Per my previous post, as of the end of November, I was clear on one of my two core values: compassion.
But the second was proving elusive. “What am I prepared to struggle for,” kept playing on a loop in my mind.
The answer came, as is so often does, while I was rocking-out to some favourite music (Loreena McKennit) in the shower.
Yes, the obvious kind. And also much more than that. Play for me is not a simple value at all. It’s a wonderful yummy mash-up of rest, creativity, curiosity, learning, growth, exploration, not-taking-myself-too-seriously (one I reeeaaaly struggle with), goofiness, vulnerability, experimentation, down-time, relaxation, rest…etc. Play for me is both purposeful AND purposeless. It is both, at the exact same time. Just like it is with kids.
Why is play so important to me that I would list it as one of my two core values?
Precisely because it is the one where a whole lot of other behaviours and patterns of thinking get tested. Taking myself too seriously, for one, as I've already mentioned. When I was a graduate student the head of the Leadership Scholarship program I was a part of told me “Sue, you’re far too wound up, you should really just smoke of doobie”. As this was an Ivy League MBA program you can image how off the wall that suggestion was to me!
Yet I had been on the receiving end of variations on this theme for some years: A a short-lived boyfriend had told me in my twenties – “Your walls are raised so high I can walk in right underneath them”. Another friend at a similar time : “You’re strung so tight I can play you like a guitar”.
So play would hardly seem to be a value I was embodying. True, and yet....
It is was precisely because I was so deeply uncomfortable with vulnerability, and - truth-be-told, downright insecure - that I was armoring up and trying to project a certain image. But it was precisely in the moments when I wasn’t armored up, when I felt truly comfortable to be me, that I could be goofy, ridiculous, relaxed and chilled out. Earnest, task-focused, highly productive, taking-things-seriously Sue is a part of me yes. And it’s a part of me that, when left to run rampant, quickly leads me into a quagmire of shame, blame, judgement, resentment and unhappiness.
“The opposite of play is not work, it is depression” write Dr Stuart Brown, president of the National Institute for Play. Drawing on his own research, as well as latest advances in biology, psychology, and neurology, Brown explains that play shapes our brain, helps us foster empathy, helps us navigate complex social groups and is the core of creativity and innovation. Play is as essential to our health and functioning as rest.
Respecting our biologically programmed need for play can transform work. It can bring back excitement and newness to our job. Play helps us deal with difficulties, provides a sense of expansiveness, promotes mastery of our craft, and is an essential part of the creative process. Most important, true play that comes from our own inner needs and desires is the only path to finding lasting joy and satisfaction in our work. In the long run, work does not work without play.
All of this is so incredibly true for me. When I lose sight of play in my work, all the uglier, sadder and more depressive parts of myself quickly start running rough shod over my energy, my relationships, and my mood.
When I am honoring and living by play as one of my two core values I am me at my best. As a decision-making filter it guides me to decisions and choices that honor what I actually need, not what I think I need to prove myself to myself or to others. It is achievable, internal, conscious and socially-constructive (using the tests of good values from my previous post). When I bring an attitude of play to something I am open, curious, learning and growing. It keeps me out of defensiveness and armoring up. It helps me lean-in compassionately even with those with whom I really struggle.
So, compassion and play. There you have it.
In the next post I will (vulnerably, playfully and compassionately!) share how I am working to operationalize these two values, what tends to lead me to walk away from my values, and what support systems I have put in place to help me protect and nurture my values.
The reason we roll our eyes when people start talking about values is that everyone talks a big values game but very few people actually practice one. …If you’re not going to take the time to translate values from ideals to behavior – it’s better not to profess any values at tall. They become a joke. A cat poster. Total BS.
Harsh words. And yet we know they are true. As I mentioned in my previous post on the importance of identifying our core values, every day and all around us we see the evidence of people and organizations espousing high-sounding values and then, ostensibly in the name of those same values, behaving abominably. Consciously living by and holding ourselves accountable to our values, rather than just professing them - that's a whole different thing. It takes heap of commitment and courage to actually practice our values.
So how in fact, does one do that.
The answer is deceptively simple to describe. Much, much, much harder to actually work through.
In this week’s resilience tool, I describe the process to get clear on how to actually put your values into practice, identify when you are most likely to be challenged to show-up and behave in accordance with your values, and how to identify and put in place the support systems that will help you to stay true to your values – as we are human and we will be tempted to put down our values from time to time.
In next week’s entry I’ll share my own results of applying this process to my two core values: compassion and play.
Have you ever taken the time to discern what your real values are? Or sat down and determined if your values are setting you up for happiness and fulfillment, or for pain and suffering?
And why do values even matter? Especially when all around us we see people and organizations espousing high-sounding values and then, ostensibly in the name of those same values, behaving abominably.
Many of us talk a good game about our values. But consciously living by and holding ourselves accountable to our values, rather than just professing them - that's a whole different thing. It takes heap of commitment and courage to actually practice our values.
Simply put, if it's easy to list our values, they're probably not our real values.
If I had been asked what my values where a few years back I could have rattled off a nice list of good sounding ones: financial security, responsibility, honesty, generosity, community, work-ethic blah blah. But if I looked at my actual behavior there would have been quite the gap between what I professed vs. what my behavior revealed. At my best my behavior pointed towards values of kindness, consideration, and integrity, among others. At my worst: arrogance, intolerance, the need to believe I was right, power, rigidity.
Like an iceberg, it is our behaviors that lie above the water line, visible to ourselves and to others.
Our true values lie below the water line – typically hidden both to others and, more critically, to ourselves.
Whether we are conscious of them or not, values drive our behavior.
And getting clear on our values is not the simple exercise you may think. It takes some serious deep diving into the cold, uncomfortable, and murky waters of looking at what our behaviors, prejudices and judgments, thoughts and feelings, fears and dreams really reveal about our values – rather than what we profess them to be. And then doing the hard work of re-prioritizing them (if that is needed). And the even harder work of actually putting them into practice.
Why even bother to do this hard work?
Because it makes for much greater resilience, confidence, happiness and fulfillment. Even more, values are a protective factor when it comes to a concept known as "social contagion." Social contagion is the phenomenon by which behaviours become normalized and adopted. For example, as Susan David illustrates, take this scenario: You’re on an airplane, cramped and tired, eager to reach your destination. The flight crew is passing by with the snack cart. You’re not feeling particularly hungry—perhaps you availed yourself of an overpriced sandwich back in the terminal—but you notice that the gentleman sitting beside you is treating himself to a bag of M&M’s. You’ve never met this person before and exchanged only a cursory nod as you took your seats. Still, research shows that you are now 30 percent more likely to spring for some candy of your own.
This is social contagion. Where the choices of someone you don’t even know have may have sway over your own decisions. Large scale epidemiological studies show that if someone in your social network puts on weight or gets divorced, your likelihood of doing the same increases substantially. This is the case even if you don’t know the person. They might be the friend of a friend of a friend, but their actions have far-reaching ripple effects.
However, the research also shows that not everyone is equally susceptible to social contagions. People with a clear sense of their values have proven to be more resilient to the pressures of their community. Susan David gives another example. Women in professions with a high degree of gender bias are more likely than their male colleagues to quit when faced with setbacks. Without even realizing it, they can internalize the messages snaking through their work environment, the ones telling them that they don’t belong. But when these women are asked to perform a simple exercise in which they clarify why they are in their career—why it is of value to them—they become insulated from the toxic social contagion. They are more likely to hang in there when the going gets tough.
This is why it’s so important to know our values. They are more than nice-to-haves that make life more pleasant. Our values help to inoculate us against making decisions that are not our own.
Coming back to Brené Brown. One of the very first things we did as part of the Living Brave was to identify our values. She used the image of a lantern to describe what values do for us.
Values are what we take into the arena with us, she said. Values light our way.
The exercise was to discern our two core values. Yes, just two (I will come back to that). Her test was “without these I am not me”. Values, in her terms are "the organizing principles of our lives." Her suggestion was to think back to a time when we were most alive, most daring greatly in our lives, being our most authentic selves. And then think about what values we were living into at that time.
I did the exercise and felt good about the clarity I got to. My top two were vision and belief in self.
With hindsight it's embarrassingly obvious how those two values could lead me astray. There were certainly true, in that they felt true to who I was/was striving to be and to the moments and events in my life when I had felt most alive, most myself, most in my integrity and passion. They were not the complete picture, however. I hadn't dived deeper, to see what, if anything, might be underneath them. And frankly, it was both too easy and too feel-good, self-congratulatory. My understanding was at the intellectual level. I hadn't challenged myself or worked with a partner to think through what behaviors those values were driving and where those values may set me up for falls, heartbreak and disappointment, rather than resilience, grounded confidence and success.
The next step came from an unlikely source: Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A counterintuitive approach to living a good life. His basic argument goes as follows:
Since reading this some months back I haven’t been able to get Manson’s approach out of my head. Reading the “Living into our values” chapter of Brené Brown’s latest book, Dare to Lead, had me flipping back to Mark Manson, trying to see how I could tie Manson’s approach with Brown’s.
I’ve landed on not following Brown’s approach to focus one which values “resonate deeply” with me. Rather I’m marrying her suggestion to identify what fills me with a feeling of purpose with Manson’s question of “what am I prepared to struggle for”. What “resonates deeply” with me can feel like an exercise in self-congratulation. “What am I prepared to struggle for” requires some good hard self-awareness.
Manson and Brown do agree on the need for prioritization. Whenever we are presented with a list of values, most of us will want to pick 10 to 15 of them. But that’s not helpful. Brown’s research has shown that those who are most willing to wrestle with vulnerability and practice courage tether their behavior to one or two values, not ten. Channeling Jim Collins (of Good to Great fame): “If you have more than three priorities, you have no priorities”. When we identify a whole lot of values as important to us, we’re not getting real or honest with ourselves – we’re choosing easy, comfortable and a list of feel good words over integrity, courage and self-awareness. When we limit ourselves to two, we start to get really clear on what is truly driving us - and what we want to drive us. And we usually find that is those two where all the other values that we wanted to pick truly get tested.
In this week’s resilience toolkit there is an exercise to get clarity on your values. If you’ve read this far, why don’t you take it? The exercise forces some hard, and illuminating choices.
I’m clear on one of my two values: compassion.
Compassion sets me up with the kind of problems that make my life harder in many respects (darn it, I can’t just judge, blame and shame people; I can’t hold onto grudges or resentments) but better in all the ways that are meaningful and matter to me. It tempers my reactivity and defensiveness. It leads me towards connection, belonging, community, resilience, confidence, hope, perseverance, and joy. It’s also where a whole lot of other values get tested, like integrity, honesty, and knowledge. In particular it shines the light on where those other values of mine can be used as weapons to defend myself or hurt others.
As for my second, it’s taking a lot more wrangling.
Vision still keeps yelling for my attention. But I am not quite certain about it. It still feels too easy of a value to have - at least for me. And as I look back, I can see where it set me up with “bad problems” as well as “better problems”. I'm not ready to chuck it out yet though. I'm letting myself mull on it, trusting that if I just sit with this, and let myself be curious, rather than looking for an easy answer so I can just call this exercise done, my truth will emerge.
Joy is also calling to me. I know the struggle involved in joy. There is nothing passive or easy about joy. It’s a whole set of values, practices, and attitudes that challenge me on multiple levels, as so beautifully and joyfully elucidated by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in The Book of Joy. And each of those values and practices set me up for “good problems”. But precisely because joy is such a complicated value for me I’m having hard time feeling it’s the best choice. I am also of the view that joy is the result of the intentional practice of other values, rather than a value in and of itself. Intentionally seeking or cultivating joy usually results in its opposite. So, joy doesn’t seem to fit either.
And so I'm still doing the work on identifying my second core value. And that's OK with me. I would rather be patient, and spend the time with this, than rush to an answer.
How about you? What are your two core values? What kinds of problems do they create for you? And are those problems "good" ones, or "bad" ones?
Part 2 will be on "operationalizing" our values. Our values are just feel-good sentiments unless and until we move beyond professing them to actually practicing them. That takes courage. And thought. So more to come.
You may be trusting something other than your intuition – and it may be misleading you
Intuition is a pretty hot-topic. Google it and hundreds of searches come up. Most of them are around the theme of “how to tap into your intuition” and “trust your intuition”.
I get it.
The world is so complex - and getting ever more so. How are we supposed to navigate through it all? If we were to slowly, deliberatively, calmly and rationally sort through the hundreds of decisions we need to make each day, we would never get anywhere. There is simply no time to do that in today’s crazy world. In Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink (an awesome read, I highly recommend it) he writes powerfully to the ability to just know or understand something, seemingly immediately, and without any awareness of conscious thought or effort. Why wouldn’t we want more of that in our lives?
In our everyday language we venerate phrases like “I went with my gut” or “I just knew it was the right thing to do”. Note though, that these are always said after the fact – where whatever it is that we went with or did has turned out well.
Intuition is supposedly the font of all things wonderful and good: creativity, inspiration, better decisions, happiness, fulfilment. It would appear to be like some magical power, like the Force in Star Wars. “Use the Force, Luke” exhorts Obi-Wan Kanobi, and Luke goes on to successfully take out the Death Star, where all others have failed.
But the Force has a dark side – and, sorry to rain on the intuition parade – so does intuition. Chiefly because much of what we call intuition, really isn’t intuition at all.
In my previous blog post I wrote about System 1 vs. System 2 thinking, as researched and defined by Daniel Kahneman, the Noble Prize-winning psychologist, in his seminal book Thinking, Fast and Slow. In Blink Gladwell uses the phrase “thin slicing” to describe System 1 thinking in action. Thin slicing is the ability to find patterns in events based only on "thin slices", or narrow windows, of experience. The term means “making very quick inferences about the state, characteristics or details of an individual or situation with minimal amounts of information. Brief judgments based on thin-slicing are similar to those judgments based on much more information. Judgments based on thin-slicing can be as accurate, or even more accurate, than judgments based on much more information.” (Source: Wikipedia).
In other words, thin slicing – which is System 1 in action – looks a lot like intuition.
And it is, in a way. But critically it’s also not in another way.
Because this kind of intuition is based both on data AND on thousands of hours of learning, dedication and practice of a skill or craft. It is intuition based on deep expertise. And it truly breath-taking to watch in action. Some of the memorable examples Gladwell cites are of firefighters who just “know” that there is something wrong with a fire, and by this “knowing” avert disaster and save lives. Or a master chess player who can scan another chess game in progress for just a second or two and immediately blurt out the next three moves that will win the game.
However when most of us mere mortals use the word intuition, and when we are exhorted to tap into and trust our intuition, it is based on no such solid foundation of expertise. Rather, it is intuition that arises from System 1’s heuristics (rules of thumb). And this is its flaw. Because System 1 heuristics evolved to deal with relatively straightforward, survival- type situations – not with the complex, no-clear-right-or-wrong decisions and situations that predominate modern life. And when this type of “intuition” is applied to modern life its propensity to lead us astray and jump to conclusions that are riddled with errors in judgement, biased thinking, and stereotypes is well documented and researched.
Worse, much of what we venerate as intuition is not only System 1 thinking, it’s actually self-rationalization and self-deception masquerading as intuition.
How often, for reasons we typically can’t verbalize or explain, have we really wanted something or to do something. We just know it. And so we do it. And it works out. And we praise ourselves for listening to our intuition, for going with our gut. But the truth is, if we had slowed down and really looked at where that feeling had come from, and what the feeling was really telling us, it was almost always coming from a place of wanting to be right, of wanting to have confidence in ourselves, and wanting to believe that it will all turn out for the best. Because being wrong, lacking confidence and embracing the uncertainty that is life and living feel neither good or comfortable or easy.
And if whatever we wanted or whatever we did doesn’t turn out well, we don’t tend to say “my intuition was wrong” or “I shouldn’t have gone with my gut”. Rather we tend to say “I should have thought it through more”.
This is not to say I don’t believe in intuition. Not at all. I do. Very deeply. But I’ve come to learn (the hard way, of course) that real intuition is a much harder and more elusive thing entirely than what we typically call intuition. But while harder and more elusive, it is also so so so much more valuable.
For me, I’ve come to understand that my real intuition is actually a very soft, quiet voice. I have to be still and patient and intentional (yes, that is intentionally paradoxical! ) to hear my intuition. She is a gentle voice, and I have to cultivate space and safety for her to be heard. And, contrary to what I always thought, I find that my real intuition is never a feeling, rather she is a hearing. I have to listen for her. And to create the stillness and space so that I can hear her I need to be quite deliberative and intentional. For me that looks like sustaining as close to a daily meditation practice as I can. It means journaling regularly. It means making time to be alone, going for quite walks, doodling, sitting idly drinking my morning tea while I watch the birds and survey my garden, and listening to quiet music. It means pausing to reflect and process. It means, most of all, building “time out” and rest and relaxation into my schedule and my life.
So that when intuition speaks, I can hear her. And when she speaks, she truly is my higher power. Because with true intuition, my head, heart and gut are all aligned. I am truly “in synch” with and “in truth” with myself. For me, true intuition is not a feeling. It is a knowing. A deep knowing that my actions, choices and behavior are truly grounded in my values and my purpose. And it brings a deep sense of empowerment, inspiration and calmness as all my doubts fall away and my confidence soars.
True intuition’s soft, quiet, gentle voice is well worth sitting in stillness and patience for. She is my North Star – shining the light of truth and authenticity into the darkness of self-deception and self-rationalization. If I will but be quiet and listen.
For more on intuition, see Maria Popova’s marvelous blog Brain Pickings and in particular her summary of Kahneman’s contribution towards Thinking: The New Science of Decision-Making, Problem-Solving, and Prediction, a thought-provoking collection of essays edited by John Brockman.
“You question everything, but do you question your thoughts?”
Sue Mann - Coach
These are my reflections on how we rise, how we reclaim and sustain our worthiness in the face of falls and challenges. Less personal stories ( see the blog for that) and more practical tools, tips, techniques and reflections for all of us to brave the arena every day.