When there’s so much to do, it can be hard to think about stopping. Life swirls around us at a hectic pace. But we may need to stop it if we want to be effective at work, let alone to live well. Pushing performance, criticizing others, and rushing around are counterproductive strategies that can be changed. Read on to learn how.
We are in the midst of a series based, in part, on Tim Gallwey’s book “The Inner Game of Work.” At the outset of his book, Gallwey shares a personal reflection. “I have embarked on a quest to work free,” he writes. “I want to honor that part of myself that is inherently free, regardless of its circumstances, and allow it to be expressed at work.”
In other words, Tim Gallwey wants to love both his work and himself at work. But that isn’t easy. Gallwey calls it “a quest” because he recognizes that “in the the field of work, more than in any other human endeavor, freedom has been most seriously compromised.” We may have eliminated slavery, at least officially, but few people go through life without feeling “the chains that bind us at work.”
We have all known those chains, those moments of necessity when we begrudgingly and reluctantly do what we have to do rather than what we want to. Gallwey notes that this reflects the prevailing definition of work, as “something that we’d rather not be doing if we had a choice.” But Gallwey believes it doesn’t have to be this way.
He believes it’s possible to stop the rat race and get off the treadmill, if we are willing to make three adjustments. (1) Stop pushing performance at the expense of learning and enjoyment. (2) Stop criticizing ourselves and others in the name of management and quality control. (3) Stop rushing through the day with no time to prioritize and plan.
(1) Stop Pushing. We have covered this one extensively in the past month. We also know intuitively that “all work and no play,” to borrow a phrase, makes for a very tough row to hoe. Gallwey notes, however, that it also leads to declining productivity over time. Cracking the whip may work for a season, but long-term performance derives from a more balanced approach that pays attention to all three corners of what Gallwey calls “the work triangle”: performance, learning, and enjoyment.
It’s not that Gallwey has his head in the sand when it comes to the demands of work. He knows that work includes performance objectives, and he understands the importance of meeting those objectives. But he also knows that constant pushing to perform, without concomitant attention to learning and enjoyment, will undermine the very performance we seek.
Gallwey therefore suggests a process for attaching learning and enjoyment goals for every performance objective. You might try that the next time you set your goals, whether for yourself or for your supervisor at work. Have three components for every goal: What do you want to accomplish? What do you want to learn? What do you want to feel? If you identify projected accomplishments, learnings, or feelings that are not related to each other, that’s OK too. Just develop them as stand-alone goals.
From there you can begin to play the awareness games that I have written about before to enhance your experience at work. By paying attention to the bigger picture, by noticing the critical variables that relate to performance, learning, and enjoyment, it’s possible to shift your experience in positive directions.
As a golf coach, Gallwey has, on occasion, encouraged people to keep track of their strokes and their feelings on each hole. They count their strokes and then they rank their enjoyment of the hole on a scale of 1-5. Gallwey notes that early on their feelings often track to their strokes. The lower the strokes the better they feel. But over time they find other things to enjoy and, ironically enough, their game tends to improve as they become less stroke conscious.
So too in the workplace. When we stop pushing against narrow performance objections and start paying attention to our learning and experience along the way, many problems are solved and productivity is often improved.
(2) Stop Criticizing. This one is hard for managers and coaches alike. When your job is to make things better, then it’s easy to slip into the mode of “constructive criticism.” You see a problem and you make a suggestion; you see another problem and you make another suggestion; you see a big problem and you come down hard. But Gallwey sees this, too, as counter-productive.
For one thing, it contributes to the problem of micromanaging. Instead of letting people make and learn from their own mistakes, we become invested in overseeing and policing the process. Similar to how marital partners become embarrassed by each other, working relationships often become contaminated by associations, projections, and attitudes. Doing things right, which often equates to doing things my way, becomes the excuse for many an overbearing and unsuccessful experience.
Constructive criticism, especially in the hands of a perfectionist, can destroy far more than it creates. Thomas Crane, in his book “The Heart of Coaching,” goes so far as to suggest that there’s no such thing as “constructive criticism.” He calls it an oxymoron. All criticism is destructive of something • otherwise, it wouldn’t be called criticism. “And the affect of criticism on human beings,” notes Crane, “regardless of intent, is almost always negative.”
Gallwey would agree. There’s no way to love the work you do if the atmosphere is filled with criticism. Crane notes how criticism poisons the air and how critical people “are difficult to work with,” “difficult to be around,” and “usually drag good energy down to their level.” He therefore encourages people to stop criticizing, to create and nurture positive energy, and to get the distinction between constructive feedback and criticism. This is, in fact, what he calls the heart of coaching.
Gallwey takes this deeper by writing about the connection between our inner-voices of criticism and the words that come out of our mouths. How we talk to ourselves determines how we talk to others. If we are hard on ourselves, then we will be hard on others. And that will compromise our ability to be the best we can possibly be and to do the best we can possibly do.
Gallwey describes this inner-critic as the voice that says, “Don’t hold the club that way, you stupid idiot, do it this way instead.” Even if the voice is right, repeated utterances of demeaning, self-critical talk will quickly erode both our ability and our interest in the game.
So too when it comes to our performance at work. When we allow our inner-critic to rule the roost, both in our head and with others, we effectively undermine the performance, learning, and enjoyment of one and all. We limit both the energy and the creativity to solve problems. When we stop criticizing and start encouraging the work of others, we’re in for all sorts of pleasant surprises.
(3) Stop Rushing. If there is one refrain that I hear every week from my friends, colleagues, and clients, it goes something like this: “It has really been a crazy week with everything that’s going on. I hardly had a chance to stop and breathe, let alone to think and plan. It’s just one thing after another.”
Unfortunately, this too interferes with our performance, learning, and enjoyment of work. It also interferes with our health and well being. Rushing from one thing to the next is no way to live. Stress, a necessary part of life, becomes distress when the pace becomes frenetic and unabated.
In his landmark book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen Covey encourages us to “Put First Things First.” This is where he builds a four quadrant “Time Management Matrix” from the two axes of importance and urgency. Covey argues that while most people are buffeted about by the urgent, effective people spend a significant percentage of their time focused on things that are important but not urgent. Here they find time for planning, recreation, relationship building, innovation, and production capability activities.
But how do we do this when life and work become so demanding? Once again Gallwey comes to the rescue, with the description of the STOP tool he learned from one of his executive friends. STOP is an acronym for Step back, Think, Organize your thoughts, and Proceed. It has, Gallwey notes, “become an indispensable tool for working effectively.”
Of course we have to use the tool in order for it to be effective. And whether we use it or not is up to us. No one is going to do it for us. The workplace, left to its own devices, will work us over and wind us up until we break. Only we can say “No,” using the STOP tool and the importance of planning as the warrant for our hesitation. To be effective, that choice needs to become a habit.
As with running, the most important step is the first one. Many a runner will confide that the first mile is the hardest mile. So too with the STOP tool. Stepping back from the fray is the hardest step. Many find it necessary to physically move to a different position, in order to collect themselves and regain their equilibrium.
In my coaching work, I like to walk to a different room and ring a Chinese gong before the start of a new session. It calls me to stop one thing before starting another. One of my clients goes for a walk around the building every day at 1:00 PM. Another closes the door and takes a nap on a mat on the floor of his office at about the same time.
Once we step back, it becomes easier and almost natural to think and plan. When you are finally ready to proceed, you usually make fewer mistakes than when you rush into things with a “Just Do It” attitude. As Gallwey notes, “Just doing it without stopping to consider options and consequences usually results in a lot of just undoing it.”
Gallwey notes the importance of short, medium, and long stops. Pausing for two seconds before answering the phone gives us the chance to ask if we really want to answer the phone at this moment. Medium stops “allow time to reflect and evaluate a situation before proceeding into action.” Long stops enable us to “look at issues from a more strategic perspective.” All three become habits for highly effective people.
If you want to love both your work and yourself at work, then perhaps it’s time for you to stop. Stop pushing performance at the expense of learning and enjoyment. Stop criticizing yourself and others in the name of management and quality control. Stop rushing through the day with no time to prioritize and plan.
Coaching Inquiries: Are you in constant motion? Is your stress level to the point of distress? Do people enjoy working with and for you? How could you make the STOP tool a daily habit?
To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.
Thank you for all your articles. I’m 55 years in age and I’ve been in sales in one way or another most of my life. I have always had a dream or desire to achieve $100,000 in income from my sales, but it has always somehow escaped my reality. Am I too old to pursue this dream? Somehow it still breathes somewhere within me. I don’t think I ever took myself seriously in achieving this dream. Any suggestions? (Ed. Note: This would be a great coaching project. Let us know if we can assist you to find the right coach for you.)
I would like to go on a fluid fast for one week. I have tried it in the past but didn’t really succeed. It will be nice to know that I will be doing it with other people. If you have any suggestions, let me know. I need to add more fruits and veggies to my diet.
I am very interested in “going liquid” for one week. I am on medication, will this make any difference? I also just started working out yesterday for the first time in 8 years. Thank you for your time and kindness. (Ed. Note: Talk with your doctor and read this week’s Wellness Pathway Go There.)
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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