“Hello, valued customer, your call is very important to us. Now please wait 15 minutes because we don’t want to spend the money to staff our phone lines.”
There was an actual human being who decided to record that message. That actual human being may really have believed that they valued customers. I fervently hope I’m not that person.
Your are your values
Values are an interesting thing. We all have them. They drive our behavior. They determine who we hang out with. They determine our decisions. And when we’re giving our TED talk, we even talk about our values. We list them. We point to their worldly goodness. “Family is what matters most.” Everyone nods. We think we live our values.
The values we proclaim—the ones in our TED talk—may have no relationship to the values we live by. Most of us assume that our lived values correspond to our proclaimed values. Most of us are wrong.
This matters because our lived values are the ones people will judge us by. They’re the values that will determine our reputation and “personal brand.” Those, in turn, will determine who wants to do business with us, who wants to hang out with us, and much of the quality of our emotional lives. The continual neglect of our teenagers’ science fair competitions are what they remember, not the world “family matters most.”
This also matters because presumably we actually want to be living our espoused values! What if we talk about integrity, and really want to be surrounded by people with integrity? What if we talk about respect, and really want to respect people and be respected by them? How can we make this happen?
Know What You Value (and thus, Who You Really Are)
First, list your proclaimed values. This will be easy, because they’re the ones you proclaim. Simply answer the question “what do you value?” off the top of your head. You’ll get the list. Watch your TED talk. You did a great job of listing them there. “I value truth, constructive disagreement, and following through on promises.”
Next, identify where those values drive your behavior. For each of your values, think about the kinds of decisions and tradeoffs where those values would show up. If you value truth, where would that manifest? Perhaps in giving feedback when someone asks if they’ve done a good job. Or when they ask if their current outfit is flattering.
If you value constructive disagreement, that would manifest in conversations with your spouse where you have differing opinions about something important. When it comes to following through on promises, you would look at things you’ve promised, and when (or if) you delivered on those promises.
Lastly, take a hard look at your lived values. Go through the scenarios you identified and notice what you actually did in those situations. Did you give honest feedback, or did you say the easy thing that wouldn’t rock the boat? Did you cave in to your spouse, because it was easier than asserting your own opinion. Do you have excuses at the ready, to show why it was actually reasonable to break all those promises?
This is very hard, because you will find that your lived values don’t match up perfectly to your proclaimed values. Indeed, some people may find that their lived values are the opposite of their proclaimed values. It is far more comforting to live in ignorance, than face the reality that the person who most betrays your values is you.
Now Change: Start Living Your Values
Once you know where the gaps are, you know where to change your behavior. Next time you’re in the situations you identified, consciously behave according to your proclaimed values, instead of your lived values.
This will feel wrong and unnatural! You’ve spent your lifetime deciding to reduce staffing in a call center so you boost profits. Now, you’re making a decision to spend more money to provide better customer service. If that decision felt natural, you would already behave that way. Expect yourself to resist, push back, and generally try to maintain the status quo.
It’s helpful to enlist trusted friends and colleagues in helping me change. You can ask your teenagers, “I want to do a better job of putting family Please tell me when I’m falling down.” They’re teenagers. They’ll tell you. You can ask your work colleagues, “I want to do a better job of living our values of customers-first. Please help me make decisions that reflect that.” You’ll be surprised. If you are sincere in your request, and you act on their feedback, people will be happy to help.
Values are the core of our identity. Our proclaimed values represent the ideal we wish to be. Our lived values represent the person we are. By bringing the two together, you’ll be taking control of both who you genuinely develop to be, and others will come to see you as that same (hopefully awesome) person.
It’s holiday time! My gift today is the story of a recent decision. You may want to try it. It’s made life a bit more effortful, but it’s produced real results. It has paid off in both expected and unexpected ways.
Whoa! I quit Facebook.
I quit Facebook. Yeah, it’s made a big difference, but not in the ways you’d think. Here are some not-so-obvious reasons why.
I’d long felt that Facebook wasn’t a particularly ethical company, and have used it with great ambivalence. Even apart from my moral doubts, I’d gone on holiday with no Facebook access. I returned centered, rested, and stable. Turning on Facebook jolted my addiction centers so noticeably that I could watch myself sliding into anxiety, distraction, and confusion.
But even with its bad effects starkly highlighted, I stayed online. Why? The same reason we all do: many social events are now advertised only on Facebook. And it’s one of the only ways I stay in touch with many of my friends.
But then last month, the New York Times investigative journalists exposed wrong-doing, coverups, and lies coming from Facebook’s top management. Morally, I just couldn’t continue to support the platform. Every post and comment is giving Facebook content to use to hook my friends and family.
So took a deep breath and committed to pulling the plug. I’ve been keeping careful track of what’s happened since then. It’s been surprising what’s happened. Social media was controlling my life in ways I’d never imagined until leaving.
Dropping social media makes you a better person
I used to see lots of stuff on social media about how to be smarter. Ironic, since social media itself probably dumbed me down by 20 IQ points.
Now, I’m thinking better. Social media fragments thoughts. It encourages thinking 140-280 characters at a time. But we’re smarter than that! Unless we train ourselves to be dumb 🙁
"Scientists discover real space aliens!" is a shareable headline that might appear on Facebook. But it makes us stupid. The intelligent reality—that we’ve found molecules that are the precursor to life—won’t generate shares.
Without social media, I’m regaining the ability to read long-form articles and think smart.
Interpersonal stuff gets way better!
Conversations are better. Social media makes conversation brief and scattered. Online conversations take a long time and seem extensive. But usually, they aren’t. Try reading one out loud, as if it were a script. You’ll find most "long" social media threads are just a few minutes of speech. They took a long time because typing and reading are slower than talking. And with a dozen people chiming in, actual interaction between you and any one person is minimal. It’s not real conversation.
Two board members of a non-profit I’m part of had a big fight on social media. The whole community jumped in. Accusations! Insults! Calls for resignation! It went on for weeks and almost destroyed the annual 4,000-person event. But it was actually only 20-30 paragraphs of interaction. It could have been resolved more quickly, more peacefully, with a single evening’s in-person meeting.
Without social media, I’m choosing my battles more wisely. I’m considering what I want to say before opening my mouth. Conversation is higher quality. It lasts longer and a lot gets said. It’s pretty awesome!
Less social media, means better social-izing!
My fears about losing my social life? They’re real, sort-of. Now, it takes effort. I need to make a conscious choice: who do I want to spend time with? Then I need to reach out and make sure we connect.
On Facebook, posts come pictures of friends. That’s a reminder to reach out to whoever social media happens to put in our path. There’s no reason to think that the people in our timeline are the people we’d most like in our close circle. They’re simply … the people who end up in our timeline.
Since quitting social media, it takes work to keep a friend. This is a good thing! I need to be deliberate about who I reach out to. I need to work to reach out to them. But perhaps that’s good. Because who your friends are, matters. Good friends take investment of time and energy. You want friends who enrich your life.
If it’s not worth the effort to connect with someone, that’s a message: maybe they’re not valuable enough to take up time in my life. Harsh, but true.
I get to be me, a meeple, not a compliant sheeple
I never realized how much my timeline directs my attention. A dozen great articles appear daily. Genuinely great. High-quality. I read them. But … they don’t add up to anything. They feel useful because they’re interesting, but they’re scattered. They’re all over the place. Rather than reading about a few topics deliberately, and getting deep learning, I’m just stimulating my brain’s reward centers with the feeling that just because an article is good, I’m better for having read it.
Deliberate or not, social media shapes our beliefs and attitudes through what it shows us. And its algorithms are tuned towards getting us emotional enough to click a link. They aren’t tuned towards getting us to be better, clearer people along any dimension whatsoever. Think about that.
Now, I’m deciding what I want to be educated about and seeking out the high-quality articles on those topics.
On Facebook, my social group, my attention, and my learning all happen by reacting to whatever the algorithm throws in my face. Off Facebook, my social group, my attention, and my learning all happen because I make them happen.
Yes, it’s more effort. That’s the cost. But the benefit: control and direction of who I am and who I’m becoming.
Regain control of who you are in the world
How about you? Try a Facebook holiday for a month. Make it long enough so you reinstate your offline systems. You’ll figure out how to keep in touch with people. You’ll find ways to stay informed.
And ultimately, you’ll be building a life where you get to hang out with the people you want, learn the things you want, and become the person you want to be. Do you really want social media deciding who you’ll become?
As we saw in part 1, and part 2, we often we get stalled because we have "microfears." These steer us away from the Important Things we want. It’s our thinking that does it. We imagine what might go wrong, feel a bit of fear, and then suddenly notice we have a pressing urge to watch Netflix.
The good part is that we’ve noticed how things might go wrong. The bad part is that we’ve responded by avoiding, not by taking care of what might go wrong.
Where are you stalled?
What’s not getting done?
Where do you shy away?
It’s easy to find fears; just ask!
Stop right now and think of where you’re stalled. Now just ask yourself:
What am I afraid of?
Give as many answers as come to mind. Then give one or two more. You’ll often find the answers spring to mind quickly.
Use your brain, deliberately
Remember: your brain is not logical. List the answers, no matter how realistic they may be.
Imagine you’re afraid to say "No" when your boss asks you to work weekends. You might have a sort-of-reasonable fear like "I’m afraid I’ll get fired if I say No." You might also have over-the-top fears. "I’m afraid I’ll die alone in a gutter, covered in mud, smelling of bad whisky."
Both are triggering your fear response, so you need to deal with both of them.
Separate emotion and information
Now bring in your Thinking Brain to address your imagined futures. For each one, mentally make a plan for how you can prevent the fear from happening, and how you can address it if it does happen.
I’m afraid I’ll get fired. I ask my boss ahead of time, "what will happen if I say ‘no’?" I can also keep up-to-date on my networking so if it does happen, I have a fallback plan.
I’m afraid I’ll die alone in a gutter. I’ll look at my bank balance and credit limits to be sure I can get enough money to keep my apartment if I get fired.
Now implement those plans.
Congratulations! You’ve handled a microfear. You heard the messages your brain was concerned about. Rather than falling into fight/flight/freeze, you made a concrete plan. The next move is up to you, not your fear.
We’re afraid of failing at something we want to learn.
We’re afraid of starting an ambitious project that might fail.
We’re afraid of choosing the wrong job and missing a better opportunity.
Ash realized that their business partner was no longer a good fit for the business. But they were scared to have the difficult conversation, because it might destroy the relationship.
Look carefully. All those fears are about something that isn’t happening in front of you. Every one.
Fear began as a way to save us from danger that was present and immediate. We’d spot a Saber Tooth tiger or killer jellyfish and get afraid. Very afraid. And we’d run, or fight, or freeze. As long as we chose the right one for the occasion, those reactions served us well.
Our brain still has that reaction, however, even to our own imagination. We run a mental movie of our business partner getting upset during a conversation. Then we get afraid that they really are upset. But we’re really just projecting what we think will happen. Then we get scared of our mental movie and decide we won’t have that difficult conversation.
If you aren’t making progress on Something Important, blame fear. The fear comes from your beliefs and thoughts about the future.
Fear = perceived danger + emotion
Yay, Brain!! We can anticipate problems and respond in advance.
This is a good thing!
What sucks is the fight/flight/freeze response. It helps us survive a killer jellyfish, but not much else. And it certainly doesn’t help us have a difficult conversation when we need to.
When you anticipate a problem, however, you have plenty of time to be smart about it. If you can defuse fight/flight/freeze while still knowing the problem, you can use your smarts to deal with it.
Without fight/flight/freeze: Ash imagines the business partner freaking out and … calmly calmly and carefully rehearses the conversation. Ash tries several presentations, choosing the most respectful, gentle approach. (In the real case, the partner knew he wasn’t a fit. He was relieved to discuss it and left amicably.)
Without fight/flight/freeze, you can take deliberate action. You can plan. You can take action to choose your future. You don’t have to let your emotions choose your actions:
You imagine failing at something you want to learn … and you calmly identify tutors, extra reading, and other resources in advance to help.
You’re afraid you might fail at an ambitious project … and you recruit a team with the needed skills. You do good risk management up front, making success much more likely.
You believe you might choose the wrong job … and you make a plan. You keep in touch with your other prospects so you have a backup network.
Make your fears work for you
Your brain is great at projecting What Might Happen. You have plenty of time to plan. But when your fear hijacks your thinking, you end up avoiding the very things you want to do.
Where are you stalled?
What’s not getting done?
Where do you shy away?
In part 3, I’ll share some tips for finding and overcoming your fears.
There’s a lot that doesn’t get done, despite our best laid plans. There’s that novel we’ve dreamed about writing. The weekly billing, which always seems to be late. The networking and prospecting we need to keep our business running.
Early in my career, I learned about human motivation from my mentor, Joe Yeager. He had a simple, but surprisingly profound, model of achievement. To get what you want, you must:
Want to do it
Know How to get it
Have the chance to pursue it
It’s the “Want to, How to, Chance to” model. It applies to organizations that aren’t finishing important initiatives, as well as people. Give it a shot.
What’s something that isn’t getting done in your life or business? Is the problem you don’t want it to get done, you don’t know how to do it, or you don’t have the chance to do it?
If you’re stalled, check your “Want to”
Here’s a secret: if you’re stuck, it’s almost always because of your “want to.” When you want something badly enough, you’ll find a way to learn how, and you’ll find a way to make the chance.
But even if you’re a high-achiever, even if you have complete mastery in your life, your “want to” can sabotage you every time.
Why? Because “want to” is all emotion. Emotion is powerful. Emotion is irrational. Emotion comes from the hindbrain and can override your logic and common sense. And your emotions can contradict your conscious desires and make you flame out.
Emotion drives excuses
When we somehow aren’t taking action, we have reasons. Indeed, the smarter we are, the more plausible the excuses. But dig deeper. Beneath the excuses is emotion:
The programming class that would let me change careers doesn’t fit my schedule. (Truth: I was scared I couldn’t hack it.)
It’s OK if my business partner doesn’t fit into the business any more. He can be a good will ambassador. (Truth: I’m avoiding a hard conversation.)
Once the kids leave home, then I’ll lose weight. (Truth: I’ve always been big. If I lose weight, who am I? I don’t know how to be thin.)
Fear kills “want to”
Notice a pattern? The emotion behind our excuses is almost always fear. Not big, traumatic fear. Tiny, lurking fear. I call these “microfears.”
… the fear of failure
… the fear of hurting a friend
… the fear of being someone new
Fear triggers our fight/flight/freeze response. So it hijacks our ability to do the things we know we need to do.
Little fears make us avoid
The things we stall, we stall from fear. Why will the mail pile never get sorted?
… because we’re afraid of confronting those bank statements that need to be reconciled … because we’re afraid the itemized credit card bill will force us to confront the real cost of our six-week volcano-chasing holiday … because we’re afraid that notice from the tax authorities means we’re about to be audited (if you never see the notice, it didn’t happen, right? Sadly, no. The tax authorities show up in person at 7 am. True story.)
Fears are findable!
Over my years as a coach, I’ve discovered that:
you can identify the fears that are driving (or not driving) you
there are techniques that are consistently effective at breaking through fear and getting you moving
In part 2, I’ll explore the structure of fear & how it works.
One of the most valuable distinctions you can make about language is to develop insight into active and passive voice. “Mistakes were made” is passive voice. It doesn’t say by whom those mistakes were made. People use passive voice to avoid acknowledging responsibility.
People also deflect responsibility by using words that sound like they refer to something real, but which refer to abstract concepts. Then they talk as if those abstract concepts are somehow active agents.
“Competition increased this year.” No, it didn’t. Customers purchased from other companies, instead of yours. It’s customers where the action lies. When you put the action where it belongs, you can start to gain insight into how you can investigate further. In this case, by calling up a bunch of customers buyers and asking, “why did you buy from Those Other Guys, Inc. instead of us?”
My favorite deceptive language of the day is that “wages aren’t going up as much as expected, given the economy.” But … wages don’t go up or down. Wages just are. The proper formulation is, “managers and employers are not raising wages.” That puts the action (and the responsibility) squarely where it belongs.
Learn to listen carefully to language. You’ll quickly start to realize how much people use it to avoid addressing the real problems they’re dealing with.
Stever was a hit! ?…clearly the best panel of the day?…the most useful advice of the entire conference?…refreshing, honest, frank commentary on management team dynamics ?…illuminating reasons why people join start-ups?.
— Audience comments, Harvard Business School, entrepreneurship panel