Slipped Up? Good For You!

Missed TargetBoy, did I slip up this week!  I failed to maintain both my June and July resolutions.  I’m catching up today, but wow, I mean, it can really feel like failure when you miss those targets, can’t it?

The question, though, is: what do you do next?  When you hit a snag in your work, a failure to perform to your expectations, a flaw in your plan, or a submission to temptation that knocks you off course, what do you do next?

If you’ve slipped, that’s good news.  It means you’re human, and it gives you a chance to learn something about yourself.  What’s your Kryptonite?  What temptation are you likely to give in to?  What are the limits of your stamina, or tolerance, or courage?  Just where are the rough spots you’ll need to watch out for?  One of the best things you can do when you slip is to ask, “what can I learn from this?”

The most common reaction, unfortunately, is to write off the whole affair.  In other words, if you slip on your diet because you were out with friends and couldn’t resist sharing the cheesecake, or if you skip a litterbox cleaning because you’re exhausted from an unusually active day, it’s easy to just give up altogether on the diet, or on your resolution to keep the litterbox clean.  When you feel like a failure, it’s almost inevitable that you will act like one.

Instead, what if you looked at it more like a speed bump in your path?  You slowed down for a moment, but then you can just get right back to what you were doing.  It may mean you’ll take a little longer to get where you’re going, but your trip might be that much richer and more memorable because you slowed down for a moment along the way.  And when you do attain that goal, or continue to provide improved health, lifestyle or living conditions for yourself, you’ll enjoy it that much more, knowing that you’ve overcome obstacles to get there.  The hardest-won prize  is often the most precious.

And while I don’t recommend allowing circumstances to become excuses, there are some reasons you may temporarily choose to let a resolution slide.  One example of such a reason is that children grow up fast!  Mine is already grown, and I know from experience that when there are opportunities to share and enjoy life with your children and other loved ones, you may, with proper conscious forethought, choose to suspend your resolution temporarily in order to take advantage of those opportunities.

It goes back to Minimal Effort(tm) Rule #1 which is: Know Your Priorities.  Your resolutions are important, and too much straying would not be in your best interest.  But if you have a higher priority, it may sometimes interfere.  Don’t let your highest priorities slide in favor of lower ones.  Ever.

The trick, of course, is to be very aware of, and very clear about, what your priorities are.  Many people choose what they call the “three-legged stool” — God, Family, Work.  I know others who have at least one more high priority to add to that list, and some very successful and happy people I know have a different list altogether.  Don’t feel compelled to use someone else’s idea of a priority list, but a model to start from is not a bad idea.  Spend quiet time thinking about your priorities and come up with your own list.  Then keep it firmly in mind when making choices about how to spend your time and energy.  Don’t waste either one on low-priority things unless all your high-priority things are taken care of.

I slipped up this week, and at first it felt like a failure.  But now that I think about it, I had a higher priority for my time and energy this week.  I am incredibly grateful for the experiences and opportunities I’ve had this week and wouldn’t want to have missed them, so I will take the energy of that gratitude, get caught up from where I slipped, and get right back on track.

Here’s to another great week!

Laura

 

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How’s Your Resolution? Get Focused!

It is near the middle of the month, and time to take a quick check to see how you’re doing on July’s resolution.  While you do that, notice whether you’ve kept up on June’s or not.  I have to admit, I’ve had a hard time keeping up with my June resolution while starting and working on my July resolution.  How about you?  The good news is, the July resolution is going quite well!

Establishing a habit should take three to four weeks, but for some of us, it does take longer, so you may need to be vigilant about your past resolutions when the month ticks over and you start a new one.  Just don’t let excuses get in the way of your older (or newer) resolutions!

On the other hand, some of us get bored or frustrated when we are trying to maintain a habit that doesn’t seem to be having any good effects.  In this case, remember that a seed is growing under the ground even if you can’t see it.  Just trust that something is growing and you will soon see evidence of it.  If necessary, ask someone you trust for feedback (see my posts on getting and giving feedback) to make sure your seedling is working its way to the open air.

No matter what, stay focused on your goal, which your resolution should be supporting, and make sure you aren’t letting circumstances dictate what you can or cannot accomplish.

In my case, it helps a lot when people “like” and share my posts on Facebook or, even better, participate and comment here on this blog.  I’ll look forward to hearing from you!

 

Feedback Part 3: Giving Effective Feedback

feedback buttonsHave you ever received feedback that shut you down? Caused you to just want to crawl under a rock and die? Completely de-motivated you?  It’s a real shame when this happens, because feedback, even when it is pointing out things that can be improved, can be a great motivator and learning experience when done correctly.  Hopefully, you’ve been able to use my previous posts about receiving feedback to react appropriately when feedback is not the most effective.  But whether you are a manager, a parent, a teacher, a coach, or just occasionally asked for your opinion, you need to know how to give effective feedback.

Your objective in giving feedback is to help the person understand their best strengths, and get them charged up to work on the next thing that can make them even better.  We’ve moved away from the word criticism, because it now carries negative connotations (even though the word itself can be applied to negative or positive feedback).  Remember when we used to get and give “constructive criticism?”  I don’t care how you word it, that always felt bad.  It was nearly always a negative experience because it’s so easy to find something that can be improved, and the criticism, even if delivered with a fair amount of tact, always felt bad.  It was about something that was “wrong” and it was given “for your own good.”  Since when does something done “for your own good” feel welcome?

I now use the word feedback because it is truly neutral.  It tends to conjure up the idea of a mirror reflecting back to you how you are doing, without emotion or judgment.  In Toastmasters, we use the term evaluation.  That is also a fairly neutral term, but does connotate a bit of judgment.  Perhaps this is a good thing, as it reminds us that what we are getting is one person’s idea of how we did, a personal judgment, not an overall immutable Truth.

By the way, here’s my little commercial for Toastmasters: Toastmasters International is the world’s premier organization for learning and teaching vital communication and leadership skills.  It is personal development at its best, happening in a friendly club setting where members help each other learn, grow, and succeed.  If you are not already a member, you should be, and if you are interested in learning excellent evaluation skills such as those I’ll discuss today, this is the place for you.  It’s a lot cheaper than other programs and it’s ongoing, not a finite course.  I’ve been a member for 16 years now, and I still learn something at every meeting.  Click on www.toastmasters.org for more information and to find a club near you.

Here’s an anatomy of effective feedback: it

  1. is relatively brief and to the point.  If you’re speaking to someone with your feedback for more than, say, three to five minutes, you run the risk of having the person tune out.  You may be trying to cover too many points at once.  Rather than helping them improve for next time, you start to seem pedantic and picky, and although you may not see it, the person is rolling their eyes on the inside.
  2. is timely; it happens soon after the event/performance/behavior for which you are providing feedback.  If you wait too long, it is no longer effective.  Memories get fuzzy, bad habits may have formed, or discouragement may have set in.  And you risk violating #1 by having too many things to discuss and taking too long to discuss them.  It’s important to note here that you don’t want to take #1 and #2 too far by giving “hit and run” feedback.  Give them a chance to discuss it with you, ask questions, and explain things you might not have understood.
  3. is tactful; it uses sensitive and respectful language and addresses the behavior/performance in question, not the person or their personal characteristics.  One exception to this (the personal characteristics, not the tact) is in close personal relationships, when you are asking someone to change a habit or behavior that is causing stress in your relationship.  Still, though, no personal attacks; just the facts, ma’am.
  4. is honest; it does not give undue praise or unnecessary chastisement.  In Toastmasters, we avoid the “whitewash” (saying everything was wonderful, don’t change a thing) because we learn nothing from that; and the “bloody dagger” (everything was terrible, or you did this wrong and that wrong, etc.) because we shut down in self-defense and learn nothing from that either.  Worse, we have little motivation to keep going and get better.
  5. is specific; it is not enough to say “that was pretty good, now try again” because it is too vague.  Obviously the person has to try again in order to improve, but knows nothing specific to do differently to make it any better.  “Great power in that swing!  Choke up a bit and try again!” would be a much better example.
  6. addresses what the person did well, as well as what they can do to improve.  We learn from both types of feedback, and we need both.  Even the best want to improve and need some suggestions toward that end, and even the worst have something good that they should keep doing.  It’s important to point out those good things so they’ll keep them and also so they’ll know they’re on the right track at least somewhere.

In Toastmasters we use the rule CRE: Commend, Recommend, and Encourage.  If you’re doing all three along with the above, you’re doing fine.

Finally, I want to point out that unless it is your job or role as an authority figure to provide feedback, avoid giving it — even when you have some great suggestions — unless it is asked for.  Just as you would not want the random person on the street to stop you and tell you those pants make your bottom look fat, you don’t want to be the one with the inappropriate and unwelcome suggestions.  You will never know for sure unless they ask for your feedback, so just wait until they ask and if they don’t, well, don’t bite that tonguetoo hard!

Oh, and by the way, the comment box below is your invitation to give feedback on this post.  Looking forward to hearing from you!

Here’s hoping I see you at the next Toastmasters meeting for developing excellent evaluation skills and much, much more.  “Toastmasters: Where Leaders are Made.”

Done with the advertisement, now on with a great week!

Laura

How NOT to take Feedback (Part 2.5)

Ketchup SmileHow could I have left these out?  It’s true, my brain is a little fried lately — some of you know why — and my blogging time has been limited.  But I didn’t want to leave you without this important stuff, so here are 3 things you should NOT do with your feedback:

1. Don’t take it personally

A lot of people won’t give you accurate feedback because they are afraid of hurting your feelings or causing a problem, or because they are just not the sharing type, or because they are the type who only notice when something is “wrong” and therefore when everything is fine and great, they won’t tell you so.

So, when you specifically ask someone for feedback, and you make it clear that you want them to give their honest opinion, be ready to hear almost anything.  Your source may not be very practiced at giving feedback for the previously mentioned reasons, so they will not necessarily phrase it in a way that is encouraging or helpful to you.  That’s okay.  Think of it as applying to someone else, someone you have never heard of, then analyze it for how you can use it to move forward. Put on your grown-up pants and be professional.  Don’t take it personally.

2. Don’t take it passionately

In other words, keep your ego and  your emotions out of the picture as you receive and analyze your feedback.  Not necessarily an easy thing to do, but like a lot of things it gets easier with practice.  And it’s necessary.  The minute you react emotionally to your feedback, you lose any value you may have gotten from it.  The value in it is comparing it to your intentions and goals, deciding how much weight to give it in future decisions, and moving on.

When you allow someone’s comment to send you into an emotional tailspin or an ego trip, you are taking what is a limited and flawed piece of advice and turning into a rent-free resident in your mind who does nothing to help you reach your goal.  It’s time to evict that deadbeat and pile all the baggage on the sidewalk.  You’ve got work to do, and no time for anything that doesn’t help.  So don’t take it passionately.

3. Don’t take passively

If you just indiscriminately absorb every bit of feedback you receive, from every source imaginable, you will find that you are constantly being buffeted about by the opinions of others.  You will likely find yourself from time to time getting feedback you didn’t ask for from people whose opinions you are not sure you can trust.  You will occasionally hear things second or third hand that someone said about you or your work.  And there is always the completely random know-it-all on the street who finds it necessary to say whatever he or she is thinking, whether or not it is relevant or knowledgeable or even appropriate.

When these come along, remember that you are in control of your feedback.  If it was inappropriate for the person to say what they did, it’s okay to toss that piece of feedback and seek something more appropriate.  However, be prepared in case your more reliable feedback source agrees with the ninny on the street!

Also, never give any credence to any opinion you don’t get first hand.  If Susie says that Nancy said that her brother’s doctor’s hairdresser said… you just can’t be sure how true that information is, much less whether the opinion that was supposedly expressed is relevant or knowledgeable.  Therefore, it is not worth your time (or nerves) to even consider it.  Forget you heard it at all.  Unless it’s a really good review, in which case, you can claim a little credit and bask for a moment before throwing it out.  Whichever kind of feedback it is, you may want to go to your trusted sources and specifically ask for their feedback on that particular issue.  And as always, put your feedback under a microscope and use it to help you evaluate yourself.  Don’t take it passively!

As with a lot of things in life, there are hard ways and easier ways to take your feedback.  As “Your Minimal Effort(tm) Guru” I want you to do it the easiest way possible, and that means not wasting time and energy feeling high or low because of some feedback you got.  Give that feedback its proper place, and save your energy for the real work which is to come.

Feedback (Part 2)

When  and how should you take feedback?  In Part 1, we talked about the why and the who, but now that you know why you need it and from whom to get it, when should you get it?  And when you do get it, how do you take it?

There is an easy answer to the first question: as often as possible.  Feedback is an indispensable tool without which you can’t know how close you are to your target, or in which direction to move to get you closer to it.  It shows you where you are in relation to where you want to be at any given moment, from some perspective.  That last phrase is important, so I’ll repeat it: from some perspective.  If you’ve chosen the right person or people to get your feedback from, the views you’ll be getting will be the ones that matter to you.  No matter what, though, keep in mind that any one perspective is just that: one perspective.

Which brings me to the next question: how should you take feedback when it comes? Let’s assume you are receiving feedback you invited, from a source you chose, so you know it will be knowledgeable and relevant.  Still, there are things you need to remember as you consider what you’re being told about yourself, your effectiveness, your performance, or whatever your feedback is about.

First, remember that one person’s opinion is just that: one person’s opinion.  The further your source deviates from the knowledgeable and relevant, the more you must keep this in mind, but even the best source is still just one of many possible sources.  There could be quite a wide range of other reactions in your audience at large.

Second, not only is your source limited, the sample they are evaluating is limited too.  Keep in mind that the feedback you get is based on the sample of your work, that is, one essay, one speech, one painting, one online transaction, etc., out of many that you have produced or will produce.

So here you have a limited sample being evaluated by a limited source of feedback.  What does that tell you?  Good or bad, the comments you receive will only be a limited sample of the total reaction of everyone who ever comes in contact with your work.  It may or may not actually reflect the true effect you are having or your proximity to your goal.

Why then should you get this feedback at all?  Because, limited and flawed though it may be, it is still the best you can get with the resources you have available, and it will give you a starting point for your own self-evaluation.  Take the information and give it serious thought.  In the end, you may disagree with your source if you have sufficient evidence, but keep getting feedback and keep evaluating that feedback with careful thought.  Reserve the right to change your mind and actually agree later on if the evidence supports that.

Self-evaluation is very difficult because we are just too close to our own work to see it objectively.  That is why we can only do it with outside feedback.  But it is also important to take the feedback we get and run it through a process of careful consideration before blindly accepting it, because it is so limited in scope.  Of course, the more feedback you get from appropriate people within the range of your target audience, the less limited in scope, and the more useful to you, it becomes.

Now that you know why, when, how, and from whom to get feedback, what if you are the one who is asked to give feedback?  How can you do that most effectively?  Stay tuned, because that’s coming up in Part 3.

Until then, have a happy Father’s Day and a great Minimal Effort(tm) day!

Laura

Feedback: Why, Who, When, and How (Part 1)

Nassau LighthouseFeedback is essential when you are working toward a goal, unless, of course, it has to do with sound equipment (yikes!).

You can never improve at anything if you don’t know how well you did the last time and in what ways, and you can’t know how close you are to your goal and whether the steps you took got you any closer if you don’t have some kind of feedback.

Sometimes your feedback is obvious and easy to obtain.  For example, it’s really obvious that I missed a scheduled blog update yesterday!  I know that because I remember that I didn’t do it, and because WordPress tracks all my posts and shows none for yesterday, so even if I couldn’t remember what I did yesterday, I’d be able to tell I didn’t post anything.

But often, something you’re trying to do just doesn’t have inherently obvious or immediate feedback.  You often need to get it from other people.  And that’s where it starts to get tricky.

Now that you know why to obtain feedback, it’s important to consider from whom to get it, when to get it, and how to get it.  And the same thing applies to giving feedback, which is an important skill.

In order to keep this short, I will stick to one thing today, and that is: Who? Who will be the person or people you ask for your feedback?  Not just anyone will do.  Ladies, if you ask your husband “Does this make me look fat?” he is not likely to give you an honest answer, especially if itisn’t his favorite look for you, and if he wants to keep harmony in your relationship.  In fact, there may be no one in your life who has the same eye for how you want to look that you have.  Your best bet for feedback on your own appearance is a mirror and a camera. (It’s okay to have someone take the picture or video of you — I didn’t mean that you have to stand in front of a mirror with a camera and try to take a picture of yourself.  Especially if it’s your behind that concerns you!)

I’ve often advised people that they should not necessarily share their most important goals with everyone they know.  Sometimes not even with those who are closest to them.  Your spouse, close friends, and family members are very emotionally invested in you the way you are now.  Sometimes when you set out to make an ambitious change in your life, these are the very people who will — subtly or otherwise — try to sabotage your efforts, often without even knowing that’s what they’re doing.  They want to help you avoid disappointment, perhaps, or they just have no experience in the realm you’re heading for and have anxiety about going there with you, even peripherally.  Maybe they think it’s “weird” that you want to do that, but they don’t want to hurt your feelings so they don’t come right out and say that.  Instead, they withhold support in subtle ways, or make suggestions that, if followed, would take you in a direction contrary to what you have chosen — usually a more conventional (to them) or less “weird” direction.

So if you can’t reveal your deepest desires and goals to your closest loved ones, to whom can you go for feedback?  Look for someone you know who has some expertise in the area for which you need feedback, but who is not necessarily a close friend.  Hiring a professional coach is a great option.

So is this space.  If you want to share your goal and/or resolution here and receive feedback, support, and accountability, please do!  Post your goal or resolution using the comment feature below and ask any questions you have or report periodically on your progress, challenges, and setbacks.

In Part 2 I’ll talk about when and how to take feedback, and in Part 3, how to give effective feedback.  Until then, have a great Minimal Effort(tm) day!