Archive | Best Practices

Empathy Bath

When you are chilled, a hot bath brings your temperature to normal. When you have a fever, a cold bath can bring it down. When you are tense, self-doubtful, jittery, or otherwise triggered, an “Empathy Bath” can bring your emotional state back to neutral.

“Empathy Bath” Tactic Overview

What: An “empathy bath” is a systematic process for introspecting the broad range of potentially conflicting emotions you are feeling, in order to regulate your emotional state.

When: Use it when you are tense, jittery, or otherwise emotionally triggered, and need a quick way to get emotionally centered.

How: For each family of emotions, speculate on why you might be feeling those feelings (both positive and negative). Give your reason in a full sentence.

Why: The 8 families of emotions cover all of the basic value-judgments that might be in play. By asking why you “might” be feeling each emotion, you can reveal not just acknowledged feelings, but also suppressed or slightly repressed feelings. By looking for both positive and negative versions of each family, you naturally balance disproportionate emotional responses.

Step-by-Step Instructions

1) Briefly describe the situation that has you emotionally upset.

2) For each of the following basic emotions, speculate on why you might be feeling this feeling in the current situation and why.

Anger: Who did what that they shouldn’t have?
Gratitude: Who did something nice for me?

Fear: What bad thing is going to happen?
Relief: What bad thing is no longer going to happen?

Desperation: What good thing is never going to happen?
Hope: What good thing will happen eventually?

Guilt: What do I wish I had done differently?
Pride: What am I glad I did the way I did?

Frustration: What is giving me a lot of trouble?
Confidence: What am I doing with ease?

Desire: What am I longing for?
Aversion: What am I trying to get away from?

Joy: What have I succeeded in getting?
Grief: What have I lost?

Love: What person or thing or idea stands out as a positive here?
Hatred: What person or thing or idea stands out as a negative here?

3) After you have finished naming all of the feelings, you may be grounded. If so, sum up your situation in a sentence. If not, you can get further grounded by challenging first thoughts or clarifying your motivation.

Tips

  • Write out each reason in a full sentence, so that you can judge whether it’s true or false.
  • For best results, check for the feelings in the order offered, which goes from easiest to hardest, most negative to most positive.
  • Don’t skip any feeling. Imagine why you might feel it, even if you don’t think you do.

Example

Situation: Someone just cut me off making a turn.

Anger: He should look where he’s going.
Gratitude: I’m glad the guy behind me saw me brake.

Fear: I almost had an accident.
Relief: Thank goodness I was able to react in time.

Desperation: These lousy drivers should be taken off the road.
Hope: Maybe defensive driving courses can help.

Guilt: I was a little bit distracted.
Pride: I’m glad I don’t text while driving!

Frustration: My heart is still pounding and I can’t seem to calm down.
Confidence: I’m glad that I have good reflexes.

Desire: I really need a little peace and quiet.
Aversion: I don’t want to discuss this with anyone.

Joy: I guess I feel good to be alive.
Grief: This reminds me of my friend who died in a car accident.

Love: I loved my friend.
Hatred: I hate people who are reckless about endangering others.

Summing Up: I need a little time to catch my breath and just appreciate that I’m okay.

Additional Comments

I developed this process for people who were inexperienced in introspection. It is not the fastest process–it takes 15-20 minutes to go through. If you are in a hurry, the AND List is the fastest way to calm down.

After using it, I discovered that it had the added benefit of revealing value-judgments that I would not have identified if I just introspected feelings I was already feeling. As a result, it is a great first aid process when you are emotionally overwhelmed.

 

References for Members of the Thinking Lab

  • For steps to challenge first thoughts, see the Three Pass Review
  • For steps to clarify your motivation, see   the Goal-Clarification process
  • You can give someone else an empathy bath, but then I recommend that you identify not just their feelings and the idea that seems to be behind it, but the deep rational value at stake. (See this discussion of  deep rational values aka universal values.) Otherwise you risk reinforcing their old baggage.

July 31, 2017 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

FAQ – What is a Thinking Day?

Power Forward with a Thinking Day

This event is inspired by a “Do It Day” that I participated in a couple of years ago. My mentor declared the date, and everyone in his group cleared the day to work on our businesses. Every hour, on the hour from 9-4, we called into his bridge to report what we had intended to do in the last hour, what we actually did, and what we were planning to do in the next hour. In between, he was available on Facebook to answer questions and send links to resources.

I found this format to be highly productive. It helps you to focus on one project and keep at it for the whole day. I continue to run my own personal “do it days” once a quarter with a friend.

I have added quarterly work days (“Thinking Days”) to the Thinking Lab schedule as part of the major change in the program to promote self-study and self-development.

The the passworded member site for the Thinking Lab includes nine self-study courses, including “Tap Your Own Brilliance,” “Just-in-Time Planning,” “Non-Fiction Writing,” and “Smarter Execution,” plus all the courses on essentialization that I developed from 1998-2002.

Any member of the Lab can work through them at his or her own pace. However, I recognize it takes time and discipline to work through them. Deluxe and VIP members can use their consults with me to structure their approach. But I wanted everyone in the Thinking Lab to have  additional support to go through the classes.

Moreover, I’ve discovered that the only way to properly learn most of these skills is to develop them while working toward challenging goals. You need some real, tangible goal that you are lusting after to see how to use the tactics in your own life.

The purpose of a Thinking Day is for Thinking Lab members to concentrate on one project or one issue all day, with the support of the materials in the Thinking Lab plus my real-time coaching. I am on the phone bridge to answer questions and offer coaching and encouragement at the beginning, middle, and end of the day:

10:00 – 11:00 a.m. ET
1:00 – 2:00 p.m. ET
4:00 – 5:00 p.m. ET

In between, I am available by email to answer questions. I  encourage everyone to check-in periodically by email, even if they don’t join us by phone.

What makes or breaks this event for members is their choice of issue to work on.  Hence, I recommend everyone picks a project or skill to work on before the day. They can email me in advance, so I can then suggest one of the self-study courses that would be most appropriate to help guide the work. Here’s the rough correspondence:

  • Plan a complex project: Go through Just in Time Planning
  • Stop procrastinating on a project: Go through Smarter Execution
  • Write something: Go through the Non-Fiction Writing Course
  • Solidify your general skills: Go through Tap Your Own Brilliance or Making Thinking Tactics Second Nature
  • Improve your time management: Go through Evolving a Scheduling Infrastructure
  • Improve your precision: Condensation

Most of these courses are offered as “supervised self-study” on the Thinking Lab site. This means that you need to do one exercise before you get the next. However, in conjunction with the Thinking Day you get complete access to one course all at once. This is another reason to email me in advance–to get access in advance.

Thinking Lab members can read detailed descriptions of the courses at: http://www.yourthinkinglab.com

Anyone who would like to know all of the benefits of the recently upgraded Thinking Lab can read the marketing page:
http://www.thinkingdirections.com/ThinkingLab.htm

New members get a 50-minute onboarding consult with me when they join.

 

December 5, 2016 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

Making Sure Constructive Criticism Sticks

Mark Murphy has a great short article titled “Don’t Make Constructive Criticism so Soft That People Miss Your Message.”

In it, he criticizes the feedback sandwich, which I learned long ago in Toastmasters. It’s simple: when you are giving feedback, first tell something positive, then something to improve, then end with something else positive.

This method is very effective in a Toastmasters setting, where the #1 priority is to keep everyone motivated and enjoying the experience.  In Toastmasters, you are not responsible for anyone else’s improvement. You give suggestions for improvement because everyone in the room is there to improve, and suggestions are part of the program.

But I can see that it would not be particularly effective in a managerial setting, where you are responsible for your team members performance. In those cases, you need to be more direct.

What interested me most is that he linked the method to the serial effect: you remember the first and last things you hear the best. In Toastmasters, that needs to be positive. In business, the need for improvement may be the thing you need to remember!

Again, the article is here.

 

 

December 17, 2015 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

Don’t Settle for “Etcetera”

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ve been introduced to “thinking on paper.” If not, you can read about it and get instruction on it with my Smarter Starter Kit.

With that as the context, a client sent me this note about “thinking on paper” which he said I could share:

Just was doing some “thinking on paper” and came up with something that may be obvious but was helpful for me to realize explicitly.  Your “thinking on paper” should ban the word, “etc.” This is probably implied by the rule to write in full sentences, but I realized it was a way for context to leak off of the paper and disappear into the ether.

One of the great benefits of “thinking on paper” for me is being able to recapture my context.  And I realized when I write, “etc.” I am going too fast and may be throwing away valuable information….

I am so anxious to get on  the path I have chosen and that I am throwing away information I judge as non-essential at the time of the writing.  As such, I may have lost other critical thoughts when I read back through and say, “I wonder what ‘etc.’ stands for here.”  I may have other clues from the rest of the context I have recaptured, but it occurred to me that this was just sloppy, and probably to be avoided.

This is an excellent observation, one that I hadn’t made myself. But it fits with everything I know about “thinking on paper.”

The moral of the story: when the word “etc.” occurs to you, your subconscious is indicating as loudly as possible that you need to make a list!

I have only one quibble with this note and this client.  Please don’t give yourself a hard time when you find a small area to improve! No need to call yourself “sloppy” when you notice something you’d like to do better. Why not call yourself “observant,” instead?

I recommend that you always focus on the positive reason for making the change. In this case, the positive reason is: “If I write out the ideas behind the etc., I’ll have them on paper  where I can see them. Then I can tell whether I’ve got lots of great ideas or I need to do some more thinking.” Giving yourself positive encouragement to do something good is a deeper, more effective form of motivation than giving yourself warnings to avoid doing something “bad.”

 

 

November 19, 2015 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

Preparing for a Difficult Conversation

Whenever you have a difficult conversation ahead, it pays to get a quick overview of the issues sooner rather than later. That first quick overview helps you gain perspective on the situation, and identify problem areas so you can avoid mishandling the conversation and damaging the relationship. An excellent resource for this is the book Difficult Conversations by Stone, Patton, & Heen.

In the book, Stone and his associates explain a several-step process to prepare for a “difficult conversation” about someone’s misbehavior. Their in-depth process can be translated into these four overview questions:

a) What’s my story? What impact has the situation had on me?

b) What’s their story?  What might their intentions have been?

c) What have we each contributed to the problem?

d) What do I hope to accomplish by having the conversation?

When you have a difficult conversation coming up, it’s worth spending three minutes answering each question (12 minutes total) to get a good quick sense of whether you’re prepared for the conversation.  The more you’ve thought about both perspectives, the better you will be able to keep the conversation amicable and on track.

I recommend this book, and there is much more detailed information in it (including advice on whether to have the conversation at all). But if you haven’t read it, you can still benefit by getting a quick overview using these prepared questions before you you jump into the conversation.

 

 

June 9, 2015 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

Tip: Strengthen the Weakest Link

When you have a complicated project, it’s sometimes hard to figure out what to work on first. Like any prioritization task, the first step is to get an overview. You can’t judge priorities without an overview.

Once you get an overview, you can often identify the order you need to do the work, by just identifying temporal dependencies. If that’s not enough, I recommend that you prioritize by looking for the weakest link and strengthening that, first.

The top problem area is the part of the project that is most risky. It’s the part that you worry about.  Call it what you will:

The Weakest Link in the Chain

The Long Pole in the Tent

The Bottleneck

The Logjam

It’s the one part that is “behind” everything else. It’s the section of the report that hasn’t been drafted. It’s the module in the software that no one has figured out how to do. It’s the time period on the schedule marked “To Be Determined.” It’s the element with the longest lead time. It’s the one resource that’s overcommitted.

An overview gives you the context to see what the top problem is. It’s the “top” problem relative to everything else. You can’t judge how big a problem something is unless you know how everything is going.

But once you know, it’s worth putting some extra effort into fixing it. As a rule of thumb, the project as a whole will benefit significantly if you can fix the biggest problem. Strengthening the weakest link of a chain increases its overall strength. Adding resources to a bottleneck speeds up progress on the overall timeline. Putting up the long pole gives a structure to the whole tent. Breaking up the logjam makes everything move downstream.

So, that’s my advice. If you are feeling a little overwhelmed by a complex task, make a list of the parts, and look to see if one of them is the problem child. Focus your effort on that and you will make a large improvement in how well the project is going overall.

June 5, 2015 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

The 24-Hour Rule for Reviewing Performances

What do you want to improve? Your presentations? Your powers of persuasion? How you run a meeting? Your joke telling? Your ability to answer questions?

Whatever it is, to improve it, you need to review it. You may be thinking that means to record your performance, then go back and watch the video or listen to the audio. That is a very powerful way to improve. I used to go through every all-day workshop I gave, analyzing every minute. But that takes a lot of time. That’s why we rarely do it.

So, I recommend you do a shorter review, more often, by following the 24-hour rule. Within 24 hours of any performance, sit down in a quiet place with pen and paper and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What went well? What do I think contributed to that?
  • What didn’t go well? What do I think contributed to that?
  • What would I do differently next time?

These are not particularly hard questions if you ask them within 24 hours. That’s when your recollection is still fresh. You can answer them in about 5 minutes. This is what I try to do for every performance. I reserve an in-depth analysis for a special case.

I recommend you “think on paper” to answer the questions. That gives extra objectivity through seeing the pluses and minuses in black and white. Sometimes the minuses are a little upsetting, but writing them down always helps you to  figure out how to improve. Moreover, if you do the work in a thinking notebook, you can find your notes later when you need them. You can easily refresh your recollection before  similar performance.

But follow the 24-hour rule: Do the review within 24 hours of the performance.

This is an example of a technique that gives you significant value at a very low cost. The most important areas of improvement will be obvious to you, in retrospect, just after your performance. You can harvest those observations if you’re fast. But if you don’t get around to it, they will fade away.

Improvement is a lifelong undertaking. Finding simple ways to make reflection for improvement a regular, easy process helps you become the best you can be.

 

May 14, 2015 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

Ask An Easier Question

Asking yourself questions is essential in thinking. It’s the way you get information out of your subconscious and into conscious consideration.

Your subconscious is a huge repository of past observations, past conclusions, past training. It is where your expertise resides. But only some fraction of that information can be activated at a given time. Questions activate the information so you can use it into your thinking.

But what do you do if the information lies dormant–even when you ask yourself about it?

Suppose you ask yourself a reasonable question (like “what should I be doing right now?” or “how am I going to explain this to person X?” or “how are we going to get this done on time?”) and the response you get back from your subconscious is “I don’t know”?  Or the more emphatic: “Aaaaaye donno.”

When this happens, don’t despair. You probably know much more than your subconscious is letting on. What happened is that the question you asked was a little too hard for you. You don’t have a ready-made, pre-packaged answer for that question. You will need to put one together from pieces of information–pieces you can lure from your subconscious databanks by asking an easier question.

To me, “ask an easier question” stands for the more complicated thought, “soften up your subconscious with patsy questions it can answer that inexorably lead to your figuring out the answer to the question it resisted.” It’s like you’re playing “good cop” with the suspect–playing along with what you get, edging toward what you really want–a full confession of the truth!

So, for example, if I were a little stuck on a question like “how am I going to explain this to person X,” I might ask myself things like, “what does X need to know?” and “how would I explain it to someone else who’s not as touchy?” The right follow-up questions would be ones I felt I *could* answer. Spending the time on them would help me put into place the information I would need to build a full answer to the original question.

“Ask an easier question” is a sound bite to remember. When your subconscious says, “Aaaaye donno,” ask yourself an easier question, and find out what it *does* know that can help you with your task.

May 7, 2015 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

Picking Favorites

Some years ago, I attended a seminar on “The Art of Introspection.” The speaker (Psychologist Edwin Locke) encouraged the audience to consciously pick favorites. Wherever you are–in a hotel lobby, at work, watching a movie, reading an article–pick your favorite aspect. By taking the time to identify your preferences, you strengthen your own values and get extra enjoyment from them.

For example, I pick favorites when I go to museums. After I’ve looked around a room, I stop to choose my favorite painting. After I’ve been through all the rooms in a section, I choose my top favorite for that section.

This makes my museum trip more enjoyable and helps me identify my artistic preferences. In addition, picking favorites has two cognitive payoffs.

First, it counters museumitis–that glassy-eyed, mentally numb state which comes from looking at each item with equal intensity. The same strain happens when you try to proofread a table of numbers by simply checking one after another. It is difficult to concentrate afresh on each and every item when there are dozens. Trying to do so creates a mental strain that interferes with any degree of concentration. In no time you become bug-eyed and bored.

The solution is to add variety to the process. In proof-reading, you might get a partner switch off tasks, proofread backwards, proof only 20 numbers at a time, etc.

At the museum, picking favorites breaks up the monotony. You look more purposefully at the candidates for favorite (and pay less attention to the others), plus you get a little break for reflection when you come to the end of each room.

Second, picking favorites aids memory. When you identify something as a positive value and spend a little time thinking about it, you are more likely to remember it. My museum trips no longer blur together, thanks to this technique.

Like many of my tips, this is a small action with big payoffs. Next time you feel bored or you are just “hanging around,” make a point to pick favorites in the scene (or perhaps in some area of your life that warrants a few minutes of reflection). Thinking about what you like will perk you up and put your mind in a higher gear.

May 3, 2015 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

Use a Physical Process to Release Tension

I admit to being a fanatic who looks to thinking as a solution to all problems. I look for a psychological cause for everything that happens to me. And I look for a thinking process to help me deal with everything that happens to me.

If I cut my finger, yes, I put on a Bandaid. But I also reflect on what I was doing, and consider whether I need to be more mindful of my actions. If so, I spend a moment considering how that can be accomplished.

Due to this predilection, I used to be puzzled that quite a few of my friends go for a long run when they are upset. But eventually I understood: they exercise because the intense physical activity reduces body tension. If you reduce body tension, you can more easily deal with the emotions.

Here’s why: the tension intensifies the experience of some emotions (such as anger) and masks and/or interferes with the experience of other emotions (such as joy). A process that reduces the tension–literally physically relaxes the body–provides a timeout, so that some emotions will pass, and creates a neutral physical baseline, so that emotions are experienced normally, and you can more easily identify them and sort out their meaning.

Let me elaborate on this important point.

First, tension masks many emotions with pain. When you are extremely tense, you experience pain in your neck, in your shoulders, maybe in your back, sometimes in other joints. If the pain takes your attention, it will mask the subtle experiences of many emotions.

Emotions have signature physical experiences associated with them. There is the frission of surprise that runs from your belly up your spine. There is the clutching of your stomach at a moment of intense fear. There is the choking feeling in your throat when you feel hurt and invisible. All of these are difficult to distinguish when there is an overriding experience of pain. The pain gets the primary attention.

And of course, sometimes people simply block out the pain, in which case, they block off awareness of all bodily feelings.

Second, some emotions–such as pure joy–simply can’t be experienced when you are tense all over, because the somatic experience involves a freedom in your breathing that is incompatible with a highly tense state. Moreover, if you’ve ever experienced a bout of chronic pain, you know how pain undermines your access to positive emotions. For those who haven’t, simply note that people in chronic pain are usually grouchy. Most positive emotions involve a feeling of physical freedom and well-being, tension and pain prevent you from having that experience.

The effect of these factors is to make it difficult to introspect your feelings, when you are extremely tense. When you ask yourself “what do I feel?” the answer is, “pain,” “tension,” “aching.”

Another effect is that it is hard to concentrate. You don’t feel good. You tire more easily. You want a break from this bad physical feeling, and moving or resting seems like a good idea. You don’t have free access to emotional signals. Basic tactics like “thinking on paper” and “introspection 101” aren’t as effective when you’re in this state.

I finally understood this deeply a few years ago when I was stiff from having driven 300 miles, twice in a few days. I didn’t pay much attention to the tenstion. Instead, I noticed I had difficulty concentrating and was in a bad mood. I tried my usual tactics, and they weren’t all that effective. Out of desperation, I decided to tackle the physical symptoms of tension directly.

Okay, I said to myself. Exercise. Stretching. Breathing exercises. Alexander self-lessons. Massages. There are many physical processes that reduce physical tension.

I swam, I stretched, I had an Alexander lesson. And suddenly I could concentrate again. Suddenly I was in touch with my feelings again–which were subtle feelings about projects I needed to help me think about work, not intense feelings about some personal issue.

Now I notice whenever there is tension in my neck. I have suddenly become enamored of all the little physical de-tensing techniques that I’ve learned over the years: Stretching at breaks, breathing exercises, etc. I’m raring to go.

Lesson learned. If you feel physical tension, reduce it with a physical mechanism. It’s easy. It makes thinking easier. It is silly not to.

March 31, 2015 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

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