As we discussed in last week’s Provision, Priorities Matter. But priorities without planning are not really priorities at all. They more often become casualties in the face of life’s exigencies. When that happens, we become causalities as well. The stress of not putting first things first takes a toll on one and all. The antidote to failure and stress is planning. Planning matters. Unless we take the time to think through not only the why but also the how of our priorities, not much will happen the way we expect. So stop running around like a crazy squirrel! Read this Provision today.
It’s Memorial Day weekend in the United States, a time when we traditionally stop to remember war dead and other fallen heroes and loved ones. If you are mourning the loss of a friend or family member right now, or if you are especially mindful of those who have given their lives in national service, then I extend my appreciation and respect for what you may be feeling and remembering right now.
About ten years ago I was at the cemetery where my maternal grandparents are buried. My children were present and as I walked over to my grandparents’ graves with them, I began to tear up and to cry as though they had just died yesterday. That emotional reaction, that limbic hijack, was completely unexpected. It just happened. It was a powerful reminder that on some level the past is present in each of us.
When that happens, when we experience strong emotions whether for something in the distant past, the immediate present, or even the anticipated future, it helps to respond with empathy. Shushing our emotions is neither helpful nor possible. It’s better to understand them in the context of the universal needs that give rise to them. When we feel good, needs are being honored, respected, and met. When we feel bad, needs are not being honored, respected, and met. Either way, feelings get stimulated.
And death is an especially powerful stimulus when it comes to feelings, both positive and negative. Death represents the ending of so many conversations and dreams. It causes the living to reflect on who we are and what might have been. No wonder countries set aside times to remember the dead. Such times enable us to grieve, to celebrate, to mourn, and to move on with a more balanced sense of perspective.
If any organization has learned how to maintain its composure through the trials and torments of death, it’s the military. As one US politician put it recently, they “kill and break things for a living.” By extension, of course, they also die and get broken for a living. It’s what they do. Regardless of what we may think of such violent approaches to conflict resolution, there’s no denying the emotional side of the equation. In the end, with even the most sophisticated of technologies, death and carnage are hard to take.
So as any military commander will tell you, the key lies in the planning. That’s how you minimize or avoid losses. A while back I heard an air force fighter pilot speak about his missions in Iraq. He started his speech with the following observation: “When you go to war, you don’t want it to be a fair fight.”
That’s why the military invented the now-famous SWOT analysis: a strategic planning method used to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats involved with an operation. Before every mission, and as a part of their global view, the military considers each of those attributes and conditions in order to minimize losses and maximize gains. The better the analysis, the more leverage they hope to have as they go into battle.
Such planning views life in terms of enemies, adversaries, and risks. That is, in fact, one of the criticisms of SWOT analyses, which are widely utilized in strategic planning for all kinds of organizations. When you frame the questions in terms of weaknesses and threats, that’s what you find: a world full of hostile people and things. It takes different questions to generate different conversations, dreams, and outcomes.
To that end, John Sutherland and Jacqueline Stavros have proposed replacing SWOT with SOAR, inviting appreciative conversations regarding Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results. After documenting the limitations and relatively poor track records of what SWOT analyses actually produce, they put forward a model that gets people talking in new ways about their strengths, values, resources, and possibilities.
The focus of the SOAR model is upon collaboration more than competition, win-win more than win-lose, abundance more than scarcity, assets more than deficits, life-embracing more than life-striving, humility more than superiority, and choice-full more than inevitable. SOAR is an exceptional alternative that many leaders and organizations would do well to learn and to practice.
Either way, however, whether you are more attracted to SWOT or SOAR (and there are many others as well), one thing that all of these approaches assume is that people, leaders, and organizations benefit from planning. Last week I wrote about the importance of having clear priorities. This week I am making a different yet related point: priorities without planning are not much good and can hardly be called priorities at all.
Take the weekly production of this newsletter. It is more-or-less a solo effort by yours truly, and it is offered free to the world as a gift. People ask me how and why I do this every week. I have written before about the why: such reflective writing discipline is part of my path of development. It is my priority because it makes me a better person. It is part of how I learn, love, and laugh my way through life.
But the why without a how will not generate a weekly newsletter of any depth. There will either be missed issues or the content will be scarified to the distribution schedule. How do we avoid that? Planning!
A while back I went through a period in which the weekly publication of Provisions was becoming more and more of a burden. The issue had less to do with coming up with content and more to do with the impact of the publication schedule on my wife’s and my social lives. To relieve the stress, I contemplated skipping weeks on occasion (and may still do that when appropriate).
Ever since I made that announcement, however, my publication schedule has continued unabated. But my wife’s and my stress levels have gradually gone way down. What’s made the difference? Planning and presence.
From week to week, I am much more conscious of when and how to write Provisions so they don’t ruin our weekends. I often still write them on Saturdays; I’m in that groove and it’s a good one for me. Now, however, I more consistently look ahead to our weekend plans and adjust my writing schedule accordingly. Instead of waiting till the last minute, I have adjusted my internal clock so that the project gets done in the context of other needs and strategies.
That’s where presence comes in. By letting go of the “need” to publish Provisions every week (it’s not a “need” but a “strategy”), I can more fully enjoy the opportunity to publish Provisions, along with the many other opportunities that make life so rich and meaningful to me and my wife.
The combination of planning and presence has virtually eliminated any sense of worry or pressure about getting Provisions done. If it happens, fine. If not, fine. My job is to play the game of enjoying life fully while getting Provisions written around the edges. Before planning and presence took hold, Provisions was the focus. Now, life is the focus.
This shift has been such gift. One way to describe it is that Provisions generates less adrenaline in my life. Through planning and presence I can relax and enjoy each moment of every day more fully.
We have just completed a major hardscaping and landscaping project in our back yard. The project took four months to complete with lots of planning and improvisations along the way. Our contractor, Don Newsom of Delightful Gardens, has been a delight to work with. And the results show. Our yard has certainly soared beyond our wildest dreams. I had to laugh, then, when Don sent me the following reflection on the adrenaline lifestyle of squirrels:
“Why did the squirrel cross the street? (The chicken had a different reason.) My theory is that squirrels are addicted to adrenalin. He is after the excitement and the rush, but eventually has a belly-up experience. I have not observed any other animal except squirrels that seem to go out to play in the traffic.”
“Do you run your company, or does it run you? The connection between road-kill and management by crisis mode is the adrenal system. Calm is a choice, and then a skill set. Like many good things, these skills can be found in Prosult; if you look. Take a deep relaxing breath and choose calm.”
That’s one way to describe what happens through effective planning. We become less adrenaline driven, more calm, and better able to enjoy the present moment. That has been my experience with Provisions, and I invite you to find that experience for yourself. Want a partner on the journey. Contact LifeTrek today for a free consultation.
Coaching Inquiries: What role does planning play in your life? How often do you take the time to step back and think through how to make life better? What helps you to do that? What benefits do you see? Who can be your partner on the journey? How can you be more present with your loved ones, friends, and colleagues in life and work?
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 to arrange a complimentary conversation.
LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)
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 Form or Email Bob.
Thanks for today’s Provision, Priorities Matter. Now look what you have started! I will be on this all night.
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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