Two weeks ago I suggested thesecond question in a 10-part series of transformational questions. These arequestions that have the power to interrupt the mindless pursuit of business asusual by making us more mindful of what Tim Gallwey calls the Inner Game oflife (The Inner Game of Work, Random House • New York, 2000).
I started my series with thequestion “Am I Here?” and moved on to “Am I Hungry?” Every time you reach forfood, I suggested that you pause and ask yourself that question. I also made adistinction between stomach-hunger and heart-hunger. Too often we try to fillthe latter with food. Asking ourselves “Am I Hungry?” before we eat a meal or asnack can disrupt this tendency and get us back on track.
Today I would suggest a relatedquestion that can be used whenever you reach for anything. “Am I Happy?” Toooften we reach for things without much thought. We take on more and more. Weget busier and busier. We exchange what we’re doing for something new, somethingdifferent, or something “greener” on the other side of the fence. But am Ihappy? Not necessarily.
You may remember mystraightforward advice about the question, “Am I Hungry?” If the answer is yes,eat. If the answer is no, don’t eat. Sooner or later true hunger will come. Thesame advice can be given about the question “Am I Happy?” If the answer is yes,stay in the game. If the answer is no, get out of the game. Sooner or latertrue happiness will come.
There’s two ways to get out ofthe game: you can either change the rules or quit. Too often people quit beforethey try changing the rules. This applies to all areas of life, including work,marriage, relationships, school, and sports. Unfortunately, quitting andstarting to play a new game fails more often than not. We change the names, butthe people and the problems remain the same.
Changing the rules meanschanging our focus, motivation, and vision. It means coming up with a differentanswer to one of Gallwey’s favorite questions, “What game am I really playing?”As an example, he talks about his work with the telephone operators atAT&T. It would be hard to find a more boring job. “After six weeks,” one ofthe operators told Gallwey, “there’s nothing more to learn on this job. We’veheard all the problems and know how to handle them. I could do the job in mysleep, and sometimes that’s just how it feels.”
In addition to being boring thejob was also stressful, with its close and constant performance monitoring andexpectations. In such an unhappy environment, most of the operators werediscourteous and sooner or later they ended up quitting. Gallwey suggested thatthey change the rules. Instead of focusing on courtesy, accuracy, andproductivity, the AT&T standard, Gallwey suggested that they focus on thecustomer.
The object of the new game wasto discern the customer’s state of mind through the sound of their voice andany audible background noises. By listening for these cues, the operators wouldrate the customers on a scale of one to ten (from friendly to hostile). At theend of the day they could look back and see whether they’d had more of a warm,fuzzy day or more of a cold, prickly day.
Guess what happened? Bychanging the rules, by changing the focus, motivation, and vision of what itmeant to be a telephone operator, the job suddenly became 30% more enjoyableand 40% less boring and stressful. People saw immediate use for their improvedlistening skills in other areas of life. And, yes, courtesy, accuracy, andproductivity went up as well.
This technique can be appliedto all aspects of life. By changing our focus, motivation, and vision • bychanging the game we’re playing • we can greatly enhance our happiness. Thenext time you reach for something in life, the next time you decide to quit thegame and start something new, ask yourself the question, “Am I Happy?” If youare, then maybe you should decline the opportunity and stay in the game, rightwhere you are. If you’re not happy, then maybe you should try changing therules before jumping ship. It can pay big dividends in the end.
May you be filled withgoodness, peace, and joy.