Learning New Behaviors
I first went into therapy years ago because my life was unmanageable and I wanted things to be different. Newly married, renovating our house by myself, high-stress 12-hour a day job as an executive speechwriter for a 4-star general, and working on a masters degree. I had no free time. At the first therapy session I said something like, "can you just give me some tools and fix me? I'm a hard worker so this should take a month, right?" My present self looks back at my past self and heartily laughs at my naiveté. Hahaha! If only it worked like that.
I've had more clients than I can count walk in my door with similar requests. "I am so busy that I don't have time to read about how to adapt new habits or learn new skills. Do you offer an express conversion I can do in a month where I just watch some videos?"
When a leader sets to develop new skills, habits or behaviors, the quality that dictates success more than any other is....practice. If you practice, you will improve your ability. If you don't practice, you won't. Expecting immediate change without practice is as ridiculous as driving on the right side in the US for 30 years, then moving to Scotland and expecting to be an expert on the left side. In order to learn to drive on the other side of the road, you have to go back to being a beginner and practice. You don't have to become an expert at left side driving, simply good enough will do.
So yes leader I believe you when you say you are too busy to make time to learn a new skill because I've been there. And if you want to develop that new skill you'll need to carve out some time.
I'll leave you with evidence to prove my point. How did you learn to tie your shoes or use a pencil?
Gnarled trunk full of scars radiating golden energy
Your spiral trunk and limbs wave
Saying hello to all who pass by
You welcome all the forest creatures with open arms
True acts of service without expecting in return
Shade, safety, comfort, succor
You’ve faced many battles and never complain
With a pine smell that tickles the olfactory senses
You are the old hardware store in the forest
An oasis in the city providing a home for many
And as the wind gently whistles through your boughs
Provides a serenade that says, welcome back, I’ve missed you
Me: It's at the supermarket checkout line, bus ads, commercials, even Snapple caps. Humans in the US are inundated with messages to be more joyful and happy, and less angry, mad or sad.
Friend: What's wrong with being happy or joyful?
Me: Being more joyful or happy is great and it's the way they suggest doing it that's the problem. Suppressing the 'negative' emotions so they don't come out is the recommend solution. Then all you're left with expressing is the 'positive' emotions. And that method just doesn't work.
Friend: Ok, you'll need to explain more.
Me: Dude, I will tell you that suppressing emotions requires a lot of energy because you actually have to tense your muscles to keep from being angry, mad or sad and that leaves you tired.
Friend: OK. maybe I buy that. But what other way is there?
Me: Instead of trying to suppress emotions you don't want, try inviting emotions you DO want. In fact, you don't even have to deal with the emotions.
Friend: Hold up, that doesn't make sense. How can I invite in emotions without actually working with my emotions?
Me: By being more playful. Remember how Playful Paulie always came as a +2 to my parties on South Oregon Ave and that entourage was always a ton of fun? It's like that. Playful always shows up with joy and happiness in tow. There's lots of definitions out there so when I say playful I mean curiosity, a sense of adventure, lightness. If you engage the world with a little more play, happiness and joy can't help but show up and you won't have to try so hard to suppress the others.
Friend: I'm willing to give it a try with something small first, like brushing my teeth, or cooking and go from there. Thanks!
Me: Keep me posted. :)
Your intuition is absolutely, always, 100% correct at pointing out your next action. In the West intuition is bred out of us as children as something to be ignored or worse that its somehow bad and inferior to the intellect and thinking mind. It's relegated to Californians and New Age hippies. The mind is great and it's not always correct. Shutting your intuition out of your life is like fighting an angry badger with one arm tied behind your back; you might escape and you'll definitely get bruised and bloody.
The following practice is hands down the #1 most important tool I give to clients. Use it and your work and personal lives will be easier; don't use it and they will be harder. It is that simple. I have yet to meet a human who didn't experience some amount of stress or pressure in life; it's inevitable. Stress/pressure come from your thoughts about how you are handling the current situation and these thoughts fall into two categories:
Human's have only two ways to work with thoughts and here's the secret...you get to choose which to use.
Curtain #1: Deny the thoughts exist by fighting them and trying not to have them. This is a very American way....it will all work out if I just try harder! Fun fact: For about 2 years I tried to get rid of and fight my stressful thoughts. Let me save you two years of your life by saying...it doesn't work. :) You'll expend a lot of energy and invite a lot of tension. Here's another secret...the only person you're fighting when you try to push your thoughts away is yourself.
Curtain #2: Accept that you have these thoughts and let them sail right by. There's no tension because you're not fighting. You have more ease and flow. I recommend this 30 second centering practice to let the thoughts to go by. I adapted and first learned it from Wendy Palmer at Leadership Embodiment. Centering acts like a clutch in a car. It disengages the mind for just a second to allow you to shift out of "I have to fight to keep this thought out" and into "let the thought go by."
The more you practice, the easier it gets. The key is to practice when you are calmer so it becomes embodied (i.e. you don't have to think about doing it...you simply do it) and you are ready to use it when you're really stressed. If you do this practice twice a day (after you wake up and before you go to bed) for about 45 days you will begin to notice a difference. Your nervous system begins to calm down and work through your transition in the background even when you're not thinking about it. Your system will begin to accept that the old way of life is no more and make space for something new to emerge. If twice a day seems impossible, start with once a day and build up. Here's the centering exercise:
Harbor Tugs Suggest
A client transitioning from the military to civilian life recently asked, "Mike, I just want someone to tell me what to do for this transition. Why don’t you do that?" Here's my answer for you dear reader or prospective client; a more detailed view of my coaching philosophy.
Short Answer: Clients, including this one, generally come to me when the old way yields diminishing results, or believe it will diminish in the near future. If as your coach I tell you what to do, I guarantee you there’s only two ways it ends. The plan either goes sideways, in which case you'll resent me. Or it goes well, in which case it's my win and not yours. It’s important for you as the client to own your actions so that you learn to have agency and get some wins under your belt as a civilian. Otherwise it’s like paying a ringer to take your PT test for you and they score 100. Examples of what I've said to a client instead of telling them what to do:
Longer Answer: Military members are trained to follow orders and learn to expect their branch of service will provide a plan for them with the who, what, when, where. It seems they often forget to mention that pesky why. Military life is a pretty straightforward equation. If the regulations, orders, and plan are followed, then resources (pay, housing, liberty, etc.) continue to flow. If they are not followed, then resources are restricted.
In civilian life, the rules are less cut and dry and you get to decide most everything; who you are, where you live, what type of work, when you wake up, how you will structure or organize your day. You decide resource flow and restriction, and no one orders you to do a task at work. It’s a brand-new world on the day of retirement/separation, yet your military training, habits, and expectation of being told what to do don’t suddenly go away. You will use them to navigate the civilian world until you consciously chose to learn new ones. It’s not uncommon for Veterans to feel overwhelmed by this sudden increase in freedom and lack of a rigid hierarchy because they’re not used to it. Learning to provide your own structure, plan and resources is a practice that civilian life demands and you do not have to do it alone. I support you to break the practices into bite-sized, manageable pieces and discover what YOUR goals, objectives, values, mission statement are. So telling you what to do only serves to reinforce the old behavior. The very same behavior you came to me about altering in the first place.
I see myself as piloting a harbor tug. I’m an expert at navigating these transition waters and have spent almost 15 years exploring them. You are the captain of your own ship coming into this bay for the first time. I always stay on my tug and pilot it along-side to point out shoals, advise, communicate. You are always in command of your ship which means you can choose to head in any direction you want, regardless of what I say. I will support conducting an after action review If you crash or get grounded on shoals. And celebrate with you when you successfully navigate a new stretch of water for the first time.
My goal is to help you get proficient enough at navigating the civilian waters that you no longer need the harbor tug; I want to work myself out of a job.
The results of imbalance
Believe it or not, this is not a political post. Let's be clear that the only reason some don't want kids to read a sign that says "it's not gonna lick itself" is not because seeing that will make the kids uncomfortable. The kids have no idea what the words mean until an adult tells them. There is no discomfort if they're learning about it for the first time. This has zero to do with the kids. It's all about adults not wanting to experience discomfort when having a conversation with kids. And why is that? Because the adults around them when they were kids never taught them how to have difficult conversations. It's not anybody's fault AND we can begin the repairs now. This is a generations deep issue in the West. The result of making mental intelligence more important than emotional/body intelligence. We need both.
Sometimes perfection is required and good enough is often, good enough. The vast majority of car drivers are reasonably good at driving forward and just good enough at backing up so they can parallel park. Why aren't people better at driving in reverse? Because the amount of time spent doing it is so small compared to driving forward that it's not worth the investment. A driver really only needs reverse to set themselves up to drive forward. How many people chase perfection when all they needed was to parallel park?
Centering practice to work with old GUNK
Whether it happened as a child, an adult, as a civilian or during military service, whether you call it trauma or adverse experiences, it's all the same stuff. I call it GUNK. It keeps us from being the person and the leader we want to be. The best way I've found to begin to work with the gunk is this basic 30 second centering practice that I first learned from Wendy Palmer at Leadership Embodiment. Centering acts like a clutch in a car. It disengages the mind for just a second to allow a person to shift to a new action that is not the default. Try to shift to a new pattern without depressing the clutch and you'll grind the gears and end up with a mess.
If you do this twice a day (after you wake up and before you go to bed) for about 45 days you will begin to notice a difference. Your nervous system begins to calm down and work through your gunk in the unconscious, without your conscious mind needing to do anything. If twice a day seems impossible, start with once a day and build up. Here's the centering exercise:
Motivational vs inspiring leaders
I hear motivational and inspirational used interchangeably as leadership modifiers and they are as different as carrots and peas. Here’s a peak behind the curtain…since the age of 4, I haven’t liked the consistency of peas. I willingly eat carrots, but if you want me to eat peas, you need to inspire the hell out of me.
A motivational leader gets a person to use their conscious brain to take action because it’s in their best interest. The thought is something like, “yes I am motivated to buy another sandwich from that shop because I’m only two stamps from a free sub,” or “I will work to achieve the quarterly sales goals so I can go to Aruba.” With motivation there has to be a carrot; a conscious reason for the person to act. Anyone with a carrot can motivate. But what if there’s no carrots or they don’t like carrots?
An inspiring leader gets another person to use their unconscious brain to spontaneously act without thinking. The person has no conscious idea why the leader made them act that way…they just did it. Like really belly laughing at a funny part in a movie…the director ‘inspired’ you to laugh…you didn’t think, “oh I should laugh deeply here,” and then laugh. You just laughed. Or soldiers who follow their Army platoon sergeant who charged into gunfire. The soldiers don’t consciously think, “I’m going to follow Sarge into this gunfire”, they just do it. If you can find your way into that space…well you can write your own ticket.
There’s plenty of room for leaders to be both inspirational and motivational as the situation dictates. My experience is that for humans (I can't speak for flamingos), the possibility of becoming an inspirational leader can only happen when the person (re)learns to at least minimally speak the language of body and emotions because they’re the language of the unconscious. Did you see how I slipped that (re) in there? You spoke these fluently as a baby so they’re still in there, just have to find where. It’s a lot easier to find slippers you misplaced in the house than to go out and buy them in the first place. To regain fluency, ya gotta get in there and practice speaking it (with an Embodiment or Somatic coach…sometimes those regional dialects are tough!). Otherwise, the leader will come off as inauthentic and a person who has only read about the body, emotions, and unconscious. Like the difference between teaching how to skillfully play basketball because you’ve done it, versus having only read about it in a book.
I was in the military and super analytical until I learned to work with my body, emotions and unconscious about 15 years ago. I got the comment of inauthentic on more than one occasion because I was constantly in my head trying to guess and then perform the correct emotion based on the situation. As if I was wearing a mask over my whole head. Now I go around maskless….well, except when I’m in the grocery store in an N-95. Hey-o! Being analytical is not bad or wrong and I found it required a lot of work to maintain and wear that mask. Learning to work with emotions and the body and stop wearing the mask as much just makes life easier.
If you want to improve your access to these domains, then read my blog every week. :) Additional suggestions are to take an improv class, read Leadership Embodiment by Wendy Palmer and the Leadership Dojo by Richard Strozzi-Heckler.
p.s. turns out the chef who grilled mashed peas inspired the hell out of me and they were delicious.
Mike Coe. Transition, Creativity, and Leadership Coach