Spock-Like

When I was a kid growing up it seems like my mother was always cooking something in a pressure cooker. I have no recollection of exactly what food she was preparing; I just remember the mystique of the pressure cooker. I think I must have been warned that there was an inherent danger with this device and I never wanted to stand too close. It’s possible that I was told that the thing could blow up at any second and I would be maimed by flying shrapnel, pork chop bones or some other lethal object. In retrospect, I think this admonition was one more way to keep me out of the kitchen while Mom was cooking dinner.

Anger is like the pressure cooker. It can simmer for a while and then seemingly explode in an unpredictable manner. From a physiological standpoint, the amygdala is the part of our brain that is the culprit. When the amygdala sounds the alarm to the body that something is present that will make us angry, our adrenal glands start pumping and testosterone is also produced. We begin speaking in a louder and more rapid voice. Our muscles tense, our cheeks flush and our heart starts beating faster. Anger is the ticket to higher risk for heart disease, and it also accelerates the aging process as well as decreases lung functions. Pure and simple – anger isn’t good for us.

Here’s the thing. It takes a superhuman effort not to get angry, especially when things aren’t going as planned. Now think about leadership and anger. Is there a productive correlation? The answer is obvious. To be strong and effective leaders we must curb our temper. Perhaps we’ve experienced the type of boss who has a hair trigger. When he goes off the meltdown is epic. His face gets beet red. He yells and screams. There may be a plethora of profanities laced throughout his diatribe. In extreme cases he may even shove files and papers to the floor or even throw something. What is the usual result of such a tantrum? There’s a general feeling of embarrassment and a specific sympathetic reaction to the party that is bearing the brunt of the boss’s emotion. Everyone keeps their head down and makes a detour away from the boss for the rest of the day. Overall, morale is destroyed. Fear is palpable. Is there any silver lining here? The simple answer is, no.

If all of the preceding is true, what is the point in getting angry? You guessed it – there is none. Do we truly feel better after we get angry? Do we enjoy the headache that ensues; the elevated blood pressure, and increased anxiety? I’ve worked for decades at “lengthening my fuse.” Those who have known me for a long time can attest to the fact that I rarely get mad anymore. This doesn’t mean that I’ve become a pushover. I’ve just learned that the toll that anger takes on my colleagues and me is just too high.

Here’s what I’ve discovered. When something is about to trigger an anger response I recognize the need to become stoic. A stoic is defined as “a person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining.” Think Mr. Spock in Star Trek or Andy Dufresne in the Shawshank Redemption. I have also come to realize that maintaining a positive mindset in every circumstance is critical to problem solving. Anger is a negative emotion and does nothing to get to a solution. This doesn’t mean that I don’t feel disappointment or even a momentary flash of “extreme dissatisfaction.” But staying in such a feeling is poisonous in every respect and is not the way I want to model for others.

Temper tantrums are for little kids and are usually best ignored. The best leaders are able to control their emotions and help their team move in a positive direction no matter what.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 60 – Innie or Outie?

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Hedges

I’m going to ask a question to which I already know the answer. But I’m asking it anyway. Have you ever hated doing something? Maybe it’s something boring that turns into pure drudgery. Perhaps it’s something you just flat don’t want to do. There may be a certain amount of procrastination involved. And in some cases you look for a way to hand it off to someone else or even ignore it completely. I don’t suppose that ignoring it makes it go away though, right?

Of course we know that this is all a mental game. That which we don’t really want to tackle is the product of our state-of-mind. Unfortunately, whatever it is we are dreading is usually something that really has to be addressed. And when we don’t, our negative mindset compounds and we resent the whole situation even more. There is a better way.

Here’s an approach that has worked for me. I “re-frame” and “lean-in.” What in the world does that mean? Let’s break this down into two parts. The re-framing element is all about stepping back and going at it a little bit differently. Think about the obstacle as a big hedge. We need to get from one side of the hedge to the other. But we keep running into a certain section of the hedge as hard as we can and it won’t budge. All that happens is that we come away with scratches on our arms and legs. Re-framing has us step back and study the hedge. By becoming more aware, we notice a section where the vegetation is quite a bit thinner and are thus able to see how we can get through to the other side.

Leaning-in means that once we have re-framed the situation we go at it with new purpose and vigor. When we see the thinner vegetation in the hedge we get up a head of steam and burst through to the other side. We visualize our success and aren’t timid or tentative about pursuing it.

This probably sounds reasonable in theory but exactly how does it work in the real world? Suppose we know we have to sell a certain amount of our product to meet our income targets. But to do this we need to “dial-for-dollars” – i.e. get on the phone and make a bunch of cold calls. The problem is that we loathe the thought of calling people to try and make a sale. We tell ourselves that we really aren’t any good at making these calls. We tell ourselves that the customers we are calling really don’t want to have their day interrupted by us. In fact, every excuse in the book is running through our heads. Meanwhile, the phone calls are not being made and cash register isn’t ringing. Does this possibly sound familiar?

What if we re-framed the effort this way? We make the call, but instead of selling we’re trying to understand how a particular customer decides to make corporate philanthropic donations because we’re formulating our own policy in this regard. Without a doubt, this needs to be a legitimate initiative on our part and not a ploy. We get to talk to the customer differently – outside of the “I’m selling” and “you’re buying” dance that is done. Our call is part of a relationship building process.

We lean-in by pushing hard to gather data from a number of customers that we otherwise would be cold-calling. Then we call them back to report the results of our findings. This gives us two customer touches without ever asking for a sale. And as the relationship grows, the customers we call are seeing us in a different light and may even initiate a purchase from us. No longer is this drudgery. Instead we’ve given ourselves a new purpose and now we are excited to make the calls. Most importantly, we have a completely different attitude that is palpable to our customers.

Re-framing and leaning-in are simple tools that we can use to get rid of the negative energy surrounding that which we don’t wish to do, and replacing it with positive energy. As we embrace this new approach our stress and frustration melts away and we can celebrate the conquering of a chronic irritant in our lives.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 46 – Urgent Care.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

A hedgerow and a house at the end of it

Who Is Dan Meyer?

In 1961 Major League Baseball’s Philadelphia Phillies suffered a 23 game losing streak. The 2013-14 NBA Philadelphia 76ers endured a 26 game losing streak. In 1976-77 the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the longest losing streak in NFL history at 26 games. Dan Meyer played both in the infield and the outfield for the 1983 Oakland Athletics and captured the MLB record for hitless at-bats in 48 attempts by a non-pitcher. Talk about slumps! A quick check of the dictionary offers the following definition of slump – “a period during which a person performs slowly, inefficiently, or ineffectively, especially a period during which an athlete or team fails to play or score as well as usual.”

We’ve all watched sports teams at amateur and professional levels encounter slumps. Ditto for businesses. And we’ve undoubtedly experienced periods in our own lives where we perform slowly, inefficiently or ineffectively. Feelings of hopelessness and victimization set in. Day after day we become more lethargic. It’s harder and hard to get out of bed. We’re defeated shortly after we arise. When things don’t turn out the way they should we say things like, “it figures – I just can’t win,” and an air of resignation sets in.

A slump is simply a state of mind. While I don’t have scientific proof, I believe we enter a slump as a result of negative thinking. We’re rocking along with everything going fine and something happens that has negative connotations. Maybe we were certain we were going to win a certain piece of business and then we don’t. Rather than shake it off and re-double our efforts with a positive attitude, we allow the loss to gnaw at us. It might be very subtle or even subconscious. But we let that little bit of negativity into our psyche and that, my friends, can be the beginning of a slump. Which is why I am such a staunch advocate for maintaining a positive frame of mind 100% of the time. Positivity is the best armor against a slump. When something doesn’t go right we need to see it as an opportunity to get right back on the horse and ride again . . . without hesitation. The negative creep in our consciousness will kill us if we don’t.

Suppose that somehow we find ourselves in a slump. How do we pull out of it? The same way we avoid falling into a slump in the first place. The first and most important step is to examine our attitude. Recognizing the negative thoughts and replacing them with positive ones is absolutely crucial. And we need to make sure we get every last one of them. Even a lingering doubt of any sort can be enough to keep the slump alive.

Once we return to a positive frame of mind we can take some additional steps to ensure that we’re back on track and the slump is behind us. Look for a small victory of some sort. No need to swing for the fences – just get a base hit. For example, we don’t need to immediately make that next big sale. Instead, simply get an appointment to meet with a prospective customer. Also, it’s a good time to review the basics and fundamentals of whatever it is that you do. This becomes a necessary grounding exercise. A baseball player who is struggling at the plate will often focus on the mechanics of his hitting. Perhaps he finds that a very minor change in technique makes all the difference. With a completely positive mindset and solid basics and fundamentals working in concert, the final step is going to a place of gratitude. We have so much for which to be grateful and must intentionally create a thanksgiving inventory. Focusing on gratitude will close the circle and put us back in the winning mode again.

Slumps occur because we let in a tiny bit of negativity. We can quickly end a slump by regaining our positive attitude; by focusing on the basics and fundamentals of what we do, and by being thankful for all of the good that is in our life.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 1 – False Choices.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Dan Meyer

Bridge Building

Recently I was in a meeting with a group of entrepreneurs. One of them has been struggling to get traction with his entrepreneurial venture. His stress level was quite high and he indicated that he was under severe financial pressure. And to cap it off, his spouse was suffering with some anxiety issues that rendered her unable to care for their children at times. This all was adding up to a perfect storm of events that was creating considerable negative energy in his life.

This individual wants his entrepreneurial idea to work in the worst way. Obviously that is adding to the pressure. But he must clear up the various issues he’s dealing with in order to achieve the success that he desires. I suggested that he initially do only three things. First he needs to put his idea on the shelf for the time being – simply let it go. This doesn’t mean that he abandons it permanently but simply takes a breather with it. Second, I told him he needs to get a job so that he can provide for his family and relieve the financial pressure he is experiencing. I recommended that he live as frugally as possible and try and save some money that can be utilized when he resumes the pursuit of his entrepreneurial venture. Finally, I advised him to make a consistent practice of meditation – finding a quiet time each day to clear his mind and work on deep breathing. The purpose here is for him to become centered and release his negative energy.

Another entrepreneurial friend had been trying for quite some time to raise money for her venture and was having no success. She was extremely frustrated and was very emotionally invested in her idea. I had been following her situation for quite some time and suggested that she move on and do something else. She went home and took everything related to the idea; put those items in a clear plastic tub and stashed them in her attic. She had completely released her idea at that point. Within days she received a call from another investor asking her to reconsider. She revived her idea at that point by pivoting and re-tooling her concept. Today she is well on her way to raising the necessary funds for her revamped business concept.

I liken the steps I recommended to my friends as bridge building. When we are pursuing success it doesn’t just happen instantly. There often are obstacles that we must face, some of which can create significant adversity. Sometimes our instinct is to continue “fighting the fight.” By trying to muscle through, we constrict our flow of positive energy and end up wallowing in our circumstances. And when this happens we remain stuck on the wrong side of the river.

To cross the river we must build a bridge. That requires that we take the necessary steps to restore positive energy and an optimistic outlook. One of the hardest things for an entrepreneur to do is to let go of his or her idea – even if it’s just momentary. But we know that when we continue to try and hammer, hammer and hammer – we’re not actually building the bridge. Instead we’re just stuck in the mud.

The entrepreneurial journey will periodically require the building of bridges to reach our success. To build the bridge we need to pause for a moment and identify forward-moving actions that will eventually ensure that we succeed.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Bridge Building