Monday, May 30, 2016

Confirmation Bias of Beliefs

Each of us holds beliefs about the world around us; what we believe to be right, wrong and in between.  We hold various religious, political and scientific beliefs.  We believe in certain child rearing practices, hold various philosophical beliefs, we believe in different health and fitness regimes and even hold beliefs about the quality of different companies and brands of products.

Additionally, we hold beliefs about ourselves, our capabilities and potential.

When it comes to our beliefs it is important to note that there is a very strong unconscious tendency for us to favour information that confirms the beliefs we hold.  This is known as the Confirmation Bias, which states that all people, no matter how open-minded, will tend to favour all information and evidence that supports their pre-existing beliefs and views, discounting those that do not.

We each will find that it feels good to hear or read information that supports our beliefs, so we will be more active in seeking out such validation. Scientists and investigators, to name but two, must actively work against this bias if they are to ensure an unbiased approach to uncovering the truth, lest they simply 'see' proof that supports their presumed outcome. We may always start an experiment with a belief of 'what' will occur, but if we are not truly open to the possibility of an alternative outcome, to the possibility that our assumptions may be wrong, we will only look for evidence that supports our initial assertion.

Unbeknownst to us, Confirmation Bias has a heavy influence on our lives.  Consider the beliefs you hold about yourself, your capabilities, skills and potential.  These beliefs shape the actions you take, the opportunities you pursue and those you turn down.  In order to feel justified in our actions, we will unconscious seek out proof to support those beliefs.  Therefore,

  • if you believe that you are not good at math and therefore could not handle the additional financial responsibility of the manager's role, you will find mathematical errors you have made to verify this belief
  • if you believe that you are not athletic in any way, then you will use every misstep as a validation of your innate clumsiness and lack of athletic prowess
  • if you believe that you are not intellectual then you will use every book unread or piece of information unknown as an example proving it so
What's interesting about the Confirmation Bias is that we may skip past 5 pieces of information that prove our belief to be wrong, only to latch on to the one piece of information that proves us right. We work in supporting and building our beliefs, rather than actively working to disprove or tear them down.

This means then that the beliefs you hold about yourself are critical.  We can seek to actively work against our beliefs and disprove them, or we can ensure that the beliefs we hold about ourselves positively serve us, allowing the Confirmation Bias to work in support of those positive beliefs, helping to build us up.  The only way to determine this though is to invest the time in coming to understand the often unconscious beliefs we currently hold that are shaping and driving our behaviours and future.

Step 1.  Document your beliefs.  Start a belief diary, recording all of the beliefs that you currently hold about yourself.  What kind of a person do you believe yourself to be?  What kind of spouse, parent, sibling, friend, boss, peer? What do you believe your inherent strengths and weaknesses are? What are your values? What are your abilities? Jot down anything that comes to mind that you believe and hold to be true about yourself.

Step 2.  Examine your can'ts.  In order to gain an even deeper appreciation of the above, listen to every time you tell yourself that you can't, you don't, you aren't.  There is likely a belief hiding just behind those statements that is preventing you from stepping into action.  Some may serve you, but others may not.  In either event, add them to your diary.

Step 3.  Tweak your list.  Take a closer look at your beliefs list and highlight all of those that do not serve you.  If there are beliefs that limit you or your opportunities, then these are the beliefs that require some tweaking.  Knowing that the Confirmation Bias will actively find examples to support those beliefs, proving that you shouldn't and can't, reframe the statements in such a way that the bias works for you. For example, if your current belief is that you are a klutz and not athletic enough to play tennis, reframe it so that it is not such an all or nothing statement. Left as it is, every trip over a root or misstep will prove you are too uncoordinated to engage in tennis.  Instead, consider that you are coordinated and capable enough to play tennis (or any sport of your choosing).  Get your mind working on finding the validation for that statement so that you can get up off the couch and get out there.

We all hold different beliefs, assumptions and hypothesis.  We aren't looking to change that.  Nor are we looking to change the way the Confirmation Bias operates.  However, now that we know of its existence, we can use it more strategically, rather than being at its mercy.  Knowing we are going to actively seek out anything that supports our beliefs, it is important to be more deliberate in the creation of those beliefs, ensuring that they serve us and our desired future.  

Many of our beliefs were implanted by others and are therefore more reflective of their beliefs and not our own.  It is only by consciously challenging them and replacing them with beliefs that are more reflective of our reality and our desired future can we use the Confirmation Bias to validate how awesome we truly are.  

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Tip Thursday - Presence

When leaving voice messages, many people make the mistake of mumbling or rushing through their delivery. Know that the way you sound is driving the impression of 'You' that you are creating in the listener. It should go without saying but, before placing that call, be clear about the key messages you want to leave the other party, should you need to.

Before you begin recording that message, inhale and speak on the exhalation. This will instantly give your voice greater resonance and authority, which will help you establish greater presence and just may increase your call-back rate!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Tip Thursday - Time Management

When we say that 'We don't have time' to do something, it implies that we are overloaded. Not only does this send a signal to others that we are operating at capacity (and therefore should not be considered for that great new project) but it signals to our brains that we are overwhelmed, increasing our feelings of stress.

Instead, replace it with 'It's not my priority'.  The implication with this phrase is that your time, and how you spend it, is a choice. You are currently engaged in those activities of your choosing, that will propel you, your career and life, forward. If you are not happy with the way that things are going for you, then you have complete control over your priorities, and therefore have the time to implement the changes required.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Mondays Got You Down?

Ahhh... the weekend!  Many spend their week in anticipation of their upcoming weekend, their time
away from the grind of their workweek, only to find themselves spending half their weekend - Sunday - counting down the minutes until Monday once again arrives.  Research has indicated that people legitimately suffer from the Sunday Blues, anxiety that is brought on by thoughts of having to head to work the following day.  

The largest reason cited is that Mondays are typically the most stressful day of the week. Anticipating and worrying about how 'bad' heading back in to the office will likely be creates negative emotions that often lead us to be less productive on Monday, adding to our negative view of the day itself.

Psychology shows us that our current emotional state not only has a huge impact on our performance and productivity but that it also influences and impacts those around us.  So, our negative emotions don't just bring us down, but they drag down those around us!

Alexander Kjerulf, an international author and speaker on Happiness at Work (yes, it's possible!) says that the Monday Blues are so prevalent that they have become a cultural phenomenon that describe feelings of depression, tiredness and a sense that work is unpleasant and unavoidable. However, there are definitely ways that we can help to start our work week on a more positive note.  The following are 6 top suggestions from Happiness experts.

1.  Prepare Ahead.  Prepare for a positive Monday on Friday.  Leave yourself as few dreaded tasks, carried over from Friday, as possible. This not only helps your transition into the new workweek go much smoother but it also allows you to relax more fully over the weekend, which also de-stresses you.  Use Sunday night to prep ahead to, getting yourself organized to avoid the last minute rush that tends to spike those feelings of stress and anxiety.

2.  Focus on Positives.  Often we are focused solely on all of the difficult and tough tasks in store for us that week, failing to balance them with all of the activities we are excited about.  Start off the week by listing all of the things you are looking forward to that week to keep your energy up.

3.  Dress for Success.  Give yourself the boost or lift you need on Mondays by reserving your favourite or new outfits for those days.  Use the boost they give you to kick-start the week and snag a few compliments along the way.

4.  Schedule Light.  Knowing that Mondays can be hectic and stressful, don't add to them by over-booking your day.  Deliberately leave it a little lighter to give you room to manoeuvre.

5.  Plan Your Weekend.  Give yourself something to look forward to by having something positive lined up for the weekend.  If your weekend tends to serve only as a holding pattern in between work weeks then you are not allowing yourself time to decompress, to recharge, to experience some fun. If you can't build some fun into your workweek (which is also highly recommended) then make sure you give yourself something fun to look forward to over the course of the week.

6.  No TV on Sunday Night.  Although Neilson research shows that people watch the most television on Sunday nights, typically watching a lot of drama, it is not likely to be the best way to de-stress. Enjoy a relaxing dinner, go for a walk, read a book...  engage in activities that don't get your brain focusing on the tension and drama that may be in store for you in the workplace.  The better you are able to forestall worrying, the lower your anxiety likely will be.

Think of each work week as a new beginning, with Monday signalling your fresh start.  This opens up new positive avenues for you to let go of anything you've been beating yourself up over and to engage in more positive action.  Reframing Monday so that it represents beginnings and opportunities may be just what you need to stop hitting the snooze button and to jump into your week smiling.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Tip Thursday - Body Language

To appear more confident and authoritative, consider using Parallel Gestures.

These gestures are when both hands move in unison, which immediately makes you appear as though you know what you're talking about, more so than when you use asynchronous (one handed) gestures and motions.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Creating a Sense of Progress

Perhaps one of the biggest and most consistent leadership challenges that my clients face is the
puzzle of motivation.  They all struggle with how to motivate their people in an effort to keep them focused and producing.  They play with recognition and reward systems in an effort to keep productivity levels up.  Despite their inventiveness and creativity in whatever reward systems they create though, they continue to face challenges in motivation.

Taken down to the personal level though, individual clients also complain of a lack of motivation, often putting it down to the need to get too much done in too little time that they feel burnt out.  It is hard to get motivated to keep slogging when there is just so much more left to do and the end is not in sight.

As it turns out, this last statement is the key.  We are so caught up in being busy that we have lost sight of the 'end', of what it is that we are trying to achieve. We therefore are left at the end of the day having invested 8 hours (or more) of our lives, without any sense that we have made a difference, that we have completed anything of value. Researchers have found that giving people a clear Sense of Progress is more effective at getting people enthusiastic about what they are doing than giving them goals, incentives, recognition or any other kind of reward.  

In fact, this finding was so important that it was recognized as Harvard Business Review's number one breakthrough idea of 2010.  However, it seems that most of us didn't get the memo.  Perhaps because the Progress Principle really isn't all that sexy sounding even though it is effective.  
Progress Principle:  The more that people experience a sense of progress, the more motivated they will be to accomplish more. 
Marketers have long embraced this concept, using it to influence our buying patterns.  A Columbia University study determined that the closer we are to 'earning' a free coffee, the more frequently we start buying coffee. It seems simple enough, but upon closer examination, this is the Progress Principle at work.  Loyalty cards track our purchases, providing us with a method for tracking our progress toward the achievement of a goal, typically a 'freebie' of some kind. 

What's also important to consider is that our goal progress can even be 'illusory' and it will up our motivation.  Consider the impact of two different loyalty cards...
  1. A 10 stamp card - in order to get a free coffee
  2. A 12 stamp card, with the first 2 stamps 'given' to you as a bonus - in order to get a free coffee
In essence the two cards are identical, buy 10 coffees, get the next free. However, in studies, the owners of the second card purchased their 10 coffees faster than the members of the first loyalty card. Those two bonus stamps made people feel that they had already achieved some progress toward the goal, which left them feeling more motivated to take further action to complete the task.  The Sense of Progress is so powerful that even of Illusory Goal Progress motivates us forward.  

This is an important point to consider, especially after the completion of a goal.  In the first example above, when you redeem your card you are given a fresh, blank card to begin again.  However, research shows us that motivation and performance slow down appreciably right after a goal is achieved.  That blank card is a 'start again' moment that is disheartening, not motivating.  The 'Bonus Stamp' card though has already got a start made.  It already has a couple of small achievements noted that prove motivating toward taking the next steps. It helps get over the motivation drop following goal completion.

Interesting... but how can we use this and apply it to our own goals and challenges in order to up our productivity?
  1. Chunk a large project down into smaller goals.  It is far easier to monitor your progress using those smaller steps, which helps keep your motivation up.
  2. Each of your chunked project steps, when completed, become 'Bonus Stamps' for the next project chunk.  Your first couple of steps for a goal will always have some early components to it that are already done,  Typically we leave these off of the plan, because they have already been handled.  Instead, include them in your plan, giving yourself recognition for them and some 'Bonus Stamps' for the next phase. If they were steps someone else took before handing the rest over to you, include them anyway.  We know that Illusory Goal Progress works, get it working for you.
Loyalty cards are simply progress tracking systems. Ensure that you have systems in place that help you to track your progress.  Build your own personal system to help you track and reward your progress. We already know that we can be influenced by such systems to help others achieve their goals, why not put the same principle to work to help us stay on track and meeting our goals? 

Creating a Sense of Progress is far more effective at getting us enthusiastic about what we're doing. It serves to catalyze and nourish our motivation and spurs greater progress. We can easily see where our work has made a difference, helping us to feel more purposeful and valuable. If you feel that your motivation seems to have taken a vacation (if not relocated permanently to another city), build your own Big Project Loyalty Card system and see what tracking your progress more actively does to help bring your motivation back online.  

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Tip Thursday - Success

Truly successful people are extremely good at one thing you and I may overlook. They are very conscientious about managing their energy. They understand what gives them energy and work to increase those activities, while also being clear about minimizing their engagement in activities that reduce their energy. Know what feeds you, what depletes and... who feeds you, who depletes you.

The energy you have determines how much you do. Successful people tend to get more done often simply because they have the energy for it. Manage your energy like the critical resource it is!