Focus: This audio podcast includes inspirational quotations, war stories, examples, a little philosophy and some practical challenges to help individuals and teams discover the power of accepting the reality of a difficult situation in order to handle it effectively. Only when you accept it, see it clearly without denial and hand-wringing, can you take appropriate action to remedy it.
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Transcript of this audio originally published on April 19, 2009 [some links referred to below may no longer be valid]:
Imagine this situation: You are in your beautiful, newly remodeled kitchen wiping the counters clean after dinner. Out in the hallway you hear your big labrador retriever galloping toward you. In a flash, he bounds across the tile to the table, plunks his meaty front paws up on a chair and begins sniffing the dinner plates for leftovers. Stopping your clean-up chores, you whirl to see what he's getting into and bam!... his big nose knocks over a nearly full glass of dark, purple grape juice left untouched by one of the kids. The tough plastic tumbler bounces all over the place, spritzing the walls with purple droplets, while a big puddle of juice begins expanding across the tile. It's flowing straight toward your new beige living room carpet. Do you:
- A. Deny that this is actually happening, telling yourself that you are a good, hard-working person who doesn't deserve this kind of misery?
- B. Find your spouse and begin an angst-filled review of your family's history of owning this dog, bemoaning the fact that while the dog is lovable, he has always caused too many minor disasters?
- C. Sit down with your wife and kids and imagine a future that has in it no potentially staining leftovers and no dog anywhere near the kitchen?
- D. Run across the room, placing yourself and your counter-cleaning sponge squarely between the expanding puddle of purple and the new carpet, thus preventing the major stain?
Unfortunately, not all of life's difficult situations are this clear-cut. Few of our challenges come packaged as obvious emergencies, such as our grape juice spill. But the fact remains: You must first accept a difficult situation for what it is before you can handle it effectively. Accept it, see it clearly without denial and hand-wringing, and you will be able to see, choose, and carry out a proper course of action.
Wisdom from Some Great Teachers
Deepak Chopra, in The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, describes how important it is to accept what is, and not get caught up fighting it: “This means that your acceptance of this moment is total and complete. You accept things as they are, not as you wish they were in this moment. This is important to understand. You can wish for things in the future to be different, but in this moment you have to accept things as they are.” His point: to make clear-eyed, effective decisions about this moment you must stop struggling against reality and stop wasting energy wishing things weren't so. Only then will you make the best choices and have the strength to carry out these choices.
There's no doubt that denying and struggling against reality generates enormous stress. But as José Silva and Burt Goldman explain in The Silva Mind Control Method of Mental Dynamics: "Stress is not caused by problems. It is your attitude toward the problem that causes stress. Knowing the cause of stress makes it easier to deal with, for now the appropriate question can be asked. The question is not how can I rid myself of stress, but how can I change my attitude toward work, events, disappointments, fears, and people?” The bottom line: Accept the difficult situation for what it is, change your attitude toward it, and then you'll be able to handle it and move on.
In fact, Burt Goldman shows us how acceptance of what is is essential to achieving any measure of happiness. In his online article of the same name, he describes The Five Rules of Happiness. They are:
"...Rule Number One: If You Like a Thing, Enjoy It.
...Rule Number Two: If You Don’t Like a Thing, Avoid It.
...Rule Number Three: If You Don’t Like a Thing, and You Cannot Avoid It, Change It.
...Rule Number Four: If You Don’t Like a Thing, Cannot Avoid It, and Cannot or will Not Change It, Accept It.
Rule Number Five: You Accept a Thing By Changing Your Attitude Towards It."
Goldman's key message: To accept what is, even if it appears to be a really bad situation, you must first change your attitude about it. You can re-frame it as a challenge you needed or an opportunity for growth or an opportunity to help someone who needs help, or in any positive terms you can think of. It's up to you. But the instant you make this decision to embrace your fate, the frenzy and stress of fighting against it evaporate. And you're ready to make a clear-eyed decision to act and follow through. As Wayne Dyer says, "When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change!"
Accepting what is is the theme of Byron Katie's powerful book, Loving What Is. In that book, Katie says: "The only time we suffer is when we believe a thought that argues with what is. When the mind is perfectly clear, what is is what we want." Elsewhere Katie elaborates: "Every story is a variation on a single theme: This shouldn’t be happening. I shouldn’t be having this experience. God is unjust. Life isn’t fair.” And finally, she tells us: "We’ve been looking outside us for our own peace. We’ve been looking in the wrong direction." Katie's point: Accept what is and find peace.
In broad terms, the two greatest obstacles to acceptance of what is are 1) ruminations over the past and, 2) imagining alternate futures. In his classic How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie urges: "Shut the iron doors on the past and the future. Live in Day-tight compartments.” Carnegie goes on to examine the profound wisdom, passed down through the ages, in these two simple aphorisms: "Don't cry over split milk" and "Don't cross your bridges until you come to them." Both these little gems shine a light on the same thing: wasted effort, energy, and anxiety over something that isn't real in this present moment! That spilt milk is over and done with... you can't unspill it! And those bridges you're worrying about crossing? Wait until you get to them and see them close up, then think about how you're going to pass over them. The spilt milk in the past and those bridges looming in the future share this quality: They don't exist for you in the present! So don't let them pollute or confuse this moment.
Some Real-life Examples
So.. What's this all mean to a business? How can the decision to "accept what is" be of any benefit in the tough, competitive marketplace? Here's a great example. In a recent BBC radio report, Rob Cameron described how a family-owned piano factory in the Czech Republic is dealing with the global economic downturn. For generations, the Petrof family and their proud workers have created world-class grand pianos. In good times, these beautiful hand made instruments typically sell for around $100,000. In bad times they don't sell at all! So the Petrof family had a choice: They could be overwhelmed by stress and bemoan their situation, sifting through past marketing strategies and trying to figure out how they might keep selling pianos. (This while imagining what the future holds for themselves and their loyal craftsmen when they find themselves without work and without an income.) Or they could look at reality unblinkingly and "accept what is." They chose the latter. The result: The reporter describes the Petrof's factory full of talented piano builders who, instead of making baby grands, are building and finishing kitchen cabinets! It seems these sell better than pianos in hard financial times! The bottom line for the Petrovs is that their business continues operating, remains viable and well-staffed, and remains prepared for the time when they can again sell pianos. What's more, many of the workers report that they actually enjoy their new challenge of building kitchen cabinetry because they are learning something new!
Here's a more personal example: As a consultant for many years, I've faced a couple of scary periods during which I was simply not working. At these times, my bills continued to accumulate, but my income simply stopped cold. Worse, I sometimes felt a little like a kid who was home sick from school with nothing meaningful to do. At first, my mind would ruminate for hours over all my past clients and potential sales opportunities, trying (and sometimes succeeding) to find mistakes I had made that proved that my lack of a contract was all my fault, and not the fault of the economy or external circumstances. Or worse, I would begin to create vivid scenarios of a terrifying future in which I never was able to find work again and my family lost everything and... well, you get the idea. All this backward gazing and predictions of doom and hand-wringing was a huge sink hole of energy. Eventually I learned that the best thing was simply to do as Carnegie suggests and "live in day-tight compartments," not preoccupied with past or future. In short, I learned to accept what is and simply do the small tasks that were right in front of me: Exercises that would keep me mentally and physically healthy, business chores (such as researching, retooling, learning new skills, or planning) that would build a readiness to work again when the opportunity presented itself, and around-the-house maintenance chores that helped keep the roof over our head in good shape while giving me something meaningful to do.
Finally, this project management example: consider the project team that has just developed a design for a software product that they truly love and are looking forward to creating, only to find the client completely rejects their design! They could engage in angry finger pointing and blame, ruminating over other grievances this client has visited upon them. Or they could indulge their fear and generate rumors of all the bad things the future will bring now that a major redesign will be needed and their schedule and budget will surely be blown! Or they could simply "accept what is," become focused on understanding exactly what needs to be changed, then set about changing it. This last option provides a quicker path to peace of mind and a return to what they like doing best: designing and building software.
All these examples illustrate the futility of spending energy processing and reprocessing the past or fearing the future. And they point to the acceptance of reality as the only effective way to deal with a problem and then move on.
So how about you and your project team? Do you need to learn to "accept what is" and move on?
Reflect on these questions:
- Is someone on your project team trying to deny the reality of some event or circumstance that they should be accepting? If so, how does this “show up” in their work today?
- Does someone on your project team truly fear some dire possibility in the future? If so, how does this effect their work… their enjoyment of their work?
- Is someone on the team agonizing about a mistake they made that has resulted in some bad situation (i.e., are they carrying guilt or shame with them instead of simply accepting the situation as a learning experience and moving on) ?
Ask your team:
- What realities are we refusing to accept?
- What would happen if we accepted these realities? What new opportunities would that acceptance open up for us?
- Are we "getting something out of" denying these realities?
Project Manager Challenges
- Pay close attention to your team; listen with your heart and try to learn how past failures or imagined future troubles are preventing them from accepting what is.
- Find ways to point out that the past circumstances that led to the failures are not the same as today’s circumstances.
- Help your project team "accept what is" by remaining calm, clear-headed, and focused on dealing with it effectively, then moving on.
- Go to PhilosophersNotes and get the full notes & MP3s on these books:
- Deepak Chopra's The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success
- José Silva and Burt Goldman's The Silva Mind Control Method of Mental Dynamics
- Byron Katie's Loving What Is
- Dale Carnegie's How to Stop Worrying and Start Living
- Get the 1 hr & 27 min audio of The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success narrated by the author, Deepak Chopra, from LearnOutLoud.com
- Get the 7 hr audio of Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life narrated by the author, Byron Katie, from LearnOutLoud.com
- Get the 10 hr 15 min unabridged audio of Dale Carnegie's How to Stop Worrying and Start Living from Learn out loud .com
- Go online and hear the entire BBC/PRI report "Piano factory woes in Czech Republic (4:45)"
- Go online and review this article at "ofspirit.com" The Five Rules of Happiness by Burt Goldman
- Or go to Amazon.com and find books by all these authors.