The Assault of Sustained Thinking

The 18th century French philosopher Voltaire put it perfectly, “No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking”. Thinking is a skill. It can be practiced. Creativity, innovation, intuition, and problem solving are all forms of thinking. The more you use them, the stronger they grow. Thinking is a talent that can be developed.

Early in my career, I had a colleague that struggled with “being strategic”. Stan had received his annul performance review and his supervisor told him he needed to be more strategic. He was lost because he did not know how to be strategic. Thinking strategically is not something normally taught. The only way Stan could become more strategic is to practice thinking strategically.

I think Stan’s obstacle is a lesson for all of us. Taking time to think is not time wasted. It is time that develops our ability to think.

Our thoughts drive our actions, our results, and our very being. If we have a desire to improve ourselves, our ability to think is probably a good place to start.

Set aside ten to twenty minutes a day for focused thinking. Then use that time to think. Don’t do anything else. Just think. Think about your challenges, your projects, your dreams, your ideas, your successes, your relationships, your goals, or your life. Think about whatever is important to you at the moment. Not only will you discover new ideas, you will improve your ability to think. As humans, we get better at what we practice, and this world could use better thinkers.

Time for a Break?

You have probably read a lot of tips on how developing the right habits will help you increase your productivity and effectiveness. But when do your habits just become routine? When do you know if you are in a rut?

I had a mentor that taught me that we improve our effectiveness by solving problems, or challenges we face. In fact, he said that we sometimes need to create a problem just so we can see opportunity that we wouldn’t otherwise  recognize.

That is why I think it is important to occasionally take a break from our habits. We will be able to evaluate from a different perspective what our day could become.

For some of you this may sound crazy. We spend our life building habits. But when you look closely, habits sometimes morph into routine actions. We begin to separate the reason for the habit from the habit itself. If we can step back and reconnect with the why, we may see better opportunities.

For example, the way we use technology drives many of our habits. But as technology advances, we may not be able to take advantage of the change, if we are not able to break our habits.

Another example is not taking advantage of the variety of ways to achieve our purpose. There are unlimited methods that can be employed in exercise, diet, project implementation,  relationship building, etc. But if we are stuck in certain habits, our results will never reach our potential.

Good habits lead to good results. Don’t throw away habits for a life of chaos. But to see more opportunity, occasionally we need a break.

How You Can Become Excited About Your Goals

We respond differently to goals, because we have different preferences in how we interact with the world. You can become more excited and motivated to achieve your goals if you can tap into your own preferences.

Allow me to generalize a few typical scenarios that are triggered based on preferences. See if any of these are similar to how you react to goals.

Challenge – You like to win. You are energized by getting things done first, and doing them your way. The rules are not as important as achieving the goal.

Cooperation – You like to work with others. You are energized by the relationships you develop through collaboration. Urgency to finish is less important than to make sure the team is working together, an using everyone’s talents.

Structured – You enjoy developing a detailed plan. You are energized by following your plan and having regular reviews that reveal your progress. You enjoy working on a team when everyone fulfills their role according to the plan.

Exploration  – You enjoy understanding the purpose of the goal. You are energized by evaluating various methods to achieve a goal, and the potential impact of various outcomes. You like to strategize about options.

All of these responses can be situational, and many times you are driven by more than one. If you can discover your most natural inspiration you can restructure your goals to increase your motivation.

If you like challenge, then find another person with whom you can compare results. If you wanted to increase your exercise time, you will be more motivated by comparing your results with someone else. Create a specific challenge that you both agree upon. For example, be the first to run fifty miles each month, or running the most miles in a month.

If you can unlock the combination that best fits your personality, you can make achieving any goal easier. I hope this helps you develop a better plan for setting goals in 2018.


Effective Rules

When I see an organization or a team with rules that are not being followed, it usually reflects a weakness in leadership. Not just because the rules are not being followed, but because the rules exist in the first place. Unfortunately this is too common.

Rules are created to keep people safe, to provide guidance for actions, and prevent mistakes. In many cases broad rules are created in reaction to specific incidents.

For example, if an employee spills a beverage affecting their workplace, a rule may be created to prevent employees from drinking beverages. There may be locations in the workplace or types of work where the presence of beverages is not a potential accident, or using beverage containers with lids would be effective.  Yet a rule is created covering the entire workplace.

This occurs because an ineffective leader views the new rule as the easiest to manage. A stronger leader would create a rule that supports the employees drinking beverages but at the same time protect the workplace. This rule would be more difficult to define and manage. But it also becomes a rule that people will actually follow.

Ineffective rules result in an unhappy workforce, or a workforce that ignores the rules. This is not an employee problem, it is a leadership problem.

As a leader, you must enforce the rules. If you don’t think the rule should be enforced, then work to change the rule.

All of this takes more effort. That is why we continue to see broad, ineffective rules in many workplaces and organizations. If you want effective rules, you need to be an effective leader.