Clutter. I have it in my office. I have it in my shop. I have it in my home (although mostly in my areas, not my wife’s). I can live with all that. What I have a problem with is the clutter in my mind. Constant self-talk, thoughts, judgments, predictions.
What does clutter in the mind feel like? To me, it feels like a traffic jam on Times Square, with thoughts and expectations and fears all trying to get through the intersection at the same time. Clearing the mind brings calm and order, a sense of peace, and the ability for me to get where I want to go.
Sleep experts tell us that racing thoughts are common with anxiety disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. But we all experience this buzzing clutter at times. The thoughts distract us, unfocus us, and generally contribute to an increasing level of stress.
How can we temper these thoughts, and thus decrease our anxiety?
There are a number of ways to get things out of your head. Here are a few I use:
Ho’oponopono proponents refer to the affirmation as “cleaning,” as in cleaning out one’s mind. Whatever thought, prediction, or fear is troubling you, it can be tempered by cleaning. I’ve experienced this often and find the affirmation extremely productive.
As an example, I had a client who harbored trepidation about initial meetings with high-dominant business owners. Once he got started in a conversation he was fine, but getting off the ground was scary.
Ho’oponopono (I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.) cleared his fear as he aimed the “I’m sorry” at his Knower/Judger interpretation that the other person should and would be worthy of his fear. He would utter the affirmation upon entering the target exec’s office, stick out his hand, and introduce himself. After mastering this technique, his ability to greet and connect with perfect prospects has improved dramatically…as has his success.
Meditation has been described as a family of self-regulation practices that focus on training attention and awareness in order to bring mental processes under greater voluntary control. It results in improved mental well-being and helps you develop capacities such as calm, clarity, and concentration. What better way to clear the mind than to foster calm, clarity, and concentration?
People from all walks of life—athletes, actors, academicians, musicians, politicians, business pundits—use forms of meditation to maximize the mind’s capacity to support them in achieving their goals and to avoid getting hung up on all the clutter that gets in the way.
I’m not a practiced or regular meditator. But I have used meditation on several key occasions in my life as the method of last resort to get my head cleared of thematic clutter interfering with my personal clarity.
A subset of meditation, easy breathing exercises can help oxygenate and calm. They can be quicker and easier to integrate into your day as well. I use breathing frequently. I think it has a lot to do with my mother saying “Just breathe” whenever I was injured or shocked or stunned. I was prone to panic attacks as a young boy, and this technique worked wonders on me. Still does.
Just jotting down some of the thoughts racing through your head can relieve your mind of its self-proclaimed duty to address all that “stuff” and is a good tool to use before bed. Writing it down tells the cluttered mind that we’ve already dealt with that issue. In journaling, I like to track what’s going on in the rest of the world (perhaps another person involved in the thought that’s bothering me), what’s going on with me (where am I coming from in this transaction), and how I feel about it. I find that last one both difficult and exposing. Identifying what we feel about things, in my experience, contributes more to calm and clarity than identifying what we need to do about things, so get those feelings down if you decide to journal.
Exercise promotes oxygen circulation and endorphin flow, and forces concentration away from the clutter in the mind and onto the activity. I don’t use exercise specifically to clear my mind. I use it as part of my everyday operating system because it is so energizing. I drag myself into a workout before 6:00 a.m. and 90 minutes later bounce out ready to tackle anything, after a great workout, a few minutes in some steam, and a wonderful shower. I suspect if I removed exercise from my routine, my mind clutter would actually increase.
There are many other ways to clear the clutter of our thoughts. What are yours? We all have them, but sometimes we forget to use them. Putting these techniques into action generates a huge payoff. Our mind runs our lives. What we conjure up in that clutter becomes our reality. Leaving it to random chance and outside influence takes away our God-given free will. Why let that happen?
We hear it in baseball broadcast booths all summer long: “He’s a .333 hitter. He’s gone oh for two. He’s due.” But is this accurate? Should you bet on this? Or are you just wishing for an outcome that has no basis in the data, and setting yourself up to lose? The gambler’s dilemma can teach us a lot about all our interactions.
When you flip a coin, it can land in one of two states: heads or tails. The statistical probability that it will land in either of those positions is 50%.
So if I flip a coin six times and it comes up heads all six times, what’s the probability that the next toss will end up tails? It’s simply gotta come up tails this time, right?
The coin has no memory. (At least it’s got that over the baseball player!) On any given toss, it’s going to land either heads or tails. The odds are 50/50 on every toss, even if it’s been one way for 10 straight tosses. So betting your future on tails coming up after six consecutive heads is very risky. The coin is not “due.” Your chance of getting tails is 50/50. Period.
Yet we make this kind of bet all the time. The .333 hitter? He’s got a one in three chance of getting a hit. That stat is the result of hundreds of at bats (depending on how much of the season has passed). It’s what he gets paid for. He fails to get a hit two-thirds of the time (that’s another whole article) and gets paid for that one in three stat.
So he’s gone oh for two. What are the odds he’ll get a hit in his next at bat? 100%? Now, there’s the gambler’s dilemma. Simply put, his average is still one in three.
It is what it is. We develop expectations from our Knower/Judger (our favorite batter is “due”) and then freak out when our wishes (and that’s really all they are) don’t come to pass.
I’m reminded of the fable of the frog and the scorpion. Scorpions have batting averages; nearly 100% of the time, they’ll sting anything nearby. It is in their nature. When you clearly see the data, how could you possibly fantasize another outcome?
The data is always there
How many of your struggles (assuming you have one or two) can be attributed to expectations not supported by data? Really frustrated when your favorite batter doesn’t get a hit on his third attempt? He’s a .333 hitter. Period. Can’t believe the coin came up heads again? 50/50. Period. Tired of having to deal with that direct report who just tells you what you want to hear and then doesn’t act after the conversation? It’s in his nature. Period.
The interpersonal statistic can be useful two ways. You might witness a friend, employee, or family member performing outside his statistical norm—having a bad day. If you review the data and see he’s basically “on” 90% of the time, then you can rest assured he’ll be back on track, like a .333 hitter. But not necessarily today!
On the flip side, when you really need 99% performance out of someone who might be a .333 hitter (in your world) and you dare to expect it, you’re probably in for some frustration.
Our K/Js frequently assign wishes to outcomes that ignore data, and then we bet our emotions on those wishes. But ballplayers go through slumps. Coins fall the same way six, seven, eight, and more times in a row. People act according to their nature no matter how much we want them to act otherwise. Who’s responsible for your frustration? Look at the data that’s in front of you and you can end the frustration of losing on bad bets.
Why do we ever change anything? Because we want to. There really is no other reason. The question is, how do we develop the desire to change anything? This story of a frustrated baby (who would grow up to use the story in his newsletter…) and his response to recurring pain in the patella, or kneecap, explains it all.
The year was 1947. A small boy had mastered high-speed crawling. (Rallyists show promise at an early age.) My home had well-worn and well-loved hardwood floors, and I would fly around the dining room, the hallway, my parents’ bedroom, and another room we called the den with tremendous grace and style. But I would not go into the living room. Why? There was an obnoxious oak door saddle in the archway that would pound my knees as I thumped over it. I was not equipped with the suspension needed to traverse this rough patch without doing damage.
So I avoided that room. There was nothing of interest in there anyway. Chairs. Lamps. No TV. There was an old wooden radio, but if no one was in there, it wasn’t on.
But when Pop came home and Mom was cooking dinner, Pop would plop down in his easy chair in that living room (I still have the chair), and now there was something of interest…Pop!
I would put the old butt in gear and head for that painful obstacle, thump my knees, and start crying, which worked—at first—’cuz Pop would come pick me up. You younger parents recognize this ploy.
Eventually Pop got tired of comforting me and schlepping me over to his easy chair and left me to my own devices. Thump, thump, cry, cry, cry, crawl over to the easy chair. Repeat on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.
Then one day out of sheer frustration at the pain in my black-and-blue knees, I rocket-crawled over to the archway, stood up, took two halting steps over the door saddle and fell back down for the final crawl to the chair. Those were my first steps ever, and they were totally unassisted. In fact, Pop barely caught the action, looking over his newspaper. Mom missed it entirely.
But here’s my point. Not until I was incredibly frustrated at the pain I had to endure to get to my father did I make a change, take a risk, rearrange my world for the better.
Using frustration to your advantage
This dynamic is at the core of every change you or I will ever make. It’s the positive that comes out of frustration. We’re frustrated because we’re not getting/achieving/accomplishing what our Knower/Judger says we’re supposed to. We don’t want to feel that frustration any longer. We change something.
We can also use frustration to change the source of the frustration—expectation. Without an expectation, there’s no reason for frustration. So every time you find yourself feeling extremely frustrated, you have two choices, and both are valid:
A. You can manage (lower) your expectations so that the comparison of what’s expected to what’s going on isn’t so different, and the result is not judged so negatively.
B. You can change something.
There are certainly situations where simply lowering your expectations in lieu of making drastic changes makes sense. Look at your expectations for your kids, for example. We all have fantastic expectations for our kids (Harvard, NBA, NASA scientist, etc.). But they have something to say about their lives, much more than we do, and there’s not a lot we can do about it. Drop the expectation, and frustration disappears.
But in situations where expectations are more or less dictated by job descriptions, health issues, etc., changing is the only way to lower frustration. And you’ll only make changes when you want to.
Here’s my next point. Either of these solutions to high frustration levels is totally internal. Made by you.
By this stage of your life, you’ve most likely tried to order the other person to perform at a level that doesn’t frustrate you. It’s a Dr. Phil moment. “How’s that workin’ for ya?” My guess is, about as well as my demanding that Pop move his easy chair to the dining room would have worked.
So what’s left? Let it go. Lower your expectation. Change your routine to adapt to the reality of what’s going on. Like my infant self, you might find yourself rising to an entirely new level of skill and experience.
For the past two months, I’ve been accosted with a certain phrase: trust but verify. Reagan used it to get into Gorbachev’s head during negotiations in the 1980s, and now I’ve heard it first from a client and second from my rally car driver. So I dissected the concept, and here’s what I’ve concluded.
If I trust, what value is there to verification? If I don’t trust, then why kid myself? If I feel (from my Knower/Judger) that I need to verify, where is the trust?
Trust, I think we all agree, is a valuable contributor to a productive relationship, whether that’s between spouses, business partners, or rally-racing teams. When you and I trust each other, we can count on each other to be accurate, timely, supportive, etc.
But trust implies an expectation. I trust that you will do what you say you will do. Most of us take our fellow human’s word as reliable, right? But some folks continually tell us what we want to hear, and then perform below our expectations. “Sure, I’ll bake cookies for the sale.” Yeah, right.
Remembering my mentor’s warning that expectation is the source of all frustration, we see a spiral of dysfunction being generated.
A. You trust me.
B. I don’t follow through.
C. We discuss this, and your K/J tells me I was wrong.
D. Now you feel the need to verify.
E. Maybe I now follow through.
F. So you trust again.
But eventually, I’m going to fail you again. I’m human. Why can’t you handle my human frailty? Mostly because your K/J rule says your trust must be honored.
Verifying Slows Us Down
In some cases, a breach of trust is inconsequential. At the other end of the spectrum, it can be deadly. Military training builds unquestioned trust into its vertical management model. On the battlefield, one cannot spare the resources to verify that the ammunition said to be coming is indeed coming.
But your son telling you he’ll clean his room is another story. Most of us will not die if the socks aren’t picked up.
In the middle of this spectrum is my hobby of rally racing. A few weekends ago, while flying along an icy one-lane road in Northern Michigan, my driver (a very talented one) began to repeat back to me every other “note” I read him. “Right five over small crest.” “Right five?” It was as if he’d lost all trust in my calls…and we’d already been racing quite successfully for three hours. When we stopped for a moment, I asked him about his responses, and he quoted Reagan with a chuckle: “Trust but verify.”
That got me thinking. We can race that way. I’ll speak a “note” into the intercom and wait for his verifying question, and then acknowledge his verifying question. But at speeds approaching 90 miles per hour on glare ice, there’s not going to be enough time for that transaction, so we’ll probably need to slow down. And that’s not what we want.
How fast can your operations work when you stop to verify? Will things work better if you just trust? And what will you do when the inevitable human failure arises?
Taking Another Road
If we’re truly gifted with free will, then you can choose to launch back into verification. Or you can forgive. The verification path is the K/J route and not really a choice but more of a knee-jerk reaction. Forgive? Now that would be the Learner/Researcher route.
Forgive? Are you kidding, Kim? I know. The high Dominants out there reading this will feel somehow threatened and that they’re enabling failure. But I know that when I blow a call at speed in a rally car and it causes my driver to quickly correct in a panic, or worse, go off the road at high speed, I have already learned, and it won’t happen again. Nothing he says to me is going to make me adjust any faster, but dropping it and continuing to race will maximize our performance.
If both parties know what the desired outcome is and are on the same page, my experience is that “trust and forgive” will get you up to speed faster than “trust and verify.” Obviously if the failures continue, you might want to change the rules, players, or communications channel.
The continuous pattern of verifying and being frustrated will take its toll. And this mechanism feeds on itself. The more you verify…the more opportunity to find fault…the more fault found…the more justified the verification process…and trust evaporates.
A successful team’s success runs on trust. Period. No time for verification. Sure, mistakes are made. Corrections are made. Then you do it again. Better.
It’s our human dilemma. Our parents, teachers, ministers, villages, experiences all teach us valuable lessons about what to do in certain situations. Over time these lessons define us. They become our “Roles” in life. Locked in stone. Unchangeable. But are they? Can we move out of the Role and into the Soul?
I write constantly about how we operate in one of two interactive states. We’re either operating from our Knower/Judger persona (interacting with our environment based on past experiences and feelings) or our Learner/Researcher persona (accepting new data without judgment and feeling comfortable about what we want). I’ve frequently named these states our Role and our Soul.
Our K/J or Role persona is what pops out on our DISC or Myers-Briggs (or any other) predictive behavior assessment. These assessments are frequently used to help organizations understand “where you’re coming from” in terms of predicting your behavior and reactions.
Your DISC profile, for example, will tell us what degree of Dominance, Influence, Compliance, and Sensitivity you’ll use with teammates. A high “D” will take charge. A high “I” will tend to tell you what you want to hear. A high “C” will almost always color between the lines (and want you to do the same), and a high “S” will be the peacemaker.
But these profiles only define our roles in society. The lessons we’ve learned from past experiences and feelings condition us to repeat certain behaviors over and over again until they actually define us. In classic psych jargon, it’s operant conditioning. We’ve been positively reinforced for certain behaviors and negatively reinforced for others.
Even the dictionary definition of role helps us understand our K/Js:
- An actor’s part in a play, movie, etc.
- The function assumed or part played by a person or thing in a particular situation.
Do you yearn to ditch some of the Role behaviors you’re known for?
- Your direct reports fear you and so won’t contribute ideas and creativity in the workplace.
- You don’t play and romp with the family because it’s not one of your K/J “rules.”
- You can sell ice to Inuit, but you’re not sure if your customers (or friends, or lovers) are buying because they want to or because you’re just that damned good.
- You’re a peacemaker, and after doing it at home in the morning, all day at work, and all evening before bed, you’re just exhausted.
These are all shout-outs from your Soul. They come from that part of you that can actually see the data for what it is and wants change. But alas. That Role can be too powerful. And you do what you’ve always done. Still getting what you’ve always gotten.
The piece of the Soul I want the reader to remember is the part that wants.
Athletic coaches are always declaring that the team won or lost because they wanted it more, or didn’t want it enough. I totally believe that. Take the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII. Underdogs in both rounds of the playoffs and the Super Bowl, luck just seemed to flop their way.
I see evidence of this every day. At a recent rally in Michigan, Canadian privateer Antoine L’Estage overcame an eight-second deficit in the last two stages to beat current American champ (and Subaru-backed) David Higgins by six seconds. Who wanted it more?
I bet you have stories of overcoming odds when the want piece of your Soul has kicked in. I just want the clear data part of your Soul to see that it happens. That it can happen. And that it can happen as often as you want it to.
Now apply that to your Role issues.
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
~ Viktor Frankel
When your Role is telling you to do what you’ve always done, can you insert your Soul in Frankel’s space? Ask yourself “Is this producing what my Soul wants?” and choose your response. Your life will change—if your Soul wants it to enough.
Leaders of all stripes—corporate, volunteer, even presidents of the United States—often exhibit symptoms of psychopathy. So where do we draw the line? When is psychopathy criminal, and when is it seen as “bold leadership”? Would you receive a diagnosis of psychopathy, and what would that really say about you?
Robert Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R, 2nd ed.) says that psychopathy consists of the following traits:
- Interpersonal or affective defects (e.g., glibness or superficial charm, grandiose feelings of self-worth, conning or manipulative behavior, lack of remorse or guilt, shallow affects, callousness or lack of empathy)
- Social deviance and antisocial behavior (irresponsibility, parasitic lifestyle, impulsivity, and unstable relationships, criminal versatility)
- Other attributes
However, this checklist seems intended only for the criminal population. Others define psychopathy a bit differently.
“An easy way to think about it is as a combination of physical and social fearlessness,” says Scott Lilienfeld, professor of psychology at Emory University and author of a study on past U.S. presidents. “People high in boldness don’t have a lot of apprehension about either physical or social things that would scare the rest of us.”
In other words, they don’t march to the same Knower/Judger rules. They stand out.
According to Lilienfeld’s research, fearless dominance, which is linked to less social and physical apprehensiveness, boosts leadership, crisis management, persuasiveness, and congressional relations.
Theodore Roosevelt (who actually won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906) is regarded as one of the most influential U.S. leaders. He ranked highest for this type of personality, followed by John F. Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan.
Then came Rutherford Hayes, Zachary Taylor, Bill Clinton, Martin Van Buren, Andrew Jackson, and George W. Bush.
Fearless and dominant people are often a paradoxical mix of charm and nastiness. Cool and calm under pressure, they are not easily rattled. They lack the anticipatory anxiety most people have and are not concerned about taking dangerous actions. They are usually intelligent and wealthy, and they relish directing other people and bask in their admiration.
Scientists estimate that 15–25 percent of men and 7–15 percent of women in U.S. prisons display psychopathic behaviors. An estimated one percent of the general population could be described as psychopathic. Surprisingly, many who fall into that bracket might lead perfectly conventional lives as doctors, scientists, and company CEOs.
Traditionally psychopathy has been measured as a combination of lack of empathy and willingness to break rules. When you’re very high on both scales, society would probably benefit if you lost your Second Amendment rights.
“People think [psychopaths] are just callous and without fear, but there is definitely something more going on,” says Joseph Newman, a University of Wisconsin researcher and the preeminent American scientist focusing on psychopathy. “When emotions are their primary focus, we’ve seen that psychopathic individuals show a normal (emotional) response. But when focused on something else, they become insensitive to emotions entirely.”
For those readers familiar with the DISC profile, you’ll recognize this as the task-oriented mindset of high Dominants (Ds) and high Compliants (Cs).
Sound like a laser-focused executive? Perhaps a talented surgeon specializing in high-risk procedures? Maybe even rally co-drivers? When I’m focused on my job in the right seat, I have no time for fear, and have been known to continue reading course notes some time after the car has settled on its side or against a tree.
It seems that we are not either psychopathic or non-psychopathic, but rather fall somewhere on the spectrum. Executives, and other effective leaders, by my observation, are lower on the “empathy” scale, but remain fairly compliant on the “rule-breaking” scale. More DISC “D” than “C.”
I’ve written in the past about the role fear plays in holding us back and how predicting negative outcomes through some creative logic keeps us from pulling the trigger on something. Well, maybe the reason that I’m less fearful than you is that I’m more of a psychopath than you.
Want to find out where you stand? Try your own personal psychopathy assessment….click Psychopath.