I’m not normally one to espouse wisdom found in Disney programs but take it where you can find it. One quick scene in Disney’s Tomorrow land caught my attention. Apparently in the back story, the father taught his kids that there are two wolves in each of us. One is dark and angry, representing all the bad and hurtful impulses in our lives. One is good and pure, representing our goodness. The constantly fight. Which one wins? The one you feed most.
Imagine if we all asked, “what can I do to make this better today,” instead of asking, “who is at fault.”
Years ago I interviewed a candidate for a role under another manager. I asked her about her skill level on something relative to the job. She leaned forward, smiled and without missing a beat said, “I don’t know what that is but I’m sure I can do it!” I ended the interview and recommended we hire her immediately.
She joined the company and performed with distinction for years to come. It wasn’t her ability, it was her attitude. We should all include a little more of that positive attitude in our responses to life.
Three crows were sitting on a fence.
One of them decides to fly away.
How many crows are now sitting on the fence?
Three. While the one crow decided to fly away, it didn’t take any action. What fence have you decided to fly away from but still haven’t taken any action? What can you do today to fly off of that fence? What action can you do right now to fly off of that fence? Well, get off of the internet and do that action. Now!
A study on exercise shows that making exercise a habit is crucial to making exercise part of your life. The key, the study shows, to making exercise a habit is having an appropriate trigger. Whether your trigger is end of work day or putting the first pot of coffee on, pick a trigger that you do on a frequent basis and exercise immediately after. An important note about triggers, they must precede you habit. It isn’t, “just before I come home from work, I’ll exercise.” A much better trigger is, “when I leave work, I go to the gym.”
In a study, participants were asked to add hot sauce to a chili someone on the other side of a one way mirror would have to eat. The other person couldn’t see the participant and would never know who they were. The participant could choose between three hot sauces, each one with a more painful sounding name than the last, and could add as much or as little as they wanted. The participants didn’t know that the person eating the chili was actually an actor. The study was ran three times with different groups of participants. In the first group, the participants had no prior interaction with the chili eater. Generally speaking, these participants added only the mildest hot sauce and only a small amount at that. In the second group, the chili eater was in the waiting room with the participants and was intentionally rude. Not surprisingly, these participants used the much hotter sauce and a lot more of it. In the third group, the chili eater was similarly rude in the waiting room but after the participant was called in to participate, the researcher was very kind; complemented the participants, smiled, offered them water or something to make them more comfortable. Even though the researcher had nothing to do with the rude chili eater, this group of participants also used a small amount of the milder hot sauce.
In a separate study, participants were asked to rate whether words they were shown on a screen were positive or negative. The researchers could influence how many participants rated fairly neutral words as positive or negative by flashing a positive or negative word just prior to the word the participants were selecting. That is more participants would rate a word like “chair” negatively if the researchers flashed the word “hate” just prior to showing the word “chair.” Those positive or negative influencer words could be flashed so quickly that the participant wasn’t consciously aware of the words. That is the participant didn’t know the word “hate” was shown to them but their subconscious was aware of it and it affected how the participant perceived the next word.
In a final study I want to talk about today, participants were given a number of sets of five words and were asked to use four of them in a sentence. They were told that when they were finished they should go get the researcher. The researcher was in a conversation with a person the participants didn’t know and didn’t stop to encourage the participants to interrupt. Some participants were given sets of words that had words that were more passive and stressed understanding. Some participants were given sets of words that were more aggressive and stressed getting things done. The passive set of participants waited ten minutes longer to interrupt the researcher than the aggressive set of participants. Simply by making sentences that stressed aggression, the participants became more aggressive.
So why are we talking about these studies? These studies show that thoughts and feelings have a certain amount of stickiness. A good or negative feeling from a prior but unrelated situation will affect how we react to the next situation. Basically, a good mood leads to good reactions. A bad mood leads to negative reactions.
How can we use this understanding to enrich our own life and the lives of those around us?
1.) Positive prep – before you enter a situation be sure to create a positive mindset for yourself. Whether you are meeting with your boss, your client or your mother-in-law, do something positive just prior to your meeting. Play uplifting music, listen to a comedian, talk to your perpetually “up” friend, read appropriate quotes out loud. Craft your prep to the person you want to be in the upcoming situation. Going into a sales meeting? Combine positive and uplifting prep with something respectfully aggressive. Going to a family reunion? Combine positive with easy going.
2.) Setting the tone – Most situations involve other people. So when you first enter that situation be sure to set the positive tone by smiling and making small talk. Get the people you are interacting with in the proper mood by treating them appropriately. Negotiators have found that a few minutes of small talk can have a significant positive outcome in the final negotiations.
3.) Pay it forward – Help your friends and family have positive reactions by being a positive and appropriate influence, especially as you say goodbye. The last words you say to teens before they go out at night shouldn’t be, “You better be good,” with a stern look. (Tell them that earlier). When they head out, tell them you love them with a smile and a hug.
Actually, you are both. Jonathan Haidt, psychologist from the University of Virginia, wrote in his book The Happiness Hypothesis that people are like a rider on an elephant. The rider reflects the thinking, rational, future oriented part of you. The elephant represents the instinctive, emotional, now oriented part of you. This is similar to Id and the Superego. The rider’s job is to pick a destination and path, then guide the elephant along that path. The elephant actually walks that path. The rider can force the elephant to do things over the short term but, eventually, the rider will tire or the elephant’s strength will overpower the rider. The elephant can ignore the rider for short periods but can never actually progress without the rider.
Both the rider and the elephant are necessary and have their strengths. Without the rider, the elephant will wander aimless. Without the elephant, the rider won’t be able to travel at all. The only way to be successful is to get the elephant and the rider working toward the same goal. In other words, you need to align your heart AND your mind with the goal you wish to achieve.
When you create a goal, your rider is engaged. Make sure the rider is truly engaged by expressing your goal in factual accomplishments. Engage your elephant by also detailing the outcome of your goal in emotional terms. How will you feel when you accomplish your goal. Since your elephant is concerned with “now,” celebrate small victories along the path. Feed the emotional elephant with every victory, no matter how small.