February 2018

The Choices We Make

CIDMIconNewsletter Dawn Stevens, CIDM Director

Life, as we all know, is full of choices. Some are big—Should I buy that house? Which job offer will I take?  Some are small—What will I watch on TV? What will I have for breakfast?  Some are made based on research and thought—Where will I invest my money? Where will I go on vacation? Some are impulsive, fueled by emotion—How many chocolates will make me feel better? Which sports team am I rooting for?  Some are once in a lifetime—Where will I go to college? Who will I marry?  Some are made regularly—What will I wear today? What time will I leave for work? Some have lasting repercussions—What will I major in?. Should I move across the country? Some are forgotten almost as soon as you make them—Which way will I take to the grocery store? Should I answer the call from the unknown number? Some impact only you—How will I get my hair cut? How big of a helping of dessert should I take? Some impact everyone around you—Should I go to work even though I have a fever and cough? Should I drive 10 miles under the speed limit? Some you make consciously—Where will I go to dinner? What will I name my new dog? Some unconsciously—When should I blink? Which hand will I use to pick up my pen?

The size and scope of our choices likely impact the time we spend agonizing over them. Big decisions require research. We pore over any information we can gather. We seek others’ opinions. We weigh our risks. We create lists of the pro’s and con’s. Speaking from experience, we might even lose quite a bit of sleep in making a life changing decision, such as whether or not to purchase a company. And even after the choice is made, we may question our sanity for a long time to come.

On the other hand, our daily choices— the “little” things—pale in comparison, and we often expend little energy in making them.

But, at the 2017 Best Practices conference last September, keynote speaker Bob Kulhan challenged me to rethink that nonchalant approach. But first he had to point out that many things I do without really thinking about are actual choices. “Energy and attitude,” he told us, “are choices.”

It was easy for me to accept the premise that attitude is a choice. In fact, it is something I have endeavored throughout my career to remain cognizant of. My attitude—how I approach my everyday life, my work, a crisis, a surprise—influences those around me, impacting not only their impression of me, but often their overall attitudes:

  • When playing Catan, if I whine about not getting as many resources as everyone else (something I have been known to do), my friends may label me a poor loser and choose not to play games with me in the future. But if I simply enjoy the competition and wholeheartedly congratulate the winner, I’ll be able to fill my weekends with laughter and companionship.
  • If my husband makes me dinner and I complain about the way he cooked it, I may find myself in front of the stove every night henceforth. But if I effuse gratitude and compliment his excellent palette, I may come home to a hot dinner waiting for me every night.
  • If I constantly complain about how much work I have to do, at the very least, I make it difficult for my colleagues to collaborate with me and at the worst, they may compare their workloads to mine and become equally, or more, unhappy than I am. But if I tackle each job with a can-do approach and eagerly help others despite what’s on my plate, our team is more productive and grows collaboratively.
  • If my subordinate makes a mistake, however costly, and I yell at her about her incompetence, not only have I not solved the problem, I’ve likely created new ones. She’s less likely to own up to future mistakes and she just might find a more forgiving place to work. But if I coach her so she can avoid mistakes in the future and reassure her that we will figure out the current situation, she grows in her skills, becoming a better and likely more loyal employee.

My attitude affects everyone around me, and of course, it affects me as well. Researchers continue to explore the effects of a positive attitude on health and have found links to increased life spans, lower rates of depression, and even greater resistance to the common cold.

It was the second premise of Bob’s point that took me a while to accept. I haven’t really thought of energy as being a choice—it seems more an output of circumstance. If I don’t sleep well, my energy level is low—not that I choose for it to be, but because something outside my control kept me awake. If I come into the office tired or go to a meeting hungry, I am simply running on empty and don’t have the energy to give. How is that a choice?

Bob’s stance however was that your circumstances are irrelevant; you can still choose to expend energy, to put forth that extra effort. You may not feel energetic, but you can still act it. As managers and leaders in our organizations, the energy we project to our teams significantly impacts their attitude, energy, and ultimately productivity. We must model by example, and therefore make a conscious choice each and every day to be energetic, regardless of how we feel on the inside. It’s really no different than taking an active interest in the local sports team because your significant other likes them or signing up for yoga classes with your best friend to support her efforts to be more healthy. These things may not fill you with enthusiasm, but you rally to positively impact the people you care about.

There will certainly be days that we don’t feel energetic, times when we would rather shut the door and hide from the team, maybe even take a nice nap. But, it is those days when we need to “fake it ‘til we make it.” We must choose to be energetic regardless of how we feel. In those situations, try the following:

  • Repeat the mantra to yourself: “energy and attitude are a choice.”
  • Stand up, pace, take deep breaths. Rather than slouching in your comfy office chair, which simply compounds the low energy, work to get your heart rate up to feed oxygen to the brain.
  • Rethink your attitude toward the job in front of you:
  • Is it something you “have” to do?
  • Is it something you “need” to do?
  • Is it something you “want” to do?
  • Is it something you “choose” to do?
  • Is it something you “get” to do?

Notice how changing just one word completely changes your mindset and feel how it changes the energy you want to put forth.

I’ll admit, it’s still a struggle, especially first thing in the morning. But I’ve also found that if I make the effort, before I know it, I not only have the energy I was faking for real, but the people surrounding me have a little extra kick in their step as well. I’ve discovered that a little extra effort to begin with yields exponential returns in the end. I’ve learned that not only are energy and attitude choices, they are some of the most important choices you make every day.

Choose wisely.



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