Posts Tagged 'Dennis Sparks'

“Next action thinking” + “just do it”

I’ve noticed that people who have important things they want to accomplish in their lives (like the self-care practices I discussed in my previous post) often lose momentum either because the next step isn’t clear to them or because they defer taking an action assuming that it can be done just as easily tomorrow.

I’ve also noticed that people who work in both large and small bureaucracies, which inevitably have their own build-in forms of inertia tend to postpone action, often passing decisions about next actions to someone above them in the organizational hierarchy or to a committee “for further discussion.”

In those bureaucracies, having a meeting becomes a substitute for doing the work that the meeting is actually about. Or, put another way, organizations confuse the activity of a meeting with the doing of the tasks that actually lead to accomplishing the goal.

As a result, at both the individual and collective level, action is deferred and personal responsibility avoided.

While there are many reasons important work doesn’t get done, two of the biggest ones are:

• a lack of clarity about the specific next action that must be taken, and

• the lack of a “just do it” attitude that breaks through individual and organizational inertia.

“Next action thinking” requires that we know the specific and concrete next step in accomplishing our goals.

For example, if it is essential that we talk to a supervisor, we may think that the next step is having the conversation. But the meeting is likely dependent on scheduling an appointment for it, on preparing for the conversation, and so on.

“Just do it” speaks for itself, and although it seems obvious, individuals too often wait for someone else to initiate action.

In your experience, what are the major barriers between the highest aspirations of individuals and organizations and the realization of those aspirations?

The importance of self-care 

For teachers, who are directly exposed to a large number of young people with trauma in their work, a secondary type of trauma, known as vicarious trauma, is a big risk. —Emelina Minero

Self care is an important topic at this time of year as people make New Year’s Resolutions or set annual goals.

Emelina Minero underscores the importance of self care in “When Students Are Traumatized, Teachers Are Too.”

Minero explains the link between student trauma and teacher stress this way:

“Data shows that more than half of all U.S. children have experienced some kind of trauma in the form of abuse, neglect, violence, or challenging household circumstances—and 35 percent of children have experienced more than one type of traumatic event, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can have impacts that extend far beyond childhood, including higher risks for alcoholism, liver disease, suicide, and other health problems later in life….

“For teachers, who are directly exposed to a large number of young people with trauma in their work, a secondary type of trauma, known as vicarious trauma, is a big risk. Sometimes called the “cost of caring,” vicarious trauma can result from “hearing [people’s] trauma stories and becom[ing] witnesses to the pain, fear, and terror that trauma survivors have endured,” according to the American Counseling Association.”

Minero offers several strategies teachers and administrators can use to address vicarious trauma:

Talking it out with colleagues, a life partner, therapists, and/or colleagues.

Building coping strategies to manage emotions (visualizing a calming place) and to identify and deal with more stressful times of the day.

Establishing coming home rituals such as turning off work phones or creating a to-do list for the next day before leaving work that provide clear boundaries between work and home life.

Minero’s suggestions promote self-care, an essential but often overlooked aspect of both physical and emotional well-being.

Three thoughts about self-care:

1. Self-care is not selfish. We cannot offer care to others if we don’t first care for ourselves.

2. Unless self-care is a routine and habitual part of our days it will quickly recede into the background when it is most needed.

3. To establish such routines and habits, it is helpful to view self-care as a promise to ourselves that assumes the same importance as promises we make to others.

What forms of self-care are most important to you, and how do you ensure that you engage in those practices on a regular basis?

Do you believe in epiphanies?

epiphany/[ih-pif-uh-nee] 

noun: a moment when you suddenly feel that you understand, or suddenly become conscious of, something that is very important to you

Do you believe in epiphanies?

I do.

I’ve had them while doing things as diverse as walking or driving, reading or staring out the window, having a conversation, or even while listening to keynote speakers at conferences.

Sometimes someone said just the right thing to me at the right time.

But epiphanies are not a change strategy that I would count on for me, for others, or for organizations.

Few epiphanies alter what we think and how we behave on a daily basis.

While guidance and inspiration can be drawn from epiphanies, they are seldom sufficient to produce meaningful and lasting changes in beliefs, understandings, and behavior.

Such changes almost always require sustained learning about complex subjects that includes deep and often courageous conversations within a strong team or other community about the implications of the new ideas and practices and how to solve the inevitable problems that arise in their implementation.

Anything less is simply insufficient.

Nothing I am saying here is new. In fact, it is decades or even centuries old.

But, inexplicably, it is far from common knowledge, yet alone common practice, except, perhaps, by resilient people.

Two questions:

What epiphanies, if any, have made a lasting difference in what you think and do?

In your experience, what structures (like teams or learning communities and dedicated time for them to meet) enable epiphanies to become standard practice?

Happy Holidays and best wishes for a wonderful 2018….

Have “mindful conversations”

It might not matter what I say, since some American conversations resemble a succession of monologues. A 2014 study led by a psychologist at Yeshiva University found that when researchers crossed two unrelated instant-message conversations, as many as 42 percent of participants didn’t notice. –Pamela Druckerman

Like most of us, I sometimes find myself in “conversations” with people who are far more interested in what they have to say than what’s on my mind.

Likewise, I have participated in too many “conversations” that remain on the surface as they move quickly from topic to topic.

I have also participated in conversations that were deep, meaningful, and, in some cases, life changing for me and others.

Participants leave these conversations with a greater appreciation of and respect for one another, altered views regarding important subjects, and solutions found for what seemed like intractable problems.

In the conversations I prefer participants have an openness to being influenced as well as a desire to influence. Participants listen carefully and seek to better understand themselves as well as each other.

Such conversations are unpredictable because they are likely to take on lives of their own, which makes them the kind of conversations in which resilient people thrive.

Druckerman points to the primary underlying skill required in these conversations:

“A lot of us — myself included — could benefit from a basic rule of improvisational comedy: Instead of planning your next remark, just listen very hard to what the other person is saying. Call it ‘mindful conversation,’ if you like.”

What kind of conversations do you prefer, and how do you create them?

Habits of resilient people

The first step is learning how to do it. Finding and obtaining the insight and the tools and the techniques you need. Understanding how it works. But step two is easily overlooked. Step two is turning it into a habit. Committing to the practice. Showing up and doing it again and again until you’re good at it, and until it’s part of who you are and what you do. —Seth Godin

Learning about something is only the first step.

Understanding an idea or practice deeply requires more of us.

Learning to do something correctly is harder still.

Learning to do it consistently until it becomes a habit is even harder. Such learning is founded on discipline and practice.

Here are a few habits we are likely to see in resilient people:

• Seeking clarity in the midst of confusion regarding purposes, values, goals, and next actions.

• Acting with integrity, particularly in speaking their truth and keeping their promises.

• Accepting responsibility for their actions.

• Taking calculated risks that move them out of their comfort zones.

• Learning from their mistakes.

• Using their strengths.

• Having empathy for the experiences and perspective of others.

What would you add to this list?

Taking personal responsibility

We teach children to take responsibility for their actions.

And we expect the same from adults.

A hallmark of resilient people is their willingness to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

But what exactly does that mean?

A person I regard as wise once told me that he found it very useful to hold himself 100% responsible for whatever happened in his life.

Not that he didn’t believe that others had a share of the responsibility, nor that “fate” hadn’t played a role, but rather that when he assumed 100% of the responsibility he did a much more thorough job of searching for the things that were within his circle of influence.

When he did that, he told me, others were far more likely to own their appropriate share of responsibility for the problem.

I have found that advice helpful over the years in countless situations.

While not all problems benefit from that way of thinking, most do, at least in my experience.

So, for today, assume 100% of the responsibility for a problem.

Within your circle of influence, what specific actions will you take to prevent, minimize, or solve a problem that would otherwise be easy to blame on others?

Everyone has an important story to tell

Everyone has a story to tell, and, given an opportunity, we all want to tell the important stories of our lives, stories that explain who we are and where we came from, that prove we existed and mattered, that demonstrate our resilience, and that reveal the people and events that affected our lives.

And we can all learn important lessons from one another’s stories.

StoryCorps’ “National Day of Listening” provides an opportunity to evoke those stories.

On the day after Thanksgiving, StoryCorps asks everyone to take a few minutes to record an interview with a family member or friend.

You can use recording equipment that is readily available to you, such as a computer, smart phone, tablet, or other voice or video recorder.

StoryCorps provides a free Do It Yourself Instruction Guide.

The lesson that everyone has an important story to tell has been reinforced time and again for me as a hospice volunteer who has been privileged to record dozens of hospice patients discussing their lives in conversations with family members.

All that is required of us is to extend the invitation and to listen deeply without interruption to those stories.

Once the conversation begins, it’s likely to proceed almost effortlessly, at least in my experience.

Some possible questions include:

• What elders or events influenced the person you’ve become?

• How would you like to be remembered?

• What advice would you like to pass along to your children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, or others in your life?

There’s no gift human beings can give one another that is more important and precious than our undivided attention and genuine interest in the stories we all have to tell.

When that attention promotes storytelling that is preserved with video or voice recordings, it is a gift that benefits future generations for decades to come.

Consider:

How have stories and storytelling shaped your life?

To whom would you like to reach out—an elder, a family member or friend, a veteran, a colleague, or a neighbor, for example—to invite his or her storytelling?

[This post is adapted from one first published at Thanksgiving 2012. I have updated the links.]


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