Movement or progress?

Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse moves. Ask yourself: are you going to chose the path you walk, or be blown by the winds of circumstance?

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about longevity – its impact on the modern workplace, our leaders, our health. All thoughts prompted by a great book called The 100 Year Life by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott.

And it’s funny how, as I’ve allowed this particular thread to lead me hither and thither, I’m increasingly struck by the sense that this brave new world perhaps isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I embrace my inner “grumpy old man” a little to easily, but bear with me.

Well being or being well?

As someone who works in learning, I’m very aware of our propensity, as learning professionals, to be taken in by the latest “shiny” thing, and I think it’s fair to say that wellbeing, mental health awareness, mindfulness and resiliance training are the sparkly new kids on the block…

And whilst I’m unconvinced by the claimed benefits of these “interventions”(which, by the way, is something only the UN should do) there’s a serious question to be asked about why, it would seem, people are so unhappy? According to the Trading Economics website, the average weekly hours worked in the UK are 32 – so we aren’t working ourselves into an early grave – and whilst we’re being sombre, the suicide rate is at its lowest for 30 years according to the Samaritans.

Yet, all I hear is how stressed people are, how much they have to do and how little time they have to do it in.  So, clearly, there’s a disconnect somewhere. The key question being – where? Which made me wonder if our problem is one of quantity over quality?

The little red book

I have a little red book that I use to write down phrases or sayings that strike a chord – and as I thought about some of the things above I was drawn to one of them, a quote by Jim Collins, the famous author and consultant “If you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any” – ring any bells? What does your to-do list look like? How many “big” projects does the boss have you working on? How many performance objectives did you give your team?

Add to that, the quote attributed to Viktor Frankl, the psychiatrist “Between stimulus and response there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom”.

How many of our working days are so in thrall to the deluge of email and constant procession of meetings that the space, for space, has been all but squeezed out? And yet, how much seems to be going on?

Which brings me to my final, and favourite quote, by author Alfred A Montapert “Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse moves…” I like this because it’s always made me pause, to seek the space that Frankl mentions, and it’s always helped me regain a sense of calm and perspective, allowing me to course correct and regain control.

The magic number

So, what to do? Well, as with most things, I think we already have the answer to the problem. And, as is often the case, three is the magic number!

Dan Pink, in his book Drive, published in 2009, gave us the answer. He identified what motivates us, and curiously, I think it works as a template or blueprint for our journey through this new, longer, non-linear, working life.

As a leader, and coach, you have the power to use your teams goals and objectives, your behaviour and a little bit of thought, to create an environment that will stimulate, without stressing, allow growth, not demand movement and cultivate a feeling of steady progress through the daily quagmire.

Just remember Dan Pink’s magic three when you think about what you’re asking of those around you. Give them:

Autonomygive your people the latitude to make decisions and an appreciation of the trust you have in them and their abilities

Mastery work to identify what they’re good at, and help them become great – and remember, it takes 10,000 hours, not 140 characters

Purposeit may be a cliché, or even a myth, but the guy at NASA wasn’t sweeping up, he was part of a team putting a man on the moon

Perhaps, these three things, applied to our work – overachingly – will remove the need for us to be more resilient, simply because we’ll no longer feel like our jobs are trying to beat us to death.

What better way to improve your well being than the sense that what you do matters, beyond the place that you do it – and to more people than you know.

And how mindful is the one who has truly mastered what they do?

If you’ll indulge me with one final quote, I’d like to close with an old Tibetan proverb: “Looking for happiness outside of oneself, is like looking for the sun in a north facing cave.”

So ask yourself: Are you going to chose the path you walk, or be blown by the winds of circumstance?

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