As a journalist I had the chance to interview all kinds of leaders. Presidents, ministers, celebrities, community leaders, scientists and specialists in all sorts of subjects, mothers, Olympic athletes, bomb attack survivors, project managers, creators and artists. I interviewed some in their best moments and others in times of overwhelming crisis and defeat. They had in common a passion for their job or activity. A drive that kept them going even when all seemed to be lost.
In many of these interviews I had the possibility to find a pattern in the strategies that these leaders put into place that produced a big difference in the outcome of a crisis. I have tracked them and put them into practice through out the years and have found that they are quite efficient.
I want to share some of them with you, hoping they can be helpful and that applying them in your own projects and activities you will see things unfold with a certain spark, grace, and great results. And most of all you will see how your quality of life improves. You will become a happier, less stressed project maker.
So here they are! Take what you need.
1.- Working in Creative mindset vs Struggle-victim mindset:
In our society we have the tendency to believe that we need to struggle to get good results. We are often in what I like to call a struggle-victim mindset that includes anxiety, physical, mental and emotional stress, tension and worries; we want to madly control every part of the process and especially the outcome. And when the result is not what we were expecting we feel frustrated and upset and often end up dropping the endeavor or going through an unnecessary and very long down time.
Successful leaders usually work a lot and also feel certain amount of stress. The difference is that when they fail at something, large- or small-scale they see in front of their problem an opportunity to be creative. Their declining-critical moments tend to be very short. They start by approaching projects and problems with a creative mindset, they are ready and have fun finding juicy solutions that will upgrade their product, service or activity to a whole new level of quality and performance. Problems are not perceived by them as an excuse to feel self-pity and victimize themselves but as an opportunity to innovate and create.
So the next time you feel the temptation of having a struggle-victim mindset, shift and choose to have a creative mindset. It’s that simple. Start by taking the decision. Call your creativity out-loud, ask your brain for nice innovative solutions and you will see that only by intending it, your whole body will get into the creative mode and the right solution will come to you.
2.- Isolating the problem vs generalizing. In any project there is always an obstacle or something that we haven’t planned for that creates a sensation of being stuck or in a crisis, unable to move forward. It’s very important to look at exactly what is causing the problem and not to generalize. For example if you are an entrepreneur, and lets say your soap company is not selling many bars of soap per month, you may simply need to find another partner for your business who takes care of marketing. Instead of what most people do, which is to generalize and say “I’m not a good entrepreneur”, “I’m no good at this soap making business”. Or, even worse, some people say “I’m bad at everything I start” or “I’m a total failure”. In that case you are generalizing. Just find the exact problem you are experiencing, isolate it and see how you can partner, or solve it without projecting that single issue onto all the areas of your life.
3.- Do that 20% of activity that will produce 80% of results.
You start a project and gain momentum, you are feeling fantastic, and suddenly you realize there are more and more things to do than you planned at the beginning, and they are starting to accumulate. And you don’t sleep enough, and you start not eating well, and you spend less time with your family and friends… AND you start to feel overwhelmed and feel this is not what you really wanted and start doubting of your capacity to handle the whole project. In those moments a bit of time scheduling and organization can help you out. A great formula I learned during an interview with the president of a toy factory in Argentina long ago was to choose the 20% of activity that will produce 80% of result. So if you are a yoga teacher lost in paper work trying to promote yourself in many yoga studios, you maybe just need to get an agent. So finding an agent will take you 20% of your time and it will possibly solve much more than writing to one studio at a time and having to take the time to follow up. So make your list of things to do and check which one of them will solve the most that day, which one will advance you the most in your process, and go for it!
4. Be inaccessible. In a time in history where everybody can whatsapp you, message you through facebook, email, viber, skype, (and make you feel you should answer immediately and be available for them at any time) have your set of rules. Especially if you work from home. Have at least 6 hours a day to create your stuff. A time where you are not available for anyone. I love to light a candle, and enter into this creative tunnel. I can focus better now than at the beginning. Avoiding disruption takes some practice. But I’m managing better and better. So set your clock and turn your phone off and make it happen! You will see how your levels of productivity and creativity improve.
5. Time to consume vs time to create. This is another time management gem that I learnt from business coach Eben Pagan. Set a clear time where you are only going to create your work, products, services, art, etc. and then a time where you will consume others people stuff on Facebook, Twitter, magazines or any other media. This made a big difference in the way I manage my time. I wake up in the morning and spend the first 4 hours creating my content, and then dedicate another period of time to consume content other people have produced that may help my work. This clarity with scheduling will bring focus to your work and your project will benefit greatly from it.
6.- Meditate. Meditation helps you calm the mind. It also helps you to produce serotonin and dopamine, what we call happy hormones, so it reduces the level of stress. Many high level athletes and successful business men use it as a tool to calm down and focus. In a world of distraction with social media, cellphone, TV, radio, etc, it trains your mind and your attention to be in one place at a time: in the present moment. Meditation has changed my life. So I suggest you choose the type of meditation that resonates with you and go for it. You can also check out my online Pranayama sessions here, starting on November 23, 2014. Beginners are very welcome.
7.- Writing your back-up script for the moments of crisis. When you are starting any project or installing a new habit in your life you usually have a lot of serotonin and dopamine running in your body. These happy hormones show up easily when you are going through new and exciting adventures. But usually when this first period of a project is over you start to feel less excited and motivated and more worried and even overwhelmed. And when a crisis or obstacle shows up you are generally already not in your best motivational place so you tend to have a meltdown. Often this can end up with you quitting your project or having a harder time than you should.
Todd Hemann, a psychologist that coaches Olympic athletes gives a tip on how to be prepared for these moments of no motivation and crisis, that will always come to any project. He advises us to write a script. So, if you know for example that when you are on a diet the hardest moment is when you go to a party and they offer you a delicious piece of chocolate cake, then you write a script of what you will answer when that cake arrives in front of you. For instance “no thank you, I’m fine”. So when the moment arrives you are mentally prepared, decided and clear.
The same applies for your projects. If you know that when you launch a product or service or put your creative work out into the world you tend to freak out, especially when you don’t receive the answer you were expecting, and then tend to judge yourself harshly and quit the whole thing; to later end up jumping into a new project thinking this one will work, and then repeat the same process all over again…. If that’s typical of you, Todd Hemann suggests you write down a script with the precise words you will tell yourself in that situation. All of us have patterns, things that trigger our fears, our frustrations and that take us out of our creative mode (remember strategy number 1?). He also suggest you choose someone who knows you, a sort of witness ready to remind you that this could happen, who can repeat your script phrase to you if necessary. Any mechanism that can help you overcome resistance and keep you growing in your creative process is good. So make your list of thought and behavior patterns and build your back-up script. It sounds crazy but is very effective.
8.- Making pauses when needed. Some problems can’t be solved in the moment, or let’s just say, sometimes we are too tired or too close to a problem to come up with a good solution. Having a hobby, a passion, a distraction is important. My best ideas have come in those moments such as when baking a cake, or making a dress for my daughter, or just going for a walk. When our mind is at rest and distracted we create the space for solutions and ideas to show up. So, ask for the idea and then just let it go and dedicate yourself to another activity. The brain produces marvels when you give it time and space.
Do you have any strategy that is not on this list? Share it in the comments. I would love to hear about your experiences.