only teachers were informed which group each student was in. The students knew nothing of the division. After eight months, the High IQ group was performing significantly better than the Low IQ group. However, unbeknownst to the teachers, the students had been randomly assigned to the two groups. The groups actually had no bearing on the actual IQ of the students. Remember also, the students knew nothing about the assigned groups and yet their performance suffered due to the arbitrary classification. The determining factor? The expectations of the teachers themselves. The teachers 'knew' which group each student belonged to and therefore had different expectations for each that unconsciously influenced the results and achievements of each.

This is big. Think about it for a minute. What you expect of/from others influences what you will likely receive from them. Pretty powerful stuff!

Take this concept and apply it back to the concept of your dreams. We all know that our dreams aren't true. We don't really expect them to occur, we don't hold them as a certainty. Is it little wonder that we don't achieve them? Instead, we have to reframe our dreams as certainties. We have to 'expect' them to occur if we want to truly experience and achieve them. It is through these unshakeable expectations that we continue to persevere, that we continue to move forward. It is this certainty of expectation that helps us to cope with frustration and disappointment along the way. We may experience setbacks but we are better poised to keep going and pushing through when we expect that things will turn around.

I see this phenomena play out often with coaching clients. It is not unusual for people to express a desire for more, better or different in their lives. However, when questioned about their expectations, I find that although they would like or hope for better, they don't truly 'expect' things to change. As a result, they don't tend to engage in the behaviours necessary to drive the change they want. If you don't expect that your efforts will make a difference, you'll be hard pressed to expense the time and energy into those efforts.

Our expectations are critical to our experienced outcomes. Note that expectancy is a non-conscious process. It is an unconscious prediction that manifests in the conscious mind as a certainty. Hoping for something does not convey that same sense of certainty that expectancy does, therefore you do not feel the same compulsion to invest in making it happen. Expectations drive attitudes and behaviours which, in turn, lead you to engage in actions that drive your desired (expected) results. Hoping or wishing for something does not generate a call to action and therefore you tend to remain safely ensconced in your armchair, surrounding by those unfulfilled hopes.

How does this look?
  • You hope to win a lottery some day but you expect to spend the rest of your life earning $50,000.00 per year. Your current salary? $50,000.00. Typically, research shows us that we each tend to earn the salary that we truly expect that we are worth, that we expect is possible for us.
  • You want that new promotion, but you expect the boss to say no. You're not surprised when that is what they say.
  • You want to lose weight and keep it off but you expect that you will always have to struggle with your weight and yo-yo dieting. Sure enough, you somehow manage to regain those 10 pounds you just lost
Sound familiar?

The difference between wanting or hoping for something and what our true expectations are is the key differential in what we truly experience and receive in our lives. If you truly want something different, then you need to build the expectations that will support that desire. Challenge your limiting beliefs and existing expectations, replacing them with those that support those desires and dreams. Otherwise... they will continue to remain simply hopes and dreams, as ethereal and unreachable as the clouds drifting by outside of my window.

In a nutshell...we GET what we EXPECT. 

Was this blog post insightful, interesting and helpful for you?  I expect so!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Balancing our Diet of Information

If you've been reading this blog regularly (and really, why wouldn't you?), you know that I love books, I love new ideas and I especially love books that bring us new ideas!  I've come to accept that not everyone loves books as I do, but I am a strong believer in the need for people to be open to, if not love, collecting new ideas.  In this way, the internet has been a tremendous gift to use, bringing access to new ideas, new thoughts, to our doorstep.  Or... does it?

In his book "The Filter Bubble", author Eli Pariser speaks openly about how the algorithmic editing of information on the web is significantly impacting our online experience.  These algorithms are based on our personal choices, mainly driven by what we 'click' on first.  As a result, they begin to tailor our query results and show us what they think we 'want' to see, not necessarily what we truly 'need' to see.  We therefore get caught in a 'filter bubble' that limits our exposure to a variety of information. 

We may receive information that fits our current mindset, but we no longer receive the variety of information that may serve to educate, enlighten or inspire us to learn or grow our ideas.  If we liken the information we take in to the food we take in, then instead of a healthy, balanced diet of information, we end up with a junk food diet of information.  Enough to sustain, but not built to nurture or develop new ideas.  We strengthen our current repetoire of ideas and views, but we don't expand them. Over time perhaps, we even begin to weaken and stagnate, much as our muscles may atrophy.

Just as we need to ensure that those online filters aren't limiting our search results, we need to actively work to ensure that we are exposed to messages, even if those ideas only serve to solidify the ones we have.  More often than not though, we're more likely to find ourselves beginning to link thoughts, ideas and concepts in ways that wouldn't have been possible without the intake of new information, providing us with stronger solutions, clarity in our thinking and perhaps, totally new and innovative ideas.

To be a leader, not a follower,
To be innovative, rather than conventional,
To develop the 'best' solutions, not just 'a' solution,
To grow, not stagnate...

... we need to be exposed to new ideas.  We need to expand our way of thinking by being exposed to the thoughts of others.  I know, I can hear you thinking... but who has the time?  This needn't be a practice that involves a great deal of time or exploration, but it does need to be strategic.  We're not talking here about your researching or reading only about those topics that you currently know and enjoy.  Learning can, and should, be uncomfortable at times, but if you want to challenge some of your existing knowledge and beliefs you have to get uncomfortable!

The Work:
  • Follow a couple of bloggers that are knowledgeable about areas outside your direct area of expertise.  Don't just follow those that think like you, follow a couple of people that think differently.  Hear what they have to say.  Relate it to your thoughts on the subject and consider whether it has an impact on how you feel, relate to, think about that subject now.  I often find that listening to someone's ideas on a totally unrelated subject can bring me insight and clarity to my particular issues.  It's often surprising how much you can take from other disciplines and apply to your own, helping you to grow and develop faster.
  • I love TED.  When I have 10 or 15 minutes between client calls or visits, I will often call up a TED talk randomly to watch and listen to.  ( for those of you that have not yet experienced this!)  I have yet to listen to one of these short talks that did not serve to provide me with a new thought or insight.  If you've got a couple of minutes to spare at some point during your week, check them out and discover something new, inspiring, earth-changing perhaps.  This is a perfect resource for those that don't like to read...  learn by watching a quality video!
  • Conduct a mini survey.  Ask a number of senior managers in your firm, or outside of your firm,  what they felt the 2 best books were that have helped them with their careers.  Amalgamate the results.  Read the top two or three.  Conduct a similar survey with a different question...  two best books on leadership, on business strategy, on marketing techniques, on sales approaches, on influence.  Instead of books, conduct a survey on who they feel two of the most influential people are in a particular field...  see if they have a blog/website and follow them
In the end, it's not about the route you decide to take to expose yourself to new ideas, it's just important that you do it!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Got a Goal? Keep it to Yourself!

Got a goal? Want to increase the odds of achieving it? The latest research out is showing us that you increase your odds significantly if you don't tell anyone about it!

For years research has shown us that the mere act of writing down your goals gives them a permanence and reality in your brain that helps drive you toward achieving them. In studies, participants that wrote down their goals, versus those that did not, were more than 60% likely to achieve them.

If Step One in achieving our goals is to define them, then Step Two must certainly be the need to write them down.

Our typical third step is usually to start talking to others about our goal. Conventional wisdom has typically said that telling others about our goals helps to motivate us to succeed and, also, creates a form of peer pressure to persevere. We aren't going to want to share with others that we abandoned our quest and we therefore keep on pushing toward it.

New research out though, shows that this conventional wisdom is, in fact, a fallacy.  It seems that typically, when we share our 'big' goal with someone else, they will get excited about it. Their excitement, in turn, makes us feel good about ourselves and our goal. This feeling serves to convince the brain that the goal has already been achieved and it stops driving you forward.

This phenomena is referred to, in psychological circles, as Social Reality. It's the impact of that social gratification on the brain's perception of what is real and what is, as yet, still a thought or ideal. The very acknowledgment by others of your goal, gives it a reality in the mind's eye that leads you to be less motivated toward achieving it than more.

The bottom line therefore is that 'telling' someone about your goal will typically make it less likely to happen. But we are, by nature, relatively social creatures. When we are excited about an idea or a goal we naturally want to share that excitement with others. If you feel the need to share your goal, but want to avoid the social gratification trap, make sure that you emphasize how much work you still have to do, how much further you still have to push, in its achievement. You need to clearly let your brain know that it is not a fait accomplis but rather a work still in progress.

So, Step Three in the goal achievement process?  Keep your mouth shut!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Why Getting it Wrong... can be the Right Thing to Do

Think about it.  Most people do everything they can to avoid being wrong.  We put a lot of time and effort into doing what we can to prevent even the possibility of being wrong.  And... we learned this early.  In public school we learned that when it came to raising our hands to answer a question, we needed to make sure we had the 'right' answer, or we risked embarrassing ourselves in front of our classmates.  We learned that we needed to study to make those 'A' grades, or risk being embarrassed, whether with peers or parents, about the grade we did get.

Let's face it.  If we fell short of that perfect mark, we were far more likely to focus on the answers we got wrong, to question the 'why' of getting it wrong, to 'feel' bad about those answers we missed, than we were to focus on those we got right and to celebrate the number of times we were 'right' in our answers.

Think about it.  We tend to get stuck in the feeling of being right, the need to 'be' right, primarily in an effort to avoid how we feel when we realize that we're wrong.  It's not the actual 'being' wrong that carries this emotional impact though, it's our interpretation and how we respond to the realization we were wrong that creates and carries that emotion.  It's our response to 'wrongness' that does it.  Somehow we have managed to equate being wrong about something to there being something wrong with us.

However, in dialogues with some of the greatest, brightest thinkers of our times we have learned one key necessary attribute they all possessed.  Consider this the secret key to your future success, it is that important.  Each of these bright people, these successful people, were willing to get it wrong, before they got it right.  That's it.  Be willing to get it wrong, before getting it right. 

The magic in this rests in the fact though that they didn't internalize the 'wrongness'.  They separated the action from their sense of self.  The action they took was 'wrong', but it didn't make them 'wrong'.  Each time they were wrong in a choice they eliminated one possibility off of their list of possibilities.  It taught them a lesson.  Learning from the mistake, the wrong turn, helped lead them to their breakthrough moment.  To do this though, they had to be prepared to accept error, to embrace the messages that came with being wrong. 

For us to advance in our lives, to enjoy greater success, we too need to learn to accept the lessons that accompany being wrong, to embrace our 'right to be wrong', as part of the growth process, and to move closer to our desired 'right' result.  Our fear of being wrong holds us back from achieving this though.  Our fear of others thinking we're wrong, prevents us from trying.  Adopting the response of... 'Ahhh, I'm wrong today, but one step closer to being right'...  frees us to begin making choices today, rather than waiting until we are sure we are right.

Having to be 'right' before we act is debilitating.  Embracing the possibility of being wrong... liberating.  After all, making mistakes is what being human is all about... and I don't think I'm wrong about that!

(great reference on this topic, from 'wrongologist' Kathryn Schulz)

Monday, May 2, 2011

What's in a Name?

Most networking classes tell you that there is no sound as appealing to someone as the sound of their own name... therefore you should use the other person's name a couple of times in conversation to help you connect more readily with them.  However, research into the power of 'Names' shows us that our names might be much more influential than we ever imagined.  Consider the following...

  • Your name can help determine your career choice.  Studies have found that people with the surname of  'Doctor' are more likely to be doctors than lawyers, while those with the surname of 'Lawyer' were more likely to be (yes, you've got it!) lawyers than doctors.  Additionally, other studies have found that even the sound of your first name can help determine (influence) your career choice.  For instance, someone named Dennis is more likely to be a Dentist than can be explained by random choice. 
  • The alphabetical order that children line up in, during their earlier years, may affect their decision-making processes.  Research just out is finding that People whose last name falls later in the alphabetical list tend to respond to opportunities more quickly than those with a surname starting earlier in the alphabet.  Lining children up according to their last name seems to program those at the end of the line to respond to offers more quickly - correcting for the inequity experienced earlier in life.
  • Results have shown that adolescents with unpopular names are more likely to engage in criminal activity.  Although not the cause of crime itself, it appears that the names of these children are connected to factors that increase the tendency to commit crime (such as treatment from peers).
  • There are strong stereotypical expectations associated with certain names, which has often been shown to lead to unconscious treatment differences amongst children.  Certain names are consistently associated with certain traits that then influence the expectations that others have of them.  Having a name that others associate with stupidity makes getting an 'A' on your term paper that much harder, research shows.
  • Name Letter Branding has a significant influence on your everyday choices.  A series of studies shows that our initials tend to influence our brand choices.  Peter will prefer Pepsi, while Carl will like Coke.  Basically put... if a brand name shares our initials, we tend to like it more.  The influence effect carries over to include where you live, towns and street names, products...  The effect is stronger when people are making their decisions based on their feelings... on how the product makes them feel.
  • In one study, student's initials were compared with their GPAs.  The result?  Students who had C or D as an initial had lower GPAs than students who had A or B as an initial.
  • In baseball, strikeouts are recorded using the letter K. In analyzing over 93 years of Major League Baseball players performances it was found that batters whose names began with a K struck out slightly more often than batters whose names did not.
The results of these studies definitely indicate that our names are much more powerful and influential than we may have realized.  Certainly, our parents likely weren't aware of the potential impact of their choices, agonizing mostly over which side of the family to name the baby after or the sound of the combination of the first and last names.  Personally... I'm glad my children are all named already and it's too late to go back!  (thankfully, they seem to have survived without a significant negative impact!).  For those of you just starting a family and in the process of selecting a name?  Well...  you might want to eliminate your pangs of guilt and 'naming' stress by purchasing a dart board and blindfold!