It isn’t our default instinct to run toward danger. It is our default instinct to avoid it. We’re trained to avoid difficult situations and emotions and people. Most of us have great trouble dealing with confrontation, even when it is done in a positive context. We’d rather hide. It is only through training and experience to take on the confrontation we become more comfortable in these potentially uncomfortable situations. Nearly all of us can actually learn to become good at taking on difficult situations, contexts, and people. We simply have to choose that this is what we want, and then seek out someone who already has the results we want, and model their behavior.
A tenet of leadership and charisma not often discussed is trying to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. When facing discomfort, most people capitulate. They cannot take even the slightest hint of discomfort, so they remove themselves completely from the situation or otherwise alter the circumstances of the situation so that they’re comfortable once again. It takes a degree of Courage to sit through and align with discomfort and feel it and notice it and be OK with it. To know you’ll be OK and will make it through builds character and capability and confidence. To believe in your ability to figure things out — the essence of self-confidence.
This isn’t new. Seneca discusses these uncomfortable ideas in Letters to a Stoic. Seneca sought out the discomfort and sat with it. He recommended these practices to others as a form of resilience. His main question in dealing with the potentially uncomfortable situation that Tim Ferriss and Ryan Holiday often quote is, “Is this the condition that I so feared?” Imagine getting up there on the stage and being ten minutes into your talk. People are looking at you, smiling, actually paying attention to what is in front of them instead of their mobile devices. The talk goes great despite your hyper anxiety in the Green Room pre-performance. Imagine a flight from JFK to LAX. You thought you would get the First Class upgrade on American for this flight, but you do not. You’re in 28C. End of the world or doable and tolerable relatively minor discomfort for six hours? Imagine you’re an expert Mac OS user but something unexpected happens to your MacBook Pro and it has to be repaired. Your IT Admin gives you a Windows PC laptop to use for the next week. Tolerable or would you rather take a week off of using technology?
A common fear for nearly all of us is the inability to watch ourselves on video. How we hate this! Please, anything but this! That CAN’T be me! For most, it is pure torture watching our humanity on video. We cannot take it. Only we can. We can learn to accept the way we look and sound on video. We can take the emotionally acceptable steps to learn to be OK with being on video and even learn to watch our performance without harsh self judgements and condemnations. We can get some media coaching to learn how it is that TV people behave and best practices for being on video. You are not a wizard simply because you can talk to a camera and not look the fool. You have a lot of on-camera practice and therefore got better and more comfortable than others on camera. No real magic there.
It is similar to listening to oneself on an audio recording. Like with video, this is pure torture for most people. Do I really sound like that!? That CAN’T be me! The recorded sound of our own voice sounds strange and foreign to us while it sounds resonant and familiar and even authoritative to others. Most of us would prefer fingernails to a chalkboard or the sound of jackhammering concrete rather than listen to our own voice on a recording. But through training, practice, and, eventually, acceptance, we can push through the discomfort of listening to ourselves on recordings without harsh self judgements and condemnations.
Beware the Salient, Tyrannical Urgent
Brendon coaches on the idea of performance necessity — what is required to be of service here? And Who needs my ‘A’ Game today? Who am I doing this for? What matters the most right now? The answer is never social media, the news, or other urgent but unimportant matters. If you had to get One Main Thing done today, what is it? This forces clarity to our day, and provides keen visibility to the One Main Thing. As he and other high performers say, “The Main Thing is to keep the Main Thing the Main Thing.” Everything else gets put on the back burner. So many of us lack clear vision on what matters the most right now because we’re adrift in an ocean of urgency. Being adrift in an ocean of urgency is a choice. Conversely, we can choose its opposite: focus. We lack the ability to say no to these urgent requests, so we’re easily overwhelmed. To try to combat this, most of us schedule our day, but then the day’s urgent requests trump our own schedule — we allow this — and by 4 PM on Thursday, we wonder where the week went and why haven’t we gotten anything done? The salient, tyrannical urgent wins again.
We need to take leadership cues from the 2 year-old version of ourselves and learn to say No again. We need to consistently remind ourselves that it is OK to deny others’ requests. It is OK to defer others to a colleague. It is preferable to not reply, “How high?” when others shout, “Jump!” at us. That it is OK to not write War & Peace-like volumes in email to colleagues, especially to those above us. (The irony about War & Peace-like volumes in email to colleagues is that they are never read and are immediately archived or deleted. Essential Drucker: “There is nothing more useless than doing really well that which need not be done at all.) It is preferable to focus on your prolific quality output for the day. To think, “How can I best contribute here today?” and “What will best move the needle today?” and contemplating that for a few minutes beats the social media news feed every single time. To think, “Six months from now, what will I want to have accomplished?” is another great way to find focus and think about output.
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no more often.” — Essential Warren Buffett