Change the Behavior

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I suppose it makes sense that if I’m going to write every week that I will circle back from time to time to some familiar themes in my own journey.  Unfortunately overthinking things is one of those themes.  I reread several of my old blogs this week as I was awake in the middle of the night thinking about things that were small in the light of day.

https://heathercphipps.com/2015/10/25/a-better-nights-sleep-guaranteed/

https://heathercphipps.com/2016/01/16/are-you-overthinking-this

There has been something in my DNA from almost the beginning that makes for sleepless nights sometimes.  I wake up, turn over, and my mind starts to wander.  Sometimes those are the moments of my greatest ideas.  For some people, ah-ha moments come in the shower.  For me, those moments are more likely to come at 3:00 AM.

It’s also true though that 3:00 AM may find me ruminating over something that happened the day before, an unanswered email sitting in my in-box, or a difficult conversation I have to have the next day.  I’ve been doing this for long enough to know that when I get up in the morning, the issue will seem small. But in the middle of the night, it can seem almost insurmountable.

I was complaining about my lack of sleep this week when a friend gave me some simple advice.  He said, “change the behavior.”  Wise words.

Eckhart Tolle says, “When you complain, you make yourself a victim.  Leave the situation, change the situation, or accept it.  All else is madness.”  Truth right there.

So I set about to design something tangible I could do to change this habit I have of overthinking things in the middle of the night.  In my experience, not once has this worrying helped me find a viable solution. So I need to change the behavior.  Complaining about it is clearly not working.

Later in the week, instead of laying there fixated on some current issue, I got up and started to think about all of the things I’d worried about over the summer.  None of them, not one, is still something lingering out there as a concern.  With time, almost all issues seem better.

Many of us have truly difficult moments in our lives, those with real consequences, significant loss, or extreme pain.  There is suffering that cannot be easily healed.  But most of the things that consume our worry are not those things.  So I am trying something new.

Every day I try to reflect on three things for which I am grateful.  I’ve done that for many years.  Jon Gordon’s idea of a gratitude walk is life-changing.  You cannot be stressed and thankful at the same time.  But this year, once a week, I am going to write down what I am most worried about.  For me, as a writer, sometimes just putting pen to paper eases the concern.

When I do that, I will look back on the things I wrote about the week before.  If any are still an issue, I make those a priority for my life or my work.  Likely, most will no longer be a concern, and I can let them go.

And the next time I am awake in the middle of the night, I can look at that list and be reminded that whatever is turning over in my mind will likely not be a concern in a matter of days.  And it certainly does not deserve to steal my serenity.

The How Matters

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I’m in the middle of one of the busiest times in my work year.  While others in education are starting to slow down, our department fires up.  We offer professional development for teachers and administrators, and the first couple weeks of summer are one of our biggest times.

All of these classes, sessions, institutes, and meetings have given me the chance to see some of our best leaders in action.  I work with amazing people.  And while the content has been fantastic, it is the interpersonal relations that have given me the most on which to reflect.

I think sometimes we make things more complicated than they really are.  When you have the chance to reach large numbers of people at once and to use that time to build or enhance relationships with those people, take it!  These opportunities to interact informally, in a non-evaluative setting, can change the dynamics when we are doing our work.  This is the chance to get know the people, not just their work.

Be Likable

People respond to leaders who are charming and charismatic.  Make eye contact whenever possible.  Say hello in a way that makes others feel like you know them.  You do not have to remember every name in order to make people feel known.  (Although knowing someone’s name is a powerful way of connecting.)  Give high fives.  Smile.

Listen

People do their best thinking when they believe what they say matters.  We need fully engaged people who seek to understand issues deeply and who are willing to share their best ideas.  Effective leaders listen.  Effective leaders have an ability to make others believe that they have a voice in decisions, big and small.  When people feel like they have influence on the vision and the execution of the work, they are able to do their best.  Listen.  Really listen.  Be willing to be influenced.

Connect

People need to belong.  I have been reminded of this time and time again.  Children need it.  Adults need it.  Effective leaders find ways to connect with people and make them feel like they belong.  They know when there is a big event in someone’s life.  And they find time to show up.

Embrace Positivity

One of my favorite motivational reads is Jon Gordon’s book The Energy Bus.  It is about the importance of finding, maintaining, and generating positivity our lives.  Effective leaders design positive environments where people can thrive.   Our superintendent speaks beautifully about getting back to zero in our work and our lives.  He acknowledges that our work is hard.  But the best among us find ways to do what’s hard and to do what’s necessary while staying positive…or getting back to it as quickly as possible.

I’ve spent time this year reflecting and trying to isolate just exactly what it is that makes a leader effective.  Of course there are countless skills and abilities that go into the equation, but it starts with being personable.  I know people can point to leaders who have been effective while being anything but likable, but I think that’s the harder path.  To motivate and inspire others, start by being amiable.

When my husband read this draft, he said “Haven’t you said all of this before?”  Yes, yes I have.  What I think I’ve reflected on most this year is that WHAT we are doing is incredibly important.  But HOW we are doing it matters as much.