The Illusion of Control

Illusion of ControlThree weeks ago I flew to the states for a brief visit with friends and a prospective employer. On the flight next to me sat an Asian man of my parents’ age. He appeared to be in his early 70s and was enjoying a rich life in retirement. He had just returned from a cruise on the Danube and was in Hong Kong visiting his daughter’s family.  Apparently these two trips interrupted a busy golf schedule near his home in San Francisco.

We talked aimlessly and without substance for a period. Then I stumbled upon a topic of deep interest to both of us. I asked him, “If you could go back in time and offer a younger version of yourself advice, what would that advice be?” He said, “I would tell myself that control is an illusion.”

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Emotional Intelligence

Emotional IntelligenceAn ex-colleague but still-friend of mine, mailed me after my article Live Like An NBA Star.  He told me how much he recognized self-awareness as a key to personal development.  And he expanded on it with his observations.  It got me thinking on the topic, which is the subject of today’s post.

First, recall my friend Greg’s comments on what makes the best prospect for the NBA.  He said most great basketballers’ egos have been buffed to a mirror shine by years of adulation.  Only a few can receive that praise and retain the ability to see their flaws and areas where peers exceed them.  Prospects with this quality are more likely to succeed in the NBA.  Because, in addition to starting with the right talent, they are sure to improve.

If self-awareness is akin to modesty, then surely their opposite are narcissism and arrogance.  Along that line a graduate student at Massey University in New Zealand, Jeff Simpson, recently showed the effects of narcissism on employment.  Presumably Simpson’s studies in psychology helped him identify narcissistic tendencies.  But it did not take a PhD to measure narcissists’ success in the workforce:

None of those 10 [narcissists] remained employed at the company for the full two years.

While those numbers every egomaniac may fail, anyone that has read of Larry Ellison and Steve Jobs knows differently.  So, clearly some people’s egos drive them to great successes.  But the hidden cost of that management style may be seen in Apple today.  It was certainly in Jim Collins’ Good to Great.  In short, a company built around a single ego always fails after the ego departs.

So, controlling our egos is critically important for most people’s success.  And even if you are the next Steve Jobs your stockholders will thank you if you build a company that is not centered around your ego.  Self-criticism is a piece of the broader category of emotional intelligence (EQ).  Some authors conclude that EQ is more important to success than IQ.

I read that emotional intelligence consists of four attributes:

  1. Self-awareness: recognizing ourselves and how our behavior, our strengths, and our weaknesses affect others.
  2. Self-management: managing emotions and demonstrating willful discipline.
  3. Social awareness: identifying others’ emotional states and adapting.
  4. Relationship management: developing and maintaining good relationships.

Like the dimensions of intelligence of which I have previously written, I suspect we each excel in some of the above and need improvement in others.  For instance I believe I am strong in numbers one and two, acceptable in number four, and I am consistently working to improve myself in number three.

The article I linked above contains some recommendations of improving EQ.  But I am developing my own philosophy for self-improvement with respect to EQ:

  • Address unhappiness.  Positive energy flows from those that possess it in abundance to those with troubles.  It is impossible to address the emotional needs of people around us without first banishing our internal demons.
  • Find an outlet for your body’s energy.  The happiest people I know always are getting some exercise and have some regular contact with nature.  Go walk in a forest.
  • Learn to control your mind.  I have friends that meditate.  I wrestle my hyperactive mind many times a week by practicing yoga.  Those mental wrestling matches are making me stronger.
  • Empathize.  My historical weakness as a colleague and manager was to expect my peers and reports to behave as I did.  Years ago I started drilling myself to place myself in others’ positions before judging or setting unreasonable expectations.  That has served me well when I am at odds with a coworker.
  • Be positive.  Positivity is a state of mind that few of us naturally gravitate to.  But we can train our mind which directs our bodies.  Try it.



Changing Tactics

Storm CloudsMany of my post-employment blog posts have revolved around my Chinese studies and how they have challenged one of my weakest capabilities (language). Today was one my worst days. And the second toughest was on Friday of last week, when I walked out of class an hour early. The last week has not gone well for me.  It briefly passed my mind to consider quitting class today and instead spend my time on another project. But I remembered previous advice I shared here. I think I am now back on track.

I recognized in early June that I would have good and bad days. Our mind tends to project the future based on our most recent experiences. From one catastrophic day we are blinded from seeing two months of success. In trying to see the big picture, I am reminded of a humbling, true and somewhat funny witticism: no matter how amazing or embarrassing you were today approximately one billion Chinese people could not give a damn.  That really puts things in perspective.

My bad day started as others have: I had misunderstood previous instructions and arrived unprepared. While everyone else reviewed their mock final test I sat there on my own. That was today’s first hour. It was not fun to see everyone else getting prepared for Wednesday’s final while I sat on the sidelines. My mind was in a bad place, for sure. One thing that helped me get back on track today was an exercise in positivity I developed with guidance from Mush Panjwani. Specifically Amy Cuddy’s posture advice had a dramatic effect on my mental state when I followed it in our ten minute break. That stuff works.

But today I made another discovery with respect to my Chinese studies. I need to change tactics. And this is fairly easily done.

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The Science of Positivity

PositivityOn Thursday night of last week I attended a presentation by a local sales trainer and motivational speaker, Mush Panjwani.  The talk was titled “Staying Positive in a Negative World”.  I instinctively raise my guard when I see messages like this.  Positivity is fine, I believe.  But realism untarnished by foolish positivity or self-destructive negativity seems the best policy.  But Mush’s presentation spoke to my inner scientist.  And it is worth sharing a summary of his arguments here.

Mush stated that positivity is influenced by three behaviors: thoughts, vocabulary, and actions.  Thoughts affect mood, vocabulary programs our brains and the people around us, and actions have physiological benefits.  Below I share my own experience and research on why Mush’s ideas are correct.

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