Managing the Ups and Downs of Performance

Every year we have a Final Four basketball week at our company. Teams of three from departments around the company compete with each other for the championship. We also have a free throw contest from the foul line. The prize goes to the person who hits the most out of 20.

In the past, I’ve won the free throw competition a number of times.  I was a basketball player when I was younger and known as an outstanding foul shooter. This year the score I had to better was 14 out of 20. When I stepped to the line, I made eight in a row. Everybody was cheering, because they thought I had it made.

Suddenly, I couldn’t hit the proverbial bull in the rear with a handful of rice. I lost.

The experience reminded me of golf. It’s been said about golf that you never own it; it’s just on loan. Just when you think you’ve got it, you don’t—and just when you think you don’t, you do.

What I should have done after missing a couple of free throws is step back, take a deep breath, and regroup. I do that on the golf course, but I had never experienced such a dry spell with my foul shooting. Live and learn!

Fluctuating performance happens in the professional arena all the time. For example, when sales go down, rather than charging on in hopes they’ll go back up, it’s beneficial to take an organizational deep breath, gather people together, and determine what might be causing the drop in sales. Whenever our company has done that, we get great feedback from our people, develop new strategies, and get back on track.

What do you do to get back on track, individually or organizationally? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Escape the Tyranny of Your To-Do List

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get overwhelmed by my to-do list. I can end up grinding my teeth thinking about all the meetings, projects, and deadlines piling up on my calendar. That’s when I know it’s time to take a deep breath, calm myself, and affirm, as the Daily Word recently reminded me:

I have all the time I need

to do all that I need to do.

Once I’ve calmed myself, I’m able to reprioritize and see that everything is happening perfectly—on God’s timetable, not my own.

When you’re on a tight schedule, one of the things that can add to that feeling of stress is an interruption: A traffic jam puts you a half-hour behind. An urgent phone call breaks your train of thought. An unexpected visitor interferes with your carefully planned day. But don’t be too quick to look at interruptions as the enemy. Sometimes those unwelcome intrusions are blessings in disguise. For example, there have been times when I’ve gotten bogged down in my writing and an interruption occurs. Surprisingly, when I return to my writing, I find the right words. Neuroscientists call such interruptions “disfluency” and confirm that they can enhance creativity by leading to insights and innovation.

A variation of the interruption is the plan gone awry:  New developments undermine the project you’re working on. The dream job you wanted so badly isn’t offered to you. A layoff derails your carefully planned career. At times like these, it’s wise see if the bad news is, in fact, good news in disguise. An example I often give is when the California wildfires of 2007 burned down our house. At first, that loss seemed devastating. But it led to our moving across the street to the house we’d always dreamed of living in—which was priced lower than the cost to rebuild our old house!

So escape the tyranny of your to-do list and don’t be too discouraged by setbacks. How many successful people do you know who are doing what they thought they’d be doing at the outset of their careers? Often the path to achievement is more like a winding road than a vertical ladder. While focus is a wonderful thing, it’s important that your commitment to a goal doesn’t blind you to the opportunities that a so-called derailment might be presenting to you.

The Glass Is 100% Full

As humans, we often tend to look at the dark side of things. For many of us, the proverbial glass is always half empty.

This is unfortunate because research has shown that what we place our attention on tends to grow stronger in our minds and in our lives—for good or bad.  My daughter-in-law, Madeleine Homan Blanchard, has a master’s of science degree in neuroleadership from Middlesex University. As I’ve learned from Madeleine, studies confirm that your thoughts and experiences actually change the cells and structure of your brain—something scientists call neuroplasticity. If you focus on positive thoughts, your brain will strengthen the electrical pathways related to an optimistic outlook. If you focus on negative thoughts, your brain will become hardwired to pessimism.

There’s nothing wrong with identifying negative situations and working to make them better. The trick is to keep your eye on the positive. No one expressed this better than retired basketball legend Michael Jordan, who said:

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Do bad things happen? Of course. But so do good things. This week Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times reported that 2017 “was probably the very best year in the history of humanity.”  He pointed to statistics that showed a smaller proportion of the world’s population was hungry, impoverished, or illiterate than at any time before. “In another 15 years, illiteracy and extreme poverty will be mostly gone,” Kristof reported. “After thousands of generations, they are pretty much disappearing on our watch.”

Take that, gloom-and-doomers!

As a witty T-shirt points out, technically, that proverbial glass of water is always 100% full—half is full of water, half is full of air! So look at the bright side—your brain will thank you for it.

Life is a Very Special Occasion

I can’t believe how fast this year has gone by. I like the joke about how life is like a roll of toilet paper—the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes!

Of course, everyone’s year is 365 days long. But for a lot of us, it feels like the years go by faster than they used to. Why do you think that is? I recently heard an interesting theory. When you’re in your 70s like I am, each year is only about 1/70th of your life. But when you’re 5 years old, each year is 20 percent of your life! That’s why the years seem to fly by as we age.

Remember when we were young, how we couldn’t wait until the school year was over? It seemed to drag on forever when we were waiting for summer to arrive. These days, at the beginning of each new year, Margie and I say “Just think, pretty soon it will be summer and we’ll be at our cottage in Skaneateles!”—because we know how fast those months will go.

Whether you’re young or old, though, I hope you enjoy every day. Life is a very special occasion. Don’t miss a minute!

Love versus Stuff

Over the past week, those of us living in southern California have had a whole new complication thrown into our busy holiday schedules: wildfires. For me it’s a reminder of the lesson I learned ten years ago, when our long-time family home burned to the ground in the massive Witch Creek fire of 2007. The lesson is this:

What matters in life is who you love and who loves you.

Everything else is just stuff.

Sometimes in our lives—and particularly during the holidays—we get lost in accumulation. We want to buy more things, do more things, see more things—and we get ourselves and our priorities out of whack.

How are you doing so far this month? Are you focusing too much on stuff—such as what you have and what you have to do—and not on the people you love?

It’s not too late to turn that around.

Reach out today and tell the important people in your life how much you love and care for them. Better yet, cozy up around the fire and spend time talking and laughing together. That’s the real spirit of the season.