Why I Suck Slightly Less Than I Used To

Dan Akroyd in
Dan Akroyd in “Trading Places,” eating smoked salmon from his dirty Santa beard.

For many years, professional coaches have told us to focus on our strengths as a shortcut to career success. While I’m a fan of this approach, I also believe a failure to recognize behavioral weaknesses can hinder you professionally and reduce inner peace in your life.

For example, my negative behaviors have limited my career growth, resulted in severed friendships, alienated relationships with family members and caused unnecessary stress. But the good news is in the many years I’ve been working on myself, I have made great strides. By any definition my career has been successful. Much more importantly, I have an amazing marriage, a beautiful daughter, and am surrounded by loving and supportive friends and family.

How did I start recognizing these behaviors? Although asking for feedback is important, awareness is key. This includes longer term awareness — evaluating your behavior during a day/week/month, and “in the moment” awareness to instantly trap violations. Also, pay close attention to those characteristics in others that annoy you because it may be that you exhibit those same tendencies, which is why you get bothered. 

Even though I’ve reduced the severity of my negative behaviors, I still have a long road ahead. After a description of the following five behaviors you will find my self score and my wife Heather’s evaluation of me. 

Legend: 0 to 10, with 0 indicating an absence of the behavior, and 10 indicating an acute instance of the behavior. In other words, lower is better and higher is worse.

Criticizing work non-constructively – This is an area in which I have made a lot of progress. Constructive criticism to improve an end product is great, but tearing down is not.
Steve’s Score: 2
Heather’s Score for Me: 3

Judging people — When I am too hard on myself and not aware of it, I often label or tease others as a distraction. But by judging people you miss out on their inherent talents and goodness as human beings. Furthermore, everyone is capable of changing for the better, at any time. Leave typecasting to Hollywood directors.
My Score: 5
Heather’s Score for Me: 7

Procrastinating – Procrastination equals fear, as in fear you don’t know what you’re doing and the quality of your output will stink. Perhaps you’re right, but you’ll never know unless you start.

I often tell others my best work comes after I procrastinate. But if the only way I get work done is by procrastinating, then that’s my only output.

My wife Heather uses the expression, “Get it written before you get it right.” Gaining in-moment awareness and repeating this phrase has helped me in getting going, although based on the scores below I’m just getting warmed up.
Steve’s Score: 7
Heather’s Score for Me: 8

Pervasiveness Thinking – If you just got passed up for a promotion, then your whole life is ruined. But of course that’s not true.

In his landmark book about cognitive therapy, David Burns dedicated a chapter to this topic. “Your Work Is Not Your Worth.”  

Another leader in cognitive research, Martin Seligman (“Learned Optimism” is a must read), includes pervasiveness as one of the three tenets that define whether someone thinks more optimistically or pessimistically. Optimists understand a negative situation is typically limited to that one area of their life while pessimists let that circumstance permeate everything.

I believe I’ve made a lot of progress in this area. My wife thinks differently. And yes, we bickered a bit about this one earlier today. Her vote is the one that counts.
Steve’s Score: 6
Heather’s Score for Me: 10

Being Too Sensitive – This is a more abstract concept. Just what is “too sensitive?” Well, if someone tears you down and you let it ruin your day, then your opportunity is to build a thicker skin. Read a self-esteem book from Nathaniel Branden and do the written sentence completion exercises. Treat yourself well and love yourself.

Speaking of self love, I find it interesting how many people made fun of the Stuart Smalley skits back in the day on Saturday Night Live. But what if during his many years of playing the role, Al Franken benefitted from behaving like that satiric character? I mean, how many people do you know who have mastered comedic writing and acting, then book writing, and then politics? I admire Al Franken.

I hope this detour distracts you from noticing how much I currently suck in this area.
Steve’s Score: 10
Heather’s Score for Me: 10

Here is the upside of focusing on bad behaviors. If you’ve never watched the Seinfeld episode titled  The Opposite,” it is one of the most profound 22 minutes of comedy in history. By noting seemingly innate behaviors you don’t like, you can do the opposite instead of beating yourself up. Admittedly this is more simple than easy, but need I repeat the importance of becoming more aware?

Here are some habit changes. Instead of:

  • Harshly criticizing work, devise actionable suggestions to make it better, or ask eliciting questions.
  • Judging others and yourself, be open and accepting of everyone.
  • Procrastinating, take even a tiny action now. Find a place to hide, use the Pomodoro Technique, and during a 25 minute chunk, focus on only one thing.
  • Globalizing an adverse situation, cultivate a gratitude practice to remind yourself of how multi-faceted and ‘full’ your life is.
  • Taking everything personally, remember another Martin Seligman principle from “Learned Optimism” — it’s never personal.

With higher levels of awareness and focused personal development, my goal is to improve by two percent each month in my most acute areas – anything scoring higher than “5.” Through the power of compounding that equates to 27% in one year, 61% in two years, and 100% in three years. Clearly these numbers are theoretical but are a start. In his book, The Compound Effect, Darren Hardy shared the dramatic impact that little everyday decisions and habit changes can make in one’s life. More recently, James Altucher has been sharing his “daily practice” message about how much we can change our lives every six months by improving ourselves physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually…by a mere 1% per day.

I am hopeful and committed. Wish me luck.

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